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Starting 5: Al Jefferson Isn’t Getting Left Behind

The Starting 5: A look at some of the best hoops content from around the Internet

1. Al Jefferson refuses to let the NBA run past him – Adi Joseph, Sporting News

As one of the last of a dying breed of big men, Al Jefferson is as interesting as they come in the NBA, as interviewed by Joseph. He has been a problem for opposing teams in the post for a decade now and has apparently kicked his fried chicken habit, losing nearly 20 pounds. While “muscle watch” is a common theme for almost every player’s off-season, it seems that Jefferson has truly slimmed down to stay healthy. With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, arguably the Hornets’ most important player out for the majority of the season with a shoulder injury, it’s up to Jefferson to help carry the Hornets to one of the last spots in the playoffs.

2. The Jazz are rising fast, but is a leap in store? – Paul Flannery and Tom Ziller, SBNation

The Utah Jazz had a positive net rating (offensive points per 100 possessions – defensive points per 100 possessions) last season despite finishing with a 38-44 record. By now it’s common knowledge that this is due to their near historic post-Enes Kanter-era leap in which they went 19-10 and had a net rating of 5.4, the 5th-highest in the league.

There are issues in Utah, however, as Trey Burke will probably start as the lead guard. Burke has been disappointing so far and needs to play at a decent level if the Jazz expect to make the jump to the playoffs. They will, however,  have one of the most talented front courts to lean on, as Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert are immensely talented.

3. The Present And Future Of Durant’s OKC Is Already In Place – Keith Smith, RealGM

The upcoming season is the most important in the history of the young Oklahoma City Thunder franchise—not including the Seattle years—due to pending free agency of Kevin Durant. It’s not exactly breaking news that teams will be lining up to offer Durant whatever he wants next summer, but the Thunder have done almost everything they could have up to this point to keep the former MVP, except for one insignificant trade that is rarely referenced.

The Thunder’s projected lineup features five players that were drafted by the team, something no other team can claim. The team cashed some of their assets for players that were thought to give a better chance to win now, although whether they will actually help the team win now has yet to be seen. The final piece the team added is a coach they hope will have the same effect that Steve Kerr had on the Warriors last season.

4. Sam Hinkie has us right where he wants us – Austin Peters, Hardwood Paroxysm

I’ve been a proponent of what Hinkie has been doing in Philadelphia for a while, though, he could have gone about doing certain things differently.  And I’m unsure why it took him three seasons to realize he might want a viable point guard, but I’m interested in what he’s done with the team up to this point. The team already has one player that seems like he’ll be able to anchor a good defense for the next decade or so in Nerlens Noel, another big man that has rare offensive skills in Jahlil Okafor and then there’s whatever Joel Embiid can give when (or more importantly if) he gets healthy. The 76ers also have a stable of first-round picks from teams that have a chance of finishing outside the playoffs. The 76ers, more than anyone, have the tools necessary to pull off a trade like the Rockets did with James Harden, and if they choose to do so, they’ll instantly become one of the most interesting teams in the league.

5. How to Win (or Lose) at Playoff Basketball – Mika Honkasalo, Nylon Calculus

Playoff basketball is a different animal than the regular season. The game slows down, defenses prevail and rebounds matter more, or at least that’s what we’ve always been taught. According to the post at Nylon Calculus, some of these things are true, defense matters slightly more than offense and games have slightly fewer possessions in the playoffs, but Honkasalo debunks some of the other narratives.

Although it’s true that the playoff games are normally slower, the pace actually increased during this year’s playoffs (some of that can be contributed to the “Hack-A” strategy that naturally creates more possessions). While defense matters slightly more in the playoffs, being a better rebounding team doesn’t correlate to more wins in the playoffs. Although some of the information in the post can be daunting at first glance, it’s always better to have more information than less.

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