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Report: Knicks given slight edge over Celtics as Kyrie’s free-agent destination

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Those pesky Kyrie-to-the-Knicks rumors have been around even before Yahoo's Chris Mannix mentioned the Celtics were "scared" of Kyrie Irving heading there next summer. They picked up steam this week with another report of The Big Apple as a destination

Source – sports.yahoo.com

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Danny Ainge roasts Celtics players on Twitter

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Celtics president Danny Ainge has built a star-studded and deep team. Boston even has a few extra first-round picks to get even better in future years. The Celtics have 15 players with standard contracts, the regular-season limit. Unlike last year, Boston

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Danny Ainge has got the jokes…aimed at Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown

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Danny Ainge was busy on Twitter late last night poking a little fun at a couple of his players.Ainge, the Celtics president of basketball operations, wondered where the defense was in a video of "Scary" Terry Rozier playing in a pickup game with Wizards

Source – sports.yahoo.com

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The NBA’s Small Guys Are Getting Bigger, And That’s Bad News For Isaiah Thomas

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The NBA’s Small Guys Are Getting Bigger, And That’s Bad News For Isaiah Thomas

By Chris Herring and Dimitrije Ćurčić

Filed under NBA

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Is there room in the NBA for a shorter player like Isaiah Thomas?

Elsa / Getty Images

Of all the shocking NBA free-agency moves this summer, Isaiah Thomas’s deal with Denver — for just one year, at the minimum salary for a veteran player — might have been the most telling, in terms of where the league is heading.

This time last year, Thomas — one of the NBA’s most underpaid players even then, at just over $6 million — was saying openly that the Celtics “know they’ve got to bring the Brink’s truck out,” a reference to the nine-figure max contract he felt he deserved. And on some level, it would have been difficult to argue with him. At 28 years old, the diminutive point guard was coming off a banner season in which he finished fifth in MVP voting while averaging almost 29 points per game (on one of the league’s best true shooting percentages) and led the Celtics to the East’s best record.

It’s no secret that much of the market collapse for Thomas’s services stemmed from questions about the torn labrum in his hip, which cost him months of rehab time before he ever suited up for the Cavs, then required surgery in March (while he was playing for the Lakers). But it also appears that the ever-changing NBA flipped its script entirely just before Thomas could cash in on a deal that scorers of his caliber generally get. The about-face highlights the fear teams have about committing big money to someone as short as Thomas, given the challenges his height creates in yet another league where an increasing number of players are roughly the same size.

Point guards and centers were closer in height last year than they’ve ever been, separated by an average of just 8.3 inches — down 21 percent from the 10.5 inches or so that stood between them during the mid-to-late 1990s, according to data from Basketball-Reference.com.

Those shifts affect Thomas in two meaningful ways. First, the Tacoma, Washington, native — who, at just 5-foot-9, is the shortest player in the NBA — isn’t even close to the average size for a point guard of 6 feet, 2.5 inches. Which brings up the second issue: As such an outlier, the undersized Thomas becomes an even bigger liability on defense when his team is forced to switch on screens at that end of the floor — something that’s become far more common in the past five years alone. The median number of switches leaguewide has more than doubled over that span, from 4.3 per 100 possessions in 2013-14 to 9.1 switches per 100 possessions this past season, according to Second Spectrum.

“To even have a chance against a team like Golden State, you have to make a point of not being put into rotations,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni told me in May. “They’ll kill you that way.”

Certain teams are better equipped to play that kind of defense than others — the Rockets and Warriors, widely considered the league’s best teams, led the NBA in switch frequency — but the process doesn’t always work as well when Thomas is in the midst of it. The Celtics were 5 percent more efficient defensively in switch scenarios when Thomas was off the floor than on in 2016-17, according to Second Spectrum. And while Thomas’s departure coincided with a slew of other changes in Boston prior to last season, the team’s jump to from No. 12 to No. 1 in defensive efficiency after dealing Thomas supports the notion that a merely solid defensive team can become great on that side of the ball once it removes its weakest link.

With teams vying to become switchier in an increasingly versatile league (and some clubs perhaps having pushed the envelope too far on that front), it raises the dilemma of how to integrate Thomas into a defensive gameplan without torpedoing it altogether.1

Even on offense, where Thomas is undoubtedly a boon, his greatest strengths are ones accentuated by a particular style of play. With Boston, he made use of direct-dribble handoffs more than anyone — a play that worked well alongside screen-setter Al Horford in part because coach Brad Stevens was committed to building an offense in which Thomas could thrive. The plays didn’t work as well in Cleveland, where the Cavs ran them about half as often and with less efficiency. (The same was true during his stint with the Lakers, according to Second Spectrum.)

Taken together, this suggests that Thomas — like most players but perhaps unlike most stars — needs a specific ecosystem around him in order for him to thrive, or for him to be the max-level talent he believes himself to be. He could be that player in Boston, where the Celtics had good defenders and players that could not only screen but also space the floor for him. The likelihood of that being true on a team with far less talent seems remote.

Thomas’s new situation in Denver splits the middle from that standpoint. He will be in an up-tempo system with an abundance of talented players, including Nikola Jokic, Paul Millsap and FiveThirtyEight favorite Gary Harris, among others. Thomas has also played previously for coach Michael Malone, the first NBA head man to coax 20 points per game out of him. But there’s a catch: The Nuggets, like last year’s Cavs, play almost no D, meaning Thomas won’t be able to expect much help on that end as he works to rebuild his value as a sixth man.

Again, the tactical constraints of Thomas’s size are far from the only question marks surrounding him. The health of his hip is key, obviously. The Cleveland situation — a particular challenge because of the win-now pressure created by LeBron James’s pending free agency — was disastrous for Thomas: The team’s awful defense made him a bad fit, and his penchant for taking shots at either teammates or coaches became problematic. His difficulties were compounded by the seesaw nature of the free-agent money that’s changed hands in recent years.

When Thomas began talking about being paid handsomely, it was during the summer of a massive salary-cap increase, when players like Evan Turner, Bismack Biyombo and Nicolas Batum — who’ve never been All-Stars — got $70 million, $72 million and $120 million, respectively. Mistakes from 2016 are still being felt by certain teams, and it doesn’t help that some are keeping the books clear ahead of next year, when several stars are expected to hit the market. So, much of this boils down to Thomas’s free agency coming at the worst time.

“You can always play the what-if game, but man, I’ve been F’ed over so many times,” Thomas told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, while acknowledging that potential suitors were undoubtedly concerned about the health of his hip. “But of course I think about [the money]. I’m human.”

If there’s a bright side, or at least a glass-half-full equation, it’s that Thomas can still redeem himself. He is, or at least can be, a supremely gifted scorer. Yes, he gets his shots blocked often, but Thomas has learned how to use angles as leverage, and he displays bursts of quickness to outsmart defenders. Prior to his truncated 2017-18, he was driving to the basket more than almost anyone, and he connected on a high percentage of his shots around the rim. He’s still proven to be automatic from the line. And in the past, Thomas has shown he can catch fire from deep.

As he’s done so many times before, Thomas, famously the last player picked in the 2011 draft, will have to overcome the odds. He may not even need the absolute perfect fit to begin building his value again. Instead, Thomas may just need the ever-shifting NBA to sit still just long enough for him to find a new normal.

Footnotes

  1. To be clear here, Thomas shows effort on D — it’s just that his effort only accomplishes so much, given his perpetual height disadvantage.

Chris Herring is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight. @herring_nba

Dimitrije Ćurčić is a freelance writer in Serbia.

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Boston Celtics’ Jaylen Brown on Tech, Investing and Education

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Aug.14 — Jaylen Brown is one of the NBA's biggest stars. And at 21 years of age, the Boston Celtics player is already thinking beyond his time on the court. Like some of his contemporaries, he's investing in tech and making connections in the world of venture capital. Bloomberg's Emily Chang spoke exclusively with Brown on the sidelines of the Bloomberg Players Technology Summit.

Source – sports.yahoo.com

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NBA Stars Andre Iguodala and Jaylen Brown Talk Tech, Investing, and Championships

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Andre Iguodala of the Golden State Warriors isn’t just content to sit back and coast off his three NBA championships. Speaking Tuesday in San Francisco at Bloomberg’s Players Technology Summit, Iguodala talked about one of his first ventures in the world of investing—starting an E-Trade account and putting some cash down on the mobile gaming company Zynga znga . “In year or two, our returns were just crazy,” Iguodala said.

Source – sports.yahoo.com

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Knicks, Nets reportedly in mix for Kyrie-Butler combo in ’19

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Remember those rumors of Kyrie Irving and Jimmy Butler teaming up in free agency next year? Well, that buzz is back and Boston isn't the rumored destination.Two league sources told Business Insider that the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets could be well

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Hey, cool, Gordon Hayward is dunking again

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Ten months after fracturing his tibia and dislocating his ankle, Gordon Hayward can take flight again. Nearly 10 months after suffering a brutal left leg injury just six minutes into his first game with the Boston Celtics, Gordon Hayward has reached a new milestone in his ongoing work toward a return to the court: dunking through contact.

Source – sports.yahoo.com

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Paul Pierce says if Celtics learn to sacrifice, they’ll win title

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If there's anyone who knows what it takes to be a champion, it's Paul Pierce. According to a report from Boston.com, Pierce touched on what this current squad needs to learn if they want to hang the team's eighteenth championship banner from the rafters of TD Garden. "When you have that type of talent, they're going to have to learn to sacrifice," Pierce said at a charity event in Brookline on Friday morning.

Source – sports.yahoo.com

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What Our Way-Too-Early NBA Projections Can Tell Us About Next Season

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What Our Way-Too-Early NBA Projections Can Tell Us About Next Season

By Neil Paine

Filed under NBA

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All signs point to a recurrence of this scene next June.

Chris Elise / NBAE via Getty Images

When last we left the NBA, the Golden State Warriors were wrapping up their third championship in four years and staking their claim as perhaps the game’s greatest dynasty. Then a bunch of players switched teams, including LeBron James (to the Lakers), Kawhi Leonard (to the Raptors), FiveThirtyEight stat-namesake Carmelo Anthony (to the Rockets) and DeMarcus Cousins (to — who else? — the Warriors).

Now that the league has settled into a period of relative calm with a little more than two months to go before opening night — and now that the full season schedule has been released — we thought we’d run an early preseason version of our CARM-Elo team ratings and season projections.

A few notes before we get to the numbers: The depth charts that drive the projections are from ESPN.com, up-to-date as of Aug. 9. We didn’t scale the raw Elo ratings to an overall league average of 1505 (it’s about 1514 instead), so the ratings you see are very slightly inflated relative to what they will be when we do our proper projections in the fall. (But the average number of wins across the league does come out to a 41-41 record.)

Now that all that’s out of the way, here are our way-too-early, extremely preliminary 2018-19 projections:

Peer into CARM-Elo’s NBA crystal ball

Early projected standings and playoff chances for the 2018-19 NBA season, according to FiveThirtyEight’s CARM-Elo model

REGULAR SEASON PLAYOFFS
Team Conf. CARM-Elo Proj. Record Playoff Chances CARM-Elo Adj. Make finals Win title
1 Warriors West 1766 64-18 >99% +54 53% 42%
2 Rockets West 1661 54-28 94 +30 14 9
3 Raptors East 1645 55-27 97 +18 28 9
4 Thunder West 1640 53-29 91 +16 9 6
5 Jazz West 1637 54-28 92 -8 6 4
6 Celtics East 1630 53-29 95 +14 22 7
7 T-Wolves West 1629 52-30 88 -2 6 4
8 Sixers East 1623 52-30 95 -8 16 5
9 Lakers West 1580 46-36 72 +35 5 3
9 Nuggets West 1580 48-34 80 -13 3 1
11 Wizards East 1579 48-34 87 +12 12 3
12 Pelicans West 1571 46-36 70 -13 2 1
13 Bucks East 1564 47-35 84 -9 8 2
14 Pacers East 1522 43-39 71 -7 4 1
15 Heat East 1512 41-41 64 -13 3 1
16 Spurs West 1507 40-42 40 +19 1 1
16 Blazers West 1507 39-43 37 -7 1 <1
18 Pistons East 1492 39-43 55 -12 2 <1
19 Hornets East 1481 38-44 48 -5 2 <1
20 Nets East 1459 35-47 37 -16 1 <1
21 Clippers West 1435 33-49 16 -5 <1 <1
22 Grizzlies West 1428 32-50 12 -7 <1 <1
23 Magic East 1424 33-49 25 -20 1 <1
24 Cavaliers East 1405 30-52 18 +18 <1 <1
25 Mavericks West 1376 27-55 4 +11 <1 <1
26 Hawks East 1373 28-54 10 -16 <1 <1
27 Bulls East 1370 27-55 9 -21 <1 <1
28 Suns West 1364 26-56 4 -11 <1 <1
29 Knicks East 1353 25-57 6 -18 <1 <1
30 Kings West 1319 21-61 1 -17 <1 <1

Source: Basketball-Reference.com, ESPN.COM

In a completely shocking result, the Warriors are No. 1 in our CARM-Elo rankings for next season. OK, fine — that’s not very surprising. The Warriors project to win a league-high 64 games, and they have a 42 percent probability of winning yet another championship, which would make them only the third team to win four titles in five years.1 Perhaps that’s getting a little bit ahead of things, given how close the Houston Rockets were to eliminating the Warriors in the playoffs, but the CARM-Elo gap between No. 1 Golden State and No. 2 Houston (105 points) is greater than the gap between Houston and the No. 13 Milwaukee Bucks. Needless to say, it’s the Warriors’ ring to chase once again.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t still interesting storylines to keep us tuned in. The Lakers are the most improved team in the league according to our model — thanks mostly to that LeBron guy, but also to some of the improving young talent around him. (Although all those improvements have simply brought them up to the Denver Nuggets level of Elo.) Our ratings also think pretty highly of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder, at least when compared with other gauges such as the Vegas over-unders. And contrary to what Jaylen Brown might think, the Leonard-led Raptors — and not the Boston Celtics or Philadelphia 76ers — look like the team to beat in the Eastern Conference, with a 28 percent chance of making the NBA Finals. (Then again, our numbers were bearish on the Celtics last season as well, only to have Brad Stevens laugh in the face of the predictions like he usually does.)

For all of the projections that went into this early forecast (including team-by-team playing-time allocations), check out our projections Google doc here. Also, you can break down detailed future projections for every player in the league using our CARMELO player projections.

Jay Boice contributed research.

Footnotes

  1. Joining the 1949-54 Minneapolis Lakers and the 1960s Boston Celtics, who won 11 titles in 13 years.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight. @Neil_Paine

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