Philadelphia 76ers

NBA Power Rankings: Eastern Conference on the rise

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USA TODAY

NBA Power Rankings: Eastern Conference on the rise

The slow and gradual shift of power to the Eastern Conference seems to be complete. The East has a clear top eight teams and their top-three teams are arguably better than the West's top-three following the additions of Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler to the conference. 

In the Western Conference every team besides the Phoenix Suns are at least 4.5 games back of the No. 1 seed. The Clippers have started to gel in the post-Blake Griffin era, with veterans Danilo Gallinari and Tobias Harris helping lead an elite offense with many ways to attack opponents.

The Warriors will continue to be uneven without leader Stephen Curry but Kevin Durant can do enough playmaking—averaging a career-high 6 assists per game this season—to make up for the temporary absence of Curry and Draymond Green. No one feels sorry for the Dubs, as we are nearing the point of the season where all 30 teams have at least one major contributor dealing with ailments.

Philadelphia’s roster is still due for a roster move or two after the Jimmy Butler trade to take their roster to its full potential. Butler has sealed a couple games with game-winning shots already and he makes the Sixers a real threat to win the top-heavy Eastern Conference

Seeing which Eastern Conference teams provide the most trouble for the Warriors will be a recurring theme all season long as NBA fans thirst to see a new NBA Finals matchup.

The Warriors play the Magic, Raptors and Pistons this week. This should allow us to see how the Dubs match up against some of the stronger squads in the East, including a potential NBA Finals preview in Toronto.

Check out how the league's power structure shakes out in our latest rankings here.

Justin Holiday's breakout year could make him a valuable trade asset

Justin Holiday's breakout year could make him a valuable trade asset

On Wednesday, KC Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reported that the Bulls veteran players are being made available in trade talks. And Justin Holiday specifically, has the skill set to enhance many of the league's best franchises. 

In the Bulls one-point loss to the Denver Nuggets, Chicago hit 16 of their 34 3-point attempts, with Justin Holiday accounting for roughly 15 percent of the makes.

The Bulls have so far become a close to a league average offense, a huge step for a team that was bottom-three in terms of offensive efficiency last season.

Holiday has made himself into a player that can provide tremendous value to an offense and is enough of a gamer on defense to make sure he isn’t a net negative, provided the proper structure.

Holiday is such a solid veteran presence that is would probably benefit the Bulls to keep him around such a young team. But whether he makes it through the rebuild or not, it is clear that Holiday has found his niche in the league.

At 6-foot, 6-inches, Holliday has solid length for the shooting guard position. He has made himself into an awesome offensive player, due to the shifting of majority of his offense to the 3-point line, like Miami's Wayne Ellington, who takes over 70 percent of his shots from 3-point range. Holiday is averaging 11.6 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists with 1.4 steals per game. 

Because of Zach LaVine's ball-dominant role, Holiday has a career-low in terms of usage rate this season (13 percent). This yet another factor that shows how much more effective Holiday can be when playing next to star players (or more accurately players with inredibly high usage rates). This extends to both sides of the floor, though his defensive benefits haven't been on display much on this year's Bulls team.

Holiday's defense doesn’t hold up well against bigger forwards and he has been tasked with guarding players like this (think LeBron James, Tobias Harris, etc.) for much of the last three seasons. This comes from the fact that the last time Holiday wasn’t on the small-forward-thin Bulls, he was playing for the New York Knicks, who had the defensively-challenged Carmelo Anthony and the average, if uninspiring Lance Thomas playing ahead of him.

When Holiday plays on a team with solid perimeter defense, he is allowed to be aggressive and trust his instincts.

In his lone year with Golden State Warriors (small sample size alert) Holiday posted a 3 percent steal rate (a high figure for that metric) and has not achieved a number near that since the 2015-16 season. And while his defense is solid, he is not a game-changer.

The Bulls need game-changers and Holiday is not that. He is a player who would defensively work best on a team with a sound defensive concept, which Chicago does not have. This season there has been more than one moment in which you can see Holiday visibly frustrated with the team's on-court performance. At 29 years old and with less than 15 minutes of playoff experience, it's understandable.


All that being said, if you are adding Holiday to your roster, you aren’t doing it because of his playoff experience (or lack therof) or value on defense. You are adding him for his versatile fit. Holiday has evolved his skill set to the point where he can fit in with almost any team, but he would specifically open things up for some of the teams around the league that consider themselves contenders. Here is a look at the two best fits for Holiday from the Eastern and Western Conference respectively:

Philadelphia 76ers:

Philadelphia has built their successful offense around the talents of Joel Embiid and uber-unique point forward Ben Simmons. Neither player is a above average 3-point shooter, so the offense’s effectiveness comes from the fact that head coach Brett Brown throws out so many capable shooters around the dynamic duo.

This year, the Sixers have taken a step back on offense. This is partly due to the implementation of another non-shooter (Markelle Fultz) to the rotation and partly due to Dario Saric’s shooting from outside falling off of a cliff. They are in need of a bigger fish, but a solid 3-and-D wing would do wonders for their team.

With Philadelphia having enough size to hide players like J.J. Redick, assimilating Holiday would be easy. And just like in Houston, Holiday would be encouraged to shoot from 3-point range more than ever, despite already averaging a career-high in attempts.

If you look at two-man lineup information for the Sixers, the numbers of the Simmons-Fultz combination stand out. The pair currently has a 88.5 offensive rating, dead-last among the Sixers most played two-man groups. That figure would be a catastrophically low number for a modern NBA team, and what it represents is the fact that the Sixers can not sustain a capable offense with those two on the floor together.

Splitting up the amount of time Simmons and Fultz spend on the floor together should be Philadelphia’s top priority this year. And to do that, they need more players who can guard the one-through-three positions on defense while being extremely aggressive from 3-point range. Enter Justin Holiday.

With the Sixers cupboard still full of interesting draft picks despite being a contender, the time would be now for them to acquire additional veteran shooters to push their offense back to 2017-18 levels.

Houston Rockets:

The Rockets re-emerged on the national stage behind the talents of superstar James Harden and their to-the-extreme four-out, one-in offense that features getting up a hefty amount of 3-pointers. As of late, that offense has tailed off, and this is mostly due to the drop off among their group of role players.

After the loss of competitive two-way players like Luc Richard Mbah Moute and Trevor Ariza, the Rockets find themselves hurting in more ways than one.

Houston is still the best team in the league in terms of 3-point attempt rate, but their percentage of 3-point makes has dropped precipitously (33 percent this year vs 36 percent last year).

The absence of James Harden in a couple of games has obviously played a factor, as he was attempting over 8 3-pointers per game when he went down. If Harden's hamstring issues persist longer, Houston will need shooting guard help, unless they want to find themselves desperate for wins upon his return. 

The Rockets have shown that they are willing to give up draft picks in a trade (see the proposed Jimmy Butler deal), and it is almost too easy to see Holiday fitting into their 3-point happy offense and switching defense. If his shooting percentage from deep holds up, Houston and Chicago would make ideal trade partners.

Could Ryan Arcidiacono be in line for more minutes?

Could Ryan Arcidiacono be in line for more minutes?

The Bulls backup point guard situation will be in dire straits all season, with no established veteran behind Kris Dunn. And although the front office has seemingly committed to Cameron Payne as the backup PG (for at least this season), Ryan Arcidiacono showed enough in the season opener to justify giving him meaningful plying time in the rotation. 

Here are the stat lines of Arcidiacono and Cameron Payne from the season opener in Philadelphia:

Arcidiacono: 8 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds, 2-for-3 from the 3-point line

Payne:           0 points, 5 assists, 1 rebound, 0-for-1 from the 3-point line

With so many capable ball handlers and score-first players on the Bulls, point and assist totals aren’t as important as the rebounds and 3-point attempts. To provide the necessary space needed for driving lanes, there has to be openings in the defense caused by defenders sticking close to player they believe are a threat to shoot.

And that is where the problem lies with Payne.

Ryan Arcidiacono—while by no means a dominant scorer—showed a willingness to attack off of the pick-and-roll, even showing off an impressive ball-fake:


Payne, despite coming into the league with the reputation of a scorer, has yet to be aggressive enough to make teams think twice about leaving him wide-open on the perimeter. And he is not one to attack the basket with purpose, averaging less than half a free throw per game for his career. Payne's general lack of aggressiveness when on the floor is often times made worse by his occasional poor post entry passes that seem predetermined:

Even if the above play was designed to get the ball to LaVine in the mid-post, Payne chooses a terrible time to make the pass. When he starts the motion to give the ball to LaVine, Ben Simmons is positioned in front of LaVine to force a tougher pass, as rookie Landry Shamet gambles over the backside to get the steal.

Had Payne chose to swing the ball around the perimeter, or give it to Bobby Ports and then get it back, he could have created an opening for the LaVine pass.

Obviously, the Bulls 19-point loss can’t be blamed on solely on Payne, the terrible defense was a group effort, as was the sometimes questionable shot selection. But with the defense already appearing to be perhaps one of the league's worst units, Fred Hoiberg would be wise to put Arcidiacono in more.

Hoiberg is in a crucial year where he needs to show that he can be the head coach of this team when they finally become competitive.

And for Hoiberg to show that type of growth as a coach, he needs to set the tone that minutes are earned not given, something he has already started with his moving of Jabari Parker to the bench. Payne only received 22 minutes, compared to 28 minutes for Arcidiacono, and it is tough to see that changing if things continue on like they did on Thursday night.