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The X-Factors: Houston

Needless to say, the three-point shooting Rockets have struggled in 2019-20, but Ben Nadeau doesn’t like their chances in a resumed postseason environment.

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The world is on fire.

And, frankly, the news of pending basketball hardly seems important in the slightest. The planet-wide pandemic and sweeping protests have turned everybody’s day-to-day routines on their head – but, obviously, for one group, it has done so in awful and disproportionate ways.

If you can donate, consider doing so. If you can’t donate, educate yourself. Even if you donate, continue to read, learn and listen.

Or try this: If you finish this article and come away having learned something — from a new three-point percentage to an underrated aspect — donate something of your own: Time, supplies, a tough conversation — whatever. Consider it a trade, do whatever it takes. Make a difference, even if it’s a small one.

The NBA is nearly back — how exactly (and with what measure of success) is yet to be seen, but there is a plan and structure worth building from. For teams on the bubble, getting into the play-in tournament will be the most and immediately pressing issue. But the other bracketed, locked-in franchises, jockeying for home-court advantage, must get serious and knock off that rust. Out westward, the stakes are even higher — and for those hungry at a postseason without the Warriors, this is a key moment in franchise history.

The Houston Rockets, now rostering two former MVPs and an insatiable drive to launch from downtown, are one of those teams. They’re one of the most accomplished franchises of the last decade, but Houston has nothing to show for it beyond playoff losses to Golden State in four of the last five years — and twice in the Conference Finals.

Heading into the home stretch, Houston is perched rather precariously — tied with the Dallas Mavericks for sixth place and just 2.5 games back of third. Needless to say, the difference between hosting the Oklahoma City Thunder or traveling away to face the Los Angeles Clippers is practically a deal-breaker for any true championship aspirations. So in order to make The Russell Westbrook Experiment a worthwhile endeavor, the Rockets as a whole must work as well.

Did you know that Houston currently ranks first in three-pointers made (15.4) and three-pointers attempted (44.4)? Yeah, probably. You already also knew that it’s been this way since 2015-16 when the Warriors were outpacing people — but, even then, the Rockets were still in second. Yet, over those four consecutive seasons as leaders in the three-point makes and attempts category, Houston never finished in the top ten for percentage.

Naturally, that checks out. The more you launch from deep, the less likely you are to be efficient — unless your name is Stephen Curry, but whenever.

From 2016-19, the Rockets finished 15th, 14th and 12th in three-point percentage, slowly creeping up toward that top ten range. This year? Well, they’re down to 23rd on just 34.8 percent.

By simple sorting measurements, you might be fooled into thinking that Houston ruled from behind the arc. But, really, that title belongs to the Dallas Mavericks this year. As the only franchise to live in the same zip code as the Rockets, the other Texas-based team knocked down 15.3 makes on 41.3 attempts for a much more palatable 36.9 conversion clip. And it’s a number that pushes Dallas into eighth for three-point percentage, an achievement, again, that Houston hasn’t reached since embracing that team-wide philosophy.

For a franchise that went all-in on the arc, 23rd-best in percentage is not a championship-winning formula.

Perhaps it was swapping Chris Paul — who shot 38, 35.8 and 36.2 percent from deep over his three years with Houston — for Westbrook, a future Hall of Famer that’s never boasted touch from long range. In fact, Westbrook is shooting a near career-low 25.4 percent on 3.8 attempts per game, only bested by a sophomore year effort of 22.1.

Harden is doing his best to make up for the difference, however, and he’s the current league-leader in field goal attempts, three-point makes, three-point attempts, free throws and free throw attempts. In a world without Curry, Harden hasn’t missed an opportunity to feast and he’ll finish with his third consecutive scoring title at 34.1 points per game — somehow both nearly four full points ahead of the second-placed Bradley Beal and also almost two fewer than he tallied each contest last year.

Marginally, though, Harden is down to 35.2 percent from three-point range after making 36.8 during his runner-up MVP campaign of 2018-19. It’s not a stat-buster for Houston, but it does lump onto the final number.

But the decline goes beyond the stars: Danuel House, a G League-made revelation over his 39 games with Houston last year, has gone from 41.6 to 36.3 percent — or, in other words, he’s made the same amount but with an extra miss per game. The unflappable Eric Gordon has dropped from 36 to 31.9, while Gerald Green (2.1 makes in 2018-19) has missed the entire season after breaking his foot during the preseason.

And although Austin Rivers (32.1 to 35.8), Gary Clark (29.7 to 35.3) and the addition of Robert Covington (35.7 over 14 games) have helped — they’re trending downward as a whole. When Houston made 37 percent or better from deep in 2019-20, they managed a ridiculous 23-1 record. Living and dying by the three-point line has its risks, though, and the Rockets struggled to just 14-18 when hitting under 34 percent. This is not a Houston-only problem, of course — but when it’s the offensive focus outside of get-James-Harden-the-ball, it quickly becomes a negative trait, not a positive one.

And if their sweeping philosophy is no longer the game-changer it once was — what is left? Confident as ever, the Rockets dealt their alley-oop, rim-protecting double-double machine (albeit an injured one) in order to play 34-year-old P.J. Tucker (6-foot-5, 37 percent from three-point range) even more at center.

It’s a bold strategy and one that hasn’t elevated the Rockets just yet.

With a healthy Clint Capela, Houston went 22-17. And when he scored his season average of 14 points or more, the Rockets only lost five times. Since Robert Covington was swapped in for Capela, they notched an 8-6 record and lost four of their last five heading into the pandemic stoppage. A small sample size, sure, but the sacrifice of Capela for Tucker’s ability to stretch the floor and the wing defense of Covington left the Rockets with as many weaknesses as before.

Moving Capela — 25, entering his prime and under contract until 2022-23 — might be the type of short-sighted, win-now move that Houston will rue for years to come.

Depending on how the conference standings shake out, they’ll likely have a date with the Jazz, Nuggets or Clippers in the postseason — all of whom boast big-game centers. Even with their former big man, the Rockets struggled to slow the likes of Rudy Gobert, Nikola Jokic and Montrezl Harrell throughout 2019-20. During a late January game in Denver, Jokic dropped 24 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists on 9-for-18 shooting in a seven-point win — and Capela actually played 28 minutes in that one.

Later on, in a Mar. 5 post-trade loss to the Clippers, both Ivica Zubac (17 points, 12 rebounds) and Harrell (19, 10) posted double-doubles in only 22 minutes.

In the end, if the Rockets are so willing to concede the paint to their opponents, they’ve really got to make their three-pointers at a more consistent rate — period.

And if they’re banking on Westbrook suddenly improving from deep, that’d be unwise too. The superstar’s best-ever mark from deep is 34.3 percent, way back in 2016-17. Again, that’s a mark that Paul easily surpassed in Houston three times in a row and one that would stand as a career-low for Harden.

The Paul contract was a salary cap killer, make no mistake — but at least he fit the team-wide makeup. Aside from forcing a square peg in a round hole, it puts most of the pressure on Harden’s shoulders to not only be the franchise star, but the game-changing X-Factor as well.

When Harden is cooking, there are few better shows in league history. But without him performing absolute magic over a seven-game series, the Rockets have little chance of even winning their first-round matchup, regardless of home-court advantage or the opposing team. By putting all their eggs in the Harden-Westbrook and small ball basket, they’ve made their once-great three-point advantage noticeably worse and surrendered another piece of the floor entirely.

It’s not good news — but at least they’ve still got James Harden.

Ben Nadeau is a Seattle-based writer in his third year with Basketball Insiders. For five seasons, he covered the Brooklyn Nets for The Brooklyn Game.

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2021 NBA Draft Top 3 Picks & Top 10 First-Round Selection Odds

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The 2021 NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, July 29. The draft will begin at 8:00 p.m. (EST) on ESPN platforms at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, and it is the first time the draft is being televised on both ABC and ESPN. Free agency will also begin on Monday, Aug. 2 at 6:00 p.m. (EST). For NBA Draft betting, there are several available apps for placing bets, like from Bovada, MyBookie, Intertops, BetUS, BetOnline, BetNow, 5Dimes, and Sportsbetting.ag. DraftKings and FanDuel are other feasible options, in addition to the sites listed above.

Anyways, the Detroit Pistons have the first overall pick of the draft, followed by the Houston Rockets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors, Orlando Magic, etc. Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham is the projected first overall pick. Jalen Green, the six-foot-five NBA G League player who forwent college basketball and attended San Joaquin Memorial High School, is expected to get drafted by the Pistons. The Pac-12 Player of the Year (2021) and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year (2021) winner, Evan Mobley, is projected to get picked by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

However, teams have been negotiating trades with one another, leading up to next week’s draft. Per Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer, the Orlando Magic and Toronto Raptors are expressing interest in trading with the Cleveland Cavaliers in order to move up to the No. 3 spot of the draft. In the second round, the Milwaukee Bucks have the 31st pick of the draft. There is a chance that these are just meaningless internal discussions, existing only to explore the values of specific players and to keep other general managers on their heels.

No. 1 Pick Odds

While Cade Cunningham has the best odds (-8000) of being selected first overall, there are a few other aforementioned players here that are at the top of the list, too. Jalen Green has +1500 odds, Evan Mobley has +2200 odds, and Jalen Suggs possesses +2500 odds. Needless to say, however, Cunningham will be selected first before everyone else. Here’s why. According to 247Sports, the six-foot-eight Big 12 Player of the Year (2021) and Consensus first-team All-American (2021) ranked No. 1 in the final rankings class of 2020. Heading into college, the native Texan was already an established top-ranked, talented recruit.

Green and Mobley were also highly touted stars coming out of high school, but hands down, Cunningham has the best résumé for NBA scouts and general managers. In 27 games played for the Oklahoma State Cowboys’ 2020-21 season, Cunningham averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 3.5 assists, helping to lead his team to the Big 12 Tournament and NCAA Tournament. The Cowboys lost 91-81 against the No. 3 Texas Longhorns in the Big 12 Tournament, and then the team lost 80-70 versus the No. 12 Oregon State Beavers in the NCAA Tournament. The Detroit Pistons need all the help they can get.

  • All table odds were retrieved from Bovada 

No. 2 Pick Odds

Jalen Green has the favored odds (-200) of being selected second overall in the 2021 draft, followed by Evan Mobley (+170), Jalen Suggs (+650), and Jonathan Kuminga (+2200). Regarding Green’s G League performance, in 15 games started, he averaged 17.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. The 19-year-old also played for an average of 32 minutes per game. Despite oddsmakers projecting the highest possible odds for Cunningham’s No. 1 selection, the No. 2 pick is not as clear.

In 33 games played for the USC Trojans, Evan Mobley averaged 16.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game. Referencing the RSCI Top 100 rankings, the seven-foot tall forward/center was ranked third on the list. Below .500 NBA teams, such as the Magic and Raptors, could trade up to draft the big man. It all depends on the teams’ different needs and priorities.

 

No. 3 Pick Odds

Evan Mobley has the best odds (-200) of getting drafted third overall. In the 2020-21 USC Trojans’ season, they lost 72-70 in the Pac-12 Tournament against the No. 23 Colorado Buffaloes. Then, they proceeded to lose 85-66 in the NCAA tournament versus the No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs. Mobley had a team-high of 19 points and seven rebounds in that Elite Eight loss.

Though, if Jalen Green is still on the board at this point, it would not be out-of-the-blue if he was selected third ahead of Mobley, considering his odds are +150. For the other odds, Jalen Suggs is next (+250), followed by Jonathan Kuminga (+900), Scottie Barnes (+1200), Davion Mitchell (+6600), and Josh Giddey (+6600).

“To Be Drafted in the Top 10” Odds

With all eyes on the top three picks of the 2021 NBA Draft, there might be some folks speculating if players like Kai Jones and Josh Giddey have reasonable odds of at least making the top 10 in the draft. Jones’ odds are +275, whereas Giddey’s odds are +135. UConn shooting guard James Bouknight has -250 odds. Six-foot-nine, 19-year-old German basketball star Franz Wagner has -150 odds of being selected somewhere in the top 10 overall. Moreover, Jonathan Kuminga’s odds are -10000. The 18-year-old G League player is projected to land sixth in the draft.

Plus, according to several mock drafts, Davion Mitchell is expected to be picked by either the Golden States Warriors (seventh) or New Orleans Pelicans (tenth). His odds are -300. Keon Johnson is another one. Per NBA.com’s mock drafts, K. Johnson is projected to be taken No. 8 overall by the Orlando Magic, assuming this team does not pursue any potential trades to move up. Additionally, FSU’s Scottie Barnes has -10000 odds of getting selected in the top 10, and some mock draft beat writers also have Barnes going to the Magic.

 

 

Draft betting is much like player prop bets and NBA Finals betting. There are plenty of uncertainties and variables one must consider before placing bets, such as a specific team trading up or down during the night of the draft. Think about all the possible outcomes and scenarios before placing a bet, even if you choose to play it safe.

It is imperative for gamblers to search for any news articles or videos the same day of the draft, in order to keep up to date on important breaking news. Before placing bets on professional basketball, keep in mind that Bovada is the best betting site for NBA-related content and requested wagers.

 

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Raptors, Magic aim to obtain No. 3 pick from Cavaliers in 2021 NBA Draft

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The 2021 NBA Draft is the 75th edition of the draft, and it is scheduled to take place next Thursday, July 29. According to numerous 2021 NBA mock drafts, the Cleveland Cavaliers are projected to draft Evan Mobley, the seven-foot tall forward/center and Pac-12 Player of the Year (2021) for the USC Trojans, with the third overall pick. Referencing NBA.com’s consensus mock drafts, there were six top players who appeared in all twelve of the mocks they surveyed: Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Evan Mobley, Jalen Suggs, Scottie Barnes, and Jonathan Kuminga. The Detroit Pistons are expected to take Cunningham with the first overall pick, followed by the Houston Rockets selecting Jalen Green with the second pick of the draft.

While the Toronto Raptors are currently set to pick fourth and the Orlando Magic are expected to pick fifth, per The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, both teams have made trade offers to the Cavs in order to move up to acquire the third spot. O’Connor stated, “League sources say the Cavaliers have received significant trade interest for this selection, and the Raptors and Magic Orlando—the next two teams up to pick—have made offers to move up. But Cleveland might just stay put.” Now, it is unknown what the Raptors and Magic are prepared to give up. Orlando has the advantage over Toronto, considering they also possess the No. 8 pick.

On Mar. 25, the Magic traded All-Star center Nikola Vucevic and forward Al-Farouq Aminu to the Chicago Bulls, in exchange for Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr., and two first-round picks. The two first-round picks were for 2021 and 2023, first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. This is why Orlando has extra leverage over Toronto. Some experts are speculating that Orlando will trade Mohamed Bamba, Gary Harris, and the fifth and eighth picks of the draft. To the fans, that right there sounds like a raw deal.

However, on the flip side, a team like the Raptors are in desperate need of a viable center. Last season, they finished 27-45 (.375), ranking 12th in the Eastern Conference. If not the Magic, the Raptors might be more than willing to give up the same, if not more. Toronto could trade Pascal Siakam and the No. 4 pick. In the previous offseason, a few of the notable departures for the Raptors were Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka.

Both of these aforementioned players played important roles in helping the Raptors to win their first NBA championship in the 2018-19 season. Though, the Raptors would have to make it a top priority to re-sign Kyle Lowry as well. On Oct. 7, 2019, Lowry signed a one-year, $31 million contract with the organization.

Not to mention, the Magic already have Mohamed Bamba, Wendell Carter Jr., and Johnathan Isaac on their roster. Furthermore, after recovering from their injuries, Isaac and Markelle Fultz will be returning to the court this season. Maybe Magic general manager John Hammond is using a trial-and-error approach, hoping to keep the most talented, best center available on the roster. If one throws enough sludge at the wall, eventually something will stick.

Leading up to the draft, basketball enthusiasts can continue to speculate and ask questions, but none of these potential draft moves are carved in stone. The transactions will not occur until the night of the draft, so one person’s educated guess is as good as anyone’s right now. All too often, teams get fleeced every year during the draft because various coaches and general managers either underrate or overestimate a player’s value.

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Injury Update: Hawks’ Onyeka Okongwu out 6 months after shoulder surgery

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After Atlanta Hawks‘ Onyeka Okongwu underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder on Wednesday night, the 20-year-old center will take the next six months off. Okongwu is a 6’8″ two-time California Mr. Basketball (2018, 2019), selected sixth overall in the 2020 NBA Draft. After agreeing to a rookie contract, Atlanta signed him to their roster on November 24, 2020, and he made his NBA debut on January 15, 2021. The signed multi-year contract was worth a guaranteed $11.9 million over the course of two seasons.

According to a report first published by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Dr. Neal ElAttrache operated on Okongwu in Los Angeles, California, and he suffered this shoulder injury earlier in May. He will likely be eligible to play as early as late February 2022. While the typical recovery time for a torn labrum after surgery is between three to six months, labral tears can negatively impact athletes in a sport like basketball, if they are not careful. It will not recover by itself without the proper care.

Yesterday, the Hawks organization released a statement: “Onyeka Okongwu underwent surgery earlier tonight in Los Angeles to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Dr. Neal ElAtrrache of Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic performed the surgery. Okongwu will now enter a period of rest and rehabilitation and is expected to make a full recovery in approximately six months.”

In the 2020-21 NBA season, in 50 games played, he averaged 4.6 points and 3.3 rebounds. Over the course of the 2021 postseason, Okongwu played a total of 166 minutes, averaging 9.2 minutes played per game, in eighteen games for the Hawks. He scored five points in the first round series versus the New York Knicks, 19 points in the conference semifinals versus the Philadelphia 76ers, and 24 points in the Eastern Conference Finals series against the Milwaukee Bucks.

In his junior and senior seasons playing for the University of Southern California Trojans, he earned those aforementioned California Mr. Basketball awards. In 28 games played in college, he averaged 16.2 points, 8.6 total rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game. His average field goal shooting percentage in college was also 61.6 percent. He will be turning 21-years-old this December.

Referencing his current contract negotiations via Basketball-Reference, Okongwu earned $5.8 million in this past 2020-21 season. Furthermore, he will earn $6.1 million in the 2021-22 season, $6.3 million in the 2022-23 season, and $8.1 million in the 2023-24 season. The 2022-23 and 2023-24 add-ons are team options.

Moreover, the upcoming free agency will begin on Aug. 1, 2021 and the regular season is scheduled to start on Oct. 19, 2021. For betting purposes, the 2022 NBA Finals will air throughout June 2022. The NBA has transitioned its schedule back to normal format. The league office anticipates that future playoff series will no longer get pushed back to the months of June and July. Similar to everything else, however, this current schedule is subject to change due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

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