Al Horford: The Celtics’ most important piece right now

The Boston Celtics have now successfully rattled off 15 straight wins. They are without one of their best players in Gordon Hayward and have had injuries to many rotation guys along the way. They just held the NBA’s best offensive team to 88 points in a 92-88 win over the Golden State Warriors and seem to be meshing well as a team.

The Boston Celtics have the longest win streak after a 0-2 start and are looking to extend it with each passing game.

Balanced play

Al Horford

Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, (Thesource.com).

The Boston Celtics have had a balanced attack nearly every night. They have seven players averaging 9.1 points per game or above. They have only had one player score over 30 points in a game and that was Kyrie Irving against the Hawks on Saturday night. The Celtics continue to have a rotation of players who have all led the team in scoring this season.

The most important turn around for the Boston Celtics have been solving their rebounding woes. Last season the Celtics were one of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA. This season they are tied for second in the NBA in rebounding and average nearly 48 per game. The difference is drastic.

Last season they were getting out-rebounded by 2.3 rebounds per game. This season they are +5.6 on the boards. They average 7.9 more rebounds than their opponents this season compared to last. They clean up the highest defensive rebound percentage in the NBA at nearly 82 percent of all shots. The difference this season hasn’t necessarily been Aron Baynes and Daniel Theis like many thought. The rebounding battle has been Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Al Horford’s battle to win every night.

The three of them combine for 44 percent of the Celtics rebounds on average. Horford has increased his rebounding from 6.8 a game to 8.8 a game from last season to this one. Jaylen Brown in his increased role has jumped from 2.8 rebounds a game to 6.6 this season. There has been a continuous effort to cut down on giving teams extra possessions on offense. The Celtics have capitalized and in turn it is helping the Celtics win games.

Al Horford: The glue guy

Al Horford has had a career season this season and he has done it efficiently. Horford is averaging 14.9 points and 8.8 rebounds. He is also chipping in 4.5 assists and has a 20.1 player efficiency rating. Horford is shooting 56 percent from the field and 42 percent from three. He is doing all this on just over 10 field goal attempts a game.

Every one of the statistics that was previously listed was either slightly or well above his career average. The most impressive statistic for to signify Horford’s importance is when he’s off the floor. The Boston Celtics are just a shade under 12 points per 100 possessions worse when Horford is off the floor. For comparison, when Kyrie Irving is off the floor the Celtics are three points worse when he is off the floor on average.

Al Horford is the most valuable Celtic on offense because he affects the game more than just scoring. Horford is involved more in the offense and is benefiting from touching the ball more on a possession to possession basis. Horford is one of the longest tenured Celtics and is both a vocal leader as well as a guy who can lead by example.

 

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Best team Eastern Conference

The best team in the East

The Boston Celtics have the best record in the NBA at 8-2 after a huge win against the Thunder with an insane 18-point comeback. The Celtics have the perfect team to perform well in the regular season with a core of young talent that will finish atop the Eastern Conference.

The new-look Celtics

The Celtics currently hold the best record in the entire NBA. With the favorite Cleveland Cavaliers falling apart, it’s hard to see another team challenge the Celtics for the No. 1 seed.

One of the biggest reasons for the Celtics’ success is how Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier have been playing. These three are all playing with fire this season, averaging more than 20 minutes per game, which is only going to help them improve in the long run.

Best team Eastern Conference

Photo from NBC Sports

The bench is filled with solid impact players, especially big guys like Aron Baynes and Daniel Theis, which is something they have been missing in the last few seasons. While Baynes is an established player who the Celtics cooped up in free agency, Theis is a rookie from Germany that has been a pleasant surprise, averaging 5.1 points, 4.5 rebounds and almost a block per game.

Kyrie Irving is getting it down on both ends of the floor and showing all the critics how good his defense really is by leading the entire league in steals this season. Irving has found himself in Brad Stevens’ constant ball movement offense. He’s been able to create so many different looks compared to his time in Cleveland.

Have the Celtics figured out their rebounding problem? Currently, the Celtics are fifth in the league in rebounds, which has been a weak point in recent years. It seems like there is a sense of urgency in defensive rebounding, especially with Tatum and Brown.

Al Horford has been picking up his game as of late, consistently finishing with around 15 points and ten rebounds per game. He just looks like he has more drive than last season. I feel like he’s attacking the paint way more than settling for his patent free throw jumper.

Overall, the entire defense looks really strong. They have held their last eight opponents to under 95 points in each game. If the Celtics keep up this defensive intensity, they might even be able to finish with the best record in the league.

What’s up with Cleveland?

The oldest team in the League is struggling early to secure wins in the early part of the season. The Cavaliers made a bunch of different acquisitions this offseason, but none of them seem to be paying off in regular season play.

Best team Eastern Conference

(Photo from Cavs Nation)

The Cavaliers have been battling through a few injuries this season as well, most recently losing Tristan Thompson to a calf injury that should keep him out for a month. This is a devastating loss for a team that already struggled in rebounding and interior defense.

Currently, the Cavs are 4-6, losing five of their last six games. They rank in the bottom four of the East and just lost to the Atalanta Hawks, the worst team in the entire Eastern Conference.

The team has so many old flashy names, but that doesn’t necessarily make a good team. You need to have roles filled, and the Cavs are lacking in a lot of key areas right now.

I do think once Isaiah Thomas comes back, the team will have more structure and chemistry, but that won’t be until around the All-Star break possibly. Can the Cavs figure it out in time and stay around the top of the East where they belong? Or will they fall to the bottom and have to claw back in the second half of the year?

 

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Boston Celtics: Youth leading the way

The Boston Celtics lost Gordon Hayward on opening night against the Cleveland Cavaliers. What seemed like a log jam at small forward and shooting guard a month ago has now grown thin with the injuries to Hayward and Smart. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier have played key roles in life without Hayward.

The Celtics are one possession away from beating the Cavaliers and being 3-1 even without one of their All-Star guards. So how are they doing it? How are they surviving without Hayward? Well many of the young guards are being thrust into important roles and are coming out successful so far.

Brad Stevens

Boston Celtics

Brad Stevens on the Celtics bench (Photo: Business Insider)

Stevens is obviously one of the youngest coaches in the league so it’s only fitting that he’s one of the most important parts of the team. One of Brad Stevens’ biggest attributes is his ability to mesh a bunch of players with different skill sets together. Stevens has really shown that off throughout the first week of the season. Players like Shane Larkin are averaging 15 minutes and Aron Baynes is even starting games.

Stevens has shown that his coaching isn’t built solely around stars. Kyrie Irving’s statistics are down from last season. It’s completely understandable knowing he isn’t playing alongside LeBron James but it’s also a product of Brad Stevens’ offense. Stevens uses less isolation and more off-ball screens and more off-ball movement.

Kyrie’s numbers have improved in certain aspects. He is getting more assists per game and is turning the ball over less as well. Stevens offense makes Kyrie’s 21 percent decrease in points per game understandable.

Jayson Tatum

A month ago Jayson Tatum was going to be battling with Jae Crowder, Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown for minutes. As a rookie he is now starting and playing 34 minutes a game. 14.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game on 48 percent from the field and 46 percent from three.

He has been both efficient as well as a scoring option to take the pressure off Kyrie and Jaylen. Many rookies don’t play three quarters of a game on average. Stevens has enjoyed his versatility as well as his ability to grab rebounds as a power forward.

Jaylen Brown

Jaylen Brown has transformed his offensive game in just a season. He is being more aggressive and almost has to be in this offense. He like Tatum is shooting 48 percent and is second on the team with 18.8 points per game.

Brown has also increased his three point percentage by three percent since last season. He has been his best when he’s gotten out in transition and attacked the lane and with many of the Celtics sets being with four guards, he has the option to almost every time he’s on the floor.

Shane Larkin and Terry Rozier

Every year there are extra minutes that no one knows where they go. Excluding Terry Rozier in this one but Shane Larkin has been receiving those minutes. Averaging 5.3 points and 2.7 assists in 14.7 minutes a game Larkin has provided a spark off the bench that wasn’t originally expected. Larkin has been benefiting from Marcus Smart’s injury and taking full advantage of his minutes.

Terry Rozier for long stretches in the last two years has looked to be the Celtics most consistent rebounder. This season he has a 5.3/1 assist to turnover ratio which is best on the team and 5.8 rebounds as a 6-foot-2 point guard. He is one of the first Celtics off the bench and has gotten Brad Stevens trust.

As a backup guard, not turning it over and providing energy and effort are two of the most important things and Rozier has done both of those things throughout the first week of the NBA season.

The Celtics have been hit with an injury bug to start the season with Morris, Smart and obviously Hayward. As they move forward their rotation will continue to differ being that Daniel Theis will be starting as of Thursday night. Look for the Celtics to continue to improve and for Brad Stevens to continue to put great rotations together moving forward.

 

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The Celtics’ season is not over

A tragic event occurred on Tuesday night. The Celtics new star forward, Gordon Hayward, suffered a brutal injury to his ankle.

Many people are counting this year as a complete loss for the Celtics, and while it is certainly not ideal, the Celtics could still make something out of this. Obviously, the Celtics rally in the second half was electric. Call me an optimist, but I saw enough from that second half team to be able to say they could yet be a top two seed in the Eastern Conference.

When it comes to personnel, I am only going to break down players I think will play an integral role in replacing Hayward in Boston.

Coaching

Brad Stevens

There is a legitimate argument to be made that this man is a better head coach than Steve Kerr, which would make him the second best head coach in the league. That exemplifies just how good he is at his job. While the GM’s of the league may think otherwise, I would say Brad Stevens is the best coach in the league at making adjustments, and he’s only getting started.

The team defense he has designed has even been able to hide Isaiah Thomas on that side of the ball, so Kyrie Irving’s lack of defensive skill should be no problem. With more offensive weapons at his disposal, it will be interesting to see what he comes up with on that side of the ball.

Personnel

Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart was the biggest surprise to me on Tuesday, as he stepped up on the offensive end once Hayward left. His post work looked very good, like a budget Chris Paul almost. Not to mention his high effort, high-level defense and pretty decent court vision. A stellar performance from the young man, the Celtics are gonna need a lot more where that came from.

Jaylen Brown

Welcome, Jaylen Brown. A fantastic performance from the second-year man, leading his team in scoring with 25 points. His outside shot still needs work, however, his athleticism really overshadowed his lack of an outside shot.

He looked fierce in this outing as he carved up the inside, with 14 of his 25 points coming off of layups or dunks. His defense was also pretty good in this one, as he was putting up a good fight on every possession, and came away with two steals. He can step and make a difference in Boston.

Marcus Morris

While Gordon Hayward is gone, Marcus Morris should be back soon. Morris is a solid defender, and decent 3-point shooter, with a career 35.5 percent from beyond the arc. He is a great asset, especially for a team like the Celtics, as floor spacing for Kyrie Irving is key. He also brings that toughness when defending on the low block that someone like Al Horford just doesn’t seem to have.

Jayson Tatum

His offense looked very good in the second half of this game after a shaky start. I hope he blossoms quickly, as he has a similar skillset to Gordon Hayward, and could be a great sixth man, or a decent starter.

Aron Baynes

He showed some real value on Tuesday, playing decent interior defense, and grabbing quite a few offensive rebounds. He could log some serious minutes.

This Celtics roster cannot take another injury. With one more hit, even to a role player like Aron Baynes, could be enough to kill them. Though at the moment, I think they still have all they need to seriously challenge for the East crown, even if they will almost certainly fall short.


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Breaking down the Cavaliers and Celtics blockbuster trade

Just when the NBA offseason seemed over, one of the biggest moves shook up the top of the Eastern Conference.

Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the 2018 Brooklyn Nets pick were shipped away for Kyrie Irving Tuesday night and it shocked the NBA. Kyrie was obviously demanding a trade, however most people didn’t view the Boston Celtics as a landing spot, even if they could offer the best package.

As the top two teams in the Eastern Conference last season, the Cavaliers and Celtics didn’t seem like ideal trade partners. This trade is unique because both teams have gotten better in their own ways.

The Celtics

Cavaliers Celtics Blockbuster Trade

Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder, Photo Courtesy of inquisitr.com.

Ultimately there were two big problems here. Isaiah Thomas is one offseason away from a new possible max contract, and Jae Crowder would contribute to a log jam at the small forward position.

When the Celtics made this trade, they were looking for stability, and that comes with Kyrie Irving. Irving has at least one more year on his contract and he is obviously not coming off a hip injury.

Jae Crowder is a guy who would ultimately interfere with the development of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. Crowder would receive minutes that could be going to Tatum and Brown, which are important minutes that would speed up their development.

Based on this season’s summer league (obviously not that important), Zizic was at least one step slow. He seemed to be a few years away from translating his skills to contribute to an NBA rotation.

The biggest part of this whole deal is the Brooklyn Nets draft pick. The Nets haven’t recently been a powerhouse, and because of that the chance of that pick being high in the lottery is more likely than not.

The 2018 NBA Draft will be a loaded draft without a doubt, but with the additions of D’Angelo Russell and DeMarre Carroll, the Nets might not be in the cellar anymore.

The Cavaliers

Cavaliers Celtics Blockbuster Trade

Kyrie Irving, Photo Courtesy of Image Arcade.

Listen, there really wasn’t a choice for Dan Gilbert and the Cavaliers here. Kyrie had voiced his frustration and if he had stayed on the Cavs to start the season, who knows how it would’ve played out.

The Celtics ultimately had the most to offer, but sending one of your stars to a conference rival is always messy. I don’t think the Cavaliers get to the Warriors level with this move, but they do close the gap.

Isaiah Thomas’ production-wise is nearly even with Kyrie and much cheaper, but the big key here is Crowder.

Richard Jefferson seems like he’s been playing in the NBA for 30 years, but for a fair amount of Finals minutes he chases Kevin Durant around. Jae Crowder adds another wave of defense to try and contain Durant.

In turn, Jae can attempt to guard Durant and give LeBron more minutes to rest.

The trade also opens up the idea of life after LeBron or could even get him to stay. The 2018 Nets pick could very well be a star.

There has been a lot of speculation on what LeBron will do next summer in regards to where he will play. If LeBron does walk, the Nets pick could be a player to build around. At the same time, LeBron could look at that as a reason to stay, and another playmaker to compete with the Warriors down the road.

The East moving forward

Oddly enough, these players were viewed differently by their former fan bases. Thomas was loved by the Celtics for putting it all on the line every night. Kyrie made the biggest shot in Cleveland Cavaliers history, but he also demanded to be traded out of that same scenario.

Both of the primary players in this trade are below average defenders and that’s a given, but both guards have unique skills that will be better suited for their new locations.

Kyrie is a pure playmaker who loves to finish around the rim and is possibly the best finisher in our game today. He comes to a Celtics team looking to help stretch the floor and finish when team don’t collapse, something he is better than Thomas at.

Thomas has the ability to spot up and also slash to create for others. Sharing the ball with LeBron will mean he will be off the ball much more than he was with the Celtics.

His spot up shooting was at 40 percent from three last season and that is with a large sample size. Thomas’ statistics will diminish without being the primary offensive weapon but he will still score well.

Both the Cavaliers and Celtics got better, and neither team lost this trade as the teams just filled different needs. The two top teams in the East just got a whole lot more interesting. Keep a lookout for opening night where Kyrie will get his nice warm welcome by Cavalier fans.

 

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Boston Celtics NBA Draft

Boston Celtics 2017 NBA draft profile

Welcome to the first day of The Game Haus’ NBA Draftmas. We held an NFL Draftmas for the NFL Draft and wrote a draft profile for every NFL team. We will be doing the same with the NBA draft, starting with the Boston Celtics, who have the first pick.

Boston Celtics NBA Draft Summary

The Boston Celtics have been improving over the last several years. In the last three years, they have finished with the seventh, fifth and first seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Despite being the top seed, it is highly unlikely they get past the second-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers. Clearly Boston has some things they can improve on.

Boston Celtics NBA Draft

Photo by Sporting News

Offensively, the Celtics finished seventh in the league in points at an average of 108 per game. They also controlled the ball very well. They tied for third most in assists per game with 25.2 and were also third in the league with an assist-to-turnover ratio of two.

Defensively, Boston was in the middle when it came to opponent points per game. They ranked 15th at 105.4 for a point differential of 2.6, which ranked eighth in the league.

One thing they could have done better is rebound the basketball. Only three teams had less rebounds per game than the Celtics’ 42 per game. There were also plenty of opportunities for rebounds as the Celtics ranked 16th in the NBA in field goal percentage at 45.4 percent. This is uncharacteristic of a Brad Stevens team. 

One other thing to look at is individual play. Isaiah Thomas was the Eastern Conference’s top scorer at 28.9 points per game. After him, they do not really have a second scorer to rely on. Avery Bradley averaged 16.3 a game, but is more known for his defense. Al Horford averaged 14, but has never been a big-time scorer in his career. Most of the league’s top teams have two guys capable of putting up a ton of points, and Boston lacks a second.

Through the draft, Boston should try to add another scoring option and some help with rebounding.

Celtics’ Picks and Needs

The Celtics have four picks in this draft.

Boston Celtics NBA Draft

Photo by www.sportslogos.net

First Round: No. 1 (from Brooklyn)

Second Round: No. 37 (from Minnesota via Phoenix), 53 (from Cleveland) and 56 (from L.A. Clippers)

The first overall pick is going to be used to get an impact player and a second scoring option for Thomas to work with. The other three could go multiple directions. These are some guys the Celtics could benefit from drafting.

Scorer: Most top teams have two scorers with 20-points-per-game potential. Boston does not have that.

Rebounder: Boston ranked low in rebounds with plenty of opportunities to grab some. Possibly something they can address in the second round. 

Celtics’ Targets and Thoughts

Let’s take a look at the options Boston has with their first-round pick.

Pick #1: Markelle Fultz, PG, Washington

Almost every mock draft you read has Fultz going first, and there is a reason for that. The 6-foot-4 point guard averaged 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game in his one year at Washington. He also shot 41.3 percent from the 3-point line.

Fultz has the scoring ability Boston needs. In time, he can develop into an impact player that can help score alongside Thomas.

Boston Celtics NBA Draft

Photo by 247 Sports

Thomas is also set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. While he does not seem interested in leaving at the moment, Boston needs to do everything they can to keep him. Giving him more weapons on offense surely helps them. In the event that Thomas does leave, Fultz should be ready to take over as the franchise player.

The other option with the pick is to trade it. Some analysts believe Boston needs to build a team to win now that can defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers. Rumors have swarmed in the past about Boston trading for a superstar like Paul George or Jimmy Butler as well.

However, it may be better to let Fultz develop within the young team. The Cavs are a lot older than Boston. Isaiah Thomas is 28. Avery Bradley is 26. Al Horford is 30. Last year’s third overall pick Jaylen Brown is 20. Gerald Green is their oldest player at 31.

The bottom line is Boston is young. They can afford to wait three to four years for their guys like Brown and Fultz to develop into studs next to Thomas, Horford and Bradley. By then the Cavs should be on the decline. Trading for a superstar now wouldn’t be the worst thing to do with the first overall pick, but trying to beat the Cavs right now in the postseason seems nearly impossible.

Fultz is the best option. Drafting anybody else would be selling themselves short and trading the pick does not make sense when looking at the bigger picture.

Conclusion

Boston has two options with the first pick. They can trade it for an impact player now, or draft one like Markelle Fultz. It all depends on how confident they are in Fultz and if they are willing to let their young team develop and wait for the Cavaliers to get old so they can overtake them. They do already have a point guard, but there is not anybody else that compares to Fultz’s talent. Playing him at shooting guard alongside Thomas would make a scary backcourt.

Thank you for joining us on our first day of TGH NBA Draftmas! Check back tomorrow where we will be bringing you the draft profile for the Los Angeles Lakers!

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2017 Eastern Conference Finals

2017 Eastern Conference Finals Preview

After 82 regular season games and two playoff series, it is time for the 2017 Eastern Conference Finals preview. The East is down to two teams fighting for a birth in the NBA Finals. The top-seeded Boston Celtics edged out the Washington Wizards 115-105 in game 7 to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have cruised to the Eastern Conference Finals going a perfect 8-0 in the playoffs thus far. Cleveland swept both the Indiana Pacers and the Toronto Raptors. Similar to their Western Conference rival, the Golden State Warriors, the Cavs seem to be on a mission to get to the Finals for a third straight matchup. The Celtics will have different plans as they try to knock off LeBron James and the Cavs.

Celtics vs. Cavaliers

Photo by SB Nation

The Celtics are making their first Eastern Conference Finals appearance since 2012 in which they lost to LeBron and the Heat 4-3 in an epic seven-game series. The Cavs won the regular season series 3-1. Most recently, they demolished the Celtics on their home court 114-91, hurting the confidence of Boston.

If the Celtics want to win this series, it is going to take a lot of great performances by Boston’s key role players. In game 7 against the Wizards, Kelly Olynyk had a career game, shooting 10-14 for 26 points. If he can duplicate that type of game consistently, then the Celtics will win the series.

The Celtics have gone as Isaiah Thomas has gone all season. He alone cannot carry the C’s past James, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. If Boston wants to win this series, they will need big games from Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder and Jaylen Brown.

In the regular season, the Cavaliers dominated the glass. That has been the achilles heel of the Celtics all season. Of the 16 playoff teams, Boston is 13th, averaging only 38.3 rebounds per game while the Cavs are averaging 41.4. Any time the Celtics win the battle of the boards will go a long way in securing a win.

The Celtics are a good team, but will not have enough to truly threaten the Cavs in this series. Boston’s home-court advantage will extend the series longer than the Cavs may like, but it won’t be enough. Cleveland is averaging 114.5 points per game this postseason, and Boston can not outscore them over a seven-game series.

Until a team in the East actually proves they can beat a LeBron-led team in a seven-game series, there is just no logical reason to expect it.

Prediction: Cavs in 6

 

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Who Can Knock Off Cleveland

Cleveland Cavaliers’ Threats in the Eastern Conference

The Cleveland Cavaliers are the clear-cut favorites to win the Eastern Conference and make it to the Finals. It makes you think: Who can knock off Cleveland in the East? Most assume that the Warriors and Cavaliers will meet for a third-straight Finals but that assumption could be dangerous. There are teams who could beat the Cavs and mess up everyone’s dream matchup.

The first version of this short series looked at who could knock off Golden State. If you haven’t read it you can check it out here.

LeBron James has led his team to the Finals for six straight years. It is safe to say the road to the Finals goes through Cleveland. Because it has been so long since a team not featuring LeBron has been to the Finals, it is hard to see anyone beating Cleveland in the East. Here are a few teams with the shot to dethrone the Eastern Conference Champions.

Boston Celtics

Cleveland Cavaliers Threats

(Photo Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports)

Boston is just three games back of the Cavaliers for the number one seed and have one more game remaining against the Cavs. Getting that first seed could be the all-important factor in the Celtics’ chances of upsetting Cleveland as the home team has won every game this season. The Cavs have won two of the three games but all have been close contests.

In all three games, Isaiah Thomas has scored 30 points or more. They match up well all along the wing with valuable minutes coming from Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Jaylen Brown. Boston’s depth gives them a shot at the upset.

To beat Cleveland in a seven game series, Boston will need its frontcourt to play well. It is the weakest area of the team and they have the fourth worst rebounding differential (-3.6) in the NBA. In their recent win over Cleveland, they won the rebounding battle 47-41.

Getting home court can be helpful but the key to Boston upsetting Cleveland will be in the frontcourt play and they will have to win that rebound battle with a healthy Kevin Love who did not play in the last matchup.

Toronto Raptors

Cleveland Cavaliers Threats

(Photo Credit: Alex Brandon/The Associated Press)

Like a few other teams in the NBA, the Raptors are dealing with injuries. Kyle Lowry is a key player for Toronto and without him the Raptors have no shot at upsetting the Cavs. With that said, Lowry should be back in time for the playoffs.

Last season the Raptors faced the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals but lost the series 4-2. The Raptors struggled in the front court in that series.

The addition of Serge Ibaka was one of the most important in-season deals this year. Ibaka not only gives the Raptors a presence in the frontcourt, but he can stretch the floor on offense. He is a shot blocker on the defensive end and has lots of playoff experience.

Another addition that will help the Raptors chances of upsetting the Cavs is the addition of P.J. Tucker. Tucker provides a spark off the bench and impacts the game in multiple ways. It remains to be seen where this team will finish in the standings but this team should not be taken lightly. DeMar DeRozen needs to be a superstar for them to win a series against Cleveland as well.

They got off to a horrible slump against the Cavs last year but with those two additions they are a better team then they were last season. The Cavs cannot take them lightly or this season the Cavs will be sent home early.

Washington Wizards

Cleveland Cavaliers Threats

(Photo Credit: Getty Images)

John Wall and Bradley Beal are both having their best seasons of their careers. It can be argued that they have the best backcourt in all of basketball. Yes, as good as Golden State’s backcourt. Wall is second in assists per game with 10.9. Both guards average 22 points per game. These two stars carry the Wizards but the role players are they key to upsetting the Cavs.

Marcin Gortat is a veteran who plays big inside the paint. He could give the Cavs problems in a seven game series. Along with Gortat, the Wizards get big contributions from Markieff Morris, Jason Smith, and Kelly Oubre Jr.

The Wizards are also getting a career year out of Otto Porter who is averaging a career-high in minutes (33.8), field goal percentage (52.6%), three-point percentage (45.7%), free throw percentage (80%), rebounds (6.6), steals (1.6), blocks (0.6), and points (14.1).

This team has been playing well, especially at home were they are 25-9. Washington also signed veteran point guard Brandon Jennings will have a big impact off the bench when giving Wall some rest. They also traded for Bojan Bogdanovic who has played in five games with Washington and most recently dropped 27 points on the Raptors. As he finds his role with the Wizards he will become a valuable player. These two additions together will be huge in their pursuit of the Eastern Conference Championship.

It will take a team effort but with how well the Wizards play at home all they need to do is steal a game on the road. If they steal a game in Cleveland and John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter continue their amazing season they will upset Cleveland.

 

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2016 NBA Mock Draft June 23

1) Philadelphia 76ers: Ben Simmons SF/PF LSU

LSU may have underachieved this season, but Ben Simmons showed that he is the real deal. The 6’10 Australian averaged 19.2 points and 11.9 rebounds per game, and showed some of the best passing in the country. Simmons was criticized for not being assertive enough at times, but the fact is he’s the best athlete in the class, and is perfect for a 76ers team that desperately needs a spark.

2) Los Angeles Lakers: Brandon Ingram SF Duke

The post-Kobe Lakers need a star to pair with D’Angelo Russell as they look to rebuild in the brutal West. Enter Ingram, the lanky and athletic forward from Duke who was a match-up nightmare in the ACC. The 6’9 freshman showed a knack for creating his own shot, particularly off the pick and roll, and shot 41% from behind the arc. He will need to add strength, which will help him defensively, but Ingram is the clear number two pick here.

3) Boston Celtics: Jamal Murray SG Kentucky

This might not fill Boston’s biggest need, but Danny Ainge has made it clear he is looking for the best player available with this lottery pick acquired from the Nets. Murray is one of the best pure shooters in the class, shown by his 40% three-point mark and his workout where he made 79 out of 100 threes. The Canadian may not be the most athletic guard, but his scoring ability should translate well to the next level.

4) Phoenix Suns: Dragan Bender PF Maccabi Tel Aviv

The top international prospect, Bender fills an immediate need for Phoenix. The 7’1 Croatian is quick and effective in transition, and also has exceptional passing skills for a big man. He will need to add strength and continue to improve his outside shooting, but Bender certainly looks the part of a solid NBA stretch four.

5) Minnesota Timberwolves: Buddy Hield SG Oklahoma

The reigning Naismith College Player of the Year would provide instant offense for a struggling Minnesota team. Hield hit 147 three pointers this season, the most in college basketball since Stephen Curry, at an incredibly efficient 46% rate. The senior also showed great improvements with his ball handling, which will help him create shots at the next level.

6) New Orleans Pelicans: Kris Dunn PG Providence

The Pelicans desperately need a backcourt star to pair with Anthony Davis, and Dunn would fill that need. The Big East Player of the Year is great on the pick and roll, but will need to cut down on his turnover rate. He is a great athlete who can defend and get to the rim, and would provide a big boost to New Orleans’ playoff hopes.

7) Denver Nuggets: Marquese Chriss PF Washington

One of the biggest boom or bust picks in the draft, Chriss is a freak athlete who plays with a lot of intensity. He has exceptional speed and quickness, which makes him especially effective in transition. However, his fundamentals need a lot of work, particularly rebounding. Chriss is only 19 and has plenty of time to develop, making his potential worth a top 10 pick.

8) Sacramento Kings: Domantas Sabonis PF/C Gonzaga

Sacramento would probably like to add a guard, but Sabonis is the best value here. The Lithuanian will become a fan favorite wherever he goes because of his high energy and passion. Sabonis has great low post scoring and defense, and is very effective at both getting to the line and making his free throws. He plays a little underneath the rim, which will likely prevent him from being a superstar, but Sabonis should be a high impact big from day one.

9) Toronto Raptors: Jacob Poeltl C Utah

The Raptors need help inside, and will find it with the 7’1 Austrian. Poeltl runs the court very well for a big man, and has good agility which leads to solid pick and roll defense. He will need to add more of a low post game, but does show a good touch around the basket.

10) Milwaukee Bucks: Jaylen Brown SG/SF California

Physically, Brown has everything you look for in a lottery pick. He is very strong and very athletic, and uses these attributes to get to the basket and finish. Brown is a beast in transition, with a highlight reel of monster dunks. However, he does turn the ball over too often and needs to find more consistency with his jump shot. If Brown can clean up these aspects of his game, he could be a superstar.

11) Orlando Magic: Skal Labissiere C Kentucky

Despite an underwhelming freshman campaign, the seven foot Haitian is an intriguing prospect. Labissiere is long and athletic, and defends the rim very well. However, he needs to add strength and toughness to become an NBA caliber player. He is definitely a prospect, but Frank Vogel has a solid track record of developing big men, and could do wonders with Labissiere.

12) Atlanta Hawks: Malachi Richardson SG Syracuse

A big and athletic guard, Richardson is one of the best slashers in the draft. He is very effective getting to the rim, and has the ability to finish in traffic. Richardson still needs work on his jump shot and has a tendency to force plays, but he could provide an offensive spark to Atlanta.

13) Phoenix Suns: Deyonta Davis PF Michigan St

Phoenix takes a second big man here to add depth inside. Davis is an elite defender, capable both defending the rim and guarding the pick and roll. His offensive game is still raw, but athletic bigs who defend as well as Davis don’t grow on trees. These attributes should lead to a lottery selection.

14) Chicago Bulls: Henry Ellenson PF/C Marquette

The Bulls look to add depth to their frontcourt as it appears Joakim Noah will be leaving. Marquette’s Ellenson has a solid array of post moves and rebounds at a very high level. His ceiling is limited by his marginal athleticism, but Ellenson has good enough skills to contribute right away.

15) Denver Nuggets: Furkan Korkmaz SG Anadolu Efes Istanbul

The Nuggets have three first round picks and can afford to draft and stash here. Korkmaz, a Turkish wing is a high level scorer who can shoot from anywhere on the court and create his own shot. He is a big guard at 6’7 who can handle the ball and has experience playing in the Euroleague at 17. The only liability for Korkmaz is his defense, but with his size and quickness he will have plenty of potential for improvement.

16) Boston Celtics: Ivica Zubac C Mega Leks

Zubac, a 7’1 Croatian, is one of the best rebounders in the draft. He also has some decent post moves, and shows good offensive awareness, moving without the ball well. His biggest downside is his limited athleticism, which should keep him out of the lottery.

17) Memphis Grizzlies: Dejounte Murray PG/SG Washington

The Grizzlies need someone to help out Mike Conley Jr in the backcourt. Murray is an athletic combo guard with great ball handling ability. Like many other young guards, he could work on cutting down turnovers and shooting more consistently, but Murray will be able to score in the NBA.

18) Detroit Pistons: Wade Baldwin PG/SG Vanderbilt

Another big combo guard who can attack the rim, Baldwin is an aggressive scorer with good shooting numbers. There are questions about his ability to play the point, as his ball handling looks shaky at times, but Baldwin should at least be a “three and D” player off the bench in the NBA.

19) Denver Nuggets: Ante Zizic C Cibona Zagreb

The second of two possible first round Croatians, Zizic doesn’t quite have the size of his countryman, but he is long and plays above the rim. He also runs the pick and roll very well and has a knack for getting to the free throw line. At just 19, Zizic has plenty of time to bulk up and improve his offensive game before making an impact.

20) Indiana Pacers: Brice Johnson PF North Carolina

Indiana adds frontcourt depth here by adding Johnson, an incredibly productive rebounder who averaged a double double for the Tar Heels. He is also an efficient scorer and one of the best leapers in the draft. Johnson does have a wiry frame that could lead to him getting pushed around by stronger players, but he should be able to play right away due to his rebounding ability.

21) Atlanta Hawks: Timothe Luwawu SG/SF Mega Leks

An athletic wingman from France, Luwawu has a very natural scoring ability. He is particularly effective with his pull up off the dribble. Like most young international players, Luwawu will need to add strength and improve defensively. He is still very raw, but his scoring ability is intriguing enough to warrant a first round pick.

22) Charlotte Hornets: Denzel Valentine SG/SF Michigan St

Concerns about a knee injury will likely push Valentine out of the lottery, but he is a really good value here. As a senior, Valentine doesn’t have the upside of some players in the draft, but he has no real weaknesses, and is a great leader and locker room presence. As long as Valentine physically is alright, he will have a positive impact on whatever team drafts him.

23) Boston Celtics: Cheick Diallo PF/C Kansas

Diallo is a classic project pick who needs a few years of seasoning. At 6’9, Diallo is a little short to play down low in the NBA, but he makes up for it with his length and leaping ability. The Mali native has elite shot blocking skills and can rebound well, but still needs to develop an offensive game. His physical traits will be intriguing to teams drafting late in the first round though.

24) Philadelphia 76ers: DeAndre Bembry SG/SF St Joe’s

A flashy playmaker who played his college ball in Philly, Bembry was a human highlight reel at St Joe’s. He is confident and aggressive with the ball, and a very underrated passer. Bembry was a volume shooter in college, and not incredibly efficient, and will need to improve his shot selection at the next level.

25) Los Angeles Clippers: Malik Beasley SG Florida St

Beasley is one of the best catch and shoot players in the class, and also has shown the ability to create his own shot. He is athletic and plays with a lot of energy, but does not have great size for the NBA. It should be more than enough to land him a spot on an NBA roster, though.

26) Philadelphia 76ers: Thon Maker PF/C Athlete Institute

With three first round picks, Philly can afford to roll the dice on Maker. He is 7’1 with remarkable ball handling and shooting skills which are intriguing to any NBA team. However, he is completely unproven and is far from being physically mature enough to play right now. This makes Maker one of the biggest unknowns, but possibly the player with the highest ceiling in the draft.

27) Toronto Raptors: Diamond Stone C Maryland

A McDonalds All American, Stone’s size, strength and low post moves will interest any NBA team. He has a good shooting form, and his range will likely increase as he gets older. However, Stone was inconsistent in college and took too many players off, which often showed in his rebounding. He is a player with a lot of potential if he can put it all together, though.

28) Phoenix Suns: Demetrius Jackson PG Notre Dame

A tough but undersized guard, Jackson is very efficient with a ball and has great playmaking skills. He also has quick hands and is an above average defender. Unfortunately, due to Jackson’s size and age (22), he likely won’t go until late in the first round.

29) San Antonio Spurs: Taurean Prince SF Baylor

Born and raised in San Antonio, Prince is an excellent defender and physically able to play in the NBA right now. He is athletic, can defend and can shoot threes which will translate well at the next level.

30) Golden State Warriors: Juan Hernangomez PF Asefa Estudiantes

The 6’9 Spanish big man is excellent in the pick and roll, and is consistent with his midrange shot. He has a lot of work to do with his low post game, but is young enough to see plenty of improvement down the road.

Cap, Gown and Gone: Top Five Most Impactful Graduate Transfers

Transfers in college basketball are a huge part of the way a team can build an identity. The graduate transfer rule has the power to immediately affect the destiny of two teams in each case. As opposed to the normal transfer regulations, players do not have to sit out a year and are eligible to play immediately.  That means they not only have a large immediate impact on the team they are leaving, but also that they have the ability to change the fortune of the program they are headed to in an instant. Many times, players that were under-recruited from smaller schools use this rule to jump to a big conference school.

Several players should have a significant impact as graduate transfers in the 2016-2017 season. Here are five players to watch:

 

Canyon Barry (SG), The College of Charleston to Florida

Canyon Barry was one of the most sought after transfers in the nation. (Photo courtesy of 247sports.com)

Barry was one of the most sought after transfers on the market this off-season.  He averaged a whopping 19.7 points and 3.4 rebounds per contest last year. He is a perfect example of a player having an excellent career at a small school and utilizing the graduate transfer rule to make it to a bigger school with an immediate impact. Florida loses its leading scorer, Dorian Finney-Smith, to graduation, so a scorer like Barry will be very much appreciated.

L.G. Gill (F), Duquesne to Maryland

Maryland’s roster will look completely different next year. Melo Trimble is one of the only players that is coming back of significant value. Gill is an impact player that adds veteran depth that Mark Turgeon is desperate for at this point. The forward averaged 10.1 points per game as well as 6.1 rebounds. With the departures of Robert Carter and Diamond Stone, Gill will have an immediate impact on the boards for the Terps and also bring some scoring ability. He is an efficient shooter at over 43% from the field meaning that he will make good use of looks created by Trimble. The Dukes lose their third leading scorer, as well as team leader in rebounds per game, but it is a huge gain for the team in College Park.

Merrill Holden (PF), Louisiana Tech to Iowa State

Merrill Holden played just over 23 minutes per game for the Bulldogs last year and still averaged 8.1 points, 1.1 blocks and 5 rebounds per game. To put that in perspective, that makes his per 40 minute averages 13.9 points and 8.5 rebounds with almost 2 blocks per game. While he does not have a significant amount of range, he does have the ability to impact both sides of the floor for the Cyclones with his shot blocking, rebounding and inside game. He will be an excellent addition for Monte Morris and Steve Prohm in the post-Georges Niang era.

 

Christian Kessee(G), Coppin State to Memphis

Christian Kessee will provide some depth to the Memphis roster. (Photo courtesy of chatsports.com)

Kessee is another example of a small program player making it to a higher level of competition. He averaged 14.6 points, 2.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. The guard rebounds well for his size and also is an accurate shooter from behind the arc at just under 40%. Last year his three point percentage was actually higher than his field goal percentage, so he needs to work on being a more effective shooter from inside. Kessee is an all around offensive guard that can create opportunities for himself as well as others around him. The same as many other teams on this list, Coppin State loses their leading scorer. Memphis could always use a decent outside shooter and Kessee will be a key piece to the post-Pastner Tigers.

Jordan Mathews (G), Cal to TBD

Things were looking up for the Cal Golden Bears after Ivan Rabb elected to return to school. The announcement by Jordan Mathews was a bit of a surprise in the past week. He suddenly indicated that he would be leaving what would have been an extremely strong Golden Bear team after he graduates to play elsewhere. Initial indications are that Gonzaga is the leader to land Mathews. Mathews is no small loss for Cal. Without Ty Wallace and Jaylen Brown for the upcoming season, he would have been the leading returning scorer. Mathews averaged 13.5 points per game as well as 3.4 rebounds.  He shot over 41% from behind the arc, and that astounding figure was down from the previous year. Mathews’ offensive ability is something that would be a great addition to any team. With Gonzaga losing Kyle Wiltjer to graduation and Domantas Sabonas to the draft, there will be no shortage of room for Mathews to grow if he chooses to transfer there. This late transfer decision is undoubtedly one of the most surprising and impactful this offseason.

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