Articles

  • Steph Curry catches fire in Warriors’ impressive Game 2 win over Cavaliers

    Steve Kerr pushed all the right rotational buttons to get his team an early lead in Game 2 of the NBA Finals. When it came time to put the Cleveland Cavaliers away for good, though, it was the Golden State Warriors’ biggest star who answered the call. Steph Curry made a Finals record five 3-pointers in the fourth quarter on Sunday night, propelling the Warriors to a statement-making 122-101 victory over the Cavaliers and pulling them within two wins of a second consecutive title.

    Golden State got several strong contributions from role players in Game 2. JaVale McGee, starting for the first time since the Warriors closed out the San Antonio Spurs, rewarded Kerr’s trust in him from the opening tip. He scored 12 points on perfect 6-of-6 shooting, including five dunks. Shaun Livingston didn’t miss a shot for the second straight game, finishing with 10 points and five rebounds. Jordan Bell made several splash plays on both ends of the floor in 10 minutes off the bench, while David West, splitting time with McGee, Bell and Kevon Looney up front, had three rebounds, two assists and three blocks – and hit a corner three in the final seconds of the third quarter, pushing the Warriors’ lead to 90-80 heading into the final stanza.

    Cleveland, believe it or not, actually won the third quarter. Kevin Love scored 13 of his 22 points in the period, and George Hill was crucial to the Cavaliers finding their stride offensively. After consecutive scores by Love and LeBron James, Cleveland was suddenly down just five with 2:55 remaining. But Golden State answered almost immediately, as Klay Thompson raced down the floor, set his feet, took a pitch ahead from Bell and launched, netting three of his 20 total points – a number made more impressive given the fact that he almost missed this game due to injury altogether.

    Thompson’s quick-hitting triple, seconds after a made basket, was hardly an isolated incident. The Warriors pushed the ball at every opportunity in Game 2, and clearly stressed the importance of ball and player movement in the half court. They made their first seven shots and went 13-of-15 on two-pointers in the first quarter, living in the paint as the Cavaliers struggled to keep up.

    For the first three quarters, though, Cleveland, despite James failing to duplicate his all-time Game 1 performance, was somehow still within striking distance of Golden State. Curry changed that quickly once the fourth quarter began. He had 33 points, seven rebounds and eight assists, and set a second Finals record by draining nine 3-pointers in all. Curry’s eighth triple culiminated in a four-point play, but it was his seventh that will live in highlight-reel lore forever.

    Curry, who has yet to win Finals MVP despite owning two championship rings, made his last three with three minutes and 30 seconds left – after Ty Lue had already waved the white flag by pulling his starters. The circumstances that prompted that early surrender were hardly the fault of James, by the way. He scored 29 points, grabbed nine rebounds and doled out 13 assists in a game the Cavaliers shot 41.1 percent from the floor and 9-of-27 from three. James ended up making half of his 20 field goal attempts, but was met with far more resistance in the paint than he was in Game 1. Why? While Golden State’s increased physicality and engagement defensively played a factor, so did James’ discomfort with his jumper. He didn’t score from outside the paint in the first half, and didn’t even attempt his first 3-pointer until the opening minute of the third quarter.

    When James has his outside shot going, he’s almost good enough to beat the Warriors by himself, as Game 1 and the controversies surrounding Cleveland’s loss made abundantly clear. But when he’s more playmaking battering ram than all-around offensive demigod, James, great as he was in Game 2, definitely needs more help.

    He got some of it on Sunday night, but not nearly enough. Fortunately for the Cavaliers, they can count on shots falling at Quicken Loans Arena that didn’t over the first two games at Oracle. But defense travels more reliably, the thinking goes, and that’s a harsh reality for a Cleveland team that just allowed 57.3 percent shooting and a whopping 79 combined points to Curry, Kevin Durant (26 points, nine rebounds, seven assists on 10-of-14 FGs) and Thompson.

    The Cavaliers have been here before, of course, but so have the Warriors – and never with Curry playing like he is right now. After two games, the bold line separating these teams seems darker than ever before. James has the powers to erase it, especially in Cleveland. But a far less shocking outcome, based on what transpired in Oakland, is that this series will be over before it has the chance to get back to the Bay.

  • NCAA Tournament Round Of 64: What To Watch For

    Over each of the next two days we have all-day basketball starting at 12:15 eastern and likely taking us past midnight. With so many games and so many players, here’s the top five things I’ll be watching for in the Round of 64.

    #1 – Ja Morant vs. Markus Howard  – Thursday, 4:30 PM Eastern

    Murray State 12 vs. Marquette 5

    While the committee doesn’t always get the seeding correct, they knocked it out of the park with this matchup. If you told me I could either watch this game or the championship game, I may pick this one. Ja Morant and Markus Howard are both elite point guards that never fail to put on a show. Both are in the top-10 in college this season in points produced per game.

    Morant, the 6’3″ athletic freak from Murray State, is a likely top-3 pick in the NBA draft this summer and if you haven’t heard his name yet, you will. He’s averaging 24.6 points, 10.0 assists, 5.5 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 0.8 blocks in 36.5 minutes per game. The advanced stats back up his production as well. He’s first in the NCAA in points produced per game, first in assist percentage, fourth in offensive win shares, second in win shares and is sporting a true-shooting percentage of 61.2 percent. And this is all without mentioning the highlight reel dunks he throws down. He’s a must-watch player.

    Morant’s counterpart, Markus Howard, is what makes this overall game so intriguing. Howard isn’t the NBA prospect that Morant is, but boy can he fill it up. Despite his 5’11”, 175 lb frame, Howard averaged 25.0 points per game on a true-shooting percentage of 59.6 percent. Howard is fourth in the nation in usage at a whopping 37.2 percent, good for best in the NCAA Tournament. He’s also seventh in the nation in points produced per game. He’s also dropped 30-plus points 10 times this season, 40-plus points three times and he even dropped 53 points in a game against Creighton back in January.

    This game has the potential to be one of the best we see all tournament.

    #2 – How Does LSU Handle Not Having Their Coach? – Thursday, 12:40 PM Eastern

    Yale 14 vs. LSU 3

    This one is pretty straightforward. Can LSU perform up to their potential despite not having their coach? LSU has a great mix of young and old talent that is typically a great mix for a tournament team. However, coach Will Wade is suspended after recent evidence came out in the FBI scandal of schools offering recruits money. The FBI recorded, via wiretap, Wade talking to an agent about an offer made to a recruit. He was suspended on March 8th and will not be with the team for the NCAA Tournament.

    This makes things very interesting. While a 3-seed rarely loses to a 14-seed, a lot of people are making Yale a trendy upset-pick because of this factor. That’s why this is a game I want to watch. If LSU can silence the outside noise and play well without coach Wade, they can still make a deep tournament run. If not, we could see another Ivy League upset, similar to the one Yale had as a 12 seed back in 2016.

    #3 – Unfair Seeding – Thursday, 2:45 PM Eastern

    Bradley 15 vs. Michigan State 2

    The year was 2016 and Michigan State, much deserving of a 1-seed, was cast as a 2-seed by the committee just moments after capturing a Big Ten Tournament championship. A popular final four, and even championship-winning pick, the Spartans had a wire-to-wire loss to the 15-seeded Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders.

    Fast forward three years to 2019, Michigan State, fresh off another Big Ten Tournament championship, and once again, while very deserving of a 1-seed, the committee sticks Sparty on the 2-line once again. Not only did Michigan State get seeded as 2, but they got stuck as the second seed in Duke’s region. Typically, the worst 2-seed, the eighth-best team overall, gets put in the region with the best 1-seed. However, the committee released their rankings showing MSU as the sixth overall team while rival Michigan was the eighth overall team. MSU defeated Michigan three times this season, including in the Big Ten championship, yet they still somehow got placed in one of the tougher regions which includes Duke, the number one overall team. Coach Tom Izzo even went on to say how he thinks the committee has seeded the team unfairly for the past few years.

    This is why I’m interested in this game. Michigan State is banged up from the Big Ten Tournament and now they have a potential emotional barrier in the way. They lost guard Joshua Langford back in January, big man Nick Ward returned from a hand injury during the Big Ten Tournament but is not yet 100 percent, Big Ten player of the year Cassius Winston hurt his ankle and played through it during the tournament and in the championship a key bench player, Kyle Ahrens, broke his leg. Sparty is not at 100 percent, they may be angry again, and they’re facing an already-Cinderella team in Bradley that got hot in own their conference tournament to get into the big dance. Could Bradley keep the momentum going and knock off a less than 100 percent MSU team? It’s certainly in the cards.

    #4 – Both Teams Are Underrated? – Friday, 12:15 PM

    Iowa 10 vs. Cincinnati 7

    While this matchup may not include top-3 NBA draft picks or highly-seeded teams, it’s two teams that may be coming into the tournament fairly underrated. Cincinnati is coming off a conference tournament win against now 3-seed Houston, and many were surprised at their seeding of 7. After a relatively slow start, the Bearcats have been a much better team as of late, but also catch an Iowa team that’s underrated.

    Iowa’s coach Fran McCaffery was suspended for three games at the end of February and beginning of March. Why? He just called the ref a “fucking cheater” at the end of the Ohio State debacle of a game. And if you’re not a big college basketball fan and want to see a coach that’s great at blowing his fuse, there should be good Fran McCaffery highlights on YouTube. He’s a modern day Bobby Knight, and yes he tossed a chair once. But, back to the point, if McCaffery doesn’t miss those three games, Iowa may be looked at as a much better team right now. They got obliterated over that span, and the absence of McCaffery was felt.

    Cincinnati runs through 6’5″ guard/wing Jarron Cumberland, but Iowa has some bigger bodies to match up against him, including future NBA prospect Tyler Cook. I believe Cincinnati has the upside to shock some teams in this tournament, including 2-seed Tennessee if that matchup comes, but a full strength Iowa team is no slouch. This game is also in Columbus, Ohio, giving the Bearcats an edge, but Hawkeye fans do travel well. It’s a game I don’t have a great feel for, which is why I’m excited to watch.

    #5 – Zion. Williamson. – Friday, 7:10 PM Eastern

    North Dakota State 16 vs. Duke 1

    There’s no possible way to have a list of best things to watch and not have this Duke team on the list. Zion Williamson is an absolute privilege to watch on both ends of the floor. The athleticism is something never seen before in college basketball, and could rival LeBron James’ young athleticism already. But the best part about Zion is he always plays hard. He’s a 6’7″ tweener, but given his ball-handling, passing, scoring and freakish size, he’s actually not in between positions, he is all the positions. He could legitimately play all five positions with success. Plus, he’s bound to have a few insane dunks in this game.

    The other reason I want to watch every bit of Duke that I can is because of the other prospects on the team. R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish and Tre Jones. Barrett has not quite been everything we thought he could be, but he’s still looking like a lock to be a top-3 pick in the upcoming draft.

    Reddish on the other hand is an interesting situation. He was originally right up there with Barrett and Zion, but has taken a backseat to the two of them and has seen his stock slide. If he can have a few moments in this tournament, and remind scouts why he was rated so highly coming into the year, he may find himself inside the top-5 this summer. If not, he may be looking more around the mid-to-late lottery.

    Tre Jones is the last prospect on this team I want to watch. You already know his brother Tyus Jones, who also went to Duke. Like Tyus did, Tre has been improving his stock as the season kept going on, and he may be working his way into the top-20 by the end of this tournament. His playstyle is very similar to that of his brother, and could make for a great pick if a back-end lottery or low-end playoff team needs one *cough cough* Orlando and Miami.

    This team should give us multiple exciting, highlight reel plays, but also let us see how some top-level prospects step up to the challenge in their first NCAA Tournament game.

    As I said in my last piece, try to watch every game that you can. It’s a great experience to get invested in, and makes for a ton of fun. Especially on this first weekend when there’s basketball all day long.

  • HB KingsCast: Rock Bottom at Golden One Center

    Christian Villere is joined by Sacramento Kings Beat Blogger for Hoop Ball, Jon Schifferle.

     

    The fellas get into the game last evening against the Nets. They delve into Russell’s big 4th quarter, Bjelica’s defense, and trends regarding Willie Cauley-Stein’s rim defense.

     

    Go get yourself a copy/subscription at the HOOP BALL DRAFT GUIDE PURCHASE PAGE

    (03-20-19)

    Follow @MyBuddyChris on Twitter

    Follow @JonSchifferle on Twitter

    Bookmark Hoop-Ball.com and follow @HoopBallTweets for round-the-clock updates – and check out @HoopBallKings for all Kings-related news.

    LISTEN:

  • NCAA Tournament Watch: Dynasty Sleepers

    When thinking through a rookie dynasty draft, it is easy to get enamored with the big name lottery prospects, and rightly so. An analysis on the outcome of picks one through eight since 1980 reveals that 77 percent of players picked number one overall make an All-Star team at some point in their career. However, that number drops of precipitously as you move on from the number one pick: No. 2 (34 percent); No. 3 (49 percent); No. 4 (29 percent); No. 5 (31 percent); No. 6 (20 percent); No. 7 (20 percent); No. 8 (11 percent).

    While those numbers still do indicate that – in general – the higher the draft selection the more likely that player is to excel in the NBA, there are plenty of instances of non-lottery players and even second-round selections that went on to become All-Star caliber players. Draymond Green, Nikola Jokic, Marc Gasol, Isaiah Thomas, Manu Ginobili and Paul Millsap are just a few recent second-round selections that fit that bill.

    If we look even further down the list of second-round selections, you will see plenty of solid rotation-level players (and regular top-100 fantasy contributors) like Trevor Ariza, Khris Middleton, Patrick Beverley, DeAndre Jordan and Jerami Grant. Of course, for every one of these players there are at least two that never play meaningful minutes in the NBA, but I say all of this to point out that there can still be fantasy gold buried outside of the relatively small list of blue chip prospects that enter the league each year.

    There isn’t any one reason why these types of players escape the keen eye of NBA front office scouts, but often it can come down to measurables and perpetuating group-think. Some players’ stocks may have slipped due to a general reluctance to draft European prospects over perceptions of them being “soft” (a trend that is fading). For others, it may be that they are deemed “too old, too short, position-less, or un-athletic.” Whenever we see these tags haphazardly slapped on players without much qualification, it is wise to do some digging and see for yourself if unique and transcendent talent may allow these players to shine in the NBA regardless of their perceived shortcomings.

    In this first installment looking at rookie sleepers, we will focus on two North Carolina players that I think are flying a bit below the radar and have the potential to make an impact in dynasty leagues within their first few years in the league. As the tournament rolls on, stay tuned for additional deep dives on players outside of the lottery, big name player profiles and an overview on how I attempt to project fantasy value from college stats.

    Before we get into it, you can build a FREE bracket and compete for your share of $64,000 during this year’s tournament! That’s right, NO DEPOSIT REQUIRED, thanks to our partnership with DraftKings. Make sure to submit your bracket by tipoff on March 21st. Sign up right here!!!

    Coby White, G, North Carolina

    AGE: 19-years-old

    2018-2019 Per-Game Averages: 28.2 minutes, 16.3 PTS, 2.4 3P, 3.4 RBS, 4.2 AST, 1.0 STL, 0.3 BLK (43.1% FG / 36% 3P / 81.4% FT)

    If White has a strong performance in the tournament, there may not be much room for upside on White as a “sleeper” prospect in dynasty rookie drafts. The 19-year-old freshman guard has exceeded all expectations this season with his dynamic offensive contributions and continued evolution as a lead guard.

    He came into the season billed as a scoring-centric combo guard, not quite skilled enough of a facilitator to be considered a point guard, but not quite long enough to play effectively off the ball on the wing at the NBA level. However, as the season wore on, White has continued to demonstrate an improved ability to run the point and orchestrate the Tar Heels’ offensive attack. Is he ready to be a starting point guard in the NBA at this point? Probably not, but his development over the season gives me some optimism that he could eventually take on that role in the NBA.

    White can be prone to some stretches of tunnel vision, and when he is looking to get his teammates involved he sometimes telegraphs his passes and gets a bit careless with the ball (his subpar 1.49 assist/turnover ratio as evidence), but these are hopefully issues that NBA coaching can address. His growth as a point guard is not a neat linear trajectory, but instead a bumpy landscape with many segments of taking two steps forward, and then one step back. With that said, the trajectory is still pointing up, regardless of setbacks, and that is due in large part to his White’s commitment to filling holes in his game and evolving into more than just a scoring threat.

    Despite the improvement, White’s play as a facilitator won’t land him in the lottery, but his natural ability as a scorer just may. As a 36 percent shooter from beyond the arc, he isn’t exactly the picture of true value-added efficiency like his teammate Cameron Johnson, but a few big outlier games are largely to blame for the somewhat pedestrian shooting percentages that were hovering closer to 39 percent prior to ACC tournament play. He has demonstrated the range to pull up and bury big shots from well beyond the 3-point line and excels at creating his own space to score at all three levels.

    While he won’t likely be profiled as one of the more “elite” athletes in the draft, White has a quick first step and the ability to stop and change direction just as quickly, an ability that frequently puts opposing defenders off balance and on their heels. He excels at pushing the pace and his offensive ability truly shines when running in transition.

    While White can be a dominant offensive force playing off the ball in halfcourt sets and leading with the ball in transition, he may never be an elite pick and roll player at the NBA level, and that’s okay. Even if he never thrives as a lead guard, White has plenty of ability as a floor spacer, natural scorer, and secondary wing facilitator to contribute at the next level.

    White is one of my favorite high-upside prospects currently sitting outside of the lottery discussion, and I’d easily consider drafting him in the 15-25 range for dynasty rookie drafts. There are certainly safer options out there available in that range, but White’s untapped upside and potential to blossom into a multi-category fantasy producer is worth the gamble, especially if his draft price stays relatively cheap.

    Cameron Johnson, F, North Carolina

    AGE: 23 years-old

    2018 – 2019 Per-Game Averages: 29.7 minutes, 16.9 PTS, 2.6 3P, 5.8 RBS, 2.3 AST, 1.2 STL, 0.3 BLK (50.8%/46.5%/80.4%)

    The most recognizable NBA draft prognosticators are all over the map on Cameron Johnson. The most recent Sports Illustrated big board (as of 3/19/19) has Johnson at number 60; ESPN has him at number 21; and CBS Sports slots Johnson in at number 33.  That probably has a lot to do with the fact that he has battled several knee and hip injuries and is one of the older prospects in this draft at 23 years old after playing five years of NCAA basketball. I still think there is room for Johnson to grow at the next level, but even if he is nearing the top of his development curve, he still has the look of a solid rotation-level NBA player who knows his role and plays it well.

    The first thing that immediately jumps out looking at Johnson is his elite, and I mean seriously elite, 3-point shooting. He is knocking down an absurd 46.5 percent of his shots from beyond the arc, which contributes in large part to his 64.6 true shooting percentage (a metric that combines 2-point percentage, 3-point percentage and FT percentage to more accurately reflect a player’s overall scoring efficiency). Johnson’s gravity from beyond the arc is hard to overstate, however it almost always seems to come within the flow of the Tar Heels’ offensive scheme. He has proven capable of providing a spark when the offensive attack sputters, but is able to do so without bludgeoning his way into the flow of things.

    While I would consider his mostly complimentary style of offense to be generally a positive aspect of his game (weird to say about someone who leads his team in scoring), he does have an extreme reliance on others get looks from beyond the arc. He is assisted on 92 percent of his 3-point conversions, indicating a general lack of ability to create his own shot. I’m not sure he needs to become a dominant offensive force at the NBA level to be a successful rotation player, but expanding his ability to create space for himself and hit more pull-up shots would add another level to his game.

    There are also concerns about Johnson’s athleticism and ability to defend at the next level, but he has shown some improvement on the defensive side of the ball this season with his 0.8 increase in steal percentage (now up to a respectable 2.1 percent) and two-point increase in his defensive box plus/minus score (now up to 3.4). He may never become an elite wing defender at the NBA level, but his length combined with a steady improvement in that area throughout his college career gives me some hope that he can develop into a plus defender in the NBA depending on which players surround him.

    His fantasy profile is currently that of a 3-point specialist with some added upside as a rebound and steals generator (averaging 5.8 and 1.2 per game respectively). I generally tend to downgrade pure 3-point specialists in my rookie rankings, but as players like Landry Shamet continue to show, there is a place in the league on just about any team for an efficient 3-point scoring threat regardless of real or perceived defensive shortcomings. For dynasty managers, I wouldn’t necessarily peg him as a worth a top-20 pick in rookie drafts, but if you are risk averse and are looking for a player that has a chance at making an impact right away, Johnson can be slotted in the pick 20-30 range.

  • Pickups of the Night: Tuesday, March 19

    Danuel House, HOU (18% owned) Danuel House is on a heater right now and his six triples tonight provide a good glimpse of his ceiling as the season winds down. 33 minutes is no joke either. House is locked in for some serious run down the stretch. Pat Connaughton, MIL (4% owned) Take heart that he […]
  • Envisioning Enes Kanter’s potential role for the Blazers in the playoffs

    Perhaps the most defining moment of Enes Kanter’s NBA career to date was the result of a play he didn’t make.

    In the fourth quarter of Game 1 of the first round of the 2017 playoffs, Kanter, then with the Oklahoma City Thunder, waited at the elbow as the Houston Rockets’ Patrick Beverley and Clint Capela ran a basic high ball screen. When Beverley turned the corner around the pick, Kanter began tentatively backpedaling, neither committing to the ball nor prioritizing preventing a lob to the rolling Capela. After the Rockets big man threw down an alley-oop from Beverley with neither player meeting much resistance whatsoever, the cameras turned their focus to the Oklahoma City sideline, where Billy Donovan leaned over to an assistant and uttered the phrase that will no doubt be on the minds of the Portland Trail Blazers leading up to the playoffs.

    “Can’t play Kanter,” he said.

    Kanter played 16 minutes in the Thunder’s Game 1 loss, and just 29 minutes over the remaining four games of the series. He got 21.6 minutes per game during the regular season as Oklahoma City’s first man off the bench, averaging 14.3 points and 6.7 rebounds per game with a true shooting percentage a hair below 60.0.

    The Thunder, in their first season without Kevin Durant, needed all the offensive punch they could get, and Kanter provided it more consistently than any other player on the roster save for Russell Westbrook. They needed his production to keep pace with the Rockets, especially, who’d finished just behind the Golden State Warriors for first in offensive efficiency, but Donovan knew Kanter would give on defense as much as he got on the other end – and perhaps even more given the presence of James Harden, the league’s most dangerous pick-and-roll ball handler.

    Two years later, the major takeaway from Kanter’s game remains the same. What that means for his potential postseason role with the Blazers, though, is still somewhat uncertain, and will be at least until the field is set for good on April 10.

    Kanter’s numbers, like always, certainly support the notion that he would be an important piece of Portland’s playoff rotation. He’s averaging 10.0 points and 6.7 rebounds in 18.3 minutes per game since signing with the Blazers on February 21, shooting 54.2 percent from the field and 78.9 percent from the free throw line. Each of those numbers fall right in line with career norms on a per-minute basis, as does Kanter doing an overwhelming majority of his damage offensively from the restricted area and just outside of it. He’s 1-of-10 on shots taken beyond the paint, including missing all six of his above-the-break three-point attempts.

    Unsurprisingly, Kanter has been exactly the player with Portland who more ardent league followers have known well for years. His reliable offensive production tantalizes, and his negative defensive impact almost renders it completely inconsequential. The Blazers have actually fared just fine defensively with Kanter on the floor thus far; his 108.3 defensive rating is a shade below the team’s overall mark in the 13 games since his acquisition. But a more thorough examination of the numbers and film tells the same story about Kanter’s defensive performance as it always has.

    Kanter’s net defensive rating is +2.7, worst on the team. The Blazers are stingier in terms of field goal percentage against and three-point percentage against with him off the court. Opponents are shooting a scorching 67.2 percent at the rim with Kanter on the floor compared to just 59.9 percent when he’s sitting. Portland also grabs a slightly smaller share of defensive rebounds without him manning the middle, too.

    All of the defensive limitations that have plagued Kanter since he entered the league in 2014 have reared their ugly head with the Blazers. He moves in sand while sliding laterally, doesn’t have the length or leaping ability to effectively challenge shots at the rim, and is often a step slow getting into position as a help defender – extra debilitating given Portland’s ultra-conservative defensive scheme.

    Kanter does everything right initially while defending this pick-and-roll between Jamal Crawford and Richaun Holmes: He calls out the coverage, cuts off the drive by stationing himself at the elbow, and even gets back between the ball and the basket after Crawford slips a bounce pass to the rolling Holmes. None of that early work matters in the end, though, as Kanter’s choppy feet betray him while Holmes euro-steps around to the rim for an unencumbered finish.

    Kanter isn’t long or explosive enough to be a good defense’s primary last line of protection at the rim. But many solid defensive outfits get by despite employing subpar shot-blockers on something close to a full-time basis, with the player in question compensating for that weakness by maintaining the integrity of the defensive string. Kanter, unfortunately, just can’t be counted on to be in the right place at the right time, arguably the most important factor a single player brings to Portland’s system.

    In the clip below, he can be seen communicating with Seth Curry as Paul George isolates Al-Farouq Aminu at the top of the floor. Most offensive players stationed in the strong-side corner prohibit their defender from digging down to help on a drive due to the threat of a catch-and-shoot corner three, but not Nerlens Noel. Regardless, Kanter sticks to Noel as George straight-line drives to the rim and draws a foul, leaving Curry noticeably frustrated.

    Means of limiting the influence of Kanter’s defensive ineptitude grow smaller in the playoffs, when teams spend extra time game-planning to exploit the weaknesses of specific players. Coaches most easily work around that issue by matching the minutes of an imminently-attackable defender against those of the opposition’s greatest offensive threat. Terry Stotts did just that in the Blazers’ overtime loss to Oklahoma City on March 7, three times bringing Kanter in or taking him out of the lineup when Westbrook checked in or out of the game.

    Expect Stotts to take the same approach should his team match up with the Thunder, Golden State Warriors, Rockets, or Denver Nuggets in the playoffs. Finding Kanter minutes against the two-time defending champions might be impossible, and it would be nearly as difficult against Harden and Chris Paul. Stotts could match his minutes against those of Nikola Jokic against Denver, especially if Jamal Murray is also on the bench with the Nuggets’ best player. Kanter’s viability versus other playoff teams will probably depend on the flow of the game. If Donovan Mitchell or Lou Williams get hot, for instance, playing him against the Utah Jazz or Los Angeles Clippers could prove nearly as problematic as it would against Golden State.

    Of course, Kanter could force his way into a consistent role against some potential postseason opponents if he proves a bellwether for Portland offensively, but that just hasn’t been the case to this point. The Blazers score 19.2 points more per 100 possessions with Kanter on the bench, a massive discrepancy explained by major dips in true shooting percentage, assist rate, and pace when he’s on the floor. Kanter’s presence has no positive effect on Portland’s offensive rebounding numbers, either. It’s also not like he’s lacked the opportunity to play with the team’s top players. Lineups featuring Kanter and Damian Lillard, playing perhaps the best basketball of his career right now, have an offensive rating of just 101.4, well below the Blazers’ season-long mark.

    Kanter certainly brings a lot to the table offensively. He has incredible touch in the paint, the patience and footwork necessary to finish over or around longer defenders, and a canny understanding of screen-setting. Like Jusuf Nurkic, he routinely engulfs defenders while setting picks on the ball, and is also adept at the advanced art of flipping screens at the last minute, giving penetrators a new path to the rim.

    But the space Kanter yields for Portland’s drivers and shooters as a screener, and his looming threat as a roll man whose knack for finding creases in the defense creates passing lanes for ball handlers have taken a backseat to his proclivity for post-ups on the left block. In years past, that might have been an acceptable outcome of his time on the floor, but Kanter just hasn’t been effective enough with his back to the basket to warrant the number of touches he’s received as a primary option.

    He’s been used more frequently in the post since signing with the Blazers than any player in the league save LaMarcus Aldridge. Kanter is producing only .95 points per possession from the block, though, an average number beset by his problematic turnover rate and relative inability to draw fouls. Portland went to Kanter on the left box for three separate possessions late in the third quarter of a win over the Los Angeles Clippers, with no points to show for it despite the fact he was being guarded by the 6-foot-6 Montrezl Harrell.

    In the postseason, will the Blazers really be able to afford going to Kanter on the left block for several possessions a game? It wouldn’t matter as much if he made his presence felt elsewhere offensively, but he’s not cleaning the offensive glass at his normally dominant rate, and Lillard, especially, has seemed reluctant to use him as a release valve on short rolls when teams double the ball, forcing it out of his hands. Kanter isn’t nearly as comfortable making plays from the high post as Nurkic, and obviously lacks the stretch of Meyers Leonard or even Zach Collins.

    Last summer, Draymond Green popularized the term “16-game players,” referring to the rare type who can be on the floor for the duration of the postseason, irrespective of matchups and time and score. Kanter, it was made abundantly clear years ago, doesn’t fit that bill. Collins, given his versatile defensive chops and nascent long-range shooting ability, seems likeliest to cut into his minutes come playoff time, assuming Stotts continues embracing the four-out look he’s prioritized since the Blazers traded for Rodney Hood.

    But the possibility Kanter becomes an afterthought for Portland in the postseason doesn’t mean his presence won’t be felt. Every possession matters in April, May, and June, and if Kanter is able to take advantage of a favorable matchup during his scant time on the floor, swinging the tenor of even a single playoff game with a flurry of offense, his signing will have proven well worth it. Anyone expecting him to do much more than that when it matters most, though, will be sorely disappointed.

  • 2019 NCAA Tournament Preview

    It’s here once again. The one time of year your co-worker becomes a college basketball expert. The one time of year you have remember what channel TruTv is. The one time of year where everything revolves around the unpaid labor of young adults (well, some of them have gotten paid). Yes, March Madness. The tournament that barely even starts in March anymore.

    Whether you’re a college basketball fan or not, filling out a bracket is a must. It’s not always about level of knowledge or how many hours you put in grinding film and analysis. It’s about being better than your friends and family, and there’s no better feeling than besting your friends and family. That’s why we’re here playing fantasy anyways. So whether you’re Down with Duke, or have no idea what the hell a Blue Devil even is, I’ll break down some angles I found to be interesting heading into this year’s tournament.

    Before we get into it, you can build a FREE bracket and compete for your share of $64,000 during this year’s tournament! That’s right, NO DEPOSIT REQUIRED, thanks to our partnership with DraftKings. Make sure to submit your bracket by tipoff on March 21st. Sign up right here!!!

    The Thieves

    Every year there are a few teams that steal spots in the tournament, leaving a few teams on the outside looking in. How can a team steal a spot? Teams make the tournament in two ways: with an automatic bid or an at-large bid. If a team wins their conference tournament they are automatically in. If not, the committee must select them as an at-large team. So, when a team that likely wasn’t going to make the tournament wins their respective tournament and gets in automatically, that’s one more team on the bubble that gets denied a spot. This year three teams won their conference tournament but were not expected to make: Saint Mary’s, Saint Louis and Oregon. These teams weren’t “supposed” to be in the tournament, but can they make some noise now that they are?

    Saint Mary’s 11 vs. Villanova 6 – South Region

    Saint Mary’s barely missed out in 2018, but after a big win over in-conference rival Gonzaga, the Gaels snuck their way into the tournament with an automatic bid. They held Gonzaga to just 47 points, despite losing to them by 48 earlier this season. While momentum is always something to keep in the back of your head, it’s hard to measure statistically. Even so, FiveThirtyEight’s model gives Saint Mary’s just a 25 percent chance to upset the reigning champion Villanova Wildcats. If the Gaels pull off the upset in their first game, they’d have just a 32 percent chance of winning one more game. While it’s certainly a possibility, there are better double-digit seeded teams out there.

    Saint Louis 13 vs. Virginia Tech 4 – East Region

    The Billikens had a nice multi-year run from 2012-2014 when they made the NCAA Tournament and won a game in each of the three years, but this is their first appearance since. After defeating the St. Bonaventure Bonnies in the Atlantic-10 tournament championship, Saint Louis has a tough test against Virginia Tech. The Hokies of V-Tech are one of the 15 teams that has a 1 percent chance or greater to win the entire tournament, according to FiveThirtyEight. There are also some people who think they can make a push for the Final Four and have them going far in contrarian pools. Saint Louis ended up fighting their way into the tourney, but they may not be playing more than one game – which is not unexpected for a 13-seed.

    Oregon 12 vs. Wisconsin 5 – South Region

    In our third game of the teams that crept their way into the big dance, the Ducks of Oregon take on the Wisconsin Badgers. A game that is a very common “upset” pick, Oregon may find themselves taking advantage of their admittance into the tournament. FiveThirtyEight projects Oregon with a 40 percent chance to beat the Badgers, and Vegas agrees. The line for this game opened with Wisconsin as a 1.5 point favorite, but has seen a lot of movement. At one point Oregon went all the way down to being a 1.5 point favorite themselves, before Wisconsin regaining the advantage. The 5 vs. 12 games are always a popular one to pick upsets for, and this game has a lot of potential to be just that. If Oregon does in fact pull of an upset, they’re given a 47% chance to move on once again. They’d be matched up with either Kansas State or UC-Irvine. Even if the 4-seed Kansas State Wildcats win, Oregon is given a 42% chance to beat them, according to FiveThirtyEight’s model. The Ducks have a legitimate chance of moving onto the Sweet Sixteen.

    The Threes

    If you want to look for a team to move on further than expected, one area to look at could be their shooting. We all know 3-point shooting is an advantage when done correctly. Spacing, good shooters and getting quality looks can lead to a lot of points. On the other hand, 3-pointers are more volatile than 2-pointers by nature. They often have a higher expected value, but lower probably of strictly going in. This means that we can see teams “get hot” or “get in a funk” that wins or loses them games.

    In 2018 we saw the first ever 16-seed defeat a 1-seed when the UMBC Retrievers took down top-seeded Virginia. In that game, UMBC shot 12-for-24 from 3-point while Virginia was a putrid 4-for-22. It led to a historic upset, and one that was not all that close in the end. UMBC won by 20, after being tied at halftime. While the two teams I give you aren’t 16 seeds, these teams score an incredibly high percentage of their points from three, which could help them go far. However, we must always keep in mind the other side of the coin. If the shots aren’t falling, they could easily be upset in the Round of 64 and go home early.

    Auburn 5 – Midwest Region

    According to TeamRankings.com, Auburn scores the seventh highest percentage of their points on 3-pointers, and the highest of any tournament team. 43.4 percent of their points come from the long ball, and over their past three games that number is up to 55.4 percent. The last three games are noteworthy because Auburn just won the SEC tournament, defeating Tennessee in the championship game. They led that game the entire way and there was not much doubt in the second half. Auburn is on an eight-game winning streak and coach Bruce Pearl has them peaking at just the right time. However, they have struggled against good teams this season when the 3-ball wasn’t falling. We’ve seen some of their big losses to quality teams come when they haven’t shot as well. They fell to Kentucky 80-53 and only shot 29.6 percent from deep. If Bryce Brown, Jared Harper and Chuma Okeke can make it rain, the Tigers have a real chance to make some noise this tournament.

    Villanova 6 – South Region

    The Wildcats have already been brought up earlier, but they appear once again as they are ninth in the country and second among tournament teams in points from 3-pointers as a percentage of total points. Coach Jay Wright is one of the elite coaches in college basketball right now, and Nova has cut down the nets as National Champions in two of the past three seasons. Per usual, Wright has his team shooting a lot of deep balls. 42.8 percent of their points have come via the 3-pointer, but they’re hitting threes at just a 35.3 percent clip. While it’s not a bad number, it is 120th in the nation. Though, when taking into account how many they shoot, sustaining 35.3 percent is still impressive.

    Overall they have a highly efficient offense, but play at a slow pace. In fact, Villanova against Saint Mary’s is the slowest average adjusted tempo, according to KenPom, of any matchup in the round of 64. If you want to be on the side of math, you’ll want as many trials as possible. So while Villanova has experience and coaching on their side, a slow game could make it difficult to overcome missed 3-pointers if they don’t come out ready to play.

    The 15

    In FiveThirtyEight’s comprehensive model, that factors in anything we would want it to factor in, only 15 teams are given at least a 1 percent chance to win the championship. Those teams in order of chance to win the title are:

    Duke 1 – 19%
    Virginia 1 – 17%
    Gonzaga 1 – 15%
    North Carolina 1 – 9%
    Michigan State 2 – 7%
    Kentucky 2 – 5%
    Tennessee 2 – 5%
    Michigan 2 – 4%
    Texas Tech 3 – 3%
    Purdue 3 – 2%
    Virginia Tech 4 – 2%
    Auburn 5 – 2%
    Houston 3 – 1%
    Florida State 4 – 1%
    Kansas 4 – 1%

    What should we take away from this? It is really hard to win the NCAA tournament. And, the fact of the matter is, you likely have to be a big program to win it all. We occasionally see a Cinderella team make the Elite Eight, or even Final Four like last year with Loyola Chicago, but winning the whole thing is hard. If you go back and look at past winners, since the year 2000, 13 of the 19 champions have been a 1-seed. Two of the champions have been a 2-seed, three have been a 3-seed and one was a 7-seed. That was Shabazz Napier’s UCONN team back in 2014 that defeated 8-seed Kentucky, led by Julius Randle and the Harrison twins. So in reality, don’t go crazy with your champion. The best teams are the best teams for a reason. Picking the Cinderella team that’s going to bust a lot of brackets is not only hard, but also dangerous. If your pick for Cinderella doesn’t pan out, but a different one does, you’re really screwed. No one is denying that upsets happen, but selecting which one it will be is extremely difficult and sometimes not worth the expected value.

    Tips to Win Your Pool

    That brings us nicely to more broad strokes tips for winning your NCAA pools. Sometimes the smart strategies aren’t the fun ones, and if you want to pick some teams based on color, name, mascot or something else because it’s fun, by all means do that. At the end of the day, a minuscule percentage of bracket fillers actually have a fleshed out model that is accurately and precisely making the best picks. And if you’re not one of them, it’s likely you’re not playing against that person either. But if all you care about is being the best, there are a few things to keep in the back of your mind.

    First, as always, define your problem and figure out how to solve your problem. The goal, if all you care about is winning, is to beat everyone else, not to have a perfect bracket. You could have a terrible bracket, but if it’s the best in your pool you still win.

    That leads us into context. Understand your context. Are you in a 10-20 person family/friends/office pool, or are you in a large, thousands of entries public pool? This should impact your decision making greatly, if you want to play optimally. In a very small pool where people are going to get hyped up about picking the next great underdog team, stay chalky. The early rounds where we may see a few double digit seeds win are worth very little. You need to capture the points that matter, which is the Elite Eight, Final Four and Championship. If you can do relatively well in those rounds, you’re going to end up okay. So? So give yourself the best chance at hitting on those rounds. We just saw how few of teams have a realistic chance of taking home the title, and even for most of them, it was under five percent. Don’t go crazy contrarian, just get the job done with the better teams, and you’re more likely to come out on top.

    Now, if your context is a massive pool where you need to get every edge you can, this is where we can start getting a little more contrarian. Maybe LSU, who doesn’t have their coach, falls to a 14-seeded, gritty Ivy League team in Yale. Maybe Oregon does end up making the Sweet Sixteen by upsetting Wisconsin and Kansas State, or maybe they play against UC-Irvine in the round of 32 and not K-State. Maybe Virginia Tech and Auburn both get hot and make a run to the final four. These large pools, where you have to be so precise with points and get edges wherever you can to place in the money are the times to go contrarian and stand out from the crowd – within reason of course.

    At the end of the day, like I just mentioned, nailing the Elite Eight, Final Four and Championship are crucial for winning. But, this is also one of the most exciting, action packed times of the year, and rooting for underdogs is fun. Finding the balance you want with the tournament should greatly influence how you fill out your bracket. And there’s nothing wrong with filling out multiple brackets. If you want to enter a larger pool, say the HoopBall pool, for example *wink, wink* or the many public pools out there that are held on numerous outlets, you can go searching for Cinderella at the dance, but if you just want to win against your small group of friends, let them make the mistakes and pick a lot of chalk. Rooting for underdogs is fun, but nothing tops winning. Good luck, try some strategies, do minimal amounts of research until you feel comfortable, flip a coin, let your dog pick, but most importantly enjoy the Madness, because it’s truly the best sports environment of them all.

    Before each round I’ll give you a very brief breakdown of some of the games and players to watch. But, my tip is always watch as many as you can. Come home, get out four computers and three TVs and just turn on all the games and hang out with friends. It’s a great way to have fun, relax while getting riled up at the same time, welcome in Spring and some warmer weather and watch exciting basketball.

  • The Layup Line: Tuesday March 19th

    It’s the middle of March which means a lot of eyes are turning to college basketball and a lot of teams are taking a long-view approach, whether it be towards the playoffs or the draft lottery. We’ve got a lot of big name players playing tonight, so let’s dive in. Philadelphia 76ers @ Charlotte Hornets […]
  • Pickups of the Night: Monday, March 18th ($)

    Tomas Satoransky (60% owned) – There’s no reason for Satoransky to be on 40% of waiver wires. None at all. Bam Adebayo (48% owned) – Hassan Whiteside logged five minutes tonight. Adebayo now owns that frontcourt and delivers in every category except 3-pointers. Fred VanVleet (40%owned) – VanVleet was big in tonight’s game and Kyle Lowry is dealing […]
  • Fantasy Weekly Report: Week 22

    Top 20 Players for Week 22 (Mar 11th – Mar 17th) Rank Value Name Games 1 1.59 Giannis Antetokounmpo 3 2 1.28 Bradley Beal 4 3 1.21 Joel Embiid 3 4 0.99 James Harden 4 5 0.90 Klay Thompson 2 6 0.90 DeMarcus Cousins 2 7 0.86 Nikola Vucevic 3 8 0.84 Mario Hezonja 1 […]
  • The Weekly Lineup Show (Week 23, 2pm PT)

    A pair of two-game squads and a five-gamer make playoff week two a real corkscrew to plan!
  • Monday’s Daily Dish: What statement are you looking to make?

    With the NBA season in its final month of games, we’ll be seeing lots of interesting lineups as well as players emerging with temporary value. Somehow every season a point guard or two comes out of nowhere, (or at least deep off the bench) to provide fuel for a championship run when you lose a solid role player (Malcom Brogdon anyone). This Sunday we saw Emmanuel Mudiay and Alex Caruso deliver top-6 performances in the eight-game slate. Another friendly reminder is that you make sure that you check your favorites first, second and third-year players’ stats over their last couple of months so you can more accurately project how they might perform next season. Trae Young has been a top-30 asset over the last 60-days while Buddy Buckets is the 32nd overall contributor over the same stretch. No matter where you’re at in the standings taking a few notes now will put you ahead of the competition when next season’s draft comes around.

    New York State of Mind

    The Knicks don’t have much to play for this season, but for one night they walked away with the crown, defeating LeBron and the Lakers 124-123. Led by Emmanuel Mudiay’s team-high 28 points, eight assists, three triples, two boards and a block the Knicks held on late to snap an eight-game losing streak. Mario Hezonja (17 points, eight boards, one assist, two steals, one triple) had a block against LeBron to seal the one-point victory. Both Mudiay and Super Mario have failed to find consistency this season with the Knicks but their ability to provide solid contributions on a game-to-game basis is likely to garner attention from teams looking to round out their roster. The Knicks were without Dennis Smith Jr. but youngsters Damyean Dotson (25 points, three triples, six boards) and Kevin Knox (19 points, six boards, three triples) gave fans plenty to look forward to next year. DeAndre Jordan, a pending free agent, continued his career year from the line to hit 3-of-4 freebies for 15 points, 17 boards, seven assists and a couple of counters. Jordan is mere percentage points away from shooting 70 percent from the line after being south of 50 percent most of his career.

    The lights shine differently in New York

    The Lakers don’t have much to play for and LeBron James might just be making a business decision by throwing a few games down the stretch. The Lakers led big late in the game but only converted on 1-of-13 straight possessions while the Knicks made play after play. When your hearts not into it sometimes your head loses focus, and that seems to be exactly what the Lakers are dealing with. Rajon Rondo (three points, five assists, five boards, one triple) committed an inexcusable foul on Mudiay to give the Knicks the final two points of the game. LeBron’s focus might be a bit lacking but his game is on autopilot with 33 points, six boards, eight assists and a block. Alex Caruso continues to make a push as a late-season value, delivering top-100 numbers over the last two weeks and top-50 over the Lakers last four games. If you need solid defensive contributions and across the box production, consider giving him some run late in the season.

    New Hair, old school results

    Dwayne Wade needed to change something up after hitting 7-of-28 shots over his last two games, on Sunday he debuted a new look while getting back on track with 17 points, two steals, eight boards, a block and two assists. Wade is not a streaming option in weekly leagues, making him more of a DFS punt and tonight he delivered in a 93-75 win over Charlotte. Justice Winslow (right thigh bruise) skipped Sunday’s action so Goran Dragic found himself playing his highest minute total (28) since returning from his injury. The Dragon delivered 19 points, four assists, four triples and two boards. He didn’t draw the start, so it’s realistic to project similar production when Winslow returns if Dragic finds the minutes. With the Heat battling for the final playoff spot expect Coach Spoelstra to go with the hot-hand approach every evening. Tonight, that included Bam Adebayo who scored 16 with nine boards, two steals, a block and an assist.

    Hornets losing their sting and shot at the postseason

    Charlotte is known as a team that only plays as well as its engine (Kemba Walker), that was never truer than on Sunday when they were blown out while Kemba delivered 10 points, four assists, four boards and two triples. The Hornets have lost every game this season (five) in which Kemba has scored 10 or fewer points. Jeremy Lamb was the only real contributor tonight for the Hornets, scoring 21 points with four steals, three triples and four boards. Lamb should have a solid close to the season as the Hornets bonafide second option and best producer off the bench. Nicolas Batum tried but failed as the Hornets fell two full games out of the eighth seed, only hitting 3-of-11 shots for 12 points, even boards, an assist and a triple.

    Seven, Sixer, Five-Guys

    The Sixers might have the strongest starting five outside of the Bay Area and everyone delivered in the 130-125 win over the East-leading Bucks. Joel Embiid battled back against Giannis Antetokounmpo’s career-high 52 points with 40 points, 15 boards, six assists, three steals, four triples and a block. The Sixers starters were their five most productive players with Jimmy Butler doing damage with 27 points, two triples, six boards, three assists and three steals. J.J. Redick hit some wild shots going 7-of-10 from the field for 19 points on four triples, he added a steal and a block. Tobias Harris took a back seat tonight but still scored an efficient 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting with seven boards and four assists. Ben Simmons didn’t score much with eight points but added nine boards and nine assists.

    A freaky 52-point night

    Giannis, Giannis, Giannis, how you tantalize me. Take a step back and admire his full box from tonight of 52 points (career-high), 16 boards, seven assists, three triples, two steals and a block. No Bucks starter, besides Giannis, hit over 45 percent of their shots as they exhibited ill effects of losing Malcolm Brogdon for the next 6-8 weeks. If you own Brogdon anywhere, feel free to cut him loose as he’s barely got a shot to make it back for the second round of the playoffs. Nikola Mirotic drew the start but he’s lost his touch, only hitting 1-of-7 shots. Brook Lopez shot slightly better to score 14 points with three triples, four blocks and four boards. He’ll have even more spacing opportunities to close out the year. Khris Middleton scored 19 on three triples with seven boards and six dimes.

    Detroit flashing some horsepower

    The Pistons dispatched the Raptors 110-107 on Sunday to continue their hold on the six seed while the Nets lost on a buzzer-beating heave. Andre Drummond hit 5-of-5 freebies to score 15 points with 17 boards and two steals to help power Detroit. Blake Griffin was the leading scorer with 25 points and eight boards while Reggie Jackson also delivered with 20 points, four assists and two triples. Ish Smith split time evenly with Jackson, logging 24 minutes with eight points, eight assists, five boards and three steals. Expect the four aforementioned players to continue to carry the load while the Pistons search for auxiliary players who can contribute on a game-by-game basis.

    Short-handed Raptors fail to hold back Pistons

    The Raptors played more like a short-handed T-Rex on Sunday when they fell to the Pistons sans Serge Ibaka (suspension) and Kyle Lowry (ankle sprain). Ibaka is out for one more game and it’s likely that Lowry will also miss Monday’s contest as the Raptors play four times next week. On Sunday Kawhi Leonard carried the load with 33 points, 10 boards, five triples, two assists, a steal and a block. Pascal Siakam had a rare off-game with 12 points, three boards and three assists. Marc Gasol did a bit of everything but the Raptors could have used a bit more scoring from the former All-Star who finished with nine points, 11 boards, eight assists, a triple and a block. Fred VanVleet logged 31 minutes in his first game back from a thumb injury and it looks like he won’t have any restrictions considering the high minutes played tonight. Give FVV a look in DFS tomorrow if Lowry is announced out as expected.

    Sactown’s Young Kings

    The Sacramento Kings still have an outside shot at the playoffs and their future is looking brighter and brighter every game despite how they finish this season. The Kings lacked the depth to make up for Marvin Bagley’s (21 points, nine boards) contributions while he was injured and they slipped in the standings as a result. Buddy Hield led the way for them on Sunday in the 129-102 win with a full box of 16 points, four assists, three steals, three boards, two triples and a block. Harry Giles continued his inspired play off the bench with three blocks, 16 points, six boards and three assists. He should have had four blocks but there was a phantom foul call on one play. De’Aaron Fox continued his MIP campaign with his own filled up box of 17 points, four boards, three assists, two steals, two triples and a block. I don’t believe in giving the award to second-year players and would still lobby for Pascal Siakam if I had a vote to cast. Keep in mind that none of the Kings played heavy minutes due to the score so all of their lines are slightly muted.

    A whole load of Bull

    Four of five Bulls starters shot in the thirties percentage wise on Sunday. Only Lauri Markkanen proved to be a marksman with 4-of-8 shooting to finish with 11 points, three boards, two assists a steal and a block. Zach LaVine scored 18 points with three steals, three boards, three assists, two triples and a block. The Bulls want to get good reps in for their version of their big three but Otto Porter stunk with eight points and little else. Kris Dunn continued his concerning season with eight points and five assists. Floor generals sometimes take time to develop and Dunn has the athletic measurables to get it “Dunn” but it seems like the constant injuries are starting to add up between the ears.

    The Magic Continues

    Nikola Vucevic delivered the seventh 20/20 game of his career on Sunday in the 101-91 win over the Hawks. Vooch is making it crystal clear that he wants to make the postseason for the first time of his career as he also made his first All-Star team. He was good for 27 points, 20 boards, three assists and three steals on 10-of-20 shooting and a sterling 7-of-7 from the line.  Aaron Gordon has been hot over the last couple of weeks and it continued against the Hawks and John Collins (who fouled out) in the form of 22 points, eight boards, three triples, three assists and a steal. D.J. Augustin continued to deliver his serviceable play with 11 points, nine boards, two steals, two triples and two boards. He’s been hot and playing more minutes as the Magic continue to struggle to find a backup point. They signed Michael Carter-Williams to a 10-day contract but he almost single-handedly lost the game for the Magic in his 16 minutes played as he committed three quick fouls, missed all three shots while only hitting 5-of-8 free throws.

    No treys for Trae

    Trae Young hit 9-of-18 shots on Sunday despite going 0-for-5 from deep to score 20 points with five assists and six boards. Young has been delivering top-30 numbers over the last two months and has made up a lot of ground on Luka Doncic’s ROY bid. Dewayne Dedmon didn’t want to leave his young floor general out there on his own and he dropped in a double-double with 10 points, 14 boards, two triples, two steals and two assists. Dedmon has delivered a career year, futher solidifying himself as a threes, boards and blocks specialist who can do a bit more a couple times a month. Alex Len (13 points, block, triple) had the opportunity to continue to play solid minutes with John Collins (10 points, seven boards) fouling out in 20 minutes. Collins will bounce back once he gets his minutes normal.

    Big KAT? No Problem in Houston

    The Houston Rocket’s did it “Texas Style” and pulled out the big guns against the Big KAT known as Karl-Anthony Towns. The “Big-3” delivered in flying colors as each double-doubled in the big win 117-102 to maintain a grasp on the third seed out West. Chris Paul led the way in scoring with 25 points, 10 assists, seven boards, six triples and a steal. Clint Capela was the connecting glue with 20 points, 13 boards and two blocks, catching lobs and dishes from his elite guards. James Harden slowed down a bit to smell the burn fur with 20 points, 10 assists, four triples, two boards and a steal on 8-of-24 shooting. Hopefully, Harden hasn’t spent all of his Rocket fuel in the regular season as the Rockets approach the most important part of the NBA season. There’s the proverbial goal of peaking at the right time, it seems like the Rockets are doing so as a team while Harden takes a slight step back.

    The Wolfpack’s missing an Alpha

    The Timberwolves played without Derrick Rose and Jeff Teague on Monday and barely got any contribution out of their other two point guards, Tyus Jones and Jerryd Bayless. They combined for six points, seven boards, seven assists and 3-of-11 shooting. Karl-Anthony Towns did his best to fill the void with six assists, 22 points, 10 boards, two triples and two blocks but it wasn’t enough against an elite team. Dario Saric continued his disappointing year after seemingly turning the corner last season with eight points, eight boards and a steal in 23 minutes. Josh Okogie might be the silver lining from this season for the Wolves as he’s developed an offensive game to go with his explosive athleticism and defensive length. He delivered 21 points, three triples, five boards, three assists and a steal.

    What a Sweet-Lou finish

    Lou Williams is the NBA’s leading scorer off the bench. On Sunday he added to his legend by drilling a contested three that was squarely between the three-point arch and the half court logo. The Clippers had five seconds to score in a tied game and they turned to Williams who finished the night with 25 points, six boards, two assists and two triples to end it in regulation 119-116. Danilo Gallinari continued to flash his potential (availability is your greatest ability) with 20 points, 11 boards, five assists, a steal and a triple. Not to be forgotten with his bench mate making the big plays, Montrezl Harrell put in 20 points with 10 boards, three blocks and a steal. Patrick Beverley, Landry Shamet and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander all scored in double digits with multiple threes made.

    If it isn’t Brook-lyn don’t fix it?

    The Nets have dropped three straight games after winning four straight. One change that occurred after the first loss is that Caris LeVert moved back into the starting five. He scored 12 points with four boards and seven assists on Sunday but he’s still not completely comfortable. He might be a better fit in the second unit as he’s competing with D’Angelo Russell for touches in the starting unit. It took a LeVert injury to propel Russell into a role that landed him his first All-Star selection. On Sunday D-Lo did damage with 32 points, six triples, 10 assists, one steal and five boards. DeMarre Carroll (22 points, seven boards, three triples) logged a team-high 33 minutes off the bench along with Spencer Dinwiddie (13 points, three assists, four boards). Considering the minutes the Nets give their bench players it wouldn’t be surprising to see LeVert possibly shift back there when Allen Crabbe (sore knee) returns next week.