Community Shootaround

Community Shootaround: Best Playoff Series

The 2018/19 regular season is officially over and the playoff matchups are set. Here are the upcoming series:

Eastern Conference

(1) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (8) Detroit Pistons.

  • Season series: Bucks 4-0

(2) Toronto Raptors vs. (7) Orlando Magic

  • Season series: 2-2

(3) Philadelphia 76ers vs. (6) Brooklyn Nets

  • Season series: 2-2

(4) Boston Celtics vs. (5) Indiana Pacers

  • Season series: Celtics 3-1

Western Conference

(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (8) Los Angeles Clippers

  • Season series: Warriors 3-1

(2) Denver Nuggets vs. (7) San Antonio Spurs

  • Season series: 2-2

(3) Portland Trail Blazers vs. (6) Oklahoma City Thunder

  • Season series: Thunder 4-0

(4) Houston Rockets vs. (5) Utah Jazz

  • Season series: 2-2

Will any of the top seeds find themselves in trouble during the first round? Which series belongs on NBATV and which one will be the most entertaining? Let us know your thoughts on the playoff matchups in the comment section below. We look forward to what you have to say!

Community Shootaround: Postseason Droughts

After the Timberwolves snapped a 14-year playoff drought last spring, only seven NBA teams entered the 2018/19 season having not reached the postseason at all since 2015. Three of those teams – the Nets, Magic, and Nuggets – have secured playoff berths, meaning that 26 NBA clubs have now earned postseason berths at least once in the four-year period from 2016-19.

That leaves the following four teams with the NBA’s longest playoff droughts:

  • Sacramento Kings (last playoff appearance in 2006)
  • Phoenix Suns (2010)
  • Los Angeles Lakers (2013)
  • New York Knicks (2013)

None of those teams ultimately came very close to reaching the postseason this season, but the Kings will finish the closest. After holding onto one of the top eight spots in the Western Conference for much of 2018/19, Sacramento has struggled down the stretch — the team is just 9-15 since the All-Star break. Still, the Kings will end up ninth in the West and feature an impressive collection of young talent, led by De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, and Marvin Bagley. There’s plenty of reason for optimism going forward.

The Lakers will finish right behind Sacramento in the West, though L.A.’s young core wasn’t nearly as impressive in 2018/19 as the Kings’ group. Armed with cap room and trade chips this offseason, the Lakers will make every effort to add a second star to complement LeBron James, which would put them in a good position to return to the playoffs next season. Of course, there’s no guarantee the club will land that kind of star, and if James’ health issues in ’18/19 are a harbinger of things to come, the Lakers are no lock to rebound next year.

Further down the Western Conference standings, the Suns will win fewer than 25 games for the fourth straight season. The team is starting to put together a nice group of long-term building blocks, led by Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, and Mikal Bridges. However, the Suns have yet to experience a Kings-like breakout season. Phoenix will add another top prospect in June’s draft and is expected to have some flexibility in free agency, so perhaps that will happen in 2019/20.

Over in the Eastern Conference, the Knicks are perhaps the NBA’s biggest wild card heading into the 2019 offseason. The club has the cap room necessary to sign, say, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, and doing so would make New York a near-lock to return to the playoffs a year from now. On the other hand, if the Knicks strike out in free agency, or end up with a couple second- or third-tier stars, their position will be far more tenuous.

What do you think? Which of these four perennial lottery teams do you expect to return to the postseason first? Is there a team that will have to wait another two or three years (or more) to end its drought?

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

Community Shootaround: Jimmy Butler’s Future

Jimmy Butler‘s stay in Philadelphia isn’t guaranteed to last beyond this spring, as he’s widely expected to opt out of the $19.8MM final year of his deal. Negotiations will likely hinge on how far the Sixers get in the postseason, a challenge he is embracing.

“I’m ready,” Butler recently said (via Michael Lee of The Athletic). “I feel great. I’m in a great place right now. We’re headed into the playoffs with a smooth little momentum and a rhythm. I just want the group of guys that we have to know that I’m here, man. I’m here to battle and I’m here to fight, no matter what. That’s what they got me in Philly for.”

Butler will search for a max contract in the offseason. He may or may not get that offer from the Sixers, with the team having to work on new deals for fellow free agents Tobias Harris and J.J. Redick as well. It was previously reported that a scenario where Butler returns to the team but Harris does not is unlikely. If Philadelphia has to make a choice between the two newcomers for fear of luxury tax concerns, it appears Harris is the favorite child.

Butler will have other suitors and the Lakers could be a destination to watch out for, as Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report contends. Los Angeles was one of several teams to reach out to the Timberwolves about trading for Butler prior to the Sixers making the deal for him.

Magic Johnson & Co. will likely only have the cap space to sign one maximum salary free agent with the team shelling out nearly $37.5MM for LeBron James‘ max deal while also paying nearly $16MM combined for Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball (L.A. is also on the hook for $5MM as a result of stretching Luol Deng‘s contract).

The Lakers’ path to providing LBJ with two co-stars would likely involve signing a player and then trading their remaining players for another one. Butler could be an easier target to land than Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving due to lessened demand. Butler’s perceived baggage may dissuade organizations from considering him an addition.

Butler recently had a chance to further explain his Wolves’ trade demands on Saturday when the Sixers visited his old team He decided to tell the media that it was “none of their business.”

“You don’t know what’s going on unless you’re in there every day,” Butler said on Saturday. “You’re just taking bits and pieces and trying to fill in the gaps that you don’t know. So, now you’ve got to guess. I let people think what they want to think, I really do. It don’t faze me. I don’t read into the media, because nobody knows.”

While Butler’s candidness can be off-putting, he isn’t wrong. At times, the media gets just a snapshot of the inner workings of the team. Reporters may be able to sense when something has gone astray, but they don’t always have the whole picture. How one human acts in a moment shouldn’t necessarily be extrapolated as a final conclusion on his personality.

“I don’t even want to put all his business out there, with all the stuff he [does], even with people in the front office, that sells tickets.,” teammate Amir Johnson said. “He does stuff for them that you don’t even hear about. He has conversations with them people. Not only does it help people do their job better but it just brings an organization and a team closer when you see stuff like that. It makes you feel like everybody is more involved when you help out the ticket girl that hands out tickets at the arena. It’s dope when you do that.

“He’s a good person. Just an all-around good dude.”

Butler’s exit from Minnesota became circus-like and his time in Philadelphia has been awkward and rocky at times. Yet, the Sixers are embracing him as the franchise hopes to improve on their second-round ousting from last season.

The last time Philadelphia won at least two straight playoff series? Back in 2001, when an outspoken player with a disruptive reputation led the franchise to the NBA Finals.

Do you believe the Sixers will win more than two playoff series this postseason and should the team bring Butler back if they fall short of the Eastern Conference Finals? If he walks, which rival teams make the most sense for him in free agency?

Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below. We look forward to what you have to say!

Community Shootaround: Defensive Player Of The Year

Around the NBA, the field of legit contenders in many of this year’s award races has been narrowed to just one or two players. It’s hard to imagine anyone besides Giannis Antetokounmpo or James Harden being named Most Valuable Player. Trae Young looks like the only real threat to Luka Doncic for Rookie of the Year. And Lou Williams appears to be tightening his grip on a second consecutive Sixth Man of the Year award.

However, no clear frontrunner has emerged yet for Defensive Player of the Year. The award is typically one of the trickier ones to forecast, since voters have to rely on much different metrics and statistics than they would for most of the NBA’s other accolades. With so many different ways to measure a player’s defensive impact, it’s impossible to rely on a single stat, and it’s rare that every defensive metric will point to a single candidate.

For instance, Rudy Gobert – last season’s Defensive Player of the Year – figures to be a popular choice again this time around. In terms of defensive real plus-minus, he easily ranks first among players who have averaged at least 20 minutes per game. He’s also tied for fourth in total defensive win shares. However, his on/off-court numbers suggest that the Jazz have actually been a slightly better defensive team when Gobert isn’t on the court — their 103.1 defensive rating when he sits edges out their 103.5 rating when he plays.

Joel Embiid, on the other hand, ranks far down the list in DRPM, but has more defensive win shares per game than Gobert, and the Sixers have a noticeably better defensive rating when he plays (103.1) than when he doesn’t (107.7).

Antetokounmpo, who ranks first in the NBA in defensive win shares, isn’t necessarily the same sort of rim-protecting anchor that Gobert and Embiid are, but he can play that role if needed, in addition to chasing more active players around the perimeter.

Marcus Smart and Paul George are two of the NBA’s best perimeter defenders, and you could make an argument in favor of either player this season. George’s case is particularly compelling, given the quality of the players he has matched up against, and his impact on the Thunder‘s defensive net rating (102.8 when he plays vs. 107.4 when he doesn’t).

This list of players – and statistics – is just a start, as there are several other candidates who deserve consideration for 2018/19’s Defensive Player of the Year award.

What do you think? Who is your pick for Defensive Player of the Year? Is there an under-the-radar contender you believe deserves the honor? Which factors do you believe should be weighed more or less heavily when making a selection?

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

Community Shootaround: March Madness

At Hoops Rumors, we typically focus on the NBA, with virtually all of our content centered around current, former, and future NBA players. At this time of year though, with the trade deadline behind us, most of this season’s playoff teams set, and the postseason still a few weeks away, it makes sense to shift that focus – at least in part – to the NCAA.

2019’s NCAA tournament gets underway today, and March Madness will feature a number of future NBA players this year, including budding star Zion Williamson. Many of those top draft prospects can be found in a handful of blue-blood programs — besides Williamson, Duke’s lineup features R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish, and Tre Jones, all of whom could be first-round picks. Williamson, Barrett, and Reddish, in fact, could all come off the board in the top five.

As USA Today’s basketball writers detail though, while Zion may be the main event, there are plenty of other prospects worth watching in this year’s tournament, including Murray State’s Ja Morant, Texas Tech’s Jarrett Culver, Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter, Maryland’s Bruno Fernando.

Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports identifies several other under-the-radar prospects who have a chance to make a name for themselves – and improve their draft stock – with strong showings in this month’s tournament. Iowa State’s Marial Shayok, Washington’s Matisse Thybulle, and Michigan’s Ignas Brazdeikis are among the names on Goodwill’s list.

Meanwhile, Danny Chau of The Ringer offers a guide to watching the NCAA tournament as an NBA fan. Besides watching big-name prospects like Williamson and Morant, Chau suggests monitoring a pair of Tennessee youngsters (Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield), two Iowa State freshmen (Talen Horton-Tucker and Tyrese Haliburton), and a few sleepers, including LSU’s Naz Reid and Auburn’s Chuma Okeke.

Of course, even if you’re not necessarily interested in projecting how certain prospects will translate to the NBA, March Madness should offer plenty of drama and intrigue — not to mention a great opportunity to show off your basketball knowledge in your office pool.

With March Madness set to tip off today, we want to know what you’re looking forward to watching in this year’s tournament. Are there certain teams or players you’re keeping an eye on? Which teams are you picking to advance to the Final Four?

Head below to the comment section to weigh in with your two cents on this year’s NCAA tournament!

Community Shootaround: Dolan And Free Agency

The dream scenario this offseason for most Knicks fans goes something like this: They win the draft lottery and land the best prospect in years, Duke wunderkind Zion Williamson. Then top free agents Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving decide to join forces in the media capital of the world, giving the Knicks a powerhouse trio and turning them into instant championship contenders.

As those fans know all too well, it’s dangerous to think that way. Their hopes have been consistently dashed over the past two decades, due to poor management decisions and wayward ownership.

The current front office has managed to do some positive things. The Knicks have shed a lot of bad contracts in recent years to the point where they have less than $22MM in guaranteed salary commitments next season. Whether they did the right thing by trading away injured young star Kristaps Porzingis remains to be seen, but there’s an undeniable problem for the franchise: the reputation of owner James Dolan.

Dolan is on the short list of most unpopular owners in professional sports and he recently made headlines for banning a fan who urged him within earshot to sell the team. Paranoia has filled the air around Madison Square Garden under Dolan’s stewardship, poisoning the franchise’s relationship with media, fans and former players.

Porzingis’ unhappiness stemmed in large part from his skepticism that the franchise could ever thrive again under Dolan. As Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today points out, Dolan fails to comprehend that the ultimate owners of a sports franchise are the team’s fans.

All that being said, there’s still a lure about playing in New York City. Coach David Fizdale has done his best to change the culture around the team and develop young players. And if the Knicks win the lottery, Williamson will create an added allure to the franchise.

That leads us to our question of the day: Will distaste for owner James Dolan prevent the Knicks from landing any top-level free agents this summer? Or will they go to New York regardless of how they feel about Dolan?

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

Community Shootaround: Rookie Of The Year

The Mavericks’ Luka Doncic seemed to have the Rookie of the Year award locked up after his dazzling performances the first half of the season.

Doncic still appears to be the favorite, but a couple of players have narrowed the gap.

Doncic jumped right into Dallas’ starting lineup and has averaged an impressive 21.1 PPG , 7.4 RPG and 5.6 APG and 1.1 SPG in 62 games. The 20-year-old from Slovenia is so talented that Dennis Smith Jr. realized quickly he’d never be the primary play-maker again in the Mavs’ attack. The Mavs wound up trading the second-year guard to the Knicks as part of the blockbuster that delivered another young star, Kristaps Porzingis, to Dallas.

Doncic’s numbers have actually gone up recently, in large part because the trade left the current roster pretty barren. He averaged 24.4 PPG, 9.4 RPG and 7.4 APG in February and has posted 22.4 PPG, 8.4 RPG and 4.4 APG in five March outings.

The Hawks looked foolhardy for dealing away Doncic for point guard Trae Young and a future first-rounder on draft night last June. The deal doesn’t seem so lopsided now, as Young has come on strong in the past month-and-a-half. Over the last 22 games, Young has averaged 23.5 PPG and 9.0 APG. Young has moved up to fifth in the league in assists per game, trailing only Russell Westbrook, Kyle Lowry, LeBron James and Ben Simmons.

The splashy debuts of Doncic and Young has made it easy to forget that Deandre Ayton was considered a no-brainer choice as the top pick last summer. The Suns’ poor season has masked Ayton’s solid start in the league. He’s averaging 16.6 PPG and 10.3 RPG. Ayton hasn’t been a shotblocking force (0.9 per game) and like many young big men, tends to get into foul trouble. He’s increased his production during Phoenix’s improved play lately, averaging 18.3 PPG in six March games while committing a total of just five turnovers.

That leads us to our question of the day: Is Luka Doncic still the clear choice as Rookie of the Year? Has either Trae Young or Deandre Ayton pulled even with Doncic or even surpassed him?

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

Community Shootaround: Trading LeBron James

The most surprising part of tonight’s ABC prime time game between the Lakers and Celtics was a first quarter discussion among the announcing crew on whether L.A. should consider trading LeBron James after the season.

Jeff Van Gundy raised the topic, arguing that the Lakers should keep all their options open in an effort to improve the team. He conceded that trading James is unlikely and it would take a monumental offer for team president Magic Johnson and GM Rob Pelinka to even consider the idea. However, Van Gundy noted that the savings from unloading James’ contract could put L.A. in position to chase other free agents such as Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard.

Broadcast partner Mark Jackson quickly shot down the idea, pointing out that the Lakers’ reputation around the league would suffer if they traded the NBA’s highest-profile player a year after he agreed to sign with them.

Van Gundy found an ally on social media in ESPN’s Bobby Marks, who formerly served as assistant GM with the Nets. “Everything needs to be on the table for the Lakers this summer including no. 23,” Marks tweeted.

In the real world, the idea of trading LeBron without his consent is laughable. He and his representatives wield too much power and he sells too many tickets, jerseys and other merchandise for the Lakers to ever entertain the idea. But hypothetically, it could be in the best interest of the team.

Although he has continued to play at an All-Star level, LeBron’s first year in L.A. has been a disaster. He hasn’t been able to make a playoff team out of a collection of young talent and journeymen players on one-year contracts. Things might have gone differently if the Lakers hadn’t been overwhelmed by a string of injuries, but they always faced an uphill climb in a challenging Western Conference.

If LeBron couldn’t lift the Lakers into contention this year, will he ever be able to? He turns 35 in December and there’s no guarantee the team will be successful in its pursuit of Anthony Davis or hit the jackpot in free agency again. Reports have indicated that some elite free agents, most notably Durant and Leonard, may not be interested in teaming up with LeBron.

James is owed more than $117MM over the next three seasons, assuming he opts in to a $41MM salary in 2021/22. Trading him would open significant cap room and might make the Lakers more attractive to free agents who don’t want to play in LeBron’s shadow or deal with the drama that seems to surround him. Plenty of teams courted James last summer and likely would be willing to part with a nice collection of talent to make a deal happen.

We’re not saying it would ever take place, but we still want to get your opinion on the suggestion. Would the Lakers be smart to consider trading away LeBron this summer? Please leave your answers in the space below.

Community Shootaround: Most Improved Player

There’s still more than a month left in the NBA’s 2018/19 regular season, but D’Angelo Russell already has a prediction for the 2019 Most Improved Player award.

“I’m gonna win that s–t,” Russell recently told Anthony Puccio of SNY.tv. “Watch. Put it on record. I’m gonna win it.”

Russell is a legit candidate for the Most Improved Player award, having emerged as perhaps the Nets‘ most valuable player this season after a so-so first year in Brooklyn. He has drastically improved his shooting efficiency and earned his first All-Star nod last month.

Still, Russell isn’t the leading candidate for the Most Improved Player award. That honor might belong to Raptors forward Pascal Siakam, who has more than doubled his scoring average and become the third-most important player on the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed.

Kings guard De’Aaron Fox is another strong contender. After an inconsistent rookie season, the 21-year-old is putting up big numbers (17.2 PPG, 7.2 APG, 1.7 SPG) for one of the league’s most surprising teams.

Domantas Sabonis and John Collins are among the other youngsters who have taken major steps forward this season, while established veterans like Paul George, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Nikola Vucevic have taken their games to another level — George and Antetokounmpo are legit MVP candidates for the first time and Vucevic is in the All-NBA conversation. They’re just a few of the players who could have a case to be included in the MIP conversation.

Most Improved Player is one of the most difficult NBA awards to define. Should a player like Fox receive serious consideration even though second-year players (and former top-five picks) are expected to improve significantly from year one to two? Should Siakam’s contributions to one of the NBA’s top teams be weighted far more heavily than they would if he were on a lottery team, as is the case for the MVP award?

How about cases like George’s and Antetokounmpo’s? Is the leap from star to superstar more or less worthy of Most Improved Player consideration than a third- or fourth-year player making the jump from rotation player to borderline All-Star?

With no clear guidelines to follow, it’s often to left to a voter’s discretion how best to define what it means to be the NBA’s most improved player. In tonight’s Community Shootaround discussion, we want to know which factors you consider most heavily, and which player you’d pick to win in 2018/19 as a result.

What do you think? Who is your current pick for 2019’s Most Improved Player? What sort of players do you believe should receive the most serious consideration? Are there certain criteria you believe should be weighted more heavily than others?

Head to the comment section below to share your thoughts!

Community Shootaround: Luke Walton’s Job Security

With the Lakers spiraling out of control and their hopes of making the playoffs starting to diminish, the job security of head coach Luke Walton is a topic that’s expected to be discussed in the coming weeks.

Walton, who’s in his third season as Lakers head coach, was originally hired by the team in April of 2016 to replace Byron Scott. As Marc Stein of the New York Times noted in a recent story, many figures around the league have questioned whether Walton will keep his job after such a disappointing season in Los Angeles.

“The prevailing assumption in league coaching circles remains that Walton will almost certainly be dismissed after the season, followed by the Lakers resuming their trade quest for Davis. But denying Walton an opportunity to at finish out a season wrought with drama and distraction since James’s first dribble in purple and gold would be cruel and needless,” Stein wrote in his article.

The Lakers were widely expected to be a playoff team upon bringing in LeBron James to a promising young core last July, but various injuries to James, Lonzo Ball and others are partially to blame for this derailed season. The team has halted conversations with Carmelo Anthony‘s representatives and are said to be seeking a veteran center on the open market, leaving some league observers confused with their current direction.

Los Angeles currently holds the 11th-best record in the Western Conference at 30-35, 6.5 games behind the No. 8 seed Clippers with 17 contests left in the season. They recorded their fourth straight loss at the hands of Denver on Wednesday night.

Yahoo’s Chris Haynes reported Thursday that the team agreed to a soft 28-to-32 minutes restriction with James that could result in him sitting on the second end of back-to-backs, a sign of the team knowing the postseason is effectively out of reach. Should the blame of this disappointing season fall squarely on the shoulders of coach Walton?

Take to the comments section below to share your thoughts!