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The X-Factors: Oklahoma City

Spencer Davies continues Basketball Insiders’ X-Factor series with a look at the surprise of the Western Conference, the Oklahoma City Thunder.

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The groundwork has been laid out.

The NBA is another inch closer to resuming with a plan in place for 22 teams to congregate in Orlando. Disney World, the self-proclaimed “happiest place on Earth” is set to be the location for the conclusion of the regular season, where each team will play eight games to determine the field of 16 that qualifies for the playoffs — and a play-in tournament between the ninth and eighth seed could happen as well if necessary.

With a “bubble” environment squared away and logistics being figured out, we’re about a month-and-a-half away from our first game action since mid-March. That’s why Basketball Insiders has been visiting each team that’s currently in the postseason picture by looking at potential x-factors surrounding them. We’ve knocked out quite a few to this point, so make sure to check those out.

Today, we’ll dive into the Oklahoma City Thunder’s chances to make some noise.

Firstly, it’s certainly worth mentioning that we may not be having this conversation if it weren’t for Chris Paul’s firsthand involvement. ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne detailed how the talks started in the first place between Paul and Disney chairman Bob Iger. The veteran Paul is the president of the National Basketball Players Association and, in turn, great friends with Iger. The two mulled over the idea of the league coming back and how they could bridge the gap between the NBPA and the NBA Board of Governors.

Shifting to his work on the floor, Paul has played a primary role in putting the Thunder in position to make a run. His performances have uplifted his younger teammates and simultaneously proven that he is anything but over the hill. There were concerns about how much was left the tank after the Houston Rockets dealt him; they were very much misguided.

Paul’s true shooting percentage has dramatically increased, as has his efficiency with the ball in his hands. Playing alongside the likes of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder in three-guard lineups, he has a great feel of where his teammates are going to be and knows where his shots are coming from. One of his best abilities is finding those crevices to pull up from the mid-range, which was the opposite of the Rockets’ philosophy. In Oklahoma City, he hasn’t been a square peg trying to fit in a round hole, and head coach Billy Donovan has allowed him to run the show and dominate in the pick-and-roll game.

Of course, being 35 years old now, it will be interesting to see how Paul rebounds from a few months off the hardwood. He’ll have to get himself back into game shape, and it wouldn’t be surprising if it took a week or two to do so. He’s the obvious first x-factor in all of this on the Thunder side of things.

Next up is Steven Adams. The mountain of a man in the middle, the 6-foot-11 Kiwi big is the king of the backtap. It’s a thorn in the side of every team that’s trying to secure a board and run the other way. Instead, extra possession after extra possession is the result, which gives out Oklahoma City a distinct advantage on the glass and chances to score a bucket. He also sets bone-crushing screens and can finish on the interior when they need him to. Centers like Adams don’t necessarily work best for those faster-paced teams, but the Thunder like to be methodical and slow things down in the half-court due to their defensive strengths.

That’s where Gilgeous-Alexander enters the picture. Though his second-year numbers are solid on the offensive end — nearly 20 points and 6 rebounds per game — the sophomore out of Kentucky pesters his opponents with frustrating length and in-your-shirt pressure. That leads to steals and forced turnovers quite a bit, which results in Oklahoma City being able to push it in the open floor with an advantage.

Of course, you have Dennis Schroder to pick the pace up when required. When Paul is out, he’s able to pack a powerful scoring and distributing punch off the bench. When Paul is in, he plays more off the ball and acts as a shooting guard. Schroder is taking five treys a game and knocking down 38 percent of those. He kind of cooled off post-All Star break – still, the Thunder boast enough playmaking and shooting to make up for it if he’s having an off night.

Danilo Gallinari might be having one of the most overlooked seasons just by playing the tertiary role on the squad. Over his last two years (so far), the Italian veteran’s produced to the tune of 19 points per game. He’s crashed the glass more on the defensive end as well, however, it’s the stroke that’s really been the weapon of choice. Gallinari is firing up a career-high seven triples on average. Playing the four is truly his sweet spot, stretching the floor and pulling bigger forwards out to the perimeter to make room for the speedy, lengthy guards to get into the paint.

Maybe the question on everyone’s mind right now is the status of Andre Roberson. It feels like forever since the top-tier defensive swingman has stepped foot on an NBA floor. That’s because it’s been since Jan. 27, 2018! He’s been recovering from a ruptured left patella tendon injury for over two years now. But now that we’re in June, Thunder general manager Sam Presti had some interesting comments to The Oklahoman surrounding his status.

Evidently, Roberson is healthy and progressing every day. The hesitancy to say he can make his return is based on the lack of on-court practice and reps. What makes it even tougher to assume this is who’s in front of him on the depth chart and rotations, too. Yet, if there’s even the slightest chance of him being cleared to play, it could be feasible for Roberson to at least play a stint or two in the games. Keep an eye on that situation because he is a game-changing defender, and the Thunder’s greatest strength is already on that end of the floor.

Oklahoma City’s second unit has a lot to offer as well. We’ve already mentioned Schroder, but it’s guys like Hamidou Diallo and Nerlens Noel that can flip the team’s pace in the snap of a finger. Rookie Lu Dort also received a ton of playing time after the break as a starter. It’s a really nice mix of youth and veterans that Donovan has to work with.

Based on the current standing, it’s conceivable that the Thunder could finish anywhere from third place to seventh. There is a giant logjam between the second-best team in the west and the final playoff seed. It’s impossible to predict the future on where they’ll be when all is said and done.

If you were to tell us that Oklahoma City would finish in that position before the season started, we’d have called you crazy — and that’s why Donovan and company should be proud of what they’ve already accomplished.

Now let’s see if the Thunder will be able to continue that momentum.

Spencer Davies is a Deputy Editor and a Senior NBA Writer based in Cleveland in his third year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past five seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.

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NBA Trade Rumors: Jazz considering trade offers for Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale, and No. 30 pick of the 2021 NBA Draft

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Per one interesting announcement from Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer, the Utah Jazz are open to trading forward Bojan Bogdanovic, forward-guard Joe Ingles, small forward Royce O’Neale, and the No. 30 pick of the 2021 NBA Draft. Fischer stated, “The Utah Jazz are known to be one of the few teams actually searching to move playoff-tested talent. Retaining Mike Conley is an offseason priority, sources said, and the Jazz have held numerous discussions with teams around the league about offloading salary to create for Conley in free agency.” Point guard Mike Conley is set to become a free agent this offseason. Though, general manager Justin Zanik will aim to re-sign the 33-year-old guard in the coming weeks. Conley earned $34.5 million in the 2020-21 season.

“League personnel most often mention Joe Ingles as the Jazz wing to watch, and Bojan Bogdanovic and Royce O’Neale are also considered available for trade as Utah narrows its focus towards building a contender around Donovan Mitchel. The Jazz are also open to discuss trading their No. 30 pick, sources said.” In the 2020-21 season, in 72 games played, Bogdanovic averaged 17 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. On May 1, 2021, in the team’s 106-102 victory over the Toronto Raptors, the six-foot-seven Croatian scored a season-high 34 points, shooting 12-for-22, and he finished his performance with four rebounds and four assists as well. On July 7, 2019, he signed a four-year, $73 million contract with the Jazz.

In 67 games played last season, Ingles averaged 12.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game. The six-foot-eight forward is set to earn $14 million in the 2021-22 season. Plus, among the mentioned players, Royce O’Neale has contributed the least. In 71 games played last season, he averaged seven points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. On January 19, 2020, the forward signed a four-year, $36 million extension with the team. He will earn $8.6 million next season. According to The Athletic, in the team’s seventh workout for draft prospects, they viewed Quentin Grimes, David Duke, Matt Mitchell, and a few other players. In the first round, if the team chooses not to draft any of the players they are holding workouts for, the organization will trade the No. 30 pick.

Just for a reminder, retrieved from Spotrac, the 2021-22 NBA luxury tax threshold is $136,606,000. Utah’s active roster cap is $133,284,695, the maximum cap is $112,414,000, and the current cap space is $72,990,215. Furthermore, center Rudy Gobert currently has the highest guaranteed contract on the team. On December 20, 2020, Gobert signed a five-year, $205 million extension with the organization. Gobert is set to earn $35.3 million in the coming season, whereas Donovan Mitchell will earn $28.1 million. Gobert and Mitchell combined consume 47.6 percent of the team’s salary cap. For the upcoming 2021-22 season, the Jazz have a guaranteed total of $129,719,453. Based on the team’s future outlook, the Jazz will have to make a trade or two in order to retain their star players. This should go without saying.

NBA Analysis Network reported a few days ago that a potential Jazz-Knicks trade target is Bojan Bogdanovic. Greg Patuto proposed the Knicks receiving Bogdanovic, while the Jazz would receive Kevin Knox II, and the Nos. 19 and No. 32 picks of the 2021 NBA Draft. Now, this could still happen at some point during this draft week, but then again, sports bettors and fans alike understand that these news reports could be just rumors. The most intelligent, unforthcoming general managers know not to leave bread crumb trails for the media, especially leading into the offseason. They will do everything necessary to protect their foolproof plans.

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Raptors, Pacers, Timberwolves, Kings, and Cavaliers among teams showing interest in Ben Simmons

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According to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, five teams have shown interest in pursuing Ben Simmons from the Philadelphia 76ers. Fischer reported, “Cleveland, Indiana, Minnesota, Sacramento, and Toronto all showed interest in acquiring the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year.” Furthermore, the teams are wanting Simmons to change position from point guard to forward. “Multiple executives from those teams, when contacted by Bleacher Report, mentioned their excitement at incorporating Simmons as a play-making forward—not at the point guard position he’s played in Philadelphia.” The six-foot-eleven guard averaged 14.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.9 assists in the 2020-21 NBA season. This might sound fine for a young rookie, but as a five-year player, these aforementioned statistics were career lows.

However, the 25-year-old also earned his third NBA All-Star selection and second All-Defensive first-team selection last season. After a less than mediocre performance in his third postseason of his NBA career, the majority of 76ers’ fans would agree that it’s now time for Simmons to have a change in scenery. With a regular season record of 49-23 (.681), the No. 1 ranked 76ers in the Eastern Conference entered the conference semifinals as favorites over the Atlanta Hawks. Leading into this series, some NBA analysts were predicting Philadelphia to prevail four games to two. The 2016 first overall pick was expected to limit Trae Young in scoring and rally his team from point deficits, but none of this ever manifested.

Pertaining to postseason averages, Simmons had a playoff series-low of 9.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in the conference semifinals against the Hawks. This lackluster showing proved to be a more significant downfall for the superstar, considering Simmons had only five points, eight rebounds, and 13 assists in Game 7 versus the Hawks. In the 2019-20 season, he averaged 2.1 steals per game, leading all other players in the league. Moreover, Simmons currently ranks sixth in the NBA for active player triple-doubles (32). With a total of 32 career triple-doubles, he ranks 13th on the all-time list, tied with Clippers’ guard Rajon Rondo.

On July 16, 2019, Simmons signed a five-year, $169.65 million contract extension with the 76ers. He is set to earn $30.5 million in the 2021-22 season. Among these teams interested in Simmons, Cavs’ Kevin Love has the fourth largest contract guarantee of $91.4 million. Love is due to earn $31.3 million next season, and the 13-year veteran’s contract consumes 26 percent of the team’s salary cap. He could be traded this offseason. Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns has a contract guarantee of $130.8 million. The 25-year-old Wolves center will earn $31.6 million in the upcoming season.

Plus, Kings’ 2017 first-round pick De’Aaron Fox has a guaranteed contract of $171.1 million. Fox will earn $28.1 million next season. To add to that, Raptors’ Pascal Siakim has a contract guarantee of $131.4 million. Not to mention, reported by Yahoo Sports via trade rumors yesterday, the Golden State Warriors are a potential trade partner for Toronto. The Warriors could make a move on Siakim, clearing up space on the Raptors for Simmons. Per Spotrac, the 2021-22 season cap maximum is $112,414,000. In the coming weeks, one of these said five teams might make a substantial trade offer to the 76ers’ organization that they cannot refuse.

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2021 NBA Draft Best Bets Analysis for the Player Draft Position Market

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The 2021 NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 29 at 8:00 p.m. (EST). The draft will be televised on ESPN and ABC. The location of the draft is at the Nets’ Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Nonetheless, although ABC is indeed airing the draft this year, they are only televising the first round. This is the first NBA draft to be held in the month of July since the 1947 Basketball Association of America (BAA) Draft.

Of course, that league went on to become the National Basketball Association (NBA). For NBA Draft betting, there are plenty of sports books available for American gamblers. The best sports books include Bovada, DraftKings, MyBookie, FanDuel, and BetUS. For NBA Draft Futures, Bovada, DraftKings, and BetGM are reasonable options. Additionally, there are multiple betting apps in existence nowadays that are accessible and easy to use, such as from BetUS, Bovada, BetOnline, and Intertops.

No. 1 Pick: Cade Cunningham (-8000)

Cade Cunningham is the front-runner for the first overall pick of the 2021 NBA Draft. He is the Big 12 Player of the Year (2021) and consensus first-team All-American (2021). On November 25, 2020, in his college debut, the 19-year-old native Texan earned 21 points and 10 rebounds in the Oklahoma State Cowboys’ 75-68 victory over the UT Arlington Mavericks. On February 27, 2021, he posted a college career-high of 40 points and 11 rebounds, in a 94-90 overtime win over the Oklahoma Sooners. In 27 games played, the six-foot-eight guard averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 40 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

On the RSCI Top 100, he also ranked first above all other recruits. With a total of 544 points, Cunningham led the Big 12 in scoring during the 2020-21 season. When asked about how he felt concerning the probability of his No. 1 selection in the draft, he said, “If I am able to go in there and be the No. 1 pick, I’m going to try to carry that same swag in how I walk on the court and make the most out of it and wear the red, white, and blue for sure.” Detroit Pistons general manager Troy Weaver also compared Cunningham to Grant Hill, the No. 3 pick out of Duke from the 1994 NBA Draft.

Reported by CBS Sports, the Houston Rockets are interested in trading up to pick Cunningham. According to Shams Charania of Stadium, the Detroit Pistons and Rockets are negotiating a possible trade. This is considering the fact that Houston also has the Nos. 23 and 24 picks of this draft, too. The sports reporter for The Athletic and Stadium stated, “The Houston Rockets have the No. 2 overall pick of the 2021 NBA Draft, but I’m told they’re aggressively pursuing Detroit’s No. 1 overall pick. The Rockets have done extensive research on presumptive No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham.” If the organization is serious about trading up, they’ll do everything in their power to make it happen.

 

No. 2 Pick: Jalen Green (+200)

Jalen Green has the highest odds of being selected second in the draft. According to NBA.com mock drafts and various oddsmakers, his draft position is still most appealing to the Houston Rockets, especially if the Pistons are unwilling to make a trade. Green is a six-foot-six shooting guard from the NBA G League. On March 8, 2021, while playing for the NBA G League Ignite in the first round of the playoffs, the 19-year-old shooting guard finished his performance with a season-high of 30 points, seven assists, and five rebounds, in the 127-102 defeat versus the Raptors 905. In 15 games played in the 2020-21 season, Green averaged 17.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.5 steals in 32 minutes played per game.

Per one report from Kelly Iko of The Athletic, the Houston staff writer stated, “USC’s Evan Mobley has been discussed in some circles, as well as Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs, but smart money would be on the Rockets taking the 19-year-old out of the G League’s Ignite on draft night.” He reaffirmed his position and main point a bout head coach Stephen Silas’ likeness to flexible guards by stating, “It’s well known that head coach Stephen Silas has an affinity for versatile guards, and Green has been said to have the highest upside in his class, from a scoring, explosive, and star standpoint.” The California-born athlete could fit in nicely with the Rockets.

No. 3 Pick: Evan Mobley (-200)

Evan Mobley has the best odds for the third overall pick of the draft. Mobley is the seven-foot tall forward/center Pac-12 Player of the Year (2021) and consensus second-team All-American (2021) from the USC Trojans. On March 11, 2021, in the team’s 91-85 double overtime win against the Utah Utes in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals, Mobley scored a career-high 26 points, nine rebounds, and five blocks. In 33 games played in the 2020-21 season for the Trojans, Mobley averaged 16.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and a field goal percentage of 57.8 percent. The Trojans made it to the Elite Eight after concluding their season schedule with the second-most wins (25) in program history. According to the RSCI Top 100, the 20-year-old player was ranked third on the list.

Since Anthony Davis from the Southeastern Conference in 2012, he is the only other player to win the Pac-12 Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and Freshman Player of the Year all in the same year. Mobley told the media on Friday, “I feel like as a modern-day NBA big, you have to be able to shoot, guard multiple positions, stretch the floor, and put the ball on the floor a little bit.” He later said in the interview, “I think I’ll be a generational player that no one has really seen before. That’s what I’m aspiring to be, and I’m just going to keep working and staying in the gym until I get there.” The Cleveland Cavaliers are in position to draft Mobley, but teams like the Toronto Raptors and Orlando Magic could trade up to pursue the player on draft night.

Player Draft Position

The top 10 most common picks of this draft are Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Evan Mobley, Jalen Suggs, Scottie Barnes, Jonathan Kuminga, James Bouknight, Davion Mitchell, Keon Johnson, and Franz Wagner. However, Josh Giddey could be the dark horse for the New Orleans Pelicans, considering they have the tenth pick of the draft. To add to that observation, The Ringer mock draft is showing Corey Kispert at the No. 10 spot. Kispert’s draft value lies within his perimeter shooting. In the 2020-21 season, the six-foot-seven Gonzaga forward shot 44 percent from beyond the arc. He also led the West Coast Conference in three-point field goal attempts (207) and shots made (91) last season.

Furthermore, Charles Bassey has options showing Over 38.5 (-105) and Under 38.5 (-125). Daishan Nix has a draft position presenting Over 50.5 (-125) and Under 50.5 (-105). Plus, David Johnson’s position betting odds show Over 45.5 (-120) and Under 45.5 (-110). A few bettors are predicting Jalen Johnson will go Under 12.5 (+150) in the draft. He has +10000 odds of being selected fifth overall in the draft. Yahoo Sports mock draft writers are predicting Ziaire Williams will get drafted at No. 14 by the Golden State Warriors. Though, the consensus favorite for the No. 14 spot is Oregon’s Chris Duarte. Moreover, Bleacher Report has the Warriors drafting Moses Moody at No. 7. The first-team All-SEC (2021) and SEC Freshman of the Year (2021) has +175 odds of being selected in the top 10 of the draft.

  • All table odds were retrieved from Bovada

Exact Order – Top 4 Pick Odds

In the first round of the draft, the favored exact order is Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Evan Mobley, and Jalen Suggs. The current odds are listed at -120. Another realistic possibility is Evan Mobley getting selected before Jalen Green. The exact order odds for this scenario are +600. While the Rockets seem to show the most interest in Green, the organization could pull the wool over everyone’s eyes. Bettors should not assume anything. The Rockets may go after Cunningham, if the opportunity presents itself and trades occur the night of the draft. Moreover, there is also a chance that Suggs could get picked before Mobley.

The odds for that outcome are also +600. The Cavaliers could use another aggressive defender and solid play-maker. Suggs specializes in pick-and-roll situations, so this is something for the Cavs to consider in the long run. In 30 games played, he averaged 14.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists, and shot 50.3 percent from the field. As a Gonzaga Bulldog, the 20-year-old guard also won a state championship in his freshman season. Having said all of this, fans need to lower their expectations before the draft. There are times these mock drafts and player interviews are not what they seem.

 

Regarding NBA Draft betting sites, e.g. FanDuel, DraftKings, and BetUS, bettors can bet on the top three or four picks in order, the first player to be drafted by position, a specific player being drafted by a certain team, and the Over/Under player number in the draft. As for placing bets before or during the season, the choices to bet on assists, rebounds, and points per game are other notable opportunities to keep in mind. Not to mention, NBA Finals prop bets, the Finals MVP winner, and regular season MVP winner are other options as well. The 2022 NBA Finals is scheduled to begin in June of next year.

 

 

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