Community Shootaround

Community Shootaround: Best Starting Lineup

As the NBA season nears, it’s fair to wonder which team will sport the best starting lineup this season. Of course, a team’s finishing group matters more than its starting group, but that can depend on which players are having a good game on a given night, as well as the opponent.

When it comes to the best projected starting lineup, the reigning-champion Warriors can make a. Golden State can start Stephen Curry, Jordan Poole, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green. The team can also go bigger and swap one of those players with Kevon Looney.

The Celtics, who lost to Golden State in the Finals, are bringing their defensive-minded group back: Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford and Robert Williams III. They narrowly edged the Bucks in seven games last season, and Milwaukee figures to start Jrue Holiday, Grayson Allen, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez.

Besides those three teams, the Sixers, Nuggets, Nets, Suns, Bulls and Clippers can all make valid arguments for having the best projected group. The Grizzlies shocked the NBA by finishing with the second-best record at 56-26 last season, while the Hawks added Dejounte Murray to a star-studded lineup, so there are arguably other teams to consider depending on who improves the most.

We want to know what you think. Which team do you think has the best projected starting lineup? Was your pick mentioned, or do you believe another group deserves strong consideration? Take to the comment section below and voice your opinions!

Community Shootaround: Charlotte Hornets

When I previewed the Hornets‘ offseason in May, I speculated that it would be a busy summer in Charlotte, with James Borrego‘s ouster as the team’s head coach representing the first of many personnel changes likely to occur off and on the court.

As I outlined at the time, the decision to dismiss Borrego suggested that Hornets leadership wasn’t satisfied with the team’s gradual improvement (from 23-42 to 33-39 to 43-39 over the last three seasons) and was preparing to take a big swing to ensure the club was closer to contention in 2022/23.

Instead, Charlotte has been one of the least active teams of the offseason.

The Hornets have inked just one veteran free agent to a standard contract, re-signing RFA forward Cody Martin. They made two trades, but neither brought back a veteran player. The only new player the club has added to its projected 15-man regular season roster so far is former Duke center Mark Williams, the No. 15 overall pick in the draft, who seems unlikely to play a huge role as a rookie.

There are a few possible explanations for the Hornets’ relative inactivity. One is that the club simply hasn’t found many opportunities it liked and continues to bide its time, waiting for an opportunity to make a splash on the trade market. Charlotte was, after all, one of the potential suitors linked to Donovan Mitchell before he was dealt to Cleveland.

Another explanation is that the Hornets aren’t prepared to make major changes to their roster before they see what new head coach Steve Clifford can get out of the current group. If the front office believes that Borrego simply wasn’t maximizing the talent on the roster, it makes sense not to do anything drastic until getting a sense of how the team looks under Clifford.

A third possible explanation is that the domestic violence charges levied against restricted free agent Miles Bridges forced the Hornets to rethink their entire approach to the offseason.

Bridges was one of Charlotte’s two most important players last season, along with LaMelo Ball. Now that his NBA future is up in the air as his legal case plays out, the Hornets may have simply decided that it’s not in their best interest to go all-in on their push for the playoffs, given the extent to which Bridges’ potential absence limits the team’s ceiling.

There’s still a good deal of talent on this Charlotte roster. Ball is a rising star; Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier are quality starters; Cody Martin, P.J. Washington, Kelly Oubre, and Mason Plumlee are solid rotation pieces; James Bouknight, Kai Jones, Jalen McDaniels, and Williams are among the intriguing youngsters who could prove capable of greater roles.

But Bridges will be a big loss if he doesn’t re-sign or if he misses most or all of the season, either on administrative leave or serving a suspension. On top of that, the Hornets are still missing an impact player in the frontcourt who is capable of anchoring the defense and being a pick-and-roll partner to Ball on offense — Williams has the potential to become that player, but the 20-year-old can’t be relied upon to be that guy right away.

We want to know what you think. What’s the next move in Charlotte? Has Bridges played his last game in a Hornets uniform? How can the team continue to make forward progress after making the play-in game in each of the last two seasons?

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

Community Shootaround: Top Remaining Free Agents

As the NBA offseason nears its end, several players who ended last season under contract with a team remain available in free agency. Training camps are set to open across the league later this month, so time is running out for those players ahead of the regular season.

Teams are also still rounding out their training camp rosters by signing players to Exhibit 10, two-way and non-guaranteed deals. As shown by our current list of free agents, Dennis Schröder, Isaiah Thomas, Jeremy Lamb, Lou Williams, Lance Stephenson, Andre Iguodala, Carmelo Anthony, Blake Griffin, DeMarcus Cousins and Dwight Howard are among the veterans still available.

Of course, many of those players are likely nearing the end of their careers, including Williams (36 next month), Anthony (38) and Howard (36). Iguodala, 38, still hasn’t decided whether he’ll be playing or retiring. The Warriors likely value his leadership and experience more than his production at this point in his career.

The rest of those players are all 33 years old or younger, but several young players are also available. Schröder has a case to be the best option, averaging 13.5 points in 28.7 minutes per game with Boston and Houston last season. Plenty of the others hold All-Star experience.

We want to know what you think. Among the remaining free agents, who do you think is the most valuable one? Who could help a specific team this season, even if they wind up signing later in the year? Which players on our current list of free agents interest you the most? Take to the comments section below and voice your opinions!

Community Shootaround: In-Season Tournament

Details are still being worked out regarding a proposed in-season tournament, but the NBA appears to be targeting the 2023/24 season to implement it.

Shams Charania of The Athletic reported this week that the current framework has cup games being held throughout November with eight teams advancing to a single-elimination format that would be played in December. All the games would count toward the teams’ regular-season record, and the finalists would each have one extra game.

The tournament would have to be approved by the players union, and the two sides are continuing to sort through ideas. One important step will be deciding what incentives will be given to the final eight teams to make advancing worth the effort. Charania states that the Competition Committee discussed the tournament last September and considered prize money of $1MM per player for the winning team.

Commissioner Adam Silver has been a longtime proponent of the in-season tournament, believing it will eventually become as popular as a similar event in European soccer. Silver said in February that the players appear more receptive toward the idea after seeing the success of the play-in tournament that determines the final two playoff spots in each conference.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told NBA writer Marc Stein that he has changed his mind about the in-season tournament and is “actually open to it,” starting with next season (Twitter link). Cuban said the event “has a chance to build interest” for the league during the early part of its schedule.

Cuban also proposes expanding the draft from two to four rounds and giving the first pick in the two new rounds to the tournament winner (Twitter link). He would add the stipulation that those two picks cannot be traded. Like the tournament itself, any changes to the draft process would require NBPA approval.

We want to get your opinion. Do you believe an in-season tournament would cause more fans to pay attention to the NBA during the fall? And do you see merit in Cuban’s idea to expand the draft? Please leave your answers in the space below.

Community Shootaround: New York Knicks

After missing the playoffs for seven straight years, the Knicks had a surprising turnaround during the 2020/21 season under new head coach Tom Thibodeau, finishing with a 41-31 record, the No. 4 seed in the East. They ultimately fell to the Hawks in the first round, but it was still a successful season, particularly given the notable contributions from Julius Randle and RJ Barrett.

Randle was an All-Star for the first time, earned a berth on the All-NBA Second Team, and was voted Most Improved Player after averaging 24.1 PPG, 10.2 RPG and 6.0 APG on .456/.411/.811 shooting (.567 true shooting percentage). Barrett improved his numbers across the board, and his .441/.401/.746 (.535 true) shooting line was very encouraging for a player who had question marks about his jump shot.

New York had the NBA’s third-ranked defense in ’20/21, and its net rating was +2.4, ninth in the league. The team’s expected win total precisely matched its actual total, per Basketball-Reference.

Unfortunately, the Knicks had a disappointing follow-up season in ’21/22, finishing with a 37-45 record, the No. 11 seed in the East. Randle fell back to earth a bit and had several strange incidents both on and off the court, posting a disappointing .411/.308/.756 (.509 true) shooting line and lacking the same effort level defensively. Similarly, although his scoring average improved, Barrett’s efficiency got worse, posting a .408/.342/.714 (.511 true) shooting line.

The team’s offensive rating was nearly identical between the two seasons (110.6 vs. 110.4, both below average), but the defense fell to 11th in the league, with a -0.1 net rating. The Knicks’ actual win total was four less than expected, but even if they had won four more games, they still would’ve likely missed the play-in tournament (Atlanta and Charlotte both finished with 43 wins).

The Knicks’ front office recognized that they needed to make some changes and have had a busy offseason, trading away the No. 11 pick (Ousmane Dieng) to the Thunder to acquire three 2023 protected first-round picks, then flipping one (the Nuggets’ lottery-protected pick) and four second-rounders to the Hornets for the draft rights to No. 13 pick Jalen Duren.

New York then packaged Duren with Kemba Walker, receiving the Bucks’ 2025 top-four protected first-rounder from the Pistons in the deal. The Knicks also made a separate trade with Detroit, a salary dump move that sent Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel, a second-rounder and $6MM in cash in exchange for a heavily-protected second-rounder.

All of those moves gave the Knicks the cap room to sign free agent guard Jalen Brunson to a four-year, $104MM deal. They also signed center Isaiah Hartenstein to a two-year, $16MM deal and re-signed center Mitchell Robinson to a four-year, $60MM contract.

Obviously, they were heavily involved in trade rumors for three-time All-Star Donovan Mitchell, who landed in Cleveland, but ultimately didn’t make the deal and I’m not going to get into that much since it’s been written about ad nauseam.

Even though the Knicks have had an active summer, former Knicks head coach and current ESPN broadcaster Jeff Van Gundy doesn’t think the team has moved the needle much with its roster moves, per Marc Berman of The New York Post.

The Knicks have good players, but you line it up against the competition in the East, and this roster is not on the same level,” Van Gundy told Berman in a phone interview. “They could shock the world and be a playoff team, but I look at the East and I’d have to say eight to 13 is where they should be predicted. They’re not even close to a lock for the play-in. A lot has to go right.”

According to Van Gundy, the Knicks lack the top-end talent to be considered a real threat. He suggests that a turnaround and play-in berth might hinge upon a bounce-back season from Randle.

That leads us to our question of the day. Do you agree with Van Gundy’s assessment that “a lot has to go right” for the Knicks to make the play-in tournament? Head to the comments section and let us know what you think.

Community Shootaround: Washington Wizards

The Wizards got off to one of the hottest starts of any NBA team in 2021/22, winning 10 of their first 13 games and claiming the No. 1 seed in the East after the first four weeks of the season.

Washington’s impressive run to open the season looked like a vindication of the team’s offseason moves, including its decision to hire Wes Unseld Jr. as head coach and trade Russell Westbrook for a package that included Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Montrezl Harrell. Head of basketball operations Tommy Sheppard received a promotion and an extension following the club’s 10-3 start.

Things took an unfortunate turn after that, however. The Wizards went just 25-44 the rest of the way, falling not just out of a playoff spot but out of the play-in picture too — they ultimately finished 12th in the Eastern Conference, eight games behind the 10th-place Hornets.

The Wizards’ poor finish to the 2021/22 season doesn’t mean the organization was wrong to hire Unseld, trade Westbrook, or extend Sheppard. After all, the slump could be attributed in large part due to an injury that sidelined star Bradley Beal for over half the season. Still, even when Beal was healthy, there wasn’t enough talent on the court to consider the Wizards a legitimate threat in the East.

It wouldn’t have been out of the question for the Wizards to take a hard look at the roster this offseason, acknowledge its flaws, and commit to a retooling or rebuilding project, the way the Jazz have done. But with Beal eligible for free agency, getting a huge return back in a sign-and-trade deal would have been challenging, and Washington didn’t have a ton of other valuable trade chips to cash in for future first-round picks.

Instead of blowing things up, the Wizards doubled down on the current group, signing Beal to a record-setting five-year contract that will pay him more than $50MM per year and includes a full no-trade clause. The club traded for Monte Morris and Will Barton, signed Delon Wright and Taj Gibson, and used its lottery pick to select guard Johnny Davis.

With those new additions, a healthy Beal, a full season of Kristaps Porzingis, and further development from recent first-rounders like Rui Hachimura, Deni Avdija, and Corey Kispert, it’s easy to envision the 2022/23 Wizards taking a step forward.

But there’s not a whole lot of margin for error — if Beal and/or Porzingis battle injuries again, there may not be enough firepower on the roster to make up for their absences. And if at least one of Hachimura, Avdija, or Kispert doesn’t take a significant step toward becoming a reliable starter, it’s hard to see where the internal growth is coming from.

We want to know what you think. Is this Wizards team headed in the right direction, or is still a borderline play-in contender that will be treading water until the franchise commits to a more drastic overhaul?

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

Community Shootaround: Free Agent Power Forwards

NBA training camps are opening in a few weeks and there are plenty of familiar names on the list of unsigned free agents.

Some of those players will soon get contract offers but a majority will either have to seek an overseas opportunity, bide their time waiting for a phone call, sign a G League contract or simply go into retirement.

The group of available power forwards is particularly intriguing. It includes some former franchise players and other veterans who have played major roles on contending teams.

Here are some of the more notable names on the list:

  • Carmelo Anthony – In each of the last two seasons, Anthony has averaged 13-plus points per game while coming off the bench for the Trail Blazers and Lakers, respectively. It’s not a stretch to believe Anthony has one more productive year left.
  • Trevor Ariza – Ariza’s season with the Lakers was wrecked by an ankle injury. When healthy, he’s a proven 3-and-D threat and has played in 106 postseason games. Those experiences could make him a major locker room addition.
  • Blake Griffin – A few seasons ago, Griffin carried an otherwise unimposing Detroit team to the playoffs. Griffin is coming off his worst season as a pro in which he averaged a paltry 6.4 PPG in 17.1 MPG for the Nets. He’s still just 33 and could provide an offensive boost for a contender if his knees hold up.
  • James Johnson – Johnson has been in the league since 2009 but was still enough of a factor last season to appear in 62 games with the Nets, including 10 starts. Johnson has played for five teams over the last three seasons, which can be viewed that his skills still translate to today’s position-less brand of play.
  • Jabari Parker – Just three seasons ago, Parker was a consistent 15 PPG scorer. Knee and shoulder ailments have marred his career but the second pick of 2014 draft is still just 27 years old. He could be an instant offense-type factor off someone’s bench, depending on his health.

That brings us to our question of the day: Which veteran free agent power forward – Carmelo Anthony, Trevor Ariza, Blake Griffin, James Johnson or Jabari Parker – would provide the most value if signed?

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

Community Shootaround: Portland Trail Blazers

After a disappointing 2021/22 season saw the Trail Blazers go 27-55 and miss the postseason for the first time in eight years, Portland hopes to turn things around next season. The issue is, the NBA is as deep as its ever been, so even just returning to the playoffs in the Western Conference will be difficult.

The Blazers revamped their roster last season, trading a couple of starters (Norman Powell and Robert Covington) to the Clippers in a move that was primarily about freeing up cap space and moving off long-term money. They also dealt away CJ McCollum, Damian Lillard‘s longtime backcourt partner, and backup big man Larry Nance Jr. to the Pelicans for Josh Hart, salary filler, and draft picks.

Of course, perhaps the primary reason the team struggled was Lillard’s abdominal injury, which ultimately required surgery. However, despite the disappointing results, there might be some reasons for optimism next season.

Injuries to McCollum (he suffered a collapsed lung prior to the trade) and Lillard allowed guard Anfernee Simons to shine in their stead, averaging 22.0 PPG, 2.8 RPG and 5.5 APG on .452/.415/.871 shooting (.600 true) in 30 games as a starter (34.3 MPG). Hart was also exceptional in his brief stint with Portland, averaging 19.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 4.3 APG and 1.2 SPG on .503/.373/.772 in 13 games (32.1 MPG).

With the additional draft assets from the trades, as well as a large traded player exception generated in the McCollum deal, the Blazers acquired Jerami Grant from Detroit. Grant had long been rumored as a target due to his versatility on both ends of the court.

The poor on-court results last season also led to a high draft pick, No. 7 overall, which the Blazers used on a high-risk, high-upside prospect in Shaedon Sharpe. The team’s main addition in free agency, aside from re-signing Simons and Jusuf Nurkic to lucrative deals, was signing Gary Payton II to help improve Portland’s last-ranked defense.

The Blazers’ projected starting lineup is likely Lillard, Simons, Hart, Grant and Nurkic, though there are other options. The bench features a lot of young players and should be fairly flexible depending on who is performing the best, but Payton, Sharpe, Nassir Little, Justise Winslow, Trendon Watford and Drew Eubanks will all be vying for minutes, with Keon Johnson and Jabari Walker a couple of wild cards.

Of the bench group, Little will be an interesting player to monitor. He was having a breakout season prior to tearing the labrum in his left shoulder, causing him to miss the remainder of ’21/22. He’s also eligible for a rookie scale extension.

Overall, I think the Blazers have some solid depth, especially at forward, which has been a position of weakness for several years. However, I’m skeptical that building the foundation of a team around two smaller guards who struggle defensively (Lillard and Simons) was the right move, considering the Blazers had already gone through a similar experiment with Lillard and McCollum for many years, and the team only advanced past the first round three times in those eight playoff berths.

We want to know what you think. Did the Trail Blazers improve enough to return to the postseason? Is there enough talent on the roster for more than that? Will the team’s last-ranked defense improve? How will new additions like Payton and Grant fit in? Can Sharpe contribute right away (and is he expected to)?

As you can see, there are many question marks surrounding the Blazers, but not a lot of answers right now.

Community Shootaround: Pelicans’ Ceiling

Perhaps the most significant addition any team has made this offseason didn’t involve the draft, free agency or a trade.

Zion Williamson didn’t play a single minute for the Pelicans last season due to his lingering foot issues. Williamson was signed to a max extension in early July, ending any speculation about his commitment to the organization and vice versa.

When the top pick of the 2019 draft appeared in 61 games the previous season, he put up giant numbers: 27 PPG, 7.2 RPG and 3.7 APG. From all appearances, Williamson should be ready to go when camps open late next month.

Adjustments will have to be made with Williamson returning to action but the Pelicans have the potential to lead the NBA in scoring. They have two other prolific scorers in CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram and an offensively-gifted center in Jonas Valanciunas.

Add in defensive ace Herbert Jones and some solid second unit pieces in Larry Nance Jr., Devonte’ Graham, Trey Murphy, Jaxson Hayes and lottery pick Dyson Daniels and there’s plenty of reasons for optimism among New Orleans fans. They also have a fine young coach in Willie Green, who stayed calm through a rough start last season and guided the team into the postseason.

New Orleans had only 36 victories during the regular season but fought through the play-in tournament and into the first round against Phoenix, where it put up a good fight before falling 4-2. That experience should serve the Pelicans well in future trips to the playoffs.

Certainly, the organization is on the upswing three years removed from the Anthony Davis trade.

That brings us to our question of the day: With the return of Zion Williamson this upcoming season, what is a realistic goal for the Pelicans? Do they need to upgrade in any area or do they already have the look of a serious contender?

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

Community Shootaround: Nets’ Title Hopes

All that drama surrounding the Nets this offseason can be filed under “Much ado about nothing.”

Kyrie Irving remains on the roster. So does Kevin Durant, who has rescinded his trade demand after potential suitors couldn’t meet the Nets’ astronomical asking price. Steve Nash is still the head coach and Sean Marks is still running the front office, even though Durant wanted them both fired a few weeks ago.

While the franchise appeared foolish and dysfunctional throughout the process, there’s one caveat: The Nets, on paper, have a really good team. In fact, they may be even better than they looked at the start of last season, when Durant, Irving and James Harden were expected to carry them to the Finals.

Irving won’t have to miss home games due to his vaccination status. Durant, who missed a chunk of last season due to a knee injury, will enter camp healthy and presumably motivated by all the drama he created.

Then, of course, there’s Ben Simmons, who never suited up last season due to mental health issues and a back injury that required surgery. From all indications, he’ll be ready to go by training camp. His passing skills and defensive versatility could make him a better fit alongside Durant and Irving than Harden was.

Joe Harris, the team’s highly-paid floor spacer, should be ready to stretch defenses again after rehabbing from an ankle injury that wrecked his 2021/22 campaign. Royce O’Neale was acquired from Utah to fill a “dirty work” role at forward and the front office took a flyer on T.J. Warren, who could provide an offensive boost off the bench if he’s finally recovered from his foot ailments.

Though they lost some role players (Bruce Brown, Goran Dragic), the Nets still have rotation pieces Seth Curry, Nic Claxton, Patty Mills, Cam Thomas and Kessler Edwards, plus some roster openings to add more depth.

That brings us to our question of the day: Now that the Nets and Durant have decided to continue their partnership, is Brooklyn once again a serious contender for the championship? Do you foresee them being a major factor in the postseason or will more turmoil and drama bring them down?

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