Lou Williams

Westbrook, Harden, Leonard MVP top three as NBA announces award finalists

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We are not going to know who is MVP — or any other NBA award winner, outside of the All-NBA Team — before the June 26 award ceremony. That’s after the Finals, and after the Draft.

But we do know who the top three finalists are in the major individual categories, those were announced on Friday on TNT. Here are all the finalists (listed in no particular order).

Most Valuable Player
Kawhi Leonard
James Harden
Russell Westbrook

Defensive Player of the Year
Draymond Green
Kawhi Leonard
Rudy Gobert

Rookie of the Year
Joel Embiid
Dario Saric
Malcolm Brogdon

Sixth Man of the Year
Andre Iguodala
Eric Gordon
Lou Williams

Coach of the Year
Erik Spoelstra
Mike D’Antoni
Gregg Popovich

Most Improved Player
Rudy Gobert
Giannis Antetokounmpo
Nikola Jokic

Remember, the votes were turned in before the playoffs started.

I don’t see any real surprises in there. Certainly not with MVP where Westbrook/Harden/Leonard will be the top three vote getters, with LeBron James fourth, then a pretty wide open race for fifth. Some people will argue LeBron was snubbed, but while he had a strong regular season his Cavaliers took the month of March basically off, particularly on defense, and in a close race that matters.

On down the list, those likely are the top three vote-getters in each category, and while you can try to make a case for people outside this group to be included (was Isaiah Thomas one of the most improved? Scotty Brooks for Coach of the Year?) there are no shockers in there.

Drake will host the NBA’s first ever awards ceremony on June 26, shown live on TNT from New York City. I doubt they do it, but the NBA should treat this like the Golden Globes, with big round tables and flowing alcohol for the nominees and others in the audience. It would make a more lively show.

Report: Knicks eyeing De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, or Frank Ntilikina in draft

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The New York Knicks are likely picking seventh in the upcoming NBA Draft.

They do have a 5.3 percent chance of jumping up to the No. 1 pick, and an 18.3 percent chance of leaping up to the top three. However, the biggest odds are the 57.2 percent chance of staying where they are (and a 24.4 percent chance of falling back a spot or two).

When it comes time to pick the Knicks need help a lot of places but particularly in the backcourt – especially with Derrick Rose unlikely to return — and that seems to be where they are looking, reports Ian Begley of ESPN.

Members of the organization have been scouting players in the draft for months; there are a few players that those members have become fond of: French guard Frank Ntilikina and Kentucky guards De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, among others. Also, just like the rest of the NBA, members of the organization are also enamored by Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball and Josh Jackson.

Those last three are off the board unless they do get blessed by the Draft Lottery gods. Frankly, so is Fox, who is likely off the board before they pick if it’s seventh.

In NBC’s mock draft we have the Knicks taking Monk — a guy who can put up points. If you followed Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament, you saw how red-hot he can get for a stretch. However, he doesn’t do much else, he feels like a Lou Williams/Jamal Crawford kind of player who can light it up as a sixth man but may struggle when asked to do too much.

Some scouts are high on Ntilikina, a 6’5″ point guard with long arms who shows promise on defense and was an improved shooter this season. He looks like an NBA point guard in style, and we know Phil Jackson loves tall guards.

Workouts and interviews will go a long way in deciding what the Knicks do. First, they are hoping the lottery balls bounce their way.

2017 NBA Mock Draft, the first round

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Tuesday, myself and Rob Dauster from NBC’s College Basketball Talk talked through a first round 2017 mock draft. You can listen to how we came to these conclusions (also at the bottom of this post).

Teams tend to take the best player on the board, but if it’s close between guys — and in spots this draft is very bunched up — teams take need and other factors into account. We looked at it the same way, and here is what we projected.
 
Celtics small icon 1. Boston Celtics: Markelle Fultz, Washington. The top player on nearly everyone’s draft board because he can do it all: Make threes, finish above the rim, play in transition, elite on the pick-and-roll, hits midrange pullups, great size for his position. The only questions are defense and how far he can lead a team.
 
Suns small icon 2. Phoenix Suns: Josh Jackson, Kansas. Great physical gifts for a wing, strong defender who could become lock-down guy, great motor, needs to improve his shooting but form is strong.
 
Lakers small icon 3. Los Angeles Lakers: Lonzo Ball, UCLA. Fantastic court vision and high IQ, incredible in transition. Can he score in half court (he mostly dished on P&R)? Shooting motion is odd but the ball goes in.
 
Sixers small icon 4. Philadephia 76ers: Jayson Tatum, Duke.: Phenomenal isolation scorer, he can face guys up or post up smaller players. How will his game translate to NBA where everyone has size and athleticism? Is he a small ball four?
 
Magic small icon 5. Orlando Magic: De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky. Good size, speed, and athleticism, strong defender and could be elite on that end. Has a lot of work to do on his shot.
 
timberwolves small icon 6. Minnesota Timberwolves:
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona. He’s a 7-footer that shot 42.3% from three, and not just spot-ups. Floor spacing backup behind Karl-Anthony Towns.
 
Knicks small icon 7. New York Knicks: Malik Monk, Kentucky. Guy just knows how to score, and can get red hot for stretches. Not fantastic at anything else. Future sixth man in the Jamal Crawford/Lou Williams mold?
 
Kings small icon 8. Sacramento Kings: Jonathan Isaac, Florida State. One of the best athletes in the draft and already a strong defender with elite potential. Very raw on offense.
 
Mavericks small icon 9. Dallas Mavericks: Dennis Smith Jr., N.C. State. Strong playmaker, good handles good in the open court, but was up and down and didn’t seem consistently interested in defense.
 
Kings small icon 10. Sacramento Kings: Frank Ntilikina, France, Tall 6’5″ point guard who is a good two-way player, someone with a lot of offensive potential.
 
Hornets small icon 11. Charlotte Hornets: Zach Collins, Gonzaga. Fantastic performances on big stage of NCAA Tournament, he can make threes, score in the post, blocks shots, rebound. Came off bench at Gonzaga, still a work in progress.
 
Pistons small icon 12. Detroit Pistons: Terrance Ferguson, Australia. A 6’6″ wing with insane athleticism, good spot up shooter but has work to do on both ends. Chose to play in Australia rather than college last season.
 
Nuggets small icon 13. Denver Nuggets: O.G. Anunoby, Indiana. Great physical tools for an NBA wing, 6’8″, athletic, can be impressive defender, needs to work on his shot and handles.
 
Heat small icon 14. Miami Heat: Justin Jackson, North Carolina. Can shoot the three, and when he gets in the lane has a fantastic floater. Not great at creating his own shot. Good size, but will he defend at next level?
 
Blazers small icon 15. Portland Trail Blazers:
Jarrett Allen, Texas. Great size — 6’11” with 7’6″ wingspan — and he’s a great athlete. Could develop into Clint Capella like NBA big, but will he put in the work to do it?
 
Bulls small icon 16. Chicago Bulls: Luke Kennard, Duke. Incredibly efficient offensively, he can shoot, work off the ball, even get buckets in the pick-and-roll. Real questions defensively.
 
Bucks small icon 17. Milwaukee Bucks: Justin Patton, Creighton. A lot of potential, he’s a 7-footer with length, can shoot some but needs shots created for him, and defensive tools needs work.
 
Pacers small icon 18. Indiana Pacers: Donovan Mitchell, Louisville. Big time athlete and can use that to defend. Can create his own shot but will he work off the ball well.
 
Hawks small icon 19. Atlanta Hawks: John Collins, Wake Forest. A bit of a late bloomer (young for his grade,), he’s an efficient scorer but will he pass? 6’11” but how will he defend, rebound at the next level.
 
Blazers small icon 20. Portland Trail Blazers:
Ike Anigbogu, UCLA. He’s got good size — 6’10” with long arms, strong — and is quick off the floor, which helps with rebounding and shot blocking, but the rest of his game needs polish.
 
Thunder small icon 21. Oklahoma City Thunder: Semi Ojeleye, SMU. Played as a stretch four last season and showed to be a good shooter, but he’s undersized for that role in the NBA. Can he play the three?
 
Nets small icon 22. Brooklyn Nets: Isaiah Hartenstein (played in Lithuania). Great size at 7’1″ and a solid athlete who can do a little bit of everything.
 
Raptors small icon 23. Toronto Raptors: Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky. The most explosive athlete in the draft, fantastic physical tools, but very raw and is a real project. Never played for Kentucky.
 
Jazz small icon 24. Utah Jazz: T.J. Leaf, UCLA. Great size at 6’10”, fluid athlete who excelled in transition and can shoot the three. Needs to get stronger and round out his game.
 
Magic small icon 25. Orlando Magic: Tyler Lydon, Syracuse. Can shoot the three and was a good rim protector (but in the Syracuse zone). Was a good stretch four in college but is undersized for that at the next level.
 
Blazers small icon 26. Portland Trail Blazers:
Ivan Rabb, California. Would have gone a lot higher last year, but returned to college for a season. Put up better numbers this season but was less efficient.
 
Nets small icon 27. Brooklyn Nets: Harry Giles, Duke. Was the top of this class early in high school then injuries robbed him of some athleticism and development time. Is he past that, or is he forever diminished (and if so how much)? Good roll of dice this late in round.
 
Lakers small icon 28. Los Angeles Lakers: Bam Adebayo, Kentucky. Will be more of a four, he can defend on perimeter and is good athlete, but not a shooter. Could be a Julius Randle backup?
 
Spurs small icon 29. San Antonio Spurs:. Rodions Kurucs, Barcelona. Athletic wing with good size out of a top European program. We won’t hear from him for two or three years, then Gregg Popovich will put him in and he’ll be fantastic. Because that’s what the Spurs do.

It was raining threes again and Rockets blow past Spurs 125-104, even series 2-2

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Coach Mike D’Antoni’s formula for Houston to win in this series is pretty simple: The pace has to be up, the threes have to fall, and the role players — particularly off the bench — have to step up with big games.

Game 4 saw the Houston back to running and gunning. The Rockets hit 19 threes on 44.2 percent shooting from deep, ( well above the 30.8 percent they shot in Game 3). All those threes falling forced the Spurs to extend their defense, then the Rockets started putting the ball on the floor and blowing by them in what felt like a layup line at points.

And the Rockets got help for James Harden. Ryan Anderson had 13 points (up from 2 in the previous game), and the Houston bench had 50 points, well ahead of the 10 last game. Eric Gordon led the way with 22.

The result of all this was a 125-104 win for the Rockets at home, evening the series at 2-2 heading back to San Antonio for Game 5 Tuesday.

“Several guys stepped up tonight,” James Harden said after a 28 point, 12 assist night (eight of the 12 dimes were for threes). “Ryan, Lou, Eric, Trevor, Pat, and if we’re going to have a chance at this series they’re going to have to make plays, and they did tonight.”

The Rockets did all this without Nene, who suffered a groin injury two minutes in and could not play. His status for the rest of the series is up in the air.

Patrick Beverley was the inspiration for Houston, on the day he lost his grandfather he played fantastic ball, scored 10 points and that included hitting the first three of the night.

“As always, he’s probably the heart and soul, the guy, he’s just incredible,” D’Antoni said postgame.

“So much adversity through his life that he’s had to go through to get to this point,” Harden added. “He’s just a fighter.”

The real story of this game was pace — the Rockets were running again, and the Spurs again got sucked into playing fast for stretches. They also didn’t slow the Rockets transition game.

“For us, our Bible begins with transition defense, and if it’s not there we’re just not ready to go,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said after the game. “If you’d seen the clips of our transition D you would have traded all the players and fired me at the end of the game. It was that bad. But they were that intense, they were that focused and professional, and we were not.”

One key to the pace this series has been rebounding. The Rockets had been killed on the offensive glass the last couple games and that slowed down their attack. The Spurs grabbed the offensive board on 32.8 percent of their missed shots in Game 3, but in Game 4 that fell to 24 percent, which allowed the Rockets to get out and run more.

With that pace and space, the shots fell — the Rockets even shot 62 percent on the shots contested by the Spurs (according to NBA.com). In addition to Harden’s 28 points and Gordon’s 22, Trevor Ariza had 16, and Lou Williams pitched in 13 off the bench.

Jonathon Simmons led the Spurs 1ith 17 points off the bench and he played well. Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge combined for 32 points on 27 shots. They will need to play better at home if the Spurs are to take control of this series again.

More importantly, the Spurs will need to control the pace of Game 5 to get that crucial win.

Spurs control pace, get 26 from LaMarcus Aldridge, beat Rockets to take 2-1 series lead

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Going home to Houston, with Tony Parker out for the series, there was pressure and expectations on the Rockets to take control of their series against the Spurs on Friday night.

Instead, it was the Spurs who seemed in control.

The game was slower than the Rockets need (100 possessions total, it was 105 in Game 1), they shot 12-of-39 from three (30.8 percent), the role players that killed the Spurs in Game 1 were again quiet, and Houston has yet to find a good adjustment for dealing with Pau Gasol hanging back in the paint on defense. The Rockets scored just 92 points, a season low.

Meanwhile, the Spurs did Spurs-like things. They were patient on offense, and that led to LaMarcus Aldridge getting 26 points, matching Kawhi Leonard’s number. Defensively, Leonard and the scheme made life hard on James Harden, but more importantly, the Spurs stayed home on shooters and made it difficult for him to get others involved. Then, of course, the Spurs executed brilliantly down the stretch.

The result was a 103-92 win by the Spurs in Houston, giving the Spurs a 2-1 lead in the series. Game 4 is Sunday in Houston.

“I don’t know what they’ve done any different, they haven’t done anything different,” Rockets’ Mike D’Antoni said after the game. “They beat us three times in the regular season that way…

“Nothing they did should have bothered us, we just didn’t play good.”

James Harden put up 43 points, but he needs help getting buckets. If the Rockets are going to bounce back and even the series Sunday, they need their shooters to step up — Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, and Nene combined to shoot 6-of-36. As a team, non-Harden Rockets shot 18-of-60.

On top of all that, the Rockets started to lose their composure and just bark at officials. Both Harden and Patrick Beverley picked up technicals for complaining about calls.

The Spurs have been able to get away with Gasol and Aldridge on the floor, two bigs against Houston, and you wonder if D’Antoni will double down on his strategy and go smaller with Ryan Anderson at the five for stretches. That’s not to say Clint Capella has played poorly, he had 12 points and 16 rebounds, but the Rockets need to shake something up.

And they need to respond to pressure.

Game 5 becomes almost must-win for Houston — go down 3-1 and this series is over. Houston has to get back to playing fast and free, and they’ve just got to knock down their threes.