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Coach's Corner: Beware Of The Wolves, To Foul Or Not To Foul

Beware of the Wolves

In the aftermath of the Kevin Love trade, the Minnesota Timberwolves were expected to occupy the bottom of the Western Conference standings. Their insistence that Thad Young be included in the booty for Love was just seen as a concession to a team denying their place in the league’s hierarchy. Through three games, the Wolves are living up (down?) to expectations at just 1-2 with their lone win being against the lowly Pistons.

But a deeper look at Minnesota in the early going would uncover a team that lost by just five total points to two teams -- Chicago and Memphis -- that are a combined 5-1 and expected to headline their respective conferences. Those results seem to be an indicator that this Wolves team is going to be a lot friskier than you’d expect. The driving force seems to be Young, whose presence as at the 4 and improvement as a 3-point shooter (50 percent so far) has rounded out a deep Minnesota rotation.

The Wolves' preferred starting lineup of Ricky Rubio, Kevin Martin, Andrew Wiggins, Young and Nikola Pekovic has the balance in terms of skills sets and talent to hang with most in the league. Then a bench unit of Mo Williams, Corey Brewer, Shabazz Muhammad, an improved Anthony Bennett and last year’s rookie sensation Gorgui Dieng fill out a legit 10-man rotation that would be the envy of a lot of coaches around the league. The Wolves possess the versatility to play a lot of different ways -- from small with Williams, Rubio, Young and Dieng to big and long with Brewer, Wiggins, Dieng and Pekovic -- and ride the hot hand of any number of players with the potential to carry Minnesota offensively for stretches.

This roster is one of the few in the league that can be adjusted on a game-to-game basis to counter whatever the opposition throws at them. The key question will be if Flip Saunders can manage this difficult talent effectively and supplement it with proper play calling. The danger to playing without a concrete sense of self, however, is that constant shape-shifting on the Wolves part could create a disconnect with what the Wolves do best. It’s a fine line their head coach must walk. No matter what, Saunders must avoid getting too stuck on concepts -- like repeatedly posting up Wiggins seemingly on the basis that he’s the No. 1 overall pick -- that aren’t in the team’s best interests. But make no mistake, this Wolves team seems like it’s going to give opponents all they can handle on a nightly basis.

To Foul or Not To Foul

With just over seven seconds on the clock, the Milwaukee Bucks' Khris Middleton lined up his second free throw as his team clung to a two point lead in their opener against Charlotte last Wednesday. The Hornets were out of timeouts so if Middelton -- a career 84.7 percent free throw shooter -- increased the lead to three, Charlotte would have to advance the ball the length of the court in their attempt to tie the game. That left Milwaukee’s head coach Jason Kidd was faced with one of the toughest in-game decisions a coach has to make: foul and take precious seconds off the clock with a round of free throws for both teams or defend an hope to seal the victory. Kidd chose the latter and this was the result.

After the game, Kidd was asked about the decision (courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel):

"It was a thought," Kidd said of fouling and sending someone to the line for two free throws. "But we thought we would play it out. We were switching everything. Again, you tip your hat. Kemba made a tough shot."

When it comes to fouling when up three points late in games, there’s still no overwhelming consensus so it’s not as if there was a clear-cut choice that Kidd steered away from. Each instance of a team up three has a unique set of factors that play into it. Sorting through them in each situation is what can make or break a game. When considering the facts in this case, however, it seems as though fouling might have better option, primarily because of the combination of time left on the clock and the way Charlotte had to create a game-tying shot.

If Charlotte had timeouts left and were able to advance the ball past halfcourt, fouling becomes a lot more difficult to execute. Because the ball can immediately be thrown into an operating area, it’s easy for a savvy player to catch and immediately look to go into a shooting motion knowing a team is going to foul and earn three free throws. There’s also a chance of a flukey “And 1” scenario where a botched foul attempt on a player driving to the basket inadvertently turns into a three point play.

In an open court situation, there’s a far greater chance of a crucial defensive mistake occurring due to the frenetic nature of the play than a defender not finding a good opportunity to foul the ballhandler. Charlotte didn’t do anything that complicated -- they just ran a simple drag screen with Al Jefferson and Walker -- but Kidd was still asking his young team to pick up full court and switch everything out on the fly. With a smart veteran team like he had in Brooklyn last year, this might have been a fine decision. But the Bucks are a combination of NBA neophytes and young veterans like Sanders who are not known for possessing outstanding basketball intelligence. In other words, Kidd would have been better served controlling the situation with free throws and letting the time drop to a point where Charlotte was left with just a desperation heave from beyond halfcourt. Again, the fact the Hornets had no timeouts to advance the ball and set up a play is a big reason why fouling might have been the better option.

For the Bucks, losing a game like this isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things. They’re young (and bad) so another year in the lottery is in their best interest. But for Kidd, this is a situation he must reflect back on and grow from as a coach. He has been entrusted by Milwaukee’s new ownership group to lead this young group to contention over the next few seasons and is still has a lot to prove as a coach. One day, a situation like this will crop up in a game that matters, the hope is that by then Kidd has used this experience to put his team in a better position to win.

Russell Westbrook Unleashed

The Oklahoma City Thunder ran out of steam in the fourth quarter, but the first game of the Russell Westbrook experience was everything people hoped it would be. Without Kevin Durant, Westbrook got the chance to dominate the ball the entire game and he did not disappoint, with 38 points, 6 assists, 3 steals and 3 rebounds on 11-26 shooting. One of the most explosive guards in the NBA has been unleashed - there is no one to steal shots from on this team.

Westbrook has been one of the most polarizing players in the league for years, the embodiment of the debate about the importance of having a “true PG” on a contending team. A combo guard in college, he still has the instincts of a scorer, although he has slowly turned himself into more of a floor general. When he is at his best, though, he looks a lot like what he did on Opening Night against the Portland Trail Blazers - putting his head down and hunting for his own shot.

At 6’3 190 with a 6’7 wingspan, he is one of the biggest and most athletic PG’s in the NBA. His combination of size and speed means it is impossible for defenders to stay in front of him and he has a lethal pull-up jumper when they play off him. Like his former backcourt partner James Harden, Westbrook is also an expert on drawing contact around the rim. He has averaged over 6 FTA’s a game in his career and he went 15-16 from the charity stripe against Portland. 

Westbrook dominated his individual match-up against Damian Lillard, who had only 10 points on 3-10 shooting on Wednesday. Lillard had absolutely no chance of guarding him - Westbrook took him down to the post, he blew right by him and got to the rim and he rained in jumpers from the perimeter. While Lillard isn’t exactly known for his individual defense, he didn’t have a prayer against Westbrook, who could do whatever he wanted against him.

His play on the other side of the floor was just as impressive, as he stymied Lillard and prevented him from getting into the lane. Westbrook doesn’t have a rep of a great defensive player, but tell it to the guys he goes up against. On a recent AMA chat on Reddit, Ty Lawson called him the toughest player he faces in the NBA. The numbers back it up, as Westbrook has a history of holding guys like Lillard, Lawson and Chris Paul below their season averages.

The problem for Westbrook is that he isn’t totally locked in on defense, particularly off the ball. Like most elite athletes who can turn it on at any time, he has a tendency to cut corners on that side of the floor over the course of an 82-game regular season. He’s a fairly unrefined player, which isn’t all that surprising for a guy whose only 25 years old. Maybe the scariest thing about Westbrook is how much room he still has to grow as he moves deeper into his 20’s.

Like the rest of the Thunder, Westbrook has been around for so long that people forget how young he is. He is in his 7th season in the NBA and Lillard is in his 3rd, yet he’s only a year and a half older. Westbrook has been playing at an elite level for a really long time - he was competing in the Western Conference Finals at 22. As a result, he has had to grow up under the national eye, with everything he does on and off the court micro-analyzed to death.

No one has any patience anymore, particularly for younger players. They are supposed to be basketball playing robots as soon as they come into the league - we have all this data that tells us why they don’t play like 10-year NBA veterans, which can skew our perception of what they can be. Everyone wants to put them in a box and judge them on their statistics, rather than looking at the big picture and accepting that they will make mistakes as they figure things out.

Westbrook is the prime example of that, as there were people ready to give up on him 3-4 years ago because of his tendency to dominate the ball and freeze out his teammates. Nevermind that Kevin Durant has led the league in scoring in four of the last five seasons, so he clearly isn’t hurting for touches in Oklahoma City. It’s a tough line to walk for a scoring PG, especially for a guy with the talent to be a primary option for the vast majority of teams in the NBA.

And for all the stats that Westbrook has racked up with the Thunder, he has hardly been playing in advantageous situations on offense. Teams straight up didn’t have to guard Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins, sending multiple defenders at Westbrook and Durant with complete impunity. OKC ran a really stagnant offense and they didn’t spread the floor, so Westbrook had to bail out a lot of possessions going 1-on-3 at the end of the clock.

That’s what could be the most interesting angle of this next two months for Westbrook - not just playing without Durant, but without Perkins and Sefolosha too. If the Thunder have Steven Adams and Reggie Jackson in their spots, Westbrook will have a lot more room to operate in the halfcourt. He’s not a guy the defense wants to guard in space - imagine the type of numbers he could put up if he was playing in Jeff Hornacek’s system in Phoenix.

Westbrook is going to mount a full-fledged assault on the rest of the league and there’s no player more fun to watch in that scenario. He’s a guy you want to see live to appreciate just how fast he is - he has 2-3 more gears than most NBA players and he’s the rare 6’4 guard who can play at 11+ feet in the air with absolute ease. The Thunder might struggle on the road without Durant, but Westbrook unleashed in front of their home crowd should be something.

Durant took his game to a whole different level when Westbrook was out last season and now it’s time for Westbrook to return the favor. This experience should help him grow a lot as a player, as he will no longer have Durant around to bail him out of bad possessions. Everyone on the floor is going to depend on Westbrook to spoon feed them open shots, so he almost has no choice but to play under control as much as possible. It’s all part of the maturation process.

The knocks on Westbrook are all the stuff you would expect from an elite athlete in his early 20’s. He has always been able to get by on his athleticism, so he never had to develop the mental side of the game. As he matures on and off the court and develops the ability to think the game at a high level, he is going to be a serious problem. The intersection of the mental and physical elevators is when an athlete is at his peak and that’s still years in his future.

These next few weeks are going to be a learning experience for Westbrook. Portland was able to slow him down in the second half because they switched the 6’8 Nic Batum onto him. That’s something he hasn’t seen very often in his NBA career, since Durant commands so much defensive attention. When you tower over everyone who guards you, you can get away with taking a lot of circus shots and forcing the action, even when the defense sends help.

What makes Oklahoma City so dangerous in a seven-game series is there isn’t a team in the league who can guard Durant AND Westbrook. They are two of the five best players in the NBA and either one of them can take over a game at anytime. Everyone wants to talk about where Durant will go in free agency in 2016, but where is he going to go to find a better sidekick than Westbrook? As those two continue to improve, the Thunder only get scarier.

2014-15 NBA Season Tiers Preview

As has been the case in previous seasons, I open with my tiered power rankings. Please remember that these are based solely on projected regular season success. The concept is that teams could finish in any order within a tier bur I would be surprised if they finished outside of that tier, excluding major personnel changes. The order represents my estimation of the most likely finish within a tier though that can be splitting hairs in some cases.

Western Conference 

Tier One – Higher Ground

Los Angeles Clippers: Despite carrying some notable flaws that could doom them in the playoffs, the Clippers have a clear window to take the No. 1 seed. They fixed their largest weakness by adding quality big man depth in Spencer Hawes and Ekpe Udoh and hopefully should have better luck in terms of guard health.

San Antonio Spurs: If Gregg Popovich wanted to run away with the No. 1 seed in the West it likely will be there for the taking. However, history has shown the Spurs care more about wins in the playoffs than the regular season so they take a place firmly in the top tier but not all the way at the top using this methodology. They are still the toughest out in the playoffs as long as Tim Duncan and Tony Parker play as well as they did last season.

That paragraph lifted straight from last season’s preview- another illustration of why the Spurs are the best-run sports franchise on the planet.

Tier Two – Uptight (Everything’s Alright)

Oklahoma City Thunder: Kevin Durant’s injury moves the Thunder from Tier One to Tier Two because even keeping their heads above water will not be enough to catch the Spurs and Clippers. This feels like the year that continually cheapening out on depth by regularly avoiding the luxury tax burns OKC. I actually think this Thunder team as presently constructed and coached stands a better chance of getting knocked out in the first round than making the conference finals despite being a huge fan of Steven Adams.

Golden State Warriors: At full strength, Golden State is the most dangerous Western Conference team for the Spurs in a seven game series with quality defenders to spare and a legitimate superstar in Stephen Curry. The Warriors just have to be healthy for the playoffs and a lack of depth behind Curry and Andrew Bogut means an injury to either jeopardizes their chances of even making the postseason.

Houston Rockets: Their starting five might actually be better this season since Trevor Ariza makes more sense with the  Harden / Howard core than Chandler Parsons. That said, sacrificing their depth by moving Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin dramatically increases the variance on their season as does the retention of Kevin McHale as head coach. The Rockets always seem to have someone new step up and my call for 2014-15 is rookie Clint Capela who produced well against high-level talent in Europe and could thrive in a small role this season.

Memphis Grizzlies: Memphis was one of the best teams in the entire league when healthy last season and added some compelling depth through the draft in the form of Jordan Adams and Jarnell Stokes. If either works out or Vince Carter can carry the Mike Miller torch for shocking durability the Grizzlies could be yet another squad no one wants to face in the playoffs.

Phoenix Suns: Last year’s biggest surprise has plenty of backslide risk but also improved their depth by stealing Isaiah Thomas and drafting possible contributor TJ Warren in the lottery. Losing Channing Frye hurts the driving lanes for Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe but the young team should improve enough to do even better than last season.

Dallas Mavericks: If we could turn injuries off for a season, Dallas would be both one of my favorite teams to watch and a shocking favorite to make some real noise in a stacked conference. Unfortunately, the Mavericks have no real recourse if any one of Dirk Nowitzki, Chandler Parsons or Tyson Chandler misses any real time. I always give Rick Carlisle teams a boost after ranking them on pure talent which puts them more firmly in the playoff picture.

Portland Trail Blazers: Portland’s starters only missed 13 games last season. COMBINED. While some teams could handle a regression to the mean in terms of injuries, the Blazers are so top-heavy that losing any member of their core would be devastating. They are another great team that has to pray they stay healthier than their competitors because they are in the post-season if that happens.

New Orleans Pelicans: Stop me if you have heard this before: a top-heavy team that needs their best players to stay healthy to make the playoffs. Anthony Davis sits on the cusp of superstardom and finally has a logical running mate in Omer Asik. The Pelicans will need a strong, full season from the underrated Jrue Holiday and likely one or two breakouts from their shaky bench to fight their way into the top eight.

Denver Nuggets: This Denver team works so well in this format because I could honestly buy them finishing anywhere from third to 11th in the West. They are the only team other than the Spurs in the entire NBA to have two good players at every position and their home-court advantage could give the Nuggets enough of a buffer to make the playoffs a reality. Kenneth Faried got the attention and money this summer but Ty Lawson will play the most important role on this year’s team.

Tier Three – Pastime Paradise (or I Wish)

Minnesota Timberwolves: Fittingly, the dual coach/president Flip Saunders has created two different teams in one franchise: a surprisingly competitive batch of veterans including Nikola Pekovic and Kevin Martin alongside a full batch of pups including No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins and the enigmatic Zach LaVine. That dichotomy could push Minnesota to the top of the bottom by logging enough wins before the kids take the reins once their playoff dreams turn back into a pumpkin.

Sacramento Kings: Pick protection is the biggest scourge on competitiveness in today’s NBA. The Kings owe a pick to the Bulls that carries top-10 protection or each of the next three seasons so they have a clear incentive to pump the brakes if they fall out of the playoff hunt. I fully expect pragmatism to win out for at least one more year so the team can add another Shooting Guard in the lottery. After all, what other reason could there be for replacing Isaiah Thomas with Darren Collison?

Utah Jazz: The Jazz will get substantially more minutes this season from compelling talent than the last few seasons. Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert make Utah a rare team that should expect 48 minutes of reliable rim protection while Gordon Hayward can shoulder less of the offensive load thanks to an improved perimeter rotation. Hopefully Quin Snyder can figure out if Enes Kanter works with their main pieces before he hits restricted free agency next summer.

Los Angeles Lakers: Even before the depressing news about Steve Nash’s injury it was hard to figure out how the Lakers would beat teams even with their full complement of players. The Lake Show has no discernible defensive ability outside of Ed Davis and a coach that apparently wants to take out the high-variance strategy (lots and lots of threes) that could lead to the Lakers snaking a few games. A lost season yields a top-five pick in an interesting 2015 Draft.

Eastern Conference

Tier One – Signed, Sealed, Delivered (or Overjoyed or Love’s in Need of Love Today)

Cleveland Cavaliers: Cleveland’s offseason has to be considered one of the best in league history. They added two of the ten best players in the league (arguably two of the top five) and gave up very little in terms of contributors to last season’s team. Kyrie Irving went from being the savior to his team’s third-best player and both he and Kevin Love should thrive offensively like LeBron’s teammates in Miami. I expect the Cavs to finish in the top five of offensive efficiency in league history at least one of the next two seasons with or without Ray Allen. 

Tier Two – On the Sunny Side of the Street

Chicago Bulls: The Bulls got better by adding Pau Gasol and Doug McDermott but failed to improve their biggest weakness by failing to bring in anyone of substance at guard. Chicago has staked their entire season to Derrick Rose staying healthy and will be vulnerable even in the minutes he sits when healthy because neither Kirk Hinrich nor Aaron Brooks can competently fill the role. This Bulls team should be very fun to watch though and will go a long way towards showing Tom Thibodeau’s capability as an offensive coach.

Toronto Raptors: After a storybook regular season, Masai Ujiri brought the band back together by keeping Kyle Lowry in T-Dot. The Raptors are young enough to ride age-centric improvement to stay above the hard-charging young teams in the East and absolutely could make Chicago have to sweat to earn the second seed. Yet again, the development of Jonas Valanciunas will determine the ceiling for the Raptors even as the rest of the team improves. 

Tier Three – Positivity

Washington Wizards: A short-term loss of Bradley Beal comes at exactly the wrong position because Washington has done a nice job augmenting their depth behind Wall, Gortat and Nene. Having a full season with Paul Pierce and Andre Miller could give the youngsters (especially Wall) the knowledge to overcome some of Randy Wittman’s subpar coaching.

Atlanta Hawks: The Hawks were a very good team last season when they had both Al Horford and Paul Millsap active. Improved depth from Thabo Sefolosha, Adreian Payne and Mike Muscala should make them more dangerous at full strength and better equipped to handle the injuries that come almost every season.

Detroit Pistons: Other than the Cavs, I would argue that Detroit made the biggest upgrade of any team by adding one of the best coaches in the league. Stan Van Gundy will be able to iron out the flaws on this roster while possessing the power to shed any pieces that do not make sense with Andre Drummond and whoever else SVG sees as a core player. I hope we get to see the first flashes from Spencer Dinwiddie, a special talent who fell in the draft due to injury.

Charlotte Hornets: After a shockingly successful season, the Hornets and Steve Clifford corrected their biggest weakness by bringing in Lance Stephenson. Born Ready fits in well because he can function as a secondary ballhandler and defensive force at a position where Charlotte got very little last year. Losing Josh McRoberts hurts but the combination of Cody Zeller,  Marvin Williams and Noah Vonleh will do enough to make the Hornets a better team overall with Lance.

Miami Heat: Swapping LeBron James for Luol Deng may not seem like a gigantic drop-off but the problems stem from how integral King James was to Miami’s scheme on both ends. He drew the best defender on every opponent and ran the offense so the Heat could use a different kind of point guard. Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade deserve all of their career accolades but losing their buffer makes  Miami an easier cover and far more damaged by any injuries they suffer.

Brooklyn Nets: Basketball people have been talking about the importance of Brook Lopez’s health but Andrei Kirilenko will need to stay on the court too for the Nets to have a realistic shot at the playoffs. Even though I like Bojan Bogdanovic, he cannot fill Paul Pierce’s shoes so those responsibilities will need to fall to the established players on the squad. Lionel Hollins will make his imprint on this team but I am not sure how much of an intensity upgrade a team with Kevin Garnett really needs. On the plus side, Hollins’ experience with Mike Conley and Marc Gasol means we should have a much better idea of where Deron Williams and Brook Lopez are in their careers in April. 

Tier Four – Ordinary Pain

New York Knicks: A team has a problem when their five best players all play the three smallest positions on the floor. Jose Calderon has been an underrated player in the league for years but the Knicks losing Tyson Chandler without replacing him means their rim protection will be functionally nil for a substantial portion of games. We saw with last year’s Pelicans that even Anthony Davis could not carry a defense with shaky perimeter defenders and no anchor.  Carmelo should have another strong season but the Knicks’ roster does not make sense and they do not possess the resources to make their improvement in-season.

Indiana Pacers: Like the Spurs years ago, Indiana would be best served by punting this season to add a key piece through the draft. Losing Lance without replacing him kneecapped this season to begin with so even if Paul George returns before the end of the 2014-15 campaign there would not be much to gain in terms of playoff wins. I honestly do not know if Frank Vogel and Larry Bird are comfortable taking the full steps that would yield the best result from this season but even trying should produce plenty of losses with a horrendous offense in a stronger Eastern Conference.

Milwaukee Bucks: As crazy as it sounds, Milwaukee could make the playoffs as soon as this season. Larry Sanders needs to prove that last season was the aberration and the Jabari / Giannis forward combination should work on both ends eventually though this season should have some growing pains. The Bucks will not reach that ceiling because their guard rotation still needs a ton of work- Brandon Knight will have all kinds of problems running an offense but at least Jason Kidd should know what to do in terms of Knight’s extension after this season.

Orlando Magic: The Magic made a series of strange decisions this summer from dumping Arron Afflalo for Evan Fournier too early in the off-season to adding Channing Frye and Ben Gordon to an extremely young core. If Elfrid Payton can elevate the Magic offense early in his career, the team stands a much better chance of knowing what they have in a horde of physically gifted players on rookie contracts, many of whom hit free agency shockingly soon.

Boston Celtics: Another team that likely spends this season working towards future success. After paying Avery Bradley this summer, Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens must figure out the optimal roles for Jared Sullinger, Marcus Smart, James Young, Phil Pressey and Kelly Olynyk before they make big decisions with Rajon Rondo and next summer’s draft picks. If two or more of those guys break out it makes the rebuilding process substantially easier by narrowing the needs. 

Tier Five – Ain’t That Asking For Trouble (or All Day Sucker)

Philadelphia 76ers: Even with the addition of Rookie of the Year candidate Nerlens Noel, the Sixers start this season with less available talent than last season because it took them months to trade away Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner. It should only take one more year for Philly to have their war chest and they should have a bright near future but the present looks awfully grim. 

Award Predictions

Most Valuable Player: LeBron James (with Chris Paul in second)

Coach of the Year: Doc Rivers

Rookie of the Year:  Jabari Parker

Defensive Player of the Year: DeAndre Jordan

Sixth Man of the Year: Jamal Crawford

Most Improved Player: Jonas Valanciunas

Executive of the Year: David Griffin  

Playoff Predictions

Western Conference

First Round:
Clippers over Mavericks in six
Spurs over Suns in five
Thunder over Grizzlies in seven
Warriors over Rockets in seven

Second Round:
Clippers over Warriors in seven
Spurs over Thunder in six

Western Conference Finals:
Spurs over Clippers in five

Eastern Conference

First Round:
Cavs over Heat in five
Bulls over Hornets in five
Raptors over Pistons in six
Wizards over Hawks in seven

Second Round:
Cavs over Wizards in five
Bulls over Raptors in six

Eastern Conference Finals:
Cavs over Bulls in five

NBA Finals: Spurs over Cavs in seven
Finals MVP: Tim Duncan

Leroux's 2014 NBA Offseason Review

The Cavs, 76ers, Spurs, Nuggets, Hornets and Suns were amongst teams to have a great offseason, while the Thunder, Magic, Kings, Lakers, Pacers and Knicks had bad ones.

Internal Improvement Candidates: Southeast Division

Tobias Harris, Norris Cole, Cody Zeller, Otto Porter and Dennis Schroeder are five players in the Southeast Division that could offer their teams a boost by taking the next step in their development.

How Lance Stephenson Left Behind Pacers For Hornets

Before Lance Stephenson attended the Hornets' meeting and was handed team material on that July night in Las Vegas, pleas were made to find salary space and a shorter-term deal with the Pacers.

Internal Improvement Candidates: Central Division

Andre Drummond, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Dion Waiters, Tony Snell and Solomon Hill are young players of the Central Division that can offer their teams improvement from within.

Projections, The Year After A Breakout Season, And The Importance Of Scouting

The dilemma we often face when projecting players is what to make of players with a huge improvement in performance and also when you learn things by watching games that will dispute the numbers.

Why Anthony Davis Will Be The NBA's Golden Ticket

Only one NBA team has the true golden ticket: a young elite player that they can say with certainty will be there throughout the tumultuous time of an increasing salary cap.

Raptors Look To Build Upon Top-10 Efficiency On Both Sides Of Floor

Retaining the core of a 48-win team and solidifying the bench were the themes of the Raptors' offseason. A committed defense, offensive familiarity, and strong depth have Toronto set up for another successful regular season.

Breaking Down Protection Of 2015 NBA Draft Traded Picks

While the concept of tanking gets plenty of ink, the NBA has a more specific problem in that vicinity due to the rules concerning pick protection. We detail the potential issues that could rear their head this season, ranked in order of overall impact.

How Nikola Mirotic Rose From Soccer Destiny, To European Phenom, To The NBA

Nikola Miroticís grandfather pushed him away from a soccer path and onto basketball courts in grade school, pushed him to Real Madrid and he's now in the NBA. He discusses his basketball journey with RealGM.

Internal Improvement Candidates: Pacific Division

Wesley Johnson, Ben McLemore, Draymond Green, Alex Len and Reggie Bullock are young players that can offer their teams improvement from within.

14-15 Euroleague Power Rankings: Centers

Gustavo Ayon, Ante Tomic, Tibor Pleiss, Ioannis Bourousis and Bryant Dunston headline the list of top centers in Euroleague this season.

College Basketball Preview 14-15: Big Ten

Wisconsin was dominant on a per-possession basis last year, they went to the Final Four, and they bring nearly everyone back, which will make challenging for the Big Ten very difficult for everyone else.

Boston's Rebuild After 16 Months: Time For Patience And Optimism

Since Danny Ainge made his 180 in May 2013 by cashing in on Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Doc Rivers, he has done a remarkable job of implementing a serious rebuild and putting the Celtics in a position to succeed.

Rondo Injury Leads To Experiment At Point Guard

Regardless of whether Rajon Rondo is out for two weeks or more than a month, Brad Stevens will be forced to improvise. That means more ball-handling duties for two newcomers -- Marcus Smart and Evan Turner.

College Basketball Preview 14-15: The Rest

In this piece, we preview the Ivy, Big West, MAC, Horizon, MAAC, Conference-USA, Patriot, Summit, CAA, Ohio Valley, Sun Belt, Big South, WAC, Big Sky, America East, Atlantic Sun, Southern, NEC, Southland, MEAC and SWAC.

Warriors Enter 14-15 With New Coach Yet Same Problem With David Lee

While Mark Jackson had a lot of success, he was far from a perfect coach, so thereís nothing wrong with replacing him with Steve Kerr. But if David Lee ends up having more job security than Jackson, the Warriors have been wasting their time. For as much press as coaches get in the modern NBA, basketball is still more about Jimmies and Joes than Xís and Oís.

College Basketball Preview 14-15: Big 12 Conference

Despite an uncertain point guard situation, Kansas remains the clear favorite in the Big 12 with Texas and Iowa State a clear step behind.

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