Community Shootaround

Community Shootaround: First Round Playoff Series

After the NBA playoffs tipped off on Saturday with a handful of one-sided contests, things got a little more interesting on Sunday and Monday, with the Thunder, Knicks, and Nuggets among the teams to pull out victories in games that went down to the wire.

All three days of the playoffs so far, however, have had one thing in common: The home team has won. The road teams have an 0-11 record entering Tuesday’s action.

It’s not necessarily surprising that the home teams are controlling the eight series so far. Those clubs are the higher seeds, and home-court advantage is often a difference-maker in the postseason.

Still, it’s somewhat rare for the higher seeds to be quite this dominant to open the playoffs, especially when we saw so much parity during the regular season. The No. 2 and No. 8 seeds in the East finished the season just four games apart, while only two games separated the No. 4 to No. 7 teams in the West.

The lower seeds are going to start picking up some wins at some point, especially in Game 3s when they get to play on their respective home courts. But will any of them actually make it out of the first round?

Currently, lists all the lower seeds as series underdogs, giving the Mavericks (+140) the best chance to erase its 1-0 deficit and win the series. Those odds aren’t surprising — Dallas finished the season strong, was only a game behind the Clippers in the standings, and seems unlikely to face a fully healthy Kawhi Leonard in the first round.

The Suns (+150) and Pacers (+195) are also viewed as viable candidates to pull off upsets over Minnesota and Milwaukee, respectively. On the other hand, despite only being down 1-0 in their series, the Pelicans (+660) and Heat (+5000!) are massive underdogs vs. the Thunder and Celtics.

Of the teams who have to climb out of a 2-0 hole, views the Sixers (+380) as the strongest candidates for a comeback, followed by the Magic (+640) and Lakers (+870).

We want to know what you think. Will any of the eight lower seeds make it out of the first round? If so, which ones do you expect to see in round two?

Head to the comment section below to share your thoughts!

Community Shootaround: Playoff Seeding Battles

With all 30 NBA teams enjoying a day off on Saturday, we have just one day of regular season games remaining in 2023/24, with 15 games on Sunday’s slate.

Amazingly, through 81 games, only three playoff seeds have been determined — the Celtics own the No. 1 seed in the East, the Clippers control No. 4 in the West, and the Mavericks are No. 5 in the West.

We also know that the Bulls are locked into the No. 9 spot in the East and will host the No. 10 Hawks in one of next week’s play-in games.

Besides that though, 15 of the 20 total top-10 seeds in the two conferences remain up for grabs, with much to be determined based on Sunday’s results.

Here’s a look at the matchups to watch and the scenarios in play on Sunday:

Western Conference

Battle for the No. 1 seed:

The Nuggets were in the driver’s seat for the top spot in the West, but as Bennett Durando of The Denver Post writes, they fell victim to another monster night from Spurs phenom Victor Wembanyama on Friday, blowing a 23-point lead and falling all the way to third place in the conference standings as a result of a disappointing loss in San Antonio.

The Thunder and Timberwolves are now tied with Denver in the standings. All three teams have 56-25 records, but Oklahoma City holds the three-way tiebreaker, with Minnesota taking the second spot over the Nuggets for now. Their Sunday matchups are as follows:

  • Phoenix Suns at Minnesota Timberwolves
  • Denver Nuggets at Memphis Grizzlies
  • Dallas Mavericks at Oklahoma City Thunder

If all three teams win or all three lose on Sunday, the current order in the standings (OKC at No. 1, Minnesota at No. 2, and Denver at No. 3) will remain as is. Here are the other scenarios in play on Sunday:

  • A Timberwolves win paired with either a Nuggets loss or a Thunder loss would give Minnesota the No. 1 seed, since the Wolves hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over both teams.
  • The only scenario in which the Timberwolves would fall to No. 3 would be if they lose and the Thunder and Nuggets both win. That’s not inconceivable, given that Minnesota has the toughest matchup of the three — the Suns still have something to play for, whereas the Mavs’ playoff seed is assured and the Grizzlies are lottery-bound.
  • A Thunder win will ensure they claim the No. 1 seed unless the Nuggets lose and the Timberwolves win. The Thunder can fall to No. 3 only if they lose and the Nuggets win, regardless of what happens with Minnesota.
  • The Nuggets can only claim the No. 1 seed it they win and the Timberwolves and Thunder both lose. They could move up to No. 2 with a win as long as one of OKC or Minnesota loses. Otherwise they’ll place third.

The final top-six spot:

It’s down to the Pelicans and the Suns for the No. 6 spot in the West. Whichever team misses out on the final guaranteed playoff spot will finish seventh and will host the No. 7 vs. 8 play-in matchup.

New Orleans (49-32) has a one-game lead over Phoenix (48-33), but the Suns hold the tiebreaker edge. The Suns’ only path to No. 6 is to pick up a win in Minnesota while the Pelicans lose at home to the Lakers. Either a Pelicans win or a Suns loss would lock New Orleans into No. 6 and Phoenix into No. 7.

Given that both the Wolves and Lakers still have something to play for on Sunday, this outcome is far from certain.

The Nos. 8 through 10 seeds:

The Lakers (46-35), Kings (45-36), and Warriors (45-36) could each end up anywhere from No. 8 to 10 in the West depending on how the final day’s games play out.

The drop-off from each spot to the next is significant — the eighth-place team will only have to win one of two play-in games to earn a playoff berth and would get the second game at home if it loses the first one on the road. The ninth-place team would have to win two play-in games – one at home and one on the road – just to earn the No. 8 playoff seed, while the 10th-place team would need to win a pair of play-in contests on the road to claim that No. 8 seed.

The Lakers control their own destiny due to their one-game lead on Sacramento and Golden State, but they also have the most difficult matchup of the three teams on Sunday. Those games are as follows:

  • Los Angeles Lakers at New Orleans Pelicans
  • Portland Trail Blazers at Sacramento Kings
  • Utah Jazz at Golden State Warriors

New Orleans pulled out a big win over Golden State on Friday in a game that Klay Thompson said “stings a lot,” per Anthony Slater of The Athletic. The Pelicans won’t be letting their foot of the gas on Sunday as they look to secure a top-six seed, so a Lakers loss is in play.

If the Lakers do lose and both the Kings and Warriors win, Sacramento would move up to No. 8 and Golden State would move up to No. 9, sending L.A. to No. 10. That’s the only scenario in which the Lakers could slip to tenth place. A win would earn them the No. 8 spot, as would all three teams losing. They’d drop to No. 9 if they lose and just one of the Kings or Warriors wins.

The Kings are in relatively good shape. A win over the lottery-bound Blazers, which seems like a relatively safe bet, will assure them of at least the No. 9 spot. They’d fall to No. 10 only if they lose and Golden State wins.

The Warriors’ only path to No. 8 would involve a Golden State win combined with Lakers and Kings losses. That might be a long shot, so it’s perhaps not surprising that head coach Steve Kerr left the door open to possibly resting some key veterans on Sunday to make sure those banged-up players are ready for the first play-in game next week (Twitter link via Slater).

Eastern Conference

Battle for the No. 2 seed:

The reeling Bucks (49-32) have lost seven of their last 10 games, opening the door for either the Knicks (49-32) or Cavaliers (48-33) to steal away the No. 2 seed.

Still, Milwaukee remains at the front of this race. The Bucks own the tiebreaker over the Knicks, so they just need a win – or for all three teams to lose – in order to clinch No. 2. Unfortunately, they’re missing superstar forward Giannis Antetokounmpo and have the most challenging matchup of any of the three contenders for No. 2. Sunday’s games are as follows:

  • Milwaukee Bucks at Orlando Magic
  • Chicago Bulls at New York Knicks
  • Charlotte Hornets at Cleveland Cavaliers

The Magic continue to battle for a top-six seed in the East, whereas the Bulls are locked into No. 9 and the Hornets are a non-playoff team.

If the Knicks and Cavaliers win and the Bucks don’t, New York would move up to No. 2, Cleveland would take No. 3, and Milwaukee would slide all the way to No. 4. The Bucks could salvage the No. 3 seed even if they lose, as long as at least one of the Knicks or Cavs also lose.

A worst-case scenario for the Knicks would be a three-team tie, which would occur if they and the Bucks lose and the Cavs win. In that case, Cleveland would be No. 2 and New York would slip to No. 4.

Mayhem in the No. 5-8 range:

No section of the standings is more up in the air entering Sunday’s action than the fifth through eight seeds in the East, where four teams – the Magic (46-35), Pacers (46-35), Sixers (46-35), and Heat (45-36) – could all still finish anywhere from No. 5 to 8.

Before we try to untangle this convoluted knot, let’s take a look at the relevant Sunday games:

  • Milwaukee Bucks at Orlando Magic
  • Atlanta Hawks at Indiana Pacers
  • Brooklyn Nets at Philadelphia 76ers
  • Toronto Raptors at Miami Heat

All four clubs are at home, but some of these matchups are more favorable than others. The Nets and Raptors are lottery teams who don’t have anything to play for, so it’s hard to imagine them upsetting the Sixers or Heat, respectively. That will put pressure on the Magic and Pacers, who would hang onto the No. 5 and No. 6 seeds if they both win on Sunday.

As detailed above, Milwaukee is trying to clinch the No. 2 seed and will be motivated to beat Orlando. Atlanta is locked into No. 10, but knocking off Indiana could benefit the Hawks, who will need to beat one of these teams to make the playoffs, assuming they make it past Chicago. Atlanta might prefer seeing the Pacers instead of the Sixers or Heat in a play-in battle next week — beating Indiana on Sunday would increase the odds of that.

There are too many scenarios in play here to run through them all, but here are a few worth mentioning:

  • The Sixers would move up to No. 5 if they beat Brooklyn and the Hawks beat Indiana.
  • The Pacers would move up to No. 5 if they beat Atlanta and the Bucks beat Orlando.
  • The Heat can only get to No. 5 if they win and the Magic, Pacers, and Sixers all lose, resulting in a four-way tie. They could move up to No. 6 if they win, the Magic lose, and one of the Pacers or Sixers lose.
  • The Magic would fall to No. 8 if they lose and the Heat and Pacers win, regardless of what happens in the Sixers game. Orlando could also end up at No. 8 if Miami is the only one of these teams to win and they end up in a four-way tie.
  • The only scenario in which the Pacers could fall to No. 8 is if they lose and the Magic, Sixers, and Heat all win. Like the Magic, they’ll clinch a top-six playoff berth with a win.

The full table of Eastern Conference scenarios can be found right here, per the NBA, while all the Western outcomes are here.

We want to know what you think. How do you expect Sunday’s games to play out? Which teams will take the No. 1 seed in the West and the No. 2 seed in the East? Which clubs will claim the final playoff spots in each conference? And which team of the Lakers, Kings, and Warriors will end up in the 7-8 game instead of 9-10?

Head to the comment section below to make your predictions!

Community Shootaround: Better Prospect — Edey Or Clingan?

The NCAA Tournament title game not only features the two most dominant teams this season but also the top big men in Division I. It’s a matchup of old-school centers between two-time National Player of the Year Zach Edey of Purdue and Donovan Clingan of UConn.

In a different era, those low-post giants would have been the top picks of the draft. The 7’4” Edey has faced double and triple teams most of his college career but has simply towered over and overpowered those defenders. He’s finishing his college career with a flourish, averaging 28.0 points, 15.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.8 blocks during this year’s tournament.

Clingan was the nation’s best backup big man last season behind Adama Sanogo. The 7’2” Clingan moved into a starting role this season and has improved his draft stock this spring by averaging 16.2 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 3.6 blocks in the Huskies’ five tournament victories.

They are menacing low post presences at both ends of the floor but the college game is different from the pros. Traditional NBA centers have given way to more athletic players who can guard multiple positions and step out to stretch the floor offensively.

Edey has improved his conditioning — he’s averaging 35 minutes in the NCAAs — and footwork but does most of his damage within eight feet of the basket. The Boilermakers’ guards are adept at getting the ball to Edey at his sweet spots in the low post. Similarly, his defensive prowess is predicated on his sheer size and bulk.

Clingan offers a similar menacing presence at the rim but he’s more mobile and can cover more ground. He’s an effective screen-and-roller but, like Edey, most of his buckets come at or near the basket. He’s made a few three-pointers but, like Edey, will have to work on extending his range.

Currently in a weak draft, Clingan is considered the best domestic product. He’s listed as No. 3 overall on ESPN’s latest Best Available list. Edey is ranked No. 2 among centers and No. 13 overall. It’s a major rise for a projected second-round prospect last year when Edey tested the draft waters before deciding to return to Purdue one more season.

That brings us to our topic of the day: Which center in tonight’s NCAA championship game will have the biggest impact in the NBA — Purdue’s Zach Edey or UConn’s Donovan Clingan?

Please take to the comments section to weigh in on this topic. We look forward to your input.

Community Shootaround: Who Will Win The West?

The Celtics currently hold a 14-game lead for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, making them a very strong favorite to reach the NBA Finals, though that outcome is far from assured.

The standings are much more competitive in the West though. The seedings are still up for grabs, but the top 10 teams are all but secured after Golden State beat Houston on Thursday.

The Timberwolves are currently the No. 1 seed due to a tiebreaker over the defending-champion Nuggets, who hold an identical 53-24 record. The upstart Thunder are one game back at No. 3, followed by the Clippers, Mavericks and Suns.

The Pelicans, Kings, Lakers and Warriors are currently the Nos. 7 through 10 seeds, meaning they’d be in the play-in tournament if the season ended today. Only two games separate Phoenix and the Lakers, however, so things could certainly change between now and April 14, when the regular season concludes.

Each of the top teams in the West has question marks ahead of the postseason, mostly due to injuries. Minnesota may not have Karl-Anthony Towns back before the first round, and the team has only advanced past that stage one time in franchise history. Denver, which went 16-4 in last year’s playoffs en route to its first title in 2023, has been playing without star guard Jamal Murray of late, though he may return soon.

Oklahoma City is young and is not playoff tested, plus MVP candidate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been sidelined recently with a quad injury. Kawhi Leonard is currently dealing with a knee injury for the Clippers.

The Mavericks have dealt with injuries to rotation players throughout the season, though they’re the hottest team in Conference at the moment. Phoenix’s “big three” has only played in 36 games together in 2023/24. New Orleans, Sacramento, the Lakers and Golden State have all been inconsistent throughout the season.

With so many unknowns, it makes it difficult to pick a favorite. That leads us to our question of the day: Who do you think will advance out of the West and make the NBA Finals? Head to the comments and let us know what you think.

Community Shootaround: Sixth Man Award

Malik Monk appeared to have the Sixth Man of the Year award locked up.

Monk emerged as the heavy favorite for the award among the betting public with a career year. The Kings guard has posted averages of 15.6 points and 5.2 assists per game while shooting 44.3% from the field and 35.1% from beyond the arc. However, he will be sidelined for at least the remainder of the regular season due to a right MCL sprain.

The Sixth Man award is one of the few that isn’t subject to the 65-game minimum, which Monk surpassed anyway. But his absence down the stretch due to a knee injury could open the door for another candidate.

Monk’s main competitor for the award, Timberwolves big man Naz Reid, is receiving heavy minutes due to Karl-Anthony Towns’ knee injury. He averaged 16.4 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.2 blocks in 28.9 minutes per game last month.

Overall, Reid is averaging 13.1 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 0.9 blocks in 73 games, including eight starts.

The only other candidate who’s taking betting action is the Clippers’ Norman Powell. He’s averaging 14.0 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 70 games, while coming off the bench in all but one of those contests.

The Bucks’ Bobby Portis is also posting solid numbers – 13.4 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 74 games (one start).

That brings us to our topic of the day: Who is your choice for this year’s Sixth Man award – current favorite Malik Monk, Naz Reid, Norman Powell or Bobby Portis? Is there another player who’s worthy of consideration for the award?

Please take to the comments section to weigh on this topic. We look forward to your input.

Community Shootaround: New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans have quietly moved up in the Western Conference standings over the last two months.

New Orleans was a ho-hum 26-21 in late January after a three-game losing streak. The team is now 17 games above .500, good enough for fifth place in the conference. The Pelicans have won nine of their last 11 games after disposing of the downtrodden Pistons on Sunday afternoon.

Perhaps the biggest reason why the Pelicans look more dangerous is that — cross your fingers — Zion Williamson has remained in uniform with the end of the regular season coming in three weeks.

After appearing in only 114 games in his first four NBA seasons, Williamson has played 60 this season. He’s gotten in better shape and the results show it. He had a seven-game stretch this month in which he averaged 27.3 points and 8.3 rebounds. On Sunday, Williamson bullied the depleted Pistons with 36 points.

CJ McCollum is also finishing strong after dealing with a lung issue early this season. He racked up 30 points in two of the last five games.

Trey Murphy III has been on fire from the perimeter this month. He entered Sunday’s game averaging 19 points and making 45.1 percent of his 3-point attempts in 10 March contests.

The Pelicans also have a lockdown defender in Herbert Jones and a pesky backup guard Jose Alvarado, who had a big game (17 points, seven rebounds, six assists) in a win at Miami on Friday night.

The big concern is second-leading scorer Brandon Ingram, who could miss the remainder of the regular season with a bone bruise in his left knee.

The Pelicans aren’t far behind the Clippers for the No. 4 spot but they also have the Suns, Kings and Mavericks a short distance behind them in the standings. They have to hold off at least two of those three teams to avoid the play-in tournament.

In historical terms, the Pelicans’ postseason resume is relatively barren. They won a first round series during the 2007/08 season and another during the ’17/18 campaign.

During the last two seasons, they lost in the opening round to Phoenix in 2022, then got bounced in the play-in tournament by Oklahoma City in 2023.

That brings us to our topic of the day: What do you think the Pelicans’ ceiling is this spring? Will they avoid the play-in tournament? Are they capable of winning a first-round series and beyond, or do you think they’ll have an early exit?

Please take to the comments section to weigh on this topic. We look forward to your input.

Community Shootaround: Clippers’ Season

Paul George made some interesting comments following the Clippers’ 17-point home loss to the Hawks on Sunday night.

The veteran forward stated the team hadn’t established an identity.

“We want to be a team that’s consistent and we want to establish an identity,” George said, as relayed by ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk. “I’ve always spoken about having an identity and I think it’s extremely important. Right now, I don’t think we have an identity.”

If George had said that during the first half of the season, no one would have thought much about it. But with the playoffs looming in about a month, that’s not something you want to hear from one of your star players.

The Clippers haven’t exactly imploded. However, they haven’t shown any consistency after moving 19 games above .500 in early February. They’ve lost 10 of their last 18 games, including four of the last five.

The recent defeats have been troubling. They’ve lost by 18 points to Minnesota, which is playing without star power forward Karl-Anthony Towns. The loss to the Trae Young-less Hawks was preceded by an eight-point loss to New Orleans, which outscored them 58-36 in the paint.

“It’s between the ears with us,” Kawhi Leonard said of their struggles. “We got to go out and do it.”

The Clippers are playing without sixth man Russell Westbrook, who broke his hand at the end of January. He’s expected to return before the postseason.

Leonard, George and Westbrook are a little banged up but they’ve all appeared in at least 60 games. And every team at this time of year is dealing with some injuries and a certain level of fatigue.

The Clippers are fourth in the Western Conference standings, one game ahead of New Orleans and 3.5 games ahead of three other teams tied for sixth place. The Clippers, who have the oldest roster in the league, should be able to avoid the play-in tournament, though that’s no longer a given.

They have back-to-back road games against the Trail Blazers this week, which could help them get back on track. But considering how they performed against Atlanta, the Clippers can’t take anything for granted.

That brings us to our topic of the day: Where do you think the Clippers will wind up in the Western Conference standings? How do you think they’ll fare in the playoffs – will their veterans carry them on a deep run or will they flame out early?

Please take to the comments section to weigh on this topic. We look forward to your input.

Community Shootaround: Potential Western Play-In Matchups

With the Rockets still pushing for a play-in spot and in the midst of a four-game winning streak, the Western Conference’s postseason teams aren’t yet set in stone. But Houston remains 3.5 games back of the No. 10 Warriors and may not have center Alperen Sengun available for the rest of the season, so it would be a major surprise if the Rockets move into the top 10.

Assuming Houston falls short of the play-in cut-off, the four Western Conference teams in the play-in tournament will almost certainly come from this group of six clubs, which is currently separated by five games in the standings:

  1. New Orleans Pelicans (39-26)
  2. Sacramento Kings (38-27)
  3. Phoenix Suns (38-28)
  4. Dallas Mavericks (38-29)
  5. Los Angeles Lakers (36-31)
  6. Golden State Warriors (34-31)

It’s an awfully loaded group of teams in the play-in mix. If we assume the Pelicans and Kings hang onto their top-six spots, Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Luka Doncic, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Stephen Curry would have to secure their playoff berths via the play-in tournament, and two title hopefuls would end up headed home before the first round tips off.

The Suns, just a half-game back of the No. 6 seed and with their big three (Durant, Booker, and Bradley Beal) healthy, look like a strong candidate to move out of play-in range and snag a top-six spot. But as ESPN notes, Phoenix has the second-most difficult schedule the rest of the way, so that path won’t be an easy one.

The Warriors are in a good position to make up ground in the standings if they can get hot — they play both the Mavericks and Lakers twice more in the season’s final weeks, though three of those four matchups are on the road.

It’s also worth noting that Curry is banged up at the moment, though there’s optimism he’ll return soon. The same is true of Doncic in Dallas.

If the Lakers and Warriors end up in the ninth and 10th spots, it would result in arguably the most star-studded win-or-go-home the play-in tournament has seen since its inception. And whichever team wins that game would need to earn a second victory on the road to make the playoffs.

Looking at the Western Conference play-in picture, we want to know what you think. Which teams do you expect to finish in fifth and sixth, avoiding the play-in tournament? What would be the best matchups in the Western play-in games? Which two clubs do you expect to be eliminated in the tournament and watching the first round from home?

Head to the comment section below to weigh in with your thoughts!

Community Shootaround: Most Improved Player

There’s one clear frontrunner for most of the NBA’s end-of-season awards in 2023/24, but that doesn’t appear to be the case for Most Improved Player, an honor that multiple players have strong cases to earn.

Sports betting site has two candidates in a neck-and-neck race for the Most Improved Player award, listing Sixers guard Tyrese Maxey and Bulls guard Coby White as the co-favorites for the hardware.

Maxey is the kind of candidate voters often gravitate toward, a player who has made the leap from above-average starter to All-Star. After averaging 20.3 points, 3.5 assists, and 2.9 rebounds in 33.6 minutes per game a year ago, Maxey has boosted those averages to 25.9 PPG, 6.2 APG, and 3.7 RPG in 37.2 MPG this season as his usage rate has risen from 24.1% to 27.9%.

There are arguments to be made against Maxey though. His 44.8% field goal percentage is the worst mark of his career and his 37.9% three-point mark is well below his career rate, so his efficiency has taken a hit as his responsibilities have increased. Still, if the 76ers can hang onto a playoff spot despite Joel Embiid being healthy for less than half the season, Maxey will deservedly get much of the credit for that, bolstering his case for Most Improved honors.

White’s 19.6 points, 5.2 assists, and 4.7 rebounds per game pale in comparison to Maxey’s numbers, but expectations for the Bulls guard were far lower entering this year after he put up just 9.7 PPG, 2.8 APG, and 2.9 RPG in his fourth NBA season in 2022/23. While White’s improved numbers can be attributed partially to an increased role (he’s averaging 36.7 MPG after playing just 23.4 MPG a year ago), his .454 FG% and .388 3PT% are career highs, and his per-minute production is way up too.

The knocks against White are the Bulls’ record (still three games below .500) and the fact that he hasn’t been asked to carry as significant a load as Maxey in Philadelphia. White’s usage rate (22.7%) ranks behind that of DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic, and also trailed Zach LaVine‘s when LaVine was healthy.

Although BetOnline views Maxey and White as the huge favorites, there are other players with legitimate cases for Most Improved consideration. Thunder forward Jalen Williams and Warriors forward Jonathan Kuminga are the other two given odds on BetOnline’s board.

It’s rare for a second-year player to earn the award, but there’s no doubt Williams has taken a huge step forward in his second NBA season, boosting his scoring average to 19.0 PPG and his shooting line to .539/.447/.817 after averaging 14.1 PPG on .521/.356/.812 shooting as a rookie. The Thunder are the No. 1 team in the West and Williams is one of their top three players, which works in his favor.

Kuminga has increased his scoring average by more than six points per game and is shooting a career-high 53.0%, having finally established himself as a regular, reliable rotation player in Golden State. He has played the best basketball of his career over the last two months, averaging 20.2 PPG on .554/.370/.784 shooting since January 12. If he continues to play like that for another month, he’d strengthen his case.

Rockets big man Alperen Sengun is another player who has taken a major step forward this year, increasing his averages across the board to 21.1 PPG, 9.3 RPG, and 5.0 APG in his third NBA season.

It remains to be seen whether Sengun will be eligible for the award, however, since he’ll likely fall short of the 65-game minimum. A player who suits up for at least 62 games can be deemed eligible if he suffers a season-ending injury considered likely to sideline him through May 31. Sengun, who played 63 games, may fall into that category after sustaining a severe ankle sprain and bone bruise in his knee.

We want to know what you think. Do you expect one of the players discussed above to be named Most Improved Player this spring? Is there another candidate you believe deserves serious consideration? What would your ballot look like?

Head to the comment section below to share your thoughts!

Community Shootaround: 2024 Buyout Market Impact

As our tracker shows, eight notable veteran players were waived at some point after last month’s trade deadline and subsequently landed with teams that have playoff or championship aspirations. Those players are as follows:

Unlike last year, when Russell Westbrook joined the Clippers after being let go by Utah, there are no former MVPs in this year’s group of buyout-market additions. But Lowry is a six-time All-Star; he and Mills have won titles; Gallinari, Dinwiddie, and Young have strong career résumés; and guys like Wright and Muscala have been consistent, reliable contributors for years.

Of course, it’s rare for any buyout market acquisitions to play important roles for championship-caliber clubs, and several of these players likely won’t be part of their respective teams’ playoff rotations. Still, Lowry is starting for the Sixers, while Gallinari is playing semi-regular minutes for a Bucks team that appears capable of making a deep postseason run. Others could emerge as key contributors, especially in the event of injuries.

This was also the first season that a new rule was in place prohibiting players who were earning more than the non-taxpayer mid-level exception ($12.4MM) before they were waived from joining teams whose salaries are above either tax apron.

That rule applied to Lowry and Dinwiddie, who weren’t eligible to sign with the Celtics, Nuggets, Warriors, Clippers, Heat, Bucks, or Suns. Those seven teams are also prohibited from signing a couple of veterans still available in free agency: Marcus Morris and Joe Harris.

Those tax-apron teams were still able to be players on the buyout market, but they were only able to target free agents whose pre-waiver salaries had been below $12.4MM, such as Gallinari, Wright, Mills, and Young.

Now that the NBA’s buyout season is just about over, we want to know what you think about this year’s moves. Which buyout market addition has the potential to make the biggest postseason impact? Will any of the players still on the free agent market play rotation roles for playoff teams? Did you appreciate the new restrictions placed on apron teams in the buyout market or find that rule unnecessary?

Head to the comment section below to weigh in with your two cents!