Mo Williams Nearly Back From Injury

Twenty-four games into the NBA season, Mo Williams went down with a thumb injury. Little did he know that he would be spending the better part of three months on the shelf for the Utah Jazz. The timetable isn’t quite definite for when the point guard will be returning to the fold, but we know that it will be sooner than later, giving the Jazz a real boost in their push for the playoffs in the Western Conference.

The timing couldn’t be better for Williams. He was averaging 12.9 points and 6.7 assists per game when he was the starting point guard for this team, but he has since been replaced by Jamaal Tinsley, who has been ineffective at best.

The Jazz currently sit in eighth place in the Western Conference, and they are one of the five teams that are separating by just a total of five games in the standings. Three will get into the second season. Two will be left behind.

Utah has had problems on the road all year long, as demonstrated by its 11-19 ATS mark and its 10-20 SU record. The team is on the road for the next three games, facing the Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, and New York Knicks before coming home for three of the next our and heading out for three more in the Lone Star State. Williams’ return would be a huge boost for the team.

Williams joined the Jazz this year in the offseason after playing for the Los Angeles Clippers for a season and a half. Making NBA picks is going to be a heck of a lot easier with Williams in the fold than to be counting on Tinsley, who should immediately go back to the bench and become a reserve player once again for this playoff-hopeful club.

DeRozan Helping To Carry Raptors

The Toronto Raptors made the boldest play of the trading season, picking up Rudy Gay from the Memphis Grizzlies. Many figured that would make the men from the Great White North instant contenders to get into the playoffs in the weak Eastern Conference. It isn’t going to happen in all likelihood after a four-game losing streak to end February/start March, but this is still a team that many won’t want to mess with down the stretch.

DeMar DeRozan has quietly become a huge success for the Raptors. He is having the best season of his four-year career, averaging 17.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game. Many figured that when Gay came to take, DeRozan would fall off of the map, but that just hasn’t been the case.

Over the course of the last nine games, DeRozan has continued his push as one of the most underrated scorers in the NBA. He has averaged 19.7 points per game since February 12th, putting him on one of the better runs for players in the Eastern Conference since that point.

Unfortunately for Toronto, it hasn’t been the best team to make NBA picks on down the stretch. The team has failed to cover four in a row, and DeRozan is seemingly doing better in games in which the team isn’t covering than when it is. The Southern Cal native has averaged 19.2 points per game over the course of the last six that the Raptors haven’t covered. He is only averaging 17.3 points per game in the last four in which they have beaten the spread.

DeRozan is setting a career-high for scoring (17.8 PPG), rebounding (4.1 RPG), assists (2.5 APG), steals (1.0 SPG), and free throw shooting percentage (83.1%) this season, and if he can carry this into next season with Gay, the Raptors might ultimately become one of the scarier teams in the East.

Beal, Lillard Move To Head Of NBA Rookie Class

With the second half of the NBA season underway, it’s worth taking a look at the emerging stars of this year’s rookie class and the potential impact they could have on their teams moving forward.

Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards and Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers are considered by most to be at the head of this season’s freshman class. They have consistently played the best basketball among this year’s rookie crop and will need to be accounted for when making any further NBA predictions.

Beal has regained his top form since returning to the starting lineup after being sidelined for five games because of a wrist injury. He poured in 28 points in a win against the Milwaukee Bucks last week and added 25 points in a loss to the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday. He is averaging 13.5 points a game this season and was named the NBA Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for both December and January. Those honors were accrued mostly without having point guard John Wall in the lineup, who has since returned and provided a spark to the Wizards.

Given its poor straight-up record, Washington has been largely disregarded by bettors and that has resulted in an excellent 31-19-2  record against the spread this season. Beal’s continued emergence as a top rookie, combined with a healthy Wall, should continue that positive trend for the Wizards.

Lillard is the de-facto NBA Rookie of the Year at this point following a brilliant first-half that’s seen the point guard from Weber State average 18.4 points, 6.5 assists and 3.2 rebounds a game for the Blazers. He’s helped keep Portland on the periphery of the Western Conference playoff race, but it remains to be seen whether the small-college product can continue this type of production for a full rookie campaign.

French Lead Foreign NBA Stars

Over the course of the last decade or so, we have seen an insurgence of basketball players into the NBA that have come from overseas. Today, we’re listing off some of the best internationally born players that are now in the NBA.

When the international phase started in the NBA, there were a ton of players coming from countries like Croatia, Lithuania, and the likes. However, some of the best NBA internationals right now are coming from France. Tony Parker and Joakim Noah are both clearly amongst the best 50 players in the NBA at the moment, and they are arguably the two best international players that the league has to offer.

Nicolas Batum of the Portland Trail Blazers also has to be considered a Top 10 international player from France.

England’s Luol Deng is still doing the job for the Chicago Bulls as a big man alongside of Noah. Parker has a pair of great international teammates as well in Tim Duncan (from the Virgin Islands) and Manu Ginobili (Argentina). The Spurs are making for great NBA predictions this season, and they broke the record this year for the most internationally born players on an opening day roster with eight.

Pau and Marc Gasol are both brothers from a Spanish international team that is chock full of NBA players. Serge Ibaka has to be considered on this list of international stars in the NBA as well. Honorable mentions clearly have to go out to Jose Calderon and Ricky Rubio.

The New Orleans Hornets have done well with Greivis Vasquez, who is the most notable Venezuelan to make it to the NBA.

It’s tough to limit this list to just 10, as we haven’t even mentioned some of the names from Montenegro. This countries has given us the likes of Nikola Pekovic and Nikola Vucevic.

Tyreke Evans Is A Forgotten King

This has been another lost season for the Sacramento Kings, who currently sport the second-worst record in the Western Conference. That lack of team success has left many to forget about the play of Tyreke Evans, who just three seasons ago was named the NBA Rookie of the Year.

Evans has been largely overshadowed this season by the ongoing antics of DeMarcus Cousins, who in addition to being the team’s leading scorer remains a suspension waiting to happen. The arrival of Cousins two seasons ago has helped to suppress Evans’ numbers this season. Following a switch from small forward to shooting guard this season, Evans is averaging a career low in points (15.3 a game) and assists (3.2 a game).

Despite that drop in production, Evans remains one of the league’s top talents and the only consistent player for the struggling Kings. He was drafted by the Kings out of Memphis with the No. 4 pick in the 2009 NBA Draft and went on to earn Rookie of the Year honors by averaging 20.1 points a game with 5.8 assists and 5.3 rebounds in 2009-2010.

While the numbers are down this season, Evans has made a fluid transition to the shooting guard position opposite Isiah Thomas. Evans is shooting a solid 48 percent from the field this season, though he continues to struggle from behind the arc. He is a career 26 percent shooter from three-point range, but has been better this year while connecting with 32.7 percent of his three-balls.

With the first half of the season in the books, handicappers are looking ahead and formulating their NBA predictions for the stretch run. There has been some speculation that Evans could be dealt prior to the trade deadline. If that does happen, you can expect the Kings to continue their spiral into the NBA’s Western abyss.