Community Shootaround

Community Shootaround: NBA Bubble Awards

They won’t exactly be as meaningful as the end-of-season MVP, All-NBA, and Coach of the Year awards, but the NBA will announce the winners of similar awards for its summer bubble on Saturday. Based exclusively on performances from July 30 to August 14, the league will name a Player of the Seeding Games, a Coach of the Seeding Games, and an All-Seeding Games Team.

The one-off awards will give the NBA an opportunity to shine a spotlight on the summer’s most pleasant surprises, such as the 8-0 Suns, the only undefeated team of the restart. Phoenix didn’t end up qualifying for a play-in tournament in the Western Conference, but it seems safe to assume that coach Monty Williams and star Devin Booker (30.5 PPG, 6.0 APG) will get plenty of award votes from media members this week.

With apologies to Jacque Vaughn (Nets), Terry Stotts (Trail Blazers), Nick Nurse (Raptors), and a few other worthy candidates, Williams looks like the overwhelming favorite for the Coach of the Bubble award. The Suns were viewed by many observers as unworthy of an invite to Orlando, but their 8-0 run – without key veterans like Aron Baynes and Kelly Oubre – left no doubt that they belonged.

Booker will face stiff competition for Player of the Bubble honors though. The frontrunner is probably Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, who averaged a staggering 51.3 PPG in his team’s last three games — Portland needed to win all three in order to qualify for a play-in tournament, and did, by a combined margin of seven points. Lillard, who averaged 37.6 PPG and 9.6 APG on .497/.436/.888 in eight total games, came up big when it mattered most for the Blazers.

John Hollinger of The Athletic and D.J. Foster of The Athletic each included Booker and Lillard on their All-Bubble First Team alongside Rockets guard James Harden, Pacers forward T.J. Warren, and Mavericks guard Luka Doncic.

Harden has put up numbers that are even more eye-popping than usual in six games at Walt Disney World, averaging 35.3 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 8.7 APG, and 3.0 SPG as the Rockets moved up a spot in the standings.

Warren will miss Indiana’s last two games, but his 53-point performance on August 1 vs. Philadelphia was one of the single-best games of the summer. He finished with averages of 31.0 PPG and 6.3 RPG on .578/.524/.889 shooting.

Doncic, meanwhile, came just two assists away from averaging a triple-double in seven summer games, with 30.0 PPG, 10.1 RPG, and 9.7 APG.

There are other worthy contenders for All-Bubble First Team consideration, including some of the usual suspects, such as Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo (27.8 PPG, 12.2 RBG, 4.2 APG, .626 FG%) and Clippers star Kawhi Leonard (28.8 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 4.3 APG, .479/.485/.865 shooting). Kristaps Porzingis was actually the Mavericks’ leading scorer over Doncic, with 30.5 PPG, 9.5 RPG, and 1.5 BPG in six games.

And while their numbers aren’t quite as gaudy, young players like Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr., Spurs guard Derrick White, and Nets wing Caris LeVert were among the most impressive summer performers.

What do you think? If you were voting for the same awards as media members – a Player of the Bubble, Coach of the Bubble, and two All-Bubble teams, what would your picks look like? Does a Lillard/Booker/Harden/Warren/Doncic First Team look right to you, or are there other players you believe deserve a First Team spot?

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

Community Shootaround: Summer Breakout Players

Perhaps no player has taken a more impressive leap this summer than Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr., who has taken on an increased role due to injuries to Jamal Murray, Will Barton, and Gary Harris. After averaging a modest 7.5 PPG and 4.1 RPG in 49 games (14.2 MPG) prior to the March stoppage, Porter has exploded for 26.3 PPG and 10.0 RPG in four games (34.7 MPG) during the restart.

Porter’s scorching-hot shooting line (.578/.500/.941) is unsustainable, and his numbers figure to dip a little if and when Murray, Barton, and Harris are all healthy. Still, in the span of a week, MPJ has gone from promising young prospect to franchise cornerstone.

Porter is one of nine players highlighted by ESPN’s writers in an article focusing on several of the summer’s up-and-coming breakout players.

Second-year swingman Gary Trent Jr. is another unsurpising inclusion on ESPN’s list. Trent is still coming off the bench for the Trail Blazers, but he’s playing 32.9 minutes per contest so far in Orlando and is shooting the lights out from beyond the arc, knocking down 22-of-35 three-point attempts (62.9%) through four games.

Grizzlies shooting guard Grayson Allen, who had played limited minutes in his first two NBA seasons and was sidelined with a hip injury prior to the hiatus, has played the best basketball of his professional career at Walt Disney world, averaging 14.3 PPG on .606/.667/.750 shooting entering today’s game.

A pair of Spurs also show up on ESPN’s list. Derrick White has taken his game to another level in Orlando, racking up 24 points in today’s win after averaging 21.3 PPG and 5.5 APG with a .455 3PT% in his first four games. Rookie forward Keldon Johnson, who played in just nine games earlier this season, has been one of San Antonio’s most-used bench players, with 13.0 PPG and 5.3 RPG entering today’s game.

Troy Brown (Wizards), Thomas Bryant (Wizards), Danuel House (Rockets), and Aaron Holiday (Pacers) also showed up on ESPN’s list.

Now that we’re halfway through the summer’s seeding games, we want to get your input. Which young players have impressed you the most in Orlando so far?

ESPN’s list focuses on up-and-comers, but have you been pleasantly surprised by what you’ve seen from certain veterans as well, such as Pacers forward T.J. Warren? Are you skeptical of small-sample sizes in some cases, or are you ready to declare that certain players have taken noticeable steps forward?

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

Community Shootaround: Possible Head Coaching Changes

When the Knicks launched a search for a new permanent head coach that ultimately led them to Tom Thibodeau, it was considered likely to be the first of multiple NBA coaching hires in 2020. However, it’s no longer clear whether or not that will be the case.

In our 2020 head coaching search tracker, we suggest that the situations in Brooklyn, Houston, and Chicago are among those worth keeping an eye on. Jacque Vaughn was a midseason replacement who was promoted to head coach in March, Mike D’Antoni is on an expiring contract, and Jim Boylen is coming off a disappointing season and being evaluated by a new-look front office.

There’s a possibility that none of those teams makes a change though. Multiple reports this summer have indicated that Vaughn will be given every opportunity to win the Nets‘ permanent job; D’Antoni has handled the Rockets‘ transition to “micro-ball” admirably so far; and Boylen is reportedly gaining momentum to retain the Bulls‘ job.

Today’s report on Boylen noted that financial considerations could be a major factor in the Bulls’ decision, and Chicago probably isn’t the only club in that boat. The coronavirus pandemic will result in major revenue losses for teams across the NBA, so giving an incumbent head coach one more year may look a whole lot more appealing than firing him, hiring a new coach, and paying off multiple contracts.

Additionally, a number of the teams that finished near the bottom of this year’s standings or who have underachieved this season have head coaches who are safe due to their rock-solid résumés (ie. Steve Kerr, Gregg Popovich, and Terry Stotts) or because they’re recent hires who deserve a longer look (ie. Luke Walton and Ryan Saunders).

Even taking into account those caveats, it’s possible we’ll see some coaching changes this summer or fall. Teams that disappoint in Orlando will be worth monitoring. D’Antoni could be back on the hot seat, for instance, if Houston doesn’t win at least a playoff series or two. And it’s hard to imagine Brett Brown returning for another season if the Sixers don’t make it out of the first round.

We want to know what you think. Do you expect to see some more coaching changes happen in 2020, or will be things relatively quiet on that front? If you anticipate changes, which teams do you see making moves?

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

Community Shootaround: Western Conference Playoff Race

When the NBA’s restart got underway last Thursday, the Grizzlies were in the driver’s seat for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, with at least a 3.5-game cushion on each of their five potential challengers. However, a slow start from the Grizzlies – who have lost three consecutive games to teams chasing them – has created a fascinating, wide-open race for that final playoff spot in the West.

After an 0-3 start, Memphis’ lead for that No. 8 spot is down to 1.5 games, and all five of their challengers are now within 3.5 games. To make matters worse, the Grizzlies will be without key big man Jaren Jackson Jr. for the rest of the season due to a meniscus tear, and the team’s schedule isn’t getting any easier. Contests against Utah, Oklahoma City, Toronto, Boston, and Milwaukee are on tap for the Grizzlies, who will have to hope that some of those Eastern teams are locked into their seeds by the last week of the season and decide to rest some starters.

The Trail Blazers, who currently hold the No. 9 spot, have looked like the biggest threat to Memphis so far in Orlando. With Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins healthy again, Portland is nearly at full strength and has recorded impressive wins over the Grizzlies and Rockets, sandwiching a tough loss to Boston. The Blazers are only a year removed from appearing in the Western Conference Finals. After struggling for much of the season, they’ve recently played more like the 2018/19 squad than the team that went 29-37 before the hiatus.

The Spurs and Suns have also looked rejuvenated since the season resumed. They own a combined 5-1 record so far, with the only blemish coming on Monday, when San Antonio lost a 132-130 heart-breaker to Philadelphia. The Spurs were four games out of the playoffs when the restart began, and the Suns were six games back, but they’re now within just two games and three games, respectively.

The Pelicans got off to a slow start last week, but their schedule is so forgiving that they’re still in a pretty good position to push for the No. 8 or 9 seed. After beating the Grizzlies on Monday, the Pelicans will play their final five seeding games against teams with losing records — Washington, San Antonio, Orlando, and Sacramento (twice). With Zion Williamson rounding into form, New Orleans has the most favorable schedule of any Western playoff contender.

Of course, those two games against the Kings loom large. Sacramento has been one of the summer’s most disappointing teams so far, having lost winnable games to San Antonio, Orlando, and Dallas. But the Kings are still just 3.5 games back of the Grizzlies and aren’t dead yet — those two games against the Pelicans will be massive, and Friday’s matchup against Brooklyn is certainly favorable.

No matter what happens over the next week-and-a-half, it looks like a near certainty at this point that we’ll get a play-in tournament for the No. 8 seed. The No. 8 team can only avoid a play-in tournament by finishing more than four games ahead of the No. 9 team, and right now even the 13th-seeded Kings are withing four games of Memphis.

Positioning will be crucial though. Only two teams can participate in that play-in tournament, so finishing 10th means little. Conversely, finishing in eighth place is massive, since it means only having to win once in the play-in tournament, rather than twice. At this point, there’s no guarantee the Grizzlies hang onto the No. 8 spot entering a play-in tournament — there’s even a chance they could slip to 10th or lower.

We want to know where you stand on the Western Conference playoff race. Has your opinion changed at all through the first six days of summer games? Which two teams do you think we’ll see in a play-in tournament? Which club do you expect to ultimately claim the No. 8 seed and face the Lakers in the first round of the postseason?

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

Community Shootaround: Which Top FAs Will Change Teams This Fall?

On Wednesday, we published the latest iteration of our 2020 NBA free agent power rankings, with Lakers big man Anthony Davis and Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram atop the list.

Davis and Ingram have something in common, besides having been traded for one another last summer and becoming Western Conference All-Stars together in February — neither player is likely to change teams this fall when he reaches the open market.

Davis will be an unrestricted free agent, but there’s no compelling reason for him to leave Los Angeles. The Lakers were the team he wanted to join when he first requested a trade out of New Orleans, and his first year in L.A. has been a massive success. Despite the unusual circumstances created by the coronavirus pandemic, the Lakers remain in position to secure the No. 1 seed in the West and are one of a handful of teams with a legit chance to win the 2020 championship.

Ingram, meanwhile, will be a restricted free agent at season’s end, meaning the Pelicans will have the opportunity to control the process by matching any offer sheet he signs. It’s possible a rival suitor will put some pressure on the Pels if they don’t put the max on the table, but it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which New Orleans simply lets its rising young star get away. Sources within the Pelicans front office recently reiterated to ESPN that they consider Ingram a key cornerstone piece going forward.

If Davis and Ingram stay with their respective clubs, that means someone a little further down on our power rankings will become the top free agent to change teams this offseason.

That player seems unlikely to be Kings swingman Bogdan Bogdanovic or Timberwolves guard Malik Beasley, both of whom will be restricted. The Wizards have expressed strong interest in re-signing Davis Bertans and I’d expect the Raptors to work just as hard to retain Fred VanVleet, but perhaps an exorbitant outside offer could sway one of them away from his incumbent team?

How about Clippers center Montrezl Harrell or Thunder forward Danilo Gallinari? The Clips already have $109MM in guaranteed money on next season’s cap and may be reluctant to spend big to retain all three of their key frontcourt free-agents-to-be (Harris, Marcus Morris, and JaMychal Green). Oklahoma City, meanwhile, is positioned for a possible rebuild in 2021 and might not view Gallinari as part of its future plans.

Joe Harris (Nets), Serge Ibaka (Raptors), Morris (Clippers), Jerami Grant (Nuggets), Christian Wood (Pistons), and Paul Millsap (Nuggets) are among the next unrestricted free agents on our list who are candidates to change teams if the right opportunity materializes.

We want to know what you think. Who do you believe will be the best free agent to change teams this fall? Do you expect a lot of movement among top free agents, or do you think most of them are more likely to stay with their current clubs? If they do change teams, where do you see them landing?

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

Community Shootaround: Western Conference Seeding

As we detailed on Friday when we discussed the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference, there will be an opportunity for teams to move up – or down – in the standings when play resumes on July 30.

With eight “seeding games” on tap, teams are unlikely to make up five- or six-game deficits on the clubs ahead of them in the standings, but there’s a strong likelihood of a shake-up in instances where teams are only separated by a game or two.

That’s even more true in the Western Conference than it is in the East, albeit not necessarily at the very top of the standings, where the 49-14 Lakers hold a fairly comfortable lead on the 44-20 Clippers. The Lakers’ magic number to clinch the conference is just three, so they’re a safe bet to hang onto the No. 1 seed.

After that though, there’s some congestion in the standings. The Clippers’ lead on the Nuggets (43-22) is just 1.5 games. Denver holds an identical lead over the Jazz (41-23). Utah, meanwhile, is just a couple losses away from slipping down to the No. 6 seed, as the Thunder (40-24) and Rockets (40-24) are right on their heels. The 40-27 Mavericks round out this group of six teams, a game-and-a-half behind OKC and Houston and just 5.5 games behind the second-seeded Clippers.

A number of those six clubs bunched up in the middle of the Western Conference playoff picture will face one another when play resumes. For instance, the Thunder – who have the potential to move up or down a couple spots in the standings – will open the restart against the Jazz and Nuggets and eventually finish their season against the Clippers. The Clips will face the Mavericks and Nuggets in addition to OKC. Dallas opens its eight seeding games by playing the Rockets.

Given the strength of competition in the West, seeding could be paramount in the postseason. The Nuggets, for example, could conceivably face the Jazz, Thunder, Rockets, or Mavs in the first round and would likely prefer some opponents to others in that group. The Jazz, currently at No. 4, could be motivated to avoid the No. 6 Rockets in the first round, since they’ve been eliminated by Houston in each of the previous two postseasons.

At the bottom of the playoff picture, the No. 8 Grizzlies (32-33) have essentially no chance to move up, since they’re seven games back of Dallas. But they’ll be looking to increase their lead over the Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs, and Suns — if they can finish with more than a four-game lead on all those clubs, they’ll avoid a play-in tournament. If the Nos. 8 and 9 seeds finish within four games of one another, a play-in tournament will be necessary to determine that final playoff spot.

A newly-healthy Blazers squad will be a major threat to the Grizzlies, as will a Pelicans team that faces one of the league’s weakest schedules over the course of the eight seeding games.

What do you think? Do you think we’ll see much movement in the Western Conference’s top eight? Will the Grizzlies be knocked out by one of the challengers behind them in the standings? What do you expect the West’s top eight seeds to look like by the time the playoffs begin?

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

Community Shootaround: Eastern Conference Seeding

Although the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference will still be up for grabs when the NBA’s eight “seeding” games begin on July 30, that race has lost much of its luster as a result of the injuries, COVID-19 cases, and opt-outs that have decimated the Nets‘ and Wizards‘ rosters.

Technically, the Magic (30-35) are the No. 8 seed at the moment, but they’re just a half-game back of Brooklyn (30-34) for the No. 7 spot and seem likely to pass a Nets team that will be without at least seven players, including Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, and DeAndre Jordan.

That would leave the Nets to hang onto the No. 8 seed by holding off the Wizards (24-40), who will be missing Bradley Beal, Davis Bertans, and John Wall, but could force a play-in tournament if they finish within four games of Orlando or Brooklyn. Washington is also currently without Thomas Bryant (coronavirus), Gary Payton II (coronavirus), and Garrison Mathews (personal), though some or all of those players may eventually rejoin the team.

While that race for the seventh and eighth seeds may not be quite as dramatic as the NBA would like, there could still be some interesting jockeying for position further up the standings in the East.

The 53-12 Bucks have a 6.5-game cushion over the 46-18 Raptors, so Milwaukee will likely clinch the top seed even if they’re on cruise control during the seeding games. But Toronto’s lead on the third-seeded Celtics (43-21) is just three games, and Boston’s eight-game schedule looks less daunting than the Raptors’ slate.

Five of the Celtics’ eight games are against the Nets, Wizards, Magic, Grizzlies, and Trail Blazers, all of whom are at or near the bottom of the playoff race. The Raptors, meanwhile, will face Orlando and Memphis, but also have games against the Lakers, Heat, Nuggets, Sixers, and Bucks. The Celtics and Raptors face each other as well, in a game that will have important tiebreaker implications.

That No. 2 seed isn’t as important as it once was, given the lack of home court advantage available, but it could mean facing the Magic instead of the Pacers, which should be a more favorable matchup even with Victor Oladipo sidelined.

Speaking of the Pacers, they’re currently tied at 39-26 with the Sixers, with the No. 5 seed up for grabs. Clinching that fifth seed would likely mean securing a first-round matchup with the fourth-seeded Heat instead of the Celtics or Raptors.

The Heat, meanwhile, are 41-24, putting them two games behind Boston and two games ahead of the Sixers and Pacers. They seem like a relatively safe bet to hold their position in the No. 4 vs. 5 matchup, but a hot or cold streak in Orlando could affect their spot in the standings, especially with games vs. Boston, Toronto, and Indiana (twice) on tap.

What do you think? What do you expect the top eight spots in the Eastern Conference to look like by the time the playoffs begin? Will they look relatively similar to the current standings, or will there be some shuffling that results in some unexpected first-round matchups?

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

Community Shootaround: Knicks’ Coaching Search

While they may not be the only team looking to hire a permanent head coach this summer or fall, the Knicks are currently the only club actively going through the search process and interviewing potential candidates, as our tracker shows.

And there’s no shortage of potential candidates on the Knicks’ list. In addition to interim head coach Mike Miller, who will interview for the full-time position, the team is reportedly speaking to 10 other contenders for the job. It’s a diverse group, ranging from noteworthy former NBA head coaches to little-known assistants who may not have interviewed for a head coaching job before.

Atop the list is Tom Thibodeau, the former Bulls and Timberwolves coach who has been reported for weeks as the presumptive frontrunner for the Knicks’ vacancy. Thibodeau may not seem like the most obvious fit for a young, rebuilding team, but his long-standing connections to new Knicks executives Leon Rose and William Wesley may give him a leg up.

There are plenty of other viable candidates though. There’s reportedly support within the organization for Kenny Atkinson, who showed in Brooklyn that he’s capable of developing young players and turning a lottery team into a playoff club. In terms of familiar faces, Miller did good work after replacing David Fizdale in December, and Mike Woodson had success during his last stint in New York.

Jason Kidd and Mike Brown are the other candidates with head coaching experience on the Knicks’ list. Brown has a 66-win season and an NBA Finals appearance on his résumé, while Kidd has a good reputation among players.

Among the assistant coaches interviewing for the job, some are more well-known than others. This group consists of Ime Udoka, Chris Fleming, Pat Delany, Will Hardy, and Jamahl Mosley. Of those five, Udoka is probably widely considered the strongest head coaching candidate — he has interviewed for multiple openings in the past, and is viewed as a probable candidate for the Bulls job if they replace Jim Boylen.

We want to know what you think. Which of the Knicks’ candidates would be the best choice to be the team’s next head coach? Should the team opt for someone with previous head coaching experience, such as Thibodeau or Atkinson? Or would you rather see New York choose an up-and-coming assistant such as Udoka? Are there any coaches not on the Knicks’ list that you believe they should be talking to?

Head to the comment section below to weigh in with your thoughts on the Knicks’ head coaching search!

Community Shootaround: DeMarcus Cousins

Several recognizable names will be looking to return to the NBA during the week-long transactions window that begins Tuesday, but the most intriguing is former All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins.

Cousins signed a one-year deal with the Lakers last summer to add some veteran depth to the frontcourt. However, he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee during preseason and was never able to suit up in L.A. He was waived in February to open a roster spot for Markieff Morris, but continued to rehab the knee at the team’s training facility and has maintained a good relationship with the organization.

Both sides reportedly have interest in a new contract next season, but the Lakers may have some competition if they want to bring him to Orlando. Former Kentucky teammate John Wall said this week, “I want to sign him right now” to help the Wizards with their playoff push. Center has been a position of need in Washington all season, and although Cousins’ mobility on defense is in question after three straight injury-ravaged seasons, he could be another potent weapon in the Wizards’ offense.

John Hollinger of The Athletic identifies three other teams where Cousins could be a good fit: the Celtics, the Spurs, who won’t have LaMarcus Aldridge in Orlando because of shoulder surgery, and the Mavericks, who have an opening for a big man with Dwight Powell sidelined with a torn Achilles.

Cousins, who’s only 29, obviously isn’t the player he was before the injuries hit, but he proved last year with Golden State that he can still be effective. He averaged 16.3 PPG in 30 regular-season games before settling for a reduced role in the playoffs.

We want to get your opinion on Cousins. Which team do you think will provide him the best opportunity, or do you believe he should continue rehabbing and wait for next season? Please leave your responses in the space below.

Community Shootaround: Will The Season Restart?

Just two weeks ago, the prospects of restarting the season seemed bright. The NBA Players Association agreed by a 28-0 vote to the league’s plan to bring 22 teams to Orlando and finish off the season, beginning on July 31.

Every practice facility around the league reopened, albeit for limited individual workouts. The league tried to address all concerns and develop strict protocols to ensure the safety of all players, coaches, staff and family members who enter the Orlando bubble facility.

Yet recent developments have created more uncertainty about whether the NBA will actually crown a champion this season or whether its best-laid plans will go up in smoke.

Social justice issues have come to the forefront and a coalition of players, led by Kyrie Irving and Avery Bradley, would rather focus on fostering changes than donning uniforms again this season.

The reason why play was halted in the first place hasn’t gone away. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage around various parts of the United States, including Florida, where hundreds of NBA players and personnel are soon heading to practice and play ball.

Other pro leagues are experiencing issues with players and personnel testing positives, even though major sports in the country remain dormant. The virus has prompted three MLB teams to close their spring camp facilities. The NHL’s Tampa Bay Lighting shut down their facility on Friday after positive tests.

With those issues in mind, we come to our question of the day: Do you believe the NBA will be able to finish its season in Orlando? Or will the league eventually have to cancel the season?

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