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Community Shootaround: Pistons’ Fast Start

Veteran power forward Anthony Tolliver knows that the Pistons’ 7-3 start doesn’t mean much in the long run.

“It’s part of 82 games. We’ve got to keep doing it,” he said. “Just one game at a time and don’t get ahead of ourselves. Don’t get too confident, but also using this confidence knowing that whoever we play against we have a chance and we can win and we can beat anybody.”

Suffice to say, though, that no one predicted Detroit would lead the Cavaliers by three games in the standings at any point this season. The Pistons, who are off to their best 10-game beginning since 2008, have only qualified for the playoffs once in the last eight seasons. Cleveland will eventually get its act together but there are signs that the Pistons’ start is not a fluke.

They have posted some quality wins and shown the ability to erase double-digit deficits. That included a road triumph against the Warriors, even though the Pistons were playing the second end of a back-to-back.

Center Andre Drummond, their franchise player, has returned with a renewed focus and looks like an All-Star again after a subpar season. He’s even making his free throws (75%).

Point guard Reggie Jackson, slowed by a knee injury a year ago, looks healthy and is running the offense efficiently (3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio). Tobias Harris is shooting with confidence from the perimeter, averaging nearly 20 PPG, while Stanley Johnson has provided a defensive presence at small forward.

Detroit’s major offseason acquisition, Avery Bradley, has impacted the team at both ends. The shooting guard’s tenacious defense has rubbed off on his new teammates and his steady offensive output has been a major upgrade over the inconsistent player he replaced, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

Coach Stan Van Gundy has so many solid bench options that he’s struggling to decide who should be in the rotation.

Of course, things could change in a hurry, as the Pistons don’t have the talent to beat many teams unless they’re at their best. They proved that with a road loss to the Lakers and a home loss to the Sixers.

They also have no viable options if Drummond suffers a significant injury. They lost Aron Baynes in free agency and are using power forward Jon Leuer and a summer-league addition, Eric Moreland, as his backups.

This brings us to our question of the day: Will the Pistons make the playoffs this season or is their quick start a mirage?

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

Knicks Notes: Ntilikina, Bledsoe, Kanter

Frank Ntilikina, who remains out of the lineup with a sprained ankle hears his name in the Eric Bledsoe trade rumors, but it’s not something he’s worried about, as Al Iannazzone of News Day relays. The No. 8 overall pick said it was “nice” that the Suns have interest in him, but his focus remains on getting healthy.

The Knicks spoke to the Suns about Bledsoe after Phoenix made it clear that it was shopping the point guard. GM Ryan McDonough apparently wants Ntilikina and Willy Hernangomez for the Kentucky product, but Iannazzone hears that neither player is on the table at the moment in a Bledsoe talks. While whispers of Ntilikina being off-limits are circulating, the team hasn’t told the French point guard that he won’t be dealt.

“Not really. No,” Ntilikina said. “I’m focused on basketball and on how I can make my ankle be better and my game be better so I can be back on the court.”

There’s more the New York:

  • The Knicks have “gone out of their way” to include Ntilikina and Hernagomez when discussing their cornerstone players Iannazzone notes (same piece). The scribe can’t envision the team dealing either player away for Bledsoe unless Phoenix is willing to take on long-term money, like the contracts of Joakim Noah or Courtney Lee.
  • New York will have to address its surplus of centers at some point in the future, Iannazzone adds. Hernangomez is currently out of the rotation as he watched Kyle O’Quinn and Enes Kanter gobble up the minutes at the five. Joakim Noah will only be suspended nine more games after tonight’s tilt against the Nets and Kristaps Porzingis could use additional minutes at the center position.
  • Kanter, who arrived in New York via the Carmelo Anthony deal, has played well in his first two games with the club, scoring a total of 27 points in 46 minutes. The big man has also developed on-court chemistry with Porzingiz. However, Fred Kerber of the New York Post wonders if Kanter’s presence is hurting the team long-term, as the franchise may be better served to give Hernangomez more opportunities.

Lottery Notes: Player Movement, The Wheel, Value

The recently announced lottery changes will have an impact on tanking but it may be a minor one, Zach Lowe of ESPN writes. To fully rid the league of intentional losing, far more aggressive steps would need to be taken.

Essentially, Lowe writes, increasing the freedom of movement that players have could be fair but doing so could come in several drastic forms from cutting the length of rookie contracts to trashing the max salary. Those, of course, could come with their own set of negative consequences and may not necessarily be worth it.

The current reform, said to be an incremental step, will dissuade terrible teams from shamelessly losing games late in the season but it may hurt small market teams if it impedes them drafting stars. Without access to drafting those stars, the smaller market franchises would have an even tougher time trying to lure free agents.

There’s more regarding the lottery reform:

  • The NBA’s new lottery rules don’t do enough to deter tanking, Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman writes. The scribe suggests that teams will still lose games on purposes, regardless of the new flattened odds, because getting a pick “anywhere near the top” is sufficient. He advocates for The Wheel as an alternative.
  • The new lottery changes will do nothing to stop tanking, a Cleveland.com report suggests. Teams will still compete to be one of the three-worst clubs since they now have an equal shot at landing the top pick.
  • Using a combination of probabilities and the estimated value each pick in 2019 lottery might have in addition to their salary, Kevin Pelton of ESPN makes a case for small market teams actually benefiting from the lottery reform. Pelton says that an under-discussed component of picking high in the draft is the salary that rookies are owed under the new CBA.

Cavaliers Hope To Have Isaiah Thomas Back By Christmas

The Cavaliers are optimistic that Isaiah Thomas can recover from injuries to his right hip in time for their Christmas game with Golden State, relays Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com.

The two-time All-Star has reportedly made “real progress” in rehab since joining the team in late August. Thomas was part of the package that Cleveland received from Boston in return for Kyrie Irving, and a dispute over Thomas’ medical condition help up the deal for about a week.

Cavaliers officials refused to answer questions about Thomas’ hip in a press conference after the deal was completed and offered no timetable for a possible return. Today’s news is the first indication of when he might be ready to play again.

Thomas suffered a torn labrum during the season and aggravated the injury in the Eastern Conference Finals, forcing him to miss the end of the series. It has been reported that he also has a loss of cartilage and some arthritis, which has slowed the recovery process.

Thomas has used a multi-faceted rehab plan to try to get back on the court, Vardon writes. In addition to weightlifting and stretching, he has been running in a pool and on a weightless treadmill and taking stationary shots on the court.

Thomas’ condition affects more than just the Cavaliers’ season. He is hoping for a max contract in free agency next summer after making about $6.3MM this year.

In other news out of Cleveland today:

  • Coach Tyronn Lue says free agent addition Derrick Rose will be the starting point guard until Thomas returns, Vardon tweets. The former MVP agreed to a one-year, minimum salary deal with Cleveland in July after spending one year with the Knicks.
  • The team has named Bernie Bickerstaff senior advisor of basketball operations, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPN (Twitter link).

Community Shootaround: Carmelo Anthony Trade

Carmelo Anthony will head to the Thunder after the team struck a deal with the Knicks to bring the 10-time All-Star to the club.

OKC gave up Enes Kanter, who performed admirably off the bench last season before struggling in the playoffs, Doug McDermott, and a future second-rounder for what could be just one season of Melo. The small forward can opt to become a free agent next summer, though that would mean giving up nearly $28MM in salary for the 2018/19 campaign.

For the Knicks, getting Melo to expand his list of teams beyond the Rockets was a step in the right direction. The front office didn’t want to enter training camp with Anthony and the potential distraction of having a disgruntled future Hall of Famer surrounding the team. With the Cavs and Thunder included on Melo’s revised list, the organization scoured deals and pulled the trigger on one that doesn’t particularly help them in the short term.

Kanter should be productive on the offensive end, but his struggles on the defensive end, coupled with the team’s abundance of frontcourt options, will limit the big man’s ability to positively impact the game. McDermott, who’s a former lottery pick, will be given a chance to shine in the league’s biggest market, though there’s not much evidence that he’ll be successful with an expanded role.

The return that the Knicks received signals that they are content with coasting through this season near the bottom of the standings with the hopes of landing a top pick in the 2018 draft.

It’s not as blatant of a tank job as the one that took place two hours south in Philadelphia, but two plans share very similar principles and it makes sense based on where this team is in its current state. New York couldn’t net a blue-chip asset in a deal for the 33-year-old, so the best course of action was to manufacture one via its own 2018 first-rounder. The Knicks will likely be among the worst teams in the east this season, though the chance of landing a top prospect next June will inspire hope in their fan base.

Do you believe the Knicks took the best course of action trading Melo to the Thunder or was keeping him the better option? Houston appeared to be willing to send Ryan Anderson to the Knicks for Anthony. Is this trade better than receiving an Anderson-centered package? Was there another trade with one of the team’s on Melo’s list that made more sense for the Knicks?

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

Five Key Stories: 9/16/17-9/23/17

Missed this week’s biggest NBA headlines? We’ve got a recap for you. Here are some of the most noteworthy stories from the last seven days:

The Thunder and Knicks agreed to a deal that will send Carmelo Anthony to Oklahoma City in exchange for Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott, and a future second-rounder. Carmelo Anthony verticalThe Knicks didn’t want to enter training camp with the distraction of having an unresolved situation with their disgruntled All-Star and they were able to find a deal after Anthony expanded his list of teams in which he would accept a trade to. For Oklahoma City, it’s another move during an offseason that is clearly about making the 2017/18 Thunder team more competitive regardless of long-term risk. Anthony, summer acquisition Paul George and reigning MVP Russell Westbrook can all become free agents next July. At least until then, OKC will have a trio that rivals any other in the league.

The Lakers added Andrew Bogut on a one-year deal. After breaking his leg during his only appearance for the Cavs last season, Bogut will suit up for Los Angeles where he will compete for backup minutes at the five behind offseason addition Brook Lopez.

Bucks reached deals to add several veterans this week. The team will bring in Gerald Green, Brandon Rush, and Kendall Marshall. Green, who contributed to the Celtics’ postseason run to the Conference Finals last season, and Marshall, who spent last season in the G-League, will have an opportunity to compete for a roster spot during training camp. While he signed for the minimum, Rush is the favorite to remain on the roster past opening night.

Alex Len decided he will play under a one-year qualifying offer this season. Just like Nerlens Noel found out, the restricted free agency market isn’t as lucrative as it has been in years past, especially for traditional centers. As a result, Len will play out the year in Phoenix and take another stab at the market as unrestricted free agent next summer.

The Sixers are still looking to trade Jahlil Okafor. Philadelphia is optimistic about coming to terms with Joel Embiid on an extension, which means there won’t be much of competition for the five spot in Philadelphia for the foreseeable future. It’s somewhat shocking that Okafor remains on the roster after two straight years of trade speculation, though that could simply be a result of a suppressed center market.

Here are 10 more notable NBA stories from the last week:

Photo courtesy of USA Today

Atlantic Notes: Celtics, Powell, Russell

The Celtics made a number of headlines with their acquisitions of Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving this summer. Now, A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN New England writes, it’s time to focus on who might make up the core of the team’s second unit.

Having traded Avery Bradley in a cap clearing maneuver to sign Hayward, the Celtics will turn to Terry Rozier to serve as a game-changer off the bench. His ability to pick up scoreer on the perimeter will be valued, as will his ability to knock down shots now that Isaiah Thomas is a Cavalier.

Another player who could see a bigger role with the Celtics in light of the Irving trade is Jayson Tatum. The third-overall pick will see extra opportunities than the C’s may have initially expected now that Jae Crowder is out of the picture.

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • While he may well end up playing through the final year of his rookie contract and hitting restricted free agency next summer, Raptors guard Norman Powell is also eligible to sign a contract extension before the start of the regular season. Blake Murphy of The Athletic writes that such a deal could look similar to that which Josh Richardson recently signed with the Heat.
  • Just how well D’Angelo Russell responds to his change of scenery in Brooklyn could impact Nets general manager Sean Marks‘ legacy, Brian Lewis of the New York Post suggests.
  • If Michael Beasley was brought in specifically to replace Carmelo Anthony in the Knicks lineup, it’s news to him. The forward is eager to play alongside the 14-year veteran. “Listen, Carmelo’s been like my mentor,” Beasley told Steve Popper of USA Today. “If you watch my game, really watch my game, my jab series, all that, I’m literally just Carmelo on the left side of the floor. Like I’ve known Carmelo since I was 13 years old, one of my best friends, one of the best players I’ve ever met. Me and him are from the same area. I can’t wait to play with him.”

Southwest Notes: Rockets, Moore, Long, Cunningham

The Rockets enter the 2017/18 campaign with last season’s Most Valuable Player runner-up in James Harden and offseason acquisition Chris Paul, widely viewed as one of the greatest point guards ever. A deal for Carmelo Anthony has not materialized but Houston is still an improved team, David Aldridge of NBA.com writes.

Aside from the acquisition of Paul, the Rockets have been in headlines all offseason. Tilman Fertitta purchased the Rockets for $2.2 billion, Hurricane Harvey hit the city of Houston hard, and even to this point, Anthony to Houston rumors persist. Nonetheless, head coach Mike D’Antoni believes his team is in prime position for success.

“The biggest advantage is for 48 minutes we have a Hall of Fame point guard (either Harden or Paul) on the floor. That’s huge,” D’Antoni said. “And both of them can play off the ball real well, they’re both great shooters, and both can exploit the defense when the ball is kicked … whoever initiates it would normally finish it, but if they have to kick the ball over to the other guy, they’ll finish it.”

Aldridge also breaks down the team chemistry heading into the season and expectations for a team that won 55 games last season.

Below you can read additional notes around the Southwest Division:

And-Ones: Antetokounmpo, Teodosic, Sources, 2018 Standings

Bucks‘ All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo was ruled out of Eurobasket earlier this week, which was met with disdain from the Greek basketball federation. The group accused the Bucks and NBA orchestrating an “organized and well-staged plan” to keep Antetokounmpo out of the event. However, a statement from the NBA reported by the Associated Press (via ESPN) explicitly denied the allegation.

“The NBA and the Milwaukee Bucks have followed all appropriate protocol under the NBA-FIBA agreement,” the NBA’s statement reads. “Giannis has an injury that has been confirmed through multiple examinations and any suggestion to the contrary is false.”

The Bucks explained that Antetokounmpo reported knee pain while training in Greece. The saga does not end there as, after a series of communications between the Bucks and the Greek team, Antetokounmpo was ultimately pulled from the tournament after the knee ailment did not improve. This subsequently led to the allegations that both the NBA and Bucks purposely sabotaged Antetokounmpo’s stint.

After a tremendous season with Milwaukee last season and major expectations for 2017/18, Antetokounmpo’s NBA future will be his most important.

Read up on more news around the basketball universe below:

  • Antetokounmpo will not be the only major name to be pulled from Eurobasket this week as the Clippers‘ major international signee, Milos Teodosic, will also not compete in the event, per Eurohoops (via Twitter).
  • As part of an in-depth look at the reporting side of the NBA, Steven Kyler of Basketball Insiders breaks down how “sources” work. Kyler explains how information is gathered from agents, front office personnel, the players, and other people inside the industry that leads to the stories that are reported across the internet.
  • As part of its Summer Forecast series, ESPN has released its predictions for standings in both the Western and Eastern conferences.

Pistons Notes: Irving, Jackson, Bradley

It was reported last week that the Pistons have an interest in trading for Kyrie Irving and executive/coach Stan Van Gundy had “some level of conversation” with the Cavs about a deal. Sam Amico of Amico Hoops hears that those trade discussions involved Reggie Jackson, but the trade talks didn’t advance very far. The Suns may be the favorites in the Irving sweepstakes, though Amico adds that if talks between Phoenix and Cleveland break down, the Pistons could be among the teams that new GM Koby Altman turns to next.

Here’s more from Detroit:

  • While trading for Irving for will bring excitement to the Detroit, it may not be best for the franchise’s long-term plans, Rod Beard of The Detroit News contends. A deal for Irving would likely see the Pistons part with Stanley Johnson and Andre Drummond. Beard argues that Irving’s unwillingness to commit to any franchise long-term makes trading top talent for the point guard too risky of a proposition.
  • Whether or not Avery Bradley re-signs with the Pistons next offseason will determine the team’s long-term future, Beard writes in a separate piece. If Bradley bolts in free agency, the team would have given up Marcus Morris for a one-year rental and let Kentavious Caldwell-Pope leave for nothing. Beard opines that those kinds of moves tend to set franchises back.

 

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