5 Questions the Sacramento Kings Need Answered During the Preseason

While the preseason may not count in the standings, it’s still an important time for franchises like the Sacramento Kings to gain information that can be used in the regular season. 

It’s a time when questions about the rotation, filling voids from the previous season and integrating new players into the system can be worked on. For the Kings, they need to find answers in all three categories.

The team needs to figure out how to divvy up minutes between a packed yet inexperienced backcourt. There needs to be a balance between playing the best players but not at the cost of youngsters who are still in the developmental stages of their career.

The same can be said of a power forward position that has many options, although more experienced, who need to be woven into the game plan.

There are questions about the offense, particularly replacing the scoring that was lost when Isaiah Thomas moved on to the Phoenix Suns. Along with that comes integrating new players into the system who were brought in to help fill that void.

All of those things will be important in determining how the regular season plays out. So while the preseason doesn’t count, it’s far from meaningless.

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5 Questions the Sacramento Kings Need Answered During the Preseason

While the preseason may not count in the standings, it’s still an important time for franchises like the Sacramento Kings to gain information that can be used in the regular season. 

It’s a time when questions about the rotation, filling voids from the previous season and integrating new players into the system can be worked on. For the Kings, they need to find answers in all three categories.

The team needs to figure out how to divvy up minutes between a packed yet inexperienced backcourt. There needs to be a balance between playing the best players but not at the cost of youngsters who are still in the developmental stages of their career.

The same can be said of a power forward position that has many options, although more experienced, who need to be woven into the game plan.

There are questions about the offense, particularly replacing the scoring that was lost when Isaiah Thomas moved on to the Phoenix Suns. Along with that comes integrating new players into the system who were brought in to help fill that void.

All of those things will be important in determining how the regular season plays out. So while the preseason doesn’t count, it’s far from meaningless.

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What Detroit Pistons Need from Andre Drummond This Season

The Detroit Pistons have missed the playoffs the past five seasons, and they will need a monster season from Andre Drummond to have a chance at ending that drought. 

Though last season’s Pistons were a major disappointment, Drummond was their lone bright spot. In just his second NBA season, he averaged 13.5 points, 13.2 assists, 1.6 blocks, 1.2 steals and had a player efficiency rating of 22.65. And at 6’11″ and 279 pounds with phenomenal athleticism, the 21-year-old projects to be one of the best big men in the league for years to come.

Drummond was part of the gold medal-winning Team USA squad this summer, and he’s already shown the ability to change games at both ends of the court. But he must be more consistent and assertive this season. If he doesn’t play like one of the best 25 players in the NBA, the Pistons will almost certainly find their season over when the postseason begins.

 

Increased Offensive Role

In his second season, Drummond scored over 13 points per game and shot 62.3 percent from the field, but he was little more than an afterthought in the Pistons offense.

Playing next to Brandon Jennings, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith, he was at best the team’s fourth option. Almost all of his baskets came around the rim—701 of his 769 field goals (91.2 percent) came from within five feet of the basket, per NBA.com. And most of that action came from finishing lobs or putting back offensive rebounds, not on offense that Drummond created on his own.

None of that on its own is a bad thing. Drummond‘s ability to finish around the rim keeps his defender from leaving in help defense. And being a very good offensive rebounder helps the Pistons get extra possessions. But at this point, his low-post game is almost nonexistent. 

If Drummond can develop his game to the point where he has a couple of effective post moves, not only will he score more points, but he’ll also command more double-teams. That in turn will free up shooters and make the Detroit offense more effective overall.

Drummond‘s ability to knock down free throws also must improve from his first two seasons. He’s never made more than 41.8 percent of his freebies. If that doesn’t increase, it won’t really matter how much his post game has developed—teams will just be able to send him to the line. And he’ll be too much of a liability for Stan Van Gundy to use him down the stretch of games.

Drummond doesn’t need to be a dominant low-post scorer this season for the Pistons to make the playoffs. But he does need to be a bigger part of the offense; he needs to be good enough down low for opposing teams to worry about him scoring in one-on-one situations. And he needs to knock down significantly more free throws to keep those teams honest.

 

All-NBA Defensive Team-Type Season

When you watch Drummond play basketball, it’s easy to fantasize about a young Shaquille O’Neal and the dominant scoring ability that comes with the comparison. But Drummond‘s potential to change games is currently much greater at the defensive end.

His physical tools make him look like a taller version of Dwight Howard: a three-time Defensive Player of the Year. He has everything necessary to become an elite shot-blocker who can also defend any opposing big man one-on-one. He has the rare combination of lateral quickness, leaping ability and strength that can make him the best defensive player in the league.

The Pistons need him to make big strides this season toward becoming that player. 

Drummond is already on this end of the court, if on raw ability alone. His season in rebounds, blocks and steals has been duplicated only 13 other times (by seven total players) in NBA history, per Basketball-Reference.com. That alone tells you just how unique of a defensive talent Drummond is; men of his size should not be able to do the things physically that he is capable of.

But for Drummond, it’s a matter of getting better at defensive fundamentals, which may not show up in a stat sheet.

For one, Drummond was a pretty mediocre one-on-one defender last season. Opposing centers posted a PER of 19.2 against him last season, per 82games.com. As a premier shot-blocker, Drummond was susceptible to biting on shot fakes, which led to easy baskets or drawn fouls. He too often was exposed as a defender by veteran players, as was the case in a December loss to Howard and the Houston Rockets.

Howard scored 35 points in 40 minutes on 13-of-18 shooting, the bulk of which came against Drummond. It was arguably the young center’s worst defensive performance of the season and the best piece of evidence to show that physical gifts can only take a player so far.

“It was a baptism NBA-style, a trial by fire of the worst and most painful kind,” Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News wrote following the game.

To be fair, Drummond improved throughout the season, as you’d expect from a 20-year-old. And his defense was good enough this summer to impress arguably the best defensive coach in the league.

“He’s gotten better and better,” said Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, per Keith Langlois of NBA.com. “He’s done a great job here. There’s a lot of things he does you really can’t teach—great instincts around the basket, his ability to react to the ball and protect the rim.”

That is the kind of player the Pistons need on a nightly basis. They need the rim protection. They need the forced turnovers. They need crisp rotations. And they need a guy who can go toe-to-toe with the best big men in the league and come out ahead.

With the type of numbers he puts up and a relatively weak Eastern Conference, it would be a bit of a surprise if Drummond was not an All-Star this season. And if Thibodeau is correct, then votes for the All-NBA Defensive teams should also come.

That is the kind of performance the Pistons will need from Drummond if they plan to make some noise this season. Not too much to ask from a player who just turned 21, right?

 

Jakub Rudnik covers the Detroit Pistons as a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.

Follow him on Twitter.


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5 Questions the Los Angeles Clippers Need Answered During the Preseason

The NBA preseason has arrived, and the Los Angeles Clippers have some questions to address.

The Western Conference is stacked with talent. Los Angeles will attempt to navigate through it to an NBA Finals berth. 

Before that journey begins, the Clippers will look for answers. Over the offseason, Los Angeles rejuvenated its already-strong rotation with some veteran pieces and young talent. 

Now’s the time to begin putting them all together. 

The following questions are just some that weigh on the minds of anyone with an interest in Clippers basketball. They’re in no particular order, but each have significance in determining if a title run is feasible. 

Everything in Clipper Land begins with Chris Paul, so that’s where we’ll start. 

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5 Questions the Los Angeles Lakers Need Answered During the Preseason

Preseason results have no bearing on regular-season performance. It doesn’t matter that the Los Angeles Lakers took a 40-point beatdown at the hands of the Golden State Warriors.

What these exhibition games do provide, however, is a chance for guys to audition for new roles, for new teammates to figure out how to play with one another and for the team to put the new philosophies of Byron Scott into practice.

There are myriad questions swirling around the team this preseason.

Here are five that need answering.

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4 Questions the Phoenix Suns Need Answered During the Preseason

It’s preseason time for the Phoenix Suns, which means that head coach Jeff Hornacek has the next couple of weeks to play with various lineups and address some of his questions about the roster.

Though winning in the preseason is not always associated with regular-season success, the games are important nevertheless. This is the first opportunity for fans, as well as the front office, to see the players in action under the spotlight. 

The Suns also currently have 19 players on the roster, a number that will have to be cut down to 15 by the season opener against the Los Angeles Lakers. However, with 15 players already making guaranteed money in the 2014-15 season, you can bet that the other four are out of luck. In some seasons there are battles for roster spots, but this year it’s all about fighting for minutes and increased roles. 

Here are some of the questions that should be answered over the next several games. 

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Do the Pacers Need to Revamp Their Defense?

The title is indeed an interesting question. Over the last 10 years, the NBA has become what pickup elitists and old-timers consider a glorified layup line because of rule changes designed to promote the offensive side of the game. Defense hasn’t at all vanished in the NBA—last year’s Pacers and Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls are obvious defensive stalwarts fans bring up—but the tempo and pace of the NBA has changed almost singlehandedly due to rule changes. The elimination of hand checking isn’t exactly real. Take a look at Paul George chopping Damian Lillard as the latter makes his way to the basket last year: A brief aside: in most professional realms, complacency and normalcy (really, a sense of satisfaction with the real) are both associated with a lack of desire to succeed. It fuels the greed to seek the most ambitious individuals on the planet to occupy positions in all levels of professional services in America—there is simply more energy put into what is next than what exists in …

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Ric Bucher on Which NBA Teams Need to Get Their Priorities Straight

The NBA season is almost upon us, and certain teams are already starting to have their offseason strategies called into question. Which teams need to get their priorities straight, and which teams are not getting enough credit?

Ric Bucher gives his choices when he speaks to Adam Lefkoe in the video above.

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Watchability: Davis’ Pelicans need the playoffs

The Pelicans need to do something this year with all their vast talent.

      
 

 

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What Boston Celtics Need from James Young This Season

Head coach Brad Stevens’ second season with the Boston Celtics should feature plenty of question marks, and rookie swingman James Young might actually be the biggest.

Young, who ended up in green after falling to No. 17 in the 2014 NBA draft, is a high-upside swingman but is just 19 years old.

On top of that, Young missed the entire Orlando Summer League, so he’ll be heading into his rookie campaign with just the preseason under his belt.

In years past, this would not be that big of a deal. Under Doc Rivers, the Celtics rarely relied on rookies, preferring to let them develop slowly.

However, the mid-rebuild C’s are going to try a variety of lineups and will likely look to get Young and fellow first-year guard Marcus Smart immediate minutes in the rotation.

This means Young will be facing expectations right away. 

He may be raw, but if Young hits the ground running, he could potentially help Boston exceed expectations in what many anticipate to be another lost year.

Let’s take a look at what Stevens and the Celtics need out of the Kentucky sharpshooter and whether it’s possible he delivers.

 

Any Semblance of Outside Shooting

If there is one thing Boston absolutely needs from Young, it is three-point shooting. 

With Rajon Rondo, Evan Turner and Smart all set to see major minutes, the team’s outside shooting could be grizzly. 

Both Jeff Green and Avery Bradley can make open threes, but neither are volume shooters who should be jacking up five or six triples per game.

Young only shot 34.9 percent from three in college, which is troubling, but he’s a threat from anywhere beyond the arc.

He’s equally adept above the break as he is from the corners, which is key.

He can’t necessarily nail tough off-the-dribble shots, but as a rookie, he’ll be doing the vast majority of his work without the ball in his hands. 

Young has the potential to be a legitimate catch-and-shoot threat who can help create driving lanes for players like Bradley and Rondo.

Boston was tied for 27th in overall three-point percentage at 33.3, something that must improve.

The Celtics aren’t suddenly going to become the San Antonio Spurs or Golden State Warriors with Rondo and Turner throwing up bricks, but if this offense hopes to show any sign of life, it will need more perimeter shooting.

Even if the other aspects of Young’s game don’t come together in year one, his season will be a success if he can log 12-14 minutes and hit 35-plus percent of his threes.

 

A Positive Disposition

Let’s be realistic: Young could exceed all expectations, and the Celtics would still wind up losing a lot of games in 2014-15.

Going from the NCAA national championship game to the NBA lottery would be a rough adjustment for any player, especially a teenager like Young who has been a winner his entire career.

On another level, Young will have to go through the same trials and tribulations as any first-year player.

When asked if he would be comfortable going to the D-League to receive heavy minutes, Young told MassLive’s Tom Westerholm, “Definitely not.”

He elaborated, “If it happens, it happens. But I just want to stay here and get better like that.”

Wanting to stay around the Celtics makes sense, but his aversion to the D-League is troubling.

A raw athlete like Young, who needs to work on his strength, defense and playmaking, would be wise to log some time against lesser competition. 

As a 6’6″, 215-pound wing, Young would be eaten alive by some of the league’s bigger 2s and 3s.

Had Young actually been drafted by a playoff team, he likely would see very sporadic playing time and potentially an extended stay in the D-League.

Just because the Celtics could struggle this season doesn’t mean Young deserves to get starting or sixth-man minutes. 

Boston also simply has a logjam in the backcourt, and Young is near the bottom of the food chain.

According to ESPN’s depth chart, Young is the C’s third 2-guard behind Bradley and Marcus Thornton.

If that stays the same, he will likely be seeing sub-double-digit minutes for much of the season.

Obviously, a potential injury could bring Young to a more prominent role, but overall, he needs to stay patient during what could be a rocky rookie year.

 

Consistent Aggression

Even if Young winds up receiving consistent minutes from the beginning of the season, there is still serious potential for him to drift in and out of games.

That simply cannot happen.

While Young is commonly known as a sharpshooter, he is at his best when he’s attacking the basket.

As you can see by his shot chart (below), Young is roughly as effective shooting from mid-range and driving to the hole as he is gunning from distance. 

Obviously, it will be harder for him to get into the paint against NBA defenders, particularly with his scrawny frame, but he needs to attack as much as possible.

Young only got to the line 4.4 times per game at Kentucky, a number he must improve on if he hopes to become a starting-caliber player in the league.

Boston already has players, like Green and Bradley, who have a tendency to settle for tough, long two-point jumpers instead of driving to the hole, a habit Young cannot get into early on.

If he runs the floor hard alongside Rondo, he should find himself with some easy looks, and while he’s not an elite dribbler, he has a decent enough handle to create some of his own offense.

If Young truly wants to avoid a prolonged trip to the D-League, he must be aggressive on offense at all times even if it hurts his field-goal percentage and leads to some questionable decisions.

Boston was 26th in the league in points per game last season (96.2) for a reason, and the biggest thing Young can do to fix that is to just to look for his shots when available.

The Celtics lack a clear first option offensively, and while Young won’t take on that role, he could alleviate some of the pressure faced by Green, Rondo and Jared Sullinger

 

Overall

Young is not going to be the Rookie of the Year or anything close to it, but he’s far from an afterthought.

The Celtics are talent-strapped enough that every player has the potential to play a major role, and Young’s upside makes him highly intriguing.

His skills, in theory, could help Boston’s woeful scoring issues, but only if he can make the most of his limited action and be prepared for trips to the D-League to see some extra burn.

Figure Young plays in roughly 55 games and averages something along the lines of 6.3 points, 1.7 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 17 minutes per night.

In the end, Young will have a turbulent first season but will show enough promise that he becomes a key cog of Boston’s rebuild.

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