Atlantic Notes: Celtics, Russell, VanVleet, Hardaway

Despite being in the midst of a 15-game win streak, the Celtics aren’t satisfied, reports Marc D’Amico of Celtics.com and Chris Forsberg of ESPN. While arguably sporting the league’s best defense, head coach Brad Stevens doesn’t believe his team’s offense is where it needs to be. “We got a lot to improve on [offensively],” Stevens said.

The Celtics shot only 32.9 percent from the field in their win against the Warriors, and while they have leaned on a league-leading defense giving up a mere 95.4 points per 100 possessions, the C’s are currently 27th in the NBA in FG%. We haven’t played well enough to consider this win streak to be valid, in my opinion,” Stevens said. “We’ve figured out ways to win games (but) we’ve got to be better, and we know that.”

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • According to A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston, one way the Celtics can create more offense is to play Marcus Morris more with the second unit. Morris scored 14 points in Saturday’s win against Atlanta.
  • The Nets are trying to remain positive and maintain a “next man up” mentality after losing D’Angelo Russell to a right knee injury for the foreseeable future, writes Anthony Puccio for NetsDaily.com. The Nets also lost Jeremy Lin to a right knee injury after he suffered a ruptured patella tendon in the season opener, but head coach Kenny Atkinson is confident in the players being called on to step up. “We have a good group of wings, and guards,” said Atkinson. “I think we’ve developed sufficiently enough to withstand injuries.”
  • After going undrafted following a successful four-year college career at Wichita State, second-year guard Fred VanVleet is finding his niche with the Raptors as a fighter on the defensive end of the floor, writes Doug Smith of The Toronto Star“He’s a grinder, he’s a survivor, he’s a worker, he’s had to fight for everything he’s ever gotten in his life,” says head coach Dwane Casey. “He gets into the guys, he’s a little pitbull from that standpoint. He brings everything to the table that you need.”
  • Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek believes that Tim Hardaway Jr. is suffering from something similar to plantar fasciitis in his left foot, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News. Hardaway Jr., who removed himself from last week’s loss to Toronto and sat out of yesterday’s practice, plans to play through the pain in spite of the risk. “It could help if he rests,” Hornacek said. “But Tim wants to play. He’s a tough kid. He’s a competitor. He feels that he’s got enough for us that he can go.”

Malone Suspended; Jokic Fine Rescinded

The NBA has suspended Nuggets head coach Michael Malone for one game without pay for entering the court, halting play and making contact with a game official during yesterday’s loss to the Lakers, the league announced today in a press release. Malone will serve his suspension tonight when the Nuggets travel to Sacramento to face the Kings.

The NBA also announced in the same press release that the fine given to Nikola Jokic for being ejected from yesterday’s game has been rescinded. The league says that Jokic properly received a technical foul for his actions but that he should not have been ejected.

Mavs Notes: Smith, Antetokounmpo, Centers, Curry

Despite Saturday night’s 32-point win over the Bucks, the Mavericks have struggled to find their rhythm early on this season, going 3-14 through their first seventeen games and finding themselves in last place in the Western Conference.

Despite the rough start, however, head coach Rick Carlisle is not going to let his star rookie Dennis Smith Jr. pick up any losing habits. According to Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News, Carlisle and Smith spend a lot of time together, one-on-one, going over film, both before and after games.

“He’s an important part of our team,” Carlisle said. “It’s gotten to the point where our winning is largely dependent on him playing well, which is a great compliment to him and what he’s been able to establish.”

There’s more from Dallas:

  • Saturday was a bittersweet night for the Mavericks. While they beat the Bucks handily, they were also reminded of what they missed out on after passing on Giannis Antetokounmpo in the first round of the 2013 NBA Draft. As Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News highlights, it was owner Mark Cuban who ultimately made the decision not to select Antetokounmpo.
  • According to Carlisle, Seth Curry is not expected to be back on the court this week, tweets Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News. There is no timetable for his return.
  • Despite having “a forklift full of centers“, the Mavericks are aware that the position is somewhat of a roulette wheel at the moment, writes Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News“It’s a bit of a by-committee position,” Carlisle said. “The guys got to roll with it and understand the things they do may only fit in certain stretches.”

Standard NBA Deal Expected For Mike James

Perhaps one of the more surprising stories to come out of the 2017/18 NBA season so far is the play of Suns‘ rookie point guard Mike James. James is currently averaging 11.4 PPG and 4.0 APG, good enough for top-10 in both categories among all rookies. And, according to Scott Bordow of azcentral.com, James’ play has not been lost on general manager Ryan McDonough, who plans to sign James to a standard NBA contract before his two-way contract expires on December 6.

Before signing James, however, the Suns will need to create an open roster spot, as they currently already have 15 players under contract. Bordow opines that in order to do so, the Suns will likely look to move on from one of their three centers – Tyson ChandlerAlex Len, or recently acquired Greg Monroe.

Out of the three, Monroe is probably the likeliest candidate to be moved. He is on an expiring contract and the Suns have already been reported as exploring the trade market for the 27 year-old. Len is also on an expiring contract after signing a qualifying offer in the offseason, while Chandler still has two years and $26.6MM remaining on the contract he signed back in 2015.

X-Rays Negative On Paul Millsap’s Wrist

X-ray results on Paul Millsap‘s injured wrist came back negative, according to Chris Haynes of ESPN (Twitter link). Although Millsap won’t play for the Nuggets tonight, the team can breathe a sigh of relief that those x-rays didn’t show a break.

Millsap left Sunday’s game against the Lakers with a left wrist injury that was diagnosed as a sprain. However, as Haynes notes, there was some concern that x-rays may reveal a fracture. The Nuggets big man avoided that worst-case scenario, but it’s not clear when he’ll get back on the court — he may still miss several games, depending on the severity of the sprain.

Millsap, 32, signed a three-year deal with Denver in the offseason and has played well for the club so far, averaging 15.3 PPG, 6.2 RPG, and 3.0 APG in 16 games (all starts). While his numbers don’t exactly jump off the page, particularly for one of the NBA’s highest-paid players, Millsap has stabilized the Nuggets’ frontcourt defense, and has helped the club get off to a 9-7 start.

In Millsap’s absence, Kenneth Faried and/or Mason Plumlee could receive an increase in playing time. With Wilson Chandler listed as questionable for tonight’s game, Juan Hernangomez and Will Barton may also see expanded roles.

NBA G League Assignments/Recalls: 11/20/17

Here are Monday’s G League assignments and recalls from across the NBA:

3:25pm:

2:17pm:

  • The Knicks have recalled rookie shooting guard Damyean Dotson from the G League, according to the team (via Twitter). Dotson, assigned to the Westchester Knicks for Sunday’s game, scored 23 points in the team’s victory over the Lakeland Magic.
  • Magic rookies Khem Birch and Wesley Iwundu, who were on the other side of Sunday’s Lakeland/Westchester matchup, were recalled to the NBA today, the team announced (via Twitter). Birch and Iwundu both had double-doubles on Sunday, combining for 34 points and 23 rebounds for Orlando’s G League affiliate.
  • The Raptors have sent Bruno Caboclo and Alfonzo McKinnie to the G League, per the team (Twitter link). Both players should be active for Monday’s Raptors 905 contest vs. the Greensboro Swarm.
  • Big man Georgios Papagiannis has been recalled to the NBA by the Kings, tweets Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee. Papagiannis grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds for the Reno Bighorns on Sunday, chipping in 12 points in the club’s loss to the Long Island Nets.

Jared Sullinger Extends Contract In China

After signing a two-month contract with the Shenzhen Leopards in September, veteran big man Jared Sullinger has now extended his contract with the Chinese club, agreeing to a full-season deal, per international basketball reporter David Pick (Twitter link).

As Pick details, Sullinger’s new agreement with the Leopards includes bonuses that could increase the value of his deal to $1.4MM. The Chinese season ends before the NBA season does, so depending on how deep a playoff run his team makes, Sullinger could get clearance to return to the NBA in the spring.

As is the case with many players who make the leap from the NBA to the Chinese Basketball Association, Sullinger has been putting up huge numbers so far this season. In nine games for Shenzhen, the 25-year-old has averaged 34.0 PPG and a league-high 15.6 RPG. Sullinger, a former first-round pick who spent five NBA seasons with the Celtics and Raptors, has helped lead the Leopards to a 5-4 record so far.

Jusuf Nurkic Looking To Stay With Blazers Long-Term

The Trail Blazers and center Jusuf Nurkic didn’t reach an agreement on a rookie scale extension prior to October’s deadline, but the two sides have interest in a long-term deal and are expected to resume talks in the summer, agent Aylton Tesch tells Ben Golliver of SI.com.

“I feel like the Blazers are very happy with Jusuf and Jusuf is very happy there,” Tesch said. “We had some [extension] talks, but we decided to play it out this year and engage in talks again in July. He has already proven that he can help the team. There is a fit for Jusuf in Portland and he’s looking to stay there long-term.”

Nurkic, 23, looked great in Portland down the stretch last season, averaging 15.2 PPG, 10.4 RPG, and 1.9 BPG in 20 games for the club after being traded to the Blazers by the Nuggets. However, his season ended early due to a broken leg. Considering he spent most of the offseason recovering from that injury, and the Blazers only got a brief look at him in 2016/17, it made sense that the team wanted to see more before committing to a lucrative, long-term deal.

So far this season, Nurkic’s play has been a little up and down, but he’s averaging a solid 14.6 PPG and 7.2 RPG in 16 starts. The Bosnian big man is also happy playing in Portland after spending the first two and a half years of his NBA career in Denver, where the Nuggets often had an overcrowded frontcourt.

As Golliver details, Nurkic and his agent requested a trade multiple times during his stint in Denver, with the Nuggets fulfilling the trade request his camp made during the 2016/17 season. Nurkic, who felt like outsiders viewed him as a player with an attitude problem when he was a Nugget, was seeking an opportunity where he could be the full-time starting center, and was grateful that Denver was able to accommodate that wish.

“I needed a change of scenery. Both sides needed it,” Nurkic said. “I’m thankful Denver let me go where I wanted to go. If I was doing all the bad things that people said, the Nuggets wouldn’t have traded me where I wanted to go, and they probably would have gotten a way better deal than they got.”

Nurkic will be a restricted free agent in 2018, giving the Blazers the opportunity to match any offer sheet he may sign. While Portland would presumably like to retain the young center, the team already has more than $110MM in salary guarantees on its books for 2018/19, so a new deal for Nurkic figures to increase that total beyond the tax threshold, barring another salary dump.

Leandro Barbosa To Play In Brazil

Veteran guard Leandro Barbosa is continuing his playing career in his home country of Brazil, having joined Franca Basquete, the team recently announced (Instagram link). Barbosa’s agreement with the Brazilian club was first reported by Giancarlo Giampietro (Twitter link).

Barbosa, who will turn 35 next Tuesday, began his basketball career in Brazil back in 1999 and has played there as recently as the 2013/14 season. However, he has spent the majority of the last 15 years playing for NBA teams, appearing in 969 total regular season and playoff games for the Suns, Warriors, Raptors, Celtics, and Pacers.

Most recently, the Brazilian guard played a part-time role for the Suns last season, rejoining the franchise with which he started his career. In 67 games (14.4 MPG), Barbosa averaged 6.3 PPG, 1.6 RPG, and 1.2 APG, with a shooting line of .439/.357/.889. Phoenix elected not to guarantee Barbosa’s full $4MM salary for 2017/18 though, waiving him in July to save $3.5MM.

The exact terms of Barbosa’s deal with Franca Basquete aren’t clear — it’s possible he’ll be free to explore NBA opportunities later in the season, if there’s any interest.

Poll: NBA’s Worst Team

We’re only about 20% of the way through the NBA’s regular season schedule for 2017/18, but the league’s standings are already starting to look like what we expected. In the West, the Warriors and Rockets lead the way, followed by the Spurs and Timberwolves. In the East, the Celtics, Raptors, Cavaliers, and Wizards all show up near the top of the standings, with one surprise interloper in the Pistons.

Similarly, at the other end of the spectrum, a handful of teams that we expected to vie for 2018’s first overall pick have sunk to the bottom of the league’s standings. As our 2017/18 Reverse Standings show, here are the NBA’s worst seven teams to open the season:

  1. Dallas Mavericks (3-14): Last season represented the first time this century that the Mavericks finished the season below .500. In 2016/17, Dallas lost 15 of its first 18 games before righting the ship somewhat and finishing with 33 wins. It remains to be seen whether the club can perform a similar turnaround this year.
  2. Atlanta Hawks (3-13): Projected by oddsmakers for 25.5 wins this season, the Hawks are currently on pace for just 15 victories. Injuries have played a part in their early-season struggles, but there simply aren’t many above-average players on the roster.
  3. Chicago Bulls (3-11): Like Atlanta, Chicago doesn’t have a ton of talent on its roster and was expected to finish at or near the bottom of the Eastern Conference heading into the season. Players like Nikola Mirotic, Cameron Payne, and Zach LaVine have been sidelined with injuries so far, so their respective returns could buoy the Bulls, but of those players, only LaVine figures to have a real impact.
  4. Sacramento Kings (4-12): By signing veterans like George Hill, Zach Randolph, and Vince Carter to complement their young core, the Kings didn’t look ready to bottom out this season. So far though, those vets have struggled, and many of their young players aren’t ready for major roles.
  5. Los Angeles Clippers (5-10): The most surprising inclusion in this list, the Clippers began the season 4-0, but are currently in the midst of an eight-game skid. The team’s schedule has been tough during that stretch, so I’d expect some course correction soon, but the Clips don’t look like a playoff team in the first year of the post-Chris Paul era.
  6. Brooklyn Nets (6-10): The Nets have played hard this season and should remain fairly competitive on most nights, but with Jeremy Lin out for the season and D’Angelo Russell battling health issues as well, the club will face an uphill battle in its quest to get to 30 or 35 wins.
  7. Phoenix Suns (7-11): Phoenix looked like the worst team in the league through three games, but a coaching change and an Eric Bledsoe trade have the club looking revitalized. The rebuilding Suns still aren’t a playoff contender, and they’ll go through their share of growing pains over the course of the season. However, they appear capable of staying out of the NBA cellar.

What do you think? Which one of these clubs will finish the 2017/18 season with the NBA’s worst record? Or is there another team outside of this group of seven that will slip down the standings and “surpass” all of these clubs? Vote below and jump into our comment section to share your thoughts!

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