Community Shootaround

Finding A Markelle Fultz Trade: Pistons Edition

It’s becoming clear that Markelle Fultz isn’t in Philadelphia’s future plans, as neither side appears keen on a long-term relationship. While the former No. 1 pick doesn’t have a ton of trade value on the market, some rival teams are looking into the situation.

The Pistons are among the teams doing due diligence on Fultz, Rod Beard of the Detroit News relays, confirming a previous report that Detroit was interested in the Washington product. It was previously reported that the Suns have also expressed interest.

It’s not clear what the Sixers’ asking price is for Fultz. The injured guard played in just 19 games for Philadelphia this season, missing time without specific details on his ailment until it was announced that he was suffering from neurogenic thoracic outlet syndrome.

Beard takes a look at what Detroit could offer and speculates that it’s unlikely that the Pistons move a first-round pick in a potential deal. They surrendered their 2018 first-rounder in the Blake Griffin trade.

Ish Smith ($6MM) and Reggie Bullock ($2.5MM) are each on expiring deals and could be useful to the Sixers this season. Bullock, in particular, would provide Philly with another floor spacer on the perimeter. He made 44.6% of his shots from behind the arc last season. He came back down to earth this year, making 35.0% of his attempts while battling ankle woes.

Smith served two separate stints as a Sixers’ floor general during the less glamorous periods of The Process. He’s a slightly below average shooter from downtown, but Beard argues that he could provide the team with a spark off the bench.

With Bullock slumping and Smith providing neither top shooting or defense, finding a workable trade is difficult. Short of a Detroit offering a first-rounder, it’s hard to see the incentive for the Sixers to send Fultz to Motown.

Perhaps Philadelphia looks at Detroit’s roster and narrows in on a young prospect, such as Luke Kennard or Khyri Thomas, and decide to build a package around him. No reports have surfaced relaying what exactly the team is looking for in a Fultz trade, so it’s hard to speculate on what deal would make the most sense.

Fultz is making $8.3MM this season with $9.7MM coming in next year. His deal contains a team option on the 2020/21 season worth $12.3MM.

Do the Pistons have the right assets to make a Markelle Fultz deal with the Sixers? If you were Detroit’s GM, what would you offer for the former No. 1 pick? If you were in Philadelphia’s front office, what would you accept? 

Let’s us know what you think in the comment section below. We look forward to what you have to say!

Community Shootaround: Raptors’ Hot Start

The Raptors have been the league’s best team during the first two months of the season.

At least in the short run, their gamble on Kawhi Leonard has paid off handsomely. They have the league’s best record and Leonard has reestablished himself as one of the game’s brightest stars. Leonard is averaging 26.0 PPG, 8.3 RPG and 3.0 APG and the Raptors hold a 2 1/2 game lead in the Eastern Conference standings.

Toronto has been equally as good on the road as it has been at home. The wins have come in bunches, with a pair of six-game streaks and a seven-game streak.

While the Leonard trade has worked out as well as the Raptors could have hoped, they’re far from a one-man band. Toronto has four other players averaging at least 13.0 PPG, led by the resurgent Serge Ibaka (16.7 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.4 BPG). Kyle Lowry‘s scoring numbers are down but he leads the league in assists (9.9).

Young players are also producing at a high rate, particularly big man Pascal Siakam (14.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG) and backup point guard Fred VanVleet (9.2 PPG, 4.4 APG).

The Raptors had a mini-slide recently, losing three of four, but responded with a 24-point road win against the Los Angeles Clippers despite Leonard sitting out with a hip injury. In fact, they’re 6-1 in games Leonard has missed.

However, we’ve been down this road before with the Raptors. They won anywhere from 48 to 59 games during the past five seasons but only reached the Eastern Conference Finals once under former coach Dwane Casey.

LeBron James had a lot to do with that but now he’s safely tucked away in Los Angeles. However, Boston and Philadelphia possess more star power than Toronto, and that’s often made the difference in a 7-game series in which flaws can be exposed and exploited.

That brings us to our question of the day: Can the Raptors reach the NBA Finals with the roster they have now or will they need another star to pair up with Kawhi Leonard?

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

Community Shootaround: Can The Knicks Land An Elite Free Agent?

Although there are four months left in the season, the Knicks are already thinking about next summer. Whatever progress the organization has made in developing a young base of talent, the team hopes to jump start that by signing one of the elite free agents who will hit the market on July 1.

Management has gotten an early start on the selling process, with coach David Fizdale saying this week that he believes the Knicks should be an attractive destination and are no longer viewed around the league as a poorly run club.

“What I think we’ve done together with (president) Steve Mills and (GM) Scott Perry and (owner) Mr. (James) Dolan and myself and all our staff, is we changed the perception of how we operate and treat each other and what’s important,” Fizdale said. “That’s the first step in getting people to come to New York. When they see we have a really tight ship, really take care of our guys, our guys get better and get a lot of attention.”

The Knicks will have several selling points to the free agent class of 2019, starting with the ability to free up enough cap room for a maximum contract. New York is on the edge of being able to offer a full max deal now with a little more than $78MM tied up in salary for 2019/20 against a projected cap of $109MM. Finding a taker for Courtney Lee‘s $12.76MM deal for next season would give the team plenty of breathing room.

Kristaps Porzingis may not play this season as he recovers from a torn ACL, but he is expected to be fully healthy in time for next year’s training camp. A top free agent may be tempted to join Porzingis, who was in the middle of his first All-Star season when he was injured, plus a young core that includes Tim Hardaway Jr., Kevin Knox, Emmanuel Mudiay and Mitchell Robinson. New York also seems destined for a high lottery pick, occupying the fifth spot in our latest Reverse Standings.

The allure of playing in Madison Square Garden can also be pitched to free agents, along with the chance to turn around a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs or posted a winning record since the 2012/13 season.

We want to get your opinion on the situation in New York. Do you believe the Knicks can lure a top name in a group that will include Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard and several others? Please leave your comments in the space below.

Community Shootaround: Free Agents Joining James

Will The King scare away other All-Stars?

Kevin Durant seemed to suggest that during a recent Bleacher Report interview. It’s been generally assumed the Lakers will sign at least one big-time free agent next summer to join forces with James.

Judging by his comments, Durant won’t be going to Los Angeles. And he’s skeptical that Kawhi Leonard, who has stated his preference for playing in the city, will want to be James’ sidekick.

“If you’re a younger player like a Kawhi, trying to pair him with LeBron James doesn’t really make sense,” Durant said. “Kawhi enjoys having the ball in his hands, controlling the offense, dictating the tempo with his post-ups; it’s how he plays the game.”

Durant’s teammate Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler and Kemba Walker are some of the other prominent players headed to free agency. Durant doubts they’ll want to deal with the extra attention and pressure that comes with playing alongside James. Kyrie Irving, another big-name free agent after the season, was eager to get away from it in Cleveland.

Another issue is that James tends to get most or all of the credit when his teams win, while the supporting cast usually gets blamed when they lose.

“He has so many fanboys in the media. Even the beat writers just fawn over him,” Durant said. “So I get why anyone wouldn’t want to be in that environment because it’s toxic.”

That brings us to our question of the day: Do you think LeBron James’ imposing presence will scare away top-level free agents or will they be eager to join forces with him?

Please take to the comments to weigh in on this topic. We look forward to what you have to say.

Community Shootaround: 2018/19 MVP Race

We’re about 25 games into the 2018/19 NBA season, which is enough of a sample size to start taking stock of which players have been the most valuable to their teams so far.

Coming into the season, LeBron James was viewed by oddsmakers as the slight favorite to win this season’s MVP award. He has certainly built a strong case so far, leading the Lakers to a 15-9 record with averages of 28.4 PPG, 7.6 RPG, and 6.6 APG, plus his usual efficient shooting rates (.525 FG%, .369 3PT%). Despite averaging a career-low 34.8 minutes per game, James’ 28.4 PPG would be his highest per-game scoring rate since 2009/10, the final year of his first stint in Cleveland.

Still, LeBron probably isn’t the frontrunner for the MVP award at this point. That honor belongs to Giannis Antetokounmpo, whose Bucks rank second in the Eastern Conference at 16-7. Antetokounmpo, who turns 24 today, has been a one-man wrecking ball in Milwaukee, establishing new career highs so far in PPG (27.0), RPG (13.0), APG (6.0), and FG% (.575), among other categories. While he’s struggling more than ever to make three-pointers (.111 3PT%), Giannis is contributing in just about every other area on either end of the court.

Among the other strong candidates for MVP consideration so far? Kawhi Leonard, who has a team-high 26.1 PPG and 8.6 RPG for the Raptors, the best club in the NBA so far; Anthony Davis, whose Pelicans have a +8.9 net rating when he plays, compared to -10.3 when he sits; and Joel Embiid, who has taken his game to another level for the Sixers.

There’s no shortage of other stars who should be in this discussion. Kevin Durant is probably a top-three player in the NBA and might be the second-best MVP candidate on his own team, given how the Warriors have played without Stephen Curry. James Harden is currently leading the league in scoring for the Rockets. Damian Lillard, Blake Griffin, and Kemba Walker are arguably playing as well as they ever have for the Trail Blazers, Pistons, and Hornets, respectively. Nikola Jokic has helped lead the Nuggets to the best record in the Western Conference so far. Russell Westbrook is once again averaging a triple-double for the Thunder, who have the second-best record in the West.

It’s way too early to make a call here, but we want your early assessment of the MVP race. Is this Giannis’ award to lose, or do you view another player as a stronger bet to become the frontrunner over the course of the season?

Head to the comment section below to share your thoughts!

Community Shootaround: In-Season Coaching Changes

After Larry Drew replaced Tyronn Lue on the Cavaliers‘ bench earlier this season, we took a closer look at the NBA’s in-season head coaching changes from the last several years.

Our deep dive revealed that, outside of 2016/17 – the rare NBA season that featured no firings – and the 2013/14 campaign – in which Pistons head coach Maurice Cheeks was the only one replaced – there have been at least three in-season coaching changes during every season so far this decade.

That didn’t necessarily mean that we should have expected two more coaches to be dismissed after Lue was fired, but it seemed like a safe bet that Lue wouldn’t be the last one to go this season. That turned out to be the case, with the Bulls announcing on Monday that they’ve parted ways with Fred Hoiberg.

With two head coaches down, we could still have at least one more firing to go, if recent history is any indication. But it’s unclear which coach is most at risk now that Lue and Hoiberg have been ousted.

Many of the NBA’s very worst teams, including the Suns, Hawks, Knicks, Cavaliers, and Bulls, have hired new coaches within the last year, reducing the odds that additional changes are on the way. And many of the league’s biggest underachievers so far, including the Celtics, Jazz, Rockets, Heat, and Spurs, have highly respected coaches who should be in no danger of losing their jobs.

Scott Brooks (Wizards) and Luke Walton (Lakers) seemed to be on the hot seat earlier in the season, but their teams have been on the upswing lately, as have Tom Thibodeau‘s Timberwolves. There has reportedly been friction between Dave Joerger and the Kings‘ front office, but it seems hard to believe Sacramento would make a change in the midst of the team’s most surprisingly successful start in years.

What do you think? Will there be a third head coach fired during the 2018/19 season? If so, which coach do you view as most at risk of losing his job?

Head to the comment section below to share your two cents!

Community Shootaround: Marc Gasol’s Resurgence

One of the main storylines from the early portion of the season has been the strong start for the Grizzlies. At 12-6, they sit second in the Western Conference, just a 1/2 game out of the top spot in the standings.

The Grizzlies’ offseason was executed with a focus on revitalizing grit and grind, and the results have been very promising so far. Heading into Sunday’s game, the Grizzlies owned the league’s second-ranked defense, which has allowed them to overcome their 24th ranked offense.

A key to this strong start is that the team’s best players are healthy and playing at the levels they did when the Grizzlies last made the playoffs in 2017. Mike Conley is averaging over 20 points and 6 assists per game, while Marc Gasol is having his best season in years after slouching through last season’s tanking and turmoil.

Gasol is averaging 17.6 points, 9.8 rebounds (a career-high), and 3.9 assists per game this season, and he has returned to his Defensive Player of the Year levels as the true anchor of the defense. When Gasol is on the floor, the Grizzlies’ defense improves by 8.5 points per 100 possessions. Lineups with Gasol at center have posted a defensive rating of 102.9, which would be the best rank in the league by nearly two points per 100 possessions.

What should give the Grizzlies (and their fans) confidence is that the pairing of Gasol and Jaren Jackson has had tremendous defensive success. Lineups with that pair on the floor own a defensive rating of 95.4, which is a testament to the strong defensive play from their starting frontcourt. Finally, Gasol tops the league in defensive real plus-minus (+4.72) by a wide margin, highlighting his ability to impact and lead the Grizzlies’ elite unit.

With all that being said, it’s time that Gasol is mentioned in the running for Defensive Player of the Year. If Gasol and the Grizzlies continue with this level of defense over the course of the season, Gasol should be a top candidate for the award. While one would think that a ground-bound big man like Gasol would struggle in today’s NBA, the Grizzlies have surrounded Gasol with enough defensive talent to support his incredible basketball IQ and size to stifle opponents.

What do you think about Gasol’s resurgence and defensive impact this season? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Community Shootaround: What’s Next For J.R. Smith?

Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith joined former teammate Carmelo Anthony in NBA purgatory this week — technically still with a team, but not playing again until his next move can be worked out.

The Cavs confirmed yesterday that Smith will no longer have an active role with the organization as they work with his representatives to find a mutually acceptable outcome. However, the 33-year-old and his $14.72MM salary remain on the roster. Smith has asked twice for a trade, but has resisted a buyout that would require him to give back any of this year’s money.

Smith has been an important part of Cleveland’s success over the past four years, but he became obsolete when LeBron James announced that he was leaving for the Lakers. The Cavaliers are transitioning into a youth movement, leaving Smith with a much smaller role.

Management decided fewer minutes would be allotted to Smith and other veterans, although coaches Tyronn Lue and Larry Drew both ignored that edict for a while in pursuit of more wins. Smith wound up averaging 20.2 minutes in 11 games while contributing just 6.7 PPG and shooting .342 from the field.

Smith may have also contributed to his own departure with a pattern of controversial behavior over the years. Two that stood out from last season were a soup-throwing incident that resulted in a one-game suspension and his infamous decision to run out the clock at the end of Game 1 of the NBA Finals, believing the Cavaliers were leading when the score was actually tied.

Although Smith’s salary may scare some teams away from making a deal, he is owed very little money beyond this season. His $15.68MM figure for 2019/20 carries just a $3.87MM guarantee until the end of June, so any team that acquires him wouldn’t be making a long-term commitment.

We want to get your opinion on Smith’s future. He admits that he has a checkered past, but he also hit a lot of clutch shots for the Cavs on their way to four straight Eastern Conference titles and one NBA championship. Do you believe anyone will trade for him or will he have to accept a buyout to get out of Cleveland? Please leave your responses in the space below.

Community Shootaround: Kemba Walker’s Strong Start

At this point it seems to be a weekly occurrence. You know, when you get a notification on your phone or you’re on Twitter to see that Kemba Walker is putting his team on his back with a brilliant display of shot-making from all areas of the floor. Unfortunately for Walker and the Hornets, his efforts come up short of a win on many occasions.

As Walker approaches unrestricted free agency at age 29, he is having a career year, posting a Stephen Curry-esque stat line of 28.7 points and 6.1 assists per game. Walker has increased his 3-point attempt rate, attempting over 10 shots from beyond the arc per game. While Walker has stepped up his scoring (28.7 marks a career-high by a wide margin – 23.2 points per game was his previous high), he has also improved his rebounding to a career-high 4.5 per game. His 6.1 assists per game ties a previous career-high set back in the 2013/14 season.

For the most part, this strong start isn’t a result of unsustainable shooting from all areas of the court. Walker’s 3-point shooting has actually dipped slightly to 37.7 percent (from 38.4 percent last season) and Walker is only hitting 53.8 percent from within three feet of rim, down from 57.1 percent last season.

What has boosted Walker’s scoring (besides his increase in 3-point attempts) has been some insane shooting in the mid-range. Walker has hit 51.7 percent of shots within 10 and 16 feet of the rim, and an even more staggering 66.7 percent on shots within 16 feet of the rim and the 3-point line.

Walker has been a deadly scorer for several years now, but it looks as if he is poised to become one of the best scorers in the league this season, perhaps even vying for a scoring title. Unfortunately it seems he will have this scoring success on a middling Hornets team that will be in the running for a low playoff seed, which could certainly affect Walker’s decision in free agency as he looks to balance winning with staying loyal to the Hornets.

After Walker’s start to the season, where would you rank him in the NBA? Do you believe he is a top 15, 20, 25 player? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Community Shootaround: Southeast Winner

A month into the season, there’s one division that doesn’t have a team with a winning record.

It shouldn’t come as a big surprise that division is the Southeast. Washington seemed like the class of the five-team grouping heading into the season but the Wizards got off to a horrendous start. They lost nine of their first 11 games and both John Wall and Bradley Beal called out their teammates. There were also questions about the status of coach Scott Brooks and speculation that the team’s high-priced backcourt would be broken up.

A three-game winning streak has temporarily muffled the Wizards’ critics, though they often seem like a team that’s on the verge of imploding. Wall and Beal have an uneasy partnership, Otto Porter Jr. hasn’t lived up to his big contract and Dwight Howard has a habit of wearing out his welcome quickly.

The Hornets led the division entering Friday’s action with a .500 mark. The Hornets are heavily reliant on their guards for offense — their top four scorers are the starting backcourt of Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb and backups, Malik Monk and Tony Parker. Their rotation of frontcourt players doesn’t scare anyone.

The Heat have plenty of depth but no stars, except for one near the end of his career (Dwyane Wade). Josh Richardson has been their top scorer in the early going but coach Erik Spoelstra has a tricky task of divvying up minutes and it will be an even more delicate situation when James Johnson and Dion Waiters return from injuries. Hassan Whiteside has never been one to hide his displeasure concerning his playing time but emerging big man Bam Adebayo needs to have a defined role.

The Magic need to develop their young bigs, Mohamed Bamba and Jonathan Isaac, but they’re currently backing up the team’s top two scorers, Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon. The point guard duo of D.J. Augustin and Jerian Grant doesn’t make a lot of turnovers but Orlando sorely lacks players who can create and draw fouls. The Magic rank last in free throws attempted.

The rebuilding Hawks can be dismissed from the discussion.

That brings us to our question of the day: Which team do you feel will wind up as the Southeast Division champion?

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