Giannis Antetokounmpo, Michael Carter-Williams

Which NBA team has best under-23 players?

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The Bucks finished an NBA-worst 15-67 last season.

Being bad stinks, but it’s a lot worse when you’re trying to be good. That’s why Milwaukee’s season was much more problematic than that of the 76ers, who went a similar 19-63.

But the Bucks realized the hole they’re in, so now they’re truly rebuilding. And owner Marc Lasry thinks they’re doing a good job.

Is Lasry right? Do the Bucks really have the best collection of players under age 23?

Here’s how I rate the NBA’s top dozen teams by the collective value of their under-23 players:

12. Thunder

  • Jeremy Lamb
  • Steven Adams
  • Perry Jones
  • Andre Roberson
  • Mitch McGary
  • Josh Huestis
  • Grant Jerrett
  • Semaj Christon

This is a deep group of players who could become long-term NBA starters, but Adams is the only one I think gets there. Still, there’s a lot of talent between McGary, Lamb and even Jones. And maybe Roberson, who has a knack for doing the little things, ends up better than all three.

11. Raptors

  • Jonas Valanciunas
  • Lucas Nogueira
  • Bruno Caboclo
  • DeAndre Daniels

Valanciunas is on track to become an All-Star, but there’s no guarantee he gets there and he’s the only under-23 Raptor of significant value. It’s not ideal to put all your eggs in one basket.

10. Hornets

  • Bismack Biyombo
  • Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
  • Cody Zeller
  • Noah Vonleh
  • P.J. Hairston

This list includes multiple players – Vonleh, Kidd-Gilchrist and Biyombo – I know I’m higher on than most. So, I struggled to rank Charlotte, and I’m not sure whether I overcompensated or undercompensated for my personal preferences. Zeller really looked more comfortable late last season, and between him and Vonleh, I think the Bobcats have a strong future at power forward.

9. Jazz

  • Enes Kanter
  • Trey Burke
  • Rudy Gobert
  • Dante Exum
  • Rodney Hood

Burke and Exum could each become one of the NBA’s better guards, though it’s unclear whether they can reach that level together. Kanter hasn’t panned out as hoped, though it’s soon to close the book on him. Gobert, as Zach Lowe of Grantland detailed, has intriguing upside, though he didn’t play much last season. Essentially, it’s easy to find reasons for optimism, but just as easy to find reasons for pessimism.

8. Wizards

  • Bradley Beal
  • Otto Porter

It might not be long until Beal is the NBA’s best shooting guard, and though I don’t think he ever hits that level, he’s still very good. Porter had a rough rookie year, but I’m not giving up him yet.

7. Magic

  • Tobias Harris
  • Maurice Harkless
  • Victor Oladipo
  • Evan Fournier
  • Aaron Gordon
  • Elfrid Payton
  • Roy Devyn Marble

Outside of Oladipo, I’m not that high on any of these players – and I’m not even totally, absolutely, 100 percent sold on Oladipo. But it’s a deep collection of young talent, and I bet at least one other player emerges as quality.

6. Timberwolves

  • Shabazz Muhammad
  • Anthony Bennett
  • Andrew Wiggins
  • Zach LaVine
  • Glenn Robinson III

Wiggins has incredible potential. He went No. 1 in a loaded draft, after all. LaVine has tremendous upside, but he’s extremely raw. Maybe Bennett, who was awful last season, capitalizes on his impressive summer and turns around his career.

5. Bucks

  • Brandon Knight
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo
  • Jabari Parker
  • Damien Inglis
  • Johnny O’Bryant III

Lasry’s Bucks didn’t quite make it to the top spot. There’s a major disconnect between Antetokounmpo current production (not great) and potential (great), and I want to see more from him before I’m convinced he’ll bridge that gap. I would have taken Parker No. 1 in the draft, though I essentially viewed him and Wiggins as a tossup. Knight made major strides next year, and I’m interested to see whether he continues progressing as he settles into a larger role.

4. Pistons

  • Andre Drummond
  • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
  • Tony Mitchell
  • Spencer Dinwiddie

Drummond is a singular force individually lifting Detroit so high on this list. Underrated for what he already does, Drummond has potential to become the NBA’s top center – and it’s not a far climb. Caldwell-Pope, who could be a nice 3&D threat next to Drummond, boosts the Pistons, too.

3. Cavaliers

  • Kyrie Irving
  • Dion Waiters
  • Joe Harris
  • Alex Kirk

Irving is already a two-time All-Star, a true offensive game-changer. I think his defense could come around to at least competent now that Cleveland is ready to win. I’m not big on Waiters, but he has talent, and the Cavaliers are here due to Irving anyway.

2. 76ers

  • Michael Carter-Williams
  • Tony Wroten
  • Nerlens Noel
  • Joel Embiid
  • Dario Saric
  • K.J. McDaniels
  • Jerami Grant
  • Pierre Jackson
  • Adonis Thomas

Carter-Williams just won Rookie of the Year, and he’s a good athlete with great size for his position. Noel, for my money, was the best prospect in the 2013 draft ignoring his injury. We’ll soon see how much that affected him long-term. Embiid would have gone No. 1 in this draft if healthy. And Saric has impressed in the World Cup. The 76ers might be years away, but I like where they’re going.

1. Pelicans

  • Anthony Davis
  • Austin Rivers
  • Patric Young

Davis is just that good. He could be the NBA’s third-best player as soon as this season, so if you can get him, you do. Worry about depth or hedging bets later. Davis is the real deal.

Celtics’ Al Horford blows game-winning layup against Rockets (video)

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The Celtics couldn’t have asked for a much better look on their final possession, but Al Horford missed this layup to give the Rockets a 107-106 win last night.

Maybe Isaiah Thomas should have gone to the line for getting pushed over by Montrezl Harrell, but I’m not 100% sure Harrell should’ve been called for a foul. Besides, that Thomas screen sprung Horford for the layup. I’d take my chances with that barely contested close-range shot.

Michael Beasley, Davis Bertans ejected from Bucks/Spurs for being third/fourth into altercation

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This should have been the usual NBA altercation — two guys jawing with nothing physical happening because teammates step in, everyone does their posturing, and we move along. Monday night in the Spurs eventual win over the Bucks, Greg Monroe and Dewayne Dedmon got tangled up going for a rebound, Dedmon threw a little elbow, Monroe pushed him off, and the two started the well choreographed NBA dance.

Then San Antonio’s Davis Bertans came in and shoved Monroe.

Followed by Milwaukee’s Michael Beasley coming in and shoved Bertans.

Both Beasley and Bertans were ejected for escalating the situation, and you can expect the league will hit both with a fine for being the third/fourth men in.

Three things we learned Monday: Don’t forget, the Warriors have Klay Thompson, too

Golden State Warriors' Klay Thompson follows through on a shot during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Indiana Pacers on Monday, Dec. 5, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Associated Press
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What kind of night was it in the NBA? Russell Westbrook had his sixth straight triple-double, and everyone took it in stride like that happens as often as Family Guy reruns. Anyway, these are the three things we decided to feature instead.

1) Oh yeah, don’t forget the Golden State Warriors have Klay Thompson, too. It’s just not fair. The Indiana Pacers have not played good defense this season, they were on the second night of a back-to-back having beaten the Clippers, and they got rewarded for all this by having to face the Golden State Warriors. All that said, the Pacers did hold Stephen Curry to just 13 points, and Kevin Durant was well below his average with just 20 points.

Oh, but the Warriors still have Klay Thompson.

Klay was peeling off screens (15 possessions) and getting his chance on spot ups (eight), but once he got going it didn’t matter the Pacers put Paul George on him and defended fairly well — Thompson was 11-of-14 on contested jumpers (via NBA.com). He was hitting from almost everywhere on the court.

klay shotchart 2

The Warriors offense is a fearsome machine.

2) Cleveland would like to remind Toronto — and everyone else — they are the best team in the East.
The Cavaliers were on a three-game losing streak and had been playing in a malaise. The Toronto Raptors had been the hottest team in the NBA over the past couple of weeks. So when the top two teams in the East met Monday…

Cleveland won, 116-112, but it felt more comfortable than that suggests. They did it in Toronto. The Cavaliers were not sharp defensively in the first half but hung around thanks to 20 points from Kevin Love (he finished with 28), then in the third quarter the Cavs defended like champions holding Toronto to 20 points on 34.8 percent shooting. Cleveland never pulled away to make it a blowout, but they were in control. LeBron James had 34 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists, Kyrie Irving pitched in 24.

DeMar DeRozan (31 points, and carried the team for stretches) and Kyle Lowry (24) played well, but they did not have enough help. Particularly from their starting front line.

If Toronto is going to threaten Cleveland come the playoffs, Raptors GM Massi Ujiri is going to have to make a move. This team simply does not have the talent to beat Cleveland four out of seven as currently constructed. Monday was simply a reminder of the pecking order in the East when Cleveland cares about the game.

3) Jamal Murray went into Joel Embiid’s building and dropped an impressive 22, just to make an early Rookie of Year statement. It’s still too early to have a serious discussion of postseason awards. To me, any discussion before we get to the season’s halfway point is premature. Not that being premature ever stopped us, just providing some context.

Joel Embiid became the early Rookie of the Year leader with his performance this season, but Jamaal Murray won the Western Conference Rookie of the Month award for November because the Denver Nuggets’ reserve guard has shown better handles than we expected, and that’s given him room to get off the shot we knew he had.

Monday night, Murray went into Philly and dropped 22, hitting seemingly everything.

While Denver big man Jusuf Nurkic made things difficult for Embiid, who finished with 16 points on 15 shots.

This is just one game out of 82, it does not define a ROY race that is far too early to talk about seriously (especially this award, which often goes to the rookie who gets hot and more run in the second half of the season), but Murray is making his case for serious consideration. And he’s earned that thought.

James Harden’s 37 helps Rockets over Celtics 107-106

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HOUSTON (AP) — Houston’s coaching staff emphasized to the players that Boston led the league in fourth-quarter scoring.

So when they Rockets found themselves down by six entering the final frame they knew they’d have step things up to escape with a win.

Harden made sure they did that, scoring 13 of his 37 points in the fourth before Al Horford missed a shot just before the buzzer to allow the Rockets to hold on for a 107-106 victory Monday night.

“The fourth quarter we just picked up … we just wanted to lock in and get stops and offensively be aggressive,” Harden said.

The game was tied before Harden scored five straight points to make it 107-102 with less than a minute remaining. Avery Bradley made a jump shot and Harden received a flagrant 1 foul for elbowing Marcus Smart in the face. Smart made both free throws before Isaiah Thomas missed a layup.

But Houston knocked the ball out of bounds with 5.2 seconds left, giving Boston one last chance. Horford drove into the lane, but his shot rolled off the rim and Harden grabbed it to secure the victory.

“I felt good when I shot it, but it just didn’t go down,” Horford said.

Horford had 21 points and Thomas added 20 for the Celtics, who had won two straight.

It was the ninth 30-point game this season for Harden, who also had eight assists and seven rebounds.

An 8-2 run by Houston, powered by a pair of 3-pointers by Eric Gordon, cut Boston’s lead to one with about 8 1/2 minutes left. Smart made a 3-pointer for the first of seven straight points for the Celtics that made it 96-88. Smart also had a big defensive play in that stretch when he blocked a one-handed dunk attempt by Montrezl Harrell.

Houston scored eight straight points, topped off with a dunk from Harrell, to take a 102-100 lead with about 3 1/2 minutes left.

Harden raved about Harrell’s work.

“You see how he’s flying around everywhere,” Harden said. “He does a lot of different things, some things that don’t show up on the stat sheet that helped contribute to this win.”

The Celtics trailed by 12 early in the third quarter before using a 15-2 spurt to take a 68-67 lead with about 7 minutes left in the quarter. Boston made three 3-pointers in that span, capped by one from Horford. Houston missed five shots, including four 3s, and had two turnovers to help the Celtics close the gap.

“We guarded at a different level and our first unit played pretty well in the third,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “In one stretch in the fourth we turned the ball over and that was hurtful.”

The Rockets were up by three points with 2 minutes left in the first half before Smart fouled Harden on a 3-point attempt and he made all three free throws. Houston had extended the lead to seven when Smart again fouled Harden on a 3-point try and his three free throws made it 58-48 at halftime.

TIP-INS

Celtics: James Young missed the game with an illness. … Thomas received a technical for arguing a call at the end of the first half. … Bradley finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds. … Smart had 13 points.

Rockets: Made 12 3-pointers to extend their NBA record of consecutive games with at least 10 3-pointers to 20. … Trevor Ariza started despite dealing with back spasms and had 15 points and eight rebounds. … Gordon finished with 19 points and made four 3-pointers to give him six straight games with at least four 3s.

PERFECT

Harden tied a franchise record for most free throws without a miss by making all 18 of his attempts on Monday night. Kevin Martin also went 18 for 18 on March 20, 2011 against Utah. He lamented committing the offensive foul on Smart late instead of drawing the foul and getting a chance to go to the line and set the record.

“Of course I wanted two free throws at the end of the game instead of a flagrant, but we won,” he said. “That’s all that matters.”

LATE PUSH

The Rockets have developed a knack for scoring late. After managing just 13 points in the fourth quarter of a 105-103 loss to Oklahoma City on Nov. 16 the Rockets have picked things up, averaging 27.9 fourth-quarter points in the last 10 games.

THEY SAID IT

Stevens on Harden: “Harden is a really good player. I don’t know what else to say. We could go through and dissect every play, but overall he is just a really good player.”