Posts Tagged ‘Victor Oladipo’

Summer Dreaming: Most Improved Player


VIDEO: Is Giannis Antetokounmpo primed to make an even bigger splash?

Pass the sunblock, turn up the music and bring some more ice for those cold drinks on these hottest days.

While we’re still making notes on our viewing calendar about the best match-ups to watch on the just released NBA schedule for the new season, the fantasy party goes on as we jump into the pool with our five Summer Dreaming candidates for Most Improved Player in 2015.

Send us your picks.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks — The word that best described the “Greek Freak” as a rookie last season was raw. He showed the length, the athleticism, all the physical gifts to one day take the step from bundle of potential to a bonafide star. He’s still young and has plenty of time to mature. But based on the commitment he says he’s willing to make and his performance at Summer League, there might not be anything holding back Antetokounmpo from making that jump quickly. He averaged 17 points, six rebounds, two assists and shot 37 percent from behind the arc in Las Vegas. Now that he’ll have Jabari Parker likely occupying the power forward spot in the Bucks lineup, he’ll be free to run the floor, attack the basket and fill it up from almost anywhere. The Freak Show could take off.


VIDEO: Bradley Beal discusses his breakthrough season and looks ahead to upcoming season

Bradley Beal, Wizards – The improvement from Year One to Year Two was already showing. Then Beal gave us a glimpse of what he can do at the next level when he stepped it up in the first round of the playoffs by averaging 19 points, five rebounds and five assists against the Bulls. Now he and backcourt partner John Wall not only have that valuable experience, but also the sting of being cut from Team USA tryouts this summer as added fuel to the fire. The loss of Trevor Ariza means that Beal will not only have to contribute more on offense, but also make a bigger commitment at the defensive end. A big step up for a breakout season could put the Wizards in the battle at the top of the Eastern Conference.


VIDEO: Anthony Davis’ Top 10 plays of 2013-14

Anthony Davis, Pelicans – Here’s the scary one, because of the high level he’s already achieved, yet the potential is there for Davis to contend for Most Improved and Most Valuable Player at the same time. Turned loose last season by coach Monty Williams, he showed that there are few things he’s not capable of doing in a game, if he can stay healthy. The only real thing lacking was somebody to watch his back. Now the Pelicans have added center Omer Asik as a rim protector and fellow defensive force in the paint and that means Davis can be even freer to move out from the basket to wreak havoc. He’s only 22 years old and the party in the French Quarter has just begun.


VIDEO: Will All-Star weekend become a new home for Victor Oladipo?

Victor Oladipo, Magic — OK, end of the experiment. No more trying to hammer the square peg into the round hole. There will be times and situations when Oladipo can handle the point for short stints. But now that they’ve got rookie Elfrid Payton in the lineup, Orlando’s previous top draft pick can concentrate more on slashing and attacking the basket and doing all of the things that can make him a force. He put up decent numbers in his first year and his turnover rate was quite high. That’s because he was playing an uncomfortable role much of the time. Now you take off the handcuffs, turn him loose and let him fly.


VIDEO: Kemba Walker notches second career triple-double

Kemba Walker, Hornets – On one hand, a guy who averaged nearly 18 points a game last season might not seem a likely candidate for Most Improved. But the third year wasn’t quite the charm for Walker as he had to accommodate the arrival of big man Al Jefferson in the middle. His shooting suffered and there were far fewer times when his offense lit up the scoreboard. The arrival of free agent Lance Stephenson as a fierce defender and good playmaker will create more chances for Walker. The addition of P.J. Hairston, another good shooter from the perimeter, will give him more opportunities for assists, which have been steadily climbing.

Summer Dreaming: Rookie of the Year


VIDEO: Nerlens Noel put on a shotblocking show throughout Summer League

Late summer in North America is the start of hurricane season, a time when the weather forecasters keep their eyes peeled for potential tropical disturbances.

But with the season openers less than three months away, we’ll start looking farther out over the horizon for an early peek at the 2014-15 NBA official award winners and a few extra categories, just for fun.

Our second annual Summer Dreaming Series starts today with a look at my top five picks for Rookie of the Year. Send me yours.

Nerlens Noel, 76ers — While all eyes have been on the big-name talent arriving in the 2014 Draft class, the guy who had originally been projected as the No. 1 pick in 2013 just might take a page out of Blake Griffin‘s delayed gratification book to steal the thunder and the trophy. After being sidelined by an ACL injury, there were times late last season when he was clearly chomping at the bit and openly talking about his desire to get on the court. Yet, the Sixers held firm in resting him all season. When Noel finally got to play in Summer League, he showed his athleticism, his explosiveness and defensive skills. He’s an active big man and with the Sixers’ goal of playing at a fast pace, he’ll get plenty of chances to run the floor and put up numbers. With Philly’s top pick this year, Joel Embiid, likely sidelined for the season, Noel will also get his share of minutes and more. The Sixers waited decades to get their first Rookie of the Year winner last season in Michael Carter-Williams. Now they could make it two in a row.

Jabari Parker, Bucks – There will be questions to answer. Is his long-term future in the league as a small forward? Or does he slide over and use his shooting ability as a stretch four? The general consensus is there could be others in this year’s rookie class with greater potential, but Parker is the one most ready to step into the NBA and thrive, perhaps even star, from Day One. The Bucks franchise certainly needs a fresh face as a headliner as they move to a new era with new ownership and a new coach (Jason Kidd). He wasn’t as flashy as the neon signs in Las Vegas during Summer League, averaging 15 points and eight rebounds. However, Parker has everything in his offensive arsenal — from step-back jumpers to finishing inside — that enable him to be the main gun in the Bucks arsenal. He’s the chalk pick to win ROY.

Marcus Smart, Celtics — Big man Julius Randle is playing for the other rebuilding traditional powerhouse out West and could have his minutes blocked by free-agent signees Carlos Boozer and Ed Davis. Smart, however, will have no such problems getting (and staying) on the floor in Boston. He either learns playing alongside Rajon Rondo or takes his spot if the Celtics do pull the trigger and trade the veteran. Smart’s offense is streaky and he’ll have to learn discipline with his shots. But he’s a defensive bulldog who loves the challenge and is also a willing pupil that will quickly become the pet project of coach Brad Stevens. Smart should be a mainstay in Boston as it moves ahead in its reconstruction process.

Andrew Wiggins, Cavaliers – His chances of latching onto the rookie hardware will improve the minute he gets his wish and the trade from Cleveland to Minnesota goes through. While there may have been less pressure to be a role player alongside LeBron James on the Cavs’ roster, Wiggins will certainly get more chance to shine as the new face of the Timberwolves. There is a lot to learn and improve on. He’s got a questionable handle and really needs to improve his shot, but those are fixable areas. What you can’t teach is a leaping ability that goes through the roof. Plus, there’s his willingness to defend that is not far behind his offense. A big question, though: will the burden of carrying a remade Minnesota team built around him wear him down and make his stats suffer? There is smart money that says Wiggins could one day be the best of the the bunch, but chances are his raw talent alone won’t carry him to the ROY.

Elfrid Payton, Magic – He’s got a jump shot that needs plenty of work, but everything else about his game will make him an instant hit in Orlando. In fact, he could be a dark horse in the rookie race all season long. Payton’s place will be starting at the point, ending the experiment at converting Victor Oladipo. Doing so will allow both young guards to thrive. He had a lot of turnovers in his summer league debut, but also put up plenty of good numbers scoring, passing and rebounding. The rangy playmaker showed a real knack for delivering open teammates the ball, too. Payton has elite-level athleticism, plus a nose — and long arms — for racking up steals. He’ll take his lumps in the learning process. However, a young Magic team will give him all the minutes and opportunity he needs to show that he’s a star in the making.

USA camp – Day 2 notes


VIDEO: Real Training Camp: Mike Krzyzewski Interview

LAS VEGAS – There was a surprise for the media when we walked into USA Basketball training camp on Tuesday. Mason Plumlee was playing with the Senior Team against the Select Team, instead of the other way around.

Plumlee’s promotion was about numbers, but also about his skills and performance. I wrote about him, the full crop of USA bigs, and the possibility of four of them being on the final World Cup roster here.

Scrimmaging was limited to just 10 minutes on Tuesday, with the addition of Plumlee allowing the Senior Team to split into two squads of 10 guys. The two squads simultaneously played against a portion of the Select Team.

Here were the lineups:
Blue 1: Derrick Rose, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Paul Millsap and Andre Drummond
Blue 2: Damian Lillard, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Korver, Kenneth Faried and Plumlee
White 1: Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry, Paul George, Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis
White 2: John Wall, Bradley Beal, Klay Thompson, Gordon Hayward and DeMarcus Cousins

And here are some more notes and quotes from the second day of camp…

  • White 1 built a 14-2 lead against its Select opponents, but then the group of Marcus Smart, Victor Oladipo, Doug McDermott, Draymond Green and Cody Zeller came back against White 2 to win the 10-minute scrimmage, 22-21, with Oladipo hitting the scrimmage-winning three from the right wing with two seconds left off a Smart/Green pick-and-roll.
  • Fun little moment on the other floor: Millsap got the ball with a two-on-one opportunity with his Hawks teammate in transition. The defender pushed up on Millsap and Korver would have had an easy layup. But he flared out to the right corner instead of heading to the basket. Millsap hit him there for an open three.
  • Curry continues to play alongside another point guard. USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo isn’t ready to say that Curry is strictly a two with this team, but had this to say about the point guard crop: “A couple of these guys are as much twos as they are ones. Curry is one and Damian Lillard is another. They’re one-twos, I think. Kyrie is more of a one, but he’s got a lot of two in him. Derrick is a one, there’s no question about that.”
  • Colangelo didn’t forget about Wall and said that the Wizards’ point guard made an impression in the first day of camp with “the look on his face, his pushing the ball up as well as he did, and defensively, he put a lot of pressure on the ball.”
  • Fans and the media weren’t the only ones who were curious about Rose. Both Colangelo and head coach Mike Krzyzewski told NBA TV that seeing what kind of shape Rose was in was the biggest thing about Monday. “It was like a performer who hadn’t been on the big stage for a while,” Krzyzewski said. “Yesterday, he belted out a song pretty darn good.”
  • Colangelo: “Derrick Rose was as good today as he was yesterday,” Colangelo said. So yeah, these guys are really excited about what they’ve seen from Rose.
  • This team is going to be aggressive defensively, but we saw some examples of them getting burned after bad gambles in the passing lanes on Tuesday. Good international teams will take advantage of defensive mistakes and there can be a fine line between making opposing offenses uncomfortable with your pressure and not staying in front of them because you’re too aggressive.

Payton showing off hair and growth


VIDEO: Payton discusses his play at Orlando Summer League

ORLANDO — It was early in the second quarter of a loss to the Grizzlies when Elfrid Payton picked off a pass at one end of the floor, took off up the court, picked his way though traffic in the lane and then jammed home a dunk.

A short time later, just when 6-foot-11 Grizzlies center Jerrid Famous gathered in an offensive rebound and went up for a putback, the rail-thin Payton slipped up from behind and swatted the shot away with authority.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Payton glided across the mid-court line and delivered a slick, no-look pass to teammate Dewayne Dedmon for a dunk.

The first thing you notice about the 6-foot-3 point guard as he gets his baptism with the Magic in the Orlando Pro Summer League is that he can get just about anywhere he chooses on the court and do whatever he wants.

OK, maybe that’s the second thing. The first is that mop of hair that seems to be wildly growing in a head full of different directions.

Turns out it was part of a promise by his high school teammates back in Louisiana not to cut their hair until they won the state championship back in 2011. That dream was cut short in the semifinals of the state tournament, but the hairstyle lives on with the No. 10 pick in the 2014 as he embarks on his NBA career.

The point guard spent three years in college climbing up out of obscurity at Louisiana-Lafayette and now has the Magic feeling that he and second-year guard Victor Oladipo can be a backcourt combination that takes them to great places going forward.

While Orlando made power forward Aaron Gordon the No. 4 pick in the Draft, the 18-year-old is raw, unsure of himself and likely at least a season or two away from making a significant contribution.

That’s not the case with Payton, who says he takes inspiration from the Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard, who went from a below-the-radar college program at Weber State to winning NBA Rookie of the Year honors in 2013 and an All-Star berth last season.

“The odds were stacked against him, and he just continued to work hard,” said Payton. “It pays off. He’s one of the best in the game right now. Seeing that just makes you want to work harder. Just because I’m here, I can’t get satisfied.”

It was a breakout performance in his sophomore year in college when Payton scored 20 points and grabbed six rebounds in a near upset of Michigan State that first got him noticed. His coach sent video of that performance to Florida’s Billy Donovan in a bid to get him a tryout for the Team USA Under-19 roster. Even on a team that included the well-known and highly-rated Marcus Smart, Payton earned the starting berth at the point.

Gordon also played on that team and remembered being shocked at the showing of the unheralded guard from Louisiana-Lafayette.

“He was just cooking and killing on both ends of the court,” Gordon said. “I was like, ‘This guy is the real deal.’ “

Payton was cooking again on Monday in leading a win over the Rockets, finishing with a near-triple-double of 12 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. In Tuesday’s loss to the Grizzlies, he had just six points and three assists, but did a better job avoiding turnovers. While playing just under 22 minutes per through three games, he’s averaging 6.7 points, 5.7 assists, 4.3 rebounds and shooting 72.7 percent from the field.

“It happened because of my self confidence and me having a dream,” Payton said. “You’re not supposed to stop chasing your dream and here it is for me.”


VIDEO: Payton named Player of Day for Day 3

Magic add Frye for need they created

frye

The Magic could be looking at the 31-year-old Channing Frye, who inked a four-year deal, to be a veteran presence on a very young team. (NBAE via Getty Images)

ORLANDO – Virtually every move made by Rob Hennigan since taking over as general manager of the Magic two years ago has been about getting younger and cutting salaries. Within the past several weeks, he’s traded away last season’s leading scorer Arron Afflalo and waived veteran point guard Jameer Nelson.

That’s what makes them agreeing to a four-year, $34 million deal with free agent forward Channing Frye a bit of a head-scratcher.

On one hand, Frye’s long-range shooting ability should help space the floor and open things up for young talent such as Victor Oladipo, Aaron Gordon, Elfrid Payton, Mo Harkless and Tobias Harris to attack the basket. But on the other, it would seem the Magic allowed a younger version of Frye to walk out the door two years ago when they didn’t match an offer by the Pelicans for restricted free agent Ryan Anderson.

The 31-year-old Frye, who sat out the entire 2012-13 season due to the diagnosis of an enlarged heart, played all 82 games in 2013-14, averaging 11.1 points and 5.1 rebounds in Phoenix while shooting 37 percent of his 3-point attempts. He’s a career 38.5 percent shooter behind the arc on his career.

Anderson, who suffered a back injury that limited him to just 22 games last season for the Pelicans, is just as good a shooter (38.6 percent on 3s for his career) and is generally regarded as a better rebounder.

Though the Magic at the time evidently viewed Anderson as just a one-trick pony, now there is a crying need for that trick after the departures of Afflalo and Nelson.

The contract that eventually sent Anderson to New Orleans in a sign-and-trade for Gustavo Ayon was worth $34 million over four years.

Thus, it’s almost the same money total that it took to sign Frye and now the Magic have sacrificed five years of youth in what should be the prime of Anderson’s career.

Speculation is that the Magic are now further along in their overall redo of a youth movement and want Frye to be a veteran presence in the lineup and the locker room.

In an interesting side note, Frye will be joining a team that includes his first cousin in Harris.

“As a kid, I used to watch all his games in college,” Harris told Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel. “I used to know all his stats. … So I followed him. It made me want to get in the NBA even more. He’s somebody I looked up to. I’ve always wanted to get to the NBA and be at that same level.”

Orlando Pro Summer League tips off


VIDEO: The Summer League season begins Saturday in Orlando

It’s an annual coming-out party for NBA rookies, other young pros looking to hone their skills and move up the pecking order and a handful of older veterans seeking another crack at the big time. In this case, it’s also the long-awaited pro debut of Nerlens Noel.

The Southwest Airlines Orlando Pro Summer League tips off Saturday (9 a.m., NBA TV) with familiar names from the draft and plenty of other hopefuls hustling for an invitation to training camps in October.

Eight first-round picks from the 2014 draft — led by No. 4 Aaron Gordon of the Magic, No. 6 Marcus Smart of the Celtics and No. 10 Elfrid Payton of the Magic — will take part in the seven days of competition that will take place on the practice court at Orlando’s Amway Center.

Another major headliner will be Noel, the No. 6 pick in the 2013 draft, who sat out all of last season while recovering from knee surgery. He’ll finally get to scratch that itch to play. Sixers fans might get their first glimpse into bright future.

The games are not open to the public and will only be attended by media and league personnel. All games will be shown on NBA TV.

The 10 teams will each play five games, concluding with a championship day that will be based on standings. A point system will establish the standings leading up to the final day, with eight points awarded each game based on: four points for winning the game and one point for winning a quarter (in the event of a tied quarter, each team will receive 0.5 points). In the event of ties in seeding heading into championship day, three tiebreakers will be in place: 1) total point differential; 2) total points allowed; 3) coin flip.

Here’s a quick look at roster highlights for each of the 10 teams that will participate:

Boston Celtics — It’s the second year of the rebuilding program under coach Brad Stevens. The Celtics are hoping to get a big boost from their pair of first-round draft choices Marcus Smart and James Young. It’s not certain if Young will play after he suffered a strained neck in a car accident several weeks before the Draft. He’s been held out of early workouts at the Celtics’ training facility. Last year’s first-round pick Kelly Olynyk — the MVP of the Summer League last season — will return to Orlando, joined by fellow Celtics veterans Chris Babb, Chris Johnson and Phil Pressey.

Brooklyn Nets — Last year’s summer appearance by the Nets was most notable for the coaching debut of Jason Kidd, who proceeded to answer a cell phone call on the sidelines of his very first game. Kidd has been replaced by Lionel Hollins, who did a masterful job giving the Grizzlies credibility as a playoff contender. The Nets were without first-round draft picks as a result of the Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce trades last year. But on draft night they dealt cash for second-round picks Markel Brown, Xavier Thames and Cory Jefferson. Also playing for the Nets will be Mason Plumlee, who made a big impression a year ago and went on to become the All-Rookie first team center last season.

Detroit Pistons – It’s the beginning of a new era in Detroit with Stan Van Gundy’s arrival as both head coach and club president. Second-year Pistons players Kentavious-Caldwell Pope, Peyton Siva and Tony Mitchell will each be looking to tighten up their games to impress the new boss. Andre Drummond and Kyle Singler will practice with the team, but will not participate in games. The NBA D-League 2014 Defensive Player of the Year DeAndre Liggins will be on the roster, along with undrafted free agents Tristan Spurlock, Mustafa Shakur, Jordan Heath and Markel Starks.

Houston Rockets — It’s been a long time since the Rockets made Maarty Leunen a second-round pick out of Oregon in the 2008 draft, but the long-range bomber will be in Orlando to take his shot. Leunen has the shooting skill the Rockets seek, hitting 42 percent on 3-pointers the past three seasons in the Italian League. He’ll join up with last year’s rookies, Isaiah Canaan and Robert Covington, who both got their feet wet last season with the Rockets. The 6-foot-9 power forward Covington was named the 2014 NBA D-League rookie of the year . The Rockets’ top draft pick Clint Cappela will not play, but second-round choice, Arizona guard Nick Johnson, will be on the court in Orlando.

Indiana Pacers – There’s not the usual summertime electricity in the air when you walk away from the draft without a single player. The Pacers’ roster will be anchored by last year’s holdovers Donald Sloan and Solomon Hill, who’ll be seeking to earn another season on the roster. Jake Odum was a four-year starter at Larry Bird’s alma mater Indiana State and will try to push Sloan for the third point guard spot. A back injury has scratched 10-year NBA veteran Roger Mason Jr. from his scheduled appearance with the Pacers.

Memphis Grizzlies — Second-year shooting guard Jamaal Franklin will head up the Grizzlies’ entry. Franklin saw time in 21 games for the Grizzlies last season. He’ll be joined by 2014 draft pick Jordan Adams (No. 22 overall) and Jarnell Stokes (No. 35). Adams was rated a terrific scorer and good offensive rebounder ahead of the draft, but some scouts labeled him unathletic. This is his first chance to prove them wrong. The roster, led by assistant coach Shawn Respert for the first three games and assistant Jason March for the last two, will feature three native Memphians, including Stokes, former University of Memphis guard Joe Jackson and former Ole Miss guard Terrico White.

Miami Heat – Gee, no pressure at all when LeBron James tweets that you were the best point guard in the draft. Assuming The King returns to Miami, everyone will be looking to see if Shabazz Napier can bring enough talent to South Beach to help make a difference for the point-guard poor Heat. Miami brass made its play for the guy who led UConn to another NCAA championship on draft night, swinging a deal with the Bobcats to get their man at No. 24. Seven-footer Justin Hamilton played seven games with the Heat last season. Point guard Larry Drew set the UCLA single season record for assists in 2013, but went undrafted and played last season for the Sioux City Skyforce in the NBA D-League.

Oklahoma City Thunder – The Thunder surprised many with their first round picks Mitch McGary (21) and Josh Huestis (29), mostly because they seemed to duplicate picks from a year earlier in Steven Adams and Andre Roberson. Plenty scouts were high on the big man McGary, and Huestis put his stamp on last season when he locked up and shut down No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins. Adams and Roberson are back for another summer league run and will be joined by Jeremy Lamb and Grant Jerrett.

Orlando Magic — The hometown team will bring in a pair of top 10 talents from this year’s draft. The power forward Gordon has size and strength and a defensive nose. This is where he’ll start trying to add a jumper to his game that could vault him to the elite level in a couple of years. The Magic wanted Payton enough to give up a future first round pick for him at No. 10, and together with Victor Oladipo could give them an outstanding backcourt for years. Last year’s top pick Oladipo will be back on the summer league roster along with Stephen Curry’s brother Seth, who is still trying to carve out a place in the NBA. Matt Bouldin won the D-League championship with the Ft. Wayne Mad Ants last season.

Philadelphia 76ers – He’s been champing at the bit to get out on the court wearing a Sixers jersey in game conditions for more than a year, so don’t be surprised if Nerlens Noel jumps through the ceiling when he finally gets on the floor. The No. 6 pick in the 2013 Draft was rehabbed very conservatively, so now he’ll get to show off the all-around skills that had him listed as the No. 1 pick until his knee injury. Joel Embiid, the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft, will of course sit out following foot surgery. Last season’s NBA Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams will be sidelined after surgery to repair a torn labrum. The Sixers roster will include the 32nd pick K.J. McDaniels, Jeremi Grant (No. 39), Vasilije Micic (No. 52) and Jordan McRae (No. 58). Also suiting up will be Pierre Jackson, who set the single-game D-League scoring record with 58 points last season.

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.

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.

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