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    We looked up the number of champions in five major basketball competitions (NBA, Olympics, World Cup, Euroleague and NCAA) on NBA rosters right now.

    Here are some of our most fascinating takeaways:

    • The San Antonio Spurs are the only roster with a championship in all five major competitions. Because, of course they are.
    • Likewise, the Spurs are also the team with the most total championships in all five major competitions with 30 overall. They are not, however, the team with the most players to have won championships.
    • That honor would belong to the Golden State Warriors, who have an impressive 13 players with at least one championship. (Which makes sense considering they pretty much brought the entire 2016-17 squad back).
    • The Spurs and Cleveland Cavaliers come tied at second, with nine apiece.
    • The Warriors are also the team with the most Olympic gold-medal winners. They have four in total.
    • The player with the most career championships is the legendary Manu Ginobili, who has six: four NBA titles, to go with one Euroleague championship and an Olympic gold medal with Argentina in the 2004 Athens games.
    • The Charlotte Hornets are the franchise with the most NCAA champions on it. Michael Kidd-GilchristJeremy LambKemba Walker and Marvin Williams all won titles while in school. Lamb and Walker did so on the same Connecticut team.
    • The team with the most Euroleague titles is the Utah Jazz. Joe InglesRicky Rubio and Ekpe Udoh all won championships while playing overseas.
    • Even the rebuilding New York Knicks have three champions on the roster, though they all won their titles in college.
    • Overall, 105 players have won at least one title in the five major competitions, meaning 21.1 percent of players on a roster have championship experience.

    Full data below.

    Key: Number of players who have won those titles in parentheses.


    Olympic Games




    Alberto de Roa contributed to this article.

    manu fiba usa ginobilifau09fsumanu fiba usa ginobilifau09fsu

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    It’s a new era in New York City, and the Garden has been absolutely rocking.

    The New York Knicks have won six of their last seven games in which a certain budding superstar has suited up; over that stretch, they had the league’s seventh-best net rating (4.7), and third-best offensive rating (110.6).

    What’s more, along with the Charlotte Hornets, they’ve beaten the Cleveland Cavaliers in Quicken Loans Arena (demolished, really), Denver Nuggets and Indiana Pacers – all teams that expect to qualify for postseason play, and one with legitimate championship hopes.

    This run of excellent form by the Knicks may be somewhat surprising, considering the team’s slow start and the fact they traded away former-savior-of-New-York-City-basketball Carmelo Anthony in the offseason, but maybe it shouldn’t be.

    After all, despite Phil Jackson’s best efforts, they do still have Kristaps Porzingis.

    The Latvian big man is setting the league aflame thus far in 2017-18. Through 10 games, Porzingis is putting up 30.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 1.9 three-pointers per outing, while shooting 51.2 percent from the floor, 38.0 percent from beyond the arc and 83.6 percent from the charity stripe.

    He’s setting career-best marks in efficiency too, slashing an impressive 55.6 effective field-goal percentage, along with an even more eye-popping 60.7 true shooting percentage.

    And he’s doing so with teammates assisting on merely 60.9 percent of his field goals, the lowest margin of his three NBA seasons.

    Porzingis has been asked to carry this rendition of Knicks basketball, and he’s been more than up to the task. His ability to score from all over the floor, no matter the situation, is what sets the 7-foot-3 specimen apart from his counterparts.

    Isolate him on the perimeter with your best defender? That’s fine. According to Synergy Sports, Porzingis is producing 0.93 points per possession (PPP) in one-on-one situations – an above-average success rate.

    Defend him with wings to neutralize the advantage his quickness provides against traditional big men? That’s cool, too. Porzingis is scoring 1.02 PPP when posting up – by far the most effective mark of his career, and one that places him in the NBA’s 73rd percentile. (It’s clear how much stronger he’s gotten since the end of 2016-17, but more on that in a bit.)

    And if it’s an off night for the unicorn, one in which his iso game fails him and the post-up buckets won’t drop, head coach Jeff Hornacek can just place him in a variety of pick-and-rolls and tell him to go to work.

    The Knicks’ power forward is dropping an astounding 1.45 PPP as the roll man, the league’s third-best clip, behind only roll-men extraordinaires Clint Capela and Rudy Gobert.

    Where Porzingis differs from those two, and other traditional roll men, is in the way he finishes dives to the rim. Both Capela and Gobert need to get all the way to the bucket, or, at the very least, within five feet of it, to complete their forays into the paint.

    On the other hand, if the restricted area is crowded with defenders when Porzingis rolls, which is often the case, as the 22-year-old stud has played alongside another big man 97 percent of the time this season (per Basketball Reference), he can simply pull up from mid-range and knock down short jumpers, instead of crashing into heavy traffic.

    Despite New York’s lack of competent point guard play, the future All-Star still dominates in situations that usually require a strong floor general, such as the pick-and-roll, thanks to his mixture of length, athleticism and timing.

    Oh, and his absurd shooting prowess certainly doesn’t hurt either. Porzingis leads the NBA in pick-and-pop efficiency at 1.67 PPP, successfully converting 60 percent of such looks.

    What’s even more encouraging is how the Latvian handles added pressure late in games. Among players with at least four appearances in clutch situations (five-point game with fewer than five minutes remaining, according to and with a usage rate higher than 30 percent in that time frame, Porzingis has the league’s highest net rating at 45.

    That means the Knicks are outscoring opponents by a preposterous 45 points per 100 possessions in clutch situations with their young star in the game, which is almost unfathomable.

    We saw it in their win against the Hornets.

    With the score tied at 111, Porzingis and rookie lead guard Frank Ntilikina ran a simple pick-and-roll. Dwight Howard and Kemba Walker defended it well, so the floor-spacing big man decided to take a few steps back and launch a 27-footer.

    Nothing but net.

    Later, with the Knicks still up one and the clock winding down, New York ran a pick-and-pop between Tim Hardaway Jr and Porzingis. Because Walker was defending Ntilikina (who has five made threes on 19 attempts this year), he smartly abandoned his assignment and helped Malik Monk chase the seven-footer off the three-point line.

    Porzingis beautifully faked a pass to his rookie teammate, put his head down and drove right past his 6-foot-3 defender, eventually laying in the dagger finish.

    Though he makes it look easy, the sequence was far from that. No one is going to mistake Monk for an elite defender anytime soon, but even so, he’s got extremely quick feet on the less glamorous side of the ball; a 7-foot-3 human being shouldn’t be able to blow by him just like that.

    Porzingis’ added strength has partly played a role in his auspicious start, as exemplified on that play. He puts his shoulder into Monk and keeps him in no-man’s land through the entire drive, until he’s able to rise for the finish.

    Along with his much-improved strength, the freakish shot-blocking floor-spacer has cut down on the foolish fouls that used to plague his career. Last season, Porzingis averaged 3.7 fouls per contest – the second-highest mark in the NBA. This year, he’s all the way down to 2.9 fouls per 36 minutes, by far the lowest rate of his career.

    The only area Porzingis hasn’t shown much improvement is with his distribution, as he’s totaled merely 10 assists in 10 games, to 25 turnovers. His 0.4 assist-to-turnover ratio is the league’s sixth-worst rate among players to average at least 20 minutes.

    Though he does need to improve his floor vision (he almost always looks to score instead of setting up teammates), he’s still deadly effective as a point-scorer. Even without passing, Porzingis boasts the NBA’s 10th-most offensive win shares, outpacing the likes of Karl-Anthony TownsDeMarcus Cousins and Blake Griffin.

    Overall, more than anything, to succeed in the Big Apple, you need an equally big personality. The city has chewed up and spit out many emerging stars before Porzingis, and it’ll do so after his reign is one day over, too.

    But the pressure doesn’t get to him.

    And that – along with his absurd skill level and otherworldly physical traits – is going to help the unflappable third-year player reach even higher peaks in New York City for years to come.

    You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_.

    Kristaps Porzingis2fau09fsuKristaps Porzingis2fau09fsu

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    Over the summer, the Orlando Magic had multiple decisions to make with regards to the future of their roster.

    The most important one concerned Aaron Gordon – the supremely talented power forward who dazzled the NBA world with his performance in the 2016 Slam Dunk Contest. The thing is, to that point, and throughout the rest of his career prior to this season, Gordon was known solely for his acrobatic, gravity-defying feats of dunking wizardry.

    Before 2017-18, the Arizona product had averaged merely 9.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per game while shooting 46.0 percent from the floor, 69.9 percent from the foul stripe and 28.9 percent on 2.2 nightly three-point attempts.

    Thus, it was only logical that new team president Jeff Weltman and general manager John Hammond were hesitant about just handing him a huge extension this past offseason.

    Instead, Gordon will now hit restricted free agency in 2018, along with his teammate Elfrid Payton, and other bigger names such as Clint CapelaJabari Parker and Zach LaVine.

    Two of those players – Parker and LaVine – are currently recovering from torn ACLs suffered last season, while Payton still hasn’t solved his biggest issue as a player: consistency.

    That makes the two most enticing restricted free agents next summer Gordon and Capela, as both have clearly taken their games to the next level thus far this campaign.

    Capela leads the league in field-goal percentage (69.9 percent) while averaging 13.3 points and 11.5 rebounds per night. Ridiculous numbers to be sure, but it can be argued Gordon has made an even bigger leap in terms of play than the Swiss center.

    Through 12 games, the 6-foot-10 athletic specimen is putting up 18.3 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists per contest. He’s getting to the foul line more than ever before (3.6 free-throw attempts per game), shooting a pristine 53.7 percent from the floor and, most importantly, has blossomed into one of the league’s truly elite floor-spacing bigs.

    So far in 2017-18, Gordon has attempted 54 threes and made 28 of them. That 51.9 percent success rate is the NBA’s second-most potent mark among players who have attempted a minimum of 50 shots from deep on the year, and his 1.49 points per possession (PPP) on catch-and-shoot jumpers is third in the league (minimum 35 opportunities) according to Synergy Sports, trailing only sharpshooters CJ McCollum and Robert Covington.

    On top of the exquisite shooting touch Gordon has sprung on us, he’s also using his unique physical tools to dominate in other areas, primarily as a cutter and as the pick-and-roll ball-handler.

    In the former play type, Orlando’s power forward grades out in the “excellent” range according to Synergy, scoring 1.64 PPP. And in the latter facet, running the pick-and-roll with Nikola Vucevic and Bismack Biyombo, Gordon receives the same descriptor thanks to his ridiculous 1.15 PPP on such plays.

    As far as 22-year-olds go, the multifaceted forward has been nearly without comparison this season. He can score, distribute and defend, as well as everything else inbetwixt.

    In fact, because of his absurd play, it’s entirely possible the Magic could wind up regretting not giving Gordon that extension before his breakout campaign.

    The most recent report we have regarding next season’s salary cap came from Shams Charania of The Vertical on Sept. 28.

    With the salary cap projected to be around $101 million (though it’s plausible that’s a lofty estimate, considering how inaccurate prior projections have been), that would give Orlando a decent amount of room to work with in terms of Gordon’s next contract.

    Only 10 teams have less money committed to 2018-19 than the Magic’s $78.2 million. A couple of them – namely the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers – should be immediately crossed off the list of potential Gordon suitors, as they will be going after bigger fish this summer.

    But that still leaves a few rebuilding franchises – such as the Chicago Bulls, Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks – with loads of money to spend in 2018. What’s to stop them from deciding they want Gordon to be part of their roster reconstruction and handing him a max offer sheet?

    Under the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), a rival team could theoretically sign the talented big man to – at most – about a four-year, $106.5 million offer sheet. If that number looks familiar, it’s because that’s the exact deal Otto Porter signed with the Brooklyn Nets last season, before the Washington Wizards decided to match.

    Since Orlando own his Bird rights, they can offer Gordon a five-year deal that increases by eight percent for each year the contract spans. Opposing teams’ offer sheets can escalate by just five percent every season of the deal in comparison, while the max number of years can only be four as opposed to five.

    It should also be noted that the Magic are allowed to surpass the salary cap to keep their power forward.

    Truth be told, the central Floridian franchise would be wise to negotiate their own deal with Gordon if they decide they’d like to keep him at all costs. After all, if he signs a max offer sheet from another team, they could provide him with a player option after the third year.

    That would mean Gordon re-entering unrestricted free agency as a 25-year-old set to hit his athletic prime – a terrifying proposition for Orlando brass. Lest we forget, this is the exact situation the Utah Jazz found themselves in with Gordon Hayward.

    As we all remember, he chose to abandon ship and sign with the Boston Celtics just as the Jazz were finding consistent footing as a franchise. Now, Utah appears to be headed right back to the lottery.

    If Orlando’s Gordon were to do the same, it would be a devastating blow to the Magic, especially if he continues on the ludicrous trajectory he’s currently on.

    There are other financial reasons for Orlando to sign the floor-spacing big man to a deal as opposed to matching an offer sheet. If Gordon signs with another team, forcing the Magic to match in order to keep him, that would give him an automatic no-trade clause for the first year of his deal, as well as a trade kicker, which would force Orlando to pay him a percentage of his contract even if they decided to trade him.

    Whenever the Magic decide Gordon is their guy, it makes more sense – both fiscally and emotionally – to sign him straight up, and not let his potential flirtation with other teams get too intense.

    Because even with Gordon’s imminent three-point shooting dip en route (it’s coming), he’s still the exact type of versatile forward the entire league covets. He can defend multiple positions, causes matchup nightmares against traditional big men and can aptly distribute the basketball.

    If we assume the Magic sign Gordon to anything resembling a max contract, they would be capped out at nine players, partly because they’ll be paying Vucevic, Biyombo and Evan Fournier a combined $46.8 million next year. They could try and trade away one of those contracts, but odds are, no other franchise will want to touch any of them. And it would also mean Payton, the fourth-year floor general who Orlando has spent a lot of time developing, would be gone.

    Regardless, Hammond and Weltman could give Gordon his life-changing deal and then fill out the rest of the roster with drafted players, minimum salaries and the team’s exceptions – both mid-level and bi-annual.

    Their core and its complementary pieces would be good enough to compete for the only thing that matters to all but two or three teams in the present NBA landscape: mere postseason relevance.

    If it’s a matter of Orlando wanting to keep their nucleus together – provided Gordon’s play proves to be sustainable, which we will have a better grasp on over the coming weeks and months – Magic fans can rest easy: the CBA will allow them to do just that.

    You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_.

    NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Orlando Magicfau09fsuNBA: Brooklyn Nets at Orlando Magicfau09fsu

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    One of the biggest thrills anyone enamored with the NBA can experience is watching young players figure it out in the moment. When all the talk of potential, the future, the process gets thrown out the window, and we obtain front-row seats as inexperienced young men reach the next stage of their development in-game.

    Devin Booker’s 70-point outing against the Boston Celtics, Kyrie Irving’s 57-point night versus the San Antonio Spurs and Anthony Davis‘ 59-point thrashing of the Detroit Pistons all serve as primary examples of the best coming-of-age showings in recent NBA history.

    Well, we can now add another one to our list: Joel Embiid’s 46-point game against the Los Angeles Lakers.

    Of course, it wasn’t just the fact that the Philadelphia 76ers big man went off for 40-plus points. For good measure, he also added 15 rebounds, 7 assists and 7 blocks to the stat sheet, while merely turning the ball over two times.

    Oh, and on top of all that, we should also note his 46 points came on merely 20 shots.

    It was a stat line that had literally never existed before Embiid’s insane showing. Even if we lower the bar and search for players who have scored 45 points in a game while blocking 5 shots and dishing out 5 assists, the only returns we get are Alvan Adams (a severely underrated big man in Phoenix Suns history) and Larry Bird.

    It was an utterly awe-inspiring performance in the truest sense of the overused cliche.

    The seven-foot do-everything center didn’t just overpower his undersized foes in the paint. (Though he did do plenty of that.)

    He also displayed horrifying feats of destructive dexterity multiple times throughout the night.

    Not only should players of Embiid’s massive stature not be physically able to perform moves of agile cheekiness like this…

    …but there should be rules in place forbidding them from doing so. It’s simply not fair to the opposition.

    For those who have watched the Sixers all year, Embiid’s eruption may have been a little less surprising.

    According to Synergy Sports, so far this season, the Kansas product has feasted on the offensive glass (1.44 points per possession, or PPP), has destroyed opponents in the post when the defense commits (1.29 PPP – the best rate among players with at least 20 such opportunities) and he has been the league’s top off-ball cutter to boot (with an absurd 1.81 PPP).

    As far as indicators of future success go, we can point to Embiid’s prowess at getting to the charity stripe; he’s 10th in nightly free throws attempted, getting to the line more frequently than the likes of rim-attacking beasts such as Russell WestbrookJimmy Butler and LeBron James.

    And not only does he force you to foul him with his overpowering presence, but he also sinks his freebies at a healthy 76.4 percent rate.

    Apart from his turnover problems, it’s tough to surmise how exactly Embiid will be slowed down anytime soon.

    He’s got elements of Hakeem Olajuwon’s game, but with the added benefit of living in the three-ball era, where even centers have the responsibility of pulling up from deep. To his credit, though he’s off to a slow start this year, Embiid has connected on 33.8 percent of his 136 career three-point attempts.

    What’s more, his dominance extends itself onto the less glamorous side of the ball, as Philadelphia allows just 99.2 points per 100 possessions with Embiid on the floor. If extrapolated for the year, that mark would be the NBA’s third-stingiest behind just the sturdy Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder.

    Bringing it back to a micro level, the future All-Star big had the NBA world abuzz after his impressive one-off display.

    Now, if – health permitting – Embiid maintains this astronomical trajectory, eventually racking up multiple MVP and Larry O’Brien trophies, we will collectively be able to point to the night we realized it would all be possible, on a quaint November evening in Los Angeles.

    You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_.

    NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Los Angeles Lakersfau09fsuNBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Los Angeles Lakersfau09fsu

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    The 2016 offseason set teams up for disaster.

    Because of the league’s new TV deal, the salary cap exploded from $70 million to just around $94 million from one summer to the next. This one-year mushrooming in money made franchises believe they absolutely had to spend – and most of them did so, both frivolously and recklessly.

    Many argued that instead of giving the salary cap this one-year spike, the league would have been more prudent to slowly increase the cap on an annual basis.

    Instead, we ended up with Kevin Durant on the Golden State Warriors, as well as with some of the most brazen signings in recent league history.

    Of course, as you’re about to see, not every difficult-to-move deal came from 2016; untradable contracts were handed out before that fateful offseason, and will continue to be handed out for as long as the NBA exists.

    Atlanta Hawks

    Miles Plumlee/Four years, $50 million

    It defies logic referring to a player who just got traded as untradable, but Miles Plumlee’s contract sort of defies logic too.

    His deal, which was signed during the summer of 2016 (because, of course it was), is worth four years and $50 million. He’s got another three years and $37.5 million left on the contract, which would be a half-decent value if he was remotely playable.

    Unfortunately for the Atlanta Hawks, he’s a 29-year-old currently toiling away in the G League, who is coming off a year in which he averaged 2.5 points and 2.1 rebounds in 10.8 minutes per game.

    In fact, he was only acquired by Atlanta due to their desperate urge to get rid of Dwight Howard, who was not a good fit with the organization.

    But does that make it a worthwhile exchange?

    Certainly not. Thankfully, it doesn’t really matter as the Hawks are clearly in rebuild mode, so having extra money on their books won’t affect their outlook for at least another few seasons.

    Boston Celtics

    Al Horford/Four years, $113.3 million

    In all honesty, it’s nearly impossible to pick a bad contract on the Boston Celtics. They’re about as exquisitely run an organization as there is in the NBA right now.

    Celtics general manager and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has wonderfully blended present-day contention with building towards the future – a nearly impossible feat for most teams to even consider, let alone pull off.

    Boston only has three players making eight figures – a low number in today’s NBA landscape – with everyone else making fewer than $6 million in 2016-17.

    Of the three men earning the big bucks in Beantown – Gordon HaywardKyrie Irving and Al Horford – the former is excused from our exercise for obvious reasons, while the latter two warrant early MVP consideration with the way they have the Celtics rolling to start the season.

    Nonetheless, if we had to choose one untradable deal from the batch, it would have to be Horford.

    By multiple advanced metrics, he’s been Brad Stevens’ best player this year. Horford is scoring, distributing, defending and rebounding, as well as doing all of the little things that helps teams click.

    But he’s 31 years old, and still has three years left on his contract, along with $86.7 million. On the last year of his deal, in his age-33 season, he’ll be earning $30.1 million.

    That’s all to say: Horford’s contract isn’t all that team-friendly over the next few campaigns.

    Obviously, the Celtics won’t care as long as he maintains this level play, which is likely, considering his graceful style that will almost certainly age quite well.

    Brooklyn Nets

    Timofey Mozgov/Four years, $64 million

    One of the first contracts signed after the clock struck midnight on July 1, 2016, Timofey Mozgov has proven to be one of the worst deals in the league.

    In order to get it off their books, the Los Angeles Lakers had to package D’Angelo Russell – a young scorer chock full of potential – along with Mozgov to get the Brooklyn Nets’ seal of approval on the trade.

    Thus far this year, the big Russian center has started in all 14 games for the Nets, yet is playing merely 14.9 minutes per contest, while putting up a nightly 5.0 points and 4.4 rebounds.

    Brooklyn getting another team to trade for Mozgov – an immobile seven-footer with no range on his jumper – seems like a dubious proposition at best.

    Charlotte Hornets

    Dwight Howard/Three years, $70.5 million

    It was sort of a tough decision between Dwight Howard and Nicolas Batum.

    The former is older, sure, but he’s only on the books for one more season after 2017-18, and has been more than solid for the Charlotte Hornets thus far this year while functioning as an elite rim protector.

    Meanwhile, Batum has another three years left on his deal, will be 31 during the last season of his contract – in which he’ll earn $27.1 million – and has had poor luck health-wise recently.

    And yet, the fact that the Hawks had to fleece themselves just to get rid of Howard is pretty damning.

    Plus, Batum is an excellent point forward who can defend multiple positions and would start for almost any team in the league. Howard’s fit in today’s small-ball era is much more difficult to surmise.

    Maybe our decision wasn’t that difficult after all.

    Chicago Bulls

    Cristiano Felicio/Four years, $32 million

    One of the first contracts signed during the opening salvos of last offseason’s free-agency period, Cristiano Felicio hasn’t exactly paid the Chicago Bulls back for their leap of faith.

    He’s playing 16.3 minutes per contest, while averaging 3.8 points and 3.9 rebounds in 2017-18.

    Felicio’s contract isn’t massive by any means, but $32 million over four years is still way too much money to be paying someone whose ceiling appears to be that of third-string center.

    Cleveland Cavaliers

    Tristan Thompson/Five years, $82 million

    Though Kevin Love has a far higher annual average salary than Tristan Thompson, this pick was easy considering Love is also a far superior talent to the limited center.

    Thompson’s five-year, $82 million contract has another two seasons left on it after 2017-18. More concerning than that, though, is the matter of the Texas product’s dwindling production.

    Before getting shut down with injury this year, Thompson was playing a career-low 21.6 minutes per game, while putting up porous 4.4-point and 6.4-rebound averages.

    Is it possible that because he’s a player who, throughout his career, has put so much onus on defending and crashing the glass on every single play – while suiting up deep into June for each of the past three seasons – that we’re seeing the end of Thompson’s effectiveness as a player?

    Let’s hope not. But even if it is, at least he has a championship and a life-altering contract to show for his efforts.

    Dallas Mavericks

    Wesley Matthews/Four years, $70 million

    For the Dallas Mavericks, the Wesley Matthews signing was risky from the jump.

    After all, the swingman was acquired by Dallas the offseason after he ruptured his Achilles tendon – an injury that is always tricky to come back from, no matter how devoted the player is to stringent rehabbing.

    The gamble hasn’t paid off for the Mavericks.

    During his three seasons in the Lone Star State, Matthews has averaged 12.8 points and 3.3 rebounds per contest, while shooting 38.8 percent from the floor.

    Although his contract ends after next year, it would still be extremely difficult for the Mavericks to move considering Matthews will be 32 years old by the time next season rolls around, while earning $18.6 million.

    That’s above-average-starter rate money, something that the former Portland Trail Blazer hasn’t been in quite some time.

    Denver Nuggets

    Darrell Arthur/Three years, $23 million

    Although a three-year, $23 million contract is modest in comparison to some of the other deals on our list, we must also consider Darrell Arthur’s complete lack of production since signing said contract.

    In 2016-17 – his first campaign after agreeing to the deal – the floor-spacing power forward played 15.6 minutes per night, while averaging 6.4 points and 2.7 rebounds.

    This season, despite not having any reported injuries, Arthur has appeared in just two games, playing a total of 19 minutes and scoring just two points on the year.

    What’s more, he’s got another year left on his contract after this one. At this point, it’s nearly impossible to envision another team taking a flier on the once-promising player.

    Detroit Pistons

    Jon Leuer/Four years, $42 million

    The Detroit Pistons’ three highest-paid players – Andre DrummondTobias Harris and Reggie Jackson – have had excellent starts to the 2017-18 season, redeeming themselves after a tough 2016-17.

    All three would make welcome additions on any team: Drummond, an elite rebounder, Harris, a scorching-hot scorer and Jackson, an above-average floor general.

    Jon Leuer’s upside, on the other hand, is that of a reserve big man. And at 28 years old, with another two seasons (and $19.5 million) left on his deal, it’s hard to see another organization taking back a contract of that worth in any sort of trade.

    Golden State Warriors

    Andre Iguodala/Three years, $48 million

    Unquestionably, the Golden State Warriors are a better team with Andre Iguodala in the fold. Thus, it was of paramount importance that they bring the veteran swingman back – no matter the cost.

    Moreover, we should also consider that a handful of rival teams were willing to sign the 33-year-old to a huge contract last offseason, including the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs and Sacramento Kings. In particular, Iguodala’s flirtation with the Rockets got pretty steamy before he ultimately chose to remain in the Bay.

    Even so, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant are annual MVP candidates, Klay Thompson is arguably the league’s top two-way shooting guard and Draymond Green would make any defense elite.

    Iguodala, despite his still-exceptional play off the bench, will be 35 on the last year of his deal, earning $17.2 million. That’s a huge commitment, even for a key reserve on one of the greatest teams in NBA history.

    Houston Rockets

    Ryan Anderson/Four years, $80 million

    We know Ryan Anderson’s contract is untradable because the Rockets haven’t been able to trade him yet.

    That’s not a knock on Anderson’s play, for the record, as the floor-spacing big man has done his job since joining Mike D’Anonti’s team. Anderson is shooting 39.9 percent from beyond the arc since arriving in Houston, while averaging 13.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.

    But his hefty contract takes up quite a bit of cap space – cap space that the Rockets needed over the summer in their efforts to trade for Carmelo Anthony.

    The New York Knicks (understandably) weren’t willing to take on Anderson’s deal in exchange for the bucket-getting forward, and Houston failed to find anyone else to take Anderson in a potential three-team trade.

    So Anthony went to the Oklahoma City Thunder while Anderson stayed in H-Town.

    D’Antoni can’t be too upset with how things turned out, however, as the 29-year-old power forward is the perfect fit in his spaced-out offensive system.

    Indiana Pacers

    Al Jefferson/Three years, $30 million

    There was a time when you could throw Al Jefferson the ball in the post and he’d be nearly guaranteed to get you a bucket.

    Those days, sadly, are long gone.

    Now, the seven-footer is a reminder of an antiquated form of basketball, where the post player reigned supreme.

    Jefferson’s athleticism was always limited, but now it’s basically non-existent. He can’t defend or space the floor at all; it’s simply difficult to find a role for him on any team.

    Though he only has $14 million guaranteed left on his contract, would any franchise want to pay even that for the once beastly scorer?

    Probably not.

    Los Angeles Clippers

    Danilo Gallinari/Three years, $64.8 million

    The Los Angeles Clippers made out well from the Chris Paul trade, and their cap sheet reflects that.

    None of their contracts are particularly egregious: Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan boast All-NBA potential, Austin Rivers has blossomed into a more-than-serviceable combo guard and Lou Williams is still getting buckets off the bench with pleasure.

    So we have to go with Danilo Gallinari.

    Though he’s one of the league’s most efficient scorers thanks to his ability to draw fouls, the Italian forward has been constantly plagued by injuries throughout his career. Anyone taking on his contract will be rolling the dice on Gallinari’s health.

    And considering that by the last season of his contract, he’ll be 31 years old (and making $22.6 million), it may not be the most worthwhile gamble for a rival organization to undertake.

    Los Angeles Lakers

    Luol Deng/Four years, $72 million

    This selection doesn’t merit much explanation.

    The contract was inexplicable when the details were released back in 2016, and it’s even harder to fathom today.

    Luol Deng – an aging small forward who should be playing power forward at this point in his career – was forced to play the majority of his minutes last year on the wing, per Basketball Reference. He was never really given a chance to succeed, and now, he’s on the outs with the Lakers.

    Whether that happens through a buyout, a trade or not at all remains to be seen.

    But Deng has two years and $36.8 million left on his contract after this season, so it’s tough to see anyone taking on that sort of commitment for the 32-year-old.

    Odds are, if Los Angeles does manage to move him, it’ll cost them some sort of sweetener – like an unprotected first-round pick – to make it happen.

    Memphis Grizzlies

    Chandler Parsons/Four years, $94.4 million

    Although Chandler Parsons is having a quietly solid season off the bench for the Memphis Grizzlies, it’ll take a lot more than that for his contract to become more movable.

    As a member of the Tennessean franchise, Parsons has averaged 6.6 points and 2.6 rebounds per game. And he was only able to appear in 34 outings throughout 2016-17 due to injury.

    With another two years (after this one) and $49.2 million left on his contract, the 6-foot-10 wing isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

    Miami Heat

    James Johnson/Three years, $43.3 million

    The Miami Heat took a risk extending James Johnson’s stay in South Florida so lavishly.

    Before 2016-17, Johnson averaged 6.5 points and 3.2 rebounds per contest in 18.3 nightly minutes over seven seasons. Then, thanks to Erik Spoelstra giving him free reign as an off-the-bench point forward, the Wake Forest product found his niche.

    He set career highs in points (12.8), rebounds (4.9), assists (3.6) and three-point accuracy (34.0 percent), while almost leading the Heat to an unexpected playoff berth.

    So Pat Riley and Co. rewarded him with a huge contract.

    Johnson will be 33 during the last year of his deal, earning $15.8 million. If his three-point shooting from 2016-17 proves to be a mirage and he loses the athleticism that makes him such a force, the Heat may have trouble shopping their combo forward to other teams.

    Milwaukee Bucks

    Matthew Dellavedova/Three years, $38.4 million

    Although John Henson makes a pretty strong case for this spot, he is slowly proving to have some ability as a distributing, shot-blocking big man.

    Henson has taken full advantage of his expanded role after Greg Monroe’s trade to the Phoenix Suns, putting up 10.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.6 blocks per contest.

    Matthew Dellavedova, on the other hand, has seen his role diminish even further upon the team’s acquisition of Eric Bledsoe.

    A career 39.3 percent shooter, the Australian point guard’s main redeeming quality remains his airtight defense.

    But would teams line up to trade for a floor general who can really only play off the ball, is totally inefficient and has two years, along with $19.2 million, left on his contract after this season?

    Probably not.

    Minnesota Timberwolves

    Gorgui Dieng/Four years, $62.8 million

    A throwback big man with some passing chops, Gorgui Dieng has struggled with the new-look Minnesota Timberwolves.

    Though he can distribute some (meaning he’s not a total dinosaur of a big man), he doesn’t space the floor from three and can really only defend opposing traditional big men.

    There’s certainly a place for Dieng in this league, but he’s limited to playing center (at least on above-average offenses), and he’s still owed four years and $62.8 million on his deal, as his extension just kicked in before this season.

    What’s more, in his age-30 season, he’ll be earning $17.3 million.

    It’s doubtful other teams would commit to a contract of that size before it becomes an expiring asset.

    New Orleans Pelicans

    Omer Asik/Five years, $58.0 million

    A seven-footer with no ability outside of the paint, zero distribution skills and stiff-hipped defensive mobility, Omer Asik is one of the most untradable contracts in the league.

    He’s signed through 2019-20, is owed $23.3 million after this season and, somewhat inexplicably, even owns a player option on the final year of his deal.

    For a guy who is a career 5.4-point-and-7.3-rebound-per-contest contributor, there is no other team who would take on such a contract.

    New York Knicks

    Joakim Noah/Four years, $72.6 million

    Once upon a time, Joakim Noah was an MVP candidate.

    In 2013-14, the talented center averaged 12.6 points, 11.3 rebounds and 5.4 assists per night. After proving to be an unstoppable force on both ends, he culminated the season with a No. 4 finish in MVP voting.

    Then, age and injuries kicked in, and Noah began to show clear signs of slowing down the campaign following his career zenith.

    But did that matter to then-president of the Knicks Phil Jackson? Of course not. Jackson signed Noah to a four-year, $72.6 million contract during the crazed 2016 offseason.

    Today, Noah’s contract has two years and $37.8 million left on it after 2017-18, an astronomical figure for a big man who can barely move.

    Is there a chance the former Chicago Bull will ever be able to regain his old form?

    We’ll let him answer that:

    Oklahoma City Thunder

    Steven Adams/Four years, $100 million

    Truth be told, Steven Adams is underrated by the average basketball fan. He rebounds well, defends his butt off and does all of the dirty work that helps good teams win.

    Nevertheless, in 2017, it’s hard to find takers for centers who can only guard other centers, and who don’t possess the ability to space the floor.

    And considering Adams has another three years and $77.5 million left on his deal after this season, it’s tough to envision him going anywhere.

    That’s really not a bad thing, though, as the New Zealand-born center is still only 24 and a huge part of what the Thunder do on both ends.

    His best days remain ahead of him.

    Orlando Magic

    Bismack Biyombo/Four years, $72 million

    The Orlando Magic were one of the main victims of the Great 2016 Free-Agent Spending Spree, and you need look no further than at Bismack Biyombo’s deal for proof.

    With another two years and $32 million left on that bad boy, and a player option on the final year, Orlando’s brass has no choice but to wait for it to evaporate after 2019-20.

    No rival team will be swooping in to acquire the career 4.1-point-and-4.5-rebound-per-game center’s contract, at least not without some serious sweetener attached to it.

    Philadelphia 76ers

    Jerryd Bayless/Three years, $27 million

    There’s no question about Jerryd Bayless’ viability as a productive player when he’s healthy enough to see action.

    The thing is, it’s been a while since the Arizona product hasn’t been consistently plagued by injury. Between 2015-16 and 2016-17, Bayless suited up in merely 55 out of a potential 164 games. And he’s already missed time in 2017-18 with a wrist ailment.

    Already 29 years old and owed another $17.5 million, if it came down to it, it wouldn’t be easy for the Philadelphia 76ers to move on from their veteran combo guard.

    Phoenix Suns

    Brandon Knight/Five years, $70 million

    Back in 2014-15, Brandon Knight was really starting to find his form as an above-average NBA floor general. With the Bucks, Knight was averaging 17.8 points and 5.4 assists per game while hitting 40.9 percent of his triples.

    Then came the unexpected trade to the Suns.

    The South Florida Native was unfortunately never able to find consistent footing in the league again. Now, he’s out for 2017-18 after tearing his ACL playing pickup basketball over the summer.

    With another two years and $30.2 million left on his contract, it’ll be impossible for the Suns to move him without attaching – at least – an unprotected first-round pick to the deal.

    Portland Trail Blazers

    Evan Turner/Four years, $70 million

    Portland Trail Blazers backup wing Evan Turner has some game. He defends well enough, takes pretty good care of the basketball and can run the offense while Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum rest.

    But he can’t shoot threes and is a career 43.1 percent shooter from the floor overall.

    Plus, even by today’s standards, $17.5 million is a lofty amount of money for a non-starter.

    Sacramento Kings

    Zach Randolph/Two years, $24 million

    The Kings had a curious offseason, to say the least.

    They chose to surround their young, potential studs (De’Aaron FoxSkal Labissiere and Bogdan Bogdanovic) with vets who could teach them the ins-and-outs of life in the NBA.

    One of those vets, Zach Randolph, is averaging 24.4 minutes per night, while Labissiere – who should be starting to get a lot more playing time in his second season – is seeing the floor for merely 18.7 minutes per game.

    That’s definitely not the right way to go about developing young talent, and certainly not the reason Randolph was signed.

    Regardless, the Kings are stuck in this predicament, as no one is going to trade for a 36-year-old power forward who’s shooting 46.0 percent from the field and doesn’t play a modicum of defense.

    San Antonio Spurs

    Pau Gasol/Three years, $48 million

    The Spurs know what they’re doing… and yet, it’s hard not to wonder whether they knew what they were doing with the Pau Gasol contract.

    The legendary Spaniard, at 37 years of age, is still contributing, averaging 10.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per contest. Even so, he’s got a ton of mileage on his legs from various deep playoff runs.

    Though the final year of his contract is only guaranteed for $6.7 million, he’s still owed at least $38.7 million over the next three seasons. That’s a lot of money for a player who will be 39 by the time the last year of his deal rolls around.

    Toronto Raptors

    Jonas Valanciunas/Four years, $64 million

    It’s probably not a good sign for the Toronto Raptors that their two players with the most difficult-to-move contracts are their starters in the frontcourt.

    But at least Serge Ibaka can still somewhat protect the paint while spacing the floor from three. Jonas Valanciunas, on the other hand, is the primitive archetype of an NBA center – a back-down big without much ability outside the paint, and slow feet defensively.

    The Lithuanian seven-footer will be an unrestricted free agent in 2020, and that’s probably how long Toronto will have to wait before seeing a new starting center in the lineup.

    Utah Jazz

    Joe Ingles/Four years, $52 million

    You’d be hard-pressed to find a better complementary player than Joe Ingles. The Australian wing is an elite three-point shooter, can distribute out of the pick-and-roll and racks up takeaways on the less glamorous side of the ball.

    But he’s already 30 years old, will be 33 during the season in which his contract ends and is still owed another $35.9 million on his deal after 2017-18.

    It would be difficult to convince another team to take on that sort of commitment.

    Washington Wizards

    Ian Mahinmi/Four years, $64 million

    Washington Wizards center Ian Mahinmi is 31 years old, averaging 3.4 points and 3.6 rebounds per contest while playing 12.9 nightly minutes. Oh, and he’ll be owed $15.5 million on the final year of his contract in 2019-20, during his age-33 season.

    If he’s even playing a minimal role off the bench at that point in his career, let alone that of a second-string big, it would be beyond shocking.

    Let’s put it this way: Washington finding a way to trade Mahinmi’s contract would be more surprising than the Warriors losing in the first round of the playoffs this very season.

    You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_.

    NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Miami Heatfau09fsuNBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Miami Heatfau09fsu

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    Over the course the season’s first five weeks, the Miami Heat have already held a players-only meeting, as well as another gathering in which one of the team’s most important players apologized for his string of poor performances.

    Oh, and even after those two well-intentioned assemblies, they also required a “grueling, dog-eat-dog” practice, unusual for a club this far into a campaign.

    That’s all to say: The Heat are struggling mightily to start 2017-18.

    Miami has played in a style unbecoming of the culture the franchise loves to tout. The frenetic, passionate team that scratched out 30 wins in their final 41 contests to close last season is gone. In their stead, there’s a whole lot of pointless dribbling, contested three-point shooting and finger-pointing on the defensive end.

    Whatever cunning tactics head coach Erik Spoelstra employed to make his squad – without Justise Winslow and Dion Waiters for long stretches – play on a 60-win pace from Game 41 to Game 82 last year have seemingly vanished.

    And it’s difficult to surmise why.

    Because after striking out with All-Star wing Gordon Hayward during last summer’s offseason, team president Pat Riley’s strategy involved opting for continuity.

    Among the league’s 30 teams, only the Portland Trail Blazers, Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors returned a higher percentage of minutes from their 2016-17 rosters. Miami ranks fourth in minutes returned at 88 percent, per Basketball Reference.

    Shouldn’t that have meant this year’s rendition of Heat basketball, familiar with each others’ tendencies and dislikes on the court, would hit the ground running?

    Thus far, the opposite has been true.

    Of the four teams listed with the highest percentage of minutes returned, Miami boasts by far the lowest net rating this season, getting outscored by 3.8 points per 100 possessions.

    What’s more, of the nine franchises who returned at least 79 percent of their minutes from last year, only Miami, Milwaukee and the Dallas Mavericks have a negative net rating. The Mavs can be excused, as they’re clearly trying to rebuild post-Dirk Nowitzki, while the Bucks have already made a major trade this year in the acquisition of Eric Bledsoe, which they’re somewhat struggling to acclimate to.

    So what’s the Heat’s excuse?

    For starters, their unsustainably hot shooting that carried them to a 30-11 record to close 2016-17 has proven to be just that: unsustainable.

    From Jan. 15 through the end of last regular season, the Heat attempted the tenth-most nightly triples in the league (28.4), while converting at the third-most-accurate rate (39.0 percent).

    Thus far this year, Miami is bombing away from deep at an even higher rate (31.8 heaves per contest), but their accuracy has plummeted to the 10th-least effective rate in the league (35.2 percent).

    Their quality of looks haven’t changed all that much overall, as they’re averaging even more corners threes than last season, and about as many triples considered open or wide open by

    The shots simply aren’t going down.

    Well, that’s not an entirely true. The three-pointers Miami sank with aplomb last season are still going down, but for whatever reason, only in the first halves of contests.

    Thus far this year, the Heat have converted on 42.6 percent of their shots from beyond the arc in the first 24 minutes of games, but on just a paltry 26.9 percent of their threes in second halves.

    It should come as no surprise, then, that Spoelstra’s team has already nearly blown two massive, 20-plus-point first-half leads: one to the Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 5, and the other to the Washington Wizards on Nov. 17.

    Although Miami wound up winning both of those games anyway, they were damning performances that, in the end, felt more like losses than victories, and have proven to be more indicative of the team’s overall quality than their other, less stressful wins.

    Regression from various players has also killed the Heat thus far this campaign.

    Starting in the latter half of last season, Spoelstra developed an offense predicated on his rugged backcourt – consisting of Goran Dragic alongside Waiters – and a simple-but-deadly drive-and-kick scheme.

    In 2016-17, Miami’s two guards were among the league’s most relentless at attacking the basket, placing third and sixth in drives per contest respectively. Dragic preferred to finish on drives, and did so with tremendous effectiveness, scoring on 52.8 percent of his field-goal attempts on such attacks. His backcourt partner was nowhere near as effective as a scorer on drives (just a 42.8 percent finisher), but his 12.6 percent assist rate on rim attacks trailed only James Harden for the NBA’s best mark.

    The issue is, this season, rival teams have adjusted to Miami’s offense. Opponents have done a much better job of playing tight defense when Dragic and Waiters try to get a full head of steam to the basket, while help defenders remain glued to shooters so as to eliminate the Heat’s imposing outlet options.

    Through 16 games, Dragic’s field-goal percentage on drives is all the way down to 42.9 percent, while Waiters’ assist rate has fallen to 10.4 percent. The former has seen a dip in assist rate as well, while the latter is still a porous finisher at 43.1 percent.

    In particular, teams have been smart to dare Waiters – a career 52.3 percent shooter from within three feet of the rim – to finish his drives one-on-one, as opposed to crashing down and risking leaving Miami’s three-point shooters open.

    The poor results on drives have severely hampered the Heat’s offensive rating, which currently sits at 100.1 – the fifth-worst mark in the NBA.

    Of course, the entire team’s pitfalls can’t be pinned on just two players; there’s plenty of blame to go around.

    In 2016-17, the Heat’s bench was one of their main difference-makers, thanks to its ability to defend and score efficient buckets. On the year, led by James and Tyler Johnson, with Wayne Ellington spacing the floor, the unit outscored teams by 2.2 points per 100 possessions. This year, even despite the addition of versatile big man Kelly Olynyk, they’re being outscored by 2.9 points per 100 possessions.

    This somewhat shocking drop in efficiency is at least partially to blame for the team’s struggles. And though it’s impossible to fault just one player, T. Johnson’s regression has been the most worrisome.

    He’s scoring less often, less effectively, and hasn’t improved on what was his biggest weakness: creating for others.

    Making this regression even more concerning for the Heat is the fact that due to T. Johnson’s poison-pill contract, Miami is about to owe him $18.9 million in 2018-19, and $19.6 million the year after.

    That’s a whole lot of money for a player who may be maxed-out as a career second-string guard. And even if the Heat decided to open up some cap space by attempting to find takers for their sixth man, they don’t own a movable first-round pick until 2023, or a second-round pick of any sort until 2022. A lack of sweetener could make dealing T. Johnson next to impossible.

    Again, though, it’s not just one or two players at the root of Miami’s problems.

    Josh Richardson, who the Heat believed in to the extent they signed him to a four-year, $42 million extension before the start of this season, hasn’t made close to the jump the team expected.

    Although he still provides tremendous value as one of the league’s most aggressive defenders, with the ability to aptly guard positions one through three, his offensive game has been among the NBA’s least potent.

    Of all the players averaging at least 30 minutes per night, Richardson’s effective field-goal percentage of 45.6 ranks ninth worst. (Who sits one spot ahead of him with the tenth-worst effective field-goal percentage? His teammate Waiters.)

    Not only does Richardson struggle with his scoring, but his play-making, which has always been a weakness, remains as lacking as ever. Which makes it all the more confusing that he’s run a total of 53 pick-and-rolls through 16 contests, while scoring 0.70 points per possession (PPP) on such plays – the sixth-lowest clip among players with a minimum of 50 opportunities, according to Synergy Sports

    His teammate J. Johnson, on the other hand, is scoring 1.04 PPP when running pick-and-rolls (passes included), a mark that puts him in the “very good” range, per Synergy. Except J. Johnson, despite his clear superiority as pick-and-roll creator, has run five fewer such plays than Richardson, and does so with a lower frequency as well.

    The disparity simply defies logic.

    Miami has other issues as well.

    Winslow, in a pivotal Year 3 of development, shouldn’t be averaging a career-low in minutes. It’s getting to be time for Spoelstra and Co. to figure out whether or not he’s going to be part of their long-term plans. How are they supposed to do that if he remains glued to the bench during nearly every fourth quarter?

    Olynyk, who the Heat liked so much that they gave him a four-year, $50 million contract this offseason, leads the team in on/off differential among qualified players, giving them a 6.7-point-per-100-possession boost when he’s in the game as opposed to when he sits.

    So why, like Winslow, is he playing a career-low 18.4 minutes per outing?

    Whiteside is putting up monstrous numbers as is the norm for him. So why are the Heat only outscoring opponents by 0.4 points per 100 possessions when he’s in the game?

    The unanswerable questions appear to be endless.

    Perhaps things change when (if?) the Heat start hitting more than 38.6 percent of their wide-open triples. Maybe results improve if Waiters regains the flair he had late last season, when he averaged 18.7 points and 4.9 assists on 45.5 percent shooting over a 25-game stretch. Who knows? It’s still somewhat possible Winslow blossoms into a lesser version of Draymond Green once he receives an expanded role sometime down the road.

    Or perhaps this is it, and Miami tied themselves down financially and for the foreseeable future to a team whose potential peaks at 41 or 42 wins.

    If the latter is the case, you can be sure a trade or two will be in the works once the Collective Bargaining Agreement allows for it. Because after all Riley and the franchise have been through, it’s unlikely they’ll be satisfied with mere mediocrity.

    You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_.

    Chicago Bulls v Miami Heatfau09fsuChicago Bulls v Miami Heatfau09fsu

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    Some of the main buzz words used by scouts to describe 2018 NBA draft prospect Collin Sexton include: competitive, tenacious, strong-willed and unshakable.

    Projected to be among the top 10 selections – specifically, No. 9 overall by – once teams are on the clock next June, the Alabama point guard exemplified exactly what makes him special during his performance against Minnesota.

    With 13:39 remaining in the second half of the Crimson Tide’s game against the Golden Gophers, a fracas broke out between the two teams. It wasn’t anything that crazy, moreso your typical, run-of-the-mill basketball kerfuffle, featuring a bunch of guys shoving each other without actually intending to inflict physical harm on their opponents.

    Except, in all of the excitement, Alabama’s bench rushed onto the court to defend their teammates, thus, earning them all immediate expulsion from the contest. Avery Johnson’s team (yes, for those who don’t know, that Avery Johnson is coaching college basketball now) was down to five men, with almost three-quarters of the second half remaining.

    Then they lost another player after he fouled out two minutes later, meaning the Crimson Tide were down to four men.

    And then, following an ugly injury, they lost yet another player, meaning they were down to three men for the final 10:41 of the contest.

    Luckily for Johnson, one of his remaining players was Sexton, who was seemingly built for this exact type of situation.

    The explosive floor general went off for 23 points over the final 10 minutes of the contest, despite finding himself double- or triple-teamed by Minnesota’s swarming defense.

    In just that one stretch, Sexton showed off a few of his best traits as a prospect.

    Although the 6-foor-2 point guard doesn’t possess an elite jumper (yet, at least), his utmost confidence as a tough-shot maker – one of his biggest strengths as a prep superstar – aided him in nailing two pull-up triples during the impressive run of play.

    What’s more, along with Sexton’s pure explosiveness, he also uses unique craftiness to score once he gets near the tin.

    Players who can reach 100 mph are great; but those who can hit top speeds, as well as do damage when they have to slow down in traffic are even better.

    Sexton can do just that, as he showed while playing three-on-five, exploiting the smallest crevices and turning them into points for Alabama.

    The freshman phenom’s explosion brought his team within three points of Minnesota with fewer than two minutes remaining, even though he, and his two teammates, had to be near exhaustion by the end of the contest.

    Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino was one of many who spoke glowingly of Sexton after the game.

    Sexton doesn’t have great size (just 6-foot-2) or a supreme jump shot, but that hasn’t stopped him from averaging 25.3 points and 4.7 assists per game on 63.4 percent shooting through his first three collegiate outings.

    And although the ultimate, storybook ending – a victory for the overmatched Crimson Tide against a fully-equipped Minnesota – didn’t come to fruition, it was still a performance that will stick in the minds of NBA scouts as they gather in their respective war rooms in seven months, discussing who their team should take with their Top 10 selection in June’s draft.

    You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_.

    NCAA Basketball: the Barclays Classic-Alabama vs Minnesotafau09fsuNCAA Basketball: the Barclays Classic-Alabama vs Minnesotafau09fsu

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    The seminal moment of the 2017-18 season occurred on Nov. 6.

    Kyrie Irving had just put up a masterful performance against the Atlanta Hawks, dropping 35 points on 22 shots, and the floor general’s explosion led to the Boston Celtics earning their sixth win in a row.

    Meanwhile, his old team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, who had just lost to that same Hawks squad the night before, were having trouble finding their footing in the new league year, getting off to a rocky 4-6 start through ten games.

    That’s when LeBron James changed everything.

    It wasn’t by putting up some absurd stat line or hitting a game-winning shot. Rather, James shifted his team’s fortunes through one exquisitely timed meme.

    No, seriously.

    Instagram Photo

    The now-infamous Arthur meme sparked a complete turnaround for the Cavs – one that has them performing at an elite level.

    Tyronn Lue’s men have not only ramped up their defensive intensity, but even their already-excellent offensive numbers have seen an uptick.

    And just like that, Cleveland flipped the proverbial switch far earlier than anyone expected.

    Although the Arthur meme did have some sort of unifying effect on the team (James’ counterparts all posted their own version of the classic cartoon on their respective Instagram accounts soon after the four-time MVP did), obviously, there are other factors in play when discussing Cleveland’s improved play.

    Like, for example, Dwyane Wade’s brilliance off the bench.

    Many advanced metrics don’t speak kindly of Wade’s 2017-18 contributions, but his steadying presence as the Cavaliers’ backup point guard has paid major dividends for the franchise.

    Since moving out of the starting 2-guard role and into the reserve floor general post, the former Miami Heat star has averaged 11.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.1 assists per contest. What’s more, Cleveland has outscored opponents by 9.4 points per 100 possessions with Wade on the floor this season – easily his best on/off differential since 2012-13.

    The future Hall of Famer’s main value stems from his ability to create out of the pick-and-roll, be it for himself or his teammates. Per Synergy Sports’ database, Wade is producing a respectable 0.985 points per possession (PPP) as the pick-and-roll ball-handler (passes included) thus far this year – a clip that places him in the 69th percentile.

    However, according to Synergy, when screen-setters make contact on Wade’s defender, that number shoots up 1.129 PPP, the No. 8 mark in the league among players with at least 30 such opportunities.

    Wade’s craftiness, developed after so many years as one of the NBA’s top scorers, has helped him shine, even despite him losing the freakish explosiveness he once possessed.

    Of course, Wade can’t take all of the credit, as the rest of Cleveland’s bench has been fantastic, too.

    The Cavaliers’ Wade/James/Kyle Korver/Jeff Green/Channing Frye lineup boasts an incomprehensible net rating of +26.8, making it the league’s third-deadliest five-man unit featuring at least four reserves (minimum: 30 minutes on the floor together), per

    It’s not difficult to surmise why the quintuplet has had so much success. After all, it features the best player on the planet, an excellent secondary play-maker in Wade, the NBA’s best spot-up shooter (according to Synergy) in Korver, an athletic two-way wing who can defend multiple positions in Green, as well as the ultimate luxury: an excellent floor-spacer at the 5-spot in Frye.

    In particular, Green deserves praise for finding his niche with this latest rendition of the Cavs. The 31-year-old forward attacks the offensive glass with aplomb, has a great sense of when to cut while playing off the ball and isn’t a total liability as a spot-up threat.

    But it’s still Wade who functions as the engine that makes Cleveland’s bench go. The 6-foot-4 guard should be lauded for having the unselfishness to willfully come off the pine – something that many aging superstars struggle coming to terms with as their careers start to wind down.

    Wade recently spoke to The Vertical’s Michael Lee about just that:

    “The last time I came off the bench, I think I was in sixth grade, playing on an eighth-grade team…. I’m used to starting…. Now, it’s a little different. Got to change it up a little bit. [But] I’m not really coming in worrying about my statistics or numbers. Fifteen years in the league, I don’t care about that no more. I’ve done all that. For me, it’s about being a part of something special.”

    Whether or not Wade and the rest of the reserves can sustain this level of form will be fascinating to track over the coming weeks, but the recipe for success exists.

    Cleveland’s bench mob can space you out, opening up crevices for one of the best bucket-getters in league history, and score points in bunches, while doing a serviceable job on the less glamorous side of the ball.

    Plus, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have someone with a Finals MVP trophy on their resume running the show with the second unit.

    You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_.

    Chicago Bulls vs. Cleveland Cavaliersfau09fsuChicago Bulls vs. Cleveland Cavaliersfau09fsu

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    It can be argued the NBA has never been in a healthier place talent-wise.

    On a nightly basis, some of the league’s finest talents – both veteran and those just wetting their feet – are putting up stat lines the likes of which have never been seen.

    Some are just now blossoming into superstars, while others are warping the definition of when exactly a player should hit their prime.

    As such, the 2017-18 NBA MVP race should be one of the tightest in recent memory, with multiple future Hall of Famers making strong cases for the top spot. Here are our Top ten candidates as of Dec. 4.

    10. Nikola Jokic

    2017-18 Stats: 15.5 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 4.6 apg

    Although Nikola Jokic has somewhat struggled getting acclimated to playing with his new frontcourt partner Paul Millsap (who is now out for a while with a wrist injury), and despite the fact he doesn’t look to dominate games as often as he should, the Serbian big man is still having an excellent campaign.

    Tenth in the league in rebounding, third among centers in nightly assists, Jokic’s dime-dishing, rebound-securing, post-dominating style of play is thrilling to watch, and has Denver in the thick of the playoff race in the stacked Western Conference.

    For what it’s worth, the Nuggets outscore opponents by 14.9 points per 100 possessions with Jokic on the floor, which only speaks to the star big man’s vast importance to head coach Michael Malone and his system.

    9. LaMarcus Aldridge

    2017-18 Stats: 23.0 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.2 bpg

    One of the surprises of the offseason came when reports surfaced regarding LaMarcus Aldridge and a massive extension with the San Antonio Spurs.

    To that point, Aldridge – being the ball-dominant, score-first, pass-second big man that he always has been – and the Spurs – primarily head coach Gregg Popovich – appeared to be an awkward fit, destined for a divorce.

    But after an air-it-all-out meeting between player and coach, the two parties decided to commit to each other for the long haul. And thus far, Aldridge has rewarded Popovich’s faith in him tenfold.

    The Texas product is playing his best basketball since his days as a Portland Trail Blazer, setting a career-high in field-goal percentage (51.6 percent) and on pace to shatter his previous career-best three-pointers made in a season. Prior to this year, the most triples the almost-seven-footer had made in a single campaign was 37 back in 2014-15. Through 22 games this season, he already has 15.

    Once Kawhi Leonard returns, the Spurs’ frontcourt (also featuring the ageless Pau Gasol) will have San Antonio absolutely humming.

    8. Andre Drummond

    2017-18 Stats: 14.3 ppg, 15.0 rpg, 4.0 apg

    Similarly to Aldridge and the Spurs, Andre Drummond and the Detroit Pistons seemed headed for an ugly breakup. There were countless rumors regarding team president of basketball operations and head coach Stan Van Gundy heavily shopping the seven-footer – both last season and this past summer.

    Well, Van Gundy must be elated the rumors never came to fruition, as Drummond has been exceptional thus far in 2017-18.

    The sixth-year big man has transformed his game, becoming a more savvy playmaker while keeping the brute strength and monstrous athleticism that always made him special.

    Through 27 games in 2017-18, Drummond already has 87 assists. His career-high in dimes prior to this season? 90. Not to mention, he’s also leading the NBA in nightly rebounds with 15 per game.

    It’s been quite the impressive turnaround for the 24-year-old – one that has Detroit sitting pretty with a 14-8 record – and it’s entirely possible we still haven’t even seen him reach his peak. What a scary proposition.

    7. Damian Lillard

    2017-18 Stats: 25.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 6.2 apg

    According to raw statistics, Damian Lillard has had better seasons than this one. Thus far, he’s not setting career-highs in points, assists or three-pointers per game.

    However, at the same time, the explosive lead guard is shattering career marks in various advanced metrics, such as box plus/minus and win shares per 48.

    How is that possible?

    Part of it is that Lillard has made it a point of becoming a more serviceable defender. The stats bear that out, as the sixth-year guard is rebounding and blocking shots better than ever before.

    That, in turn, has helped the Blazers own the league’s second-best defensive rating at 100.3, which is primarily why they currently boast a 13-10 record and sit sixth in the Western Conference playoff race.

    Oh, and by the way, for those that may think the rest of the team is carrying Lillard’s slack defensively, Portland actually allows 0.6 fewer points per 100 possessions with their star floor general in the game. So that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

    6. Kyrie Irving

    2017-18 Stats: 23.2 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 5.2 apg

    Quite simply, Kyrie Irving has appeared to find the perfect fit with his new team, the Boston Celtics. His relationship with his new head coachBrad Stevens, has been especially fruitful, as the two can’t seem to stop sending each other compliments through the media.

    The Celtics own the NBA’s best record at 20-4, have already ripped off a ridiculous 16-game win streak and have accomplished both of those feats without an All-Star piece in Gordon Hayward.

    Irving’s mesmerizing scoring ability, coupled with his clutch shot-making, have made him into a prime MVP candidate early in the 2017-18 campaign.

    5. Anthony Davis

    2017-18 Stats: 25.2 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 1.7 bpg

    Although DeMarcus Cousins has taken some of his shine, it can’t be questioned that Anthony Davis is still the New Orleans Pelicans most impactful player.

    An elite scorer, rebounder and defender, Davis leads the Pelicans in on/off differential at an absurd mark of +18.7. (For reference, New Orleans is actually getting outscored by 1.7 points per 100 possessions with Cousins in the game. Weird, but true.)

    Depending on how long he’s out with his latest injury (to his left pelvic region), Davis should garner MVP love once awards season rolls around.

    4. Stephen Curry

    2017-18 Stats: 26.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 6.5 apg

    Even with Golden State Warriors sharpshooter Stephen Curry struggling to sink triples at his usual obscene clips (the human flamethrower is currently converting a career-low 36.9 percent of his threes), he’s still putting up absurd stat lines on a nightly basis.

    Much like the Cousins-Davis dynamic for the Pelicans, Curry lost some of his shine since former league MVP Kevin Durant joined the team.

    Nevertheless, the nine-year pro is still Golden State’s most important player, as the team outscores opponents by 16.3 points per 100 possessions with him in the game. (Durant’s on/off differential, on the other hand, sits at +4.7. Still respectable, but nowhere near Curry’s level.)

    Thus, it’s only fair the most important player on the best team in basketball will get a ton of much-deserved MVP love.

    3. Giannis Antetokounmpo

    2017-18 Stats: 29.4 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 4.5 apg

    After kicking 2017-18 off with one of the most impressive starts in recent memory, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s play has tailed off just a bit.

    Even so, the Milwaukee Bucks do-everything swingman is dominating in every facet for his team. The league’s second-leading scorer at 29.4 points per outing, Antetokounmpo is also the Bucks’ top rebounder and shot-blocker. And prior to Eric Bledsoe arriving into town, the superstar wing also led the team in assists and steals as well.

    Antetokounmpo is on his way to becoming just the fourth player in league history to average at least 29.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.5 blocks over an entire season. The other three were David RobinsonKareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bob McAdoo.

    Not bad company for the Greek Freak, who is still somehow only 22 years old.

    2. James Harden

    2017-18 Stats: 31.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 9.8 apg

    The league leader in both points and assists per game, James Harden somehow continues to defy logic by taking his play to a higher level every single season.

    The Houston Rockets have easily been the NBA’s best non-Warriors team, outscoring opponents by 10.9 points per 100 possession on the year. They’ve been playing at an elite level mostly without Chris Paul, who missed 14 games early in the year with lingering knee pain.

    Harden has had the Rockets humming to the point some believe they may actually give the Warriors some trouble when the postseason rolls around, though we’re months away from having to worry about that.

    In all, if it weren’t for arguably the greatest talent the NBA has ever seen still dominating at an obscene level, Harden would easily be No. 1 on our list.

    1. LeBron James

    2017-18 Stats: 28.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 8.7 apg

    What’s there to say about LeBron James that hasn’t already been said?

    He recently passed the legendary Alex English for tenth on the all-time scoring list, he’s still the best player in basketball and now, even his jumper is falling at an elite rate.

    Among players with at least 100 pull-up jumpers attempted, James places fifth in effective field-goal percentage at 51.8 percent. That’s a more accurate rate than Durant, Lillard and DeMar Derozan, who are known for their pull-up feats of basket-getting wizardry.

    The Cleveland Cavaliers are rolling, too, reeling off 11 wins in a row and finally resembling the team many expected them to be before the season.

    James has been unstoppable, and we should all appreciate him for as long as we can, as there’s no way the 33-year-old will be able to keep this up forever… is there?

    You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_.

    NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rocketsfau09fsuNBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rocketsfau09fsu

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    For every bad contract that exists in the NBA, there are just many bargain deals out there that make you wonder: How did that team get that player to sign for that amount of money?

    At the same time, though, it’s not always a matter of the money. A few of the deals on our list are actually versions of max contracts that still have to be considered bargains because of the players they belong to.

    When a player signed his max also has an effect on whether the deal can be thought of as a steal, simply because of the Collective Bargain Agreement’s (CBA) new “super-max contracts”, which can be given to certain players depending on their level of experience and the number of times they received All-NBA distinctions.

    Stephen Curry’s deal, for example, is for five years and is worth $202.2 million. Rest assured, for our purposes, that contract didn’t make the cut.

    Finally, we’re also not taking rookie-scale contracts into consideration (which are solely given to first-round selections) because if we did, most of the bargain deals on our list would belong to rookies.

    Without further ado, we present the most valuable contract on every single NBA team.

    Atlanta Hawks

    Luke Babbitt/One year, $1.9 million

    Quietly, Luke Babbitt has had excellent back-to-back campaigns.

    Over the past two seasons, among players who have attempted at least 250 three-pointers, the Atlanta Hawks forward boasts the league’s seventh-most accurate conversion rate, nailing an impressive 42.6 percent of his opportunities. For the record, that’s a better clip than other sharpshooters such as Curry, JJ Redick and Ryan Anderson.

    Considering his expiring contract, Babbitt would make a welcome addition on any team’s payroll, as he has a defined role and plays to his strengths quite well. Teams in playoff contention would be savvy to attempt acquiring the seven-year vet before the trade deadline, and rescue him from the rebuilding Atlanta Hawks.

    Boston Celtics

    Kyrie Irving/Five years, $94.3 million

    Though the worth of Kyrie Irving‘s deal is greater than most everyone else’s on this list, it should still be considered valuable for one reason: Having a 25-year-old with championship experience, who is just now hitting his prime, signed for the long haul is something every franchise covets.

    Irving’s contract may be huge but it’s also not as constricting as the “super-maxes” that some of his peers are signed to, either.

    Furthermore, it should be noted the Duke product is taking his game to another level this season, meshing wonderfully with Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, who has the ball-handling wizard performing at an MVP level.

    Any team would make the room to acquire Irving on their roster, and that’s what makes his contract so valuable.

    Brooklyn Nets

    Spencer Dinwiddie/Three years, $2.9 million

    It’s almost unfathomable the Chicago Bulls didn’t think Spencer Dinwiddie should be a part of their long-term plans. They landed the 6-foot-6 point guard through a trade with the Detroit Pistons, and then signed and waived him twice before deciding to ultimately move on for good.

    Their loss was the Brooklyn Nets’ gain, however, as Dinwiddie has blossomed into an excellent floor general under head coach Kenny Atkinson.

    Non-guaranteed for 2018-19, the Colorado product’s contract isn’t just the most valuable on the Nets – it could even be argued it’s one of the best value deals in the entire league.

    Especially if he continues improving on his present trajectory, which currently has him putting up 12.5 points and 6.2 assists per night.

    Charlotte Hornets

    Kemba Walker/Four years, $48 million

    In today’s NBA landscape, the average starter is earning between $10-$12 million per year.

    To have Kemba Walker signed to a deal with an annual average salary of just $12 million is an absolute bargain. Any team would kill to have the explosive floor general on their payroll at such a reasonable price, and credit is due to the masterful work done by Charlotte Hornets general manager Rich Cho, who pulled off this great heist.

    Over the past two seasons, Walker has performed at an All-Star pace; thus far in 2017-18, he’s averaging 22.7 points and a career-high 6.3 assists per contest. And considering Walker is still just 27 years old, his play could eventually hit an even higher plane.

    Chicago Bulls

    Robin Lopez/Four years, $54 million

    Slow-footed centers with limited range are nowhere near as important as they used to be. And yet, Robin Lopez is still our choice here, as Chicago simply lacks any non-rookie contracts that could be considered valuable.

    Lopez is a fine player, who is currently putting up a career-best 13.2 points per game, along with 5.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists.

    On a great team, he would be an excellent backup big man. It’s entirely plausible if his contract weren’t so hefty, we would see playoff contenders angling to acquire him to bolster their depth. But his contract is that hefty, and as such, he’ll likely finish it out as a member of the Bulls.

    Cleveland Cavaliers

    Dwyane Wade/One year, $2.3 million

    A former NBA Finals MVP and future Hall of Famer, Dwyane Wade has adapted beautifully to life off the bench.

    Since moving into a reserve role, the combo guard has averaged 12.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists per outing. For good measure, he’s also chipping in 1.1 steals and 1.0 blocks as well.

    The main concern regarding Wade joining the Cleveland Cavaliers revolved around what his role would be. If the legendary scorer was going to be stubborn about starting and boasting a high usage rate, things could have gotten ugly.

    But Wade, showing great selflessness, realized he’d help his team most by playing the role of backup point guard, and he’s absolutely thrived since leaving starting lineup.

    Now, his contract looks like one of the biggest steals of the offseason.

    Dallas Mavericks

    Seth Curry/Two years, $5.9 million

    Although Seth Curry has missed the entirety of the 2017-18 campaign with a stress fracture in his leg, he’s expected back soon, which gives him his spot back as the Dallas Mavericks’ most valuable contract. (Dirk Nowitzki was also in the running, but his no-trade clause eliminates him from this exercise.)

    Curry broke out last season by shooting 42.5 percent from beyond the arc, while averaging 12.8 points and 2.1 assists per night.

    He’d be an excellent piece on any team – primarily as a reserve, though he did perform admirably in 40 starts last season – and on such a cheap deal, the Mavs have themselves quite the asset.

    Denver Nuggets

    Nikola Jokic/Three years, $4.1 million

    With a club option on the final year of his contract (2018-19), Nikola Jokic qualifies for our exercise because he was a second-round pick, for which there are no rookie scales as there are for first rounders.

    Since the start of 2016-17, the seven-footer is averaging 16.4 points, 10.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game.

    With numbers that impressive on such an obscenely affordable contract, one could easily call Jokic the most valuable asset in the league.

    Detroit Pistons

    Avery Bradley/Four years, $32 million

    At an annual average salary of $8 million per year, Avery Bradley’s deal is one of the best in basketball.

    An excellent two-way guard, the only reason he wouldn’t have made our list is due to this being the final year of his contract, making it just a little less valuable for the Detroit Pistons.

    However, because Detroit owns his Bird Rights, they can exceed the cap to bring him back – something they’ll be happy to do, as Bradley is averaging 15.6 points, 1.8 triples and 1.4 steals per contest on the season.

    Golden State Warriors

    Draymond Green/Five years, $82 million

    The reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Draymond Green claims he slept-walked through early portions of this season.

    Can’t really blame him, since the Michigan State product, along with the rest of the Golden State Warriors, were coming off an emotional championship run, and have played deep into June each of the past three campaigns.

    Even so, Green is still functioning as the engine that makes the Warriors go on both ends. The six-year vet is posting averages of 10.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, 7.1 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.3 blocks per night, dominating teams using a freakish blend of distributing point-stopping abilities.

    When you further consider Green is the Warriors’ fourth-highest paid player by annual average salary, it’s clear he provides Golden State with the most value for their dollar.

    Houston Rockets

    Luc Mbah a Moute/One year, $2.1 million

    In hindsight, it’s insane the Houston Rockets were able to land Luc Mbah a Moute on such a steal of a contract.

    Sure, his raw statistics throughout his career have never been the most impressive. But it is common knowledge that Mbah a Moute has always been a top-notch defender – one who, more often than not, makes teams better when he’s in the game.

    Add in the fact that the veteran forward converted 39.1 percent of his three-point attempts last season, and you have all the signs of an elite complementary piece.

    Mbah a Moute has been just that and then some for Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni this season. He’s hitting 40.4 of his shots from beyond the arc, and when he’s on the floor, Houston outscores their opponents by 6.7 points per 100 possessions.

    Role player-wise, Mbah a Moute may be the most valuable asset in the entire NBA at the moment.

    Indiana Pacers

    Bojan Bogdanovic/Two years, $21 million

    After the Washington Wizards withdrew their qualifying offer for Bojan Bogdanovic, the Indiana Pacers moved quickly to sign the Croatian wing.

    They did so on a modest contract, one that spans two seasons – the second of which is only guaranteed for $1.5 million.

    Bogdanovic has handsomely rewarded the Pacers for their leap of faith, as he’s currently enjoying his best season.

    Indiana’s sharpshooter is converting a career-high 44.5 percent of his three-pointers (the fifth-best mark among players with at least 100 attempts from deep) while scoring a career-best 15.0 points per game.

    With an annual average salary of $10.5 million and a minimal guarantee on the second year of his deal, Bogdanovic is completely outperforming his contract.

    (Glenn Robinson III gets an honorable mention here. The young two-way wing with an improving three-point stroke, Robinson is certainly better than the minimum contract he’s currently signed to.)

    Los Angeles Clippers

    Lou Williams/Three years, $21 million

    Tough choice here between Lou Williams and Patrick Beverley, but the injury to the latter helped make the decision for us.

    Williams, at 31 years old, is still the league’s premiere bench scorer. With averages of 18.9 points, 2.3 triples and 4.4 assists per night, and a career-high effective field-goal percentage of 53.1 percent, the Clippers guard is seemingly only getting better with age.

    Considering he’s on the last year of his deal, and with whatever team he’s on next becoming owners of his Bird Rights, Williams is one of the highest-value assets in the league.

    Because the Los Angeles Clippers have suffered a plethora of injuries which have greatly hampered their odds of reaching the playoffs, don’t be surprised to see Williams switch teams again before the trade deadline.

    Los Angeles Lakers

    Kentavious Caldwell-Pope/One year, $17.8 million

    The Los Angeles Lakers don’t own Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s Bird Rights, and his deal – which isn’t that cheap to begin with – is expiring. Overall, of all the contracts on our list, this is arguably the “least” valuable.

    Regardless, the Lakers are set up nicely for the future with plenty of young studs, like Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Julius Randle, still on rookie-scale deals.

    Plus, Caldwell-Pope has been decent enough, averaging 13.7 points and hitting 35.5 percent of his threes while excelling on the less glamorous side of the ball, so it’s not like he’s a bad asset, per se.

    He’s just not a great one.

    Memphis Grizzlies

    Tyreke Evans/One year, $3.3 million

    Like Caldwell-Pope and the Lakers, Tyreke Evans contract is expiring and the Memphis Grizzlies don’t own his Bird Rights, which hinders how valuable his deal really is.

    Even so, it’s insane to have someone signed to a bi-annual exception making $3.3 million over one year functioning as a team’s best player, but that’s exactly the case with Evans and the Grizzlies.

    The Memphis product is putting up 17.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.1 assists per contest, while finally starting to resemble his rookie-year self, when Evans appeared destined for stardom.

    He’s not quite there yet, but any team would love to have him at his current prince on their roster.

    Similarly to Williams, don’t be shocked to see the Grizzlies find a suitor for Evans around the trade deadline, since they are starting to look more and more like a team that won’t qualify for the postseason.

    Miami Heat

    Josh Richardson/Four years, $42 million

    The Miami Heat signed Josh Richardson to a four-year, $42 million extension just before the start of this season. That extension doesn’t kick in until 2018-19 so technically, the 6-foot-6 wing is still on his three-year, $2.4 million rookie deal.

    Nevertheless, Richardson was a second-round pick like Jokic, so his contract wasn’t tied down by the rookie-scale parameters of former first-round selections.

    Although the third-year swingman has gotten off to an ice-cold start offensively this season (Richardson is shooting 40.0 percent from the floor through 23 games), he still leads the team in minutes per game.


    His defensive capabilities are among the league’s best. Richardson jumps passing lanes, blocks shots, is impossible to post up, and can even switch onto bigger players without getting abused.

    Miami just needs to hope his shot starts falling eventually, because if it does, a $10.5 million annual average salary for a 3-and-D role player of Richardson’s caliber would be quite the steal.

    Milwaukee Bucks

    Khris Middleton/Five years, $70 million

    Although Khris Middleton’s deal isn’t the cheapest, his salary falls from $14.1 million this season to $13.0 million next year, and he has a player option on the final year of his deal in 2019-20.

    If he opts in, the Milwaukee Bucks will owe him $13.0 million that season. If he doesn’t – which appears likely with how well he’s playing – he’ll be an unrestricted free agent.

    Thus far this season, Middleton is averaging a career-high 19.5 points per game, along with 5.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.4 steals. Only three other players are averaging at least 19.0 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.3 steals in 2017-18: Giannis AntetokonoumpoDeMarcus Cousins and Russell Westbrook.

    Not bad company for Middleton, who’s on a far cheaper contract than any of those All-NBA talents.

    Minnesota Timberwolves

    Nemanja Bjelica/Three years, $11.7 million

    Before going down with injuryNemanja Bjelica was one of the league’s top three-point shooters.

    The Minnesota Timberwolves forward sank an obscene 51.2 percent of his triples over his first 18 games, the second-best rate among players with over 35 attempts on the year.

    With an annual average salary of $3.9 million, Bjelica’s deal is quite the bargain for a player with such a well-defined – and important – role.

    New Orleans Pelicans

    Anthony Davis/Five years, $127.2 million

    By far the biggest the biggest contract on our list, Anthony Davis is so damn good that his deal still holds a ton of value.

    Signed to a max contract by the New Orleans Pelicans prior to 2016-17, i.e. before the super-max came into existence, Davis’ deal – large as it is – could be a steal a few seasons down the road.

    The Kentucky product is somewhat inexplicably still just 24 years old, and the Pelicans have him locked up through 2020-21, his age-27 campaign.

    Davis is arguably the league’s best big man, who can score at an elite rate, gobble up boards and protect the paint. And though injuries will always be a risk with him, any team would take that risk in a heartbeat if they could.

    New York Knicks

    Kyle O’Quinn/Four years, $16 million

    A rugged rim protector and rebounder who can score just enough to make opponents respect him, Kyle O’Quinn is on a great deal for a rotational piece.

    The New York Knicks are getting outscored by 0.4 points per 100 possessions on the season. However, with O’Quinn in the game, they completely flip the script by outscoring opponents by 3.7 points per 100 possessions.

    Does that mean O’Quinn should be playing more than 16.4 minutes per night? Probably, but that’s a conversation for another time.

    As is, he’s one of the better value deals in the Eastern Conference.

    Oklahoma City Thunder

    Jerami Grant/Three years, $2.7 million

    After spending the majority of last season deployed at small forward, Oklahoma City Thunder head coach Billy Donovan finally came to his senses and moved Jerami Grant to almost exclusively playing power forward in 2017-18.

    And the results have been fantastic.

    Averaging 8.4 points and 3.8 rebounds per contest, Grant is starting to take the next step in his career, turning into a legitimately productive energy big.

    Though it’s the last year of his contract, the Thunder own Grant’s Bird Rights, so he’ll likely be staying in Oklahoma City for the long term, provided he maintains this level of play.

    Orlando Magic

    Jonathon Simmons/Three years, $20 million

    A blossoming two-way swingman, Jonathon Simmons is looking like one of the steals of the offseason.

    Signed to a deal with a $6.7 million annual average salary, Simmons is shattering his career marks in points (14.2), rebounds (3.1) and triples (0.9) per contest, while maintaining his status as one of the toughest defensive guards in the league.

    What’s more, the last year of Simmons’ deal (2019-20) is partially guaranteed for just $1 million, making the contract as a whole even more valuable.

    Philadelphia 76ers

    Robert Covington/Four years, $44.9 million

    As soon as the CBA allowed for it, the Philadelphia 76ers came to terms with Robert Covington on an extension to stay with the franchise for the long haul.

    But even with the extension, Covington is still one of the best bargains in the league.

    Few players can touch his prowess as a 3-and-D stud, as the fifth-year pro is one of just four men averaging over 3.0 triples and 1.5 takeaways per contest in 2017-18.

    The other three are decidedly not role players, but rather superstars who go by the name of Curry, James Harden and Paul George.

    Covington isn’t solely a pristine fit with the Sixers; he would have a huge role on any team, even the likes of the Warriors and Cavaliers, thanks to his point-stopping, three-point-converting abilities.

    Phoenix Suns

    Troy Daniels/Three years, $10 million

    This spot would have easily gone to Alan Williams if not for the torn meniscus he suffered just before the start of 2017-18.

    So, instead, it’ll go to Troy Daniels, the Phoenix Suns’ underrated three-point assassin.

    Not only is Daniels’ deal cheap, but the Suns – or whichever team trades for him – will own his Bird Rights when his free agency rolls around, making it quite the valuable asset.

    A career 41.0 percent three-point shooter who’s making a ridiculous 43.4 percent of his shots from beyond the arc this season, hopefully we get to see Daniels on a contender once the playoffs roll around.

    Portland Trail Blazers

    Al-Farouq Aminu/Four years, $30 million

    An annual average salary of $7.5 million for a starter-level talent is an absolute bargain in today’s market, and for that reason, Al-Farouq Aminu’s contract is the best value on the Portland Trail Blazers.

    Over the past three seasons, Aminu is knocking down a healthy 35.7 percent of his triples, while averaging 9.6 points, 6.7 rebounds and 0.9 steals per contest.

    His numbers don’t jump off the page, but he’s an excellent wing defender who really helps Portland on the glass and makes the team better when he’s on the floor.

    Don’t believe me?

    Well, as proof, we can point to the Blazers outscoring opponents by 13.4 points per 100 possessions with Aminu in the game this season – a downright Curry-like mark.

    The Wake Forest product has blossomed into quite the serviceable player, on a very reasonable deal.

    Sacramento Kings

    Bogdan Bogdanovic/Three years, $27 million

    Factoring in age, potential and current play, Bogdan Bogdanovic easily earns the spot as the Sacramento Kings’ best contract.

    The 25-year-old rookie is putting up 9.8 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists per contest on respectable shooting splits of 44.9/33.3/83.9.

    If the Serbian shooting guard has any sort of upward trajectory over the coming years, his deal will look like an even bigger bargain.

    San Antonio Spurs

    Kawhi Leonard/Five years, $94.3 million

    A former Finals MVP and two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Kawhi Leonard took his game to another level last season by also turning into an elite scorer.

    The freakish wing averaged 25.5 points per night in 2016-17, leading the San Antonio Spurs to a 61-21 record along the way.

    And although he hasn’t played yet this year due to a worrisome quad injury, Leonard is expected back sooner rather than later, meaning we can go back to calling his huge contract a bargain.

    Any team would happily take the “burden” of Leonard’s $18.9 million annual average salary onto their books, because paying a transcendent talent anything under the super-max these days is a steal.

    Toronto Raptors

    CJ Miles/Three years, $25 million

    A three-point sniper with a load of playoff experience, CJ Miles would find a role with any team thanks to his ability to space the floor from deep.

    Add in the fact he’s making about $8.3 million per year over the next three seasons and you have the makings of a very valuable asset.

    Though Miles will be 33 during the last year of his contract, his game should age gracefully considering he’s never been the most athletic player to begin with. He’ll just continue to knock down contested three after contested three, and open up room for your key players to operate inside, no matter how old he gets.

    Utah Jazz

    Thabo Sefolosha/Two years, $10.5 million

    As far as scoring is concerned, Thabo Sefolosha is having a career year with the Utah Jazz.

    But scoring doesn’t really matter to the 33-year-old; it’s what he does on the other end that’s made him such a mainstay in the league – and why he’s carved out such a nice role with Utah.

    With Sefolosha in the game, the Jazz are outscoring opponents by 7.9 points per 100 possessions – while their defense allows 7.2 fewer points per 100 possessions than when he’s on the bench.

    Even at his advanced age, the Swiss wing is still one of the NBA’s top 3-and-D role players. This season, only four other men (with a minimum of 50 three-point attempts) can match Sefolosha’s 41.1 percent rate from beyond the arc, along with his 1.4 nightly takeaways: Otto PorterVictor Oladipo, Jeff Teague and Gary Harris.

    Impressive stuff for the wily old vet to still be keeping up with some of the league’s best two-way players. And on such a cheap deal, he’s been quite the find for Utah.

    Washington Wizards

    Markieff Morris/Four years, $32 million

    As we’ve stated, having a starter earning anything less than $10 million per year is a bargain in today’s market. And that’s exactly what the Wizards have in Markieff Morris, whose annual average salary amounts to $8 million.

    Though he has some baggage and is coming off an injury, Morris is still a serviceable player as a fourth option, who can score effectively and defend aptly.

    With how much money Washington is dolling out to their stars John WallBradley Beal and Otto Porter, all of whom are on max contracts, they’re buoyed by the fact their other two starters, Morris and Marcin Gortat, earn a combined $20 million per year while nicely filling important roles on the team.

    Morris has another year left on his deal after this one and the Wizards own his Bird Rights, making Morris’ contract quietly one of the best bargains league-wide.

    You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_.

    HoopsHype’s own Alberto De Roa contributed to this article.

    New Orleans Pelicans v Denver Nuggetsfau09fsuNew Orleans Pelicans v Denver Nuggetsfau09fsu

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    After a truly absurd sophomore campaign, Karl-Anthony Towns appeared ready to take over the NBA heading into his third season.

    With a rare blend of prowess in the post, floor-spacing chops and tenacity on the glass, there wasn’t much the Minnesota Timberwolves big man couldn’t do.

    The 2016-17 version of Towns became merely the second player in league history to average at least 25 points and 12 rebounds per night in their age-21 season, joining Shaquille O’Neal to form an impressive list.

    For good measure, though, Towns also spread the floor from three-point range, nailing 101 triples in 2016-17, something the paint-bound O’Neal would have never even considered attempting.

    Making Towns’ early-career dominance even more impressive was the fact it extended to both sides of the floor.

    As a rookie, the seven-footer displayed quick feet defensively, which helped him stick with guards on the perimeter after pick-and-roll-induced switches – a skill that, if mastered, could have turned a big man with Towns’ offensive chops into one of the most impactful players in the league.

    Unfortunately, Towns hasn’t been able to blend his rookie-season defense with his sophomore-year offense to create a two-way monster in 2017-18. Not yet, at least.

    Because, currently, he’s on pace to have his worst statistical season as a professional according to multiple advanced metrics – namely, Box Plus/Minus (BPM) and Player Efficiency Rating (PER).

    It’s not just a matter of the team acquiring another ball-dominant wing in Jimmy Butler, either, though that probably hasn’t helped; Towns has simply regressed in multiple facets.

    We only need to turn to Synergy Sports Tech’s vast database for proof.

    As a second-year player back in 2016-17, Towns scored 1.029 points per possession (PPP) on post-ups, which placed him in the 86th percentile of the league, according to Synergy.

    This season? He’s all the way down to 1.009 PPP on the block – still in the well above-average range, but a far cry from the post-dominant beast he was last year.

    Even more jarring is his fall-off as the roll man in pick-and-roll sets, where Towns’ scoring efficiency has plummeted from 1.229 PPP last year (the NBA’s best mark among players with at least 250 opportunities) to 1.212 PPP this season. The latter clip places him all the way down in the 67th percentile.

    What’s more, after showing promise as an isolation scorer last season – when Towns produced 0.857 PPP, putting him in the “good” range, per Synergy – the big man now ranks in the bottom quarter of the league (24th percentile) in iso efficiency, scoring a paltry 0.762 PPP.

    Along with his declining production in the three aforementioned, all-important metrics, Towns has also diminished in his scoring off of put-backs (1.325 PPP last season to 1.143 PPP this year) and in transition (1.31 PPP to 1.11 PPP), which are two of the simplest point-producing methods to improve one’s efficiency.

    Although it’s true Towns’ usage rate is at a career-low 23.3 percent (and Butler’s addition has obviously had a hand in that), should that really have had this much of an impact on the play-types which do not require the ball to be in his hands, i.e. attacking the offensive glass and running the floor?

    Certainly not.

    It’s difficult to surmise why, then, this steep drop off in efficiency has taken place, as Towns’ effort level shouldn’t be questioned. After all, the guy is playing 34.9 minutes nightly, while putting up 20.1 points and 11.6 rebounds per outing.

    Perhaps a lack of spacing is to blame, as he does spend the majority of his time on the floor with another traditional big man, usually either Taj Gibson or Gorgui Dieng, which, obviously, has an adverse effect on the amount of room he has to operate down low.

    It’s probably not a coincidence that in the 78 minutes Towns has shared the floor with Nemanja Bjelica – who is a career 36.4 percent three-point shooter from the 4-spot – his output has seen marked improvement.

    According to NBAWowy, Towns posts an effective field-goal percentage of 62.1 (up from 57.6 percent in all other minutes) and a true shooting percentage of 68.2 (up from 62.2 percent in all other minutes) when he’s on the court with Bjelica, and without Gibson and Dieng.

    With the added space inside, the third-year pro begins to resemble his sophomore self – you know, the version who put up a preposterous 28.2 points per night over a 42-game sample size during the latter half of 2016-17.

    Though the fix seems simple enough – just pair Bjelica with Towns more often – it’s really not that easy.

    For one, it would go against head coach Tom Thibodeau’s core principles, which tell him to deploy two traditional bigs on the floor whenever possible.

    Additionally, in the 78 Towns/Bjelica minutes this year, the Timberwolves have given up 109.3 points per 100 possessions, a mark that, if extrapolated for the year, would be the league’s second-loosest rate.

    That’s simply not gonna fly. Especially under Thibodeau.

    (Not to mention, Bjelica is still recovering from a foot sprain suffered in mid-November, making the whole discussion sort of moot. For now, anyway.)

    Nevertheless, at the end of the day, great players tend to figure things out.

    Whether that be how to thrive in a different system or with new teammates, someone possessing Towns’ obscene amount of natural talent – and his level of want, more importantly – should be able to get through this relative rough patch.

    Plus, wouldn’t we all be so lucky as to have “rough patches” that still include putting up 20 and 11 on a nightly basis?

    You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_.

    Golden State Warriors v Minnesota Timberwolvesfau09fsuGolden State Warriors v Minnesota Timberwolvesfau09fsu

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    Just months after signing their most recent contracts, it may be moving time again for a few men.

    That’s because, according to Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) regulations, players signed without the use of Bird Rights and prior to September 15th aren’t eligible to be traded… until December 15th.

    Thus, we may see some organizations show buyer’s remorse by shipping away their most-recent signees a mere eight weeks after convincing them to join their respective clubs.

    Though it’s unlikely we’ll see too many people get moved so soon, it’s a very real possibility for a select few.

    Main trade block candidates

    • Luke Babbitt, Atlanta Hawks
    • Vince Carter, Sacramento Kings
    • Tyreke Evans, Memphis Grizzlies
    • Danilo Gallinari, Los Angeles Clippers
    • George Hill, Sacramento Kings
    • Shabazz Muhammad, Minnesota Timberwolves
    • Ersan Ilyasova, Atlanta Hawks
    • James Johnson, Miami Heat
    • Nerlens Noel, Dallas Mavericks
    • Kelly Olynyk, Miami Heat
    • Zach Randolph, Sacramento Kings

    Mostly veterans on rebuilding or disappointing teams, these men are likeliest to move once CBA rules allow for it.

    If we had to choose one player as the likeliest to move, it would probably be a certain Sacramento Kings point guard who has already publicly voiced displeasure with his situation:

    George Hill sent that tweet out after being benched late in a 109-104 Kings loss against the Milwaukee Bucks. The former Indiana Pacer can still provide tremendous value, but he’s most comfortable playing off the ball, where he can spot up and knock down open threes. His fit with Sacramento simply doesn’t make much sense.

    Apart from Hill, his teammate Zach Randolph is taking away minutes from more exciting young prospects (like Skal Labissiere for one), but could help a playoff team as a reserve big man.

    Nerlens Noel has proven to be an awful fit with Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle. Noel’s days in Dallas are probably numbered, whether they trade him or simply let him walk in free agency this summer. Truth be told, his recent wrist injury will likely make his exit happen in the latter fashion.

    Luke Babbitt and Ersan Ilyasova have performed admirably for the tanking Atlanta Hawks, and could see some interest in the trade market, as floor-spacing bigs on team-friendly contracts are usually a hot commodity.

    Tyreke Evans has arguably been the Memphis Grizzlies most productive player. If they decide to blow it up (which, judging by general manager Chris Wallace’s recent comments, doesn’t seem likely), teams will assuredly come knocking for Evans, especially considering he’s on a one-year, $3.3 million deal.

    And finally, Kelly OlynykJames Johnson and Danilo Gallinari are playing decently enough (though that last guy did just return from injury), and if their respective teams – the disappointing Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers – decide to tank, they would likely be among the first players to go.


    • Nick Collison, Oklahoma City Thunder
    • Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
    • Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs
    • Udonis Haslem, Miami Heat
    • Shaun Livingston, Golden State Warriors
    • Paul Millsap, Denver Nuggets
    • Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
    • David West, Golden State Warriors

    From this batch, Kevin Durant is considered untouchable for the most obvious reasons: He’s an MVP candidate on the best team in basketball, who took a pay cut so the Golden State Warriors could re-sign their main role players from last year. Durant isn’t going anywhere.

    Two of those aforementioned role players – Shaun Livingston and David West – are also on this list because not only are they still extremely productive, they’re on very team-friendly deals. Plus, why would they be packaged in any sort of trade anyway? The Warriors have more than enough star power as is. Maintaining team chemistry is far more important to them than trying to be savvy on the trade market.

    Apart from them, a few of the other guys on this list are untouchable for more sentimental reasons. Out of respect for their lifetime contributions to their organizations, Dirk NowitzkiNick CollisonUdonis Haslem and Manu Ginobili would never be added into potential deals for salary-matching purposes, or as “trade filler,” even despite their cheap contracts. (Nowitzki does have a no-trade clause in his contract, but the point still stands.)

    And Paul Millsap – despite the frustrating wrist injury which will have him sidelined at least until the All-Star break – was playing fantastic basketball before going down. The Denver Nuggets would be insane to trade him under these circumstances.


    • Pau Gasol, San Antonio Spurs
    • Tim Hardaway Jr, New York Knicks
    • Gordon Hayward, Boston Celtics
    • JJ Redick, Philadelphia 76ers
    • Derrick Rose, Cleveland Cavaliers
    • Dion Waiters, Miami Heat

    Massive salaries or concern regarding injuries are the primary reasons for everyone’s inclusion in this batch.

    Gordon Hayward is an All-Star talent and the Boston Celtics wouldn’t try to trade him regardless, but if they did make him available, what kind of interest would he garner, considering what happened last time we saw him on a basketball court?

    Tim Hardaway Jr, on the other hand, is relatively healthy and has performed quite well under his new deal. But that doesn’t make his huge contract any more team-friendly.

    Same with Dion Waiters (though Hardaway has clearly been the better shooting guard this season), except the Heat’s scorer is also dealing with a plethora of ailments that have somewhat hampered his productivity this season. Waiters wouldn’t receive much interest in the trade market, and the Heat would be foolish to fleece themselves just to get rid of him.

    Derrick Rose’s issues are well-documented and we don’t need to rehash them all here.

    JJ Redick has performed wonderfully with his new team, the Philadelphia 76ers, but his one-year salary of $23 million would make it quite difficult to move him.

    And Pau Gasol – though still productive – will be owed, at minimum, $38.7 million over the next three seasons. Considering he’ll be 39 during the last year of his deal, no other team would be willing to take on that sort of commitment.

    Unlikely to get traded

    • Tony Allen, New Orleans Pelicans
    • Aron Baynes, Boston Celtics
    • Bojan Bogdanovic, Indiana Pacers
    • Omri Casspi, Golden State Warriors
    • Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Los Angeles Lakers
    • Darren Collison, Indiana Pacers
    • Jamal Crawford, Minnesota Timberwolves
    • Dewayne Dedmon, Atlanta Hawks
    • Langston Galloway, Detroit Pistons
    • Rudy Gay, San Antonio Spurs
    • Taj Gibson, Minnesota Timberwolves
    • Jeff Green, Cleveland Cavaliers
    • Justin Holiday, Chicago Bulls
    • Jarrett Jack, New York Knicks
    • Luc Mbah A Moute, Houston Rockets
    • CJ Miles, Toronto Raptors
    • Jonas Jerebko, Utah Jazz
    • Amir Johnson, Philadelphia 76ers
    • Ben McLemore, Memphis Grizzlies
    • Darius Miller, New Orleans Pelicans
    • Nenê, Houston Rockets
    • Zaza Pachulia, Golden State Warriors
    • Rajon Rondo, New Orleans Pelicans
    • Thabo Sefolosha, Utah Jazz
    • Jonathon Simmons, Orlando Magic
    • Jeff Teague, Minnesota Timberwolves
    • Milos Teodosic, Los Angeles Clippers
    • Daniel Theis, Boston Celtics
    • PJ Tucker, Houston Rockets
    • Ekpe Udoh, Utah Jazz
    • Alan Williams, Phoenix Suns
    • Nick Young, Golden State Warriors

    The players on this list are too talented to be considered potential trade filler, but seeing them get moved wouldn’t be totally shocking either.

    Bojan Bogdanovic is on a team-friendly deal (two years, $21 million, with the second year only guaranteed for $1.5 million) and he’s playing the best basketball of his career. Why would the Indiana Pacers move him, unless it was as part of a package for a star player?

    Omri Casspi and Nick Young are valuable complementary pieces who function as extra firepower for the Warriors. Since, as we mentioned before, they don’t need to rock the boat by acquiring any more stars, it’s tough to see Golden State moving either player.

    Over in the Lone Star State, Luc Mbah a Moute and PJ Tucker have been legitimately perfect fits with the Houston Rockets.

    The only reason we didn’t list them with the other “Untouchables” is because Houston general manager Darly Morey will never hesitate to package players if he senses he can add another elite piece to his team. Still, though, Mbah a Moute and Tucker play tough defense and knock down open threes – they’re probably safe.

    Ditto Daniel Theis and Aron Baynes, who should feel a sense of security with Boston thanks to what they provide (toughness on the glass and apt rim protection), but could still be traded away, as Danny Ainge wouldn’t shilly-shally from making a move if he thinks it will make his team better.

    In the Bayou, Darius Miller has quietly been one of the league’s best spot-up shooters. That, plus his defensive abilities and ridiculously cheap contract (two years, $4.3 million with the second year non-guaranteed), should make his spot with the New Orleans Pelicans secure. But if another team wanted him as part of a package for a star talent (plausible), it wouldn’t be surprising to see him shipped away.

    Same with Jonathon Simmons, who has really blossomed into a superb two-way guard, and the Orlando Magic.

    Potential Trade Filler

    • Arron Afflalo, Orlando Magic
    • Ron Baker, New York Knicks
    • Michael Beasley, New York Knicks
    • Khem Birch, Orlando Magic
    • Tarik Black, Houston Rockets
    • Bobby Brown, Houston Rockets
    • Reggie Bullock, Detroit Pistons
    • Jose Calderon, Cleveland Cavaliers
    • Michael Carter-Williams, Charlotte Hornets
    • Mario Chalmers, Memphis Grizzlies
    • Ian Clark, New Orleans Pelicans
    • Tyler Ennis, Los Angeles Lakers
    • Raymond Felton, Oklahoma City Thunder
    • Maximilian Kleber, Dallas Mavericks
    • Shane Larkin, Boston Celtics
    • Joffrey Lauvergne, San Antonio Spurs
    • Shelvin Mack, Orlando Magic
    • Alfonzo McKinnie, Toronto Raptors
    • Jodie Meeks, Washington Wizards
    • Jordan Mickey, Miami Heat
    • Eric Moreland, Detroit Pistons
    • Royce O’Neale, Utah Jazz
    • Patrick Patterson, Oklahoma City Thunder
    • Willie Reed, Los Angeles Clippers
    • Mike Scott, Washington Wizards
    • Wayne Selden, Memphis Grizzlies
    • Ramon Sessions, New York Knicks
    • Marreese Speights, Orlando Magic
    • Julyan Stone, Charlotte Hornets
    • Anthony Tolliver, Detroit Pistons
    • Damien Wilkins, Indiana Pacers
    • Jeff Withey, Dallas Mavericks
    • Troy Williams, Houston Rockets
    • Tyler Zeller, Brooklyn Nets

    No one’s inclusion on this list merits much explanation.

    Some are veterans with playoff experience, others are young men with upside still trying to find their place in the league.

    But for the most part, they’re just all right players on extremely cheap deals.

    Rival teams won’t seek them out in trades, but they could still be included as filler to make the salary swaps work.

    You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_.

    HoopsHype’s own Alberto De Roa contributed to this article.

    NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Sacramento Kingsfau09fsuNBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Sacramento Kingsfau09fsu

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    The contract year is an all-important phenomenon in sports.

    Athletes performing for their next deal tend to play just bit harder on a nightly basis than those who have already secured their life-changing contracts.

    That’s not to say players who have already gotten paid don’t exert any more effort, as there is still team glory to chase, but the fact of the matter is, especially for young guys, that first payday is a crucial personal stepping stone.

    This season, there are a few players around the Association who are doing a great job of raising their stock in this, their contract year. By the same token, there are others who have hurt their value at this vital time.

    Let’s take a look at ten players who fall into each category.

    Who’s helping their stock?

    Kyle Anderson , San Antonio Spurs

    Before spraining his meniscus, Kyle Anderson was enjoying a career season. With averages of 8.9 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per contest, the San Antonio Spurs wing was finally blossoming into the do-a-bit-of-everything role player many thought he’d be coming out of college.

    Provided he regains that form once he returns from injury, Anderson’s impending restricted free agency should be quite interesting, as his play could earn him a decent-sized payday.

    Will Barton, Denver Nuggets

    Denver Nuggets swingman Will Barton is on a similar trajectory to Anderson. The 6-foot-6 dynamic scorer is putting up a career-high in points this season, but on top of that, he’s also distributing the ball better than ever before. Now that he’s becoming a more well-rounded player, his stock is at an all-time high.

    And making things even hairier for Denver, Barton is an unrestricted free agent this upcoming offseason. Odds are, he’s about to get paid rather handsomely.

    Clint Capela, Houston Rockets

    Another player finally reaching his ceiling at just the right time, Clint Capela has become one of the best centers league-wide in 2017-18.

    Capela leads the NBA in field-goal percentage, making an obscene 68 percent of his shot attempts. And according to NBA Math, he’s the third-most productive player among anyone 23 or younger.

    The seven-footer is a restricted free agent next summer, but it would not be shocking to see a rival team hand him an offer sheet so huge that the Houston Rockets will have no choice to but to let him walk.

    Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic

    Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon is yet another young player hitting his peak this season. The fourth-year pro is putting up 18.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists per outing while converting a career-high 40.1 percent of his threes.

    The Magic may end up regretting not signing him to a contract extension last offseason. Though he’s a restricted free agent, it could turn out quite expensive for Orlando to keep him.

    Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz

    Although the injury concerns for Rodney Hood persist, when he has been able to suit up this year, he’s been exactly the player the Utah Jazz expected when they drafted him back in 2014. Hood is putting up career-best clips in both points (17.6) and three-point percentage (41.2 percent) and has really seemed to find a niche coming off the bench as an elite sixth man for Utah.

    If he can maintain some semblance of health, Hood’s next contract could range anywhere between $12 million and $15 million annually.

    Enes Kanter, New York Knicks

    Among players with at least 20 games played, New York Knicks center Enes Kanter ranks No. 1 in offensive rebound rate. His ability to both clean up on the glass and get buckets in the post has turned the Turkish big man into an above-average starter.

    Kanter owns a player option on the final year of his deal (2018-19) – one in which he’s owed $18.6 million. Despite his career campaign, would a rival team really be willing to shell out more than that annually for the 25-year-old center? Considering the current landscape, with most teams’ cap space filled to the brink, probably not. Kanter would be wise to consider opting into the final year of his deal, before testing the open market in the summer of 2019.

    Tyreke Evans, Memphis Grizzlies

    Unlike most of the prior players we discussed, Tyreke Evans headed in 2017-18 a bit more established. However, his recent play prior to this season was far from impressive, and it seemed like constant nagging injuries had sapped him of the athletic ability that once made him so special.

    But judging by his play thus far this year, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Evans is currently enjoying his best season since his magnificent rookie campaign, averaging 18.2 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists per night. The former Rookie of the Year product could end up being a valuable trade chip for the Memphis Grizzlies if they end up deciding to tank.

    Either way, his next contract will be far larger than his current one-year, $3.3 million deal.

    Luc Mbah a Moute, Houston Rockets

    Although much wasn’t made of the Houston Rockets signing Luc Mbah a Moute to a minimum contract last summer (one year, $2.1 million), his deal appears to be the steal of the offseason. Mbah a Moute’s raw metrics aren’t eye-popping by any means (6.8 points and 3.4 rebounds per contest), but his advanced numbers tell a different story.

    Mbah a Moute’s worth shows itself by the way his team plays when he’s in the game. With the veteran forward on the floor, Houston outscores its opponents by 4.2 points per 100 possessions. He likely won’t garner anything near a max deal next offseason, but Mbah a Moute has definitely helped himself financially with his play this year.

    Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers

    According to Win Shares per 48 (WS/48) and Box Plus/Minus (BPM), Los Angeles Lakers big man Julius Randle is having his best year in 2017-18. The fourth-year pro is no longer starting, but he has been able to carve out a nice role coming off the bench for Luke Walton.

    With Randle in the game, the Lakers are nine points per 100 possessions better than when he sits. On top of that, the Kentucky product should be commended for having the willingness to play a key reserve role; most players his age, with his pedigree, wouldn’t be as disposed to leave the starting lineup.

    That team-first attitude, along with his finishing near the basket and ability to switch on defense, should have Randle lined up for a nice payday next summer.

    Lou Williams, Los Angeles Clippers

    While most players regress with age, Lou Williams has done the opposite. Over the past two campaigns, the veteran scorer has set career-highs in points per game. What’s more, this year, he’s also knocking down triples at a career-best rate of 40 percent.

    There’s a solid chance he won’t finish the season with the Los Angeles Clippers, especially if they can’t get healthy enough to make a legitimate run at the playoffs. Whether he gets moved or not, Williams’ play this year should alleviate any worries teams may have about Father Time taking its toll on him, and he should be rewarded with a nice contract this upcoming summer, despite the fact he turns 32 when next season rolls around.

    And who’s hurting their stock?

    Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics

    It may be a tad bold to say Marcus Smart has hurt his value this season. After all, the Boston Celtics are an obscene 11.7 points per 100 possessions better with their two-way guard in the game, and a large part of the team’s hot start (24-6 record through 30 games) is Smart having a tendency of making the right play at the right, especially when the contest is up for grabs.

    But at the same time, it should be acknowledged he’s having the worst year of his career according to most of the advanced metrics, including WS/48, BPM and Player Efficiency Rating (PER).

    If Smart had shown a modicum of improvement as a shooter in 2017-18, we would have included him in the prior group. But he hasn’t – and although it’s hard to fathom a career 35.8 percent shooter getting even less effective, Smart has somehow managed it. And at the end of the day, that will affect the size of his next contract.

    Derrick Rose, Cleveland Cavaliers

    Derrick Rose’s biggest issue hasn’t changed: The former league MVP is still having trouble staying healthy.

    This season was worse than usual for Rose, though, as he even took a long hiatus from the team while deciding what his next move was going to be. That will assuredly weigh heavily on the minds of teams around the league this summer, as they consider whether or not to sign the 29-year-old Rose.

    Avery Bradley, Detroit Pistons

    Avery Bradley is scoring at about the same rate he has in his prior two breakout seasons, hovering around 15.6 points per game. But the Detroit Pistons two-guard is shooting merely 42.3 percent from the floor – his worst mark since 2012-13.

    And the Pistons have somewhat inexplicably been 6.4 points per 100 possessions worse with him on the floor.

    Regardless, Bradley is still an above average starting shooting guard, and he’ll be compensated as such. But his play hasn’t helped matters in the slightest regarding his next contract.

    Brook Lopez, Los Angeles Lakers

    Los Angeles Lakers center Brook Lopez started off the season on fire (by most big men’s standards) from beyond the arc. Over the first 10 games of the season, the seven-footer was converting 40 percent of his three-point attempts.

    Since then, however, Lopez has gone ice cold, hitting just 24.2 percent of his triples. Already nearly 30 years old, if Lopez isn’t going to space the floor from three his value will plummet, as he doesn’t rebound like someone his size should, and cannot defend in space.

    If Lopez wants to cash out this summer, he’s gonna need to get hot from deep again. And soon.

    Dante Cunningham, New Orleans Pelicans

    Prior to 2016-17, Dante Cunningham was a career 26.9 percent three-point shooter. Then, last season, the Villanova product hit an impressive 39.2 percent of looks from deep, providing value as a corner three-point specialist.

    The New Orleans Pelicans were smart not to fall for the one-year sample size, though, and brought the veteran power forward back on a one-year, $2.3 million deal.

    This year, Cunningham is down to hitting just 32.9 percent of his triples. In all likelihood, his next contract is going to bear a strong resemblance to his current one.

    Mario Hezonja, Orlando Magic

    One Magic forward, who we already covered, is reaching every bit of his vast potential this season. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for their other young forward, Mario Hezonja.

    The 22-year-old is averaging a career low in points (3.7) and more importantly, minutes (12.0) per contest, which has all but killed his value heading into unrestricted free agency.

    There’s time for the former Barcelona gunner to figure it out, but the clock is ticking.

    Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers

    Like Smart, it’s hard to say Jusuf Nurkic has really hurt his stock this season considering the Portland Trail Blazers are statistically a better team when he suits up.

    But the Bosnian big man is still having trouble staying healthy, and even besides that, is shooting 45.5 percent from the floor this season. For a center to shoot that poorly while also not functioning as a three-point threat is almost unheard of.

    A max deal is likely out of the question, but Nurkic should still garner a deal with an annual average of value in the seven-figure range.

    Yogi Ferrell, Dallas Mavericks

    Yogi Ferrell busted onto the scene last season for the Dallas Mavericks, averaging 11.3 points and 4.3 assists over 36 games (29 starts) per contest for Rick Carlisle’s men.

    Dallas was so excited about their find that they decided to waive veteran lead guard Deron Williams and make Ferrell their starting floor general to close 2016-17. Just read the following via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram to see how high the team was on the former Indiana Hoosier:

    The Mavericks are hedging their bets that Ferrell, who eventually signed a two-year contract with Dallas, can be their starting point guard for many years to come. By waiving Williams, that process stats immediately. So what exactly are the Mavericks expecting from Ferrell, who turns 24 on May 9? “Continued improvement, continued aggression, continue to get integrated more and more into the mentality we like to play with,’’ coach Carlisle said. “He’s going to have a lot of tough defensive assignments along the way. “There’s a lot of good players coming in at the point guard position, and he’s going to have the responsibility of playing those guys, at least why he’s a starter.”

    Thus far this year, Ferrell hasn’t really maintained that form. The Mavericks drafting another explosive point guard in Dennis Smith Jr probably hasn’t helped matters.

    Whatever the issue is, Ferrell landing a large deal this summer would be surprising, unless he somehow finds that 2016-17 magic.

    Nerlens Noel, Dallas Mavericks

    One of the most disappointing marriages in recent memory, Nerlens Noel and the Mavs have been about as ill a fit as possible.

    Through 18 games, Noel is averaging 4.0 points and 12.5 minutes nightly; even worse, he hasn’t seen the floor at all in Dallas’ last eight outings.

    There’s no shot the Kentucky product stays with the Mavericks past this season, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see him moved before the trade deadline. If that does happen, it’s possible he can regain some of his value by actually getting playing time and producing with another team.

    But if he stays in Dallas and remains glued to Carlisle’s bench, his next contract will probably be of the minimum variety.

    Brandan Wright, Memphis Grizzlies

    Once upon a time, Brandan Wright was a sorely underrated big man who knew his limitations and aptly scored near the rim while being a plus rebounder.

    Although he’s still pretty efficient and the Grizzlies are a far better team when he’s in the game, Wright has missed 12 of Memphis’ first 27 contests with a groin injury.

    At 30 years old, this was probably the former North Carolina star’s final chance at a decent payday.

    Now, it looks like he’ll remain on the minimum wherever he suits up next.

    You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_.

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    One could easily argue the past few years have seen the greatest influx of talent the NBA has ever experienced.

    From men brought over via overseas to those bred right here in the States, the league is set up for future success with the caliber of player that has arrived since the 2014 NBA Draft.

    As such, we decided to rank the 25 best under the age of 25.

    Some are just hitting their stride, others are rookies surprising the league with their play while others still are legitimate MVP candidates.

    Without further ado, let’s get right into it.

    25. Jusuf Nurkic, Portland Trail Blazers

    2017-18 Stats: 14.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.3 bpg

    Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic hasn’t quite found the form he had late last season. After arriving in the Pacific Northwest following a trade with the Denver Nuggets, the big Bosnian averaged 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists per contest over a 20-game sample size.

    Thus far this season, his raw statistics are down all across the board. Nurkic is also shooting merely 45.4 percent from the floor – the third-lowest mark among centers playing at least 25 minutes per night.

    What’s more, the only two big men with lower accuracy from the floor are Dirk Nowitzki and Marc Gasol, who both space the floor from beyond the arc, a luxury which Nurkic does not provide.

    Even so, the Blazers are a better team with their starting center in the game. And he’s still just 23 years old; Nurkic’s best days remain ahead.

    24. Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers

    2017-18 Stats: 12.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.9 apg

    Los Angeles Lakers big man Julius Randle appears to have found his niche. And it involves coming off the bench.

    The fourth-year pro has seen his minutes go down this season, but his numbers per 100 possessions are better than ever.

    As a game-changing reserve, the Kentucky product uses his ferocity near the rim and quick feet defensively to have major impact in his (relatively) limited playing time, which can be proven by looking at Los Angeles’ net rating with Randle in the game: a ridiculous +9.1 mark.

    His impending restricted free agency will be one to watch, as his play could garner a solid payday next summer.

    23. Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers

    2017-18 Stats: 16.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.1 apg

    Another young Laker, Brandon Ingram checks in at No. 23 on our list. After a bit of a slow start to 2017-18, the 6-foot-10 wing has taken his play to another level over recent weeks.

    Since Nov. 15, Ingram is putting up 18.6 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists nightly. If he were to maintain that form for the entire season, he would become just the third player in league history to average at least 18.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists in their age-20 season. To this point, the only two other men to do it were Magic Johnson and LeBron James.

    Not bad company to be in for the spindly forward with superstar potential.

    22. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers

    2017-18 Stats: 16.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 1.5 apg

    The steal of the 2017 NBA Draft, Kyle Kuzma is already one of the most promising young players in the league.

    Although at 22 years old he’s a bit old for his rookie status, the former Utah Ute uses a mixture of freakish agility at 6-foot-9 and a smooth jumper to rank No. 8 in bench scoring at 16.3 points per contest.

    The next step in Kuzma’s development will be to improve his court vision and work on his distribution abilities in order to become a more well-rounded threat with the ball in his hands.

    21. Gary Harris, Denver Nuggets

    2017-18 Stats: 16.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 3.1 apg

    One of the most underrated shooting guards in the league, Gary Harris has maintained the upward trajectory he set off on in 2016-17.

    Harris is a quiet menace in multiple facets of scoring; he’s lighting quick in transition, he knocks down spot-up jumpers and he can aptly run the pick-and-roll.

    This year, the Denver Nuggets are outscoring opponents by an obscene 15.6 points per 100 possessions with their starting 2-guard in the game.

    Harris may never blossom into a full-blown superstar, but he will be one of the league’s silent assassins for seasons to come.

    20. D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn Nets

    2017-18 Stats: 20.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 5.7 apg

    Before going down with a knee injury (that eventually led to arthroscopic knee surgery), D’Angelo Russell appeared to be the perfect combo guard for Brooklyn Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson‘s system.

    Even despite hitting a paltry 29.5 percent of his threes through 12 contests, Russell was still comfortably putting up nearly 21 points per night while shooting a healthy 46.3 percent from the floor overall – by far the best rate of his young career.

    Russell was also shattering career marks in Box Plus/Minus (BPM), Player Efficiency Rating (PER) and Win Shares per 48 (WS/48) prior to going down.

    Although it’s understandable why Los Angeles felt the need to package the third-year scorer to a trade involving Timofey Mozgov just to get rid of the latter’s absurd contract, it’s hard not to daydream about the potential partnership he could have formed with Lonzo Ball in the Lakers’ backcourt for years to come.

    19. Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics

    2017-18 Stats: 14.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.2 spg

    Despite losing their highest-paid player five minutes into the season, the Boston Celtics boast the Eastern Conference’s best record one-third of the way through the league year.

    Much of the credit belongs to Al Horford and Kyrie Irving, who are running head coach Brad Stevens’ system exquisitely. However, they don’t do it all on their own, obviously; two of their primary helpers are actually a pair of young contributors.

    One of them is 21-year-old Jaylen Brown.

    The Cal product’s tough-nosed brand of defense and prowess from beyond the arc makes him a near-perfect complementary piece. Thanks to his role-playing abilities, Brown ranks third on the Celtics in on/off differential at +7.5, trailing just Horford and plus/minus God Marcus Smart.

    18. Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers

    2017-18 Stats: 14.7 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 2.4 bpg

    Due to a mixture of bad injury luck and poor form, Myles Turner hasn’t had the breakout campaign many expected him to have in 2017-18.

    Even so, the Indiana Pacers big man leads the league in nightly blocked shots while knocking down 35.0 percent of his three-pointers. If he maintains this pace, Turner would become just the fourth player ever to average at least 2.5 three-point attempts per game with 35.0 percent accuracy, while swatting away 2.4 shots per outing.

    That blend of elite rim protection and apt three-point shooting makes Turner one of the league’s rarest talents.

    Oh, and he’s still just 21 years old.

    The Pacers clearly have a franchise player on their hands.

    17. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

    2017-18 Stats: 13.8 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.3 apg

    Along with the aforementioned Brown, surprisingly destructive rookie Jayson Tatum has helped carry the load for Boston in 2017-18.

    Among players with at least 75 attempts from beyond the arc on the year, Tatum leads all of them in accuracy at a preposterous 51.5 percent.

    And according to Synergy, the Duke product ranks in the “excellent” range as a spot-up shooter, in transition, as a scorer out of the pick-and-roll and when posting up.

    For a 19-year-old to rate that absurdly well in multiple play types legitimately defies logic. It’s entirely plausible once Tatum hits his prime, he’ll be putting up 25 points per night with ease.

    16. Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves

    2017-18 Stats: 18.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.8 apg

    Like Turner, Andrew Wiggins start to 2017-18 has been a bit disappointing.

    Nevertheless, he’s still a 22-year-old putting up over 18 points on a nightly basis.

    Wiggins needs to improve his defensive awareness and three-point shooting, as well as his chemistry with new addition Jimmy Butler. Regardless, a player with his freakish tangible gifts should be able to eventually get it figured out.

    Considering the Minnesota Timberwolves handed him a five-year, $148 million extension just before this season, they had better hope he does.

    15. Dennis Schroder, Atlanta Hawks

    2017-18 Stats: 19.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 6.7 apg

    Only six players are averaging at least 19.0 points, 6.5 assists and 1.0 steals in 2017-18: LeBron James, James HardenStephen CurryRussell WestbrookJohn Wall and Dennis Schroder.

    That’s an impressive list for the German floor general to find himself on, and speaks to his vast improvement under head coach Mike Budenholzer.

    Schroder’s efficiency pales in comparison to the other All-NBA talents putting up similar numbers, but at the very least, you can see him begin to turn the corner and become an above-average point guard.

    14. Steven Adams, Oklahoma City Thunder

    2017-18 Stats: 13.7 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 1.0 bpg

    Thus far this season, Steven Adams is averaging career-highs in points (13.7), rebounds (8.8), field-goal percentage (63.5), BPM (2.4) and PER (21.0).

    Adams is finally beginning to live up to the four-year, $100 million extension Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti signed him to just over a year ago.

    Although the New Zealand-born center doesn’t space the floor like some of his more modern counterparts at the position, he knows his limitations and plays to his strengths extremely well.

    13. Clint Capela, Houston Rockets

    2017-18 Stats: 13.7 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 1.8 bpg

    If it weren’t for Victor OladipoClint Capela would be far and away the front-runner to win Most Improved Player this season.

    Like Adams, Capela is shattering career marks in multiple metrics – both raw and advanced. It probably doesn’t hurt that the Swiss big man is getting set up by two of the best point-creators league-wide in Harden and Chris Paul, but nevertheless, he deserves credit for his improved hands and motor defensively.

    According to Synergy Sports Tech, among players with at least 50 opportunities as the roll man in pick-and-roll sets, Capela places third in scoring efficiency at 1.36 points per possession (PPP).

    That, plus his elite paint protection, is helping him blossom into an absolute two-way monster for the Houston Rockets.

    12. Otto Porter, Washington Wizards

    2017-18 Stats: 14.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.5 spg

    Superstars not included, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more perfect modern wing than Otto Porter.

    In fact, one could even argue the Georgetown product is a superstar, just not in the traditional sense, but rather, a superstar role player.

    Among qualified small forwards, Porter places in the top 10 in Defensive Box Plus/Minus (DBPM). Additionally, out of those 10 wings, Porter is first in three-point percentage by a fairly wide margin.

    That interesting tidbit tells us one thing: Porter makes a strong case for the NBA’s best 3-and-D wing, as few players can match his level of two-way production at such a low usage rate.

    11. Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic

    2017-18 Stats: 18.3 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 2.2 apg

    The massive step Aaron Gordon has taken thus far in 2017-18 could make the Orlando Magic regret not extending his contract prior to this season.

    Instead, now he’s set to hit restricted free agency next summer, and it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see a rebuilding team with money to spend – like the Dallas Mavericks or Atlanta Hawks – splurge on the athletic forward.

    Gordon is setting career-highs in points (18.3), rebounds (8.0) and assists (2.2) per game, but more importantly, after being a paltry 28.9 percent three-point shooter through his first three campaigns, he’s now knocking down 40.1 percent of his triples.

    If that last number proves to be sustainable, the Arizona product could become one of the most well-rounded combo forwards in the NBA.

    10. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

    2017-18 Stats: 24.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.1 apg

    Though he’s known mostly for his scoring accolades – like, for example, that one special night in the TD Garden – Devin Booker has become a more well-rounded player in this, his third season as a pro.

    After boasting an all-too-ordinary true shooting percentage of 53.3 percent through his first two campaigns, Booker has improved his mark all the way up to 57.3 percent this year.

    He’s also distributing the basketball better than ever before, totaling over four assists nightly in 2017-18.

    Most interestingly, however, Booker is on pace to become just the fourth player in NBA history to average at least 24 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists in their age-21 season.

    The prior three?

    Michael JordanTracy McGrady and LeBron James.

    No matter what you may think of the Phoenix Suns’ budding star  whether you believe he’s too much of a gunner or too limited of a defender  Booker is putting up numbers nearly unheard of for a player of his age.

    And if he continues on this path, it’ll be scary to see what he becomes once he hits his athletic peak.

    9. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards

    2017-18 Stats: 23.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 3.5 apg

    The first step in Bradley Beal becoming an All-Star-level talent was to take fewer mid-range jumpers and more three-pointers.

    He accomplished that in 2016-17.

    Then, he needed to become a better finisher on rim attacks – an area he somewhat struggled in prior to this year.

    Well, he’s done just that, as Beal is converting a career-best 67 percent on shots from within three feet of the rim in 2017-18.

    Now that he’s a more complete scorer, the Florida product is well on his way to turning into one of the NBA’s top shooting guards.

    8. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

    2017-18 Stats: 17.3 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 7.8 apg

    Despite the potential he flashed as a prep prospect, few could have foreseen the rookie year Ben Simmons was about to embark on.

    Even lacking any semblance of a jump shot, Simmons has still been able to put up over 17 points per night while knocking down over 50 percent of his shot attempts.

    He also cleans up on the glass and distributes the rock like an elite floor general, while providing the switchability defensively that every coach covets.

    If Simmons maintains his current statistical pace, the Philadelphia 76er will become only the second player ever to average at least 17 points, eight rebounds and seven assists for an entire season as a rookie, joining the legendary Oscar Robertson to form a ridiculously impressive list.

    7. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

    2017-18 Stats: 13.9 ppg, 14.9 rpg, 3.8 apg

    Just a few months ago, Andre Drummond appeared to be on the outs with the Detroit Pistons.

    Rampant rumors flooded the basketball collective regarding head coach and team president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy seeking out suitors for his behemoth center to no avail.

    Whether the scuttle was true or not, Van Gundy is probably glad it didn’t come to fruition as Drummond has completely turned the corner this season.

    With improved maturity, fewer post-ups and more swinging of the basketball, the 24-year-old center has blossomed into quite the unique talent. Through just 30 games, Drummond has already destroyed his previous career-best total in assists for a season.

    A seven-footer who can create buckets for others, as well as dominate on the glass and protect the paint is about as desirable a player as there is. And that’s precisely who Drummond has become.

    6. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

    2017-18 Stats: 24.1 ppg, 11.0 rpg, 3.5 apg

    It’s safe to say The Process was a rousing success.

    As if having Simmons wasn’t enough, the 76ers also have another freakish young talent in the form of Joel Embiid.

    Although his three-point shot has seemingly abandoned him (hitting just 26.2 percent in 2017-18), the former Kansas Jayhawk is still putting up over 24 points and 11 rebounds on a nightly basis.

    Men of Embiid’s stature shouldn’t be as swift as he is, or possess the soft touch he does as a shooter.

    His ability to deter opponents near the rim is scary, he can make plays for others and his face-up game resembles that of a freakazoid version of Hoodie ‘Melo.

    If Embiid can stay healthy, he and Simmons could one day form the next John Stockton/Karl Malone superstar pairing.

    5. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

    2017-18 Stats: 15.4 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 4.5 apg

    Initially, Nikola Jokic struggled to get acclimated with new frontcourt partner Paul Millsap. Then, he hurt his ankle and was forced to miss a couple of weeks of action.

    All in all, those are the two primary reasons as to why the big Serbian hasn’t found his 2016-17 magic. At least not yet.

    For the most part, however, Jokic is still the dime-dishing, rebound-gobbling, post-up menace he was last season.

    The Denver Nuggets center is fourth in the NBA (among qualified players) in scoring out of the post at 1.06 PPP, according to Synergy. He’s fifth in point-producing off of put-backs at 1.45 PPP.

    At 22 years old with improving defensive abilities, Jokic is a piece the Nuggets will gladly build around for seasons to come.

    4. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves

    2017-18 Stats: 20.7 ppg, 11.8 rpg, 1.4 bpg

    Over the final 41 games of last year, Karl-Anthony Towns was putting up a preposterous 28.2 points and 12.6 rebounds per outing.

    Like Jokic, though, Towns has somewhat struggled to find his form from late last season as he attempts to acclimate with two new teammates in Butler and Jeff Teague.

    It should be noted that even despite his relative struggles, the Dominican seven-footer is still putting up nearly 21 points and 12 boards per night.

    If Towns can improve on the less glamorous side of the ball, he may find his way up our list by the time next season rolls around.

    3. Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks

    2017-18 Stats: 25.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 2.1 bpg

    A unicorn in the truest sense, Kristaps Porzingis is a once-in-a-lifetime type of talent.

    With his prowess from beyond the arc and ability to swat away shots defensively, the Latvian big man is set to become the only player in NBA history to average at least two blocks and two three-pointers for an entire season if he maintains his current numbers.

    How the New York Knicks continue to build around him will determine their fate, but at least they have the most difficult piece of the puzzle in their possession: a franchise player.

    2. Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans

    2017-18 Stats: 25.2 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 2.0 bpg

    Injury concerns aside, Anthony Davis is currently enjoying the best season of his career.

    He boasts an absurd 64.2 true shooting percentage along with a healthy 58.7 effective field-goal percentage – both by far the best marks as a professional.

    Playing next to Cousins, Davis has turned into the best complementary piece in the league. (Cousins has taken over the role of primary playmaker for the  Pelicans, as his 34.2 percent usage rate will attest to.)

    Davis rates in the “excellent” range according to Synergy in multiple facets of secondary scoring, such as in transition, off of put-backs and as an off-ball cutter.

    And when it’s his turn to get buckets, he can do just that. Per Synergy, the Pelicans power forward is fifth in iso scoring efficiency at 1.18 PPP.

    Davis can do it all, on both ends of the floor.

    At 24 years old with a contract that has an annual average salary of $25.4 million through 2020-21, one could argue New Orleans has the best asset in the league on their hands.

    1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

    2017-18 Stats: 29.8 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 4.5 apg

    In the modern NBA, it’s difficult to fathom a player putting up nearly 30 points per night without a reliable three-point shot, but Giannis Antetokounmpo is doing just that.

    And judging by his 54.4 shooting percentage, he’s doing it with ease, too.

    For all intents and purposes, Antetokounmpo is a wing who possesses the capacity to average double-digit rebounds and block almost two shots nightly.

    His freakish wingspan, relentless ferocity near the rim and striding long steps make him an absolute load to defend, even without an outside shot.

    If he were to develop a reliable three-pointer on top of all that, he’d become a multi-time MVP winner. As is, he’s well on his way to receiving MVP votes for his contributions this season.

    The sky is truly the limit for the one everyone refers to as the Greek Freak.

    Honorable Mentions

    Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

    Just barely missed a spot on our list. The spectacular Utah Jazz rookie leads his team – as well as all first-year contributors – in scoring at 17.7 points per game, while also averaging 3.4 assists, 1.5 steals and 2.3 three-pointers nightly.

    What’s more, considering Gordon Hayward’s departure and Rudy Gobert being in and out of the lineup due to multiple knee injuries, no one would have expected Utah to be in the running for a Western Conference playoff spot. And yet they’re in thick of it, currently sitting just one game out of the No. 8 spot.

    They have Donovan Mitchell to partially thank for that.

    Mitchell’s mightily impressive play has turned heads (DeMarcus Cousins called the rookie a star after he dropped 41 points on the New Orleans Pelicans), and if he sustains this form, there’s no doubt he’ll find himself high up on this list come next season.

    Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks

    Before injuring his knee for the second time in three years last February, Jabari Parker was beginning to turn the corner.

    As a third-year player, the Duke product was putting up 20.1 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.3 three-pointers per outing, all career-best marks.

    Unfortunately, the knee injuries are a major concern for his future outlook as a pro. It’ll be interesting to see how he looks once he does return the lineup, which many expect to be in February.

    You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_.

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    Nikola Mirotic’s return to the lineup has sparked a major turnaround in Chicago.

    With Mirotic, the Bulls rank No. 10 in offensive rating, No. 2 in defensive rating and No. 2 in overall net rating.

    Mirotic’s play is the primary reason for their recent success.

    The floor-spacing power forward is averaging 19.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 2.9 three-pointers per contest.

    He’s also knocking down 52.2 percent of his shots from the floor and 48.8 percent of his triples.

    All of those marks – if sustained – would shatter Mirotic’s previous career-highs.

    Chicago is outscoring opponents by an outrageous 17.2 points per 100 possessions with Mirotic on the court.

    Even more impressively, he’s doing most of his damage coming off the bench, as he’s backing up stud rookie Lauri Markkanen.

    More than anything, Mirotic should be commended for becoming a stronger player mentally.

    Especially following the ugly incident with Bobby Portis.

    Even during his Real Madrid days, the big man would run far too hot and cold for a player with his talent level.

    Now, he’s showing incredible confidence every time he steps on the floor.

    Though he owns a no-trade clause in his contract, it’ll be interesting to see if a rival team tries to make a move for Mirotic.

    He could be a game-changer off the bench for a contender.

    If not, provided he maintains this form, the Bulls could decide to make Mirotic one of their core pieces – and a key member of the rebuild.

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    Humility and perseverance have defined New Orleans Pelicans forward Darius Miller’s basketball journey.

    From ballyhooed high-school prospect to attending a basketball powerhouse for college, then to the NBA before a two-year stint in Europe, and now back in the States, making an impact off the bench for New Orleans, Miller’s story is about as wild as it is improbable.

    After an impressive prep career which garnered a bevy of offers from all over the country, Miller chose to remain in his home state and attend the University of Kentucky.

    Teaming up with the likes of Anthony DavisEric BledsoeMichael Kidd-GilchristDeMarcus Cousins and John Wall, among others, Miller blossomed into one of the best role players in college basketball. Over his final three seasons as a Wildcat, the 6-foot-8 wing averaged 9.1 points and 3.3 rebounds per contest while, more importantly, spacing the floor for his superstar teammates by hitting 38.5 percent of his three-pointers.

    Throughout Miller’s final three years at Kentucky, the team boasted an absurd 102-19 record, reaching the Elite Eight in 2010, the Final Four in 2011 and winning the national title in 2012 – their eighth overall, and their first since 1998.

    Following his time in Lexington, Miller was selected 46th overall by the then-New Orleans Hornets in the 2012 NBA draft.

    But he spent only three seasons in the NBA post-Kentucky, seeing action in merely 102 games. After spending some time in the G League in both 2012 and 2013, Miller opted to head overseas, joining Brose Bamberg of the Basketball Bundesliga – one of the biggest clubs in Germany – before the 2015-16 season.

    It was there that the Pelicans forward was able to begin his NBA comeback.

    “I had a chance to grow,” Miller told HoopsHype about his time with Brose Bamberg. “I played a lot of minutes on a really good team so it really helped me on and off the court.”

    And grow he did.

    Now, back in the NBA as a well-traveled 27-year-old, Miller has taken the complementary traits that made him so vital on multiple elite Kentucky squads and brought them with him to the Pelicans.

    Through 33 games, Miller is averaging 7.7 points and 1.6 rebounds per outing while converting an obscene 45.7 percent of his three-point baskets. His 1.9 nightly makes from beyond the arc are the third-highest clip among players averaging fewer than 21 minutes per contest (minimum: 20 appearances on the season).

    What’s more, according to Synergy Sports Tech, Miller is the league’s most accurate spot-up shooter among men with at least 80 such opportunities, scoring a ridiculous 1.38 points per possession (PPP) on those looks.

    When told about his mightily impressive marks, the sixth-year pro was quick to give a lot of the recognition to his teammates.

    “I get a lot of open looks here with all of the attention that our star players bring to themselves,” Miller told HoopsHype. “[Davis and Cousins] are two of the best big men in the league. And I’ve known them for a while, so they’re good friends of mine. It’s just always fun to be in an environment like that when you’re trying to play basketball.”

    As a Wildcat, Miller was able to see Davis and Cousins up close back when they were just young up-and-comers – big men chock full of brimming potential to be sure, but still growing into their bodies and figuring it out.

    “It was obvious [early on] they were going to have great careers,” Miller said. “But the way that they all improved is pretty crazy. I mean, they’re some of the best players in the league. I don’t think you can really predict that at such an early age, especially since they were 17 and 18 coming in. You could definitely tell they were going to have great careers, but the way that they’re playing now is pretty amazing.”

    The blend of getting to play off of two superstar talents who amaze on a nightly basis, who also happen to be close friends of his, has given Miller the confidence to become such an excellent role player.

    However, when discussing his form thus far this season, the floor-spacing wing was also quick to credit his time with Brose Bamberg – both in terms of getting coached up, as well as with keeping him focused on the task at hand.

    “The coaches did a good job of helping me grow and develop on the court,” Miller told us. “We’d get a lot of practice time over there, so I just took it day by day. That’s something you definitely have to do when you’re that far away from home for so long. You just gotta take it day by day and try to get better every day.”

    As a member of Brose Bamberg, Miller helped the organization win back-to-back Basketball Bundesliga titles while teaming up with another current NBA player: Boston Celtics big man Daniel Theis.

    Though Theis arrived to the States without much pub, Miller says he knew his former teammate had the requisite skill to make an impact in the world’s toughest league.

    “You definitely could tell [Theis had NBA-caliber talent]. He’s athletic, he plays hard and he knows the game, so I figured it was just a matter of time before he got his opportunity.”

    The same descriptors could be used for Miller, who grinded away while overseas to earn his place in the NBA again.

    Pelicans point guard Rajon Rondo recently gushed to the media about his teammate, saying, “Darius has been in the league before. I think what got him back here was his work ethic. He’s one of the hardest-workers we have on our team…. A guy like Darius, I’m very happy to be his teammate. I’m proud to be playing with a guy like that. He’s very unselfish, really quiet guy, he just wants to come in and get his job done.”

    Despite Miller’s success this season, and his growth into becoming one of the league’s top three-point marksmen, he would still rather talk about his team and their overall goals as a unit than heap (deserved) praise on himself.

    As far as what those exact objectives are, the Pelicans sharpshooter believes his team has what it takes to legitimately compete at a high level in 2017-18.

    “I think everybody’s goal should be to win it,” Miller told HoopsHype. “So that’s what we’re trying to do – just try to get better every day and grind to be the best team we can.”

    You can find Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_. 

    NBA: Atlanta Hawks at New Orleans Pelicansfau09fsuNBA: Atlanta Hawks at New Orleans Pelicansfau09fsu

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    When the Carmelo Anthony trade finally went down, most of the focus was placed on his departure from the New York Knicks – and rightfully so.

    Little was made of the package the Knicks received in return, which included two players: one, a floor-spacing wing, and the other, a bulking big man with known issues on one side of the floor.

    Nevertheless, Doug McDermott and Enes Kanter have turned heads with their surprisingly excellent play thus far this season.

    The former is hitting 40.8 percent of his 2.8 nightly three-point attempts, meaning he’s doing exactly what was expected of him. But it’s the latter, who is enjoying by far his most productive season as a pro, that we’re here to discuss.

    For starters, Kanter has always rebounded at an elite clip, and that hasn’t changed.

    The Turkish big man currently ranks second in offensive rebound rate (16.6 percent) and fourth in overall rebound rate (22.8 percent) among qualified players.

    What’s more, the 25-year-old has scored an absurd 119 points off of put-backs in 2017-18, the second-highest total in the league, trailing only Andre Drummond.

    Using his stout frame and relentless energy, it’s nearly impossible to keep Kanter away from offensive rebounds.

    “It’s hard to keep him off the glass because he’s ultra strong and gets low to wedge you under,” Philadelphia 76ers big man Trevor Booker said of Kanter’s offensive rebounding. “He goes after every rebound. A lot of times, he does his work early in the possession and works you under the basket before the shot is taken.”

    Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner also gave us his thoughts regarding Kanter’s ferocity on the glass, telling HoopsHype: “He waits for you to play help defense and gets good position when you’re trying to recover and gets you out of the way.”

    With shoulders seemingly made of titanium, the Knicks big man has also continued to shine as a post-up menace.

    Among players with over 100 post-up opportunities this season (passes included), Kanter ranks No. 3 in points per possession (PPP) at 1.04. That mark only trails Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic (1.09) and Minnesota Timberwolves freak Karl-Anthony Towns (1.05), per Synergy Sports Tech.

    “On the block, his footwork is great,” Kings’ Garrett Temple told HoopsHype. “He knows angles and uses fakes well!”

    Turner, who himself produces an impressive 1.03 PPP on post-ups (passes included), said: “[Kanter] uses his body pretty well in the post and he makes good reads.”

    It’s those reads out of the post that Turner mentioned which have made Kanter a more complete player this season.

    After being mostly a black hole with the ball in his hands throughout his career, the New York Knickerbocker is now averaging 1.4 assists per contest. Prior to 2017-18, Kanter had never averaged more than 0.9 nightly dimes, making his vast improvement as a distributor all the more impressive.

    No one’s going to be mistaking him for Jokic or fellow avid passer out of the post Marc Gasol any time soon, but Kanter is doing a far better job of keeping his head up, sensing hard doubles and finding open shooters on the perimeter.

    Specifically, when Kanter has been double-teamed on the left block this season, his passing out to shooters has produced 1.35 PPP, the best rate in the league, per Synergy.

    Sure, some luck is involved in that, as his teammates do, after all, have to knock the shots down. Regardless, their center is giving them pristine looks.

    Offensive improvements aside, Kanter is also on pace to finish the season with positive scores in both Defensive Box Plus/Minus, as well as NBA Math’s Defensive Points Saved – a feat the 6-foot-11 bruiser has never accomplished before.

    Overall, Kanter is averaging 13.7 points and 10.3 rebounds per outing. He’s hitting a career-high 59.3 percent of his field-goal attempts and a career-best 88.7 percent of his freebies.

    Considering New York budding superstar Kristaps Porzingis has publicly stated (multiple times) his aversion to playing center, it’s possible the Knicks have found themselves the perfect, rebound-gobbling big man to pair with their franchise cornerstone.

    The duo aptly covers each other’s deficiencies. Kanter isn’t the best rim-protector; Porzingis is fourth in blocks per contest (2.2). Porzingis struggles on the glass; Kanter feasts on rebounds.

    How much longer the fearsome twosome remain together will go a long way in determining the Knicks’ immediate future.

    Despite the fact Kanter is under contract for one more season with his current team (while letting it be known how much he loves playing in New York City), he does own a player option on the final year of his deal.

    With his play reaching such productive heights, is it conceivable Kanter would opt out and test the open waters of free agency anyway, passing on an obscene $18.4 million in the process?

    For the aforementioned reasons (his love for the situation he’s in and the amount of money the Knicks owe him if he sticks around in 2018-19), a Kanter opt-out doesn’t seem likely.

    But if he keeps performing at the level he’s presently at, it shouldn’t be entirely ruled out, either.

    You can find Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_.

    HoopsHype’s own Alex Kennedy contributed to this article.

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    It almost defies logic to claim a player with three All-Star Game appearances under his belt – who’s coming off an All-NBA 3rd Team campaign – is just now starting to turn the corner. But by taking more of his shots from a few feet deeper than usual, DeMar DeRozan is doing just that.

    For the season, the Toronto Raptors shooting guard is averaging 24.9 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.9 assists per contest.

    He’s one of just three players currently putting up at least 24 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists nightly, while also turning the ball over fewer than 3 times per game. The only other men who can make the same claim are Stephen Curry and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

    However, DeRozan has been putting up monster numbers dating back to his 2013-14 season, so as impressive as those marks may be, he’s been playing like this for a while now. It’s the way he’s going about getting buckets now that has the NBA collective so excited.

    And that’s because for the first time in his career, DeRozan looks like a true threat from three-point range.

    On the year, the explosive scorer is hitting a healthy 34.9 percent of his triples, which is just below the league average of 36.3 percent.

    And over his past 10 games, DeRozan has gotten even hotter.

    In that span, the USC product is converting a scorching 46.7 percent of his 4.5 nightly three-point attempts. For a career 28.8 percent shooter from beyond the arc, that’s an absurd clip.

    Whether he can maintain that rate or not is up for debate, but regardless, it’s great to see him seek out the right kind of shot.

    Before the season, Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri mentioned wanting his team to go through a culture change. Part of that involved going away from isolation basketball to more of a ball-swinging attack.

    With the ball finding life and moving swiftly from player to player, DeRozan often finds himself behind the three-point line when he catches it. The difference is, when that would happen in prior years, the 2-guard would initiate his ball-deflating dribbling, usually post up his defender and end the possession with a fadeaway mid-range jumper.

    Now, more frequently he’s letting it fly with confidence, regardless of where he catches it (via Yahoo Sports):

    “It’s just something [where I’m] finding my comfort zone. One of them things to where I put my mind to it, just to do it,” DeRozan told Yahoo Sports. “We’re moving the ball a lot more to where I’m not in a lot of them iso situations that I was in before. It makes it a lot more easier to understand … If I’m behind that line, shoot it.”

    The statistics back up the talk.

    In 2016-17, DeRozan iso’d on 17.1 percent of his possessions, the 13th-highest rate in the league among qualified players, per Synergy Sports Tech. Meanwhile, he attempted spot-up jumpers merely 6.9 percent of the time.

    This season, his isolation frequency has shrunk to 14 percent, and his spot-up shooting frequency has increased to 7.6 percent. That difference amounts to a few more efficient scoring possessions nightly for the 28-year-old bucket-getter.

    And considering DeRozan is producing 1.08 points per possession (PPP) on spot-ups, but just 0.89 PPP on isolation chances, attempting more of the former play type has made a world of difference in turning him into a more effective scorer.

    It should also be noted, the 2017-18 version of DeRozan is taking by far the fewest number of shots from between 16 feet of the rim and the three-point line of his career, at an acceptable 18.6 percent rate. Prior to this year, the lowest frequency at which he had attempted the ever-so-dreaded deep two-pointer was 24.7 percent.

    Conversely, his three-point attempt rate is all the way up to 17.0 percent, a far cry from his previous career-high of 14.9 percent.

    The smarter shot selection is helping DeRozan enjoy a career season according to multiple advanced statistics.

    He’s currently 14th in NBA Math’s offensive points added metric, seventh in offensive win shares and 17th in offensive box plus/minus. His win shares per 48 have never been higher and neither has his overall box plus/minus.

    More importantly, though, DeRozan’s season is helping the Raptors improve on what was already a respectable 2016-17 campaign.

    As of Jan. 2, Toronto ranks fourth in offensive rating at 110.1 – a 0.3-point-per-100-possession improvement over last year, when they finished the season at sixth. (With DeRozan in the game, their offensive rating actually balloons to 116.6, which is just obscene, and would lead the league by a wide margin if extrapolated for the season.)

    The Raptors also presently boast a +7.5 net rating, up from 2016-17’s +4.9 clip.

    Ultimately, for a team with Toronto’s payroll and relatively lofty expectations, any true success will be measured by whether they can finally make noise once the postseason rolls around.

    But thanks to their improved culture, as well as DeRozan’s willingness to adapt his game in Year 9, early returns look quite promising for the Raptors.

    You can find Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_.

    HoopsHype’s Bryan Kalbrosky contributed to this article.

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    As February approaches, with it comes the arrival of the NBA’s silly season. This year, Feb. 8 marks the league’s trade deadline – the final day on which teams are allowed to swap players until the offseason.

    Last season’s deadline was an active one, as we saw a blockbuster transaction come to pass during the All-Star Game, when DeMarcus Cousins got shipped off to the New Orleans Pelicans. Apart from that, the Houston Rockets acquired Lou Williams and the Toronto Raptors traded for Serge Ibaka.

    Although this year’s deadline is projected to be a bit more calm, daily rumors regarding potential swaps have began to flood everyone’s timeline.

    With some teams underachieving and others overachieving, there is still going to be a solid market for potential moves.

    We break down the likeliest buyers and sellers heading into the home stretch before the trade deadline.


    Chicago Bulls

    Prime trade candidate(s): Justin Holiday, Robin Lopez, Nikola Mirotic

    Since the return of floor-spacing big man Nikola Mirotic, the Chicago Bulls have been on a tear.

    However, even despite their 60.8 percent win rate over their past 22 outings, Chicago still sits six games behind the No. 8 seed Detroit Pistons for a spot in the playoffs, while boasting the league’s third-worst net rating at -6.3.

    As of now, the Bulls possess just a 6.1 percent chance of landing a top-three pick in the stacked 2018 NBA Draft; their highest odds, currently, dictate they receive the ninth pick.

    That’s all to say: Chicago is trending too far in the wrong direction.

    For a rebuilding organization, along with developing young talent, the most important objective is to secure the highest possible draft pick. The Bulls, obviously, aren’t doing that.

    One way Chicago could get “back on track” is to be aggressive at the trade deadline in finding suitors for their more veteran players, such as Mirotic, Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday.

    Mirotic is the likeliest of the bunch to get moved, as it has been reported he’s more than willing to waive his no-trade clause to find a new team. Reports also state the Utah Jazz, with a hole to fill at the 4-spot, are interested in the stretch power forward.

    The fit makes sense, as Mirotic is a career 36.1 percent three-point shooter, and would fit in wonderfully next to the behemoth known as Rudy Gobert.

    Finding a suitor for Lopez may prove more difficult, not because of his play, but rather due to the $28.2 million still left on his deal.

    With the value of the paint-bound center dwindling in today’s NBA, Lopez’s deal may be too rich for other teams to undertake, even if they were interested in his scoring and rim protection.

    Holiday, meanwhile, provides size and athleticism from the 2-guard spot, as well as above-average three-point accuracy. Signed to a modest two-year, $9 million contract, it’s not all that likely Chicago deals him, but it’s not totally out of the question, either.

    Los Angeles Lakers

    Prime trade candidate(s): Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle

    The Los Angeles Lakers have their eyes set squarely on the summer of 2018.

    With superstar talents like Cousins, LeBron James and hometown favorite Paul George set to his unrestricted free agency, team president Magic Johnson and general manager Rob Pelinka are looking to make a major splash.

    Adding a pair of free agents of that caliber, to go with their solid young core, would quickly bring Los Angeles back to basketball prominence, something the city is starting to get antsy for. And with a bit of creative maneuvering, the Lakers may be able to do just that.

    To get to that point, however, the Lakers are going to need to shed some money off their books. Considering Luol Deng‘s albatross of a contract has proven impossible to move, Johnson and Pelinka are going to need to look elsewhere on their roster for salary cap relief.

    Enter Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle.

    The former, despite tailing off a bit recently, is having one of the better years of his career thanks to improved shooting and play-making.

    The latter is enjoying similar success, and has played his way into potentially garnering a large contract offer once he hits restricted free agency this summer.

    If Los Angeles doesn’t want to deal with Randle’s impending free agency, especially since they’ll be busy enough trying to lure the aforementioned big-name superstars to join their ranks, they could decide to trade the promising power forward now and avoid having to rescind his qualifying offer ($5.6 million) later.

    Reports state Randle’s hometown Dallas Mavericks are interested in bringing the 6-foot-9 power forward back to his city of birth, but it’s more likely they wait until he hits restricted free agency rather than give up an asset to acquire him now.

    Unlike Randle, Clarkson is already signed for the long haul. The Mizzou product is owed another two years and $25.9 million after this season, which may not be all that easy to move, unless the Lakers sweeten the deal by adding draft picks to the transaction.

    Nevertheless, young, rebuilding teams such as the Orlando Magic could see some value in the young bucket-getter, and help Los Angeles clear cap space by trading for him.

    Memphis Grizzlies

    Prime trade candidate(s): James Ennis, Tyreke Evans, Marc Gasol

    Despite Memphis Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace’ aversion to blowing his team up and starting over, it’s starting to appear he may not have another choice.

    His team boasts the league’s eighth-paltriest net rating (-3.0), they sit 14th out of the 15 teams in the Western Conference playoff race and no one’s really sure when their best player – the vastly underrated Mike Conley – will be returning from injury.

    The better plan moving forward for Memphis would be to initiate the tank job and land the highest pick possible in a draft full of franchise-changing talents, especially among the Top 7 selections.

    Trading away the likes of James EnnisTyreke Evans or even organizational cornerstone Marc Gasol would be one way to do just that.

    Ennis is a solid two-way swingman who can knock down shots from beyond the arc (36.6 percent accuracy from deep over the past two years) and who is still just 27 years old. Since his contract is expiring, that could attract contenders lacking depth on the wing to acquire the Long Beach State product.

    Evans, meanwhile, is having the best season of his career in terms of efficiency and three-point shooting. His 19.7 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists per contest make him look like the first-year version of himself, when he won Rookie of the Year and appeared headed for stardom.

    It’s been rumored Memphis wants a first-round pick in exchange for their two-guard; whether a rival front office sees that as fair or too bold will be interesting to note as the next few weeks unravel.

    Finally, Gasol is the least likely of the trio to move, as the Grizzlies front office still very much believes in their former All-Star center, and consider him part of their long-term plans.

    But could a contender lacking a game-changing big man make a late push to acquire him anyway?

    Only time will tell.


    Cleveland Cavaliers

    Prime trade candidate(s): Iman Shumpert, Tristan Thompson, Brooklyn Nets’ No. 1 pick

    After their latest defeat at the hands of the Golden State Warriors, anonymous Cleveland Cavaliers players took to the media and voiced concern about the team’s chances to win a title this season (via ESPN):

    “Several prominent players, speaking on a condition of anonymity to ESPN, and The Athletic, expressed doubt that the problems — an aging roster, defensively-challenged personnel and a glut of redundant role players — could simply be worked out through patience and a chance to coalesce when fully healthy.”

    Although this may sound like the annual bit of Cavs turmoil when they hit a rough patch, it’s hard to say this doesn’t feel a bit different than prior seasons.

    As a way to re-energize the team (and at least try to fix their 28th-ranked defense), general manager Koby Altman could take a gander at the trade market for help.

    There have already been rumbles regarding a potential Tristan Thompson-DeAndre Jordan swap, but would trading one offensively limited center for another really change their fortunes?

    It wouldn’t be surprising to see Iman Shumpert, who has fallen completely out of Ty Lue’s rotation, dangled in trade talks as well. But in reality, what kind of interest would he – and the approximately $21 million left on his contract – really garner?

    The biggest wildcard for the Cavs, which would not only change their trade market but potentially trigger a domino effect of moves around the league, is the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round pick they have in their back pocket.

    Though Brooklyn has fared far better than anyone expected this season (Tankathon has them with the highest odds for the No. 7 pick in June’s draft), they will likely still finish with a mid-lottery selection which any rebuilding team would covet.

    Could we see Cleveland shop the uber-valuable asset before the deadline and make a splash move to compete with Golden State?

    It’s certainly possible, especially if they don’t turn things around soon.

    Indiana Pacers

    Prime trade candidate(s): Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison, Thaddeus Young

    Despite the fact no one expected much out of the Indiana Pacers after they traded away their best player this past offseason, the play of the two guys they got in return for George has changed their outlook – both in the short- and long-term.

    Domantas Sabonis looks like a beastly finisher and the pick-and-roll and a serviceable paint protector, while Victor Oladipo appears to be someone Indiana can legitimately build around.

    The Pacers, at 24-20, sit at No. 6 in the East, while actually possessing the NBA’s eighth-mightiest net rating at +2.1.

    So although there isn’t much scuttle about them being active on the trade market, who’s to say they don’t make a move to get Oladipo some help, especially with the Eastern Conference as open as it appears to be?

    Among players the Pacers could shop around are Darren CollisonBogdan Bogdanovic and Thaddeus Young. All three are on relatively team-friendly deals that end after next season, and all three fill three different niches.

    Collison, the above-average floor general, Bogdanovic, the floor-spacing wing and Young, the crafty forward with loads of playoff experience could all entice rival teams with specific needs.

    Milwaukee Bucks

    Prime trade candidate(s): Malcolm Brogdon, John Henson

    Despite a talented roster with an MVP candidate on it, the Milwaukee Bucks are barely over .500, sit at No. 7 in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt and boast a net rating of 0.0 – which all amount to a decidedly mediocre campaign thus far in 2017-18.

    Their troubles can’t be pinned on just one player, and it’s not like they’re getting zero production out of their center position; as a full-time starter, John Henson is averaging a respectable 9.3 points, 7.1 boards and 1.4 blocks per outing.

    Nevertheless, according to recent scuttle, the Bucks, much like the Cavs, are quite interested in acquiring the services of Los Angeles’ All-Pro seven-footer.

    According to the New York Times’ Marc Stein, on a recent podcast:

    “100 percent the Bucks are interested in (DeAndre) Jordan and they are probably as interested in him as anyone.”

    Would adding Jordan, who’s basically a souped-up version of Henson, really change the Bucks’ fortunes? Or their 24th-ranked defense?

    Probably not. But Milwaukee does place 27th in total rebound rate (48.1 percent), while Jordan ranks second overall in the same metric among qualified players (25.5 percent). If the Bucks simply end more possessions with defensive rebounds, their rating defensively will see a major uptick.

    To get the Clippers to even consider such a deal, Milwaukee will need to send them Henson as well as a solid young piece like Malcolm Brogdon in return, on top of another future asset or two.

    Their Eric Bledsoe acquisition would help soften the blow of losing Brogdon, and adding Jordan would prove to Giannis Antetokoumpo that the Bucks are serious about winning, so making such a move would be beneficial on multiple fronts.

    You can find Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_.

    HoopsHype’s Alberto de Roa contributed to this article.

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    One of the top commodities heading into the home stretch before the 2018 NBA trade deadline is Los Angeles Clippers big man DeAndre Jordan.

    And with good reason.

    Jordan has been nothing short of fantastic this year, averaging 11.8 points, 14.9 rebounds and 1.0 blocks per game while shooting 66.1 percent from the floor and a respectable 60.4 percent from the foul line.

    He boasts playoff experience, understands his role and excels in various play-types, such as finishing out of the pick-and-roll and in transition.

    Jordan defends at a high level, attacks the glass with aplomb and is the type of player who can absolutely change a team’s fortunes merely with his massive presence manning the paint.

    So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that various teams with serious postseason aspirations are reportedly interested in acquiring his services.

    Each of the involved parties has different assets they can offer Los Angeles, whether they be high draft picks, young players with upside, grizzled veterans who can help teams win now, or a mixture of all three.

    We break down some of the best packages Jordan’s top suitors could theoretically put together.

    Cleveland Cavaliers

    The Cleveland Cavaliers are built to win now.

    As such, their roster is filled with veteran role players whose purpose is to make LeBron James’ life easier on the basketball court, but who may not be all that appealing to franchises with different goals.

    The easiest (or only?) way for Cleveland to get into the Jordan sweepstakes is if they include the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first-round pick, which they received from the Boston Celtics as part of the Kyrie Irving trade.

    On top of the Nets’ first rounder, the Cavs also have a couple of favorable assets in the form of two young players: Ante Zizic and Cedi Osman. The former is a 21-year-old Croatian big man with strong rebounding acumen as well as soft touch near the rim, while the latter is a 22-year-old Turkish wing with 3-and-D potential… whose jumper isn’t all that reliable just yet.

    Packaging either of those players, along with the Nets’ first-round pick, could entice Los Angeles to get a deal done. But to make the salary swap work, Cleveland will need the Clippers to also take Tristan Thompson as part of the transaction.

    Thompson, due to injury as well as head coach Tyronn Lue going in a different direction with his starting lineup, has seen his role diminished this season. Nevertheless, he’s still a player who has value as a rebounder and finisher near the rim.

    Swapping Jordan for Thompson wouldn’t be a complete like-for-like exchange, but Thompson could at least somewhat fill the same role the Clipper big man currently maintains for his team.

    A deal with that foundation legitimately helps both teams: Cleveland, by acquiring an elite shot-blocker, rebounder and pick-and-roll finisher, who would help turn their 29th-ranked defense around, and Los Angeles, by landing what is projected to be a mid-lottery pick, a young player with upside and a veteran big man who can help them keep pace in the tight Western Conference playoff race.

    It should be noted, though: The Cavs are taking a major risk if they do include the Nets’ pick in a Jordan swap. The seven-footer has a player option on his deal for 2018-19, and it’s likely he will opt out of his contract this summer in search of a payday. Isaiah Thomas will be an unrestricted free agent. Ditto James.

    If things go south for Cleveland in the postseason even after acquiring Jordan, they could easily see him, Thomas and James walk in free agency, get nothing in return and not have the ultra-valuable lottery pick, which they could have used to begin a rebuild, to fall back on.

    It goes without saying, that would be disastrous for their short- and long-term future.

    At the same time, if the Cavs’ front office stands pat even despite their recent turmoil, and Cleveland winds up losing to the Golden State Warriors in the Finals yet again, would that show James a lack of commitment from his organization’s brass?

    No matter what the team decides to do, it’s going to be an extremely difficult situation for general manager Koby Altman to circumvent, and one that will be fascinating to monitor over the coming weeks.

    Final package: Ante Zizic (or Cedi Osman), Tristan Thompson, Nets first-round pick

    Milwaukee Bucks

    Along with the Cavs, one of the most heavily talked about teams regarding a potential Jordan swap are the Milwaukee Bucks.

    The fit is logical: The Bucks are among the league’s worst on the glass (27th in rebound rate at 48 percent), while Jordan is one of the NBA’s best at securing misses (2nd in rebound rate among qualified players at 25.5 percent).

    Along with an outdated defensive scheme involving an overreliance on trapping (which probably won’t be a problem anymore after news of Jason Kidd’s firing), part of the reason Milwaukee struggles defensively (25th in efficiency despite having so many long-armed athletes) is their inability to secure boards.

    The Bucks’ point-stopping prowess would greatly improve just by having Jordan there to end possessions with the ball in his mitts.

    As far as what Milwaukee could offer Los Angeles in return for their All-Star big man, they have a few young, enticing options to present.

    The likeliest package, though, would almost certainly contain both John Henson and the reigning Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon.

    Henson’s lack of mass hurts him as a rebounder, but he makes up for it by being an excellent lob-finisher, as well as a respectable rim-protector and underrated passer. Brogdon, on the other hand, is a more than serviceable floor general who can slot into either guard spot, defend at a high level and knock down the three-ball.

    That likely wouldn’t be enough for Milwaukee to land Jordan, though.

    So to sweeten the deal, the Bucks are going to need to add another asset to the pot, either in the form of Jabari Parker or their 2020 first-round pick.

    By CBA rules, they aren’t allowed to trade their 2019 first rounder, since their 2018 first-round pick belongs to the Phoenix Suns (as a part of the Eric Bledsoe trade) if it falls between selections 11-16. If it doesn’t, then Phoenix gets the Bucks’ 2019 first pick outright.

    Parker, on the other hand, presents an interesting case because he was enjoying the best season of his career in 2016-17, averaging 20.1 points and 6.2 rebounds nightly while showing improved defense, before his campaign ended last February with another tear of his left ACL.

    He is set to return soon, and by all accounts, his recovery has been a rousing success.

    Regardless, his consistent lack of health will be an issue for any team acquiring him in a trade.

    Additionally, Parker becomes a restricted free agent this summer, which will be a headache for whichever organization he’s a member of to deal with. It’s not a certainty he’ll land a max offer sheet since there is a serious lack of spending money league-wide, but it can’t be totally ruled out either.

    Even so, his next team would also acquire his Bird Rights, meaning they can go over the cap to re-sign him.

    Parker has his issues, but he can score and provides superb size on the wing – two traits that are very much coveted around the Association. If the Clippers believe he can maintain some semblance of health over the coming years, it could be a worthwhile gamble.

    The Bucks don’t have to fret that much over potentially losing Parker, considering they already have their off-ball starters set for the foreseeable future in Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton. And Tony Snell, with his pristine three-point stroke, gives them additional depth on the wing as well.

    Final package: Jabari Parker, Malcolm Brogdon, John Henson

    Portland Trail Blazers

    The New York Times’ Marc Stein surprised basketball aficionados with the following news on Jan. 22:

    The report came as somewhat of a shock because the Portland Trail Blazers like to tout their Big Three of Damian LillardCJ McCollum and big man Jusuf Nurkic as their building blocks of the future.

    It’s only right, as the trio did make a nice run late last season after the team acquired the Bosnian center from the Denver Nuggets.

    This year, however, the same success has been hard to come by.

    The Blazers boast a mediocre 104.5 offensive rating in 2017-18, the league’s No. 16 mark, and for a team with two scorching scorers like Lillard and McCollum on the roster, that’s simply unacceptable.

    The dirty secret for Portland is that Nurkic has struggled mightily this season.

    Although his play picked up a bit recently, the Blazers are actually 2.3 points per 100 possessions worse with their starting center on the floor.

    Among 5s who attempt at least 10 shots nightly, Nurkic has the sixth-lowest field-goal percentage at 47.1 percent. Even more damning: Of the five centers who shoot a lower percentage, all of them attempt at least three triples per contest; Nurkic has taken seven all year long.

    His blend of awkward flip shots near the rim and long 2-pointers have made him a greatly inefficient player in his fourth campaign, so it makes sense why Portland may quietly want help down low.

    To acquire Jordan as Stein suggested, a package of Nurkic, Shabazz Napier and Evan Turner checks out financially.

    The Blazers would be savvy to sell high on Napier, who finally, in his age-26 season, is starting to resemble the prospect who made LeBron tweet the following back in 2014:

    But on top of those three players, since the Clippers would be doing Portland a major favor by taking Turner’s bloated contract off their hands, the Blazers are probably going to have to add their 2018 first-round pick to the pot as additional sweetener.

    Would that big of a haul be worth it for Los Angeles’ behemoth?

    It’s tough to tell, but at the very least, adding a veteran like Jordan, who’s so aware of his limitations and plays to his strengths so exquisitely, would give the Blazers’ offense a much-needed jolt of life. And he would only help bolster their seventh-ranked defense.

    Meanwhile, in return, the Clippers would get an exciting, relatively young point guard, a serviceable wing, a starting-level center and a premium asset in the form of an unprotected first-round pick.

    Final package: Evan Turner, Shabazz Napier, Jusuf Nurkic, 2018 first-round pick

    Washington Wizards

    The Washington Wizards have been close to an unmitigated disaster this season.

    Their only saving grace is that they somehow don’t have a losing record at this point, which is an insane benchmark considering their payroll and the expectations they had coming into 2017-18.

    Most recently, the Wizards got blown out by the rebuilding Dallas Mavericks 98-75. More interesting than the result of the game, however, were the remarks JJ Barea made after the outing:

    To that, veteran reporter Stein added:

    It’s tough to say a trade will help sort those types of problems, the kind that lie ingrained deep within a team’s culture, out. After all, head coach Scott Brooks seems exasperated at what’s gone on with his unit; multiple team meetings have already failed, the most recent in spectacular fashion.

    But a trade could help kick-start a resurgence for Washington, especially since Jordan is thought of as a great locker room presence.

    In return for their center, the Wizards could offer Los Angeles their own starter at the position, Marcin Gortat.

    Along with Gortat, Washington could also include third-year pro Kelly Oubre, who’s really starting to look like a player this season, to a potential Jordan deal. The Kansas product is averaging 12.2 points and 4.9 boards per contest, while knocking down an outstanding 40.5 percent of his three-point looks.

    Oubre’s size on the wing, defensive potential, ability to play small-ball power forward and three-point shooting makes him a highly coveted archetype – and the Clippers would be thrilled to land the 22-year-old as part of a Jordan package.

    To make the salary swap work, Washington would need to add Jodie Meeks to the trade, but even then, Los Angeles would be getting an experienced center who would help them win games now, as well as a young two-way wing on an extremely team-friendly contract.

    And considering the Clippers’ utter lack of youthful building blocks, the latter would be extremely appealing.

    Final package: Marcin Gortat, Kelly Oubre, Jodie Meeks

    You can find Frank Urbina on Twitter @frankurbina_.

    HoopsHype’s Alberto de Roa contributed to this article.

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