PBT’s Top 10 NBA Stories of 2014, No. 6: Heralded and disappointing draft class


The 2014 NBA draft class was hyped as the best in a decade – since 2003, when LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and several other key contributors joined the league.

No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins and No. 2 pick Jabari Parker were supposed to create a rookie rivalry, and selections late into the first round seemed to provide good value. This draft class claimed both star power and depth.

But the early returns are pretty dim.

The 2014-15 rookie class is on pace to produce the second-fewest win shares per league game ever. Only the 1957-58 class ranked lower in the stat, which – although meaningless as a number – is useful in comparing rookie classes across eras where the league’s size and schedule varied.


(The league’s first few seasons are not included in the chart, because a disproportionately high number of players were rookies, and their high combined contributions would have distorted the scale.)

To be fair, it’d be reasonable to predict rookies tend to improve more within a season than other players. After all, they have the most to learn.

So, there’s still hope the 2014-15 class becomes more competitive between now and April.

However, some key rookies are either hurt or behind the eight ball thanks to previous injures. Most of the top 10 picks are out or have missed significant time:

1. Andrew Wiggins

2. Jabari Parker (injured earlier this month and lost for season)

3. Joel Embiid (injured before the draft and likely out all season)

4. Aaron Gordon (fractured foot last month and out indefinitely)

5. Dante Exum

6. Marcus Smart (missed 13 games due to injury)

7. Julius Randle (injured in his first game and lost for season)

8. Nik Stauskas

9. Noah Vonleh (injured in preseason and too far behind to contribute)

10. Elfrid Payton

This is why Wiggins is an overwhelming favorite for Rookie of the Year. It’s telling that his top competition, Nikola Mirotic, wasn’t even drafted this year. The Bulls rookie was selected in 2011 and signed with Chicago this offseason.

Don’t completely give up on the 2014 draft class, but it’s not too early to lower expectations.

Nikola Vucevic and Tobias Harris coming into their own for Magic


BOSTON – Nikola Vucevic is more confident than ever and playing the best basketball of his life.

Perhaps, it’s because the Magic gave him a four-year, $54 million contract extension last offseason.

“It just kind of gives you a kind of peace of mind, to where you do what you do, and you don’t have to worry about those things,” Vucevic said. “I feel like I know that I put the summer in, the work in, and I know what I sacrificed to get to here. Now, when I get on the court, there’s no reason for me to doubt myself.”

On the flip side, Orlando failed to reach a deal with another rookie-extension-eligible player, Tobias Harris. If Vucevic’s extension made him comfortable, how did Harris not getting one affect him?

“I’m always going to work hard at anything I do just because I love this game,” Harris. “Ever since I was a kid playing basketball, I always just instilled the work ethic in myself to be the best that I can be, free agent or non-free agent.”

Vucevic confirms Harris’ mindset hasn’t changed. In fact, Vucevic has though the sacrifices Harris makes to improve are “sometimes even too much.”

“He wants to compete all the time,” Vucevic said. “Whatever you do, he has to be the best. When it comes to dressing up, the car you have, the music you listen to, whatever – Tobias, he has to be the best.”

So who has the team’s best car?

“I do,” said Vucevic, who declined to share what he drives.

Though Vucevic’s vehicle remains a mystery, here’s what’s clear: A confident Vucevic and competitive Harris are driving the Magic, and if they keep this up, they’ll deserve real All-Star consideration.

Orlando has repeatedly hit the right notes with these two. The Magic drafted neither Vucevic (No. 16 in 2011) nor Harris (drafted No. 19 the same year), acquiring both in trades. Vucevic came from the 76ers in the Dwight Howard megadeal, and Harris from the Bucks as the primary return for J.J. Redick. Whatever motivational factors Orlando had in mind when negotiating their contract extensions last offseason, Vucevic (18.2 points on 52.0 percent shooting and 11.8 rebounds per game) and Harris (18.6 points on 47.4 percent shooting and 7.2 rebounds per game) are having All-Star-type seasons.

Between six and eight frontcourt players will make each All-Star team. Vucevic and Harris rank fifth and sixth among Eastern Conference frontcourt players in Estimated Wins Added, a PER-based stat that accounts for playing time, behind only LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Al Jefferson and Chris Bosh.


This is not to suggest Vucevic and Harris should make the All-Star game, merely that they’re reasonable candidates. Of course, it’s unlikely they’ll be treated as such – especially in tandem.

The Magic are 11-20. It’s hard enough for a losing team to send a player to the All-Star game, let alone two. In the last 30 years, just 11 teams with losing records at the All-Star break produced multiple All-Stars.

Team Record at All-Star break All-Stars
2012-13 LAL 25-29 Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard
2011-12 BOS 15-17 Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo
2007-08 WAS 25-27 Caron Butler, Antawn Jamison
2006-07 NJN 25-29 Vince Carter, Jason Kidd
2005-06 HOU 22-31 Tracy McGrady, Yao Ming
1996-97 MIN 23-25 Kevin Garnett, Tom Gugliotta
1994-95 DET 17-29 Joe Dumars, Grant Hill
1993-94 NJN 22-24 Kenny Anderson, Derrick Coleman
1992-93 GSW 23-30 Chris Mullin, Tim Hardaway
1992-93 DET 21-29 Joe Dumars, Isiah Thomas
1987-88 PHI 20-23 Charles Barkley, Maurice Cheeks

All those teams had better winning percentages than this year’s Magic. The last team with such a poor record and two All-Stars was the 1971-72 Cavaliers, who were 15-32 at the break and sent Butch Beard and John Johnson. Back then, the East had just eight teams from which to build an All-Star squad.

Now, with 15 teams per conference and an unofficial allocation of reserve votes based on team record, it’s a practical certainty Vucevic and Harris can’t both reach the All-Star game.

If one makes it – and that’s far from guaranteed – it will probably be Vucevic, whom Doc Rivers called an All-Star. The Clippers coach also described Vucevic as “probably the best player in the league that nobody knows.”

“When he says nobody knows me, it’s kind of true,” Vucevic said. “Not a lot of people knew about me before, but I’ve never been worried about it. I knew what I was capable of. I had the talent. I just had to keep working to sustain it and become good.”

Without question, Vucevic is good. The 7-foot center is an effective post player with range well outside the paint. He’s shooting 66.0 percent at the rim and 43.0 percent from mid-range. Only Anthony Davis tops both those marks (minimum: 100 shots from each location). Vucevic, though his feet still run a little slow and he’s not a great rim protector, is making defensive progress. For the first time, the Magic are allowing fewer points per possession with him on the court than off, though he’s always hovered around their team-wide mark.

Similarly, Harris is on the right track. He’s shooting 39.3 percent on 3-pointers, well above the 28.0 percent he was shooting beyond the arc entering this season. His increased range has opened the floor for himself and teammates, and he likes to advantage with well-timed cuts to the baskets. Playing more small forward this season after seeing a lot of time as a stretch four last season, Harris has really enhanced his all-around game.

The big question: If these guys are so good, why is Orlando so bad?

It’s a fair point.

To some degree, they’re putting up numbers on this team because someone has to. But imagine where the Magic would be without Vucevic and Harris. Orlando performs better when those two share the court than any of its other 10-most-used duos. And more directly, Harris has hit two game-winning jumpers.

Earlier this month against the Hawks:



And last month against the 76ers:

With Harris already holding a reputation for clutch play entering the season, a dearth of quality wings around the league and a rising salary cap looming, Harris will get plenty of attention this summer. Don’t be surprised if the annual salary on his next contract exceeds $10 million.

He’s reportedly interested in the Knicksplaying in New York would reportedly trigger a bonus in his Nike contract – but he’ll be a restricted free agent. The Magic can keep him, and he’s on record saying he wants to remain in Orlando.

If all else fails, Harris could accept the qualifying offer for next season and become an unrestricted free agent in 2016, when the salary cap should skyrocket. If Harris starts 17 more games or plays 1,121 more minutes this season, he’ll raise his qualifying offer from $3,394,726 to $4,433,683. It’s a small advantage, one Harris is likely to meet, but it’d nudges him a little closer to that route.

How much would the Magic pay to keep Harris? They have one of the league’s most egalitarian salary structures.

Channing Frye ($8,579,088) is the second-lowest-paid player among teams’ highest-paid players, behind only the 76ers’ Jason Richardson ($6,601,125). Victor Oladipo ($4,978,200) is the lowest-paid player among teams’ second-highest-paid players. Ben Gordon ($4.5 million) is the lowest-paid player among teams’ third-highest-paid players, behind only the 76ers’ Joel Embiid ($4,427,640).

And so on. The Magic’s fourth- (Aaron Gordon), fifth- (Vucevic), sixth- (Luke Ridnour) and seventh- (Elfrid Payton) lowest-paid players are the or among the lowest-paid in the league for their team rank. It’s telling that Orlando’s second- and fourth-highest paid players are still on their-rookie scale contracts.

What it means: The Magic still have incredible flexibility to shape their roster.

Their seven highest-paid players are all contract for next season. That’s when Vucevic’s big extension kicks in, and Frye is the only other Orlando player slated to make more Oladipo’s rookie-scale salary. Harris is the team’s eight-highest-paid player.

So, if the Magic think they’re onto something here – with a young core that also includes an emerging Oladipo and Evan Fournier – there’s little reason to let Harris bolt. Frye, the team’s veteran leader, sure believes they’re onto something with Vucevic and Harris.

“They’re developing as leaders on this team, as kind of the pillars of where we’re going to build this team,” Frye said. “And I’m cool with that. I’m very cool with that. And it’s an honor to play with these guys and watch them develop, and I think they’re both learning that they can’t do it by themselves and that with each other, we’re a very good team. We’re going to put it all on them.”

For now, both players are still trying to find their place in the league individually.

Vucevic, with the big extension and nice car, is a bit further along in that process. Even Harris, who said he drives a BMW M6, admitted Vucevic had the team’s top car – though not without his signature competitiveness showing in the answer.

“He does,” Harris allowed, “now. But – yeah he does.”

Told of Harris’ admission, Vucevic calmly nodded.

Vucevic’s confidence and Harris’ competitiveness are working for each player right now. Vucevic is proving why he got paid, and Harris is showing why he should get paid. In the process, the duo is driving the Magic in the right direction, and the next major stop might just be New York for the All-Star game.

PBT Tuesday Night Winners/Losers: Sixers, Lakers show the last will be first (for a night)


Every night the NBA can be a cold hard reality — there are winners, there are losers. It’s the nature of the game. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to bring you the best and worst of the NBA each week night. Here’s what you missed while finishing up your Christmas shopping…

source:  Philadelphia 76ers. They have a winning streak — two in a row. Tuesday night was the Sixers’ best win of the season, they were down 23 to the Heat and fought back for the victory. The key was their defense, which has quietly improved all season and has climbed all the way up to 11th in the NBA in points allowed per possession. That defense shut down the Miami Heat in the second half, holding them to 21 percent shooting in the fourth quarter and just 30 points in the entire second half. That was enough to give even the anemic Sixers’ offense an advantage and they won the game 91-87 behind 20 from Michael Carter-Williams. The Sixers aren’t good, but they aren’t as bad as their reputation anymore.

source:  Damian Lillard. He’s a beast. And clutch. The point guard scored 18 points of his 40 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, plus had four assists in that window. Kevin Durant was out for a third game with a sprained ankle, but this was still a big win for Portland, and it was all about Lillard, who forced overtime with the shot of the night.

source:  Los Angeles Lakers. Kobe? Kobe Bryant? We don’t need no stinkin’ Kobe Bryant. In his last five games Kobe had shot just 29.2 percent and said after the last few games he was exhausted, so Byron Scott finally got the hint and sat him for a night to rest. But here’s the dirty secret about the Lakers — they have been 22.3 points better per 100 possessions when Kobe sits this season. His ball dominance makes them easier to defend (and he doesn’t defend that well any more), other guys play tight around him. I’m not saying the Lakers would be better without Kobe, but it’s more that they don’t play a good system with him around.

He wasn’t around Tuesday and the Lakers upset the Warriors 113-105 but it wasn’t really that close — the Warriors went on a 19-3 run to close out the game and make the score look more respectable than hit should have.. No team the Warriors had faced in its last 27 games had shot more than 50 percent against them — until Los Angles dropped 51.7 percent on Tuesday.

source:  Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic. It was the guard for Dallas — Rajon Rondo — who garnered all of the attention, but the Suns guards owned this game and got their team the win, 124-115. Dragic led the Suns with 25 points as he got into the paint and knocked down his left-side jumpers on 10-of-17 shooting. Bledsoe wasn’t quite as efficient but he had a triple double of 16 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds — and he really wanted that triple double and wasn’t going to let anyone stand in his way. Including Dragic.

K.J. McDaniels’ mom yells at his teammates for dunking rather than passing, shooting free throws too slowly


If you thought all the action during the 76ers-Magic game was happening on the Philadelphia bench, think again.

Given the teams, it sure wasn’t happening on the court. But in the stands? Definitely.

We’ve already introduced you to the mother of K.J. McDaniels, the rookie 76ers forward. In a nutshell: She doesn’t like that her son plays for a tanking team.

Well, she was in Orlando for the game.

Jordan Eichenblatt:

She is the best.

76ers teammates Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel separated during timeout (video)


Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams are close friends dating back to their days as AAU teammates in Boston.

But with the 76ers playing the Magic yesterday, the Philadelphia teammates got a little heated during  a first-quarter timeout.

Carter-Williams, via Dei Lynam of CSN Philly:

“We got into it a little bit as teammates do,” Carter-Williams said. “I grew up with him; we’ve gotten into it before; this isn’t the first time. It’s not anything negative; we got into it and then it’s over. It is not like we are little kids, and we went out there and not pass each other the ball. It is over and done with, and we move on.”

Noel, via Lynam:

“We had a miscommunication like any competitive players would,” Noel said

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A funny thing happened after the incident: The 76ers won!

It has been and will continue to be a frustrating season for Philadelphia’s players. Management is tanking, having built a roster that can’t regularly compete at this level, and the players are forced to handle loss after loss because of it.

This surely won’t be the last time the frustration boils over, but if the 76ers keep those moments from growing in significance, they’ll be fine. If they keep turning them into wins, they’ll be really well off.