Community Shootaround

Community Shootaround: Draft Winners/Losers

The 2022 NBA draft is officially complete, and it was certainly an eventful night. The first big surprise came right off the bat, when the Magic made Duke big man Paolo Banchero the No. 1 overall pick.

Virtually all reporting leading up to draft night had Auburn forward Jabari Smith as the favorite to go first, with ESPN’s Jonathan Givony suggesting earlier this week that it would be a major surprise to most teams around the NBA if Smith wasn’t Orlando’s pick.

Since Smith unexpectedly fell to the Rockets with the No. 3 pick, and they were able to pick up a couple of highly regarded prospects in Tari Eason and TyTy Washington at Nos. 17 and 29 in addition to a couple of future second-rounders, they seem like one of the clear winners tonight. Smith and Eason, in particular, are long, versatile defenders who should immediately improve Houston’s 29th ranked defense, and a core of Kevin Porter Jr., Jalen Green, Eason, Smith, and Alperen Sengun sounds pretty intriguing on paper.

The Thunder used a small portion of their war chest of future draft picks to acquire a third lottery pick, used on French forward Ousmane Dieng with the No. 11 pick (via the Knicks). In addition to Dieng, the Oklahoma City snagged Chet Holmgren at No. 2, Jalen Williams at No. 12, and Jaylin Williams at No. 34 (that definitely won’t be confusing).

The Pistons were able to take Jaden Ivey at No. 5, widely regarded as the top guard prospect in the draft, and added a second lottery pick (No. 13 via the Hornets) in Jalen Duren. The Grizzlies and Timberwolves were both very active during the draft as well, maneuvering up and down to select their preferred targets.

Despite rumors that they were interested in moving into the draft, both the Suns and the Jazz left the draft the same way they entered it, with no draft picks. The Sixers traded out of the draft, but landed 24-year-old De’Anthony Melton from Memphis for the No. 23 pick and Danny Green.

There will be a flurry of undrafted free agent signings in the coming hours and days, but we’d like to take a break from transactions for a moment to solicit your opinions on the draft’s winners and losers. Which teams do you think did the best? Which did the worst? Head to the comments section and share your thoughts!

Community Shootaround: Deandre Ayton’s Future

Suns center Deandre Ayton was one of the only notable members of the 2018 draft class who didn’t receive a rookie scale extension last offseason, but the two sides’ inability to reach a compromise was widely viewed as more of a minor inconvenience than a harbinger of trouble.

The expectation was that if Ayton showed in 2021/22 that he was worthy of a maximum-salary investment, Phoenix would either negotiate a new deal with him as a restricted free agent or match a rival team’s offer sheet.

However, ever since the 64-wins Suns were unexpectedly dispatched by Dallas in the second round of this year’s playoffs, speculation about the possibility of Ayton’s departure has begun to heat up.

Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report wrote last month of skepticism around the league that Phoenix will be eager to match a maximum-salary offer for the former No. 1 overall pick. Fischer suggested the Suns may be reluctant to pay any center $30MM+ per year and reported that head coach Monty Williams has “griped about Ayton’s waning focus.

James L. Edwards III and John Hollinger of The Athletic are the latest to suggest a change of scenery is a viable possibility for Ayton. The two Athletic reporters said in a story today that they’ve heard Ayton is “more likely than not” to leave the Suns this summer.

With that in mind, we want to get your thoughts on Ayton’s situation, starting with whether or not he has earned a maximum-salary investment. Centers aren’t as valuable in the modern game as they used to be, but Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid just finished first and second in MVP voting for a second straight year, and Ayton is a 23-year-old who can score (17.2 PPG), rebound (10.2 RPG), and play solid defense, even if he’s not an elite rim protector or outside shooter.

The Suns would be able to offer Ayton up to a projected $176.9MM over five years, while a rival suitor would be able to put a four-year, $131.2MM offer on the table. If Phoenix isn’t willing to give Ayton that five-year max deal, should another team be comfortable offering the four-year max?

While Hollinger expects the Suns to pursue a sign-and-trade deal if they let Ayton go, there are a small handful of teams that could realistically create the cap room necessary to offer him a $30MM+ starting salary without requiring a sign-and-trade and would be intriguing fits for the young center. The Spurs are one. The Pistons could potentially get there too.

If one of those teams pursues Ayton, should they be willing to bet on the Suns not matching an aggressive offer sheet, or should they negotiate a sign-and-trade to ensure they get their man?

In his story with Edwards, Hollinger suggests Detroit could structure a deal around Jerami Grant, while San Antonio could put together a package that includes Jakob Poeltl and Keldon Johnson. I’m skeptical the Spurs would be eager about giving up that much value to sign Ayton to a maximum-salary contract unless they’re virtually certain the Suns would match it.

Are there other teams you think would aggressively pursue Ayton in sign-and-trade scenarios? Perhaps the Hornets, who have long been searching for a solution in the middle? The Hawks and Trail Blazers were other possible suitors mentioned in Fischer’s recent report.

Head to the comment section below to let us know how you think Ayton’s free agency will play out. Will he be back in Phoenix next season? If not, will the Suns get something back for him?

Community Shootaround: Best NBA Finals Matchup

The Warriors are in the enviable position of sitting back and resting while their eventual opponent is headed to a Game 7 in the rough-and-tumble Eastern Conference Finals.

Golden State will have been off for an entire week by the time the NBA Finals begin Thursday night, and will enjoy home court advantage whether the Heat or the Celtics come out of the East. The time off  is already proving beneficial, as Gary Payton II is expected to return for the championship series, possibly in time for Game 1.

In contrast, the Celtics have been playing virtually every other day since the start of their second-round series with the Bucks, which also lasted seven games. Marcus Smart is dealing with a sprained right ankle and Robert Williams has a sore left knee, both of which have caused them to sit out games. They’re listed as questionable for Sunday night, just as they were for Games 5 and 6.

Miami’s injury situation is just as serious, with Kyle Lowry, Max Strus and Gabe Vincent playing through hamstring problems. They’re all listed as questionable for Game 7, along with P.J. Tucker, who has irritation in his left knee. Also questionable is Tyler Herro, who has missed the past three games with a strained groin. Jimmy Butler has inflammation in his right knee and twisted his ankle late in Game 6, but he doesn’t appear on the injury report.

Boston and Miami are both known for their aggressive defense and overall tough-mindedness, and either team would try to make the Finals as physical as possible. The Celtics can test Golden State’s defense with two dangerous scorers in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, but Butler provided a reminder Friday night that he can take over a game as well.

Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green will be seeking their fourth title together, and the oddsmakers will likely consider the Warriors to be solid favorites regardless of who they face.

We want your opinion on which team will provide a better matchup. Do the Heat or the Celtics have a better chance of keeping Golden State from collecting another ring? Please leave your responses in the comments section.

Community Shootaround: Kyrie Irving’s Future

Since joining the Nets as a free agent in 2019, Kyrie Irving has played in a total of 103 games for the team. He missed 52 of 72 games in his first year in Brooklyn as a result of a shoulder injury, missed 18 of 72 in his second year, primarily due to personal issues, and then missed 53 of 82 this past season, largely due to his COVID-19 vaccination status.

Irving’s inconsistent availability, which has stemmed both from injury issues and personal choices, is a large reason why the Nets face a difficult decision on him this offseason, when he’s eligible for unrestricted free agency if he turns down his $36.9MM option for 2022/23.

Irving has played at his usual All-Star level when he’s been healthy, averaging an impressive 27.1 PPG, 6.0 APG, and 4.7 RPG on .490/.406/.920 shooting in those 103 appearances (35.3 MPG) he has made with the Nets. But he’s on the wrong side of 30 and his unpredictable personality makes him a difficult player to invest in long-term, especially at a maximum-salary rate.

In fact, Kristian Winfield of The New York Daily News cites a source familiar with the Nets’ thought process who says the team is hesitant – if not altogether unwilling – to give Irving a long-term max deal.

Winfield acknowledges that a one-year contract would likely be unacceptable for Irving, who will be seeking long-term security this offseason, so if he’s going to remain in Brooklyn, the two sides may have to reach some sort of compromise.

When asked about Irving’s future after the end of the Nets’ season, general manager Sean Marks offered no guarantees, talking first about wanting players who are both “selfless” and “available,” then later saying the team needed to talk to Kyrie’s camp to see if it’s “the right fit for both sides.”

Still, it seems likely that Brooklyn would move forward with Irving as long as the team gets some assurances about his commitment to the franchise. For his part, Kyrie has said he doesn’t plan to go anywhere.

If Irving opts out and seeks a new contract, he’d be eligible for a five-year deal worth up to a projected $247.66MM with the Nets. If he were to pick up his option and negotiate an extension from there, his maximum earnings going forward would be a little lower, but he could still get a deal that pays him a total of $232.75MM, plus possible incentives, over the next five years.

Irving could get four years and $183.61MM from another team, but it’s unclear what sort of a market there will be for him outside of Brooklyn, since few contenders have significant cap flexibility and many will be wary of a long-term investment in the seven-time All-Star.

When Irving signed his initial contract with the Nets, the deal technically fell short of the maximum salary, with a series of eight incentives available each season that would increase Kyrie’s salary to the max if he achieved all of them. That structure was designed at the time to allow Brooklyn to maximize its available cap room in 2019, but perhaps a similar format could work for both sides this time around, since incentives tied to total minutes or games played would give the club some protection in seasons when Irving misses time.

Of course, it’s also possible that the Nets could convince Irving to accept a contract further below the max. Brooklyn was his top choice in free agency in 2019 and he hasn’t shown any desire to leave — he also exhibited a willingness to sacrifice some money last season, when his decision not to get vaccinated resulted in hefty per-game fines.

We want to know what you think. Will Irving stick with the Nets? If so, he will he opt out to sign a new deal, opt in and sign an extension, or opt in without an extension? Could he end up playing elsewhere in 2022/23? Wherever he ends up, will his next contract be worth the max?

Head to the comment section below to weigh in with your two cents on Irving’s future.

Community Shootaround: All-NBA Positional Designations

Monday’s report stating that Nikola Jokic will win this season’s Most Valuable Player award means that Sixers center Joel Embiid will likely finish as the runner-up in MVP voting for a second straight year. It also means there’s a real chance Embiid could end up on the All-NBA Second Team for a second consecutive year, despite ostensibly being the league’s second-most valuable player.

Unlike the NBA’s All-Star teams, which call for two guards and three frontcourt players, or its All-Rookie teams, which are positionless, the All-NBA squads require voters to select two guards, two forwards, and one center. This means that only one of Jokic or Embiid is in position to make the All-NBA First Team, since both are centers.

This season, the league made Jokic and Embiid eligible at forward as well as center, despite the fact that no reasonable NBA fan could argue that either player spent any real time at power forward this season. The decision is a concession to voters who feel that both players must be on the All-NBA First Team, allowing those voters to essentially disregard positions by listing one of Jokic or Embiid at forward instead of center.

However, it’s a half-measure and one that will likely result in some messy voting results, since a player’s position for All-NBA purposes is the one where he receives the most votes. For instance, let’s say Jokic receives 80 First Team votes (60 as a center and 20 as a forward) and 20 Second Team (as a center) votes, while Embiid receives 60 First Team votes (40 as a center and 20 as a forward) and 40 Second Team votes (as a center).

In that scenario, the result would be the same as last year’s: Jokic would be the All-NBA First Team center, while Embiid would be the Second Team center, even if he has more points than one of the top two forwards, since 80 of his 100 votes came at center, not forward.

In order to have a shot at making the First Team as a forward, Embiid would need over half his voters to list him at forward. And in order for that to happen, at least half of the 100 voters would have to be willing to essentially disregard positions and would have to decide as a group which of the two star centers they’ll list as a forward.

In the grand scheme of things, a spot on the All-NBA Second Team vs. First Team isn’t a big deal, but it’s something we’ll look at down the road when comparing players’ career résumés. The league was willing to make a change to its All-Star voting to reduce the likelihood of an undeserving player making the cut or a deserving player missing out — should it do the same for its All-NBA vote?

We want to know what you think. Are you in favor of keeping the system the way it is, taking the All-Star approach (three frontcourt players instead of two forwards and a center), or removing positions from the equations entirely and asking voters to just select the season’s top 15 players?

If you had a ballot this year, would you have listed one of Jokic or Embiid at forward, or do you like the idea of sticking to the proper positions and putting one of them on the Second Team?

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

Community Shootaround: Best Open Coaching Job

So far, the 2022 offseason hasn’t been an especially busy one on the head coaching carousel. In some years, upwards of one-quarter or one-third of the NBA’s teams make coaching changes once the season ends, but just three clubs are currently searching for someone to fill that job: the Lakers, Kings, and Hornets.

There’s still plenty of time for that to change. Perhaps Quin Snyder will decide to leave the Jazz or longtime Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will opt to retire. It’s also possible a playoff team that falls short of its expectations will make a change. For now though, there’s just those three openings.

The three teams seeking a new head coach have one thing in common: They all expected to make the playoffs in 2021/22 and fell short.

No team missed out on the postseason in more dramatic fashion than the Lakers, who were among the NBA’s title favorites entering training camp. The team was never able to properly acclimate Russell Westbrook to his new team, didn’t get enough production from several veteran reserves, and was hurt by injuries to LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

The Lakers are one of basketball’s marquee franchises and any team with LeBron and AD on the roster is capable of contending, but some candidates may be wary of pursuing the job. The front office, which has been rumored to meddle, has sky-high expectations for the team but lacks the trade assets and cap flexibility to significantly upgrade a roster that finished out of the top 10 in the West. Some veteran coaches might also be turned off by the way the team handled the ouster of Frank Vogel, who won a title for L.A. less than two years ago.

If the Lakers are one of the NBA’s marquee franchises, the Kings are…somewhere on the other end of the spectrum. In 2022, Sacramento set a new league record for futility by missing out on the playoffs for a 16th consecutive season and traded away one of its best recent draftees, second-year guard Tyrese Haliburton, at the trade deadline.

Still, the duo of De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis represents a good start, especially on offense. If the team can surround Fox and Sabonis with players who can shoot and defend, there’s some intriguing potential on this roster. Adding those kinds of players is easier said than done, but rookie guard Davion Mitchell has big-time defensive upside and Harrison Barnes is a solid three-and-D wing.

The Hornets, meanwhile, have made the play-in tournament twice in a row, but were blown out and eliminated in their first play-in game both last year and this year. Charlotte looks like a team on the rise, with LaMelo Ball, Miles Bridges, and P.J. Washington still getting better. But Gordon Hayward‘s health problems and a lack of a strong presence at center have limited the team’s ceiling since Ball and Hayward arrived in 2020.

We want to know what you think. Which of these head coaching openings looks most appealing to you? Which do you expect to attract the strongest group of candidates? Which is the least appealing?

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

Community Shootaround: Playoff Check-In

It has been 10 days since the NBA’s 2022 playoffs tipped off, and 15 of 16 teams that made the first round are still alive. The one playoff team whose season is over? The Nets, viewed by many fans, league observers, and oddsmakers as the championship favorites coming into the 2021/22 campaign.

While a handful of other clubs are on the verge of elimination, Brooklyn is the only one that was swept out of the playoffs. As a No. 7 seed, the Nets weren’t the title favorites entering the playoffs, but their swift elimination is a reminder that the battle for the 2022 crown remains wide open.

The early results in the Western Conference have provided another reminder of the unpredictable nature of this year’s postseason. The Suns and Grizzlies were the NBA’s two most dominant teams during the regular season, but they now found themselves tied up at 2-2 against a pair of play-in teams, the Pelicans and Timberwolves. Devin Booker is injured for Phoenix and Ja Morant isn’t at 100% for Memphis, but the fact that both clubs are fighting for their playoff lives in the first round is still a surprise.

The Warriors have looked like the best team in the West early in the playoffs, though their Game 4 loss to the Nuggets showed they’re not exactly unbeatable either. The Mavericks, meanwhile, hold a 3-2 lead over the Jazz despite not having All-NBA guard Luka Doncic available until Game 4 — with a healthy Doncic, they look like a threat to make some noise beyond the first round, but they’ll have to get past Utah first.

In the East, the Heat and Bucks briefly looked vulnerable after losing Kyle Lowry and Khris Middleton, respectively, but they’ve since reasserted control over the Hawks and Bulls and hold 3-1 series leads. Miami and Milwaukee remain strong threats to make deep postseason runs, especially if they get their injured stars back sooner rather than later.

The Sixers looked like they were putting all together during the first three games of their series vs. the Raptors, but after two straight losses, they’re no longer even a lock to get out of the first round. Up 3-2, Philadelphia remains a strong favorite to get past Toronto, but Joel Embiid‘s thumb injury is clearing bothering him, and James Harden hasn’t been at his best in the series, averaging 18.4 PPG on 37.3% shooting. If their two superstars aren’t in peak form, the 76ers’ upside is limited.

Unlike the Sixers, the Celtics didn’t take their foot off the gas pedal during their four-game sweep of Brooklyn. Boston looked like the best team in the Eastern Conference in the second half and has carried that success into the playoffs. They’ll have to make sure they don’t get rusty during their current layoff as they prepare for what will likely be a matchup with the defending champs.

Ten days into the postseason, we want to know what you think. Which teams do you expect to meet in the NBA Finals? Have your picks changed at all based on what you’ve seen in the last week-and-a-half? Are there any lower seeds you like as sleepers to make the conference finals, or high seeds you think are in real trouble?

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

Community Shootaround: First Round Of Playoffs

With the play-in tournament in the rearview mirror, the NBA playoffs officially begin on Saturday. There are a lot of intriguing first-round matchups and we could see quite of few of them reach the seven-game limit.

Let’s take a quick look at all eight series:

Eastern Conference

Western Conference

  • No. 1 Suns vs. No. 8 Pelicans — Phoenix deserves to be the favorite to come out of the West again after cruising to the league’s best record. New Orleans is happy to get here after a woeful start and going without Zion Williamson all season. Can CJ McCollum match Devin Booker in the scoring column?
  • No. 2 Grizzlies vs. No. 7 TimberwolvesJa Morant says he’s ready to go after a late-season injury scare. Vastly-improved Memphis has a strong supporting cast around Morant but have to neutralize the high-scoring trio of Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell and Anthony Edwards.
  • No. 3 Warriors vs. No. 6 NuggetsStephen Curry is expected to return from his foot injury just in time for Golden State’s postseason run. The Warriors don’t have a true center to guard superstar Nikola Jokic, so they’ll throw all kinds of looks at him.
  • No. 4 Mavericks vs. No. 5 JazzLuka Doncic‘s calf strain changes the whole dynamic of this series. Can Dallas hang in there with its franchise player either sidelined or less than 100 percent? Utah stumbled down the stretch but it’s healthier than last postseason and Donovan Mitchell will undoubtedly ramp up his production.

That brings us to our question of the day: Who are your picks to win all the first-round playoff series?

Please take to the comments section to make your selections. We look forward to your input.

Community Shootaround: NBA’s Worst Record

Fans of the Magic, Rockets, and Pistons won’t be especially invested in the playoff and seeding races taking place near the top of the NBA’s standings during the last two weeks of the regular season. However, they’ll be closely monitoring their respective teams’ place in the standings for lottery purposes.

Entering action on Monday, Orlando, Houston, and Detroit have identical 20-55 records, meaning they’re all tied for the top spot in the NBA’s draft lottery, as our Reverse Standings show.

Because the lottery format dictates that the league’s bottom three teams all have identical odds for the No. 1 overall pick (14%) and a top-four pick (52.1%), this year’s race to the bottom isn’t quite as consequential as it would have been a few years ago under the NBA’s old lottery system.

Still, since each bottom-three team has a 47.9% chance of falling outside of the top four, its position entering the lottery is crucial — the league’s worst team can’t fall any further than No. 5 on lottery night, whereas the third-worst team could slip all the way to No. 7.

The Magic have played some of their best games of the season in recent weeks, winning home games vs. Minnesota and Golden State and picking up victories in New Orleans and Toronto earlier this month. They’re 4-5 in their last nine games, but have the NBA’s ninth-hardest remaining schedule, according to Tankathon.

The Rockets looked a week ago like the odds-on favorite to finish the season atop the lottery standings, but with three wins in their last four games, that’s now far from a certainty. Their remaining schedule is the league’s sixth-easiest, per Tankathon, and includes five home games, with just two on the road.

The Pistons, meanwhile, are 8-10 in their last 18 games, but just 2-8 in their last 10. Their remaining schedule is the league’s 11th-hardest, per Tankathon, and they have more games on the road than at home.

Of course, we shouldn’t exclude Oklahoma City from this conversation. At 21-53, the Thunder are just 1.5 games ahead of the three aforementioned clubs after losing 11 of their last 12 games. They’ll host the Pistons on Friday in what should be an important game — the winner of that contest could put itself out of the running for the No. 1 spot in the lottery standings.

The Thunder have the NBA’s ninth-easiest remaining schedule, with an equal split of home and road games. Of course, it’s worth noting that two of OKC’s upcoming games are against a tanking Portland team that is probably the NBA’s actual worst right now (even if the Blazers’ full-season record doesn’t reflect that). It would be a little surprising if the Thunder manage to lose both those meetings.

What do you think? Which team will finish the season with the NBA’s worst record and claim the top spot in the draft lottery standings? Will any of these clubs lose the rest of their games? Will there be a tie for the No. 1 spot, necessitating a coin flip?

Head to the comment section below to weigh in with yours thoughts on this season’s race to the bottom.

Community Shootaround: Top Six In East

On Wednesday, we discussed the race to earn a top-six seed (and a guaranteed playoff spot) in the Western Conference. Today, we’re shifting our focus to the East, where the top four teams in the conference have created some breathing room, but the fifth, sixth, and seventh seeds are bunched up.

After Thursday’s games, the 42-31 Bulls still control the No. 5 seed, but their lead over the No. 6 Cavaliers (41-32) and the No. 7 Raptors (also 41-32) is down to a single game, with just nine games left in the season for all three teams.

Both Chicago and Cleveland have been trending in the wrong direction as of late. The Bulls sat atop the East as recently as one month ago, when their record was 39-21. Since then, they’ve won just three of 13 games and their grip on a guaranteed playoff berth is slipping.

Zach LaVine has battled a knee injury for much of the year and DeMar DeRozan now has a left groin strain. According to Tankathon, Chicago also has the NBA’s fifth-hardest schedule for the rest of the season, beginning with a huge matchup against the Cavaliers in Cleveland on Saturday.

The Cavs should welcome the opportunity to pass the Bulls in the standings by winning that game (a victory would give them the tiebreaker edge for now), but they haven’t played their best basketball in recent weeks either. The No. 3 seed in the East as recently as February 17, Cleveland has six wins in its last 17 contests and dropped a crucial game in Toronto on Thursday.

The absence of starting center Jarrett Allen – on top of all the other injuries affecting the Cavs – has hurt. On the plus side, the team’s schedule the rest of the way, which includes a pair of meetings against Orlando, is manageable — it’s only the NBA’s 18th-hardest, per Tankathon.

The Raptors, meanwhile, don’t have the tiebreaker advantage over Chicago or Cleveland, so they’d need to finish at least one game ahead of one of those teams in order to avoid being relegated to a play-in. They look capable of doing that.

Seven of the Raptors’ last nine games will be at home, and they have the league’s sixth-easiest slate, according to Tankathon. Following a 14-17 start to the season, Toronto has gone 27-15 and is close to finally having a fully healthy starting five. Fred VanVleet is banged up and Gary Trent Jr. missed yesterday’s game with a toe injury, but OG Anunoby is back and Trent was listed as questionable earlier in the day on Thursday, an indication that he shouldn’t be out too long.

While it may be too late for them to make up the necessary ground, the No. 8 Nets (38-35) shouldn’t be excluded from the conversation. Buoyed by the NBA’s fourth-easiest schedule and the full-time return of Kyrie Irving, the Nets are in position to finish the season strong. But they’re still three games behind the Cavs and Raptors with just nine left to play (their tiebreakers vs. both teams remain up for grabs).

We want to know what you think. Will the Bulls and Cavaliers hold onto their top-six spots, or will one of them in a play-in game? If the Raptors move into the top six and secure a guaranteed playoff spot, which team will they pass? Do the Nets still have a chance to avoid the play-in?

Head to the comment section below to weigh in with your thoughts on the East’s race for the top six!