Basketball Insiders Vote on All-Star Reserves: With the NBA All-Star starters being announced this past Thursday, fans got a resounding reminder: If there is one thing you can rest assured of, it is that mid-January will bring forth controversies and commotion.
Indeed, arguments over which of the NBA’s giants deserve to be All-Stars and those who are undeserving are like a runaway freight train. You know it is coming from a mile away, but you are powerless to stop it.
This year has been no exception. Because fan votes determine the five starters for each team, in many cases, the popularity of a player trumps the extent to which they may or may not “deserve” a spot over one of the game’s still-toiling youngsters.
Based on this season alone, does Kobe Bryant deserve to be an All-Star more than Damian Lillard? Does Dwyane Wade warrant the distinction more than Lance Stephenson? The answer in both cases is an equivocal no, but these are the types of questions that are yielded by the NBA’s practice of giving fans the opportunity to determine the accolade.
But fortunately, these are the types of questions that your Basketball Insiders will attempt to answer for you. There obviously is no “right” or “wrong” answer, but on this Saturday, we share our answers.
Ten members of our staff were polled. The participants were: Steve Kyler, Alex Kennedy, Eric Pincus, Tommy Beer, Moke Hamilton, Bill Ingram, Susan Bible, Jeff Zitzler, Brad Graham and Kyle Cape-Lindelin.
The number after each player’s name indicates how many votes they received.
Eastern Conference Reserve Picks
BC: John Wall (10 votes)
BC: DeMar DeRozan (7 votes)
FC: Joakim Noah (9 votes)
FC: Roy Hibbert (10 votes)
FC: Chris Bosh (7 votes)
WC: Lance Stephenson (6 votes)
WC: Paul Millsap (6 votes)
Other players receiving votes:
Joe Johnson (3), Kyle Lowry (3), Arron Afflalo (3), Al Jefferson (2), Andre Drummond (2), Kemba Walker (1), Jeff Teague (1)
Out on an island:
- Steve Kyler is the only Basketball Insider who did not vote for Joakim Noah.
- Moke Hamilton is the only Basketball Insider who voted for Kemba Walker.
- Brad Graham is the only Basketball Insider who voted for Jeff Teague.
- Brad Graham and Bill Ingram are the Basketball Insiders who voted for Al Jefferson.
- Jeff Zitzler and Susan Bible are the Basketball Insiders who voted for Andre Drummond.
Western Conference Reserve Picks
BC: Damian Lillard (10 votes)
BC: James Harden (9 votes)
FC: LaMarcus Aldridge (10 votes)
FC: Dwight Howard (10 votes)
FC: Dirk Nowitzki (4 votes)
WC: Chris Paul (9 votes)
WC: Tony Parker (7 votes)
Other players receiving votes:
Anthony Davis (4 votes), DeMarcus Cousins (3 votes), Tim Duncan (2 votes), Goran Dragic (1 vote), Serge Ibaka (1 vote)
Out on an island:
- Steve Kyler is the only Basketball Insider who did not vote for James Harden.
- Brad Graham is the only Basketball Insider who did not vote for Chris Paul.
- Brad Graham is the only Basketball Insider who voted for Goran Dragic.
- Susan Bible is the only Basketball Insider who voted for Serge Ibaka.
- Steve Kyler and Alex Kennedy are the Basketball Insiders who voted for Tim Duncan.
Obviously, there is no science to this, but it is interesting to note that the staff members that were polled seems to come to a consensus on Wall, Hibbert, Noah, Lillard, Aldridge, Howard, Harden and Paul as All-Stars. After that, it is pretty obvious that subjective assessments took over.
Perhaps it is my New York City bias, but I believe Walker deserves to be an All-Star. But, as usual, I suppose there is always next year.
Carmelo Anthony’s Historic Night: After losing the first three games of their make-or-break eight-game home stand, Carmelo Anthony took matters into his own hands on Friday night, as the Knicks bested the Charlotte Bobcats, 125-96.
Anthony had a performance for the ages, scoring a record-breaking 62 points. With his 62 points, Anthony broke Bernard King’s Knick franchise single-game scoring record of 60 points. King scored 60 on Christmas Day of 1984 in a 120-114 loss to the New Jersey Nets. Anthony also broke Kobe Bryant’s record-setting 61-point shooting spree, set back on February 2, 2009 in a 126-117 Lakers victory.
Although Anthony took the Garden’s record back from Bryant, the Lakers shooting guard has five career games in which he has scored at least 60 points, including his career-high 81-point performance in a 122-104 win over the Toronto Raptors back on January 22, 2006.
Bryant’s five career 60-plus point performances gives him the second most 60-point performances in NBA history. The all-time leader is Wilt Chamberlain, who scored 60 or more points 32 times over the course of his career.
Despite the win, the Knicks enter play on January 25 at 16-27 and tied for 10th place in the Eastern Conference.
Brooklyn Nets Continue to Surge: While Anthony was breaking records at Madison Square Garden on Friday night, five miles away at Barclays Center, the Brooklyn Nets were busy continuing to be the hottest team in the NBA since 2014 began. En route to a 107-106 victory over the visiting Dallas Mavericks, the Nets got an improbable 34 points off the bench from second-year forward Mirza Teletovic. Deron Williams, playing just his third game since returning to the lineup with ankle woes contributed 18 points and 11 assists.
The Nets are now 9-1 in the month of January and have given head coach Jason Kidd a good chance of winning the NBA’s Eastern Conference Coach of the Month award for January. But more importantly, if the Nets keep playing like this, they may find themselves atop the Atlantic Division. Now at 19-22, the Nets trail the Toronto Raptors by just 2.5 games in the division.
Over the course of their hot streak, the biggest difference for the Nets has been small ball. With Brook Lopez out for the remainder of the season, Kevin Garnett has been moved to center with Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson playing beside him in the front court. With the rangy Shaun Livingston re-emerging as a force, the Nets have fielded a starting unit that has somewhat interchangeable parts on the defensive end and five players who are all capable of scoring.
With their collective health improving, and meaningful contributions from Andray Blatche, Andrei Kirilenko and Alan Anderson, the Nets seem to have turned a corner and are charging toward the top of their division.
Dwyane Wade’s Iffy Prognosis: After Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals, after the Miami HEAT emerged as champions over the San Antonio Spurs, Dwyane Wade made no secret of the fact that his knees were ailing. With questions and concerns about his long-term health prognosis, the HEAT have had Wade on a bit of a pitch count, reminiscent of what Gregg Popovich has done in San Antonio with some of his older veterans.
However, as it relates to Wade, the HEAT began 2014 with a tough stretch in which they played five games in eight nights. Wade played in each of them. Since then, Wade has missed six of the HEAT’s last seven games and has already matched the 13 games he sat out last season.
On Sunday, with the San Antonio Spurs making their first trip to Miami since last season’s NBA Finals, Wade’s status is still up in the air. The questions regarding his long-term health will persist.
One of the questions that can cease, though, is whether or not Wade will participate in NBA All-Star Weekend next month. As announced this past week, Wade has been voted in as a starter for the ninth consecutive time.
Moke Hamilton’s Weekly NBA Power Rankings drop each and every Monday night, so be sure to check back to see which teams are dominating the Association.
NBA Daily: Three Trade Targets for the New York Knicks
Drew Maresca explores three restricted free agents-to-be who the Knicks should explore adding via trade before the March 25 trade deadline.
Often the NBA’s biggest flop, the New York Knicks have been significantly better-than-expected to start the 2020-21 season. They’ve won eight of their first 16 games and have surrendered the fewest points per game on the season, placing them squarely in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
That said, they’re not out of the woods yet; with much of the season left to play, the Knicks are devoid of any meaningful offensive weapons. Additionally, the roster features a number of high-quality veterans whose deals are set to expire, the kind of players that contenders like to fill out their rotations with down the stretch, so the roster could look much different at the end of the year than it does now.
So, the Knicks are expected to be active on the trade front, again – no surprise there. But this year could be among the last in which the Knicks are sellers at the deadline. And, while moving some of those veterans for future assets is smart, the Knicks may also want to look at players they can add to bolster that future further.
Of course, New York shouldn’t go all-in for Bradley Beal — they’re not there yet — but there are a number of restricted free agents to-be that would fit both their roster and timeline nicely.
But why give away assets to acquire someone that the team could sign outright in just a few months? It may sound counterintuitive to add a player that’s about to hit free agency, restricted or otherwise, but procuring that player’s Bird rights, an exception in the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement that allows teams to go over the salary cap to re-sign their own players (not to mention offer them an extra contract year and bigger raises), can be key to securing a player’s services and building a long-term contender.
Further, the 2021 free agent market isn’t might not live up to expectation, with many presumed free agents already agreed to extensions. So, with that in mind, which players should the Knicks pursue via trade prior to the March 25 trade deadline?
John Collins, Atlanta Hawks
Collins’ production is down this season, but that has nothing to do with his ability. A 23-year-old stretch-four who’s shooting 35% on three-point attempts, Collins is big, athletic, can score the ball (16.7 points per game this season) and is a great rebounder (7.5 per game). He also connects on 80% of his free-throw attempts.
Despite those impressive stats, Collins was even more productive last season, averaging 21.6 points on better than 40% three-point shooting and collecting 10.1 rebounds per game.
But the Hawks rotation has become increasingly crowded this year. They added Danilo Gallinari and rookie big man Oneyeka Okongwu, the sixth overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, to the frontcourt this offseason, while Collins was already vying for minutes with Clint Capella, who Atlanta added via trade last season. Cam Reddish, a second-year wing who is versatile enough to play some power forward, has also stolen some of Collins’ potential minutes.
So, as much as the Hawks seem to like Collins, he may be a luxury they can do without. He’ll obviously demand a relatively high-priced contract. The fact that Atlanta and Collins failed to reach an extension last summer would also seem to make a reunion less likely; would the Hawks invest so heavily in him now that they have three players at the position signed through at least the 2022-23 season? Further, could they invest even if they wanted to at this point? The Hawks are already committed to more than $100 million next season and, with Trae Young and Kevin Huerter extensions on the horizon, they might be hard-pressed to scrounge for the cash Collins would want in a new deal.
He won’t come cheap, for sure. But, while Julius Randle fans may not love the idea of bringing in his replacement, Collins is simply a better long-term solution.
Lonzo Ball, New Orleans Pelicans
The point guard position has been a sore spot for the Knicks for some time. And while Ball might not be the franchise cornerstone that many hoped he’d become, adding a young player with his upside is clearly a positive move.
Granted, Ball is inherently flawed. His jump shot appeared to be much improved last season and he’s showcased a significantly improved shooting form from years past. But he’s struggled in the new season, shooting only 28% on three-point attempts (down from 37.5% last season). In fact, he’s struggled on the whole on the offensive side of the ball, posting just 11.9 points and 4.4 assists per game (a career-low). He’s also missed some time with knee soreness and moved to more of an off-the-ball role as new head coach Stan Van Gundy has put the ball in the hands of Brandon Ingram more and more.
But, with New York, Ball would step into a significant role immediately. For his career, Ball is a net-positive player and, despite his shooting woes, has posted a positive VORP every year he’s been in the league, save for this season. He’s an above-average defender and, while he does need to ball in his hands, he doesn’t necessarily need to take shots to be effective.
Ball may never become the All-World caliber guard many pegged him as before the 2017 NBA Draft, but he’s better than any other option currently at the Knicks disposal. And, best of all, his trade value is arguably as low as it’s ever been. So, while the Pelicans won’t just give him away, New York should do what they can to acquire him for a reasonable price.
Devonte’ Graham, Charlotte Hornets
Last but not least, the surprise from the 2018-19 rookie class. Graham is possibly the hardest sell on this list, but it’s not for a lack of talent.
Graham burst onto the scene last season, posting an impressive sophomore campaign of 18.2 points and 6.4 assists per game. Unfortunately, those numbers have taken a drastic dip this season with the arrival of Gordon Hayward and the highly-touted rookie LaMelo Ball in Charlotte. Likewise, Graham’s struggles through the Hornets’ first 10 games limited his opportunities further.
That said, he would appear to be done slumping, as he’s connected on 43% of his attempts from deep in the team’s last two games.
But his efficiency wouldn’t be the main challenge when constructing a Graham trade. Instead, some in New York could be concerned with lack of size – Graham is only 6-foot-1 – and his inability to act as a facilitator at the guard spot.
But Graham is talented, plain and simple. In fact, he’s the exact kind of talent the Knicks should be looking to add right now. More specifically, Graham shot 37.3% on three-point attempts last season; the Knicks rank 21st in three-point percentage so far this season.
The Knicks could ultimately sit tight, swap a few veterans for future draft picks and rest assured that they’ve made enough progress by simply adding coach Tom Thibodeau. But they could and should be aggressive while they can. If New York can add one or more the players mentioned, they may not only build a brighter future, but improve on what the team could do this season. Either way, the Knicks look to be on a good trajectory, but every move they make from here on out can and will affect how quickly they make the leap from laughingstock to respectable contender.
NBA AM: The Utah Jazz Are Showing Continuity Is Key
Is Utah’s early success an indicator of things to come? Between Donavon Mitchell, a stingy defense and hot three-point shooting, they may just be the real deal.
The Utah Jazz are riding high on a seven-game winning streak, hotter, at this point, than all hell. 15 games into the season, the Jazz have been the third-best team in the Western Conference. The key for them has been continuity as they have 11 guys who were on last year’s team. The only addition they made to their rotation this offseason was Derrick Favors, who was with the team for nine seasons before a one-year departure.
Quinn Snyder is widely regarded as one of the best coaches in the league, and he’s showing why this season. The Jazz are currently in 7th in both offensive and defensive rating. Beyond that, there are only three teams who can say they are top 10 in both: The Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns. Often, teams that finish in this select category are historically serious contenders.
Moreover, the Jazz have been on a shooting tear. Using Gobert’s rolling ability to collapse opposing defenses and find open shooters, Utah’s offense is clicking right now. It’s worked tremendously too, considering the Jazz have attempted and made the most three-pointers of any team this season – and hitting on 40.3 percent as a team. Royce O’Neale, Donovan Mitchell, Jordan Clarkson, Joe Ingles and Mike Conley are all shooting above 40 percent; while Bojan Bogdanovic is almost there at 37.8.
Basically, the Jazz are just shooting the ball at a ridiculously well rate right now and good ball movement has propelled them.
Mitchell seems to have taken another jump in his development, although it is subtle, and his growth as a playmaker has benefitted everyone. He’s made teams pay for overhelping, often initiating the ball movement that has led to open looks. He’s also taking fewer mid-range jumpers, converting those attempts into three-pointers. The budding star’s play has been more consistent overall, and he’s been effective out of the pick-and-roll.
Mike Conley’s improved play this season has been needed – now he’s settled and red-hot. Coming off a disappointing season last year, there were questions as to whether he was declining. While it’s safe to say he’s no longer the guy he was in Memphis, this version of Conley is still a good one. He looks a lot more comfortable in his role and the Jazz are reaping the benefits. In a contract year, Conley is averaging 16.3 points and 6.3 assists per game while shooting 41 percent from three.
Jordan Clarkson is a strong candidate for Sixth Man of the Year, fitting in perfectly as the Jazz need his scoring and creation off the bench – even leading the league in such scorers from there. But the Jazz’s bench is more than just Clarkson though, as they’ve gotten strong minutes from Joe Ingles, Georges Niang and Derrick Favors too. They’re a solid group that plays both ends of the court, and all fit in nicely with the starters as well.
Sorely needed, however, Bojan Bogdanovic’s return has helped tremendously. He gives them another big wing who can shoot and is a scoring threat, and before he got hurt last season, he was averaging 20 PPG. While he isn’t at that level this season, he gives them another reliable scoring option that they badly need. Better, it also allows Ingles to remain on the bench, where his playmaking ability can really thrive.
The Jazz have been playing stylistically a little bit different this year and it has worked. They don’t run often but when they do, they have been potent. Playing at the same pace as last season, Utah is scoring almost five more points per game in transition. Additionally, they are taking six more threes a game too. This all amounts to a 6.1 net rating, which is good for fourth-best in the NBA.
Lastly, their defense has been impossible for teams to penetrate, inviting opponents to try and finish over Rudy Gobert in the paint. Gobert is a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate for a reason – his presence alone almost assuredly guarantees his team will be a top 10 defense, which the Jazz are. Favors’ addition has helped stabilize the defense when Gobert sits, which was a major issue last season. Overall, they are just a very disciplined defense that makes teams earn their points, rarely committing cheap fouls.
As it stands today, the Utah Jazz are solidifying themselves as one of the best teams in the Western Conference. It remains to be seen if the hot shooting is sustainable, but the way they are generating those open looks seems to be. The defense is legit, and if they can remain healthy there’s reason to believe that this team can continue to compete at this level. The Utah starting lineup has outscored opponents by 58 points, but they’ve also had one of the best benches in the league – needless to say, the Jazz’s continuity has been a big part of their early success.
NBA Daily: Defensive Player of the Year Watch
An inside look-in at the early frontrunners for the Defensive Player of the Year Award.
In this fresh edition for Basketball Insiders, there are a few players that should be finalists for the Defensive Player of the Year Award. Of course, this prestigious award is given to the contributor who makes the biggest impact on the floor for their team on the defensive side of the ball. In two out of the last three seasons, the award has gone to Rudy Gobert, the rim-protecting center for the Utah Jazz. This past season, Giannis Antetokounmpo won both the DPotY award, as well as Most Valuable Player for a second straight year. Over the past few years, the trending group of finalists for the award has been consistent no matter what the order ends up being.
Can anyone new break in this year?
Anthony Davis will always be in the conversation for this award as he has shown throughout his career that he is one of the league’s most ferocious game-changers. Despite never winning the award before, he has made four NBA All-Defensive teams as well as being the NBA’s leader in blocks on three occasions. Davis’s block numbers are a little lower than they usually are at 1.9 blocks per game this season – compared to 2.4 for his career, per Basketball-Reference. This could be due to the addition of Marc Gasol to the Lakers’ frontcourt, a move that has boosted the team’s rim protection. If Davis can raise his numbers again, he should be in consideration for the award purely based on his defensive presence on the court – but he should still finish among the top five in voting.
The center for the Indiana Pacers – the former potential centerpiece of a Gordon Hayward trade with the Boston Celtics – has continued to show why the team would not package another one of its top players with him. Turner is the current league leader in blocks with 4.2 blocks per game, elevating his game beyond any doubt in 2020-21. He is one of the more underrated rim protectors in basketball, as he has only one top-five finish in the DPotY voting in his career. Turner has also improved his steals metrics this season by averaging 1.5 per game, thus providing a strong defensive presence alongside All-Star frontcourt mate, Domantas Sabonis. Turner should be the frontrunner for the award as things stand right now, but that could change as the season progresses, especially as his injury impacts proceedings.
The reigning two-time MVP should always be in the conversation for the DPotY award as he revolutionizes the defensive side of the floor at an elite level. Currently, Antetokunmpo is averaging 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks per game to go along with a 106.5 defensive rating, per NBA Advanced Stats. It goes without saying, but Antetokounmpo is a chase-down block artist, always there to contest shots around the rim with his long frame. The 6-foot-11 power forward is one of the league’s top five players due to his exceptional play on both sides of the ball and will always be considered for the DPotY award as long as he in the NBA.
The Los Angeles Clippers’ superstar has been arguably the best defensive small forward in the game over the past few years. He first gained major recognition for his defense during the 2014 NBA Finals against the LeBron James-led Miami HEAT. Since then, Leonard has racked up six All-Defensive team nominations to go along with two Defensive Player of the Year awards. This season, Leonard remains an elite defender for the championship-hopeful Clippers with 1.8 steals and 0.8 blocks per game – but his defensive rating is the highest of his ten-year career at 107.8.
The current league leader in rebounds for the Cleveland Cavaliers is having a monster season thus far. In a contract year, Andre Drummond is currently putting up 19.3 points per game, 15.8 rebounds per game, 1.7 steals per game and 1.6 blocks per game. He also has a very stellar defensive rating of 105.0, a culmination of points allowed per 100 possessions. Drummond is not on a very good team, but that should not take away from the impact he makes when he is on the floor. As a pure rim protector and rebounding machine, he should finish higher up in the voting results than usual, even if his season doesn’t end with Cleveland.
Honorable Mention: Tobias Harris
The Philadelphia 76ers have started the season on a very high note at 9-5, all despite loads of COVID health and safety protocols preventing their full team from taking the floor. Tobias Harris has played a major part in their early-season success leading the NBA in defensive win shares among starters who have played at least 10 games with 0.184, per NBA Advanced Stats. Along with that, Harris is also second in defensive rating among qualified starters at 99.6. The veteran forward has averaged 1.1 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. So if the 76ers want to remain at the top of the Eastern Conference, Harris’ overall play will be a huge reason for that success.
As the old saying goes, defense wins championships – and these players are the type of players that can change the result of a game every night. Keep an eye on these players as the season moves along as they should garner consideration for both All-Defensive team nominations and the DPotY award.