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.

Dunlap Has Work To Do To Keep His Job

In the 2011-12 NBA season, the Charlotte Bobcats had the worst season in NBA history. The team lost 23 games in a row in its 7-59 season, and after Head Coach Paul Silas was fired, there weren’t exactly a lot of suitors knocking down the door to try to take this team over. Owner Michael Jordan had to more or less go off the grid and hire an assistant coach from St. John’s, Mike Dunlap to be his next coach.

Unfortunately, Dunlap still really doesn’t have this team playing well, knowing that Charlotte remains the worst team in the NBA at just 12-40. However, the Bobcats are only being outscored by 8.9 points per game this year, and at least they are staying remotely competitive against some great teams.

But will Dunlap really be able to keep this job with the Cats? The team has a lot of rebuilding to do, and it is going to start with the trade of Ben Gordon, who almost certainly is going to be moved by the trade deadline, probably not for nearly as much as he would have been with had he not gotten into a spat with Dunlap last week.

The team really doesn’t have all that much in the way of superstars, and outside of Kemba Walker, there isn’t much to build around.  Michael Kidd-Gilchrist really hasn’t panned out as a Top 5 pick, and the squad isn’t getting the same type of production out of Gerald Henderson.

Most teams in the Association are just one superstar away from becoming relevant again. However, without a single playoff win in franchise history, and seemingly dysfunctional ownership that really has never hit on a big draft pick, there’s are few that would make their NBA predictions that the losing in Charlotte is going to stop any time soon.

That means that Dunlap, for as well as he has done to already almost double his team’s win total from a year ago, is probably on the way out the door within two years.

Ellis, Jennings On Trade Block

The Milwaukee Bucks are have had a rough month of February, which really erased just about everything good that the team accomplished during a 8-3 run in the month of January. Now, as a team that is hanging onto the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, there is a real question as to whether they are going to blow up the core of this team and rebuild, or whether they will hold firm with the assets that they have to bring to the table.

The truth of the matter is that the team made the bold play last year to go more offensive oriented by trading for Monta Ellis from the Golden State Warriors. The deal cost the team Andrew Bogut, who was injured at the time and only recently became a full-time contributor for Golden State.

With it though, went the identity of the team. The Bucks converted from a team that was one of the solid defensive outfits in the NBA to one that was going to try to run up and down the floor with Ellis and Brandon Jennings. What they have come to find out is that these two players are largely exactly the same, right down to their stats.

Check out these stat lines:

Jennings: .395 shooting percentage, 18.5 PPG, 6.1 APG, 3.3 RPG, 1.9 SPG

Ellis: .401 shooting percentage, 18.4 PPG, 5.5 APG, 3.8 RPG, 1.9 SPG

They’re the exact same player, and that isn’t going to win Milwaukee an NBA title.

There haven’t been many precise deals bantered around yet between the Bucks and other teams, but if we had to guess, we would make our NBA predictions on at least one, if not both of Jennings and Ellis being shipped out of town before the trading deadline strikes in another week.

Dwightmare Still Brewing In Tinseltown

Be careful what you wish for. You just might get it. Dwight Howard wanted to get away from the Orlando Magic badly over the course of the last two seasons, and now, he has what he wanted. He’s playing under the bright lights of the Los Angeles Lakers, he’s playing with some other superstars that are surefire Hall of Famers when push comes to shove. However, with the good comes a ton of scrutiny, both from the LA media and from his teammates.

Yes, matters in Tinseltown are anything but cheery at the moment, as Howard and the Lakers are just 25-28 coming into Thursday’s first-half finale against the Los Angeles Clippers. If the playoffs were to start today, LA would be left out, and it really wouldn’t even be all that close. In the second half of the season, there are still three games to be made up to catch the Houston Rockets.

From a statistical standpoint, Howard hasn’t been a tremendous disappointment this season. His 16.3 points per game are low, but he is still a monster on the glass with 11.9 rebounds per game and is one of the best defensive players in the league, averaging 2.4 blocks and 1.0 steals per night. His foul shooting has been abysmal once again at just 49.5 percent, but what else is new?

The problems with Howard have revolved around what are perceived to be little nagging injuries. First it was his back. Then it was his shoulder. Only Howard knows just how injured he really is and what needs to be done to fix it, but Kobe Bryant and the media have been on Howard’s back about getting back on the court and playing through pain to help out the team.

If we had to make our NBA predictions though, Howard and the Lakers are going to just barely get into the playoffs, only to ultimately get swept away by one of the top teams in the Western Conference. From that point, it’s up to Howard and the Lakers to decide if they want to continue their relationship and ink a long-term contract, or part ways and let the Dwightmare head to another city next season.