NIT Tournament to Experiment with 4 Quarters

Not all the news about March is about the Big Dance. Once again this year, the NIT tournament will feature several experimental rule changes in an attempt to improve the game play in college basketball. Of the experimental rules, none is more intriguing than switching from two, twenty minute halves to four, ten minute quarters. It’s a discussion that has lived within college hoops, at least on the men’s side, for some time now.

The critics have been there, and they were louder than ever after last year’s NCAA championship “foul-fest.” The NBA does it. Women’s college basketball does it. Men’s college basketball should be four quarters instead of two halves. With this change, teams will begin shooting two free throws on the fifth team foul of every quarter.

These experimental rules are being used in an attempt to better the on-the-court product. This rule, more than anything, will better the product. It will help the game flow, and it will just about eliminate games that turn into free throw contests when teams get into the bonus early in halves. If a team gets in the bonus early, they are at a huge advantage for the rest of the half. From a fan point of view, this is a rule you hope gets voted in.

Last year, the NCAA took a step in the right direction, attempting to use fouls and “segments” within a half. Each team had four fouls to give during each ten minute segment before entering the bonus. It was the right theory, but ultimately confusing. Moving to halves is much more similar to the rest of the sport and a lot more clear.

“The style of play in men’s college basketball is healthy and appealing, but the leadership governing the game is interested in keeping the playing rules contemporary and trending favorably,” – Dan Gavitt, NCAA senior vice president.

In addition to moving to quarters, the other changes include extending the three point line 1.8 inches, to meet the current FIBA distance, widening the free throw line to 16 inches, the length of the NBA, and resetting the shot clock to 20 seconds after an offensive rebound instead of the full 30. Of these rules, the shot clock reset is the most exciting, I think that will make end of game settings a lot more exciting.

All these rules could have an effect on the game flow in college basketball. A wider paint and further three point line could prevent college hoops mirroring the NBA and becoming an extended three point contest. The twenty second shot clock reset on offensive rebounds can prevent teams from dribbling out the clock in end of game scenarios. And last but not least, turning halves into quarters will make even the most foul-filled games easier to watch and less choppy. These rules won’t be able to be voted in until 2019, but we can get a preview into the future of college basketball during this year’s NIT Tournament.

NBA Needs to Overhaul Its Playoff Format

With the NBA season past it’s midway point and All-Star Weekend finished, the focus of the rest of the season turns towards the playoffs and the race for the final playoff positions in both conferences. While there have been subtle mentions in the past about a playoff overhaul, those discussions have become far more frequent over the last few days. Most NBA fans, or rational ones at least, will recall how the Western Conference is regarded as the deeper conference over the last decade plus. That has triggered some minor debates about the merits of the current playoff format. In fact, most discussions have centered around taking the 16 teams with the best records into the playoffs, instead of the 8 best from each conference. In recent days, new ideas have been brought to the forefront of the discussion and the NBA is taking it’s first look at serious talks of a playoff overhaul. Let’s take a look at some of the ideas proposed and what the best options moving forward for an NBA playoff overhaul are.

Taking the 16 best teams

The most common and long held take regarding an NBA playoff overhaul involves taking the top 16 teams and seeding them accordingly in a bracket style playoff. This would put the legitimate 16 best teams in the playoffs instead of taking the 8 best from each conference. Under this format, the 16 teams who made the playoffs would not have changed, but their seeding and their paths to the finals change a little bit. In 2015-2016 the Bulls missed the playoffs in the East, but would have nabbed the final playoff spot in this system over the 41-41 Houston Rockets. The year before, the Thunder missed the playoffs at 45-37. However, they would have been the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference that year. In reality the top 16 teams make the playoffs more often than not, but seeding and creating match-ups with a disregard for conference affiliation would make the playoffs a lot more interesting.

7-10 Seed Play-In Tournament

ESPN’s Zach Lowe first reported on the new discussions centering on a 4-team playoff format in each conference (between the 7-10 seeds) to determine playoff seeding for the 7th and 8th seeds. Under the format the 7th and 8th seeds in each conference would play and the winner would get the 7th seed. The 9th and 10th seeds would play with the winner moving on to play the loser of the 7 and 8 game to battle it out for the 8th seed in the playoffs. While this is a newer discussion brought to the table, it is still a long ways away from potentially being implemented in the NBA playoff discussion. With this plan, the NBA hopes to reduce tanking and make it more viable for teams to stay competitive for the entire 82 game slate.

There have been also some talks of expanding the lottery and including the 7th and 8th seeds in the lottery to also add additional support against tanking. Will either of those moves completely eliminate tanking for the worst teams in the league? Not entirely, but any move to make the playoff race even more competitive could go along way towards making the NBA more competitive from top to bottom. And generating more interest in the playoffs as a whole.

The NBA needs an overhaul to their playoff system. A multiple step overhaul that also gives incentives to make 9, 10 and potentially even 11 seeds reasons to stay competitive and avoid tanking are all things that can increase the overall play of the league. I am a major fan of the top 16 teams making the playoffs regardless of conference. I support a potential play-in tournament to supplement the top 16 seeding format. The top 16 teams making the playoffs and seeding them accordingly will create some interesting match-ups as the playoffs progress. Having the top 12 teams securely in the playoffs, while the next eight teams battle it out for the final four spots would generate a bigger interest in the beginning of the NBA playoffs. It would help to put an end to “tanking.” The NBA needs to address the One and Done issue, but a playoff overhaul should be the second task on the list.

It’s still a few years out, and requires a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, but I believe it would help make the NBA more competitive than it already is.

NBA Rookie Power Rankings

After a couple week hiatus, we are back with a new edition of the HG Insider NBA Rookie Power Rankings. We are closing in on the all-star break and the race for rookie of the year is becoming clearer. Markelle Fultz has still yet to return for Philadelphia, but some other rookies are becoming consistent and making a name for themselves as we are sprinting towards the finish line in year one of their careers. Without further ado, let’s dive into the rankings:

1. Donovan Mitchell – Jazz

Mitchell is once again on top of our Rookie Power Rankings, as he has been playing the best out of all of the rookies since the middle of December. He is making a push towards averaging 20 points per game for the season, and would become the first rookie to average 20+ a game since Blake Griffin’s rookie season with the Clippers. Mitchell is averaging 19.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.4 assist per game this year, and his shooting percentages are holding at a respectable clip; 44.4% from the field, 35.3% from 3 and 83.7% from the free-throw line. Mitchell will have to keep his foot on the gas in order to hold off Simmons, but so far, so good for the Louisville product.

2. Ben Simmons – Sixers

Simmons, who was leading these rankings for most of November & December, is still in the thick of the rookie of the year race with two months to go. Philadelphia is currently holding onto the 8th seed in the East, and with Simmons rounding back into form they have a chance to get hot and make a run at home court in the Eastern Conference come playoff time. Simmons, who has been vocal about being an all-star snub, is averaging 16.5 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game. If Simmons can hold his numbers steady and get the Sixers into the playoffs he has a very good chance of taking the Rookie of the Year trophy away from Mitchell come June.

3. Lauri Markkanen – Bulls

To no ones surprise the Bulls have been awful this season, but they have shown signs of promise, highlighted by Markkanen’s steady play all season long. The power forward is averaging 15.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. Along with Zach Lavine, The Bulls are showing a decent young nucleus, that could be further bolstered by a lottery pick in the 2018 draft. Markkanen has shown to be a lethal asset in pick and roll situations, and can score at all three levels. The Bulls are struggling, but they may have the next great, versatile European forward at the NBA level.

4. Kyle Kuzma – Lakers

The Lakers added an additional draft pick, and a ton of future cap space this week, but they have to be happy with the rookies and sophomores already on the roster. Perhaps no one makes them happier for their future than Kyle Kuzma, who is averaging 15.7 points and 5.9 rebounds during his rookie campaign. He has held steady shooting the ball with averages of 45.2% from the field, 36.2% from the three and 70% from the line. While he has had his share of great weeks, and poor ones, Kuzma is going to be a fixture of the Lakers plans moving forward, even if they get some big names in free agency over the next couple of summers.

5. Jayson Tatum – Celtics

Tatum may end up having the best career on this list, but as a Rookie he is playing on one of the best teams in the league, and he has sacrificed numbers for wins. The Celtics are a better team when Tatum plays well, as he is averaging 14.8 points, 5 rebounds and shoots 50% from the field in wins. While his shooting has fallen off a little bit, Tatum is already a very good NBA shot maker, and he has also been a plus defender for the Celtics, which is asking a lot of a rookie. Tatum will not win Rookie of the Year, but will win a championship before anyone else in the top 5 of this list.

6. Dennis Smith Jr. – Mavs

While Smith spent the first part of the season dealing with injuries and inconsistent minutes, he has suddenly found his stride over the last month. Over his last 10 games, Smith is averaging 15 points, 6 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game. Smith has still struggled to shoot the ball well at a consistent clip, and will have to improve in this department moving forward to take the next step as an NBA player. It will be interesting to see how he improves over the coming years, and what the Mavs will do to surround him with talent moving forward.

7. De’Aaron Fox – Kings

Fox has come on strong over the last month, after recovering from injury, and is showing sings of the player who terrorized college basketball in Lexington just one year ago. Over his last ten games, Fox has averaged 14.3 points, 4.5 assists, 2.7 rebounds while shooting 43% from the field. The Kings have continued to struggle, but Fox’s play gives Sacramento fans something to look forward to in the coming years. His role will only increase as George Hill was moved to Cleveland this week, and it will be interesting to see how he handles the extra responsibility over the last two months of the season.

8. John Collins – Hawks

Collins leads all rookies in PER at 20.12, but plays on one of the worst teams in the league. Collins has been uber-efficient for a rookie, and it will be interesting to see how he develops over the next couple of seasons for the woeful, yet rebuilding Hawks. He is averaging 10.3 points, 7 rebounds and is shooting 58.5% from the floor. With the emergence of some of the guys behind him, it will be tough for him to stay at 7, without an uptick in his current level of play, however, Collins is going to have a long and prosperous career.

9. Josh Jackson – Suns

While the Suns are still among the worst teams in the league, no rookie has improve their play over the last month than Josh Jackson. Devin Booker has missed some time hurt, and Jackson has taken advantage of the extra touches and responsibility with Booker out. Over his last ten games, Jackson is averaging 17.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in just under 20 minutes per night. Jackson has been a mainstay in the honorable mentione section all season long, but he has earned his way into the top 10 in these rankings with his recent play.

10. Jarrett Allen – Nets

If Jackson has been the fastest rising rookie of late, Allen is not too far behind him. Over the last month, Allen has seen his minutes skyrocket, and he has become increasingly comfortable with the pace of play at the NBA level with each passing game. Over his last ten games he is averaging 13.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and is shooting 68.8% from the field. He is flashing the long term potential he possesses and is turning out to be a hell of a pick for the Nets and their rebuilding efforts moving forward.

Honorable Mention:

Bogdan Bogdanovic – Kings
Jordan Bell – Warriors
Josh Hart – Lakers
OG Anunoby – Raptors
Lonzo Ball – Lakers
Bam Adebayo – Heat

Ranking James Harden’s 60 Point Triple Double All Time

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James Harden had himself a night last night in Houston. Without Chris Paul and Trevor Ariza, Harden recorded a 60 point triple-double against the Orlando Magic in a Rockets win. His final stat line was 60 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds and 4 steals. Harden was the offense or Houston, and that doesn’t mean he was a black hole. He did take 30 shots, but he was 19-30 from the floor. That is efficient for that many shots. There have been some unbelievable performances in the NBA, but Harden’s 60 point, triple-double effort ranks second in the NBA, just behind Wilt.

This will probably be an unpopular opinion. And I am not downplaying some of the best individual efforts in NBA history. Kobe’s 81 was obviously amazing. David Robinson recorded a quadruple-double in points assists, rebounds and blocks. Shaq came close to a quadruple-double in an NBA Finals game. Speaking of Finals, Bill Russell had a 30 point, 40 rebound game. You could go on and on about the historical performances in the NBA, but James tops all them. Except for one.

Let’s make it clear, the Magic are bad. The opponent always gets brought up in big time performances like this, and rightfully so. The argument can be made that Bill Russell getting 30 points and 40 rebounds in Game 7 against the Lakers pulls a little more weight than a regular season performance against a bad Magic team. However, Harden didn’t have much help either. Paul and Ariza were out. Eric Gordon only played 10 minutes and left with an injury. That doesn’t leave the Rockets with much. A supporting cast of Clint Capela, Ryan Anderson and Gerald Green is equal to the team the Magic rolled out there.

The next argument is Kobe’s 81 point game. Harden scored 21 points less, so how could his game rank #2 all time? He had 11 assists to Kobe’s 2. If you want to nitpick, Harden was a tad more efficient, shooting 63% from the floor compared to Kobe’s 60. The big thing is the assists. Harden scored 60, but assisted on 26 more points. That made him accountable for 86 of Houston’s 114 points. What’s wild is that this wasn’t the most points he’s accounted for in a game. He’s two other 50+ point triple doubles in which he tallied a few more assists. It’s weird to call James Harden efficient, but 60 points on 63% shooting and 11 assists doesn’t say “forced.”

It also should be noted that the Rockets won. This doesn’t give Harden an advantage over any of the players noted above, as they all won too, but a loss would have tarnished the performance some. What’s crazy is that this is Harden’s third 50+ point triple-double. If he scored 59 points this would just be another tally on his resume. But because it’s 60, it has this allure. James Harden is one of the greatest offensive players in the NBA today. At his current rate, he could end up as one of the greatest offensive players in league history. This performance supports that.

Cavs Need to Keep Kevin Love as Second Option When Thomas Returns

October was a month to forget for the Cleveland Cavaliers. With so many changes to their roster, the Cavs struggled to gel right out of the gate. They looked like five individuals on the court instead of a team. However, thanks to a thirteen game win streak, Cleveland is sitting at 24-10 and first place in the Central Division. Oh, and they are still waiting for their point guard to play.

Increased production from a number of people led to the Cavaliers turnaround. Yes, Lebron James is and always will be the driving force behind this team, but the most important player so far this season has been Kevin Love. Averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds a game, Love looks like the all-star Cleveland traded for years back.

The biggest reason for the transformation has been the departure of Kyrie Irving. With Irving gone and Isaiah Thomas out, Cleveland needed a second option to help Lebron. This need for scoring gave Love something he never really had in a Cavalier uniform: freedom.

Being a third option is hard. Your touches are limited, and you are expected to produce high output with a smaller amount of touches than you’re accustomed to. Any NBA fan saw Love struggle in this role. Many NBA players do struggle in this role. But this year is different. This year Love is the number two guy, and he is rewarding Cleveland.

Love’s great start to the season is a call to head coach Ty Lue. With Isaiah Thomas getting closer to return, Kevin Love needs to remain the second option behind Lebron. While the idea seems easy, the actual doing could prove to be tough. Thomas is coming off his best season as a pro by far. He is in a contract year, will have the ball in his hands as the point guard, and you know is just itching to make his mark in Cleveland. While Thomas is not a selfish player by any means, putting the ball in a score-first point guard’s hands could take touches away from everyone else.

Coming off a career year and being asked to play third fiddle is a rough thing to handle for an elite competitor. However, as difficult as this may be, Thomas needs to do so for the betterment of the Cavaliers. Love has showed what he can do when given the keys. His numbers are Hall of Fame worthy, whereas Thomas is looked at as more of a “one hit wonder.” Being the point guard, Thomas will also be able to affect the game in a non-scoring way more than Love can from the four position.

The Cleveland Cavaliers appeared to have found their groove. Despite the slow start, they are looked at yet again as the team to take down in the Eastern Conference. While adding another all-star to this hot team may seem like having your cake and eating it too, every player needs to understand their role coming out of the integration. Lebron is still King, and Kevin Love needs to be second in command. It just has to happen.