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2021-22 Atlantic Division Preview – Basketball Insiders

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In the second installment of Basketball Insiders’ divisional preview series, let’s take a look at the Atlantic Division’s hierarchy. Can the Brooklyn Nets deliver on their stacked roster and deliver a championship to Brooklyn? How will the Ben Simmons saga end? Let’s jump in.

1. Brooklyn Nets

Not to be complacent, the Nets gutted their bench this offseason in a series of moves that set them up to be even more competitive than last year. Firstly, the big man rotation is set to be miles better than it was last year when DeAndre Jordan was seeing big minutes. LaMarcus Aldridge is a question mark given his health but he looked like a strong piece in the few games he played with Brooklyn after his buyout last season. Between him and Millsap, the Nets have two competent and skilled veterans that can score at the four.

The team also brought James Johnson on board in one of the more underrated signings of the offseason. Johnson isn’t going to fill the stat sheet but has the experience of guarding positions one through five and he even played a bit of small-ball center in Miami. It seems like that versatility is something that Brooklyn favored with some of its signings around the edges. DeAndre’ Bembry was one of Zach Lowe’s Luke Walton All-Stars last season; he’s a hard-nosed defender that has a real chance to stick.

Brooklyn also nailed the draft, nabbing five players to develop and bring up as role players though two, Marcus Zegarowski and RaiQuan Gray, remain unsigned. Cam Thomas is an outright bucket. Brooklyn is the perfect landing spot for him because he can be a vacuum scorer when the big three of Kevin Durant, James Harden and/or Kyrie Irving has to sit out, which they will. Meanwhile, Day’Ron Sharpe and Kessler Edwards have extremely high ceilings, with Edwards, in particular, being a steal on a two-way deal.

Adding Patty Mills to this haul is just the cherry on top. Last season with the Spurs, Mills averaged 10.8 points while connecting at a 37.5 percent clip on 6.3 attempts per game. In those 68 games, Mills started just one, and he’ll be accepting a similar sixth man role with this contending juggernaut.

If that wasn’t enough, Brooklyn also retained Blake Griffin and Bruce Brown Jr., two of its most important role players from last season. Last season, per 36, Griffin averaged 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2 stocks per game while shooting 49.2 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from deep. And we all know how important the positionless Brown was to the team’s run.

Despite the strong offseason and on-paper dominance, there are still some questions surrounding the team. Can the big three stay healthy? No one can say that for sure and it certainly doomed the team’s chances of a title last year. Also, Kyrie Irving is going to be kept away from the team until he’s either vaccinated or the state’s mandates change. However, the Nets are so deep and so skilled, featuring two of the top 10 players in the league, it won’t be enough to slow this train down.

Tristan’s prediction: 58-24, No. 1-No. 2 seed range

2. Boston Celtics

The Boston Celtics have a chance to be significantly improved this season by simply having luck with the health of their roster. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum missing huge chunks of last season sunk the team’s chances of getting back to the Eastern Conference Finals and the team could never get it together.

One of the best additions this team made was trading Kemba Walker for old friend Al Horford, who rejoins the team for his second stint. Horford won’t be nearly as dominant as he was in his first go-round with the team but he adds a nice complementary stretch big that can teach plenty to Robert Williams III, who will try to build on his breakout season.

Adding Josh Richardson was also nice, and he should have the benefit of playing with the ball in his hands more with the Celtics instead of being forced into off-ball roles like in Dallas or Philadelphia. Boston also managed to add Juancho Hernangomez and Dennis Schroder for basically nothing and, though he had to take a pay cut, Schroder is a far better fit for Boston than Walker ever was.

There’s a lot to like about this Celtics squad. With good health and the continued growth of Tatum, Brown and Williams, as well as a potential breakout of one of the team’s younger players like Aaron Nesmith, Romeo Langford or Payton Pritchard, and there’s no reason this team can’t compete for a top-four seed in the east.

Tristan’s prediction: 49-33, No. 3-No. 6 seed range

3. Philadelphia 76ers

There’s no doubt that, on paper, the Philadelphia 76ers are a more talented basketball team than the Boston Celtics. That being said, there is a massive aura of uncertainty facing this team heading into the season thanks to the question mark surrounding Ben Simmons. With Simmons’ trade demand, the package that Philadelphia can get in return is anybody’s guess. As of now, this placement in the power rankings assumes that Simmons isn’t traded and instead holds out, disrupting chemistry.

Of course, if Simmons is traded to a team like the Minnesota Timberwolves or the Sacramento Kings, the Sixers would leapfrog the Celtics in these rankings. D’Angelo Russell makes the Sixers extremely dangerous, but if he isn’t included, Malik Beasley wouldn’t be a terrible consolation prize. Similarly, getting one or both of Marvin Bagley II or Buddy Hield from the Kings would make this team scary.

As of now, let’s focus on what’s here. Most importantly, Philadelphia retained one of its more underrated players from last season in Danny Green and it seems as though Furkan Korkmaz will play a bigger role for the team. The team added Andre Drummond and Georges Niang in free agency, potentially downgrading at the backup center position from Dwight Howard but improving its bench depth by adding Niang, an underrated and versatile forward.

Philly had a successful draft, adding Jaden Springer, who many thought could go much earlier in the first round, and nabbing Charles Bassey in the second. Aaron Henry was also a nice find as an undrafted free agent and, pending the severity of his recent injury, Grant Riller is a bucket that can play right away.

Where Philadelphia is going to see the bulk of its improvement is through the younger players on its roster. Tyrese Maxey showed star potential in his first season and will take the reins of the point guard position while Simmons holds out. Last season, Maxey posted season-highs of 39 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds, showing that when given the chance, he could erupt on a dime.

Matisse Thybulle is another player that will earn significantly more minutes and, as a result, should take off. Thybulle is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, no questions asked. It’ll also be curious to see what the Sixers do with Isaiah Joe and Paul Reed and if either can earn playing time after their impressive rookie seasons.

In all, the Sixers have one of the widest ranges in the league. If everything goes right and they net a nice trade package for Simmons, they should have no problem earning a top-three seed in the east. If not, it could be a rocky path and look a little something like what we saw two years ago.

Tristan’s prediction: 46-36, No. 2-No. 6 seed range

4. New York Knicks

The Knicks won’t be a bad team this year by any means, and while their astronomical ascension last season was astounding to watch, it’s probably good to temper your expectations for this season. Firstly, several teams that New York surpassed dealt with bad health all season, namely the Miami HEAT and the Celtics. If those teams stay healthy, and Milwaukee, Brooklyn, Atlanta and Philadelphia stay relatively the same, it’s not hard to imagine New York in the play-in tournament despite a strong offseason.

The additions of Evan Fournier and Kemba Walker are great. Walker will be able to split reps with Derrick Rose and gives the Knicks the most competent point guard play it will have seen in years. Signing Fournier to a four-year, $73 million deal seems steep, but that’s simply the price you pay for 17-point-per-game wings in this league.

The draft choices of Quentin Grimes, “Deuce” McBride and Jericho Sims were also quite strong, even if none of them carve out a role this season. 

Expect a huge jump from R.J. Barrett this season. If he ascends as high as he can, the Knicks could maintain their top-four standing this season. Barrett is without a doubt one of the biggest candidates to win the Most Improved Player award.

Tristan’s prediction: 41-41, No. 5-No. 10 seed range

5. Toronto Raptors

The big story surrounding the Toronto Raptors this offseason was the departure of franchise icon Kyle Lowry, sent to the Miami HEAT as part of a sign-and-trade deal that sent Goran Dragic and Precious Achiuwa back to Toronto. The Raptors did an excellent job of getting value out of Lowry and though Dragic may not spend much time in Toronto, he will still likely get the team some value back.

This is very much still a rebuilding year for Toronto, figuring out which of their young pieces can carve out chunks of playing time. Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam will continue to do their thing, but guys like Malachi Flynn and Gary Trent Jr. will look to continue proving themselves after strong first years in Toronto.

The Raptors also did a fantastic job with their draft picks; Scottie Barnes looks every part of a star even if his selection was a surprise and Dalano Banton, David Johnson and Justin Champagnie all offer a blend of versatility and length. If everything goes perfectly, there is a chance of a surprise postseason appearance for this franchise. But more importantly, the team will focus on its budding young corps.

Tristan’s prediction: 31-51, No. 10-No. 15 seed range

Be sure to stay tuned to Basketball Insiders for the next edition of our divisional breakdown, where we will be looking at the Central Division.



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Luke Kennard Ready For Second Season With Clippers – Basketball Insiders

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Last season, Los Angeles Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue kept imploring Luke Kennard to be more aggressive in looking for his shot.

His sentiments were echoed by Kennard’s teammates throughout the season. A newcomer to the team after spending his first three seasons with the Detroit Pistons, Kennard often looked timid for the majority of the season.

With the Pistons, he had developed a reputation as being a sniper from three-point range. He shot 39 percent or better from distance in each of his three years. But he had also begun to develop a playmaking game. Before he was traded to the Clippers a year ago, Detroit head coach Dwane Casey had been experimenting with Kennard in a facilitator role.

But when he arrived in LA, he seemed a little too eager to settle into that playmaking role and he often passed up shots that he probably should have taken. It can be an adjustment for players to figure out their role in a new system, and perhaps that was the case for Kennard. Maybe he just needed a little bit of prodding from his new coach and teammates.

Whatever the case was, however, the playoffs changed all of that. With the Clippers being pushed to the brink by the Dallas Mavericks in the first round, they found themselves in a Game 7. And it was Kennard who stepped up to the plate and helped power them into the second round.

After racking up four DNP’s through the first six games of the series, Kennard scored 11 points on 4-6 shooting, 3-5 from three-point range, in 14 minutes of play as the Clippers ended up winning by 15 to advance. He looked comfortable and confident in his shot.

That momentum carried over throughout the rest of the 2021 playoffs. Against both the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns, Kennard made decisive decisions and found a good balance between finding his teammates and finding his shot. That’s the Kennard the Clippers are going to need this season, and it’s the Kennard that has shown up so far in preseason.

While he’s definitely found a comfort level within the Clippers offense, he acknowledges that at times, the team is still on him about looking to shoot.

“I’m still getting some stuff on the sideline for not shooting some shots that I probably should have shot,” Kennard joked after the Clippers preseason win against Dallas on Oct. 8. “They want me to ‘hunt’ it. . .just to hunt shots and be a hunter, that’s what they’ve been saying.”

Overall, Kennard had a pretty solid season last year for the Clippers. He put up 8.3 points per game while shooting 47.6 percent from the field and 44.6 percent from three-point range. In the playoffs, those numbers dipped a little, but as mentioned, he looked far more comfortable.
This season, the Clippers are looking to get up and down a little bit more and to generate more transition scoring opportunities. Kennard figures to be a big part of that with his ability to handle the ball and see the court, and with his lights out shooting. During preseason, he’s seen time in both roles.

“They’re putting me in a lot of different actions, whether it’s for me or different guys, just to move. They want us to move, they want us to play with a little more pace this year,” Kennard said. “We want to play a little faster whether it’s kicking the ball ahead, being a little bit better transition team. It’s coming along.”

Overall, this Clippers team has multiple players who can make plays with the ball in their hands. When Kennard is on the floor with the second unit, he kind of becomes the de-facto ball-handler as he did at times last season. But when his minutes are staggered with the starters a bit, it allows him to really look to move off-ball and to free himself up for jumpers.

“We got guys that can make plays. I can get into the paint and attack well and hit the open guy, but for me they just want me to hunt,” Kennard said. “When teams are kind of chasing me over, it kind of allows me to put the ball on the floor a little bit more and either hit the roll or just find the open guy. That’s something I’ve picked up on over these last few games.”

Kennard actually got off to a bit of a slow start to the preseason. He shot a combined 31.7 percent from the field through the first two games and was 1-9 from three-point range. But he picked it up in the final two games averaging 18.5 points per game and shooting 63.8 percent from long range.

Sure the Clippers ended the preseason with losses, but there were plenty of positives that Kennard saw that he believes the team can take with them into the start of the regular season. It’s the work that they’ve done in training camp, in practice, that they’ll be able to translate to opening night.

“We have sets that we run, but out of those sets, Coach Lue just lets us play the game. That’s something we’ve been focused on,” Kennard said. “It’s still a learning process, we’re still getting better at it. But I think we’ve done a pretty good job of doing the things in games that we’ve worked on in training camp so far.”

For the most part, the Clippers will have a similar rotation to the one that knocked out the Jazz and pushed the Suns to six games. Kawhi Leonard has no timetable for his return, but Serge Ibaka should be close to returning to the lineup.

They will have a pair of newcomers though who figure to play key roles in former Clipper Eric Bledsoe and Justice Winslow. There’s also the new draft picks in Keon Johson and Brandon Boston Jr. who have both shown some flashes in the preseason. Fellow rookie Jason Preston might have been in the mix too but he is currently out with an injury.

As the start of the season draws near, Kennard is pleased with what he’s seen in terms of how everyone is fitting into the system.

“I think everybody is comfortable in the role that they’re in, everybody’s comfortable with where they are right now. We’re confident that our coaches and everybody on the team, they’re going to do what’s best for the team,” Kennard said. “When we’re out there together, we’re one team. . .I think we have a pretty solid foundation with what we’ve been doing right now and it’s just continuing to get comfortable with each other and learning all the new guys. So far it’s been really good.”



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Saving Sacramento: Luke Walton Has Roster to Compete – Basketball Insiders

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The last two decades have not been kind to the Sacramento Kings, who have not had a taste of the playoffs since the 2005-06 season. The Kings won 44 games that season and they have not won more than 39 games in a single season ever since. They have gone through ten head coaches since they last made the postseason with Rick Adelman.

Luke Walton enters his third season at the helm in Sacramento. He finished with identical 31-41 records in his first two years but is aiming for much better results this time around with a much-improved roster. The Kings are young, but also have some serious talent that is still developing.

Everything in Sacramento starts with their electrifying point guard, De’Aaron Fox. The former Kentucky product signed a five-year, $163 million contract extension with the Kings during the 2020 offseason. He is the face of the franchise but the guard position is oozing with even more star potential. Buddy Hield remains one of their best offensive weapons and was a prime target of many trade talks in the offseason.

Tyrese Haliburton shined in his rookie season last year and has given the Kings a dynamic backcourt that can fuel their offense on any given night. The concerns early in the season about the fit next to Fox were quickly dispelled as they formed an incredible one-two punch.

Sacramento added to their already loaded guard position this summer when they drafted Davion Mitchell with the ninth pick in the NBA Draft. The Baylor standout comes in ready to make an immediate impact on both ends of the floor. His “off-night” nickname eloquently describes his tenacity on defense, and he showcased his offensive prowess in Summer League, and now the preseason.

The key for Walton this season will be to utilize his lineup to maximize the potential out of each player. They all have their own strengths and weaknesses, and it is up to him to study their chemistry and find the right combination to put on the floor. The Kings are about more than just their sensational crop of guards though.

Harrison Barnes continues to be the unheralded star for this team, carrying them during late-game situations as the veteran player on the roster. The real challenge for Walton will be to finally unlock the potential of Marvin Bagley III. The former second-overall pick in the 2018 draft has been a disappointment, to put it mildly. He has publicly tried to force his way out of Sacramento, but the Kings have been reluctant to move the big man.

Bagley is clearly behind Richaun Holmes on the depth chart, who the Kings rewarded with a multi-year contract this summer. The second-round pick has been playing with a chip on his shoulder since he came into the league, and it has worked well for him.

The Kings made a head-scratching move this summer when they acquired veteran center Tristan Thompson in a three-team trade. Perhaps the thought is that the team will ultimately move Bagley this season. The other scenario is that Walton wants to challenge Bagley, hoping that some competition for those minutes motivates Bagley to break out.

Walton will have to improve the defense this season if Sacramento is going to have any chance at success. Their 117.2 defensive rating last season was the worst in the league. It was historically bad, as they gave up 116.5 points per 100 possessions on that end of the floor. They also ranked 30th in opponent’s field goal percentage, 29th in points allowed in the paint, and were bottom-five in terms of defensive three-point percentage and second-chance points allowed.

The addition of Mitchell will certainly help in that area, and Thompson will help them on the glass. The Kings ranked dead last in rebounding last season, despite the solid play of Holmes. With some fresh faces, more competition, and new philosophies, Walton may be able to get this group to take the next step in their development. It might take some time, but ownership has shown that they can be patient. The young core is special and has been putting in the work.

Walton has two years remaining on his contract worth $11.5 million. He was hired by former Lakers teammate Vlade Divac, who was replaced in his role by Monte McNair last offseason. McNair believes that another year of continuity can get the franchise back into the playoffs. The team may be improved, but so is the rest of the division.

The Pacific Division is full of title contenders, and the Kings. The Lakers, Suns, Warriors, and Clippers all have legitimate hopes of winning a championship this season. Sacramento simply doesn’t have the weapons to match the All-NBA rosters of those other teams.

The last time the Kings made the playoffs, Fox was just eight years old. Bagley was only seven. For Sacramento, a return to the playoffs would be a euphoric experience, and would finally get Walton off of the hot seat.





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Washington Wizards vs New York Knicks NBA Preseason Preview, Predictions and Picks

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On Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, the Washington Wizards (0-3) are playing the New York Knicks (2-0)  at Madison Square Garden. This is the final preseason contest of the 2021-22 NBA season for both Eastern Conference contenders. BetOnline odds are listed below.

Game Information

Start time: 7:30 p.m. ET

Location: Madison Square Garden; New York, New York

TV channels: MSG, NBA League Pass, NBC Sports Washington

Radio broadcast: WTEM

Live stream: NBC Sports Washington

Washington Wizards vs. New York Knicks news

Additionally, in the previous three head-to-head meetings, the Knicks are 3-0 versus the Wizards. On Mar. 25, 2021, New York won 106-102 over Washington. That was the last time these teams played one another in the regular season. Of course, it also does not include last Saturday’s Wizards-Knicks exhibition game.

Leading into this final exhibition matchup for both teams, the top story for the Wizards pertains to the organization waiving Jay Huff and Jordan Schakel. This happened on Wednesday. Now, their roster is now at 18 players. On the other side, the Knicks signed Brandon Goodwin and waived Dwayne Bacon, Myles Powell and Tyler Hall.

Injury Report

For tonight’s matchup, the Wizards will be without Thomas Bryant, Rui Hachimura and Cassius Winston. Hachimura is out because of personal reasons, while Bryant is still recovering from his ACL injury. Plus, Winston is resting after sustaining a left hamstring strain.

As for the Knicks, they are missing Nerlens Noel and Mitchell Robinson against Washington. Nerlens is dealing with soreness in his left knee. And, Robinson is out due to soreness in his right foot as well.

Washington Wizards vs. New York Knicks betting lines

Over/Under: 216

Point spread: Knicks -4.5 (-110)

Best moneyline: Wizards +165, Knicks -190

Washington Wizards vs. New York Knicks preview

Moreover, in the Wizards’ 113-108 home loss against the Raptors on Tuesday, forward Kyle Kuzma led the team in scoring, putting up 24 points in 29 minutes played. Montrezl Harrell ended his performance with 17 points and 2.0 rebounds in 21 minutes spent on the court. Washington’s poor shooting in the fourth quarter led to their five-point loss.

While being held to 19 points in the fourth quarter, they allowed Toronto to score 32 points. Shooting-wise, the Wizards shot 38-for-88 (43.2%) from the field and 17-for-43 (39.5%) from behind the arc. Their struggles to finish strong in the second half is why the team is 0-3 in the preseason.

Meanwhile, in the Knicks’ 117-99 away victory over Washington last Saturday, forward RJ Barrett scored a team-high 18 points in 31 minutes played. Derrick Rose, who is now officially engaged to Alaina Anderson, finished his performance with 15 points, 4.0 rebounds and 8.0 assists in 19 minutes on the court.

In the team’s 18-point win, they shot 38-for-84 (45.2%) from the floor and 24-for-52 (46.2%) from three-point range. To open the second half, on top of holding Washington to 21 points, New York generated 36 points. This is exactly why they are the favorites to win on Friday.

Finally, the Wizards’ projected starting lineup for Friday night’s contest is PG Spencer Dinwiddie, SG Bradley Beal, SF Corey Kispert, PF Kyle Kuzma and C Daniel Gafford. As for the Knicks, their projected starting lineup is PG Derrick Rose, SG Evan Fournier, SF RJ Barrett, PF Julius Randle and C Taj Gibson.

Washington Wizards vs. New York Knicks prediction

Furthermore, the Wizards scored 113 points versus the Raptors, whereas the Knicks won their second exhibition matchup with 117 points. This is a combined total of 230 points. The total for today’s game is set at 216. Picking the over for today’s game is the most logical choice. Even with starters resting, the bench players for both Eastern Conference teams can put up dozens of points.

For betting trends, the Wizards are 1-4 straight up in their last five games played. The total has gone over in five of the team’s past six contests. Not to mention, the total has gone over in five of Washington’s previous six games played versus Eastern Conference opponents. And, they are 4-1 ATS in their last five games played in October.

As for the Knicks, they are 1-5 ATS in their past six games. Also, the total has gone under in five of the team’s last six contests. To add to these betting statistics, the total has gone under in five of New York’s previous six home games. And, they are 2-10 SU in their last 12 games played in October. For a reminder, these trends do not include preseason matches.

Washington Wizards vs. New York Knicks betting pick

Pick the Knicks to win at home; the total will go over 216. The Knicks are 4.5-point favorites with BetOnline.





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