Joel Embiid’s younger brother passes away

Philadelphia 76ers rookie Joel Embiid’s younger brother, Arthur, died Thursday, the team announced. Embiid will not attend the 76ers’ preseason game Thursday night against the Boston Celtics. Sixers head coach Brett Brown, general manager Sam Hinkie and forward Luc Mbah a Moute will miss the game, as well, to be with the young Kansas product. “We obviously consider members of our organization as a huge family,” 76ers director of public relations Michael Preston said, via CSNPhilly.com. “When something of this nature occurs, it trumps a game. Our hearts, prayers and thoughts go out to his entire family.” Assistant assistant Chad Iske will take over head-coaching duties in Brown’s absence. Embiid, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft, is expected to miss most, if not all, of this season as he recovers from foot surgery. Photo via Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports ImagesFiled under: Boston Celtics, NBA, Philadelphia 76ers, Top Stories, Zack Cox

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Doug McDermott Will Force Chicago Bulls to Find Real Role for Him Right Away

The Chicago Bulls aren’t going to hand major minutes to sharpshooting rookie Doug McDermott.

That isn’t the style of head coach Tom Thibodeau, nor is it a common practice among any NBA team holding even the faintest championship hopes. The fact that McDermott’s debut coincides with that of celebrated rookie Nikola Mirotic only compounds the issue.

As Thibodeau has been quick to point out, per K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, championship rotations typically don’t have room for two first-year players:

If Thibodeau has hesitations about playing a pair of rookies, though, that won’t be McDermott’s problem. The 22-year-old has left little doubt he is capable of playing a meaningful role for Chicago already this season.

At his essence, he is a scorer. Broken down even further, the guy is a lights-out shooter.

“McDermott is one of the best three-point shooters in the annals of the NCAA,” wrote Bleacher Report’s Kelly Scaletta. “Per Sports-Reference, of players who attempted at least 500 threes in their collegiate careers, his long-range shooting percentage of 45.8 is fourth-best all-time.”

McDermott’s four-year stay at Creighton could only be called legendary. He was a high-volume, high-production player as soon as he stepped onto campus, and over the course of his career, he managed to increase both categories plus clean up his efficiency.

He does more than score—he averaged 7.0 rebounds and 1.6 assists last season—but the Bulls can employ him as a shooting specialist right out of the gate.

“So far, what I’m seeing from Doug, in the USA setting and summer league, is his ability to shoot,” Thibodeau told reporters at the start of training camp, via ESPN Chicago’s Nick Friedell. “And I see how people react to his ability to shoot. When you have someone like that, it opens up the floor.”

The Bulls managed to scrape by largely without a three-point attack last season. Their 34.8 perimeter percentage ranked 24th overall, which was the lowest among all 16 playoff teams. That success rate wasn’t negatively impacted by an abundance of attempts either. In fact, only the New Orleans Pelicans (15.9) and Memphis Grizzlies (14.0) averaged fewer than the Bulls (17.8).

Chicago won’t be merely trying to survive at the offensive end this time around—not with former MVP Derrick Rose back leading the attack and four-time All-Star Pau Gasol forming arguably the NBA’s best passing frontcourt combo with Joakim Noah.

The Bulls have the chance to field an elite offense. They were fifth in offensive efficiency during the 2011-12 campaign, and this group looks deeper on paper than that one.

Having a marksman like McDermott on the floor only adds to the potential potency. The more defensive attention he draws as a shooter, the wider the driving lanes for Rose become. Real estate comes in equal abundance for Gasol’s post offense, Jimmy Butler’s off-ball cutting and Taj Gibson’s rolls to the rim.

McDermott can play that role right now. That isn’t me making that claim; it’s his 44.4 three-point success rate at summer league and his preseason 42.9 three-point percentage saying he’s ready. It’s the short-term memory he has already shown, having followed up a dismal 3-of-12 effort from the field in his second game with a 16-point, 5-of-8 shooting performance two games later.

“His nerves are calming down,” Rose said, per ESPN Chicago’s Nick Friedell. “Getting more confidence with the way that he’s playing, knowing that he’s able to take shots whenever he’s open. He’s going to be a big part of this team.”

The long ball alone won’t secure McDermott that “big part,” of course. Luckily, it isn’t the only trick in his bag.

He has an underrated knack for creating his own shots, which will be a valuable tool when he isn’t logging minutes beside Rose, Gasol or Noah. McDermott is capable of taking defenders off the dribble, comfortable banging with them on the low block and crafty getting himself to the free-throw line, where he was an 87.0 percent shooter his final two seasons at Creighton.

As Bleacher Report’s Dylan Murphy observed, McDermott has enough in his arsenal to attack any type of defense:

As an offensive player, his three-point range, off-the-dribble capabilities and clever post-up game provide him with the kind of versatility that makes him valuable to any type of offense. 

If he gets matched up against a smaller player, he can walk him down to the block and take advantage with his strength and well-groomed back-to-the-basket repertoire. If he’s guarded by a bigger player, his quickness and ability to stretch the floor can cause serious problems.

McDermott’s offensive versatility will allow him to fill a number of different roles depending on which players are surrounding him.

“Doug can play off of people,” Thibodeau said, per Comcast SportsNet’s Mark Strotman. “You can also run stuff through Doug, so I think you can play him with either unit and he’ll fit well.”

McDermott’s ability to adapt to different situations will be the key to keeping him on the floor. Despite the fact his offensive skills seem to mesh so well with the rest of this offense, he will need to constantly prove himself at every step.

That isn’t a knock on him, just a reflection of the short leash with which Thibodeau has typically handled rookies.

During his four seasons at the helm, four players have made at least 40 appearances during their rookie years. Two of them, Jimmy Butler and Marquis Teague, saw fewer than nine minutes a night. Omer Asik held a small rotation role in 2010-11, playing a little over 12 minutes per game. Tony Snell saw 16 minutes of action a night last season, but his contributions fluctuated wildly as largely an injury replacement.

Obviously, the Bulls like McDermott, otherwise they wouldn’t have parted with a pair of first-round picks to get him. And their three-point collection needs his touch, even with newcomers like Mirotic and Aaron Brooks helping to bolster the ranks.

But McDermott needs to prove he can limit his mistakes and make a relatively seamless transition into the middle of a championship chase. The Bulls want to see him clear this hurdle, but they’re still going to force him to jump.

“I know there’s a steep learning curve,” Thibodeau said of playing rookies, via the Chicago Tribune‘s K.C. Johnson. “You can’t do it at the expense of winning or losing games. It’s important they earn their time. I think they will as we go along. How much, I don’t know yet. But shooting is one of the areas we wanted to address, and I think we’ve done that.”

While the Bulls will welcome the new offensive help, they won’t sacrifice their defensive identity to get it.

That puts the onus on McDermott to show well at that end of the floor, but his teammates can help him get there. He doesn’t need to be a lockdown defender, just someone who understands how to take advantage of that proven system and individual defensive talent already in place.

“I think I still have a ways to go to to learn the terminology and get on the same page with some of these guys,” McDermott said, per Bleacher Report’s Sean Highkin. “I think I can become a good defender, especially a team defender.”

McDermott isn’t your “typical” rookie.

He understands how to play the game, a gift stemming from both being the son of a coach and having spent the last four years playing it at a high level. He also knows what he brings inside the lines, which will help him maximize his strengths and work around his weaknesses.

While none of this will spare him from the “typical” rookie challenges, it will allow him to produce some atypical results for a Thibodeau-coached rookie.

McDermott will have to earn every minute he gets, but with his shooting touch, intelligence and competitive edge, he has all the weapons needed to secure a significant role in the rotation.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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Grizzlies giving away ‘Z-Bow-Ties’ to fans

See, they’re bow ties with Z-Bo on them.

      
 

 

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Memphis Grizzlies Will Give Away Flip-Flops vs. Los Angeles Clippers

The Los Angeles Clippers are known around the league for flopping, with superstars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin the most notable offenders. 

So when the Clippers come to Memphis on Feb. 27, 2015, the Grizzlies will have a special treat for fans. 

According to the team, Grizzlies Flip-Flops will be handed out to the first 5,000 fans to show up to FedEx Forum on that Friday night. 

This isn’t just a promotion on a whim; this goes back to the face-offs of the 2012 and 2013 Western Conference Playoffs, where each team took a series win. During these playoff series, a rivalry was born with the Grizzlies constantly frustrated with the Clippers’ flopping tactics

It seems the Grizzlies have some ground to stand on, as we’ve found plenty of evidence to support the Clippers’ love of flopping.

Chris Paul deserves an Oscar for this one: 

For a man who weighs about 250 lbs, Blake Griffin goes down quite easily here: 

So good on you Grizzlies; way to have a great sense of humor.  

[YouTube, ProBasketballTalk]

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Pros and Cons of Boston Celtics Starting Marcus Smart Right Away

The sky is the limit for Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart. A tenacious rookie out of Oklahoma State, Smart was selected by the Celtics with the No. 6 overall pick in the draft for one obvious reason: Boston feels he could be a cornerstone for the future of the franchise.

The question is, should the C’s start Smart (try saying that five times fast) alongside Rajon Rondo right out of the gate, or should they exercise patience and allow him to grow off the bench?

Taking into consideration the fact that the Celtics re-signed Avery Bradley to a four-year, $32 million deal this summer, per Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe, you would think the plan is to bring Smart off the pine due to the amount of money Bradley will be making. However, take a second look at that contract. It’s for four years. Does anyone seriously believe that Boston aims to keep Smart in a reserve role for four seasons?

That’s what makes this decision a bit debatable and why it is prudent that we weigh the pros and cons of the C’s immediately throwing Smart into the fray as a starter.

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Pros and Cons of Andrew Wiggins Starting Right Away for Minnesota Timberwolves

When the 2014-15 NBA season tips off, there’s still no telling where Andrew Wiggins will be. 

At least we know what team he’ll be playing for, as he’s officially joined the Minnesota Timberwolves following the trade that sent Kevin Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers. But beyond that, everything is up in the air, as Minnesota head coach and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders won’t commit to starting Wiggins. 

According to Andy Greder of the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Twitter (h/t CBS Sports’ Zach Harper), Saunders was “noncommittal on Andrew Wiggins starting” during a radio appearance. 

That’s fine.

There’s plenty of time remaining—as well as training camp and preseason—before the Timberwolves have to make any sort of decision as to Wiggins’ role during the opening salvo of his rookie season. Rushing into a choice would be foolish.

But what’s in the team’s best interest? We can determine that much at this stage, even if that doesn’t lock Wiggins into the starting five or onto the pine. 

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NBA Insider: Trading Away Taj Gibson Could Be The Difference Maker

The Chicago Bulls find themselves in a unique situation, they have two valuable starting power forwards on their team and there’s a ‘sense’ one of them isn’t happy. To be clear, there is no official report stating Taj Gibson is unhappy (like from his mouth), but you’d have to imagine that the acquisition of Pau Gasol pissed him off a little bit.
After the amnesty of Carlos Boozer, Gibson was the front man to sign Carmelo Anthony. Appearing at the United Center for Anthony’s visit, if the Bulls signed Melo then Taj would have instantly become the starting power forward.
Things didn’t work out that way, Pau Gasol was signed instead and Taj finds himself as the backup power forward, nothing has changed.
Trading Gibson Could Be The Difference
According to a report, Yannis Koutroupis of Basketball Insiders thinks trading Gibson could get the Bulls a few more pieces to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers and win the Eastern Conference.
“It just makes the most sense for both parties to see if there’s som

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John Calipari gives away beds, pillows to Kentucky fans camping out Big Blue Madness

Five students got Tempur-Pedic mattresses because, apparently, their sleeping setup at Tent City really needed an upgrade.

      
 

 

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Don’t Be Surprised When Nerlens Noel Runs Away with Rookie of the Year Award

Nerlens Noel spent his first season as a professional athlete in anonymity, taking a redshirt year to recover from a torn ACL. That’s about to change in a big way.

More than any incoming player who will carry the “rookie” designation this season, the Philadelphia 76er is poised to make an instant and significant impact in the NBA.

Consider his college career: Though Noel only played 24 games at Kentucky before a torn knee truncated his season, in that short time, he made a powerful argument that he has the requisite tools to be a difference-maker at the game’s highest level.

Simply put, the Wildcat was a defensive dynamo. In 31.9 minutes a night in Lexington, the freshman averaged 4.4 blocks and a stunning 2.1 steals. The combined figure, according to Waiting for Next Year, is the third-highest total in college hoops since 1999-2000.

These numbers suggest he’ll fit in fine in the Association. According to Kevin Pelton’s Wins About Replacement Player projection system, Noel profiled as the top player in the 2013 class.

The steal figures are particularly instructive here. In Pelton’s historical database, in addition to Noel, only three post players notched a steal rate of two percent or higher. “Steal rate tends to be an indicator of quickness that translates at the NBA level,” Pelton wrote.

More good news: Not only are steals suggestive of the sort of athleticism required to make hay in the NBA, but swipes, as FiveThirtyEight’s Benjamin Morris argued in March, are also much more consequential than is widely understood. So buy some Noel stock now.

The fact that he tore his ACL also doesn’t figure to lower his ceiling in any meaningful way. Pelton, then writing for Basketball Prospectus, found that NBA players who suffered an ACL tear suffered pretty minor downticks in production the season they returned to the floor. And younger men, not surprisingly, appeared to heal faster. Twenty-one-year-olds saw just a 2.7 percent reduction in total performance after the injury.

Furthermore, according to Pelton, the stuff that Noel does really well—generate steals and rebounds—tends to be unaffected by the injury.

There’s also reason to think Noel will be less affected by his ACL than most: When the forward steps on an NBA floor for the first time, he’ll be 20 months removed from his last basketball game that counts in the standings. Far as I can tell, this will be the lengthiest recovery period in recent league history.

In fact, though it’s counterintuitive, Noel’s ACL might have made him more prepared to succeed from the first whistle. All last season, he enjoyed the tutelage of Sixers coach Brett Brown and the rest of Philadelphia’s ace developmental staff. (Brown, for the uninitiated, was the Spurs‘ director of development when a couple of guys called Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were learning the game.)

During this time, rather than being rushed into action—where bad habits and mechanics can calcify—Noel had his mediocre jumper broken down and rebuilt from the ground up. A common site before 2013-14 Sixers games was Noel taking 18-footer after 18-footer while Brown patiently watched and counseled him.

In the NBA Summer League, where Nerlens made his unofficial debut (the first Noel?) the tantalizing possibility of his game came closer into focus. In short: he dominated Orlando and Vegas—and did so in a way that married the best aspects of his college game with the new tricks he learned while apprenticing with the Sixers a season ago.

“His defensive presence was sensational in person,” CBSSports.com’s Zach Harper wrote after watching Noel protect the rim like a pit bull in Vegas.

“He’s been the most explosive big man on the floor in each game he’s played in,” gushed Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Wasserman.

“His length and leaping ability make him an intimidating force in the paint,” added ProBasketballTalk’s Kurt Helin. “The guys on the Sixers bench were counting the number of shots Noel altered and said it got into double digits before they lost track.”

Encouragingly, he also showed improvement as a shooter. After knocking down just 52.9 percent of his free throws at Kentucky, according to Wasserman, he hit 15 of his first 20 freebies over the summer. He showed bolstered skills as a shot-creator as well.

Awed by the sheer force of his play, a consensus quickly and correctly formed around the forward: This guy is ready to play. Now.

Noel’s game—and his counting stats—should benefit from Philly’s run-and-gun offense, too. The Sixers played at the fastest pace in the NBA in 2013-14, which is a perfect fit for Noel’s athleticism. This isn’t a methodical, grinding, half-court system that will underscore Noel’s lack of offensive polish. Philly plays fast-break basketball. And that’s a style the gazelle-like Noel is equally suited for.

Taken together, it feels like Noel is on the precipice of a monster rookie season.

“Watch him on defense and you begin wondering how he wasn’t the top pick in that draft,” a scout told Harper in Vegas.

After this year, that’s a question more people around the league will be asking themselves.

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How Far Away Is Andre Drummond from Becoming the NBA’s Best Center?

Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond can already see the peak of his position.

Perhaps that’s a reflection of his freakish blend of size and athleticism. With a 6’10″ frame and 33.5″ max vertical, per DraftExpress, there isn’t much that flies above his field of vision.

Then again, maybe this is something different. Maybe it’s not a simple observation of his physical gifts, but rather the way he has put them to use over his first two NBA seasons.

After dazzling with per-36-minute production as a rookie (13.8 points and 13.2 rebounds), the hulking big man upped the ante his second time around.

With his leash extended to 32.3 minutes a night, he bullied his way to 13.5 points and 13.2 boards as a sophomore, posting monstrous per-game marks of 18.4 and 17.4, respectively, during the month of April.

In the process, he pulled back the curtain on one of the league’s worst-kept secrets: His ascension to the top of the center spot is a matter of when—not if.

 

Where Does He Currently Rank?

Before plotting the path that lies ahead, it’s imperative to first take stock of his current standing.

The 21-year-old has a total of 141 games, 91 of them as a starter, under his belt. He’s a toddler in NBA years, a standing best captured by the blood-red, raw state of his offense.

His range is almost entirely dependent on his arm length. If he can’t reach the basket, he might struggle to put the ball inside it.

However, that isn’t necessarily a hindrance to his production. He understands his limitations and plays to his strengths. His shot chart, courtesy of NBA.com, shows a player who knows where he is most effective and rarely strays outside of his comfort zone:

Of his 479 made field goals last season, 427 of them came within three feet of the basket. He only made 14 jump shots the entire campaign (he took 77), relying largely on dunks (183), layups (177) and tip-ins (78) for the bulk of his production.

Some centers have the benefit of a deep bag of offensive tricks at their disposal.

Drummond is not one of them. He’s more specialist than skill player at the moment.

“Drummond’s offensive style still is primarily lob and dunk, or crash and tip,” wrote MLive.com’s David Mayo. “He has to add to the package, but that takes time. His post moves require sustained work and big men typically develop more gradually, over longer periods, than perimeter players.”

The slow pace of his seasoning seems like it should stifle his stat sheet, but its actual effects have been harder to spot.

Stack his numbers against the top centers in the game, and Drummond‘s more than hold their own:

So, what do those statistics say about Drummond‘s ranking?

To oversimplify things, the guy is really, really good. He had an average ranking of 4.2 across those six categories, which was topped only by DeMarcus Cousins and DeAndre Jordan (both 4.0).

Of course, those particular areas don’t account for everything these players bring inside the lines.

It doesn’t show the skillful, creative passing of Joakim Noah and Marc Gasol, or the walls around the basket put up by Brook Lopez and Roy HibbertNBA.com indicates the latter two finished first and second in opponents’ field-goal percentage at the rim (minimum seven such shots faced per game).

It does, however, highlight how little room is left between Drummond and the current elite centers.

Bleacher Report slotted the Pistons bruiser eighth among all centers in its 2013-14 season rankings. That feels just about right for where he’s at right now.

As for where he’s going, that might be as low as he sits for a long time.

ESPN Insider Bradford Doolittle (subscription required) found that Drummond had the highest projected wins above replacement (11.5) for the 2014-15 campaign. The statistic, courtesy of ESPN, is “an estimate of the number of wins a player adds to a team’s bottom line above what would be expected of any easily acquired talent from outside the NBA.”

In other words, Drummond could already be the game’s most impactful center next season. That’s a terrifying thought considering the massive room he has left for growth.

 

How Can He Improve?

Finding the right comparison for Drummond isn’t easy. Guys with this combination of size, speed, strength and explosiveness don’t come around often.

That hasn’t stopped people from looking for a precedent, though, and the names most often mentioned spotlight his tremendous potential.

Last February, ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton (subscription required) wrote, “Drummond’s first 46 games have put him in the conversation with Dwight Howard and Shaquille O’Neal.”

Upon first glance, that seems incredibly hyperbolic. Howard has booked eight All-Star trips during his 10 seasons in the league. O’Neal is a Hall of Fame lock who had 12 All-Star selections and won four NBA titles during his storied career.

Even those feeling bullish about Drummond‘s stock might have a hard time mentioning his name alongside these two. The numbers, however, say they shouldn’t.

Drummond‘s career 22.3 player efficiency rating checks in right between what O’Neal (25.7) and Howard (18.3) put up during their first two seasons in the league. Howard has a narrow edge in scoring (13.9 PPG to 11.1) and rebounding (11.3 RPG to 10.8), but Drummond has the advantage in both when viewed through a per-36-minutes lens (14.6 and 14.2 to Howard’s 14.4 and 11.7).

O’Neal‘s numbers are on a different level (26.4 points and 13.5 boards per game), but he came to the NBA after three seasons spent at Louisiana State University.

Drummond played just a single season of college ball at UConn, while Howard jumped straight from the preps to the pros.

Simply put, Drummond is beginning his career in very impressive fashion. That’s what makes charting his future forecast so enticing.

His raw gifts have taken him this far, but he needs to start expanding his repertoire.

He has been developing his post game, hitting 56.2 percent of his hook shots last season after connecting on only two of 11 attempts as a rookie. He doesn’t need to become a dominant back-to-the-basket scorer, but his quickness should yield more points out of the post than it has.

And while he’s been a disruptive defender (career 2.1 blocks and 1.5 steals per game), he has had trouble with individual matchups. 82games.com indicates opposing centers racked up a 19.2 PER against him last season, a number that is far too high given his physical gifts.

Some of these improvements should happen organically, a process ideally hastened by his Team USA experience this offseason.

As Pistons coach-president Stan Van Gundy told Pistons.com’s Keith Langlois, repetition will help Drummond learn the finer points of the game:

Instincts, to me, come with experience. You look at a lot of the great point guards in the league and if you track it all the way back and figure out how much basketball they’ve played from being young kids, the things that look instinctual really come from hours and hours and hours of experience. They’ve seen things over and over and become expert at it. It’s the same defensively.

With the national team, Drummond has some expert teachers at his disposal.

He can lean on DeMarcus Cousins to learn the importance of leverage and proper footwork. He can watch how Anthony Davis uses every bit of his length to be a defensive force and aggressive offensive finisher. He can see the benefits of giving nonstop energy from watching Kenneth Faried and Mason Plumlee.

Add those lessons to what Drummond has already figured out, and you’re left with a blossoming big man ready to ascend the ranks of the NBA’s center position.

Of course, once he has reached that pinnacle, he’ll have to continue improving to hold off those coming for his crown.

 

Protecting the Throne

The professional sports world is a humbling place. For every current great, there’s always a batch of young bloods eager to take their spot.

Considering Drummond just passed his 21st birthday, his focus should be on the road ahead—not his rear-view mirror.

Still, his peripheral vision should pick up on those likeliest to compete with him for the No. 1 spot.

If a bigger, stronger Davis moves to the center position full-time at some point, that could end whatever run Drummond will have enjoyed at the top of the totem pole. After all, Davis is the league’s “next in line,” according to what reigning MVP Kevin Durant told Pelicans.com’s Jim Eichenhofer

He’s also only 21 years old.

Assuming Davis logs more time at power forward, Drummond will still face some stiff competition.

If Cousins commits more to the defensive end, he could be a devastating two-way force. The Philadelphia 76ers feature a pair of physical freaks in Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid, both of whom could be top-flight players by the time the franchise is ready to compete.

More threats could be on the way soon, as the 2015 draft class features a pair of intriguing center prospects in Duke’s Jahlil Okafor and Kentucky’s Karl Towns. Those players have some time to reach to the big stage, but Drummond‘s rapid rise shows how quickly guys can climb the ranks.

Still, this position should be Drummond‘s to hold in the very near future. He’s closer to the top than some may think, and it feels inevitable that he will clear those final steps in the next few seasons.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.

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