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Denver Nuggets Nikola Jokic and Cleveland Cavaliers Jae Crowder and Washington Wizards Otto Porter

Early Favorites For The NBA Most Improved Player Race

Like every other award handed out to NBA players after the season is over, the Most Improved Player isn’t going to be a completely fair race. To even be an early favorite, several things pretty much have to be in the players favor right from the start.

First off an MIP has to be on a team that garners some attention. If you’re not in the playoffs or at least in contention for the postseason, it’s going to be pretty hard to win … anything.

Also, it would really help if the player could average over 20 points per game and that average is up from the prior season by over 5 points per game – the bigger the increase the better. Sure the other stats matter, but nothing captures attention in the NBA more than scoring.

Over the last five years, the MIP race ended like this:

Last year the next four top vote getters were Nikola Jokic, Rudy Gobert, Otto Potter and Isaiah Thomas and three of them should be early favorites this year.

It’s worth noting that Antetokounmpo was 3rd in voting in 2016 and top 10 the year before that, so he was a guy everyone should have (did) see coming.

In no particular order, our early favorites for the MIP in 2018 are:

Denver Nuggets, Nikola Jokic

When the Nuggets landed Paul Millsap in free agency they solidified their hold on a playoff spot and gave Jokic his chance to turn last year’s second place MIP votes into a spot at the top if he can continue to improve.

He’ll need to average well over 20 points per game, but don’t count him out.

Portland Trail Blazers, Jusuf Nurkic

Nurkic exploded after the trade from Denver to Portland going from 8 points per game playing limited minutes behind Jokic to over 15 points as a starter. The Trail Blazers exploded with him in the lineup as well, winning 14 of the 20 games he appeared in.

On the season Nurkic only averaged 10.2 points per game, so if can improve even a little on his first 20 games with the Blazers and his team gets back to the postseason, he’s going to get a lot of votes.

Utah Jazz, Rudy Gobert

After losing Hayward to the Celtics, the Jazz need Gobert to be in contention again for the MIP award if they are to get back to the postseason. After a 4.9 point improvement in scoring last year, there will be opportunities for Gobert to up his offensive production yet again in Hayward’s absence.

Someone has to carry the scoring load on this defensive-minded club and it seems pretty clear Gobert is now their best player.

Washington Wizards, Otto Porter

Porter is developing into an elite two-way player with deadly outside range and the only thing that appears to be holding him back is greater utilization. Porter only got 10 shots per game last season and had his team’s (ugh!) 12th highest utilization rate.

Unless the Wizards coaching staff has been living under a rock this summer, they’ll be working on ways to get their most effective scorer more involved with the offense. Look for a big jump in scoring from Porter next season on a team that should win over 50 games for the first time in four decades.

Cleveland Cavaliers, Jae Crowder

The only knock on the Cavaliers in recent years has been the roster was old and wasn’t winning as many regular season games as expected. This was a team that needed what an energetic two-way 27-year-old forward with three-point range could bring to the table.

Twice before Crowder has gotten votes for MIP, but this could be his year.

Crowder fills a need on a Cavs team that wants LeBron James to play fewer minutes and take more time off during the regular season. He will get his opportunity to shine on a team that loves to hoist the three-ball and needs his younger legs to soak up minutes. Don’t be surprised if Crowder has a career year.

Toronto Raptors, Serge Ibaka

The Toronto Raptors have been looking for a third impact player to support Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan and they believe they’ve found him in the three-time All-Defensive First Team big man Serge Ibaka.

However, the Raptors will be looking for a lot more than just defense from Ibaka in a lot bigger role than he has been limited to in the past. Ibaka has evolved into a 40 percent three-point stretch-four/five and he’ll get his chance to show off all of his offensive range this season.

If the Raptors can get back to the 56-win pace they ran at for a season and a half up until mid-January last year and Ibaka gets the offensive opportunities his new three-year $65 million contract suggests he will, then he could be a surprise contender in this year’s MIP race.

There are other interesting candidates like the Pacers Miles Turner and the Knicks Kristaps Porzingis, but neither of these teams are likely to generate the buzz necessary to grab the attention of the voters.

The last time a player from a non-playoff team won the award was when Kevin Love became an All-Star for the first time in 2011. So, it’s not impossible, it’s just a very high bar.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.





NBA Boston Celtics Jae Crowder and Utah Jazz Gordon Hayward

Celtics Pursuing A Sign And Trade For Gordon Hayward

The Celtics still don’t have enough salary cap space to sign Utah Jazz free agent Gordon Hayward to the max contract they promised, so they’ve been running around looking for someone to take on Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder and/or Avery Bradley and leave them with enough room to complete the deal as reported by Ramona Shelburne and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN One of the better options, if the Jazz and Hayward will agree, would be a sign and trade for one of the players they are trying to move and possibly some of the other “assets” the Celtics could be forced to dump.

The Boston Celtics have been aggressively trying to create enough salary-cap room … by discussing trades involving Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley

The Jazz and Celtics discussed on Wednesday the possibility of including Crowder in a sign-and-trade agreement for Hayward

The amount the Celtics are short could be as low as $300,000 if they can jump thru enough less painful flaming hoops than giving away one of their players that has actual real trade value.

even if the team renounced the rights to Jonas Jerebko, James Young and Gerald Green, waived Jordan Mickey, left 2016 first-round pick Guerschon Yabusele in Europe this season and traded Demetrius Jackson’s partially guaranteed contract and Terry Rozier, Boston … is still about $300,000 short of his max.

From a practical standpoint, when teams know you are trying to dump a contract to create room to complete another deal, they are going to take advantage, but Boston does have the assets to grease just about anything if they want to.

A trade with a third team to create space or a sign and trade with the Jazz can accomplish the same thing. This will just come down to finding the “best” way to get it done.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.




NBA Boston Celtics Gordon Hayward

Gordon Hayward Admits He’s joining The Celtics

So what we were waiting for was Utah Jazz free agent Gordon Hayward to write a thank you piece in The Player’s Tribune. Hayward and his agent could have saved all of us a lot of grief if they just said this upfront instead the, in hindsight, bizarro response that was handed out.

After seven years in Utah, I have decided to join the Boston Celtics. – Gordon Hayward

Would it have been so hard to say we’ve made a decision and will be announcing it later today?

Okay, that’s done. Maybe this unlocks a few more options and gets free agency and the trade market into full swing.


NBA Boston Celtics Gordon Hayward

What’s Next After Gordon Hayward Picks The Celtics?

So Gordon Hayward has picked the Celtics according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and will rejoin his college coach Brad Stevens, but that’s not the end of this story. Not by a long shot. As things sit, Boston doesn’t have the salary cap space to sign Hayward to a max deal as described by ESPN,

Boston would now need a series of transactions to create cap space for Gordon Hayward. The Celtics would have to pull the qualifying offer on Kelly Olynyk, renounce free agents Jonas Jerebko, James Young, Gerald Green and waive the contracts of Jordan Mickey and Demetrius Jackson (or trade). The Celtics would be left with $27.6M in room and likely need to move the contract of Terry Rozier or Marcus Smart. Trading Rozier would have the Celtics short $1M of a max salary a lot.

Bobby Marks, ESPN

Now Hayward’s agent has replied to the news saying no deal has been finalized, so maybe the details are still up in the air, but as noted by Rick Kamla during NBA Summer League, if Hayward was rejoining the Jazz, he would have just said that.

(The article on ESPN has since been edited to reflect Hayward’s agent’s comments.)

The Celtics will look very different next season. Gone will be veteran centers Amir Johnson, Tyler Zeller, Kelly Olynk, stretch four Jonas Jerebko and second year big Jordan Mickey.

Al Horford will be the last big man standing with NBA experience and a team that couldn’t rebound the ball might struggle to ever see another board.

Still on the roster are small forwards Jae Crowder, Jaylen Brown and this year’s third overall draft pick Jayson Tatum. Even if Hayward is moving to power forward, something has to give and fast. There wasn’t enough minutes to go around at his position before he got there.

And sure Hayward at 6’8 could possibly play a combo forward role in the new small ball NBA, but with Horford averaging 6.6 rebounds and Hayward coming in averaging 6.1 rebounds, the Celtics could well become the worst rebounding team in NBA history. Another move has to be in the cards on this front as well, doesn’t it?

It wouldn’t make sense to just DNP-CD Brown or Tatum next season and the Celtics need a veteran big man. So, the obvious fix is to dangle the team friendly contract of Crowder and see just how good the offers are coming back.

A starting caliber big man or rotation ready young center or power forward with a nose for the ball would go a long ways to re-balancing this guard and wing heavy lineup and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has the extra pieces already on his roster to land a very good player.

Gaining Hayward’s commitment to sign can only be the first step in putting the Celtics into contention for the NBA Finals next season. If ESPN’s Bobby Marks has his math right, Ainge has to dump $3 million in salary and then, from a practical standpoint, he has to find somebody(s) that can rebound.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.




NBA Los Angeles Lakers D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle & Jordan Clarkson

Lakers, Knicks, Pelicans And Jazz Are Better Than Their Records

The top teams of last season remain the top teams through the first full month of this year, so after April maybe nothing changes, but last year’s Lottery Teams in Los Angeles, New Orleans, Utah and New York look a lot better and the early signs point to the Lakers, Pelicans, Jazz and Knicks being playoff teams this season.

As of the end of November NBA teams have played 16 to 20 games and the early rust or lack of chemistry has started to fade. The revamped Warriors and the consistent Cavaliers remain the best in the league with the Clippers, Spurs and Raptors not so far behind. These five sit atop their respective conferences and are the only teams in the Association with winning records against opponents with a .500 record or better.

Expanded NBA Standings 11-30-2016

This early in the season the NBA standings can be misleading as teams will not have all faced the same level of competition, so one way to level the playing field is to look at records against opposition that are .500 or better.

The big changes atop the conferences are the better than expected start from the Clippers who aren’t underperforming this year and the modest, but expected, decline by the Thunder sans Kevin Durant. However, the Thunder are just one of two teams with a .500 record against winning clubs, the other team being the surprising Lakers.

Only those wearing purple and gold colored glasses had pegged the Lakers as a playoff team prior to this season and their youth may yet betray them, but the 9th place Lakers (10-10) are 6-6 vs teams with a .500 record or better and the losses that have kept them below the playoff line were against the Mavericks (3-14), Timberwolves (5-13) and the improving Pelicans (7-12).

In contrast to the Lakers, the Grizzlies and the Trail Blazers are above the playoff line thanks to a very soft schedule and going 8-2 against sub .500 teams.

The oft injured Pelicans dug themselves a deep hole to start the season by going 0-8, but they’ve started digging themselves out by starting to win against .500 or better teams. They’ll need to stop losing to the sub .500 crowd (1-5) like the recent loss to the Mavericks, but this team should soon be a lot better than their 7-12 record.

The Knicks currently reside in 9th place in the East, right where some of us thought they’d end up, but they’ve had a tough schedule to start the season and going 6-8 versus teams that are .500 or better and 3-1 against sub .500 clubs suggests this is a playoff team if injuries don’t derail them.

The NBA is just starting to round the quarter pole of the season, so a lot of things can still happen to improve or decimate a team’s fortunes, but the early trends suggest that while the top of the league may be stagnant, there could be big changes to the rest of the playoff picture before this is over.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.






NBA San Antonio Spurs Tim Duncan

Ranking the NBA Western Conference 2016-17

By Danny Thompson, Full Court Press Radio

The Western Conference went through a season in 2015-2016 where they had one team break the all-time wins record with 73. Another team won 67 games and two more teams had over 50, but none of those teams brought home the Larry O’Brien trophy. So with the defending conference champion Golden State Warriors adding some guy named Kevin Durant. Can anyone in the West keep up with them?

1. Golden State Warriors

Key Additions- Kevin Durant, Zaza Pachulia and David West
Key Losses- Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli, Leandro Barbosa and Andrew Bogut

Outlook – Let’s be honest here, the Warriors could have re-signed everyone and still would have been in this spot. They won 73 games and finished one game short of winning their 2nd consecutive championship. So what do they do? They go out and add one of the top 5 players in the NBA in Kevin Durant to a team that has the 2 time MVP in Stephen Curry and All-Stars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. The real question is, can they find the same type of chemistry on this roster that they had last year?

2. San Antonio Spurs

Key Addition: Pau Gasol
Key Losses: Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw

Outlook – Well it had to happen eventually, Tim Duncan retired this summer after a stellar career in San Antonio. I’m not going to take up this entire space by talking about his career, but even though he didn’t have his best season ever, you have to mention how big of a loss it will be. Not to mention they lost Boris Diaw’s versatility as well. So how does R.C Buford and the front office fix that problem? You go out and sign future Hall of Famer Pau Gasol to replace Timmy. Problem solved, now can Golden State stop the best frontline in the NBA in Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kwahi Leonard? One can only hope that we get this matchup in the Western Conference Finals.

3. Los Angeles Clippers

Key Addition- Brandon Bass
Key Loss- Jeff Green

Outlook – The Clippers get this spot by default. Oklahoma City lost Durant and no one else in the West behind them made a splash to pass them for this spot. They made some questionable contract choices (Austin Rivers), but they brought back Jamal Crawford and brought in guys like Bass, Raymond Felton and Marreese Speights for depth. The real question is with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul being potential free agents next summer, can they make a deal for one of them and still remain a top player in the West? Decisions, Decisions, Decisions in Los Angeles.

4. Portland Trail Blazers

Key Additions- Festus Ezeli and Evan Turner
Key Loss- Gerald Henderson

Outlook – Portland did a lot of re-signing of their main core guys like C.J.McCollum, Allen Crabbe, Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless to extensions over the last few weeks. Then they brought in swingman Evan Turner and big man Festus Ezeli to a team that has Damian Lillard leading the way. Portland surprised a lot of people last year (Including this writer right here) and made the 2nd round of the playoffs. They will not be surprising this year, but one can only wonder if can they be even better than they were last year? Head coach Terry Stotts will have this team at peak form come playoff time.

5. Utah Jazz

Key Additions- George Hill and Joe Johnson
Key Loss- Trevor Booker

Outlook – Yes, finally, the Jazz will make it back into the playoffs and this time they are dangerous. Joe Johnson provides a late game closer to go along with Gordon Hayward. Veteran point guard George Hill, allows Dante Exum to ease back into the NBA after missing last year with an ACL injury. The Jazz have so much young talent on this team and a top 7 Head Coach in Quinn Snyder, this is the year that all of the stars align in Utah. I didn’t even mention yet that they have Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors in the frontcourt.

6. Memphis Grizzlies

Key Addition- Chandler Parsons
Key Losses- Matt Barnes and Lance Stephenson

Outlook – The big story in Memphis was the re-signing of Conley to the richest contract in the league’s history. The number is still mind-blowing at this point, but now it’s time for him to earn it. Last season it seemed like every key player in Memphis was hurt as some point. They are finally healthy, All-Star Marc Gasol, Conley and newly added Chandler Parsons will help new Head Coach David Fizdale ease his transition to the main spot in Beale Street. Gone are the days of Grit and Grind in Memphis, but this team won’t be an easy out come playoff time.

7. Oklahoma City Thunder

Key Additions- Victor Oladipo and Ersan Illysova
Key Losses- Kevin Durant, Dion Waiters, Serge Ibaka and Randy Foye

Outlook – As much as I don’t want to put them here, the Thunder still have Russell Westbrook (For Now). As long as he’s still in Oklahoma, the Thunder are a playoff team. Westbrook should have an MVP season and if you think 18 triple doubles were something, wait until this year. Now they have some BIG questions: Can Steven Adams can continue the play from his playoff run last year? Can Victor Oladipo be the 2nd scoring option and be light years better than Dion Waiters? Most importantly, can Enes Kanter live up to the contract that he signed last season? If the Thunder can answer yes to all of these questions, then they will be back in the Playoffs. If they can’t, the Russell Westbrook trade rumors will be at the highest level possible.

8. Houston Rockets

Key Additions- Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon and Nene
Key Losses- Dwight Howard and Terrance Jones

Outlook – Well this should be one of the most entertaining teams in the NBA. New Head coach Mike D’Antoni has the perfect superstar to be the focal point of his team in James Harden. This team is loaded with shooters and athletic guys. The reason why the Rockets can’t be a contender is because Harden isn’t the best and most willing defender in the NBA and that could be a serious problems on that side of the ball. But the Good News is that Clint Capella will be in the top 10 in rebounding this season and with Harden, Anderson, Gordon and Trevor Ariza, the Rockets will lead the NBA in 3 pointers made as a team.

9. Dallas Mavericks

Key Additions- Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut
Key Losses- Chandler Parsons, David Lee and Zaza Pachulia

Outlook – Mark Cuban strikes out again this summer on attracting a major free agent to pair with Dirk Nowitzki, but he took Harrison Barnes away from Golden State. If Barnes can live up to his potential, the Mavericks could be on to something special. But what should scare Mavericks fans is that Barnes did go missing for major stretches over the past 2 seasons. But now that he doesn’t have to be in most cases a 4th option on offense, this could be the year the “Black Falcon” can finally soar. This will be the team that gets in the playoffs if Oklahoma City decides to trade Westbrook or if Houston can’t outscore teams or any of the previous teams on the list has a major injury. It would be nice to have Dirk have one more deep playoff run.

10. Denver Nuggets

Key Additions- None
Key Losses- D.J. Augustin

Outlook- Denver really didn’t do anything this summer besides re-signing Darrell Arthur, Mike Miller and drafting combo Guard Jamal Murray in the NBA Draft. The Nuggets are one of those teams that when you look at the roster, you see a lot of solid NBA players, but there isn’t one of them currently that screams out superstar. That’s why the Nuggets can’t break into the playoff list as of now. Now if they send a few of those solid pieces (Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried and one of the 3 big men they have) for a player like Russell Westbrook or Blake Griffin, then we can talk about meaningful games in April and May.

BTW- Will Barton is extremely fun to watch.

11. Minnesota Timberwolves

Key Addtions- Jordan Hill and Cole Aldrich
Key Losses- Tayshaun Prince

Outlook – This is the most exciting team in the NBA, point-blank. Not Golden State, not Houston and not even Cleveland. Minnesota is the place if you need to watch only one team all of next season. Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are the franchise building blocks and rookie Kris Dunn could make the Wolves become the 1st team in the NBA’s history to have 3 consecutive Rookie Of The Year winners. No team has a better core under the age of 25 (Wiggins, Towns, Zach LaVine, Shabazz Muhammad, Dunn, Ricky Rubio and Georgi Dieng), than Minnesota. But that is also the reason why I can’t put them in the playoffs just yet. Even though Tom Thibodeau is the brand new head coach and he’s the best defensive coach in the league, it’s going to take one more year before these Pups become Wolves and cause serious damage in the NBA.

12. Sacramento Kings

Key Additions- Aaron Afflalo and Matt Barnes
Key Losses- Rajon Rondo, Marco Belinelli and Quincy Acy

Outlook – The good news is that the Kings have one of the Top 6 players in the entire league in DeMarcus Cousins and he looks slimmer and in great shape playing for Team USA. After that, there isn’t much good news. The bad news is that there isn’t much around Cousins in Sacramento. Rumors are that Rudy Gay wants out and the only solid player they have returning is Darren Collison. They didn’t help themselves in the Draft and Kings fans are still waiting on Willie Cauley-Stein and Ben McLemore to finally live up to their potential. Adding Afflalo and Barnes will provide veteran help and fill the shooting guard and small forward spots, but without a direction for this roster, new coach Dave Joerger will be in for a long year.

13. Phoenix Suns

Key Additions- Leandro Barbosa and Jared Dudley
Key Losses- Jon Leuer and Mirza Teletovic

Outlook – Phoenix has a bunch of players at the same positions and it’s going to be interesting to watch Head coach Earl Watson try to put it all together. They ended up with two top 8 picks in the NBA Draft, but they drafted two guys that play the same position in Dragon Bender and Marquese Chriss. Then they drafted Tyler Ulis making the Suns the only team in the NBA with five or more backcourt players from the same college (Kentucky). They have breakout superstar candidates in Devin Booker and Alex Len as the building blocks of a very good team. Now if they could move either Eric Bledsoe or Brandon Knight to get that wing player they need, could they jump back into the playoffs? Knight and T.J Warren for Rudy Gay sounds really nice doesn’t it?

14. New Orleans Pelicans

Key Additions- Langston Galloway, Solomon Hill and E’Twan Moore
Key Losses- Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon and James Ennis

Outlook- Normally I would say that a team has an idea and an identity of how they are going be shaped and I don’t really know what the Pelicans are doing? They lost sharpshooters Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon to Houston and replaced them with Hill, Galloway and Moore for about the same amount of money. I’m not sure if that is considered an upgrade or even a swap of similar talent. From the looks of things, unless Tyreke Evans, Jrue Holiday and rookie Buddy Hield can put up All-Star numbers, whatever superstar Anthony Davis does will be for nothing. This could be the worst team in the Western Conference, but Davis alone puts them one spot up from the bottom.

15. Los Angeles Lakers

Key Additions- Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov
Key Losses- Kobe Bryant, Brandon Bass and Roy Hibbert

Outlook – The Lakers are going to be better than last year which is a good thing. D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson form a solid 1-2 punch in the backcourt and Julius Randle was a double-double machine last year. They drafted Brandon Ingram with the 2nd overall pick in the NBA Draft and he has all the makings of a franchise player in the next season or two. Now they went out and overspent on Mozgov in hopes that he will return to the 2015 playoff form that he had with the Cavaliers. They are adding pieces and at least they aren’t Brooklyn Nets bad. The good news is the young talent will have a great teacher in new Head coach Luke Walton. Now if they can just not give away all their pieces for Russell Westbrook, then the future will be bright in the City of Angels, but it’s going to take some time.



Danny Thompson Full Court Press Radio hostDanny Thompson is the Creator and Host of NBA Full Court Press Radio and Lead Columnist for FULL COURT PRESS RADIO.

Check out more from Danny here.
Reprinted with permission.

Featured image courtesy of Vernon Chang @MoVernie





Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James and JR Smith

Few Options Left For Cavs Free Agent J.R. Smith – But Not None

The Luxury Tax challenged Cleveland Cavaliers left sharp-shooter J.R. Smith hanging out in the breeze until practically every other option was gone last summer and despite General Manager David Griffin assertion that, “I think the good news is J.R. wants to be here and we want J.R. back,” they are doing it again.

The Cavs cheaped out on Smith last summer when they got him back for just $5 million, but the soon-to-be 31-year-old has his ring now and this is his last chance a big NBA contract. It’s no wonder the multi-year deal at $10 million per season as reported by Basketball Insiders’ Steve Kyler hasn’t gotten it done.

League sources said that Smith and his camp were not overly concerned about reaching a deal, with a belief that the Cavs have put a multi-year offer in the $10 million per year neighborhood on the table weeks ago. They added that Smith and his advisors have been looking for a slightly bigger offer and that waiting things out was simply about leverage and trying to get a slightly better deal.

Like last year, the issue in Cleveland is with LeBron James new deal, they are already into Luxury Tax territory and signing Smith to a $10-15 million per season deal is going to cost near double that.

If Smith is going to get something close to market value for a veteran three-point shooter with a career average over 42 percent from beyond the arc, he needs to find someone willing to offer more. The bigger issue is his agent has to convince the handful of teams with sufficient salary cap space to make an offer that they aren’t just being used as leverage. Smith has to at least look like he’s willing to jump off the Championship bandwagon to get the payday that will make his career.

It shouldn’t be that hard. Smith’s career earning are “just” $45.5 million. He should at least double that with his next contract.

Possible Destinations

Brooklyn Nets estimated cap space $18.5 million

The Nets need to win games, if for nothing less than to stop Boston from getting another top five lottery pick from them. Boston can swap first round draft picks with Brooklyn next June and Boston outright owns the Nets 2018 pick.

Adding a veteran to this thin team would help them win a few more games. Offer J.R. something close to $18 million for one year and watch the Cavs choke on it.

Denver Nuggets estimated cap space $18.4 million

Denver is a team that should be looking to the future and handing the starting shooting guard spot to the 21-year-old Gary Harris, but if they have playoff aspirations/fantasies for this season, then J.R. would take their veteran talent level up a notch.

Minnesota Timberwolves estimated salary cap space $13.3 million

The Timberwolves should believe they are close to being a playoff team. Maybe they are not quite there yet, but their young talent is poised to take another step and a veteran from an NBA Championship team who could play significant minutes off the bench might just be the stabilizing factor that puts them over the top.

Wait – was that J.R. Smith and stabilizing factor used in the same sentence? The Cavs J.R. has not been the Knicks J.R. and he’s over 30-years-old now. If J.R. wants to help a young up-and-coming team get over the hump and play with some very talented future stars … the Cavs might just buy this move and match what the T-wolves could pay before discussions get too serious.

Philadelphia 76ers estimated cap space $30 million

Sure the 76ers could pay J.R. more money than he could turn down, but he wouldn’t be happy here very long and this doesn’t look remotely like a fit.

Phoenix Suns estimated cap space $15 million

The Suns underperformed – again, and their talent level suggests that despite the vast array of very confusing moves by the head office, this team should win a lot more than 23 games.

There would be an issue about where exactly J.R. would fit in this team’s rotation, not that such issues seem to have been much of a deterrent to acquiring players in the recent past.

Utah Jazz estimated cap space $12.5 million

With the additions of George Hill and Joe Johnson, this 40 win team is going to be fighting for a playoff spot. J.R. Smith would almost certainly put them in the postseason picture and make an already dangerous looking group that much more ready to challenge the “big boys” in the West.

The Cavs wouldn’t want to lose J.R. to a 4-year $50 million offer, but if they let things play out to save a few bucks off the Luxury Tax bill, it’s a realistic possibility the Jazz could sell the veteran three-point shooter that he’s wanted in Utah.

As LeBron James said when he announced his new deal, “Let’s get J.R. done. It’s that time.”



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.




Ball On My Mind is holding a Hold Your Own Showcase & Create Your Own Mixtape Event August 26 – 28, 2016 for high school age basketball players in the greater Toronto area with Chris Hemphill, scout with NC Preps in association with Rivals.com (One of the largest American Scouting Services in the US).
Spaces are limited. Registrations after August 12th will be accepted based on availability.






NBA Golden State Warriors Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson

NBA Western Conference’s Best Starting Lineups 2016-17

By Danny Thompson, Full Court Press Radio

In the Western Conference this year we all know what the Golden State Warriors have done with their signing of Kevin Durant to the already dangerous team they had in place. But the real question is who is after them in the best starting 5’s list? Well here are my opinions

1. Golden State Warriors – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Zaza Pachulia

Reason – Is there a real reason why they wouldn’t be number 1? I’m going to give one reason why, 4 of the top 20 players in the entire league are in this starting 5.

2. San Antonio Spurs – Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol

Reason – They lost a lot of defense at the center spot with Tim Duncan retiring, but insert one of the most skilled big men in the league’s history in Gasol. Add him to Aldridge, arguably one of the best two way players in Leonard, the sharp-shooting Green plus the always dangerous Tony Parker and the Spurs are right back in business.

3. Los Angeles Clippers – Chris Paul, J.J. Redick, Wesley Johnson, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan

Reason – The number 2 spot was all theirs until the Spurs signed Gasol. Jordan established himself as one of the best in the league last season (1st team All-NBA selection) and his ceiling continues to grow. Paul and Griffin are in contract years, so you already know what kind of years their going to have. Redick has always been so consistent. Now if this team can add a replacement for Johnson, then they could be a serious challenger to be the best unit in the entire NBA.

4. Memphis Grizzlies – Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Chandler Parsons, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol

Reason – Parsons brings a very athletic wing to go along with the same 4 guys that have been in Memphis for it seems like forever. He brings a lot of what Rudy Gay would have provided when he was in Memphis. The real question is, can he stay healthy? Two major injuries in the last 2 seasons puts up a serious red flag. Otherwise Memphis hit a home run in the offseason. This unit is really dangerous.

5. Utah Jazz – George Hill, Gordon Hayward, Joe Johnson, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert

Reason – Utah is my pick to be the biggest sleeper in the entire league. Johnson adds another solid shooter and closer to this group. Hill will provide a steady and solid starting point guard until Dante Exum is ready to take the job over and Hayward just fills stats sheets. Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert have the potential to be the best power forward-center combination not named Blake and DeAndre in the Western Conference.

6. Portland Trail Blazers – Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Evan Turner, Al-Farouq Aminu and Mason Plumlee

Reason – Portland adds Evan Turner’s all-around skill which should allow Lillard and McCollum to have more freedom to play off the ball. Aminu quietly had a solid season and if Plumlee can continue his play that he showed in the playoffs (7.0 ppg 11.8 reb and 4.8 ast) then this ranking might be a bit too low.

7. Houston Rockets – Patrick Beverley, James Harden, Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson and Clint Capela

Reason – This is a typical Mike D’Antoni lineup. Harden, Ariza and Anderson will let it fly from arc, Capela will grab all of the rebounds and Beverley will just be solid but not spectacular. Mind you this isn’t D’Antoni’s Phoenix style 7 seconds or less, but they could score just as many points as them. Look for Harden and the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook to fight for the scoring title.

8. Oklahoma City Thunder – Russell Westbrook, Andre Roberson, Kyle Singler, Ersan Illyasova and Steven Adams

Reason – If it was my choice Victor Oladipo and Enes Kanter would be in the starting lineup, but with not having enough quality talent on the bench, you have to spread the wealth. Westbrook with this lineup could still surpass the 18 triple-doubles that he had last season. Adams is turning into a very good center and Roberson has shown signs of improvement each season he’s been in the league. Illyasova and Singler both bring solid outside shooting to this group.

9. Minnesota Timberwolves – Ricky Rubio, Zach LaVine, Andrew Wiggins, Gorgui Dieng and Karl-Anthony Towns

Reason – We all know how special Towns and Wiggins are in the present and in the future. They are going to be dynamic and spectacular. As far as the other 3 guys in the lineup, that remains to be decided. Ricky Rubio has outstanding court vision but he can’t hit a jumpshot. Zach LaVine is talented, but can he play shooting guard? Dieng is a solid interior defender and matches well with Towns, but can he develop an offensive game to match? But we can all agree that this is the team everyone will be watching on NBA League Pass this year.

10. Dallas Mavericks – Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes, Dirk Nowitzki and Andrew Bogut

Reason – In the game of Father Time vs. All-Time great, Dirk is starting to lose the battle. This could be his last year being a franchise player. Now the real question is can Wesley Matthews regain his 2014-2015 season form in time to help out Dirk. Deron Williams days as being a top level Point Guard are over with and Andrew Bogut has to stay healthy. The big signing of Harrison Barnes leaves one to hope that he lives up to the contract.

11. Denver Nuggets – Emmanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, Danilo Gallinari, Kenneth Faried and Nikola Jokic

Reason – Solid group of 5. Nothing spectacular and each of them knows their roles and play them very well. Mudiay has the chance to really standout especially if he cuts down on the turnovers. This could be the year in which Gallinari breaks the 20 point per game club.

12. Sacramento Kings – Darren Collison, Ben McLemore, Rudy Gay, Willie Cauley-Stein and DeMarcus Cousins

Reason – Cousins is so talented but hopefully that new coach Dave Jorger will get the best out of him and the rest of this group. McLemore needs to find the tools that made him at lottery pick a short time ago. Collison is very underrated at the point guard spot.

13. Phoenix Suns – Brandon Knight, Eric Bledsoe, P.J. Tucker, Alex Len and Tyson Chandler

Reason – So many guys not playing should be the real story. Honestly, this lineup might not make it out of November because Devin Booker is ready to breakout and be a star. With Knight and Bledsoe on the roster it’s going to be a real problem getting him minutes right away. Both rookies (Dragon Bender and Marquese Chriss) aren’t ready to be starters, so Alex Len has to play out of position for the time being.

14. New Orleans Pelicans – Jrue Holiday, Tyreke Evans, Solomon Hill, Anthony Davis and Omer Asik

Reason – The only reason why this unit isn’t last is because Anthony Davis is one of the top 5 players in the entire league. Ideally, Buddy Hield will join this group and move Evans and Hill into the frontcourt with Davis at Center. New Orleans better find a center quick because Asik is the worst starting center in the entire league.

15. Los Angeles Lakers – D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, Luol Deng, Julius Randle and Timofey Mozgov

Reason – Well, it was a hard decision between spots 12-15 but someone had to be in this place. Russell, Clarkson and Randle will be solid players in this league but Deng is a bit older and is the perfect placeholder until Brandon Ingram explodes on the scene in L.A. But Mozgov better return to form to bring this unit out of last place.



Danny Thompson is the Creator and Host of NBA Full Court Press Radio and Lead Columnist of FULL COURT PRESS RADIO.

Check out more from Danny here.
Reprinted with permission.





Elijah Millsap interview - cropped

Paul Millsap’s Brother Elijah Signs With The Utah Jazz

Hazan Sports Management is proud to announce that Elijah Millsap has officially been called up to the Utah Jazz on a 10 day contract.

The 26-year-old younger brother of Paul Millsap has been getting looks from NBA teams since he went undrafted in 2010 and hopes to be following a similar track to P.J. Tucker who made multiple trips to Vegas in the summer before landing a job with the Suns.

“P.J. Tucker was 27 when he made pro,” Millsap told Pro Bball Report this past summer. “I am trying to do the same route as P.J. Tucker. Guys like that are very inspirational and give you hope.”

The 6’6 guard/forward has been enjoying an outstanding season in the NBA Development League with the Bakersfield Jam. He has played in 19 games and averaged 36.6 minutes, 20.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 5.2 assists. Millsap is shooting 44.2 percent from the field and 33.9 percent from three-point range while attempting 2.9 threes per game, but more impressive is his 8.4 free throw attempts per game. He is averaging 76.3 percent from the stripe.

“Just more focused this time around,” Millsap said. “I am a different type of player. I believe playing overseas helped my maturity level.”

Millsap has spent parts of five seasons in the D-League and was signed by the Los Angeles Lakers for about 2 weeks in December 2011. He has also played in China, the Philippines and Israel. Most recently, he was invited to the Bucks training camp in October.

“He is a leader out there,” Millsap’s agent Daniel Hazan explained. “He is quiet, does his job, he is a good kid, very easy to work with, very easy to deal with, very respectful.

“When you are the 13, 14, 15 guy, the number one thing is you don’t want a knucklehead. 1) He is the most humble respectful and quietest guy you are going to see out there. 2) He can play. He has the experience to be an NBA player. He has been in NBA training camps in the past, he has that experience. He just needs that opportunity from somebody to take him under their wing. He could come in and be an instant stopper on the defensive end. He can take it to the hole. He has it all. It’s just a matter of who wants to take that risk.”

Millsap says he is motivated to make it to the NBA by his son and younger brother.

“I just had a son,” Millsap said. “I want to be an inspiration to my son and my younger brother. I want to be the guy that inspires other guys. I want to maximize my ability and continue to get better and try to get to the NBA.”

Millsap’s hard work and persistence has earned him another shot at his NBA dream.

Note: The Jazz have waived Toure’ Murry to make room on the roster for Millsap.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.




Valanciunas and Kanter

Raptors Set A Franchise Record With 111-93 Win Over Jazz

The Raptors set a new franchise record for the most wins in the first 10 games of the season in Toronto on Saturday night against the Utah Jazz by pouring in 35 fourth quarter points on their way to a 111-93 victory.

Over their 20 NBA seasons the Raptors haven’t exactly become known as a team that gets off to a good start each year. This season’s 8-2 start is just the third time in franchise history that the team has managed to win more than half of their first 10 games. Far too often the Raptors season has been over before it barely began.

The last time Toronto had a winning record after 10 games was over a decade ago in 2001-2002 when they started 6-4 and their best start previously was in 1999-2000 when they got out of the gate with a 7-3 mark. In all the Raptors failed to reach a 5-5 mark in 12 of their seasons and have broken even after 10 games 5 times.

If the fans north of the border seem a little more excited about NBA basketball than usual this year it’s with good reason.

In their eighth win of the season Toronto seemed to be taking things easy in the first half, happy to be playing a causal up and down game with the Jazz where buckets came easily and physicality was at a minimum. The 49-46 Jazz lead and near 50 percent shooting from the field by both teams happened in less than an hour as turnovers and personal fouls were few and the game was played as soft as a marshmallow. The Raptors only went to the free throw line twice in the half because they didn’t do anything to get there.

In the third quarter DeMar DeRozan made a concerted effort to create contact and shot 6 free throws as a result as his team went 11-13 from the line and scored 30 points to open up a small lead. The Raptors still weren’t playing hard, but they were starting to do enough to win this game.

The Jazz tied the game at 76 early in the fourth quarter just before Lou Williams hit another improbable three-point shot while creating contact for the and-one opportunity. Toronto went on to score 35 points in the quarter and won this game going away.

DeRozan led all scorers with 27 points on 10-17 shooting, but this was Jonas Valanciunas’ night as the big man battled for 17 points, 14 rebounds and 2 blocked shots. Patrick Patterson and Lou Williams were huge off the bench scoring 16 and 13 points respectively.

James Johnson played another strong game but had to leave midway through the fourth quarter because he tweaked an ankle. It’s a good thing the Raptors don’t play again until Wednesday.

All five Jazz starters scored in double figures with Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors leading the way with 18 points each. Both players found ways to get baskets, but neither player was particularly effective on the boards. The battle to watch was between Kanter and Valanciunas as both players know each other well.

“(Kanter) is a good player, I know him (well),” Valanciunas said. “I know him since we were 16-years-old, so I know what he does, I know how he plays and maybe it’s easier for me to play against him.”

With Valanciunas on the court, Kanter found himself on the perimeter on offense for much of the game.

Raptors Republic: Quick Reaction: Raptors 111 – Jazz 93 by Tamberlyn Richardson noted:

Raptors are now 5-1 at home and 4-1 in their current home stand. Of note: last season Toronto got their eighth win on December 13th.

Utah Jazz have a young athletic team who is playing with a great deal of confidence. If they played in the Eastern Conference they would likely be a playoff team.

The Raptors were expected to get off to a fast start this season based on how last year ended, however, this team has a long history of disappointing their fans. It is something special to see this organization finally starting to get things right.



Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.




Amir Johnson - closeupCan the Raptors Become An Unstoppable Force?

“Once we all get on the same page, I think we’ll be unstoppable,” Johnson said. “Right now we got guys that are lifting other guys and that is definitely helping us out.”



Raptor MascotToronto Raptors Are Number One

Argue all you want about strength of schedule, teams can only play the opponents scheduled in front of them and the Raptors have taken care of business through their first 7 games. First place overall is theirs to enjoy – for now – and when fans are used to seeing their team fighting for position in the NBA Draft Lottery, it would be just plain wrong to not let them celebrate when things are looking this good.




Chuck Hayes by Paul Saini cropped (Fylmm.com)Raptors Are Winning The Grind Early This Season

“Some nights you are going to be in rhythm and some nights you’re not,” Hayes said. “It’s a marathon. It’s game four out of 82. Me or anybody else, you can’t dwell on it. You move on, we have another game tomorrow.”




Nash and Holiday

Ranking The Bottom 5 Of The NBA Western Conference

The NBA Western Conference remains a tough place to play heading into the 2014-15 season. There is no easy route to the playoffs and there will be a few teams jealously looking East again this season.

However, most of the teams dragging up the rear will be better and win more games – the rebuilding Timberwolves being the obvious exception. Look for the bottom 5 to make life uncomfortable for franchises in the tier just above them and to bring down the win totals of the playoff bound teams in the West this season.

As usual injuries, hidden agendas and plain old fashioned luck will impact the final standings.

Ranking The Bottom 5

11. New Orleans Pelicans – Projected 39-43, last season 34-48
New Orleans Pelicans Media Day
The mash unit that is the Pelicans has the talent to grab a better record and possibility even challenge for a playoff spot, if – and it’s a big if – everyone comes back from injury as good as before and the injury bug doesn’t bite anywhere near as hard as it did last season.

Jrue Holiday is returning from a stress fracture in his right leg. Eric Gordon is returning from knee surgery. Tyreke Evans hopes to be returning from knee surgery and Ryan Anderson is hopeful of making a comeback from his neck problems. Now that’s a fine looking foursome in just about any team’s rotation, if they can actually play.

The potential of Anthony Davis becoming a bona fide superstar continues to give the Pelicans hope, but even he missed 15 games last season. If New Orleans can stay healthy, look out, but the only kind of luck this franchise has experienced recently has been bad luck.

12. Sacramento Kings – Projected 34-48, last season 28-54
The Kings were a much better team after the trade with Toronto that landed them Rudy Gay. They won 38 percent of their games with the new lineup. Even losing Isaiah Thomas’ 20 points per game this summer probably doesn’t hurt them as Darren Collision and Ramon Sessions will add a badly needed level of maturity to this roster. Like last season, Sacramento will not have problems scoring points this year either.

Everyone continues to wait on DeMarcus Cousins to grow up and become the dominant center his natural ability says is in him. His time on Team USA this summer should help him, although his immaturity still showed through at inappropriate times and at 24-years-old, it’s time that stopped.

13. Los Angeles Lakers – Projected 33-49, last season, 27-55
It’s hard to know what to make of the hodge-podge of talent Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak has put together other than this group of players should win more games than last year. A group of cast offs that other teams had believed in before – generally with good reasons – and two aging superstars returning from injuries in Steve Nash (40) and Kobe Bryant (36) could surprise people on any given night.

For the Lakers to have a good season, good as in challenge for a playoff spot, Nash needs to stay healthy and be a dime generating machine that can nail three-pointers like in the good old days. You shouldn’t be holding your breath, but it would be nice to see. Then Kobe has to be able to score like before and still have enough left to play some defense.

There is a very good chance the Lakers become an exciting enough offensive team that they are fun to watch and Bryant resembles some of what fans pay good money to see. However, it is hard to believe this collection of players can find the chemistry needed to win enough games in time to be relevant.

14. Utah Jazz – Projected 29-53, last season 25-57
Utah Jazz Media Day
The very young Jazz are another year older and wiser. Still too young and inexperienced to be a significant threat on most nights, they will win more games than last season.

The starting lineup of Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter will keep the opposition honest as they continue to improve.

15. Minnesota Timberwolves – Projected 22-60, last season 40-42
Cleveland Cavaliers Media Day
Kevin Love is gone and the Timberwolves are loaded with young exciting potential superstar level talent. If Minnesota can develop Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Anthony Bennett and Gorgui Deng into the players they are envisioned as becoming and can retain them long term, the future looks bright.

For this year, Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer, Thaddeus Young and Nikola Pekovic are the guys the Timberwolves will need to turn to for wins. Hopefully, Head Coach Flip Saunders doesn’t let winning get in the road of player development.

Risks and Obstacles

The Pelicans could be treading water waiting for injured players to return or just round back into form and the Lakers appear to be waiting until next season, but both teams have talent if everything breaks in their favor. Plus, everyone has been waiting for the Kings to figure things out and play up to their talent level long enough to put them into the show-me category. Now these situations are not usually a formula for success, but the teams bear watching.

The Jazz and Timberwolves are in true rebuild mode and expectations are low. However, they have young exciting talent and in Minnesota’s situation in particular, their head coach can move the win total up or down significantly.


Who do you think finishes last in the West? Which one of the teams in the bottom 5 will be first to overtly start tanking the season? Can any of these teams exceed expectations and make the playoffs? Let us know in the comments below.


Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.



Griffin and Chandler
Ranking The Top Five 2014-15 NBA Western Conference Teams


Harden and Lillard
Ranking The Middle Of The NBA Western Conference Pack



Diaw and Gobert

Spain Stunned By France 65-52 At FIBA World Cup

A hometown crowd of 13,673 in Madrid were stunned into near silence as Spain was upset 65-52 with a 12-2 run over the final 2.5 minutes by Les Bleus. The powerhouse combination of veterans Pau and Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka were outworked and outhustled by France’s pair of 22-year-olds Rudy Gobert and Joffrey Lauvergne and the veteran Boris Diaw.

Spain had cruised through pool play and the first elimination contest averaging over 88 points per game and never facing a real threat to their supremacy. Even France had bowed down without a fight 88-64 earlier to Spain. However, in the quarterfinals match, France controlled the pace, slowed the game down to a crawl and Spain found themselves in the uncomfortable position of playing from behind for nearly the entire contest.

It didn’t help that Spain shot 2-22 from behind the arc, but France wasn’t doing much better from deep at 6-25, however, the real reason for Spain’s problems came on the glass where France hammered them 50-28 thanks to an unexpected 13 rebounds from Gobert and 10 from Lauvergne.

France’s defense was on target all game and held Spain to just 32 percent shooting from the field and the soon-to-be Jazz sophomore Gobert was a big reason for Spain’s inability to dominate in the paint like they had all tournament. Gobert was only credited with one blocked shot, but he changed many others and was key to keeping the Spanish big men from taking over this game.

At the other end of the court, the Spurs Diaw had an effective 15 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists to lead France in scoring and point guard Thomas Heurtel had 13 points on 4-7 shooting.

The Bulls Pau Gasol led all scorers with 17 points on 7-12 shooting, 8 rebounds and 3 blocked shots, but the Grizzlies Marc Gasol, Thunder Ibaka and Timberwolves Ricky Rubio each shot 1-7 from the field to seal Spain’s fate.

An unexpected and devastating loss for Spain on their home turf to their biggest European rival who was without their best player is a shock to the fans, tournament organizers and to Team USA. The Americans were game planning for a gold medal match against Spain and now will not have to face the only team expected to threaten them.

Boxscore: Spain vs. France


Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.



NBA Boston Celtics Gordon Hayward

Gordon Hayward Symbolizes The Risks Taken In RFA

No one is questioning if Utah Jazz restricted free agent (RFA) Gordon Hayward is a nice young man and a very good basketball player, but after the Bobcats owner Michael Jordan opened the vault and made a maximum contract offer to the four year player, Hayward does symbolize the huge risks teams will take to get talent with a lot of room left for improvement.

The challenge with acquiring a RFA is their current team can match any offer and the Jazz have been making sure everyone knows that their intention when it comes to Hayward, so Jordan’s only chance at stealing the young forward is to bid so high and offer such generous perks that the Jazz approach him for a sign and trade or simply back away.

Hayward had a very good rookie season, played well when the Jazz had some decent talent around him the next two years, but last season his shooting fell off a cliff as “the man” in Utah. He put up good numbers, but not outstanding ones as a volume shooter and playmaker without a star beside him averaging 16.2 points on 13.4 shots, 5.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.4 steals and 2.8 turnovers in 36.4 minutes – all career highs – but he shot 41.3 percent from the field and 30.4 percent from three-point range which represented big drops to career lows. Hayward’s shooting has fallen off at least 2 percent each season since his rookie mark of 48.5 percent.

The Draft Express Gordon Hayward 2014 Free Agent Scouting Video nails the good and the bad of Hayward. His strengths are: capable shooter (capable?), passing, height for position and he’s young. His weaknesses are his athleticism, length, strength and foot speed on defense and his challenges when creating for himself and finishing over smaller opponents in the post.

The Jazz were justifiably reluctant to offer Hayward a max deal. They probably could have dodged this situation by doing an extension a year ago and now the Bobcats have pushed them into a dilemma they would have preferred to avoid. One of these two teams is going to be accepting the risk of just how much further Hayward can develop his game because at an average of $15 million per season for the next 4 years, last year’s production simply doesn’t cut it. These are the chances a team takes to steal a good young RFA.


Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.




NBA Rookie Watch Post All-Star Blues

The NBA Rookie of the Year award has been the 76ers Michael Carter–Williams to lose for most of this season and the fans in Philadelphia have reason to be concerned that their team’s head office appears to be helping him to lose it.  That was one rough trade deadline if a strong finish to Carter-Williams season was on your wish list.

Fortunately, the turmoil that goes with striving for the best lottery pick doesn’t rest solely in Philadelphia.  Most of this year’s top rookies will face similar challenges down the stretch.

Utah Jazz Media Day

1A. Trey Burke, Utah Jazz
48 GP, 12.5 points, 37.5%, 3.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.8 turnovers, PER 12.9

If Burke could boost his shooting percentage to something more reasonable, he would win Rookie of the Year.  As it is, the race is on and it’s undecided.

The Jazz have outperformed expectations with him in the lineup and been brutal without him.  As a young point guard, he has done a good job of leading his team, taking care of the ball and on occasion, put up some impressive scoring lines. Over the past 10 games, his team is 4-6 and the 76ers would prefer that you skip that stat.

Burke’s numbers have been improving since the All-Star break.  Over his past 8 games, he is shooting 41.5 percent and his turnovers were 1.4.  If this gets down to a decision between the top 3 young guards and Burke continues to improve over these last few weeks, the guy with the non-embarrassing turnover numbers deserves to get the nod.


1B. Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers
49 GP, 17 points, 39.5%, 5.4 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 2 steals, 3.7 turnovers, PER 15.3

The 76ers are in a 15 game slide and Carter-Williams has been feeling the effects.  It’s not his fault the team traded away the guys who helped build his attractive stat line and it’s not like he still can’t produce, but this decline has been underway for a while and it’s not likely to get better.

Carter-Williams is shooting just 38.8 percent from the field since the All-Star break and only 12.5 percent from deep, worse he’s been turning the ball over 4.6 times per game.  Again, it’s hard to blame Carter-Williams, but it’s getting to the point of hoping for the sympathy vote to win Rookie of the Year.

Orlando Magic Media Day

1C. Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic
62 GP, 13.9 points, 41.1%, 4.3 rebounds, 4 assists, 1.6 steals, 3.1 turnovers, PER 13.5

Oladipo played a ‘don’t forget about me’ game after the All-Star break when he scored 30 points, collected 9 rebounds and dished 14 dimes in a 129-121 win over the Knicks, but in the 8 games since the break, his averages haven’t really moved much from his season stats.

The Magic have beaten the 76ers twice since All-Star weekend, so the recent win totals could be considered bloated, but they are still better than Philadelphia’s – 0-15 is truly awful.  The Magic are still trying to win after offloading some talent and that alone should help Olapido’s case.

Milwaukee Bucks Media Day

4.  Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
54 GP, 7.2 points, 43.1%, 4.6 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 0.8 blocks PER 11.8

There may not be a more impressive rookie in the NBA this season than the 19-year-old Antetokounmpo.  The kid walks onto the court looking like he belongs there and he has the size, skills and athleticism that makes one wonder how he managed to slip to 15th in the draft.

His stats will not get him to the top of the board, but this is a player worth following over the next few seasons.  Post All-Star game, 9.3 points, 45.5 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three-point range, 4.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.3 steals over 7 games should catch everyone’s attention.


5. Mason Plumlee, Brooklyn Nets
46 GP, 6.3 points, 63.3%, 3.5 rebounds, 0.8 blocks, PER 18.5

When Plumlee gets a chance, he doesn’t embarrass himself, in fact, on a team headed to the lottery, he might just get enough minutes to win Rookie of the Year, but that isn’t happening in Brooklyn.

Plumlee’s rise on our Rookie Watch is as much the fall or lack of progress of other rookies as it’s been his recent improvement.  With a few more minutes lately – stress few – he has been averaging 7.4 points on 64 percent shooting, 5.4 rebounds and a block in 17.3 minutes since the All-Star break.

The young center rarely seems to leave the paint, but in a league struggling to find size, the Nets have a keeper.

Just missing the cut:

Tim Hardaway Jr., New York Knicks
Lots of points lately, but his excellent shooting has deserted him.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit Pistons
Being shafted for playing time by a team hoping to win – it’s not working.

Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics
Could move up, if he could stay healthy.

Cody Zeller, Charlotte Bobcats
Needs more minutes and an improved shooting touch.

Time is getting short, but if you think we have over looked or overrated a rookie, let us know in the comments below.


Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.


Check out:

Orlando Magic Media Day
Magic Rookie Victor Oladipo: Shooting vs. Point Guard?
“I still have a lot of room for improvement,” Oladipo said.  “I just have to keep getting better, keep growing and keep believing in myself.  A big thing is to never let my confidence waiver, continue to have my teammates back and I know they believe in me too, just going out and playing hard for them.”

Charlotte Bobcats Rookie Cody Zeller Is Having Fun
“It is definitely a learning process being a rookie in the NBA,” Zeller said. “You have a lot to learn, but everyone has been good about trying to help me out, the coaches, the vets, everyone along the way. We are winning, so everything is better when you are winning. It’s definitely fun. It could be a lot worse than playing basketball for a living.”


Kyle Lowry Hurt But Raptors Roll In Utah

Kyle Lowry left the game early with right knee pain (according to Raptors media relations), but it didn’t matter as Toronto clamped down on defense and rolled to the inevitable 94-79 victory in Salt Lake City, Utah on Monday night.

The Jazz showed some life as they when on a 12-4 run to close out the first quarter and took a 27-24 lead, but after that, the Raptors played defense and scoring became a chore the Jazz were just not up to.  Utah only scored 52 more points after the first quarter and the Raptors were never really threatened.

“(Lowry) had a little soreness in his shin,” Head Coach Dwane Casey said.  “So out of precaution, we kept him out in the second half.  It was really bugging him.”

“Nothing serious, a little soreness, that’s about it,” Lowry said.  “It has been about a week.  I don’t complain about it.  We are doing treatment on it tonight.  I felt I couldn’t help my team as much as I wanted to and I trusted my teammates would get the job done and that’s what they did tonight.”

Lowry shot 1-8 from the field for 2 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists in 25 minutes before he asked to come out of the game.

This game featured two of Europe’s rising big men stars, but just like in prior international competitions, it was the Raptors Jonas Valanciunas dominating the Jazz center Enes Kanter.  Toronto started the game going inside and Valanciunas scored over Kanter on his first two touches.  Valanciunas finished with 18 points and 9 rebounds.  Kanter scored 10 points and collected 3 boards, however, after 20 minutes Kanter was pulled in favor of Rudy Gobert who pulled in 8 boards, blocked 3 shots, but didn’t score.

“We juiced him up a little bit this morning (by) teasing (Valanciunas) about Kanter,” Casey said.  “How Kanter got after him in the Euro-League, so he came out and played.  He did a good job of taking it to him and being physical.”

Amir Johnson also took advantage of Kanter early, making the layup and drawing the personal foul on the team’s third basket as Kanter struggled defensively against the Raptors big men.  Johnson finishing with the 11 point 11 rebound double-double.

The freshly-minted All-Star DeMar DeRozan scored his expected 23 points on 7-15 shooting and 7-7 from the free throw line and has so often been the case for the Raptors this season, their bench came through with 35 big points.  John Salmons scoring 13 points and Greivis Vasquez adding 12 more.

“DeMar DeRozan tonight was very efficient in his game,” Casey said.  “He made the game look easy for himself and I really like the way he is growing as a player.”

The Trey Burke and Gordon Hayward shooting slumps continued as the 2 young stars only scored 8 points each on a combined 7-25 from the field.  Both players are shooting below 30 percent over the past 5 games.

Marvin Williams scored a season-high 23 points and Alec Burks added 20 more off the bench, but no one else stepped up to help them.  Casey lamenting the fact his team let anyone score on them tonight.

“Defensively we can get better on a guy like Alec Burks,” Casey said.  “He came off the bench and really took it to us.”

With the win, the Raptors have a record of 14-12 on the road and 9-10 against the Western Conference.  At 26-22, they lead the Atlantic Division by 4 games and are in a virtual tie for third place with the Hawks in the Eastern Conference.  They head to Sacramento for a game against Rudy Gay and the Kings on Wednesday.

The Jazz are tied for last place in the West with Sacramento at 16-32 and play in Dallas on Friday.

Check out our Raptors Game Info page and Pregame Report.


Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Players of the Week: Raptors Lowry and Suns Dragic
The Toronto Raptors’ Kyle Lowry and the Phoenix Suns’ Goran Dragic today were named NBA Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week, respectively, for games played Monday, Jan. 27, through Sunday, Feb. 2.

Pro Bball Week in Review 02/03/14
On Pro Bball Report last week: Jonas Valanciunas, Masai Ujiri’s dilemma, NBA All-Star, Rising Stars and NBA rookies, Andrew Bynum signs and Raptors pregame and post game stories and a lot more.

Utah Jazz Media Day

Raptors Mustn’t Disrespect the Jazz in Utah

The Utah Jazz started the season 1-14, but teams that don’t respect them have left Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City with an ‘L’ since rookie point guard Trey Burke returned from injury.  The surging Raptors cannot afford to make that mistake.

The Jazz let veterans Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Randy Foye and Mo Williams escape this past summer to create playing time for Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Alec Burks and Burke, so the brutal start really didn’t surprise anyone.  Head Coach Tyrone Corbin addressed the question, ‘Are the Utah Jazz too young to win?’ earlier in the season.

“They are young and some are growing into the position that they are in,” Corbin said. “I have said to the guys and I’ll continue to say it, we just have to work our way through this. Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. This will show a lot about who we are and who you are. How you fight through adversity. How do you come back and compete after getting your butt kicked a little bit the night before. We have to continue to learn those lessons now so we don’t have to get them later on.”

With the addition of Burke, the second last place 16-31 place Jazz have gone 15-20 and are a respectable 9-8 at home.  The highlight of their season was a 112-101 victory over the Thunder and a 48 point explosion from Kevin Durant on January 7th.

Burke has averaged 12.9 points and 5.7 assists and despite the expected rookie ups and downs, he has impressed with his ability to run the team.  Burke has been invited to participate in the Rising Stars Challenge at All-Star Weekend and is one of the top rookies in his class. (Check out our current Rookie Rankings)

23-year-old Gordon Hayward leads the team in scoring with 16.9 points per game, however, the Jazz has 6 players averaging in double-digits and 4 of them are younger than Hayward.  The Jazz focus is on development and by winning their share of games at home, they are maintaining a better environment and identity than rebuilding teams that just lose to anyone everywhere.

On the injury front, Derrick Favors has missed 2 consecutive games with a sore right hip, but he warmed up for his last game before being scratched.  He could be available to play on Monday.  Favors is averaging 13.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and steal per game.  In a bad fall on Friday, Jeremy Evans bruised his tailbone and elbow against the Warriors and didn’t play on Saturday.  Evans has averaged 7.1 points and 5.3 rebounds off the bench.

This is the middle of a 5 game Western Conference road trip for the 25-22 Raptors in which they defeated the Nuggets 100-90 on Friday and lost 106-103 to the Trail Blazers the next night.  DeMar DeRozan, fresh off learning he was an All-Star for the first time, scored 30 points and handed out 10 dimes in the second half of the game in Portland, a feat that hasn’t been accomplish by anyone else in the past decade.

Point guard Kyle Lowry has every right to feel snubbed by the All-Star selection process.  He has been one of the best point guards in the Eastern Conference this season.  Lowry has been all business all year, Burke should expect to be in for a long night.

The Raptors are much better than their record.  After a 6-12 start, Toronto traded Rudy Gay to Sacramento and has gone 19-10 since.  Their record against the Western Conference is 8-10 and that includes road wins over the Thunder and Dallas.

As long as Toronto respects their opponent, there is no reason they will not be leaving Salt Lake City with a win.  The Jazz aren’t expecting anyone to feel sorry for them.

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.


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Raptors Jonas Valanciunas: Beyond The Hype

“I am not athletic like they are,” Valanciunas said.  “I am not that athletic.  I have to use my other weapons – timing, reading the game.  The stuff under the basket when I am circling around trying to find an empty spot – that works, so I got to keep doing that.  That is something you have all your life, if you have that.”

DeRozan Stars But Raptors Fall Short in Portland

After a very quiet 6 points in the first half, DeRozan scored 30 points and collected 10 dimes in the second half as he set a career-high with 12 assists in the game.  DeRozan was the Raptors offense in the second half.  According to Elias, ‘DeRozan is the only player in the last 10 seasons with 30 points and 10 assists in a half.’

NBA Rookie Rising Stars Watch 01/30/2014

The NBA has lain out in no uncertain terms which rookies the league has been most impressed with by letting us know who has been invited to the Rising Stars Challenge during All-Star weekend.

The Rising Stars representatives are the early Rookie of the Year favorite Michael Carter-Williams of the 76ers, the Thunder’s Steven Adams, the Hawks’ Pero Antic (who has a right ankle stress fracture), the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Knicks’ Tim Hardaway, Jr., the Celtics’ Kelly Olynyk, the Nets’ Mason Plumlee, the Magic’s Victor Oladipo, and the Utah Jazz’s Trey Burke.

Conspicuous by their absence are the Pistons’ Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, drafted 8th and Ben McLemore of the Sacramento Kings, drafted 7th.  Anthony Bennett, the number one overall draft pick in 2013 by Cavaliers, has neither played enough minutes nor with an enough impact to deserve a spot.  Other top 10 draft picks from 2013 not represented – for a variety of reasons – include the Wizards’ Otto Porter Jr. (3rd), the Bobcats’ Cody Zeller (4th), the Suns’ Alex Len (5th), 76ers’ Nerlens Noel (6th) and the Trail Blazers C.J. McCollum (10th).  No one said drafting was easy or a sure thing.

There is plenty to argue about with some of the NBA’s selections to the Rising Stars Challenge.  The phrase, ‘what were they thinking?’ comes to mind – seriously, some of these guys don’t have much of a resume, but this rookie crop doesn’t seem to be as deep as in previous seasons.  It isn’t easy finding 10 rookies to put on a top 10 list.


1A. Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers
35 GP, 17.2 points, 40.1%, 5.6 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 2.4 steals, PER 17.2

PHI_Carter_Williams_MichaelCarter-Williams is still the consensus favorite for Rookie of the Year.  He has the best stats.  He has true leadership potential.  His team is just 1 win and 11 losses without him and he looks like future star.  However, the 76ers have only won 40 percent of the games he has played in, so while the bandwagon is getting pretty full, the rookie can’t carry a team by himself – yet.

Carter-Williams points, assists and steals are dropping in January and the 76ers have only won 6 of his 16 games played this month, so he is leaving the door open to his competitors and at least one of them can argue the intangibles are on his side.

1B. Trey Burke, Utah Jazz
33 GP, 13.3 points, 38.6%, 3.1 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 0.7 steals, PER 14.2

Utah Jazz Media DayAll Burke has done since he returned from injury is lead the young, floundering 1-11 Jazz to 15 wins in their last 33 games.  For a team that did everything possible to tank this season, they are doing it wrong with Burke at the helm.

Burke’s shooting and scoring has been slightly off in January, but his assist rate is up and he has led the Jazz to 6 wins in 11 tries.  Slightly better stats from Carter-Williams shouldn’t offset the intangible of leading your team to significantly more victories and Burke actually has the marginally better True Shooting percentage because he is much better at hitting the long ball.  These 2 point guards are playing under comparable circumstances and one of them is definitely enjoying more success at the moment.

3. Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic
47 GP, 13.9 points, 41.2%, 4.4 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.6 steals, PER 13.2

Orlando Magic Media DayOladipo continues to slowly improve as this season moves along and it is completely possible that he becomes the best rookie in his draft class – just not yet.  He has enjoyed a strong month in January so far, averaging 15.6 points, 4.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists.  His shooting continues to improve as well.

Unfortunately, the Magic have figured out how to tank effectively and have only won 2 games this month – a lot of those losses were pretty ugly too.  Oladipo is simply at risk of being overlooked.  Fortunately, this super-athletic combo guard should shine brightly in the Rising Stars Challenge and that would help keep him on everyone’s radar.

4.  Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
40 GP, 7.0 points, 44.3%, 4.7 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 0.8 blocks PER 11.6
Milwaukee Bucks Media Day
When your team is dead last in the NBA, your rookies should get to play and the Bucks problems have turned into opportunities for 19-year-old Antetokounmpo.

The young forward has started the last 21 games for the Bucks and averaged 7.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists and almost a steal and a block per game.  This kid looks good on the court.  Give him a few seasons to mature and learn the game and it really looks like the Bucks have found themselves something special.

5. Tim Hardaway Jr., New York Knicks
44 GP, 8.6 points, 45.9%, PER 14.8


The Pistons Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had a good month and is the better defender than the Knicks’ Hardaway, but Hardaway gets the nod by a nose for his 12.2 points, 52.5 percent from the field and 50 percent from deep over the past 5 games.

Just missing the cut:

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit Pistons

Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics

Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings

Might be making a move:

Pero Antic, Atlanta Hawks

Ryan Kelly, Los Angeles Lakers

There is still a long ways to go.  If you think we have over looked or overrated a rookie, let us know in the comments below.


Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.


NBA Rookie Watch 01/13/2014

Two weeks into the New Year and the NBA rookies to watch are still Michael Carter-Williams, Victor Oladipo and Trey Burke, however, there may be some competition looming on the horizon.  As the season shakes out and teams resign themselves to their respective fates, certain rookies are going to get their chance to shine while others will see their minutes cut.  The Knicks might apologize to Tim Hardaway Jr. as he has been playing well, but winning games has meant the rookie has lost 5 minutes from his playing time in January.  Other teams, like the Bucks, really have no reasons left to hold back their rookies any longer.

1. Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers
26 GP, 17.5 points, 41.4%, 5.8 rebounds, 7.0 assists, 2.7 steals, PER 18.5

PHI_Carter_Williams_MichaelThe play of Carter-Williams for Philadelphia this season should (almost?) be enough to make their fans forget this team traded their 2013 All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday away this past summer for another rookie who is yet to play.  The 12-25 76ers are 11-15 with Carter-Williams on the court and 1-10 without him.

Carter-Williams points, assists and steals have dropped a bit in January, but he still has a comfortable lead over his rookie rivals in most statistical categories.

2. Trey Burke, Utah Jazz
26 GP, 13.3 points, 38.8%, 3.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 0.8 steals, PER 14.6

Utah Jazz Media DayBurke didn’t play a game for the Jazz until November 20 because of an injured finger and didn’t start until his third game, but with him in the starting lineup, the 12-26 Jazz are 11-13 and that is pretty impressive.

The biggest knock on Burke has been his inconsistency, but he has scored in double-digits in 8 of his last 9 games and the Jazz are 5-4 over that stretch.  The 21-year-old still has work to do on his shooting, but the Jazz have been a much better team with him in the lineup.

3. Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic
37 GP, 13.2 points, 40.7%, 4.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.5 steals, PER 12.8

Orlando Magic Media DayOladipo remains the best player taken in the top 10 of the 2013 NBA draft and his scoring is up in January to 14.3 points per game for the month.

Unfortunately, the Magic hasn’t won a game since before New Year’s and winning has to count for something.

4.  Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
31 GP, 6.7 points, 45.3%, 4.7 rebounds, 0.7 steals, 0.8 blocks PER 12.8

Milwaukee Bucks Media DayThe Bucks problems have turned into opportunities for their rookies and 19-year-old Antetokounmpo from Greece has been taking full advantage.

The young forward has started the last 12 games for the Bucks and averaged 7.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.5 assists and almost a steal and a block per game.  It appears like the Bucks have something special in Antetokounmpo.

5. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit Pistons
36 GP, 7.3 points, 40%, 2.3 rebounds, 1.0 steals, PER 9.4

Detroit Pistons Media DayCaldwell-Pope has started 31 games for the Pistons this season and tends to be overshadowed by the team’s big free agent additions, plus Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.  However, on a roster that too often seems to have forgotten how to defend, Caldwell-Pope stands out with his effort, even if that effort isn’t always backed up by his teammates.

The rookie has also been improving each month at the offensive end and seems to have taken a huge leap in January.  This month he is averaging 10 points on 53.7 percent shooting, 3 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.6 steals.  His three-point shooting has also improved to 42.9 percent in January.  Caldwell-Pope has become a rookie to keep an eye on.

Just missing the cut:

Tim Hardaway, Jr., New York Knicks

Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings

Pero Antic, Atlanta Hawks

It’s a long season that is just getting underway.  If you think we have over looked or overrated a rookie, let us know in the comments below.

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Milwaukee Bucks Media Day

NBA Rookie Watch 12/30/2013

2013 is almost in the books and the NBA rookies to watch are still Michael Carter-Williams, Victor Oladipo and Trey Burke. Carter Williams came back from injury without missing a step to reclaim his spot on top of the leader board while his main competitors seem to have stalled in their progress. However, with over 50 games to go, there will be more surprises ahead and yet another rookie has cracked our top 5 in December.

1. Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers
19 GP, 17.8 points, 41.4%, 5.5 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 3.1 steals, PER 19.3

PHI_Carter_Williams_MichaelCarter-Williams missed 2 weeks in December with a skin infection on his knee, but the time off wasn’t apparent on his return as he immediately logged a pair of double-doubles in points and assists.

The 76ers lost 7 in a row in his absence and have split the 4 games since his return as Carter-Williams averaged 18.5 points, 4.3 rebounds, 8.3 assists and 3 steals. As long as he can stay healthy, the Rookie of the Year award is becoming his to lose.

2. Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic
30 GP, 13.1 points, 40.2%, 4.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 1.6 steals, PER 12.5

Orlando Magic Media DayOladipo continues to look like the best player taken in the top 10 of the 2013 NBA draft with only his inconsistency holding him back from making a claim on the top spot of the leader board.

Once again Oladipo has impressed over his last 2 games, averaging 15.5 points and 9.5 assists in a pair of Magic victories. He just needs to learn how to eliminate games like his 1-4 shooting performance against the Knicks before Christmas.

3. Trey Burke, Utah Jazz
21 GP, 13.4 points, 39.3%, 3.2 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 0.6 steals, PER 14.9

Utah Jazz Media DayBurke is settling into the starting point guard role with the Jazz and as the star rookie on a rebuilding team, the Jazz must be very pleased with their pick. The 21-year-old has found a solid level of consistency with only 2 bad games in his past 12 outings and he managed to put up a 30 point effort right in between those 2 rough nights.

In his 2 games after Christmas, Burke has averaged 13 points and 6.5 assists as the Jazz split games with the teams from Los Angeles. Utah is a much better team since Burke returned from injury and leading a team to wins counts in a rookie race.

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
25 GP, 7 points, 48.4%, 4.4 rebounds, 0.6 steals, 0.8 blocks PER 14.5

Milwaukee Bucks Media DayThe Bucks have been devastated by injuries, among other problems, but the Bucks issues have turned into opportunities for Antetokounmpo and the 19-year-old from Greece has been taking full advantage.

The young forward has started the last 6 games for the Bucks and averaged 10.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1 steal and 1.3 blocks in over 33 minutes per game. Antetokounmpo is generating hope in Milwaukee as reported by Steve von Horn of SB Nation Brew Hoop.

“The Bucks have something special in Giannis Antetokounmpo. The NBA’s youngest player is the brightest beacon of hope Milwaukee has seen in quite a long time.”

5. Tim Hardaway, Jr., New York Knicks
29 GP, 9.1 points, 46.2%, 1.3 rebounds, 0.5 steals, PER 15.4

NYK_Hardaway_Jr_TimHardaway is something of a one-dimensional player, but what he does, he does exceptionally well for a rookie. Forget to guard him or be a step slow on your rotations and this kid can shoot the cover off the basketball. Hardaway is averaging 42.2 percent on 3.5 three-point attempts per game.

As the Knicks season implodes around Head Coach Mike Woodson, Hardaway is getting more run and he is scoring. The young shooting guard has averaged 16 points per game in the Knicks 3 losses starting on Christmas Day. The only issue being, the longer Woodson leaves Hardaway on the court, the more defenses key in on him and the less effective he becomes.

Just missing the cut:

Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings

Hollis Thompson, Philadelphia 76ers

Cody Zeller, Charlotte Bobcats

It’s a long season that is just getting underway. If you think we have over looked or overrated a rookie, let us know in the comments below.

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

NBA Toronto Raptors Ben McLemore

NBA Rookie Watch 12/16/2013

Halfway into the month of December and changes are still possible in the race to become this season’s top rookie. The early favorite, Michael Carter-Williams, continues to miss games with a knee infection, Victor Oladipo continues to improve and Trey Burke just keeps getting better. Surprisingly, the Western Conference Rookie of the Month, Ben McLemore, now has 4 games in a row of going 1-for and is only shooting 30.3 percent from the field for the month of December. All told, that leaves lots of room for movement in our Rookie Watch List.

1. Trey Burke, Utah Jazz
14 GP, 13.1 points, 38.5%, 3.4 rebounds, 5 assists, 0.7 steals, PER 16

Utah Jazz Media DayThe Jazz had to wait 3 weeks for Burke’s surgically-repaired finger to heal enough so he could play, but the result has been dramatic on a team that was not expected to win many games. A team that started 1-11 without him has gone 5-9 since Burke was able to assume the point guard duties.

Burke has collected a double-double in points and rebounds against the Kings and in points and assists against the Nuggets in December and is averaging 14.5 points, 3.4 rebounds and 6.5 assists this month. He is also doing a good job of looking after the ball in December with just 1.3 turnovers per game.

Maybe Carter-Williams would be performing even better than this if he was playing, but since he’s not, Burke gets our top spot for the moment.

2. Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic
24 GP, 14 points, 42%, 4.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.8 steals, PER 13.3

Orlando Magic Media DayOladipo continues to improve as the Magic up his minutes and his responsibilities. He is playing over 36 minutes per game in December and averaging 15.6 points, 5.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists, plus he has lowered his turnovers from 4.1 per game in November to 3 per game over the first half of December.

The 21-year-old guard posted his first triple-double with 26 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists earlier this month against the 76ers and he racked up his second 26 point game against Cleveland on Friday. Oladipo has been getting to the free throw line an impressive 5.9 times per game this month.

3. Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers
15 GP, 17.7 points, 40.8%, 5.4 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 3.1 steals, PER 19

Carter-WiPHI_Carter_Williams_Michaellliams hasn’t played since December 3rd, but in his only 2 games this month, he teased us averaging 21 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists and 4.5 steals. The only knock on those performances were the 11 total turnovers. Like Oladipo, turnovers have been an issue for Carter-Williams this season. He has averaged 3.7 per game.

Carter-Williams missed 4 games in November with a foot injury and now has missed 6 games and counting with a knee infection in December. Carter-Williams can quickly leap back to the top of our Rookie Watch if he can perform at the same level as he did at the start of December, however, the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for November will have to actually play in games at some point to stay on the list.

4. Tim Hardaway, Jr., New York Knicks
22 GP, 7.9 points, 46%, 1.1 rebounds, 0.5 steals, PER 16.1

NYK_Hardaway_Jr_TimHardaway started out shooting well for a rookie in limited minutes with New York in November, but as various Knicks struggled, Hardaway got his chance and he has been enjoying a breakout month in December. Over the past 8 games, Hardaway has been playing over 20 minutes per game and averaging 10.6 points on 50.8 percent shooting from the field and 48.5 percent of his 4.1 three-point attempts per game.

Hardaway has been the subject of trade rumors, but it isn’t hard to see why the Knicks are reluctant to part with their rookie in order to solve their point guard issues.

5. Hollis Thompson, Philadelphia 76ers
23 GP, 6.0 points, 48.6%, 3.6 rebounds, 0.5 steals, PER 11.2

Philadelphia 76ers Media DayThompson started seeing some decent minutes towards the end of November, but in December, his minutes have more than doubled from 14.9 in November to 30.8 per game this month and his production has followed.

Thompson has averaged 9 points on 51.9 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three-point range, 5.4 rebounds and 0.8 steals in 8 games this month.

Just missing the cut:

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit Pistons

Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings

Mason Plumlee, Brooklyn Nets

Nate Wolters, Milwaukee Bucks

Steve Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder

Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics

It’s a long season that is just getting underway. If you think we have over looked or overrated a rookie, let us know in the comments below.

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.