67RIEFNS No. 19: Pacers testing positions’ defensive importance

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The NBA is full of talent, personality and suspense. During the offseason, It’s easy to forget how wonderful the league can be. So, I’ve assembled 67 Reasons I’m Excited For Next Season (67RIEFNS). They’ll be presented in no particular order.

Conventional wisdom holds centers impact a team’s defense much more than any position.

1.Centers guard an opponent who’s typically hunting high-efficiency shots at the rim.

2. Centers protect the basket, serving as the last line of defense when perimeter players get beat.

3. Centers, due to their size and proximity to the rim, are key to securing defensive rebounds.

Does all that hold true in reality? Are centers really that much more important than perimeter defenders?

The Pacers will offer a great case study this season.

Indiana lost two standout wing defenders, Paul George (to injury) and Lance Stephenson (to free agency). The constant: Roy Hibbert at center.

Hibbert is one of the NBA’s best defensive centers. He finished second in Defensive Player of the Year voting and would have won the award if not due to the Pacers’ second-half collapse (which was due more to offense than defense). He’s an elite shot blocker who has progressed defending the pick-and-roll, though his rebounding leaves something to be desired.

Losing George (All-Defensive first team) and Stephenson (four spots from the second team) will certainly hurt, but their replacements – Rodney Stuckey and C.J. Miles – are adequate defenders. They’re the perfect variables, because they’re clear downgrades but also not so bad that they’ll screw up how Hibbert operates.

If centers are all-important defensive, Hibbert should keep the Pacers near the top of the league in points allowed per possession. Repeating last season’s No. 1 ranking is unlikely, but a top-10 finish is certainly a reasonable request.

Hibbert and George are similar-quality defenders for their positions. How much does Hibbert being taller and playing closer to the basket matter?

We should get an idea this season, and the answer could affect how we value positions defensively.

Celtics’ Jayson Tatum: “Trade rumors don’t bother me”

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Jayson Tatum was one of the young Celtics who struggled to find his space this season with Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back in the mix. Tatum wasn’t shooting the three as well, was taking more long twos, and just seemed to plateau from last season rather than take the leap forward that was expected.

Playoff Tatum has looked more like what we expected, 19.8 points per game, 58 percent shooting from three, and impressive shot creation. That, of course, has rekindled the “are they going to trade him for Anthony Davis” talk. To which Tatum just shrugs, speaking to the New York Times.

“Trade rumors don’t bother me,” he said in his deep monotone. “They’re talking about trading me for guys like Anthony Davis. So, I mean, I must be doing something pretty well.” When pressed on whether this bothered him, he didn’t budge: “I love the game of basketball. Being traded is part of the game. I’ll play for whomever. It’s something I can’t control.”

That echoes what Tatum has said all year. This wasn’t the Laker locker room (which was a different circumstance), Tatum was unphased by the rumors that swirled around him and felt management would be upfront with him.

New Pelicans head man David Griffin has said in the past what he would look for in a Davis trade is one young All-Star player, other good young players or picks, and a veteran role player or two to stabilize the locker room. Tatum would be the young likely future All-Star. The guy who did this to LeBron James just a year ago.

Whether Tatum is traded or not depends on a lot of things — what direction Pelicans’ ownership wants to go with the trade, whether Kyrie Irving remains in Boston this summer, what other surprise offers for Davis or other stars come in — and none of it is within Tatum’s control. So he’s going to do his thing.

In the playoffs, that thing has been impressive.

Jimmy Butler, Jared Dudley ejected after scuffle following Joel Embiid block

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Welcome to the playoffs.

Emotions already were running high as Brooklyn faced what isn’t officially but might as well be a must-win game Saturday.

Then with 7:42 left in the third quarter this happened, and all those emotions burst out.

It started with Joel Embiid making a hard block on a Jarrett Allen dunk attempt. Brooklyn’s Jared Dudley — who started for the Nets and has been huge for them this series — came in to protect his man and shoved Embiid. Then Jimmy Butler decided to protect his guy and ran in and shoved Dudley. Then it all broke loose, including D'Angelo Russell moving the pile with his shove.

After the official reviewed the video (and consulted with the official video center), Butler and Dudley were ejected as instigators — that is a win for Brooklyn, the 76ers lost the better player in that trade.

Embiid was given a flagrant 1 for a foul with contact to the head. For my money that’s over the top in this case, he got the ball and blocked the shot, and this is the playoffs. That was not an intentional blow.

The Nets got a couple free throws and the game moved on, but you can be sure this is going to linger.

The playoffs are just more fun when there is bad blood between the teams.

Joel Embiid playing, starting for 76ers in Game 4 in Brooklyn

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Philadelphia can take a commanding 3-1 series lead over Brooklyn with a win on Saturday.

The Sixers will have Joel Embiid in the paint for that game.

Embiid, battling a sore knee, has averaged 22.5 points and 12.5 rebounds a game, and he’s been a defensive presence, but he has not been his same, explosive self. He has missed some bunnies around the rim and just has not been right. It’s clear watching him.

Still, Philly is better with him on the court (as long as the aggressive Ben Simmons still shows up). With him in the paint and a quick end to the series, Philly may be able to get some rest for Embiid before the second round. But Brooklyn will not make that easy on Saturday or the rest of the way.

Missouri’s Jontay Porter announces he will enter NBA Draft

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Jontay Porter — the younger brother of Denver’s Michael Porter Jr., who did not play all season as he recovered from back issues — was impressive as a freshman, the one season he played at Missouri. He averaged 9.9 points and 6.8 rebounds a game (mostly off the bench), showed a shooting touch from three, he plays a high IQ game, and at 6’11” he has NBA size and a strong frame.

But since then Porter has been a story of injuries. A lot of them. He did not play this past season after tearing the ACL and MCL in his right knee back in October. By his own admission he tried to rush back and tore the same ACL again in March.

Now, Porter is declaring he will enter the NBA Draft.

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Porter has legitimate potential as a stretch five in the NBA, but the knee injuries and questions about Porter’s athleticism (he’s not athletic by NBA standards) makes teams hesitant. That’s why Porter is projected as a second-round pick, a big man with potential but one who needs time to get healthy and develop.

A couple other draft notes:

• Charles Bassey, the 6’11” big man out of Western Kentucky, will test the draft. He is projected as a late second rounder, if drafted at all.

Mike Daum, who averaged 25.3 points and 11.7 rebounds a game this past season for South Dakota State, has entered the draft and signed with Octagon Sports. He needs to impress at combines and workouts to make sure he gets drafted.

• Two European big men, Louis Olinde (6’10” out of Germany) and Aleksander Balcerowski (7’1” center from Poland) both have put their names in the NBA Draft pool. ESPN’s Jonathan Givony announced both of the Euros looking to come to the NBA.