Ranking The Non Playoff NBA Franchises

By Mike Elworth: Owner and Publisher/Hoopstuff…

For nearly half the fans of the NBA, there is very little to be excited about now that the playoffs have started, as they will have to wait a long time to see their teams play again. Currently there is also little to read about when it comes to these teams, as most writers are concentrating on the playoffs (although for solid reason, it is the playoffs we are talking about), so I thought I would give them a little bit of insight into the status of their teams. From the players, to the executives, to their market, to their draft options, to their cap space, here is ranking the statuses of the 14 NBA franchises that aren’t in the playoffs.

1. Phoenix Suns

- If the Suns were in the Eastern Conference, they would be between the 3rd and 5th seed, as they had the same record as the Raptors (3rd) and the Bulls (4th), but playing in the West, they just missed the playoffs. However, with the league’s Most Improved Player in Goran Dragic and rising star point guard Eric Bledsoe, they have the NBA’s most exciting and productive offensive guard duo (combined for about 38 points, 12 assists and 8 rebounds per game) and along with Mason Plumlee, the Morris twins, Archie Goodwin and Alen Len, they have one of the best collections of young talent in the NBA long term. They also have a whole lot of cap space this offseason and 3 1st round picks in the draft, so they will be able to bring in even more talent to their core. They too seem to have one of the better coaches and general managers in the NBA in Jeff Hornacek and Ryan McDonough, so when it comes to off their front office they are in excellent shape, even with a famously cheap owner in Robert Sarver still signing the checks. They already had the 11th best record in the NBA, their young players will improve, they have the assets to add a lot of talent and assuming they resign Eric Bledsoe, which they have to do, they are easily the non playoff franchise in the best shape.

2. Los Angeles Lakers

- The Lakers still have Kobe Bryant and the market of Los Angeles, which means that they have a star to lead them (if healthy) and arguably the most attractive market to free agents already on hand, but there is much more. They had the 6th fewest wins in the NBA, which means that they will probably have a pick between 1-7, where there should be an All Star talent waiting for them. They also have a whole lot of cap space in which to add big time talent to the team and more than enough for another star, maybe even two. Put plainly, the Lakers are still the Lakers and are loaded with assets, which means they will be excellent again in no time.

3. Minnesota Timberwolves

- The Timberwolves have Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic, Ricky Rubio and Kevin Martin as their core, which is an excellent core. They don’t have a strong market, too much secondary talent, much cap space or even a head coach, but on this list, no team has a better core or as much big time talent. They do have one problem, Kevin Love. Love is the best big man in the NBA, but he will leave as a free agent after next season and so they would be wise to trade him by then, for the biggest package they can. Although they will be losing their franchise player, they are still in excellent shape. Why? They still have a star center in Pekovic, an elite perimeter scorer in Martin and the 2 way excellence of Ricky Rubio and any trade they make involving Love will net them an incredible package of assets, which means that they will be in very strong shape even when Love is no longer in Minnesota. The playoffs elude them, but they have the best talent on this list.

4. Boston Celtics

- The Celtics have an All Star in Rajon Rondo, one of the better general managers in Danny Ainge, a strong market, a probable top 5 pick in a loaded draft, very solid young talent in Jared Sullinger, Avery Bradley and Kelly Olynyk and a very smart young coach in Brad Stevens. The Celtics are in excellent shape.

5. New York Knicks

- The Knicks have New York, which is a big draw for them and Phil Jackson now running their team, which is also very big, however this ranking is based on the belief that Carmelo Anthony will resign with the Knicks this offseason despite a lot of rumors involving the Rockets and Bulls. If they have Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler next season they should be in the playoffs and they will have enough cap space to sign another max player after next season, which means that in just 2 seasons, they could be a title contender. Once again, this is assuming they keep Carmelo Anthony, because if he leaves, they would be near the bottom of the list.

6. Philadelphia 76ers

- The 76ers are all about assets, as they have Rookie of the Year Michael Carter Williams who is a probable All Star point guard, Nerlens Noel who is a potential star defensive center, they have the 2nd best chance at the number 1 pick, they have the Pelicans’ lottery pick, unless it is somehow one of the first 3 picks, they have about 6 2nd round draft picks in this offseason’s draft and they have as much cap space as any team in the NBA. If they are smart, they could have one of the NBA’s best young teams in no time.

7. Sacramento Kings

- The Kings have a star center in DeMarcus Cousins who is already one of the best players in the NBA, an excellent point guard in Isaiah Thomas (assuming they resign him), an elite scoring wing in Rudy Gay (assuming he stays), Ben McLemore who is an elite talent at shooting guard despite his poor rookie season, fellow 1st year player Ray McCallum who looks like a very strong sixth man, solid cap space and another mid lottery pick. Assuming they keep Thomas and Gay next to Cousins, they have a very solid foundation and the young players, cash and picks to become a playoff team within 2 seasons.

8. New Orleans Pelicans

- The Pelicans have Anthony Davis who is already one of the best 5-10 NBA players and is only 21, an All Star point guard in Jrue Holiday and the league’s best stretch 4 in Ryan Anderson. Now that is an incredible start. They don’t really have much cap space thanks to the porous contracts of Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon, each whom they will probably be trying to trade this offseason or their 1st round pick, but because of the 3 mentioned players and especially Anthony Davis, bright days are ahead.

9. Utah Jazz

- The Jazz have to resign Gordon Hayward, who like Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas is a restricted free agent and is someone their team can ill afford to lose. If they keep him, they will have a strong foundation of Hayward, Derrick Favors, Trey Burke and Alec Burks. After their Gordon Hayward decision, they also have a big one to make involving Enes Kanter, who after 3 seasons still isn’t a starter despite his star potential at the 5. Since they moved Favors to center this season they don’t need Kanter and they need to decide if a new coach can fix the Favors-Kanter problem or if they would be better served trading Kanter. Regardless, they have a lot of young talent, a lot of cap space and 2 1st round picks in this draft, including a potential top 5 pick, so their franchise is in solid shape, despite a lack of a star.

10. Cleveland Cavaliers

- The Cavaliers may have had a pathetic season when measured against most people’s expectations, but they still have a 2 time All Star in Kyrie Irving who is only 22 and excellent young talents in Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett, as well as a lot of cap space and another lottery pick to add to bring into the fold. As long as they keep Irving, (which they will, because despite whatever problems he has they hold his rights and he won’t turn down 80 million) they will have a foundation, as he is one of the league’s best players.

11. Detroit Pistons

- The Pistons have Andre Drummond, who is already one of the best players in the NBA. That is enough for them to be 11th. They are probably going to lose Greg Monroe and are stuck with Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings, but despite their selfish play and Smith’s ridiculous contract, they are each All Star talents, so their franchise isn’t in trouble. In fact, although they will miss Greg Monroe (assuming he leaves), Drummond and Smith is a duo that they can easily build around.

12. Orlando Magic

- The Magic have two excellent building blocks in Victor Oladipo and Nikola Vuceivc, many solid young talents, they have the 3rd best chance at obtaining the 1st pick in the draft, Arron Affllao is one of the best trade chips in the league and they are strong when it comes to cap space, but they are still far away from the playoffs and they still don’t have a star.

13. Denver Nuggets

- The Nuggets have Ty Lawson who is an All Star level point guard and well that’s about it. Danilo Gallinari is a very talented perimeter scorer, but he is coming off an ACL tear and they have numerous poor contracts on the roster. They seem to be in NBA purgatory, they aren’t talented enough to make the playoffs, but they aren’t a bottom feeder, so they don’t have the chance to draft stars and they lack the cap space to help them sign a 2nd star. They have talent, but are a mediocre team, with very limited assets.

14. Milwaukee Bucks

- The Bucks have 3 strong, young and cheap talents in John Henson, Brandon Knight and Giannis Antetokounmpo and have the best chance at the number 1 pick, but their roster is filled with porous contracts, the previously mentioned talents aren’t much more than decent starters at this point and although they have a new owner, unless they are able to draft Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker, their rebuild will be a very, very long one, but even with one, they are still multiple seasons away from the playoffs.

New York Knicks: Mike Woodson Firing Grade

By Josh Morgan: VP and Director of Content…

The inevitable became official Monday as the Knicks decided to fire head coach Mike Woodson after a disappointing 37-45 finish and failing to grab the final playoff spot in the East despite a late push. New president Phil Jackson obviously wanted to bring in his own coach to implement his favored triangle offense but will that make this team better? Now you could easily put the onus on Woodson for not getting the most out of his roster this season but aside from Carmelo, Tyson Chandler, Amare Stoudemire and Tim Hardaway Jr. what talent was there for him to utilize? Injuries, bad decision making and the reliance on aging veterans have put them in a tough spot and unless Phil and the rest of the front office are able to bring in better players in the future who coaches this team will be irrelevant.

The big move the Knicks made this offseason was, to put this kindly, a disaster. Andrea Bargnani missed 40 games and when he was on the court he did not play as expected or up to his abilities. At 7 feet, Bargnani had shown that he can stretch out to the three point line, but his percentages have fallen off precipitously since the 2011-12 season, barely shooting above 30 percent. As this number shows, it’s not as if Bargnani suddenly fell off once he got to New York. He had been declining and injury prone since his career year during the 2010-11 season and to trade a player in Steve Novak that may not be the most talented player in the league, but fits them perfectly along with a first round pick in the 2016 for a player in this position was a bad decision. Now they are on the hook for 11 million dollars next season most likely, as there is little chance he opts to become a free agent, money that they could have used to put some talent around Carmelo and make this team better.

The injuries put them behind the eight ball early in the season. Their most important player behind Carmelo, at least in my opinion, Tyson Chandler missed 27 games, most of them between November and December. Amar’e Stoudemire did stay on the court more often than last season but missed 17 games himself and when he did see action wasn’t quite worth the 21 million dollars they were paying him. They are on the hook for 23 million to him next season, as he also has the ability to opt out but the likelihood of that is slim to none. Raymond Felton looked out of shape and did not play up to starting point guard standards and behind him Pablo Prigioni was a decent shooter but the production was not there. In the end they couldn’t overcome the horrendous start and found their scapegoat in their head coach.

Now why exactly is Woodson the scapegoat for the terrible decision making of the front office and the injuries sustained by big money players? Simple; the players’ contracts are guaranteed and they aren’t going to release them and pay them money to do nothing. Changes had to be made in this franchise and the first one they could make was to get a new voice in the locker room at the head coaching position. Phil has every right to want his own guy in this position and finishing outside of the playoffs gave him even more of an excuse to move on from Woodson. I just don’t see how firing him will make this team better on the floor. Even if Phil comes down from the front office to coach this team I don’t see them making any type of noise in the admittedly bad Eastern Conference. This is a lateral move at best and a coach that is 30 games over five hundred during his tenure in New York when they had been terrible before he got there deserved better.

Grade: D-

Chicago Bulls: Blame Tom Thibodeau For 0-2

By Mike Elworth: Owner and Publisher/Hoopstuff…

The Chicago Bulls were considered the favorites in their first round playoff series against the Washington Wizards, but are quickly in a 2-0 hole, despite home court advantage. Many will blame Kirk Hinrich for missing the key free throw to lose game 2, but the Bulls shouldn’t have even played in OT and the blame should be firmly placed on coach Tom Thibodeau’s shoulders. In fact, Thibodeau also deserves the blame for game 1 as well. Thibodeau is one of the NBA’s best coaches and besides Joakim Noah, is the main reason for them being the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference, but he is laying an egg in the playoffs thus far.

I may just sound like an angry Bulls fan and although I am, these harsh opinions are based on merit. He’s made the same mistake in each of their playoff games; refusing to put in his offensive players in close games, with waning leads, when it is clear that his beloved D.J. Augustin-Kirk Hinrich-Jimmy Butler-Taj Gibson-Joakim Noah 5 man 4th quarter unit is unable to score. In each game, they were playing well enough on defense to be victorious, but they couldn’t score no matter how hard they tried, yet he refused to put in his best pure scorer Carlos Boozer, who is always capable of finding a way to put the ball in the basket, regardless of efficiency and Mike Dunleavy Jr., by far the team’s top shooter. The Wizards are denying the paint to Noah, so he is unable to run the offense and so they are relying on the very short D.J. Augustin, Jimmy Butler, who is unable to generate offense on his own and 2 solid, but in no way real offensive threats in Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson to magically produce offense in must score moments. Putting Dunleavy on the floor would provide spacing, which could help return the paint to Noah and with Boozer, they would at least have a player who has the ability to produce offense.

The 4th quarter and OT of game 2 were identical to the 4th quarter of game 1 and I was yelling at my TV for Thibodeau to put in Boozer or Dunleavy Jr., even though I knew he wouldn’t. After all of the wins he has brought to this team, it is difficult writing these words, but the man is too stubborn and that stubbornness has cost the Bulls two games. This is the playoffs and with the stakes risen, the level of play has risen and although those 5 carried this team to where they are now, after watching his team fall apart in game 1 and seeing the same thing happen a 2nd time and doing nothing about it was foolish and it cost the Bulls. You can give him some leeway for the 1st time, but 2 straight? No. It is his fault that the Bulls are 0-2.

Miami Heat: Season Team Grades

Posted: April 23, 2014 in Uncategorized
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Miami Heat Team Grades

By Nekias Duncan: Staff Writer @ Hoopstuff…

Offense:

102.2 ppg (12th)
22.5 apg (11th)
50.1% FG (1st)
36.4% 3PT (12th)
76% FT (14th)

Defense:

97.5 ppg (5th)
45.7% FG (16th)
36.2% 3PT (18th)
8.9 spg (2nd)
4.5 bpg (18th)

The Starters:

Mario Chalmers: 9.8 ppg, 4.9 apg, 1.6 spg, 45.4% FG, 38.5% 3PT, 74.2% FT
-Rio arguably had a career year, although his stats won’t show how good he was this year. He started off the year like he did last year, getting himself in early foul trouble. At one point, I thought Norris Cole would finally take over the starting spot. Chalmers picked up his play, even carrying Miami in spurts due to LeBron James starting the season very slowly (by his standards) and Dwyane Wade being on the maintenance program.

Grade: B+

Dwyane Wade: 19 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.7 apg, 1.5 spg, 54.5% FG, 73.3% FT, 54 games
-When he played, he was pretty darn good. Wade missed 28 games, but probably could’ve played 14-18 of the games he missed if he absolutely had to. Wade’s pull-up jumper really came alive after the New Year started, and he looks more explosive than he has the last couple of years. Overall, Wade had a pretty productive year, but his real season starts in the postseason.

Grade: A-

Shane Battier: 4.1 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 0.7 spg, 38.2% FG, 34.8% 3PT, 65.2% FT
-Battier had a career-low in just about everything this year, including minutes per game. However, he still managed to have a solid year defensively and do the dirty work for Miami as he’s done since he’s been here. Battier is set to retire after this season, and Heat fans should be grateful for his contributions. As much as I love Battier, and as much as I appreciate the intangibles he brings, he had himself a pretty bad year.

Grade: D+

LeBron James: 27.1 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 6.4 apg, 1.6 spg, 56.7% FG, 37.9% 3PT, 75% FT
-We’ve reached the point in James’ career where we take what he does and brings to the table for granted. From watching Miami this year, it genuinely felt like he had a sub-par season. His effort on the defensive end, except the games against Indiana and a few others, was simply atrocious. It took him about two months before his was consistently grabbing five rebounds every night. With all that said, look at his numbers. Every player in the NBA not named Kevin Durant would love to have his all-around numbers. Durant’s winning MVP this year, but James is still the best player in the NBA for now. The burden he’s had to carry with the inconsistent lineups due to Dwyane Wade and other rotational pieces being out really has been undersold, and that’s unfair to LeBron. Seriously, he pretty much coasted to a 27-7-6 year and sometimes look downright bad doing it. That’s oddly impressive.

Grade: B+ (sorry, I’m not excusing his defense this year)

Chris Bosh: 16.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1 spg, 1 bpg, 51.6% FG, 33.9% 3PT (74 made threes), 82% FT
-I’m not sure what to make of Chris Bosh’s season. He became, statistically, one of the best P&R defenders in the NBA. He extended his range even more and became a semi-reliable spot-up threat from behind the arc. He also completely flamed out the last two months of the season, averaging 14.8 ppg ( in April) and 6.1 rpg from March 1st to the end of the regular season. Bosh has been in a bit of a prolonged shooting slump. That has to improve, and soon. His rebounding is needed as well. Other than that, Bosh has been very reliable, and his floor spacing is, once again, the key to Miami’s offense. That’s why he’s the team MVP.

Grade: B

The Reserves

Ray Allen: 9.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2 apg, 44.2% FG, 37.5% 3PT, 90.5% FT
-Ray Allen had himself a Derek Fisher-type year. I don’t mean that in a derogatory fashion, but we definitely saw shades of Ray Allen slowing down. He’s darn-near 40 so it’s expected, but his shooting slumps lasted a little longer than they usually would. He was slower on defense, which was already somewhat of an issue. He still hit his fair share of big shots throughout the regular season, and he’ll likely be called on to knock down big threes throughout the postseason as well.

Grade C

Chris Andersen: 6.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.3 bpg, 64.4% FG, 71% FT
-Chris Andersen was simply awesome this year. He was Miami’s best rim protector, and served as instant energy off the bench. The Bosh-Andersen frontcourt put in work for most of the year, so expect to see it more this postseason.

Grade: A

Norris Cole: 6.4 ppg, 3 apg, 2 rpg, 41.4% FG, 34.5% 3PT, 77.9% FT
-In typical Cole fashion, he had an up-and-down year. He started off the year hot as mentioned earlier, but by the end of the year, I was wondering if Toney Douglas was going to be Miami’s backup point-guard. Cole has always been active defensively, and earlier this year, he looked like he was finally getting the hang of controlling the tempo on offense. Cole reverted back to his erratic ways towards the end of the year, but it looks like he’s turning the corner again.

Grade: C+

Udonis Haslem: 3.8 ppg 3.8 rpg, 50.7% FG, 56.8% FT
-Haslem started off the year injured, which freed up early rotation time for Michael Beasley (more on him a little later). Haslem simply stayed patient and professional, and now he’s in Miami’s starting lineup with the task of guarding Al Jefferson. Haslem provides interior and overall toughness that the Heat desperately needs. It’s a shame he only provided that for a little less than half of the season.

Grade: C

James Jones: 4.9 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 45.6% FG, 51.9% 3PT, 63.6% FT
-Jones didn’t really play much at all this year, so it’s really hard to grade him. When he did play, he did what he does best — knock down the three-ball. He lit up the Bobcats for a surprising 12 points off the bench in Game 1, and it’ll be interesting to see how much Coach Spoelstra plays him going forward. But this is for the regular season.

Grade: C

Rashard Lewis; 4.5 ppg,1.8 rpg, 0.9 spg, 41.5% FG, 34.3% 3PT, 78.8% FT
-Lewis was apart of the forward carousel with Battier, Haslem, and Beasley. Lewis didn’t crack the “rotation” until around March, and played shockingly well on the defensive end in Miami’s scheme. Lewis’ 3PT % was lower than anyone really expected, but the inconsistent playing time probably had something to do with that.

Grade: C-

New Signees

Michael Beasley: 7.9 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 49.9% FG, 38.9% 3PT, 77.2% FT
-For the first couple of months of the season, Michael Beasley was looking like he’d be a dark-horse contender for the Sixth Man of the Year, averaging 11.1 ppg and 4.4 rpg while shooting 52.6% from the field and 50% from three. Beasley was giving significant effort on the defensive end. While he would still get lost in rotations at times, the fact that Beasley was playing so hard on both ends of the floor was a great sign for Miami. Then, Shane Battier got healthy. Udonis Haslem got healthy. Rashard Lewis got spot playing time and did more than capitalize on it. Beasley went through a rough stretch, his minutes decreased, and hasn’t really seen much of the court since the New Year started. The Beasley signing was viewed as a low risk/moderately high reward move anyway, so Miami isn’t hurting because Beasley hasn’t played much. It’ll be nice if Beasley can find minutes to relieve LeBron during the playoffs.

Grade: C+

Justin Hamilton: 3.7 ppg, 1 rpg, 45% FG, 33.3% 3PT, 100% FT
-Hamilton was a late signing, but didn’t play much for Miami at all.

Grade: N/A

Greg Oden: 2.9 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 55.1% FG, 56.5% FT
-The Oden experiment was pretty hit-or-miss, but a lot should be said about Oden even making it through this regular season. He’s really made a heck of a comeback. On the court, he was pretty rusty, and ultimately stayed in foul trouble most of the time. He progressively moved around better as the season went on, and provided solid rim protection throughout the year. He struggled against quicker centers and over-extended himself at times on the pick-and-roll. The real reason Oden was brought in was to help limit Roy Hibbert in the event that Miami faced the Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals. We’ll see how that transpires.

Grade: C+

Houston Rockets: Patrick Beverley’s Importance

By Jennifer Fazioli: Lead Writer @ Hoopstuff…

Earlier this month I wrote a piece on the impact that injuries to Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley could have on the Rockets’ playoff success. Both have since returned to the Rockets’ lineup but after Beverley appeared to reinjure the partially torn meniscus during a run-in with LaMarcus Aldridge in the first game of the Rockets’ playoff series with the Blazers, Rockets’ fans held their collective breath while waiting for news of his scheduled MRI. Turns out they needn’t have worried as Beverley awoke the next day with no issues or complications with his knee. By the reaction of some of his teammates it’s quite clear that they are starting to come around to the fact that Beverley is essential to the team’s playoff goals; perhaps every bit as much as Howard and James Harden are. How can that be you ask? Let me explain.

No one doubts Harden’s ability to impact a game with his smooth shooting stroke and ability to go off for 30 to 40 points at any given time. With Kobe Bryant aging and having suffered two potentially career ending injuries in the span of nine months and with Dwayne Wade becoming the epitome of the aging superstar whose body is betraying him, Harden may very well qualify as the best two guard in the league. But his defense is atrocious and he seems to have regressed even more on that front this year. Harden is one of the slowest players in the league to switch to the defensive part of play following an offensive possession and his lack of effort at times is astounding for someone with his athletic capabilities. All of his energy is saved for the offensive end so if he is not firing on all cylinders there he becomes virtually useless. In game one against Portland his long range shot was not falling and while he racked up 27 points it took 28 shots to achieve that total and included 11 missed 3-point attempts. Beverley will never be able to take over the offensive load when Harden is having an off night, Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin are more suited for that task, but his defensive efforts have the ability to prevent the other team from scoring at a high rate.

I would argue that Beverley is one of the best defensive point guards in the NBA and as such becomes one of those most highly valued by his team; if not fully recognized at that level by the league as a whole. A new statistical measurement recently developed to more accurately portray a player’s impact on both the offensive AND defensive side of the ball would agree. Beverley ranks as the third best point guard in the league in terms of RPM (Real plus-minus) and holds a WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of 7.21 largely due to a defensive skill set that relies on physicality and determination. Beverley’s aptitude as an on-ball defender is second to none and he subscribes to a philosophy that calls for constant contact, allowing him to frustrate his opponent, rendering them off balance while upsetting the timing and execution of the play being run. Moreover Beverley has the ability to stay in front of his man, something the majority of Houston’s current personnel do not. Beverley has a sound basketball IQ and is so aware of what is happening on the entire court that even if he finds himself in the wrong position during a defensive rotation he has the capacity to recover and correct the error quickly. His defensive performance is every bit as essential as Howard’s ability to alter and block shots of players driving the lane with his physicality and length. When Howard is not on the court (and he wasn’t for a good portion of Sunday’s game due to foul trouble) the Rockets are not as effective at preventing teams from getting to the basket. The Blazers would score almost half of their point total (52 points) in the paint during game one; this from a team that is perimeter oriented. While Beverley’s impact doesn’t quite show up so neatly in the box score it is most definitely felt by the team’s opposing point guard.

We are in a golden era of point guards and the majority of them play in the West (Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard) meaning Beverley’s proficiency on defense becomes even more critical for slowing down what is often a team’s best player. Lillard along with Aldridge are Portland’s most reliable and explosive offensive weapons and taking Lillard out of rhythm goes a long way to offsetting Portland’s effectiveness. Admittedly in game one Beverley wasn’t fully able to slow Lillard, who finished with 31 points, nine rebounds and five assists with only one turnover and made his way to the line 12 times (in a game overwrought with ticky-tac fouls but that’s a completely different matter). Beverley did show flashes of contesting and altering Lillard’s shot (and blocked a key layup by Lillard in the waning minutes of regulation with the game within two) but he will need to do more if the Rockets are to avoid a 2-0 deficit in the series. During the regular season, Beverley held Curry in check relatively well; holding him to 20 points (on 5 of 12 shooting) and 22 points (on 5 of 14 shooting), both of those games being wins for the Rockets. He did the same with Paul who scored only 14 points in both of their head to head matchups, shooting just 38 percent from the field. In the teams’ third matchup played without Beverley in the lineup Paul went off for 30 points on 10 of 16 shooting. Beverley has had a little more trouble with Tony Parker at times but in two out of their three head to head battles he held Parker to 17 and 10 points respectively.

Houston is largely looked upon as an offensive-minded, high tempo, finesse type team and their above average defensive rating (102.6 good for 11th in the league) is primarily due to the tandem of Beverley and Howard. Beverley displays a defensive intensity on every play that the rest of the team doesn’t seem to possess and he almost seems out of place in their lineup; his grind-it-out, physical style is more reminiscent of the Bulls and their defensive machinations. Nevertheless he is sorely needed in the playoffs where defensive play becomes more important as the pace of the games in the postseason generally slows down and more closely resembles a defensive chess match instead of a high octane track meet. Indeed, Beverley’s offensive numbers are not eye-popping (for the season he averaged 10.2 PPG, 2.7 APG on 41 percent shooting from the field on just 8.6 shot attempts per game) and in fact Lin had more points off the bench in game one (14 vs. 9) in four less minutes of play, but that is not Beverley’s primary role. When they need an offensive spark the Rockets simply bring Lin off the bench for major minutes. However they need Beverley on the court for his grit and energy that the entire team seems to feed off of. If the Rockets are to carry that defensive vitality to a first round win they will need Beverley to be fully healthy and ready to attack Lillard once again in Wednesday night’s game. Their playoff livelihood depends on it.

The NBA’s 20 Best Rookies

By Mike Elworth: Owner and Publisher/Hoopstuff…

1. Michael Carter Williams- 76ers- Pick 11

- MCW was the NBA’s best rookie by a wide margin, as he was the leading rookie scorer (16.7 per game), rebounder (6.2) and distributor (6.3). He proved that he is an All Star talent and potential franchise player and this season’s about to be named Rookie of the Year looks like he will be the best rookie from this draft class.

2. Victor Oladipo- Magic- Pick 2

- Oladipo was 2nd among rookies in points (13.7 per game) and 3rd in assists (4.1) and proved that he is an elite 2 way talent. His athleticism and versatility were well known, but he showed that he can be a big time NBA scorer and defender and is a potential 18-5-5 player and All Star. He showed franchise player potential for the Magic and also has the ability to become the best player in this draft. However, he is best suited as the 2nd best player on a strong playoff team. Expect steady improvement from Oladipo, unless the Magic are serious about turning him into a point guard, which would be a big mistake.

3. Trey Burke- Jazz- Pick 9

- Burke was 3rd among rookies in points (12.8 per game) and 2nd in assists (5.7) and although his shooting percentages were low, his team was far better with him on the court, as they couldn’t buy a game when he was injured to start the season and those shooting numbers will improve as he becomes more familiar with the NBA game. He was NBA ready as advertised and has already solidified his place as the Jazz’s franchise point guard. He won’t be an All Star, but he will be an excellent starter for a long time.

4. Mason Plumlee- Nets- Pick 22

- Nobody doubted his skill and NBA readiness, but he fell in the draft because a lack of long term potential, but this didn’t prevent him from being the best big man on a playoff team; yes he is better than Garnett at this point. Averaging about 14.5 points, 8.5 and 1.5 blocks per 36 minutes, while shooting an incredible 65.9 percent from the field, he has instantly become an elite NBA role player and has the talent to be a starting NBA power forward.

5. Gorgui Dieng- Timberwolves- Pick 21

- Dieng barely played for the majority of the season, but when he was given minutes, he was excellent. When Nikola Pekovic was injured in the playoff stretch, Dieng started 15 games and averaged 12.2 points, 12.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game in 32 minutes and proved that he is a starting caliber center in the NBA. He won’t be a star, but he is a threat on each side of the floor and is an animal on the boards.

6. Ray McCallum- Kings- Pick 36

- Like Dieng, McCallum wasn’t given much of a chance until a starter was injured and also like Dieng, he excelled. In 10 games as a starter, McCallum averaged an excellent 13.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 1.5 steals per game and proved capable of being a starter in the NBA. He won’t be given that chance on the Kings with Isaiah Thomas likely to be signed long term, but he can become an elite level sixth man by next season.

7. Steven Adams- Thunder- Pick 12

- As weird as this sounds, Adams is probably the best center on the team with the 2nd best record in the NBA. He has become the 2nd string center on the Thunder and has showed excellent hustle, rebounding, energy and defense. He won’t amount to much offensively, but he could be their starter by next season and is the only rookie who will play a factor in the championship race.

8. Tim Hardaway Jr.- Knicks- Pick 24

- Hardaway showed that he will be one of the best offensive players from this draft class and will be a starting shooting guard in the NBA. He averaged about 15 points per 36 minutes and was very efficient for a rookie, shooting 43 percent from the field and 36 from 3. He proved that he is a big time shooting threat as about half of his shots were from 3 and he should be a starter for the Knicks next season.

9. Giannis Antetokounmpo- Bucks- Pick 15

- Antetokounmpo is the youngest player in the NBA, very long, athletic and skilled and although he was considered raw, he played very well as a rookie, averaging about 13 points, 8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1 steal and a block per game. He should only improve next season and his potential is incredible. He should be a starter for the Bucks next season and is arguably their best long term piece on the roster today.

10. Kelly Olynyk- Celtics- Pick 13

- Olynyk looks like the best stretch four from this draft, averaging about 15 points and 9 rebounds per 36 minutes, shooting 47 percent from the field and 35 percent from 3 and he got a lot better as the season progressed. He should be a starter or at the very least a key part of their rotation next season and long term.

11. Pero Antic- Hawks- Undrafted- Age: 31

- Antic is starting for a playoff team right now. Did you know that? Who cares that his team is 38-44. Antic averaged about 14 points and 8 rebounds per 36 minutes this season and as a starter averaged 10 points and 6 rebounds per game. He can also make 3′s, although he takes far too many and is a very, very inefficient offensive player. Is he a long term starter? No, but he will be a solid rotation player in the NBA.

12. Cody Zeller- Bobcats- Pick 4

- Zeller started slowly, but he steadily improved during the season. With about 12 points, 9 rebounds and 1 block per 36 minutes, Zeller played a solid role for a playoff team and if his rookie season was any indication, he will only improve with more time and experience.

13. Jeff Withey- Pelicans- Pick 39

- Jeff Withey was very strong in his rookie season, but nobody noticed. His per 36 minute numbers of 10 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks per 36 minutes are very strong and he proved that he is a rotation big man in the NBA and a defensive specialist.

14. Dewayne Dedmon- Magic- Undrafted

- Dedmon only played in 31 games this season, but he was very impressive for the Magic. He averaged about 9 points, 12 rebounds and 2 blocks per 36 minutes and proved he belongs in the NBA, as his rebounding numbers are elite.

15. Hollis Thompson- 76ers- Undrafted

- Thompson played a lot of minutes for the 76ers and started his fair share of games, but his numbers were far below average, except for his shooting numbers. He was the best rookie shooter at 40 percent from 3, which means that he has an elite NBA skill and he could be in the league for a long time.

16. C.J. McCollum- Trail Blazers- Pick 10

- McCollum missed a lot of games due to injury and didn’t play very much when healthy, but he showed that he is an NBA scorer, averaging about 15 points per 36 minutes and was 2nd among rookies with a 38 percent 3 point percentage. He showed no ability to be an NBA point guard, but he can become an excellent sixth man.

17. Nick Calathes- Grizzlies- Pick 45, 5 years ago

- Calathas being on this list isn’t about the numbers, although just about 10 points and 6 assists per 36 minutes are solid, it is the fact that he earned the job of 2nd string point guard on the team with the 9th best record in the NBA.

18. Nate Wolters- Bucks- Pick 38

- Nate Wolters averaged about 11 points, 4.5 rebounds and 5 assists per 36 minutes, his 22.6 minutes per game were 8th among rookies and he showed the ability to be a solid bench scorer and 2nd point guard, so it was a solid season for the South Dakota State prospect.

19. Anthony Bennett- Cavaliers- Pick 1

- Bennett’s numbers are porous and he played pathetic basketball for a long stretch of the season, but there was a small portion of the season where he showed the ability to be a double-double player in the NBA and flashed his star potential and this earns him a place on this list.

20. Ryan Kelly- Lakers- Pick 48

- Kelly averaged 8.0 points and 3.7 rebounds per game, which looks solid, but he is a stretch 4 who had trouble shooting. He is only on this list because he was 7th in points per game, 8th in minutes and 11th in rebounds. He was a far better shooter in college, so he still can become a solid NBA stretch four.

 

Indiana Pacers: Time to Sit Roy Hibbert?

By Jennifer Fazioli: Lead Writer @ Hoopstuff…

When the Pacers lost game one of their opening round playoff series to the Atlanta Hawks it was difficult to believe that an eight seed could so thoroughly dominant what was at one time this season the best team in the league. Even after their free fall of the past two months it was assumed that this first series would be a relatively easy one for the Pacers; a chance for them to regain some of their confidence as well as their defensive prowess while offering them an opportunity to put together some semblance of an offensive plan. None of the above happened and despite being only one game it’s time to seriously consider if the Pacers will be able to pull out of their long malaise in time to make any kind of impact in this year’s playoffs. Head coach Frank Vogel has tried just about every strategy imaginable to “fix” what ails his team to no avail. One strategy he has not employed but should seriously consider is sitting starting center and defensive player of the year candidate Roy Hibbert.

The entire team has been culpable in the Pacers’ demise; all having experienced a shooting slump at one time or another, a decided lack of consistent defensive intensity, missed assignments, and a general absence of good basketball sense, but none has exhibited quite so far a fall as Hibbert. In the last 10 games of the season Hibbert averaged just 6.8 points and 3.7 rebounds on 27 percent shooting from the field after having started the first half of the year putting up over 12 PPG, 7.7 rebounds and shooting over 45 percent from the field (still a particularly low number for a center). If we break it down to just the last two weeks of the year the statistics get worse (4.3 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 21.9 field goal percentage). Hibbert bottomed out in his last game of the regular season when he went 0 for 9 from the field against Oklahoma City failing to record a point. He has become sullen and disengaged to the point where I am having trouble distinguishing him for a five year old pouting because his older brother didn’t let him win the video game they were playing. He no more resembles the player that Miami had little answer for during last year’s Eastern Conference finals than I do at this point. Saturday’s playoff loss to Atlanta was hardly an improvement with Hibbert going for eight points and eight rebounds, accumulating five personal fouls while failing to block a shot.

The Hawks are especially troublesome for Hibbert because they have two big men in Pero Antic and Paul Millsap who are capable perimeter shooters, meaning Hibbert cannot stay home and protect the rim where he is best and also make use of the rule of ‘verticality’ which only he seems to have mastered among all players in the league, allowing him to create impactful contact without drawing the foul. Frontcourt players such as Antic and Millsap force him outside his comfort zone where he is not nearly as effective (‘effective’ being a relative term at this point). Antic shot 40 percent from 3-point range on Saturday and Millsap hit half of his long range shots. Certainly this was not the only reason for the Pacers’ loss as many outsiders continue to speculate that the Pacers’ problems go beyond mere basketball fundamentals. George Hill has also been especially awful; frequently a defensive liability he allowed Jeff Teague to morph into an All NBA guard right before our eyes, permitting Teague to drive the lane unabated and practically set up camp in the paint (a very strong argument can be made for Paul George switching to guard Teague). But the Pacers will go as Hibbert goes and so when he is not playing well it drags the entire team down both in terms of physical performance as well as team chemistry and energy.

Because Andrew Bynum has been declared unavailable for the first round of the playoffs (that pickup turned out well), Vogel could look to increase Ian Mahinmi’s minutes and bring Hibbert off the bench to provide a spark that usually comes from accomplished perimeter shooters but in this case could come from a defensive spark and physicality, assuming that Hibbert has any left to give. Vogel’s better option might be to play a smaller lineup with David West and Luis Scola on the floor together for the majority of the time; using Hibbert only to spell the two and when Hibbert once again demonstrates that he is willing and able to contribute in a significant way. While West didn’t have much impact in the first game he is one of the only Pacers who has shown some life recently, averaging 17.6 points and seven rebounds on 62 percent shooting over his last five games prior to the start of the playoffs.  Scola was even worse during game one, going 0 for 6 from the field in 19 minutes of play but also showed some modest improvements to finish the regular season. When given the opportunity to play more minutes Scola averaged 11.6 points and 5.2 rebounds on 52 percent shooting.

Vogel does not appear to have a great deal of good options at this point but it would seem that simply waiting for Hibbert to return to form, when he has shown no signs of doing so, is one of the worst. A lineup featuring West and Scola with Hibbert coming off the bench can’t possibly be any worse than what the Pacers have been putting on the floor lately. It’s time to bite the bullet, risk upsetting Hibbert’s already fragile psyche, and look to a new solution unless the Pacers are ready to head home before the calendar even reaches May.

Utah Jazz: Ty Corbin Firing Grade

By Mike Elworth: Owner and Publisher/Hoopstuff..

The Utah Jazz won’t be giving a new contract to coach Ty Corbin, which in the NBA is the same things as being fired. They made the right decision. Why? He was arguably the poorest coach in the NBA this season and that isn’t even factoring in their 25-57 record.

Despite 3 seasons of having Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter playing together, in their 1st season with the starting jobs, he couldn’t get them to coexist. They are each All Star talents and as Favors is a defensively gifted power forward and Enes Kanter is an excellent offensive big man and each are strong rebounders, common sense dictates that they should have become one of the best big man duos in the NBA. However, starting together the team couldn’t win, so Corbin moved Kanter to the bench and started Marvin Williams instead. We all knew this was a rebuilding season for the Jazz, so if they aren’t winning who cares? You play them until they can learn to play to one another’s strengths and how in 2 previous seasons playing together and with an offseason to prepare them as starters didn’t he realize that they couldn’t play together? That is all on the coach. Instead of trying to get them to coexist, he benches Kanter for Marvin Williams; wow.

It wasn’t only Williams he started, but Richard Jefferson too, instead of Alec Burks. Their management did an excellent job finding strong talents at all 5 positions in the draft, with Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter, yet he very rarely used them as a starting 5, even though they were his 5 most productive players. Who starts Marvin Williams and  Richard Jefferson in a rebuilding season? Did he realize that it was a rebuilding season? Claiming ignorance is his best bet, as his coaching job this season was porous.

Firing Grade: A+

NBA Playoffs: 5 Things We Learned On opening Weekend

By Mike Elworth: Owner and Publisher/Hoopstuff..

1. Referees Will Be A Story

- There are already 2 examples of NBA referees playing a negative impact on playoff games. In the Clippers-Warriors game they missed a foul against Chris Paul that essentially caused the Clippers to lose and they missed 2 big calls in the Rockets-Blazers game that cost the Rockets a win. There were numerous missed and poor calls by the referees on opening weekend and I warn you to temper your expectations when it comes to them being better for the rest of the playoffs.

2. Home Court Isn’t Necessary

- Although some of it can be blamed on 1st round jitters, 5 of 8 home-court teams losing their home-court advantage is very rare. Home-court advantage is usually very important in the NBA, much more than the rest of the big 4 U.S. sports, because the crowd is on top of them and they are within inches of the benches. Of course, only 1 game in each series is in the record books, but so far, 5 of 8 games is troubling for those who believed that this advantage would help their teams advance.

3. The NBA Really Is A Family

- You know, I have always found Craig Sager to be a little bit annoying, but the NBA showed him so much love this weekend, in the most touching story of the playoffs so far. For those of you who don’t know, famous NBA sideline reporter and known fashionista, Craig Sager was diagnosed with lukiemia recently and NBA coaches showed their respect for the man in interviews, the TNT crew put on a show Sager would be proud of and even his nemesis, Gregg Popovich gave an incredibly heartfelt interview with Sager’s son. It shows that there are things more important than basketball even at playoff time and that the NBA can be united in their respect and love for one of their own.

4. The Pacers Are In Trouble

- The Indiana Pacers are the 1st seed in the Eastern Conference with a record of 56-26 and are playing the 8th seeded Atlanta Hawks who were 38-44 and have no place in the playoffs. This should be an easy sweep right? Nope. The Pacers were easily beaten by a team that has maybe 4-5 players that would make their rotation, their elite defense allowed 101 points, their troubled offense only scored 93 and they allowed 2 players in Jeff Teague and Paul Millsap to pick them apart, when they have the personnel to make it very difficult on them. The Pacers came into the playoffs with their fair share of problems and they have looked like a different team recently, but they are still better than every East team besides Miami. However, they could lose to the Hawks, who again, shouldn’t be in the playoffs. When it comes to winning the conference? Little chance.

5. The Spurs Are Easily The Favorites

- The Spurs looked like they were on their way to a convincing game 1 win against the Mavericks, but the 8th seeded Mavs actually took the lead in the 2nd half and the Spurs looked in trouble. However, Tony Parker and especially Tim Duncan carried this team like they have for so long and with an incredibly impressive 4th quarter, lead them to a game 1 win. Tony Parker played like we all expected him to, as he ran the offense well and made some excellent individual plays, but it was Tim Duncan who put the fear of God into the Mavericks and each NBA playoff team. He didn’t look 37 or even 32, he looked like his 2 time MVP self and put on an incredible offensive performance in the paint. There wasn’t a thing the Mavericks could do to stop him and in the Spurs’ hour of need, when it looked like there was a real chance of them losing, he carried his team. It seems the rest that Popovich gave his 2 stars during the season has kept them fresh and a fresh Duncan-Parker duo cannot be stopped. With the NBA’s best set of role players around them, can anyone defeat the Spurs in a 7 game series? Unlikely, if the Spurs are playing at their best.

Phoenix Suns: Season Grade and Review

By Josh Morgan: VP and Director of Content…

Record: 48-34 9th in the West

Analysis: No one told the Suns they were supposed to tank this season in order to get one of the prized rookies next season. They started off very well and appeared to be on their way to the playoffs but were derailed thanks to an injury to new star and franchise cornerstone Eric Bledsoe that saw him miss 39 games. Though Goran Dragic played great during this stretch they were not able to keep stride with the rest of the West and lost an essential play in game against the Grizzlies late in the season to seal their fate. There is a great foundation in Phoenix going forward and if they can parlay some of their great assets into a productive piece or two the playoffs will be back for the Suns.

Positives: Eric Bledsoe was a late first round pick for the Clippers and was valued fairly highly by teams around the league but if anyone saw his play this season coming then they are geniuses. He went from effective bench player to starter and the best player in Phoenix alongside an established veteran like Dragic. The Suns need to bring him back no matter the cost.

Dragic had his best season by far, averaging 20.3 points, 6 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game and should have been an All Star. The combination of him and Bledsoe is one of the best guard combos in the league and make Phoenix an incredibly tough matchup for anyone.

The trade of Luis Scola to Indiana for Miles Plumlee, Gerald Green and a first round pick was a huge win for the Suns. Plumlee averaged 8.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game in his first real action in the league after playing just 14 games and very limited minutes last season for the Pacers. He is a great piece for this team to build with on the interior. Green struggled last season in Indiana but he found his shot in Phoenix, hitting 40 percent of his threes and still bringing his incredible athleticism to the game.

In his first season as a head coach, Jeff Hornacek brought out play that no one expected from seemingly every player on the roster. He is a front runner for the coach of the year even without making the playoffs and already one of the best coaches in the league.

Negatives: Bledsoe’s injury held them back from making the playoffs, they couldn’t find a way to win that play in game against Memphis, first round pick Alex Len barely saw the floor and though their offense was great all year long the defense was a completely different story.

MVP: Goran Dragic: I mentioned his stats above and it was a big omission that he did not find his way on to the Western Conference All Star roster.

LVP: Alex Len: Two points and two rebounds per game in just 42 games played

What’s Next: The Suns have three first round picks in this year’s deep draft and whether they choose to use them all or package them for a veteran to help solidify their team they should be adding even more talent to an already deep roster. They also have the expiring contract of Emeka Okafor that will be enticing in a potential deal, so GM Ryan McDonough will be plenty busy come this off season. However, the first thing he needs to do without any hesitation is to bring back Eric Bledsoe. He is their franchise player and along with Dragic will have them competing for years to come in a rugged Western Conference.

Summary: Sure you could say they overachieved but these Suns played great this season and they showed that they have a very bright future ahead of them.

Grade: A