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Kia Rookie Ladder: Lay of land in chase leads to Doncic’s drop

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For now, Young keeps the top spot, based mostly on Doncic’s most recent two games — which saw him go 10-for-34 from the field (2-for-13 on 3-pointers). Doncic, who remains the frontrunner for ROY based off the season on a whole, had one of his worst games of the season Tuesday, scoring 12 points while committing nine turnovers (the second time in the last three weeks he’s had that many) in a 112-105 loss to the Spurs.

Young had struggles of his own, but he picked up his first triple-double and led the Hawks to two wins to barely — just barely — hold off Doncic. 

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1. Trae Young, Atlanta Hawks

 

Trae Young logged his first NBA triple-double in a loss to the Nets last week.

Last week:  No. 1

Young had the first triple-double by a rookie in Hawks history Saturday, which was one of the highlights of his week. But to be fair to what I said above about Doncic’s clunker, Young also had a dud of a game this week, going 2-for-14 from the field (0-for-4 on 3-pointers) against the New Orleans Pelicans. However, Young also had 10 assists (five in the fourth quarter) and helped facilitate a 128-116 win when his shot wasn’t falling (he missed his first nine attempts). Coach Lloyd Pierce was impressed by Young’s ability to handle the rough shooting night. ”He came in the fourth quarter and played 12 straight minutes and shifted to just a playmaker,” Pierce said. ”I think it’s a sign of maturity. I think he’s going to have those games from time to time and understand he can still impact a game.”
 

2. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks

 

Luka Doncic reflects on his rise to stardom in his first season in the NBA.

Last week:  No. 2

To Doncic’s credit, the rookie wasn’t even sure he’d play in the embarrassing loss to the Spurs, in which he went 1-for-9 from the free throw line. “Just in my head, I’m thinking I’m going to miss it. I’ve just got to work on that. I’ve got to think I’m going to make every shot.” Doncic had suffered a knee strain against the Rockets, but fought through the injury, which is admirable considering the Mavs’ position in the standings. “Honestly I wasn’t 100 percent, but I want to play. I want to play always. Even though we’re not playing for that much right now I just want to play every game.” You’ve got to love the attitude.

3. Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers

 

The Cavs upset the Raptors behind a monster game from Collin Sexton.

Last week:  Not ranked

Sexton has had his ups and downs this season, but he said this week “the game is starting to slow down a little bit.” And it shows. In three games this week, the point guard averaged 27 points on 58.2 percent shooting, hitting 57.9 percent of his 3-pointers. Sexton was huge in the Cavs’ surprise win vs. Toronto, scoring 28 points with four rebounds, five assists and zero turnovers. He was 10-for-18 from the field, and afterward coach Larry Drew said it might have been his best game of the season. “I really thought tonight was probably as complete of a game as I’ve seen Collin play in regards to him scoring, getting us into an offense and his decision-making. … He played a terrific all-around game.” A night later, he nearly willed the Cavs to a win in Philly, scoring 26 points on 11-for-20 shooting. It’s clear he’s becoming more confident running the team and finding his scoring spots.

4. Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns

 

DeAndre Ayton comes up with a block against the Jazz on Wednesday.

Last week:  No. 3

Ayton was crucial to the Suns’ surprising upset of the Golden State Warriors on Sunday, scoring 18 points and grabbing nine rebounds in the 115-111 win. But Wednesday’s loss to the Utah Jazz was a different story. Going against Rudy Gobert, Ayton finished with two points on 1-for-9 shooting in 32 ineffective minutes. Ayton didn’t hold back on his performance. “Overall, I give myself an F-minus,” Ayton told reporters. “This was a bad game. I definitely put this loss on me. I just wasn’t locked in. I don’t know what’s happening. The shots I took were pretty bad. This is definitely the worst game I’ve ever played.”

 

5. Landry Shamet, LA Clippers

Landry Shamet has made 46.9 percent of his 3-pointers with the Clippers.

Last week:  No. 4

Shamet is going to play a big role in the Clippers’ run toward the playoffs. He’s getting 28.5 minutes per game in L.A. (he got 20.5 mpg with the Sixers), averaging 12.1 points on 44.1 percent shooting. He’s knocking down 46.9 percent of his 3-pointers with the Clippers, easily leading rookies in 3-point shooting on the season. If you haven’t seen a Clippers game yet, Shamet is worth checking out. His ability to come off screens and get his shot off quickly is a thing of beauty. 

Just missed the cut: 

Jalen Brunson, Dallas Mavericks
Brunson has scored in double figures in five straight and had his best game in the Mavs’ loss to the Spurs. The second-round pick scored 34 points and averaged 23.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg and 5.7 apg while shooting 65 percent overall (and 41.7 percent on 3-pointers) this week. “He’s probably grown more than any player,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “If you go back to the Summer League in July, if you’d seen him play then and you saw him play tonight, you’d say ‘Wow.’ “

Kevin Huerter, Atlanta Hawks
The young sharpshooter scored 27 in the Hawks’ 128-116 win over the Pelicans on Sunday, going 11-for-18 from the field (4-for-7 on 3-pointers). On a night Young struggled to find his shot, Huerter was needed and the Hawks kept looking for their other rookie. ”My teammates started finding me,” Huerter said. ”They started running plays for me almost every possession down the court.” Huerter followed that up with 16 points, five rebounds and four assists in Wednesday’s win against Memphis.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, LA Clippers
Gilgeous-Alexander averaged 12 ppg in three games and was his consistent self from the field, shooting 52 percent overall (and 3-for-4 on 3-pointers). He helped L.A. get wins against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Boston Celtics before seeing their five-game win streak end Tuesday against Portland. The Clippers are winning while starting two rookies, so if watching rookies is your thing, they might be worth adopting down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Frank Jackson, New Orleans Pelicans
Jackson has been mentioned in this space a few times this season, but he’s really blossomed over the last few weeks. He’s scored in double digits in six of his last eight games and averaged 19 ppg and 46.4 percent shooting in his last three games while filling in for Jrue Holiday. “I think with him, it’s all about confidence,” coach Alvin Gentry said of Jackson’s improvement. “I think the more he plays, the more confidence he gets. The big thing for me is that he’s not duplicating mistakes. You tell him something and then he takes that out of his game and tries to take a step forward. That’s the big thing.”

* * *

(All stats through Wednesday, March 13)

Send any questions or comments to my email or find me on Twitter @drewpackham.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.



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Suns sign Fredette for rest of season

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PHOENIX (AP) — Jimmer Fredette is back in the NBA.

The Phoenix Suns signed Fredette for the rest of the season Friday with a team option for 2019-20.

The 30-year-old Fredette won every national college player of the year award his senior season at BYU in 2011 after leading the country in scoring at 28.9 points per game. He was traded to Sacramento after being selected with the 10th overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft by Milwaukee.

Fredette never had the same success in the NBA as he did in college, averaging 6.0 points over five seasons with four teams. He spent the last three seasons playing for Shanghai of the Chinese Basketball Association, leading the league in scoring last season with 36.9 points per game.

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Lakers must win offseason to avoid this season’s embarrassment turning uglier

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They’ll finish the season with a losing record and without a playoff spot as their legendary superstar deals with failure and their fan base does a collective head scratch over what went wrong and what size hammer just hit them.

But all that has happened to the Lakers in 2018-19 doesn’t qualify as devastation.

No, devastation will be if they have a dreadful summer.

Lost in the turmoil of getting swept by the Knicks, LeBron James’ groin pull, Lonzo Ball’s ankle sprain, Brandon Ingram’s blood clot and fallout from the proposed Anthony Davis trade is the forgotten reality that the Lakers were never built to do anything special this season. Challenging for a championship or even reaching the conference finals was never the goal or purpose. This team wasn’t built that way. This was never a “win-now” project, as much as the noise perhaps led you to believe.

This was always a “win-in-July-2019” project.

 

 

LeBron gives his thoughts on the disappointing Lakers season.

This season was an embarrassment, nothing less and certainly nothing more. Missing out on the playoffs was unexpected, but not damaging in the big picture. All it did was give talk shows some meaty material, mainly because LeBron was involved and for the first time since 2006 the game’s best player won’t be in prime time this spring or summer. That’s all.

But if the Lakers lose big this summer, it could have far-reaching implications for LeBron, the franchise — and all of it would be bad. There would be justifiable second-guessing, blown opportunities, broken promises, a front office under fire, maybe a strong reaction from owner Jeanie Buss and a fan base in uproar.

Most or all of the above will follow the Lakers into next season if they don’t win the offseason. Plenty is riding on president Magic Johnson and GM Rob Pelinka making the right moves to maximize the remaining three years on LeBron’s contract and make the Lakers title contenders. The Lakers do have certain factors in their favor — ample cap space, the charms of LA, the presence of LeBron and just being a destination franchise — and so it could work out.

There’s also a worst-case scenario that would be nightmarish for all involved should all of the following happen this summer:

Anthony Davis Isn’t Traded To The Lakers

The primary target in the Get Help For LeBron effort was always Davis, for understandable reasons. He’s a generational talent who’s still in his prime, he has already stated a desire to play for the Lakers and among superstars he’s unassuming and therefore probably the best fit to play in the shadow of LeBron, which can be overwhelming for some.

 

Anthony Davis talks about his decision to request a trade from the Pelicans.

The drawback is Davis, unlike a handful of other A-list players, isn’t a free agent this summer. And while he has some leverage in where he plays next, the Pelicans own his rights for one more season and the ultimate decision rests with them.

Evidently, they believe they can get a better package for Davis than the Lakers offered at the trade deadline, perhaps because someone else whispered in their ear (cough … Celtics, Knicks … cough). The Pelicans are looking for a haul in order to save face and reshape a losing team and this summer buys them time and a clearer market.

The Lakers suffered a blow in the upcoming Davis auction when Ingram suffered his injury, which required surgery. Does that devalue Ingram to a degree in the eyes of New Orleans? Perhaps. And the Lakers don’t have anyone to replace him in any proposal, since Ingram was the centerpiece to any proposal.

The Lakers Don’t Get A Top-Three Draft Pick

The odds of them landing at or near the top spot in the June draft isn’t very high, and will be probably be less than 10 percent once the draft order is determined in May. It’s just that with a high pick, the Lakers will own an asset to keep or trade for Davis. If there was ever a team that could use a frozen envelope, it’s the Lakers. Oh, wait: The Knicks are back in the lottery, too. Never mind.

Kawhi Leonard Signs With The Clippers

 

Is Kawhi Leonard the right fit for Raptors’ team chemistry?

This would qualify as a double-whammy. It would cross a free agent off the Lakers’ list and meanwhile they’d watch him go to the crosstown Clippers. What’s more, it would mean Jerry West one-upped his former team. Make that a triple whammy, then.

Kevin Durant Re-Signs With The Warriors

Not only would the Lakers miss out on the top free agent on the market and someone who’s almost guarantee a changing of the guard in the West if not the NBA, KD staying with the Warriors would mean the Golden State dynasty continues. Therefore, even if the Lakers did get Davis (and strip themselves of a supporting cast in the process) they would still trail the Warriors in terms of star power.

Klay Thompson Re-Signs With The Warriors

This would be Durant Lite in terms of impact, but still.

Jimmy Butler And Kyrie Irving Sign With Anyone But The Lakers

He’s probably not a game-changing player and might not be the best fit next to LeBron. Still, while Butler isn’t the most attraction option, he is a good one, and maybe a necessary one if the Lakers strike out in other places. Butler would be better than nothing. Meanwhile, it’s hard to envision Irving reattaching himself to LeBron when he escaped LeBron three summers ago (and still hasn’t given a coherent reason for doing so).

And that’s it. Should the Lakers whiff on three or more of these players, times will get tense in L.A.. Yes, there are solid free agents such as Kemba Walker, Khris Middleton, DeMarcus Cousins and others available this summer, and Mike Conley could be available in a trade. Yet they qualify as fallback Plan B players, not gotta-have players.

 

Is it conceivable that Kyrie Irving could play with LeBron again?

Remember, the Lakers and Magic gambled heavily just to put themselves in position to seize the summer of 2019. They traded D’Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets because the Nets also agreed to take Timofey Mozgov’s massive contract (in addition to sending a No. 1 pick to LA which became Kyle Kuzma). They didn’t re-sign Julius Randle, their former lottery pick from two years ago. They also bailed on Lou Williams and traded promising young center Ivica Zubac, all because they didn’t want to commit to any long-term money beyond 2018. Well: Randle, Russell and Williams are having career years and Zubac might be a starter next season.

Suppose the Lakers did all that … and didn’t maximize the cap flexibility that came in return? It will have all been a waste, and a costly one at that.

Should the Lakers endure a summer to dismember, then they’ll be forced to scramble to pad the roster, pray that LeBron’s body won’t fail him again as he turns 36 and hope Ball, Ingram and Kuzma produce breakout seasons. That’s a lot of positive projections. It would be a best-case scenario on the heels of a worst-case scenario.

If you think the Lakers are catching hell now, well, a poor summer would mean there’d be hell to pay.

* * *

Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. 



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Kia MVP Ladder: Second straight MVP well within Harden’s reach

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* * *

The top five this week in the 2018-19 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder:

* * *

1. James Harden, Houston Rockets

 

Harden has scored 30+ points against each team this season.

Last week: No. 2

Season stats: 36.1 points, 7.7 assists, 6.5 rebounds, 2.2 steals

Harden and the Rockets host the surging Spurs tonight (8 ET, NBA League Pass) in an important game for playoff positioning for both teams. The Rockets have a chance to chase down the No. 3 seed, if they can finish strong. If Harden keeps playing the way he has, that shouldn’t be a problem. He’s been a nightmare for the Spurs, averaging 35.0 points on 52 percent shooting against them this season. The Rockets cannot afford to squander any more of Harden’s monster regular season efforts the way they did Wednesday’s 57-point outing in a loss in Memphis. The one benefit for the Rockets is Harden’s relentless grind. While “load management” is a phrase you hear often this time of year associated with star players headed for the playoffs, it’s simply not a part of Harden’s vocabulary. He doesn’t believe in holding anything back and said the Rockets have too much to play for to ease up now. So expect plenty of fireworks from Harden down the stretch of the season. 

 

2. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks

 

Can Giannis be the future face of the NBA?

Last week: No. 1

Season stats: 27.5 points, 12.7 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.3 blocks

The injury hits just keep on coming for the Greek Freak and the Bucks. First it was Malcolm Brogdon (foot), who is out for six to eight weeks. And now Nikola Mirotic (finger), who could miss weeks, though Mike Budenholzer disputed the reports that he could be out as many as four weeks. If Antetokounmpo hadn’t staked the Bucks to such a roust cushion in the standings, there might be cause for concern in Milwaukee down this final stretch of the season. Instead of panic, there should be a sense of understanding that these bumps and bruises are a part of any NBA season and the reason you operate at a high level from the top of the roster on down is to weather times like this. Antetokounmpo has to worry about making sure his own body is refreshed and recharged for what’s to come. He’s nursing a sprained right ankle of his own that has cost him the Bucks’ past to games. The absence of five rotation players will test any team, even one that has performed at the ridiculously high level the Bucks have all season. Antetokounmpo will have to crank it back up if he wants to finish on top of this list while also making sure the Bucks keep their spot atop the standings.

 

3. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors

 

Curry was certainly hot from deep against the Wolves.

Last week: No. 4

Season stats: 27.8 points, 5.3 assists, 5.3 rebounds, 1.4 steals

The clearest sign that Curry’s operating at that truly galactic level that only he and a select few others in the league can, is that he’s impacting games positively regardless of if he’s having a great shooting night or not. So profound is Curry’s impact on what the Warriors do, he changes the dynamics for both teams just by being on the court and a threat to light it up offensively. Now it certainly helps when he goes off the way he did Tuesday against Minnesota, when he scored 36 points and drained eight of his 14 shots from deep as he and fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson led the way. But he can control the action in other ways to, as he did Thursday night with his 15 points, seven assists and four rebounds in a home win over the Indiana Pacers. Finding the right balance hasn’t been much of an issue for Curry, even with all of the bodies going in and out of Steve Kerr’s playing rotation this season. The fact that Curry doesn’t have to push it every single night bodes well for the Warriors’ long-term prospects as well. They know what is needed from the two-time Kia MVP in the coming weeks and months. Even better is that Curry knows it as well.

 

4. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers

 

Embiid was ‘unstoppable’ against the Celtics.

Last week:No. 8

Season stats: 27.5 points, 13.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.9 blocks

Perhaps Embiid is right. When healthy, he might very well be the most “unstoppable player in the league.” Look at his performance this season when healthy enough to be on the floor. There is no physical match for the Sixers’ big man, who plays all over the floor on both ends at the highest level. The load management break he took out of All-Star Weekend (sore knee) was a much-needed break for a player still trying to put together a full season of action. But the way he’s played since returning has been jaw-dropping. The Sixers have won six straight, including statement wins over Boston and Milwaukee in their last two games. Embiid asserted hid dominance in both contests. He wore the Celtics out Wednesday night with 37 points, 22 rebounds, four assists and a block. He was just as good in Sunday’s win in Milwaukee, going for 40, 15, six and a block. So the next time Embiid shouts about being the most unstoppable player in the game, he might be right. He’s certainly on the right path to living up to all of the hype, self-generated and otherwise.

 

5. Paul George, Oklahoma City Thunder

 

Despite a solid game against the Heat, George has struggled lately.

Last week: No. 3

Season stats: 28.2 points 8.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2.2 steals

With the Thunder reeling right now, losers of four straight games, George and Russell Westbrook will be the guys who have to provide the solutions. The schedule does them no favors tonight, as they travel to Toronto to take on a Raptors team (7:30 ET, NBA TV) that has won two straight and remain hot on the trail of the Milwaukee Bucks for the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings. George’s individual game hasn’t been immune to the Thunder’s recent struggles, by the way. He’s shooting just 38.2 percent from the floor in his last 10 games, 32.9 percent from beyond the 3-point line. The concerns folks have had about the Thunder all season are bubbling back up to the surface now just weeks before the playoffs begin. Are they more than just their dynamic duo? And if not, can they really be anything more than a short-timer in the playoffs working solely off of the fuel George and Westbrook provide? A tough road win in Toronto could go a long way in calming down some of these concerns, at least for a day or two.

* * *

The Next Five

6. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

7. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors

8. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

9. Kawhi Leonard, Toronto Raptors

10. Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics

And five more: LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers; Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz; D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn Nets; Karl-Anthony Towns; Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

* * *

Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.



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