Posts Tagged ‘Michael Carter-Williams’

Five teams already looking ahead

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

The start of the playoffs is just over the horizon and there will be plenty of unexpected bounces before the 2014 NBA champ is crowned in June.

But you can’t blame a handful of teams from already taking an early peek at what will surely be better times ahead next season:

 


VIDEO: Joakim Noah joins Arena Link after a recent Bulls win

Chicago Bulls – There’ s still plenty of havoc to be made by Joakim Noah and his “no tanking here” gang. Sitting in the No. 4 spot in the East, the Bulls are already shuffling their hooves at what could be another rip-snorting first-round series against the Nets and possibly a chance to put a few bruises on the Pacers or two-time champions from Miami down the line. But while it’s unrealistic to think Chicago can go all the way this season, the title hopes are back in view next October. Starting, of course, with a healthy return by Derrick Rose, the Bulls get their former MVP and most talented player back onto the court to supplement a lineup that has Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler.

While the dealing away of Luol Deng didn’t sink the Bulls in the standings, it brought a first round draft choice that the Cavs had picked up from Sacramento. They saved $20 million on Deng’s contract next year, can amnesty the vastly overpaid Carlos Boozer and be at the front of the line to make a recruiting pitch to head of the class free agent Carmelo Anthony. The lure of Phil Jackson‘s zen magic will probably make it tougher to get him out of N.Y., but if he really wants to make a run at a title instead of just being hero-worshipped, Melo would jump at the chance to join the Bulls where a recuperated Rose gives them the 1-2 punch that is almost necessary these days to be elite. As much fun as they’re having now, the real excitement could return next season.

 


VIDEO: Thaddeus Young, Jarvis Varnado discuss the progress and potential of Nerlens Noel

Philadelphia 76ers — It can’t get worse than losing a record-tying 26 games in a row, can it? It will still be only Year Two in general manager Sam Hinkie‘s long-term building project for the future. But at least next season the Sixers will be able to put a team out on the floor that has more than just Michael Carter-Williams, Thad Young and Tony Wroten as real NBA talent that could be part of something positive down the road. Hinkie has cleared out the payroll, but it’s far too early for the Sixers to even give a thought to luring free agents to Philly. They’ll have two lottery picks — their own and the Pelicans’ spot from the Jrue Holiday trade — and go digging for bargains with another pair of picks in the second round.

Of course, there’s the big bonus of finally getting big man Nerlens Noel into the lineup, after he sat out all of this season with a torn ACL. Noel has been champing at the bit to play now, but the team will hold him back till summer league and then turn him loose. Hinkie is positively giddy about what a bulked-up, more physically fit Noel will be able to do. The Sixers are not even dreaming of playoffs, just putting the building blocks in place.

 


VIDEO: Andrew Nicholson talks about staying positive in Orlando

Orlando Magic — Two years ago, Rob Hennigan dealt away Dwight Howard and the instant reaction from many corners was that the rookie GM had been fleeced. Of course, the way things turned out in L.A., Philly and Denver, it seems that Hennigan was the one doing the fleecing, picking up Nic Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and Arron Afflalo, who are now main parts of a young roster on the rise. Mix in last year’s top draft pick Victor Oladipo with Tobias Harris, Kyle O’Quinn and Andrew Nicholson and while the Magic are again near the bottom of the standings with the third-fewest wins in the league, there has been a method to Hennigan. The jury is still out on making Oladipo a point guard, but he’s clearly a talent.

Hennigan is following in the footsteps of his mentor Sam Presti in OKC, constructing a roster that is flexible in terms of both talent and salary. The Magic are not beholden at this point to a single individual and are willing to be in the trade market for any upgrade that makes sense at any position. Then toss in the potential of adding an Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker to the lineup and the Magic are suddenly a team back in the spotlight with a new franchise star and a future that could lead back to chasing the playoffs maybe even as soon as next year in the Eastern Conference.

 


VIDEO: Giannis Antetokounmpo is adjusting to life in the NBA and U.S.

Milwaukee Bucks – As bad and depressing as things got for the Sixers during their 26-game losing streak, the fact is they were never able to drop below the Bucks in the standings. This is the worst team in the league, but it doesn’t have to be this way in 2014-15. For one thing, it’s about timing in the draft. The Bucks have been fortunate enough to win the lottery twice in the past, getting Glenn Robinson with the No. 1 pick in 1994 and Andrew Bogut in 2005. “Big Dog” had had his moments and Bogut is playing nicely these days for the Warriors, but neither was ever the kind of game-changer than can take a franchise to the top.

Now with the deepest lottery in a while, it seems that Milwaukee is in a can’t-miss position. GM John Hammond is said to be setting his sights on center Joel Embiid, who could anchor the middle of a lineup with exciting rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo and Larry Sanders, who hopefully can get his head back into the game and save a career that could go off the rails. Hammond unloaded the contracts of Luke Ridnour and Gary Neal at the trade deadline and would probably like to jettison O.J. Mayo. Brandon Knight has been up and down, but shows that he can score. Rookie Nate Wolters has probably exceeded expectations and creates optimism for the future.

It’s Antetokounmpo who creates the most excitement with his raw talent and potential. Whether they go with Embild with their first pick or Wiggins, Parker, Julius Randle or Dante Exum, this time the Bucks could get the game changer they need at a time when owner Herb Kohl is trying to sell the franchise. This could be a lineup worth buying and watching next season.

 


VIDEO: Dwight Howard explains why he likes it in Houston

Houston Rockets — Yes, yes, yes. The Rockets are already a top four seed in the rugged Western Conference and have flexed their speed and muscles and shooting prowess against some of the best teams in the league this season. The pairing of Dwight Howard with James Harden has given Houston the 1-2 All-Star punch that was expected. Yet even with some folks tabbing the Rockets as a dark horse threat when the playoffs begin, the truth is their best days are still ahead. Wheeler and dealer GM Daryl Morey knows that his job is not yet done and that’s why he’s played the payroll and salary cap like a Stradivarius and will again have the Rockets in position to make a run at at the biggest names on the free agent market this summer. If he deals Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik ($15 million each next season), the Rockets could offer close to the max.

Howard and Harden are still getting to know each other and this team might need to experience the pain of a playoff loss to get recommitted and take things to the next level. The Rockets could also use another scorer/defender on the wing to go toe-to-toe nightly with the elite contenders. LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony? Let us saddle you up as part of the posse, pardner. Of course, it’s unlikely that James is going anywhere. But Anthony would have to have give long and serious thought to Houston if he decides that the magic of Jackson isn’t going to turn the Knicks around in the next year or two. Put Melo in a lineup with Howard and Harden and the 145 points the Rockets rung up the other night against the Lakers could become a nightly occurrence. If not Anthony, Bosh could return home to Texas. The Rockets made a free agent pitch for him several years ago and his adaptable skills could fit in nicely on the front line.

The Rockets will be different next season. They always are. And with Howard and Harden as anchors, now different means better. The start of next season can’t come soon enough in Houston.

Amid all the losses, Young’s been winner

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Thaddeus Young gets up high to deny the Bobcats’ Cody Zeller

It’s the time of the season when the ballots come out and the debates begin.

MVP: LeBron James or Kevin Durant?

Coach of the Year: Gregg Popovich, Tom Thibodeau, Jeff Hornacek, Doc Rivers, Dwane Casey, Kevin McHale?

Rookie, Sixth Man, Most Improved, Defensive Player. The hardware will be handed out at intervals over the next couple months.

Thaddeus Young won’t get a trophy, but he should be given a lifetime achievement award for having lived through several of them with the 76ers this season.

Doggedly, determined, decisive.

It was the night when his 76ers had tied the NBA single season record with their 26th consecutive loss and the 6-foot-8 forward sat at his locker in Houston’s Toyota Center and answered every question the same way he has answered every challenge in the most difficult season of his basketball career. Head on.

“You just try to win the next game,” Young said.

Roughly 48 hours later, the crowd at Philly’s Wells Fargo Center would celebrate loudly when the Sixers beat the Pistons for their first victory since Jan. 29.

But there have been too few of those happy nights in a 17-win season when the organizational goals and the instincts of a competitor have churned in opposite directions.

The Sixers’ front office and coaching staff have been up front that it’s only the future that matters. Yet here is Young, 25, seeing the precious present of what should be the prime of his career tick away and refusing to simply mark time.

While the losses have piled up, Young’s energy and commitment to his job and team haven’t wavered. If athletes are not necessarily supposed to be role models to the general public, it is a responsibility within the locker room. So maybe one day, when the likes of Michael Carter-Williams, Tony Wroten and Nerlens Noel are reaping the benefits of this painful experience, they’ll know who showed them how to act like a pro.

“It’s hard,” Young said. “But all you can do is try to keep your head up and things will change. You keep telling yourself change is coming. In the meantime, you got to go out there and play, regardless of what happens.”

The Sixers became a national headline as skid grew and were fodder for late-night comedians — as if there might not actually be individuals who never stopped busting a gut to get a win.

“You know it’s been talked about,” Young said. “You know what’s being said. But you just go out and try to figure how to win a basketball game. Me personally, the only thing I really care about is winning.

“It’s definitely hard. Every day you want to continue to go out there and be a professional, continue to go out there and do your job. This is what we’re paid to do — go out there and play.”

It was bad enough through the middle of February when the Sixers were simply young and inept. But then trade deadline came and general manager Sam Hinkie traded away Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen and the Sixers became younger and almost incapable.

“I think it can take its toll,” said Sixers coach Brett Brown. “We talk about having the youngest team in the history of the game and then we say on trade deadline night that we went to a whole other level, which reconfirmed the direction that we’re taking. He lost three friends. You’re look around and you’re looking at an even younger team.

“I admire the way Thad has handled himself, losing games, losing friends, and still I haven’t seen him let up the slightest bit in the way he works and prepares and handles himself.”

He has played in all but three games, leading the Sixers in scoring at 18 ppg while still hustling and simply trying to do the right thing.

“I continue to play hard regardless,” Young said. “So I’ve definitely accepted the way things are. But like I’ve said many times before, the situation is what it is and we have to … remain focused on the task at hand.”

In a strange way, it’s the ultimate compliment to Young that the Sixers wanted to keep him around as their stabilizing, grounding force.

“They have a lot of respect for my words in the locker room, my words on the court and what I’ve done in the past seven years for the organization,” he said. They see me as a guy that can keep these guys calm and cool throughout the situation and maintain the locker room and keep guys together.”

The questions now? Do the Sixers see Young as part a reconstruction project that will likely span several more rough seasons? Does Young want to stay in his role as wet nurse rather than chase championships with a contender? His contract calls for $19 million over the next two years with a player option in 2015-16.

“I haven’t thought about it at all,” Young said. “When that time comes, I’ll talk about it with Sam, with my agent, with coach, whoever else I have to talk about it with. Right now my focus is just finishing out this season and dealing with the summer when it comes. Then we’ll talk about the future and all the other stuff.

“I’m just dealing with the situation I’m in right now. Playing basketball, trying to continue to have fun. With the games we have left, I’ve still got a job to go out there and help some of these guys grow in this locker room, to just go out there and try to be a leader to this team.”

Thad Young won’t get a trophy for his play this season, but he’s well earned our respect in the longest of seasons.

Rookie of the Year by the numbers


VIDEO: Michael Carter-Williams named Kia Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for March

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Kia Rookie of the Year voting should be pretty simple this season. There are only nine rookies who have averaged at least 20 minutes per game for 50 games or more. And none of those have done it for a team with a winning record.

Winning records don’t matter much in Rookie of the Year voting. None of the last 10 winners played for teams with winning records. So there probably won’t be anything stopping the media from voting for Michael Carter-Williams (of the 16-59 Sixers) or Victor Oladipo (of the 21-54 Magic).

Carter-Williams appears to be the clear favorite. He leads all rookies in points, rebounds, assists and steals per game.

That doesn’t mean that he’s the best player among all rookies. He’s just had the biggest opportunity, playing for a team that stripped its roster bare over the course of the last 10 months.

Carter-Williams has been the only rookie to start every game he’s played in, and his back-up — Tony Wroten — was never a threat to take any of his minutes, especially since developing the rookie has been priority No. 1 in Philadelphia this season. Even if winning games was a priority, Wroten isn’t good enough to take minutes away from MCW.

Not only has Carter-Williams led rookies in minutes per game and usage rate, but the Sixers have played at the *fastest pace in the league. So, when it comes to racking up per-game numbers, he’s had a three-tier advantage over other rookies.

* The fourth fastest pace of the last 20 years, actually.

We can adjust for all that, though. NBA.com’s PIE statistic takes a player’s numbers (with weights added to each) as a percentage of the overall numbers that were accumulated while he was on the floor. And only one rookie ranks higher than Carter-Williams in terms of PIE…

All stats are through April 3, 2014.

Rookies who have played 1,000 minutes, sorted by PIE

Player GP MIN eFG% TS% Usg% PIE
Mason Plumlee 62 1,079 63.2% 65.3% 16.9% 10.5%
Michael Carter-Williams 63 2,181 42.2% 46.9% 26.0% 9.8%
Nick Calathes 64 1,069 49.5% 51.0% 17.9% 9.8%
Victor Oladipo 73 2,325 45.3% 51.2% 24.0% 9.6%
Nate Wolters 58 1,310 46.0% 48.6% 16.7% 9.3%
Cody Zeller 75 1,266 41.9% 49.1% 18.2% 8.7%
Trey Burke 63 1,995 44.2% 47.2% 22.1% 8.1%
Kelly Olynyk 63 1,215 48.6% 52.8% 20.0% 8.0%
Ryan Kelly 52 1,103 51.2% 57.3% 15.4% 7.8%
Giannis Antetokounmpo 70 1,705 46.9% 52.5% 15.3% 7.6%
Matthew Dellavedova 66 1,132 50.8% 53.7% 13.3% 7.5%
Tim Hardaway Jr. 75 1,732 52.9% 55.8% 19.1% 7.4%
Hollis Thompson 70 1,559 54.5% 56.7% 11.4% 6.0%
Tony Snell 70 1,178 47.0% 48.9% 15.0% 5.8%
Steven Adams 74 1,102 49.7% 53.6% 11.7% 5.2%
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 73 1,446 45.9% 48.3% 13.6% 5.0%
Ben McLemore 75 1,934 44.4% 47.9% 16.7% 3.9%

eFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA
TS% = PTS / (2 * (FGA + (0.44 FTA)))

By the way, this certainly isn’t the best rookie class in recent memory, but it might have the longest names.

So Mason Plumlee has made more of his minutes than Carter-Williams has, and has also done it for a playoff team. But MCW has played twice as many minutes. And if you’re voting for Rookie of the Year, it’s hard to argue against that.

Carter-Williams has also made the Sixers a better team. They’ve been outscored by 15.2 points per 100 possessions with him on the bench, but by only 8.9 with him on the floor. That minus-8.9 NetRtg would still rank 29th in the league (ahead of only the Bucks), but it’s a heck of a lot better than minus-15.2.

Of the 17 rookies who have played at least 1,000 minutes, only three have a positive plus-minus. They are Steven Adams (plus-52), Matthew Dellavedova (plus-46) and Nick Calathes (plus-9). And Adams’ team has been much better with him off the floor.

Several more rookies can say they’ve made a positive impact…

Rookies who have played 1,000 minutes, sorted by on-off-court NetRtg differential

On court Off court Difference
Player MIN NetRtg MIN NetRtg NetRtg Rank
Nate Wolters 1,310 -1.8 2,330 -13.0 11.2 10
Matthew Dellavedova 1,132 +3.1 2,561 -7.3 10.4 16
Giannis Antetokounmpo 1,705 -4.4 1,935 -13.0 8.5 25
Michael Carter-Williams 2,181 -8.9 1,454 -15.2 6.3 47
Ryan Kelly 1,103 -1.9 2,502 -7.6 5.7 53
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 1,446 -0.8 2,174 -6.3 5.5 59
Kelly Olynyk 1,215 -2.2 2,395 -7.4 5.3 61
Trey Burke 1,995 -7.3 1,615 -10.1 2.8 97
Nick Calathes 1,069 +1.1 2,551 +0.8 0.3 135
Hollis Thompson 1,559 -12.0 2,076 -11.0 -1.0 150
Victor Oladipo 2,325 -5.8 1,330 -4.6 -1.2 151
Mason Plumlee 1,079 -1.4 2,513 +0.6 -2.0 169
Cody Zeller 1,266 -2.8 2,364 +0.9 -3.7 192
Ben McLemore 1,934 -5.0 1,696 +0.0 -5.1 204
Steven Adams 1,102 +3.4 2,475 +9.3 -5.9 209
Tim Hardaway Jr. 1,732 -5.3 1,951 +2.0 -7.3 221
Tony Snell 1,178 -4.5 2,467 +4.3 -8.8 229

NetRtg = Team point differential per 100 possessions
Rank = Among 236 players who have logged at least 1,000 minutes for one team

It helps to know who those guys are playing their minutes with, but among Sixer rotation regulars, only Evan Turner had a higher on-court NetRtg than Carter-Williams.

So while it’s important to add context to Carter-Williams per-game numbers, the context doesn’t hurt his Rookie of the Year candidacy very much.

Sixers’ streak goes on and so does plan

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Sixers suffer record-tying 26th straight loss

HOUSTON — Sam Hinkie ducked into the media dining room to grab a small plate of fajitas and headed quickly toward the door.

A friend asked him if he was hiding out.

“People want to see me either gnashing my teeth or beating my chest,” he said. “I’m not gnashing my teeth.”

Not even after 26 losses in a row.

The Sixers’ march toward both ignominious history and hopeful resurrection continued as the Rockets punched their ticket 120-98 on Thursday night.

As general manager, president of basketball operations, Hinkie is the Dr. Frankenstein who reverse-engineered this monster that is now tied with the 2010-11 Cavaliers for the longest single season losing streak in NBA history. For that, some of the town folk would like to storm his door with torches and pitchforks, because, well, they weren’t paying attention. Not to Hinkie’s clearly-drawn blueprint from the moment he was hired last May and not to the long history of the league.

It was fitting that the debate about the NBA Draft lottery should land in Houston for record-tying loss No. 26. For it was here in the land of high humidity and semi-low skullduggery that the lottery was mid-wifed after the Rockets — by virtue of the worst record in the Western Conference — won back-to-back coin flips in 1983 and ’84 to secure the rights to Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon.

In 1986, the Rockets were playing the Celtics in the NBA Finals.

So there is really no reason for the overreactive 21st century social media world or the taking-us-all-to-the-bottom talking heads of TV to lose their already loose grip on reality. And there is no need for commissioner Adam Silver to convene a blue ribbon committee to find a new way to slice bread or disperse incoming talent.

Hinkie and the Sixers are only working within a system that has been in place for decades and, as far as anyone can tell, hasn’t jeopardized civilization or caused the ruination of the league.

The Heat have been to three straight Finals and won back-to-back championships because team president Pat Riley chose in the 2009-10 season to put a roster of expiring contracts onto the court that could finish no better than third in its division and was promptly and expectedly wiped out of the playoffs in the first round.

And by the way, as bad as the Sixers have been, streak and all, they’re still a game up on Milwaukee in the standings.

It just makes no sense to be hopelessly stuck in the middle of the pack, maybe nibbling at the No. 7 or 8 playoff spots with no real hope of ever planning a championship parade down Main St.

Which is why first-year head coach Brett Brown said he doesn’t have the inclination to feel bad for his players who haven’t won a game since Jan. 29 at Boston and could be all alone in the history books if the streak hits 27 at home on Saturday against the Pistons.

“I won’t,” Brown said. “It’s part of everybody trying to execute a way where we can rebuild our program and this is one of the unfortunate byproducts that has come our way. I think that if we had sprinkled our 15 wins in perhaps a little bit differently, where it wouldn’t have received as much attention as it seems to being receiving, well, fair enough. Everybody’s doing their job. We haven’t changed our tune or changed our message because of that.

“It goes back to what we said from Day One. We’re trying to find keepers that can move the program forward and I think we’re doing that.

“I knew what I signed up for. This is no shock. I had the opportunity to research this position for several months and I like the risk-reward. I think that if we can ever get it right in such a fantastic city, the city will come out and support us.

“I respect that the people, the fans, follow us and we want to do the right thing by our city. We want to come out and play hard and have people be proud of our efforts. This year is not about that side of the judgment. We’re judged by different measurements this year. It isn’t winning or losing. I feel like my guys come in and they bring their ‘A’ efforts.”

The trouble is those efforts are simply not good enough for the youngest team in the history of the league. The Sixers can play fast and play hard to a point. They trailed the Rockets by just four in the second quarter. But a few minutes later, Dwight Howard slipped behind the unheeding Philly defense to catch an inbound pass thrown from the opposite free-throw line by Chandler Parsons for a dunk. A few minutes later, Terrence Jones also went deep and would have had another cheap dunk, but the pass from James Harden was too long and went out of bounds.

Those are the kind of plays, the kind of lapses that build a 26-game losing streak.

“It’s pretty self-explanatory,” said rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams. “It is what it is. I don’t really have too many thoughts about it. I’m not thinking about it. I’m just going out there and I’m trying to win a ball game. Of course, I want to win every time I step on the floor. But right now it’s about us developing and getting better each and every day.”

It was Carter-Williams not wanting this bunch falling into a pit of self-pity and despair that prompted him to address the team after the game.

“I just think during the game a couple of guys had long faces, including myself,” he said. “I found myself a little bit down. I just don’t want anyone in this locker room feeling bad for themselves.

“We’re out on the court and we’re playing. I just told them that each and every game from here on out, we’ve got to go out swinging. We can’t give up and-1s. We’ve got to put people on the floor a little bit. We’ve gotta just fight every single day, whether we’re in practice or one of the games. I think that it’s really important we don’t get down on ourselves and give up just because we have a certain amount of losses. I just felt like I needed to speak my piece and make sure our guys are upbeat at the end of the day.

“I think it was received great. I think the guys responded well. We don’t have too many long faces in this locker room right now. We all want to win a ball game. We’re itching to have that feeling of being a winner. I think the coaches appreciated it and I think it needed to be said.”

What needs to be said is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with Hinkie’s plan that has been fully endorsed by team owner Josh Harris. The challenge will be to use their draft picks wisely, sign the right free agents and make the whole experience more than just a painful limbo dance.

A short time before tip-off, Rockets coach Kevin McHale was asked if he’d ever lost so many times at anything.

“I don’t know if the sun comes up when you lose 25 in a row,” he said.

It can eventually, if you look beyond today’s bruises to the plan for tomorrow and, like Hinkie, don’t waste time gnashing your teeth.

Award races head into stretch run

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

Four weeks from today the regular season is over. All eyes will be on the playoffs. And that means the final push is on for the 2013-14 awards.

The duel for MVP honors has been a match race all season between Kevin Durant and LeBron James. Michael Carter-Williams jumped out of the pack early as the one to beat for Rookie of the Year. But the other races have been wide open.

Here’s one man’s view as we head into the home stretch:

Most Improved Player

Anthony Davis, Pelicans — This is why the Pelicans were so happy to make him the No. 1 pick in the 2012 Draft. This is what coach Monty Williams says Davis probably could have shown last season if the coach hadn’t kept a tight rein on his prized rookie, limiting his minutes and his exposure to getting overpowered while he built up his slender body. When Davis erupted for 40 points, 21 rebounds, three assists and three steals against the Celtics, it was the culmination of a spectacular sophomore year. He’s been steady and breathtaking at both ends of the court all season, enough to beat out the likes of worthy candidates Goran Dragic and Lance Stephenson in a crowded field of contenders. Also getting votes: DeAndre Jordan, Trevor Ariza.


VIDEO: Anthony Davis was nominated for Kia Player of the Month for March

Sixth Man of the Year

Manu Ginobili, Spurs – Following an injury-plagued 2012-13 season that saw him enter the playoffs last spring looking bedraggled, the player who puts the jolt into the Spurs attack is back playing like a live wire in his 12th season. His field-goal percentage is up and his he’s back to doing all the things at both ends of the floor that make him a disruptive force and a difference maker. Jamal Crawford is the closest contender and has done many of the same things for the Clippers. The deciding factor has to be overall team performance. L.A. is in the top half of the Western Conference standings, but that’s once again the Spurs at the top. The return of Manu to his old form is a prime reason. Also getting votes: Reggie Jackson, Markieff Morris.


VIDEO: Manu Ginobili talks about the Spurs’ season and his play

Rookie of the Year

Michael Carter-Williams, Sixers — He was the sixth guard selected (11th overall) in 2013 and wasted no time showing he never should have lasted that long. He’s put up big numbers even as the Sixers have suffered through what is a historically inept season. If all of general manager Sam Hinkie’s decisions turn out so well, the pain will be worth the price. The fun could just be starting when MCW gets to team up with a healthy Nerlens Noel next season. It’s a long way back to the No. 2 man in the voting for this category, but we’re jumping the more likely pick and going with Tim Hardaway Jr. His hard-charging style has been one of the few reasons to watch the Knicks all year. Also getting votes: Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke. Kia Rookie Ladder


VIDEO: At the All-Star break, Michael Carter-Williams talks about his season

Defensive Player of the Year

Joakim Noah, Bulls — The Pacers spent the early part of the year polishing their reputation as the league’s top defensive team, with center Roy Hibbert starting to clear room on his mantle as the pre-eminent rim protector in the game. But it is no coincidence that the Pacers’ struggles fit with a slippage in Hibbert’s game. The truth is, when you get him just a little bit away from the basket, he’s not so dominant. Meanwhile the Bulls have shrugged off the loss of Derrick Rose and Luol Deng because Noah simply won’t let them stop working and scrapping and competing. He’s the heart and soul of the team, especially that ferocious defense as Chicago charges late and the Pacers try to regain their equilibrium. Also getting votes: Serge Ibaka, Dwight Howard.


VIDEO: Rachel Nichols talks with Joakim Noah about his surge in play of late

Coach of the Year

Gregg Popovich, Spurs — The first instinct is to say that Jeff Hornacek has taken a Suns team that everyone assumed was diving for the lottery — and the Las Vegas wise guys had pegged for 21.5 wins — and turned them into an uplifting story and playoff contender, and that’s worthy of consideration. The next instinct is to say that Tom Thibodeau is like the Black Knight in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, virtually getting limbs chopped off and yet ignoring the wounds and keeping right on with the fight. But when you get right down to the meat of things, it’s all about winning games and some how, some way, Popovich keeps doing that better than anybody else. Never mind that Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are practically senior citizens. Never mind that an assortment of injuries has forced the Spurs to use two dozen different lineups. Never mind all of those lingering mental scars from The Finals last June. Popovich expects the best and his team keeps producing it. Excellence should be recognized and rewarded. Also getting votes: Frank Vogel, Dwane Casey, Steve Clifford.


VIDEO: GameTime delves into how deeply Gregg Popovich’s influence is felt around the NBA

Most Valuable Player

Kevin Durant, Thunder — It’s been a two-horse race between Durant and LeBron James almost from the opening tip. You can almost never go wrong picking James, who still reigns as the league’s best player with his ability. It looked like James might be making a late charge for an MVP three-peat with his 61 point game a couple of weeks ago. But an ensuing slump by both LeBron and the Heat took the steam out of that charge. Durant responded and has raised his game even higher over the past 1 1/2 weeks. We also have to go back to Durant’s body of work without Russell Westbrook for 30 games — and counting — as he keeps the Thunder in the hunt for best overall record and heads toward what should be the first of multiple MVP wins. Also getting votes: Joakim Noah, Blake Griffin. Kia Race to the MVP Ladder


VIDEO: Chris Webber and Greg Anthony debate and discuss the MVP race

Sixers feeling the pain of rebuilding

Michael Carter-Williams, left, gets a pointer from coach Brett Brown (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Michael Carter-Williams, left, gets a pointer from coach Brett Brown (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

PHILADELPHIA – Over their last 21 games, the Philadelphia 76ers have held a fourth-quarter lead just once.

It was a three-point lead at the start of the fourth in Orlando on March 2. On the Magic’s first possession of the final period, Maurice Harkless found himself wide open beyond the arc and that was that. The lead was gone in 20 seconds.

It’s been 49 days since the Sixers last won a game and, in those last 21 tries, they haven’t really come close. They were tied in Utah with two minutes left on Feb. 12 but never attempted a shot that would have given them the lead. They were tied again with the Jazz with less than three minutes to go on March 8, but missed their final eight shots and lost by 12.

Sixteen of the 21 losses have come by double-digits. Six have come by more than 25 points. The Sixers aren’t just losing. They’re getting their butts kicked.

And this is all a part of a plan.

General manager Sam Hinkie came to Philadelphia to tear things down, acquire assets, and give the Sixers a higher long-term ceiling. Once this season is over, optimism can again take hold.

But for now, Hinkie’s team is going through a brutal stretch.

Even before the trade deadline, things had turned pretty sour. Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes lost their last nine games as Sixers, who were outscored by *15.5 points per 100 possessions in the 22 games before they traded those two guys.

*This number matches that of the 2011-12 Bobcats, who had the second worst NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions) of the last 36 years. The worst belonged to the 1992-93 Mavs, who had a NetRtg of -16.3.

Since the trades, the Sixers have been outscored by 17.2 points per 100 possessions. Their offense has been almost six points per 100 possessions worse than the 29th-ranked offense in that time.

They take the right kinds of shots. Only the Rockets have taken a greater percentage of their shots from the restricted area or 3-point range (the most efficient spots on the floor). But they don’t make them often enough. They just don’t have enough talent.

Thaddeus Young (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

Thaddeus Young (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

For the last month, the Sixers’ (active) roster essentially has been Thaddeus Young, Michael Carter-Williams and a bunch of guys who wouldn’t be in the league if it weren’t for the situation this team is in. The Sixers have had 26 different players on their roster this season, and you probably hadn’t heard of a lot of them prior to this season.

Hinkie is still cycling new players into his locker room, which doesn’t make it any easier to win. Continuity is a key to success and Philly has had little. Guys have been thrown into the fire with little or no practice time.

Less than a week after arriving in the Hawes trade, Henry Sims became the starting center. Dewayne Dedmon played 14 minutes (in a tight game) the day after he was signed to a 10-day contract. When Darius Johnson-Odom was signed to a 10-day last week, the main message from head coach Brett Brown was to be ready.

“It’s difficult of you don’t simplify it,” Brown said last week of integrating all these new guys. “You’re reminded all that time that you have to just shrink it into something very black and white. We’re looking for ‘x’ on offense. We’re looking for ‘x’ on defense. And we need to coexist in a locker room.

“That’s still number one. We have to play together. We can’t play in a crowd is number two. And just coexisting and making sure we don’t get beaten down by however many losses we’ve had or the margin on the scoreboard. We’re here, we want to play the right way, and that’s the message I try to keep all our guys on point with.”

On the outside, it’s hard not to be fascinated by the possibility of the Sixers losing their final 36 games of the season, running right through the record for consecutive losses (26, held by the 2010-11 Cavs) along the way. And obviously, some of the noise is going to permeate the locker room. But Brown wants his team to focus on the process of getting better.

“We don’t live in that world,” he said after loss No. 20 on Saturday. “And it’s my job to make sure they don’t live in that world. And I feel like I do try to help them understand what our purpose is.

“Their morale is fine. It gets, at times, really challenging in my seat to make sure that we remind them of the world that we live in. But we got a heck of a leader in Thaddeus Young and we got a rookie point guard that is going through a difficult year with the losses that we have. This is just another side of learning.”

It can’t be easy on Young, who was a few minutes from the conference finals less than two years ago and who doesn’t need to go through this stage of learning again. But he knows what his role is as the veteran of the group.

“Keep fighting, not show any signs of weakness, and try my best to not let it frustrate me,” Young said. “It’s hard, but at the end of the day, we’re trying to get these guys in this locker room better. It’s my job to help them along the way.”

The Sixers’ locker room after one recent loss wasn’t all that sour of an environment. But they obviously don’t want to make history. Their schedule seems to offer only two or three more opportunities to win a game, but they were in it until the closing moments on Monday in Indiana.

They don’t have much talent. But they haven’t let go of the rope.

“We win together and we lose together,” Brown said. “Our coaching staff bleeds with them when they lose. And that’s how we’re going down. That’s how we’re doing this.”

Sixers Keep Boldly Moving Forward


VIDEO: Sixers GM Sam Hinkie talks about the team’s trade deadline moves

Sam Hinkie can’t yet put a pin in the exact place on the map, but he does know where he’s going.

Forward.

You might not like the speed. You might even turn your nose up at the route this season or the blighted scenery that will make up the rest of the schedule.

But you’ll have to admit it’s different — and in the long run preferable — to the hamster wheel that’s taken the 76ers nowhere fast for more than a decade.

That the first-year general manager chose to unload Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen for a pocketful of beans and expiring contracts was simply a continuation of the plan he’s been trying to execute from his first day on the job.

You can’t build something new and lasting on old ground if all you do is switch out the furniture and slap on a fresh coat of paint. That’s really all the Sixers had been doing since back in the days when Allen Iverson and Larry Brown were driving each other crazy all the way to the NBA Finals.

Over the past several years, all the Sixers could hang their jerseys on was a first-round upset of the Bulls in the 2012 that was only accomplished because Derrick Rose had crumpled in a heap.

What’s been needed for quite some time has been for somebody to come in and blow the whole thing up and start from scratch, disregarding all of the old ways and the ingrained local Philly network.

Hinkie has no problem being that guy.

When he finished at the trade deadline, Hinkie’s swapping had produced six second-round draft picks, five new players, a bundle of expiring contracts and $30 million in salary cap room for the summer.

It’s amazing how much fuss there was over letting go three members of a team with a 15-41 record. It’s mind-boggling that even a few folks might have been confused by Hinkie’s actions.

“I think all three of them are playing at a career-best level,” Hinkie told reporters at a news conference on Friday. “Sometimes it’s about the timing of the league. Some of those guys belong in a place. Evan is in Indiana. Indiana is going to be playing in at least May if not June, and this is a time for him to be there. And some of the things we took back are set for the future, or a second in this year’s draft or something else. Those are things that are more appropriate for where we are.

“We’re trying to acquire things that will help us move forward, and the net result of what happened is we picked up six additional second-round picks. Sometimes it’s the players you select, sometimes it’s the players you can trade for in using them, sometimes it’s the combining them to move other places to do other things.”

Of course, Hinkie already got the ball rolling last summer when he made the stunning deal that sent All-Star Jrue Holiday to New Orleans for Nerlens Noel, who has not yet played, and then used the No. 11 pick in the draft to pluck Michael Carter-Williams, who appears to be an elite point guard for the next decade.

The Sixers have the potential for a pick in the top three of this year’s draft and another in the top 12, coming from New Orleans, along with all the second-round picks.

“I think it’ll make our phone ring, for one,” Hinkie said. “And I think it’ll give us choices.”

Sure, it might require covering your eyes if you happen to be forced into the Wells Fargo Center anytime between now and April, and you might not like the NBA system that almost demands a stripping of all assets as the quickest and most prudent way to start over. But it is the system, and in the end, the idea is to work within it. Hinkie’s old boss Daryl Morey and former team owner Leslie Alexander in Houston chose not to hit rock bottom, yet over the past 17 seasons the Rockets have only one playoff series win while constantly reshuffling their deck. Now the Rockets have Dwight Howard and James Harden, but was it worth nearly two decades of tap dancing in mediocrity? The path by Hinkie could and should be shorter to rebirth.

“You often don’t know, so you don’t know how it might play out, and you don’t know what might be available,” Hinkie said. “Lots of things come across the transom, lots of things you look at. It’s part of what we try to do, to have a lot of interesting opportunities to look at. It’s important.

“I think many years will come and go where you’ll have lots of opportunities and you’ll say no to all of them, and it will look like nothing happened because nothing actually transpired. This year, enough things came along that were interesting. I would say that some of the picks — people sort of lump picks together, ‘Aw, it’s just a second’ — some of the picks are quite interesting, some of the picks are quite high and could be even higher. That has real value.

“I think as we get close to the draft, the talent evaluators all start to downplay expectations, ‘Oh, it’s not quite as good as we thought.’ It looks quite strong. All the best teams have been built around great players. Great players. And we’re going to be particularly focused on that for a while in finding great players who can lead us forward.”

Someway, somehow. Which is better than continuing to run in circles.

Rookie MCW’s Been Smooth In Rough Spot


VIDEO: Michael Carter-Williams talks about the challenges of being an NBA player

NEW ORLEANS — Philadelphia 76ers rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams is getting his first taste of All-Star weekend. He will participate in the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge tonight (9 p.m. ET, TNT) at the newly named Smoothie King Center.

It’s kind of an apt name for Carter-Williams, who’s been pretty smooth while being thrust into an awfully rough situation. The Sixers are an organization going through significant change, bottoming-out as a means to get better. As he’s come in, other players such as Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young are wondering if they’re on their way out.

But that’s life in the big city, and all-in-all, Carter-Williams has adjusted nicely, averaging 17.1 ppg, 6.5 apg and 5.4 rpg, making him the frontrunner to win the Rookie of the Year Award.

Carter-Williams, 22, lost just 13 games in his two seasons at Syracuse. The Sixers have lost 39 of the 54 games they’ve played. Still, the franchise has to be pleased with the progress of their baby-faced, No. 11 pick. Here he is in his own words following Friday’s Rising Stars practice:

NBA.com: You got off to such a fast start that this NBA thing might have seem easy. As the season has worn on, what’s been the toughest adjustment?

MCW: Probably just keeping your body healthy and trying to keep up with time management, and just the grind of competing every single game. There’s a lot of games so you really got to stay focused and stay competitive.

NBA.com: Have you gotten used to NBA travel?

MCW: I’ve forgotten my hotel room many a time, forgotten what city I’m in, what day it is, so it’s been tough.

NBA.com: Describe your level of play this season.

MCW: I think I’ve played pretty well. I’m definitely proud of myself of what I’ve already accomplished and I’m definitely still hungry to keep playing. It’s been unbelievable. It’s been such a fun year and I’m just looking forward to keep playing and keep pushing every single game.

NBA.com: Your first NBA game was against LeBron James and the two-time champion Miami Heat and you threw down 22 points with 12 assists and nine steals in a stunning victory. Was that the moment you realized that you belong in this league?


VIDEO: Michael Carter-Williams talks with GameTime after his big NBA debut

MCW: That was an unbelievable game for me. My first game was such a fun game, and I think after that game and after the Chicago game (26 points and 10 assists in third game of the season) I think I really knew I could play with these guys and make a difference on the floor.

NBA.com: Top draft picks aren’t typically used to losing in high school or college. The Sixers started the season surprising everybody at 3-0, but reality set in and the team has won only 12 games since. How have you handled the losing?

MCW: It’s been tough. I think I have to have a lot of patience. Not everyone comes into the league and right away and is on a winning team. I’ve talked to a lot of veteran guys that have been on great teams and they told they were on a bad team when they first came in, it wasn’t easy. But it makes for when you’re on a winning team so much better and you appreciate it more and you know it takes. That’s what I’m taking out of it.

NBA.com: Next season you will be joined by the No. 6 overall pick in 2013, center Nerlens Noel, who has been out all year recovering from ACL surgery. What have you seen from him as he works his way back and what your expectations for him?

MCW: He’s been putting in a lot of work and I give him a lot of credit for it. He works hard everyday trying to get back to 100 percent. He looks great, his body looks great, he’s working real hard. He can jump higher than ever and I know he’s itching to get on the floor, so I’m interested to see just how much he impacts us next year. I don’t think he’s going to play this year. His knee isn’t 100 percent yet, so his knee isn’t completely healthy. He owes that to himself and it’ll be better off for our team if he gets his knee completely healthy.

All-Star Saturday Gets A Makeover

Portland's Damian Lillard will have a busy weekend in New Orleans. (Cameron Browne/NBAE)

Portland’s Damian Lillard will have a busy weekend in New Orleans. (Cameron Browne/NBAE)

There will still be the rim-rattling, mind-bending slam dunks, the barrage of breathtaking 3-pointers and the dazzling array of skills on display when the greatest talent in basketball gathers.

But State Farm All-Star Saturday Night will undergo an extreme makeover this year in New Orleans with rule changes for all four of the events and an overall team competition between the Eastern and Western conferences — led by captains Paul George and Stephen Curry – with $500,000 in charitable contributions on the line.

Perhaps the most familiar name by the end of the extravaganza will be guard Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers, who will be busier than a trumpet player in a French Quarter brass band. He’s taking part in three of Saturday’s four events — including stints as a dunker, a long-distance shooter and a playmaker in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge. The 2013 Rookie of the Year already has a busy dance card; he’s scheduled to play in the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night and in the 63rd NBA All-Star Game on Sunday.

The most dramatic change Saturday is coming in the night’s marquee event, the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest. The competition will feature six dunkers, three from each conference, in a free-wheeling, two-round showdown to determine the best conference. For the first time in the event’s history, no individual dunker will be crowned. Instead, the title will go to the best conference. Complete rules.

Dunking for the Eastern Conference will be the team captain George of the Pacers, 2013 champion Terrence Ross of the Raptors and John Wall of the Wizards.  The Western Conference dunkers will be Lillard, Harrison Barnes of the Warriors and Ben McLemore of the Sacramento Kings.

The 6-foot-3 Lillard will be battling in the land of the giants as the shortest participant in the slam dunk contest.

Highlights: George | Ross | Wall | Lillard | Barnes | McLemore

Before he puts on his dunking shoes, Lillard will be showing off his marksmanship as part of the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest.  The other participants are Kyrie Irving of the Cavaliers, Bradley Beal of the Wizards, Joe Johnson of the Nets and Arron Afflalo of the Magic for the East.  Curry of the Warriors, Marco Belinelli of the Spurs and Kevin Love of the Timberwolves will join Lillard shooting for the West.

The major rule change in the contest is that players will have an entire rack of “money balls,” which count double, that can be placed in any of the five shooting positions around the court. Complete rules.

The Taco Bells Skills challenge has been turned into a relay race this year with each conference fielding two teams consisting of two players each.  Each team will run the course, competing in a relay format for a single overall time. Complete rules.

The ubiquitous Lillard will team with Trey Burke of the Jazz and Reggie Jackson of the Thunder will team with Goran Dragic of the Suns to make up the Western Conference lineup.  The East teams will be Michael Carter-Williams of the Sixers with Victor Oladipo of the Magic and DeMar DeRozan of the Raptors with rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks.

The Sears Shooting Stars will once again team a current NBA player with a WNBA star and an NBA legend in a time competition that will require four shots made from different spots on the court.

Tim Hardaway Jr. of the Knicks and Chris Bosh of the Heat will head up the East teams, while Kevin Durant of the Thunder and Curry will lead the West. Complete rules.

Each conference will be competing for charity. A total of $500,000 will be donated at the end of the night. For each competition, $100,000 will go to the winning conference’s charities, with $25,000 going to the charities of the runner-up.

State Farm All-Star Saturday night will be televised exclusively on TNT on Feb. 15 (8 p.m. ET).

[UPDATE: TNT will hold a fan vote during the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest to determine the Sprite Dunker of the Night. The winner of that vote will be considered the individual champion for the competition.]


Video: 2014 All-Star Saturday Night Participants

Taking A Crack at Rising Stars Draft

Do they pick Anthony Davis, who will have his chance to shine in front of the hometown crowd in New Orleans? Or jump at the chance to get reigning Rookie of the year Damian Lillard?

BBVA Compass Rising Stars ChallengeDo they go with point guard Michael Carter-Williams, who’s dazzled in his first year in the Eastern Conference, or Trey Burke, who’s lived up to the advance billing in the West?

Those are just a few of the questions confronting Grant Hill and Chris Webber when they act as “general managers” and pick the teams for the 2014 BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge (tonight on TNT at 7  ET). The choices will be part of a special one-hour addition of TNT NBA Tip-Off.

Al the participants in State Farm All-Star Saturday Night (featuring the Sears Shooting Stars, Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and Sprite Slam Dunk) will also be revealed, along with a revamped format.

But the heavy lifting will be done by Turner Sports analysts Hill and Webber in assembling their teams. So NBA.com colleague Steve Aschburner and I thought we’d lend a hand by providing a few tips in advance.

Here’s the way we stocked the teams, alternating picks, with me going first:

Anthony Davis (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

Anthony Davis (Joe Murphy/NBAE)

1 — Anthony Davis, F/C, Pelicans (Sophomore) — Blinebury: “One brow, one choice. It’s got to be the obvious hometown favorite who was snubbed for the big show.”

2 — Damian Lillard, G, Trail Blazers (Sophomore) — Aschburner: “Could dominate if he uses Friday as dress rehearsal for Sunday.”

3 — Michael Carter-Williams, G, Sixers (Rookie) — Blinebury: “Foundation to Philly future, a steal at No. 11, probably should have gone here in 2013 draft.”

4 — Jonas Valanciunas, C, Raptors (Sophomore) — Aschburner: “On a roll lately: stats 16.7 ppt, 10.2. rpg, 58 percent last six games.”

5 — Tim Hardaway, G, Knicks (Rookie) — Blinebury: “From the D-League to NBA, baskets the same size and he can fill them.”

6 — Brady Beal, G, Wizards (Sophomore) — Aschburner: “Mature beyond years, will be comfortable in second Rising Stars Game.”

7 — Steven Adams, C, Thunder (Rookie) — Blinebury: “You can’t teach height, or sharp elbows.”

8 — Giannis Antetokounmpo, G/F, Bucks (Rookie) — Aschburner: “Re-draft the class of ’13 and this guy’s in the top three.”

9 — Andre Drummond, C, Pistons (Sophomore) — Blinebury: “Young, tall and knows how to get me the ball.”

10 — Victor Oladipo, G, Magic (Rookie) — Aschburner: “East Rookie of Month in December, guards can thrive in this game.”

11 — Trey Burke, G, Jazz (Rookie) — Blinebury: “Comes off the injured list to be the everything the Jazz hoped.”

12 — Jared Sullinger, F/C, Celtics (Sophomore) — Aschburner: “Stepping up as soph starter, he brings toughness.”

13 — Terrence Jones, F, Rockets (Sophomore) — Blinebury: “He’s filled the Rockets’ void at the 4, maybe making a trade unnecessary.”

14 — Harrison Barnes, F, Warriors (Sophomore) — Aschburner: “Coming off bench has been a challenge, he’s ready for reset button.”

15 — Dion Waiters, G, Cavaliers (Sophomore) — Blinebury: “Since he doesn’t have to rely on Kyrie Irving to get him the ball, should get plenty of shots.”

16 — Kelly Olynyk, F/C, Celtics (Rookie) — Aschburner: “Averages half this, but per-36-minute numbers are: 13.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game.”

17 — Mason Plumlee, F/C, Nets (Rookie) — Blinebury: “Up and down with limited playing time, but has a true shooting percentage of 64.8.”

18 — Pero Antic, C, Hawks (Rookie) — Aschburner: “Lock as All-Star Weekend’s Macedonian MVP.”

G.M. Steve Aschburner: Since Team Fran cheated on the coin flip – funny how that can happen over the phone! – I picked second and lost out on host-city favorite Anthony Davis, who probably has the game’s MVP award half in the bag on sentiment alone. But that’s OK, because I managed to round up enough bigs to occupy Davis – Jonas Valanciunas with his size and skills inside 15 feet, Jared Sullinger with his burly game and Kelly Olynyk with pick-and-pop proclivities.

Besides, games of this All-Star ilk tend to be dominated by the guards, who have the ball in their hands and initiate plays. My backcourt of Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal and Victor Oladipo is superior, and those three will spend a lot of time on the floor together to run his crew ragged in small ball. I’m counting on Lillard, who will participate Sunday in the big game, to take this one seriously and not save himself. Surely the 2013 Rookie of the Year doesn’t want any half-season wonders like Carter-Williams, Hardaway or Burke getting over on him.

My squad also has the game’s X factor: the Greek Freak. Given Milwaukee’s dreary season, this will serve as Giannis Antetokounmpo’s coming-out party on a national – wait, international – stage. As the youngest rookie, whose coltish skills and breathtaking moments inspire all sorts of enticing, five-years-from-now dreams, Antetokounmpo conceivably could challenge Davis in wowing the crowd and ride that adrenaline high to a special night.

Prediction: Team Asch 138, Team Fran 127.

G.M. Fran Blinebury: Maybe it was the good fortune that came with wearing my Broadway Joe Namath lucky coyote fur coat. Or maybe it was because when Team Asch, acting like wide-eyed rubes on their first trip to Bourbon Street, asked about having a coin flip, I quickly agreed and bounced a quarter off the coffee table. It was legit and I’d give you a link to the video, but we seem to have had some technical problems. Anyway, it was a no-brainer to make the Anthony Davis the No. 1 pick in the draft (again). With the hometown support he’ll have from the crowd, A.D. should pile up enough dunks and rejections to have the MVP award tucked safely inside his Pelican pouch by halftime.

Asch only thinks he’s got the most physical a lineup up front. I’ve got Andre Drummond and Terrence Jones, who like to mix it up on the inside and can get the ball off the backboard. And don’t forget those sharp elbows of Steve Adams that occasionally (oops!) deliver a message.

In a game where point guards control the ball and set the tone, Michael Carter-Williams and Trey Burke will push the pace and take turns setting up A.D. for highlight reel dunks (and they’ll finish some themselves). If you want a dark horse contender to steal the spotlight, Tim Hardaway Jr. could carry the banner for the NBA D-League.

Prediction: Team Fran 152, Team Asch 131


VIDEO: Kenneth Faried was the MVP of the 2013 version of the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge in Houston