Community Shootaround

Community Shootaround: All-Star Game Defense

The NBA All-Star Game is intended to serve as a break from the grueling season but lately the already lax exhibition has become looser than ever. In each of the past three All-Star Games both teams topped the 150-point plateau with 2015/16’s games resulting in a staggering 196-173 West victory.

This year’s game has been no different. In the first quarter of Sunday’s contest, the Eastern Conference squad broke an All-Star Game record netting 53 points, yet at half-time they still trailed 92-97.

For many NBA fans, the run-and-gun style affair is a lighthearted distraction but for just as many, the lack of defense makes the game difficult to watch. A run through past game scores indicates that the annual contest wasn’t always so high scoring, a pattern that indicates that the stars who made up the rosters of yesteryear were more likely to aggressively check their opponents.

Unlike Major League Baseball, which awards home-field advantage in the World Series to the victor of the Midsummer Classic, the NBA gives relatively* little incentive for teams to compete for the win.

Our question to readers is what style of All-Star Game they would prefer to watch? Are high-scoring matchups of interest? Is the pursuit of a 200-point performance a thrilling alternative to a scrappy, defensive-minded game? And also, should the league consider raising the stakes of the All-Star Game and rewarding the winners more significantly?

*Per Forbes, players on the winning team take home $50,000 while those on the losing team are granted $25,000.

Community Shootaround: All-Star Weekend Winners

After last year’s duel with Zach LaVine in the finals of the slam dunk contest, Aaron Gordon comes into this year’s event as a heavy favorite. The high-flying Magic forward impressed judges with some jaw-dropping dunks a year ago, and LaVine, the two-time defending champion, is out of action with a torn ACL that will sideline him for the rest of the season.

Gordon’s competition will come from Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, Pacers swingman Glenn Robinson III and little-used Suns forward Derrick Jones Jr., who has spent most of the season in the D-League.

In the 3-point contest, Golden State’s Klay Thompson is back to defend his title, but fellow “Splash Brother” Stephen Curry is sitting this one out. Thompson will be challenged by Kyrie Irving, C.J. McCollum, Kyle Lowry, Eric Gordon, Nick Young, Wesley Matthews and Kemba Walker.

There’s a wide-open field in the skills challenge, with MVP candidate Isaiah Thomas among the competitors. He will be challenged by John Wall, Devin Booker, Gordon Hayward, Anthony Davis, Kristaps Porzingis, DeMarcus Cousins and Nikola Jokic.

But before the action gets under way, we want to hear from you. Give us your picks to win the dunk contest, the 3-point contest and the skills challenge, along with the best bet to be named MVP of tomorrow’s game.

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. We look forward to what you have to say.

Community Shootaround: Durant Returns To OKC

It’s been seven months since Kevin Durant decided to leave the only franchise he ever knew to sign with the Warriors and today the eight-time All-Star will make his much-anticipated return to Oklahoma City. Sure, for nine seasons Durant helped put the Thunder on the map, but don’t expect his reception at the Chesapeake Energy Arena to be anything less than hostile.

On one hand, Durant treated the franchise that drafted him with relatively unprecedented respect, on the other, well… sports fan logic. As Tim Kawakami of the Mercury News tweets, Durant didn’t force a trade out of Oklahoma City and he didn’t put up a stir mid-season and distract the Thunder from their 2015/16 campaign. He waited dutifully until the offseason before making a decision well within his rights as a player.

Still, though his decision is certainly defensible, it didn’t win over very many fans outside of the Bay Area. Shortly after Durant’s personal essay detailing his thought process regarding the move to Oakland was published, Stephen A. Smith of ESPN tweeted a sentiment to which skeptical fans could relate. Smith called Durant’s decision a “weak move”, lambasting the superstar for opting to sign with the team that just rallied to eliminate the Thunder in the 2016 Western Conference Finals.

Needless to say, when Durant takes the floor for the Warriors this evening, emotions will be at an all-time high. Earlier this morning Howard Beck of Bleacher Report tweeted that the ugliest sports scene he ever witnessed first-hand was LeBron James‘ first game back in Cleveland after signing with the Heat in the summer of 2010.

How do you think Durant’s return to Oklahoma City will go? Do fans have the right to boo an ex-star that did so much for the franchise? If so, how far is too far when fans react negatively?

Weigh in below!

Community Shootaround: Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks seemed to be on the upswing and a good bet to make the playoffs coming into this season.  As the trade deadline approaches, the outlook doesn’t look so rosy.

They have one of the league’s most dynamic players in Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has blossomed into an All-Star starter.  They also made a wise choice in the second round of last June’s draft in Malcolm Brogdon, who has exceeded all expectations as a scorer and playmaker.

Little else has gone right for the franchise this season. Despite the efforts of Antetokounmpo, the Bucks have floundered below the .500 mark, due in part to Khris Middleton‘s injury. Middleton made his season debut on Wednesday after recovering from a torn hamstring. Just when the Bucks had all their main pieces in place, they suffered another devastating setback.

Second-league scorer Jabari Parker tore his ACL on Wednesday. He will miss the rest of the season and probably a good portion of next season. The snake-bit Parker also suffered a torn ACL during his rookie campaign, and one can only wonder how a second major knee injury will affect the remainder of his career and the fortunes of the Bucks franchise.

That leaves the Bucks front office in a difficult spot. They recently traded center Miles Plumlee to the Hornets in what was, by all appearances, a salary dump of a questionable contract they handed out last summer. But Milwaukee still has limited financial flexibility after shelling out big money to acquire free agents Greg Monroe,  Mirza Teletovic and Matthew Dellavedova and retain John Henson.

Teletovic and journeyman Michael Beasley figure to get more playing time in the wake of Parker’s injury. Milwaukee finds itself with the 11th-best record in the East but it’s only one game in the loss column behind the Pistons, who currently hold the eighth and final spot.

That leads us to today’s topic: In the wake of Jabari Parker’s knee injury, should the Bucks make a move before the trade deadline to improve their playoff chances? Or should they stand pat and try to regroup in the summer?

Please take to the comments section to give us your input on this subject. We look forward to hearing your opinion.

Community Shootaround: Denver’s Trade Chips

Despite a 22-28 record, the Nuggets find themselves within striking distance of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Staked to a half-game lead in the eighth seed, Denver has outperformed expectations behind a breakout season from Nikola Jokic.

As Mark Kiszla pointed out in a Denver Post column, the Nuggets have a decision to make: pursue a No. 7 or 8 seed, or sell off their assets by the trade deadline? Wilson Chandler has been critical of his role (or occasional lack thereof) under coach Michael Malone, making him a logical trade candidate.

Malone firmly denied Emmanuel Mudiay‘s availability via trade, but several Nuggets remain viable trade chips; particularly Danilo Gallinari and Jusuf Nurkic. As of late January, Nurkic was rumored to be available in a package deal with veteran forward Kenneth Faried.

We know Nuggets GM Tim Connelly has a history of trade deadline activity; here’s what we want to know as February 23rd approaches…

Who would you like to see the Nuggets shop at the deadline? Would it be worthwhile for Connelly to keep his team intact while pursuing a playoff spot? Which team would be the most logical destination for Chandler?

Let us know in the comments section!

Fantasy Hoops: Plumlee, Ferrell, McConnell

We’ve hit the third quarter of the NBA season and Hoops Rumors is examining the fantasy basketball landscape in order to help you dominate the competition. Check back weekly for more fantasy basketball analysis.

Can I Get A Triple-Double?

Mason Plumlee entered the 2016/17 campaign with his mind set on a specific goal. “I would love to have triple doubles because that just means you are playing a complete game, getting everyone involved,” Plumlee said back in October. He had spent the summer working to expand his game in order to become a better shooter and facilitator. Damian Lillard compared Plumlee’s passing ability to that of Draymond Green, and C.J. McCollum predicted that the big man would get multiple triple-doubles this season.

Plumlee has indeed expanded his game. He’s gone from being a one-trick pick-and-roll pony on offense to a player whom coach Terry Scotts can design some offense around. He’s averaging a career-high in assists per game this season and added a midrange shot that forces opposing bigs to leave the paint as they try to defend him.

The Duke product hasn’t reached his goal of a triple-double yet, but he’s come close on a few occasions. He had at least 10 points and 10 rebounds in five straight games entering tonight’s tilt with the Hornets.

He’s been a superb fantasy asset due to his ability to contribute across many categories. He’s making 53% of his shots from the field and he’s adding 1.2 blocks and nearly a steal per contest. He should be owned in all leagues (somehow, he’s available in nearly 20% of ESPN leagues). The only caveat with owning him is that the Blazers could potentially add another frontcourt player in a deal before the deadline. If they make a trade for a player such as Nerlens Noel or Jahlil Okafor, Plumlee will certainly see his role decreased. If Portland refrains from making a significant move, Plumlee will continue to be a solid fantasy contributor.

Here’s more fantasy analysis and notes from around the league:

  • Clint Capela recorded a double-double in 20 minutes of action tonight against the Kings. He’s a solid fantasy contributor, as I mentioned in a previous edition of Fantasy Hoops. He’s only going to get more minutes as the season progresses. He’s owned in roughly 55% of ESPN leagues, though that figure should be much higher.
  • Yogi Ferrell signed a 10-day contract with the Mavs last week and he’s seen 73 minutes in his two games with the team. As long as Deron Williams remains sidelined, he’ll remain valuable in daily fantasy and useful in season-long leagues. Just don’t drop anyone too valuable for him, as he’s not even guaranteed to be on an NBA roster past February 5th.
  • Since MLK day, only three players are averaging more assists per game than T.J. McConnell. The point guard is averaging 9.8 assists, 9.8 points and 1.4 steals per contest while shooting 53.2% from the field over that stretch. He’s available in nearly two-thirds of ESPN leagues.
  • Thaddeus Young, who was traded to the Pacers in the offseason, has 27 steals over his last eight games. He leads the league over that stretch by a wide margin. Jrue Holiday and Dwyane Wade are tied for second over that timeframe with 19 steals each, while Robert Covington comes in behind them with 18 of his own.

Fantasy questions? Take to the comment section below or tweet me at @CW_Crouse.

Community Shootaround: Midseason Awards

The 2016/17 season has passed the midway point, which means it’s time to hand out midseason awards. Here are my selections:

Sixth Man Of The Year: Eric Gordon

Gordon came to the Rockets in the offseason and he began the season as the team’s starting shooting guard before being moved to the bench. His scoring has helped the team and his efficiency has been key to their success. He second in the league in three-pointers made this season and he’s knocking down 39.2% of his attempts. Lou Williams is having a phenomenal campaign off the bench for the Lakers this season, but I give the edge to Gordon due to his team’s success.

Most Improved Player: Giannis Antetokounmpo

Antetokounpo should be rewarded for taking the leap from rising prospect to star player. He’s improved his scoring output from 16.9 points per game last season to 23.4 points per contest this year and he’s done it without sacrificing efficiency. He’s making 52.7% of his shots from the field, which is a career-high, and he’s dishing out a career-high 5.5 assists per game. His player efficiency rating is up t0 27.4, a massive rise over his 18.8 PER last season.

Rookie Of The Year: Joel Embiid

As I detailed in a recent edition of Fantasy Hoops, Embiid is having a monster season. The knock on Embiid is playing time, as 12 other rookies have played more minutes than him this season. Still, this an easy quality over quantity selection for me.

Coach Of The Year: Gregg Popovich

He’s the best.

Defensive Player Of The Year: Rudy Gobert

The Jazz are slightly behind the Warriors for the league’s best defensive efficiency rating and Gobert has been a major reason why. He leads the league in Defensive Win Share among players who’ve seen at least 300 minutes and he also leads the league in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus/Minus. He probably should have been an All-Star over DeAndre Jordan because of the way he impacts the game, though both have excellent resumes. As for this award, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant both have cases for it, but Gobert gets the nod for me.

Most Valuable Player: James Harden

Selecting a recipient for this award comes down to what you value. Is it traditional stats? Efficiency? Elevating your team in the win column? Being the best player on a championship contender?

Harden checks all of those boxes for me this season.

LeBron James is certainly an acceptable choice here; He’s the best player in the world and the Cavs fall apart when he’s not on the floor. However, he’s not having a season that’s on par with his previous MVP campaigns.

Russell Westbrook is putting up crazy numbers, but James Harden is putting up equally impressive stats. Westbrook is averaging 31.0 points, 10.2 assists and 10.6 rebounds per game while Harden is averaging 29.1 points, 11.6 assists and 8.3 rebounds per game. Harden has the edge in field goal percentage, three-point percentage, free throw percentage and minutes played. Harden also beats out Westbrook in Win Share (10.0 to 6.9) and his team has won seven more games than Westbrook’s on the season.

Overall, there are a number of impressive candidates (don’t be surprised if Kawhi Leonard makes a second half push to plant himself in this conversation for the year-end awards), but Harden’s dominant and efficient game earns him the first half honors.

Do you agree with the selections above or do you have your own picks for the awards? If so, who would you give the award to in each of the six categories? Let us know in the comment section below. We look forward to what you have to say!

Community Shootaround: How Far Can The Wizards Go?

It’s no small task for the Wizards to have compiled a 26-20 record, sitting on the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, after getting off to a 2-8 start in 2016/17. Who would have thought that the Wizards – who were called out by John Wall earlier this year for showing a lack of effort – would have the confidence to “bury” the Celtics in a rivalry game?

Now riding a 14-game home winning streak, the Wizards find themselves in position to go on a playoff run. Wall, who has posted a career-best 23.1 points per game on 46.4% shooting, was not shy when asked about the team’s ceiling.

“I see ourselves getting to the Eastern Conference Finals. That’s our goal,” Wall told TNT’s “Inside The NBA” panel on Thursday. “We just figured it out. We all looked ourselves in the mirror and said we all got to do better individually. Our coach held us accountable, and when I lock in on the defensive end, everyone else follows my lead.”

The Wizards have received contributions beyond Wall. Bradley Beal‘s 21.9 points per game are a career-high, and Otto Porter has blossomed into one of the game’s premier long distance shooters (45.6% from beyond the arc).

Friday’s victory was indicative off Washington’s recent progress, as the team earned a 112-86 win over the Hawks, having led by as much as 30 points. What we want to know…

How far can the Wizards go in 2016/17? Are the Eastern Conference Finals far-fetched? Can they surpass Boston or Toronto in the standings? Should they add additional pieces at the trade deadline?

Let us know what you think in the comments section!

Community Shootaround: Cavaliers Controversy

LeBron James has never shied away from publicly criticizing team management if he feels something needs to be fixed.

With the Cavaliers enduring their worst stretch of the season — losing six of their last eight — their franchise player has gone of the offensive once again. James has openly questioned the front office for not surrounding the team’s Big Three with enough quality pieces. Most recently, he has lobbied for another playmaker to take some of the pressure off him and point guard Kyrie Irving.

Cavs GM David Griffin has tried to confront James’ criticisms head on, not only meeting with him but also telling the media that James’ recent comments were inappropriate and misguided.

According to an ESPN report today, James is not only upset with the current state of the roster but also at odds with owner Dan Gilbert over the payroll. James doesn’t believe the luxury tax bill should influence roster decisions, and even the recent acquisition of sharpshooter Kyle Korver to take the place on injured J.R. Smith has failed to appease The King.

Griffin stated this week that the club is willing to increase payroll if that move will make it “appreciably better.”

Cleveland has certainly been spending money since James rejoined the organization. As Hoops Rumors’ Luke Adams points out, the Cavs paid $107MM in team salary and $54MM in luxury tax last season. Those numbers are currently at about $127MM+ and $27MM+ for the current season.

That brings us to today’s topic: Was LeBron James out of line for his comments criticizing Cavs management and the state of the roster? Has the Cavs front office done enough to win another championship or should they keep spending, regardless of luxury-tax implications, to upgrade the roster?

Please take to the comments section and share your thoughts on this topic. We look forward to hearing your voice.

Community Shootaround: Rising Stars Snubs

The NBA will announce the full rosters for 2017’s All-Star Game this Thursday, but in the meantime, the league has revealed which players will participate in the weekend’s Rising Stars Challenge. This year’s 20 participants were confirmed by the NBA today in a press release.

Here are 2017’s Rising Stars rosters:

U.S. Team:

World Team:

Some of this year’s choices are no-brainers — players like Embiid, Porzingis, and Towns have made strong cases to play in the All-Star Game itself. However, some of the picks are up for debate — Chriss, Ingram, and Exum are among the players whose contributions this season have been modest.

The rosters for the Rising Stars Challenge won’t necessarily inspire the same sort of passion and fervor that the All-Star starters and reserves will. But we’re still curious to know what you think of this year’s picks. Are there any players on these rosters that you think should be replaced? Any guys that should be participating in this game that you’re surprised not to see on either list above?

Jump into the comments section below and let us know what you think!

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