If it seems like there are more NBA fans this year rooting for their teams to lose than there are NBA fans rooting for their teams to win, the 2014 NBA Draft class is probably to blame. With so many potentially franchise-altering players up for grabs, teams view this season as the one to blow in favor of young talent in the draft, but a couple of recent reports indicate that the pool of talent may get a little shallower.
According to Dana O’Neil of ESPN.com, University of Kansas star Joel Embiid, considered by many to be the most likely No. 1 overall selection in this summer’s draft, could return to the Jayhawks for at least another year, while Sam Smith of Bulls.com believes that many NBA executives are getting the impression that Duke’s Jabari Parker—another top-three hopeful—also will not declare for the 2014 draft.
Both guys have their reasons. Embiid, for one, is extremely raw and can’t even drive a car yet. Parker, meanwhile, is not a typical blue-chipper in that he sincerely values education more than many realize.
Whatever the case may be, these are two guys who could opt out of heading into the draft despite a near-guarantee that they’d be top-three picks. Chances are, they’d be top-three picks again next year, but history has proven that this isn’t always the case. Here is a look at a handful of players that lost money and slipped down draft boards because of where they were selected.
1. Jared Sullinger, Ohio State – Selected 21st in the 2012 draft by the Boston Celtics, Sullinger was targeted as a top-three pick after the 2010-11 NCAA season in which Ohio State was the No. 1 team in the country, but with a love for college life and the uncertainty of the 2011 NBA lockout, Sullinger ended up returning to the Buckeyes just long enough for a back ailment to knock him two-thirds of the way down the first-round draft board.
2. Perry Jones, Baylor – Like Sullinger, Jones would’ve been a high lottery selection had he come out after the 2010-11 NCAA season, but even ignoring the lockout issues, Jones was coming off a postseason in which he was not able to play in the NIT because of a rules violation involving an AAU coach assisting Jones’ mother financially while the son was still in school. He thought an extra year would show how much better he’d gotten on the court and that he’d be able to redeem his reputation, but that decision knocked him from top-five one year to almost out of the first round completely the year after. He and teammate Quincy Miller were the saddest faces in the room that night, by a mile.
3. Terrence Jones, Kentucky – Obviously, Jones is having a pretty incredible season with the Houston Rockets, but the kid went from potential lottery pick after his freshman campaign to the 18th pick the following year, due largely to the fact that 2011-12 was the year in which John Calipari brought in four of that year’s top 25 high school prospects. More depth meant lower numbers for Jones, whose draft stock suffered as a result of his wanting to win an NCAA national championship (which, for the record, he did).
4. Chase Budinger, Arizona – Despite the fact that Budinger actually had a better junior season in 2008-o9 than he did sophomore season in 2007-08, Budinger slipped to the 44th overall selection in the 2009 NBA Draft after being projected as a mid-first rounder the year before. He even declared for the draft in 2008, but pulled out at the last minute. He’s had a respectable career despite being picked so late, but he could’ve seen a lot more guaranteed money earlier in his career if he had come out when his stock was at its highest.
5. Roy Hibbert, Georgetown – Because of his size (7’2) and talent, Hibbert had lottery potential in 2007 after being named to the All-Big East First Team. He had a huge game in the Big East Conference Championship that year and even helped lead the Hoyas to the Final Four, but he always wanted to play four years at Georgetown because that’s what all the great centers had done before him at that school. If four years were good enough for Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo, four years were good enough for him. Indiana has been a great fit for him, clearly, but he could’ve been a top-10 pick in 2007 and instead was the 17th overall selection the following year.
6. Joakim Noah, Florida – After winning his first national championship with Florida back in 2006, Noah was pegged as a top-three pick in the following summer’s draft, with the Chicago Bulls particularly eager to bring him aboard with their No. 2 overall selection. Noah, however, comes from money and loved college life in a way that few young men in the history of college have ever loved college life, so there was zero pressure for him to do anything outside of his own desires, which at that point was to win another championship for the Gators. He ultimately did, then declared for a much more stacked draft the following year. It was a year late, but the Bulls got their guy, this time with the ninth overall selection rather than the second.
7. Glen Davis, LSU – Tigers teammate Tyrus Thomas was certainly able to capitalize on the Final Four success of LSU the summer following their impressive 2006 tournament run, but Davis, unconditioned and exposed at integral times in that playoff, decided that another year in college would solidify him as a sure-thing first round pick in 2007. The Boston Celtics selected him at the top of the second round the following year, so it didn’t work out quite the way he’d planned. Despite that, his career has lasted longer than Thomas’, who was the No. 4 pick in the 2006 Draft.
8. James White, Cincinnati – It’s not that James White got worse over his five (count’em… five!) seasons loitering around college basketball facilities in Florida and Ohio, but after 2003-04, his first full season with Cincinnati after redshirting the previous year, the legendary leaper’s stock was probably at its highest. He may have been a lottery pick that following summer based on potential alone, but the longer he played, the more he showed exactly what he was. And let’s face it; teams aren’t always stoked about drafting players that are almost 24 years old. It’s no wonder he dropped to the second round.
9. Chris Duhon, Duke – After the Blue Devils won the national championship in 2001, Duhon looked like the kind of smart young point guard a team could build around, and as such he was regarded as a potential lottery pick at the time. Coming out of high school, Duhon was considered a much more electric and exciting player than people likely remember him now, and at that age his talent and promise almost certainly would’ve landed him a first-round gig somewhere. He’s one of the best point guards in Duke history with some incredible career numbers, but despite the fact that he got better with age, scouts saw his ceiling lower every year he stayed in school, and that’s why he ended up getting picked in the second round back in 2004.
10. Toby Bailey, UCLA – Unlike some of the other guys on this list, Bailey did not have anything even remotely resembling a successful NBA career. After scoring 25 points as a freshman starter in the 1995 Championship game, Bailey would have been a likely lottery pick the following summer had he opted for the draft. Instead, he played his full four years as a Bruin, got drafted by the L.A. Lakers in the second round of the 1998 NBA Draft, and averaged 3.3 PPG over two seasons with Phoenix before falling out of the NBA forever.
Would Embiid and Parker regret waiting another year or more to enter the draft? There are certainly players on this list who would tell them not to wait, but there are others who are perfectly happy not only with what they did in their extra year(s) of college, but also with the team that ended up drafting them. Noah and Hibbert, for example, wouldn’t trade their college experiences and wouldn’t want to play for any other team in the world. Bailey and White, in retrospect, may have chosen to do things a little differently.
Whatever happens, Embiid and Parker returning to school would shake up the 2014 draft class significantly, potentially setting up the 2015 class to be even more exciting and tanktastic than this current one is.
Miami’s Youth Supporting HEAT’s Early Season Success
While much Miami’s early success can be attributed to the team’s system and the play of superstar Jimmy Butler, much of the credit also goes to three of the HEAT’s younger players. Drew Maresca recently caught up with them to speak about how its youth has helped drive the team’s success.
Expectations for the Miami HEAT have varied a lot since LeBron James left for the greener pastures of Cleveland in 2012. Many felt that the HEAT had finally climbed out of the basement when they swung a deal for Jimmy Butler this past off-season, but doubts about their depth and their lack of a true second option remained.
Well, the doubters obviously failed to factor in the HEAT’s rookies performing as they have.
While they do not boast one of the league’s youngest rosters (25th overall), the HEAT have succeeded through the first 20-or-so games by playing young, inexperienced players. In fact, three of the HEAT’s top seven minute-getters are essentially rookies – Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn. Herro is a true rookie, Nunn went un-drafted in 2018 and played all of last season with the Santa Cruz Warriors (Golden State’s G-league affiliate) and Robison played most of 2018-19 with the Siox Falls Skyforce (the HEAT’s G-league affiliate) — but also appeared in 15 games with Miami.
Now, it’s not terribly unusual for rookies and young players to crack a team’s rotation. But when most people consider rookies playing major roles, they typically think of teams that are somewhere in the process of a rebuild – not a team in third place in the Eastern Conference. As of Dec. 9, the HEAT are the only team in the league with a .700 winning percentage or better to feature more than one rookie and/or second-year player as top-seven minute getters.
While this is a pretty impressive feat, it speaks to the HEAT’s organization and its culture. After all, the Miami system is notorious for its player development. Looking back at its past successes and reclamation projects, the HEAT’s system was responsible for reinvigorating a number of players including Dion Waiters and Chris Anderson.
And more importantly, the HEAT are lauded for providing one of the very best cultures in the entire league. The best example is head coach Erik Spoelstra himself, who has now been with the organization for 23 years, famously beginning as a video coordinator in 1995. At the top, Spoelstra preaches defense and ball movement, which leads to success for all.
The team’s youngsters have already taken note of the special vibe around the HEAT locker room. Robinson recently told Basketball Insiders that the Miami coaching staff and veterans deserve most of the credit for their early successes.
“It shows leadership,” Robinson said. “We have some guys, obviously UD (Haslem), Jimmy (Butler) and other guys that are good secondary leaders, and taking us younger guys under their wing…guys like Justise (Winslow) and Bam (Adebayo).”
Robinson elaborated on the importance of absorbing as much as possible from the team’s coaching staff and veterans prior to training camp. “Us three (rookies) were around all summer,” Robinson said. “It’s only my second year as part of this program, but I feel like I’ve learned so much and come so far in that time.”
But while team leadership deserves some of the credit, it’s also due to the rookies themselves – who have taken on whatever role they’ve been assigned. Tyler Herro spoke with Basketball Insiders recently about coming off the bench for the HEAT, which represents a very different – and some might say, reduced – role compared to the one he owned last year at Kentucky. But that’s not how Herro sees it.
“I look at it as I’m still seeing starter minutes,” Herro said. “I’m not concerned with coming off the bench. I try to come in and give no empty minutes and play my absolute best.”
It’s hard to say if the HEAT select players with strong personalities and positive attitudes, or if that’s learned from Spoelstra and the team’s veterans. But either way, players like Herro enter their rookie seasons and make the team look incredibly savvy.
“I think (coming from Kentucky) helped a lot,” Herro continued, while – again – complimenting his new team and coaching staff. “My teammates at Kentucky and Coach Cal and his staff prepared me for this. But I also think that the (HEAT) staff and my teammates here pushed me to where I’m at now, too.”
Herro and Robinson have flourished in the HEAT’s system so far. Robinson is averaging 10.9 points on 42.5 percent three-point shooting in 26 minutes per game. Herro is averaging 14.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists over 29 minutes per game.
And then there’s Kendrick Nunn. Nunn is a pleasant surprise for the HEAT, scooped up immediately following last season. Despite slumping of late, Nunn is averaging 15.3 points, 3.4 assists and 2.5 rebounds in 30.0 minutes per game — good for third in scoring and second in assists, making him a major (surprise) Rookie of the Year candidate.
In addition to how well the three HEAT youngsters are playing, they are all incredibly close – especially so considering the short amount of time they’ve been teammates. And that stands to benefit Miami both this season and beyond.
“We’re best friends,” Herro said of his relationship with Nunn while sitting immediately next to Robinson in the Brooklyn Nets’ visiting locker room. “We like to see each other have good games. We don’t pay attention to the media or try to out-do one another.”
“Generally, we got a great group of guys who like each other and we enjoy each other’s success,” Herro continued. “So that makes it easier for everyone to perform at the highest level.”
But friendships aside, they play well when sharing the court.
“I feel like, as a team, we are at our best when Tyler and I are out there and aggressive,” Robinson said. “So we just want to continue to do that and translate that into wins.”
There are still improvements that need to be made in Miami, though.
For example, the HEAT are only 4-6 against teams above .500. Further, they’re lost all four games they’ve played on the tail end of back-to-backs. While you can point to fatigue as a culprit, you can also blame it on a lack of experience and stamina – and the latter two will improve over time. But the scary part is, while there is room for growth, they are already so far ahead of the curve.
Just imagine what they might look like in a year.
But let’s remain focused on this season: And in 2019-20, the HEAT are in the favorable position of having young talent supporting established stars like Butler and Dragic. While they are well-positioned for the future with Winslow, Adebayo, Herro, Robinson and Nunn, they are also built to compete now. Just don’t bother asking them about the team’s goals.
“We talk about goals, of course,” Robinson said. “But that stuff stays between us in this locker room. At the same time, we understand that the day-to-day is far more important. You want to keep the big picture in mind, but you’ve got to take care of what’s on your plate first.”
So we’ll have to wait and see how much they develop and what they ultimately do in 2019-20. But one thing’s for sure – the HEAT are on track to greatly exceed expectations.
And they just might do so in a big way.
NBA Daily: Davis Bertans Joins Ranks Of NBA’s Elite Marksmen
Not even his most ardent supporters knew what the San Antonio Spurs were losing and Washington Wizards were gaining with Davis Bertans. Nearing two months into the season, he’s suddenly among the best shooters in basketball. Jack Winters writes.
Not even the best shooter in the world can inform his team’s effectiveness from beyond the arc alone.
The assumption otherwise was put to the test in last year’s NBA Finals, when the Golden State Warriors — with Kevin Durant watching sidelined — proved hapless offensively without both Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson on the floor. If one of the Splash Brothers can’t turn a lineup of non-shooters into a threatening attack from deep, no one can.
But watching Davis Bertans this season, it’s tempting to think just how much better the San Antonio Spurs would be if he still played in the Alamo City. It’s not a complete hypothetical, either. Gregg Popovich is on record confirming the Spurs never would have traded Bertans to free up cap space if Marcus Morris had no interest in coming aboard. Less than a week after he agreed to terms with San Antonio, though, Morris reneged on his commitment to take a one-year deal with the New York Knicks.
It’s remiss to suggest retaining Bertans would make a season-altering difference for the Spurs. But what’s absolutely clear is that San Antonio’s loss has been a bigger gain for the Washington Wizards than anyone could have realistically anticipated.
The best suggest Bertans’ value in a league-wide vacuum this summer is what Washington gave up to get him. Aaron White was the team’s second-round pick in 2015 and played the last four seasons overseas. He might have a chance of finding his way to the league going forward, but it’s telling that White has expressed interest in transitioning to the NBA on multiple occasions only to head back to Europe toward the end of each offseason.
For all intents and purposes, it seems, the only thing of value Washington used to acquire Bertans was a trade exception. Take a bow, Tommy Sheppard. But it’s safe to say that not even the Wizards general manager saw this long-range onslaught coming.
Bertans cashed five more threes on Friday night in his team’s loss to the Miami Heat, bringing his season-long total to 78 on just over eight attempts per game. Only James Harden and Devonté Graham have connected on more triples than Bertans, and neither of them sniffs his 44.8 percent shooting from beyond arc. There are 35 players with at least 50 made threes this season; just four of them are have been more accurate than Bertans, per NBA.com.
Maybe some Spurs fans aren’t shocked by Bertans’ prowess from deep. He made a mini leap as a shooter in 2018-19, adding a bit of versatility to his long ball while upping his accuracy more than five points to 42.9 percent. Bertans isn’t some seasoned veteran, either. He was drafted in 2011 but only entered the league in 2016-17, and just turned 27. Some growth was to be expected from Bertans, basically, especially as the game’s emphasis on three-point shooting continues reaching new zeniths.
But the jump Bertans has made to join the exclusive shooting club reserved for the likes of J.J. Redick and Joe Harris is stunning nonetheless. After mostly serving as a weak-side floor-spacer and pet play shooter, Bertans is hunting threes this season while exuding the confidence and conviction of a true marksman with every step he takes on the floor.
Wonder why Bertans leads the NBA in points per possession in transition? He routinely sprints to open spots when the floor changes sides, and Washington ball-handlers know to look for him.
It’s hard enough for most guards to stop on a dime and launch catch-and-shoot triples in transition, which makes Bertans’ ability to do so all the more impressive. He stands 6-foot-10, but you’d never know it by the speed and footwork he often utilizes to create enough space for himself to launch.
All players Bertans’ size not named Durant are supposed to need an extra blip before letting fly. It’s hard enough for them to set their feet and square their shoulders to the rim on the move without worrying about getting a shot off in time to avoid an effective contest. But Bertans gets to his shooting form with remarkable ease, sometimes even hopping on the catch when his air space is closing fast, and owns one of the quickest releases in basketball.
Coming into 2019-20, Bertans had connected on just 20 off-dribble triples over three full seasons. He’s over halfway to that total through 21 games, regularly using a bounce or two to find some extra breathing room between he and the defense.
Is this Durant or Bertans?
Of course, Bertans would be the talk of the league even more than he is already if the skill he exhibits as a shooter fully translated to the rest of his game.
He can drive hard close-outs or turn the corner after a dribble hand-off with two or three dribbles to get to the rim, but has little workable wiggle in his handle. More problematic is his tendency to finish like a guard, too. Bertans is far better described as a fluid athlete than an explosive one, but that doesn’t mean he should regularly opt for floaters and scoops when challenged by rim-protectors in the paint.
His ceiling is also limited by his lack of positional versatility. Bertans is surprisingly light on his feet and fights hard defensively, but is way overstretched checking smalls. He possesses natural timing as a shot-blocker, but has short arms and vertical oomph needed to compensate. Bertans is a four-man, and that’s pretty much the extent of his positional scalability.
That’s why he’s probably best suited coming off the bench for the remainder of his career, perhaps closing games not just for Washington, but a title contender. Bertans is already proving himself as a high-impact offensive player, leading the Wizards – who boast a top-five offense, remember – in offensive rating and ranking behind only Bradley Beal in terms of net offensive efficiency. Lineups featuring that tandem are scoring 120.1 points per 100 possessions, almost 16 more than when Beal is on the floor without Bertans, per NBA.com.
The bad news for Washington? Bertans is an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, and an uninspiring list of marquee free agents assures he’ll be getting major upgrade on his $7 million salary. The Wizards should have enough flexibility to bring him back, but there’s no guarantee he’ll want to remain in the nation’s capital. It bears mentioning that Bertans has made clear he still considers San Antonio home.
But his future is a concern to be addressed another time.
For now, Bertans is a problem for Washington’s opponents to deal with, and unfortunately for them, there’s no workable answer to limiting his influence – just like that of every other shooter his increasingly rarified caliber.
NBA Daily: Horton-Tucker Making Most Of Time With South Bay Lakers
David Yapkowitz has a chat with Los Angeles Lakers rookie guard Talen Horton-Tucker about getting reps in the G League with South Bay and what he sees his role being in the NBA when that time comes.
When the Los Angeles Lakers drafted Talen Horton-Tucker this summer, the expectation was that he probably wouldn’t receive much playing time. On a veteran-laden team with championship expectations, there wasn’t going to be much of a role for a rookie.
That was further accentuated when Horton-Tucker suffered a stress reaction in his right foot, causing him to miss all of Summer League, which kept him limited during training camp. When he was finally cleared to return to the court, the Lakers assigned him to their G League affiliate, the South Bay Lakers.
He has suited up in only one game for the Lakers this season, but he’s played in every game with South Bay so far. In 11 games in the G League, he’s shown flashes of why the Lakers still drafted him despite suffering the foot injury during the draft combine.
His time in the G League was his first meaningful court action since leading Iowa State to the NCAA Tournament last spring.
“It feels great to be out here finally. I’m just trying to catch a rhythm with South Bay,” Horton-Tucker told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just taking it a day at a time. I feel like it’s been pretty good for my overall growth, that’s what’s important.”
Horton-Tucker has fit in well with the South Bay roster. He’s shown an ability to shoot from the perimeter at times, and he’s looked comfortable in putting the ball on the floor and making plays off the dribble.
His shot hasn’t always been on point, though. He’s shooting only 32.4 percent from the field and 24.2 percent from the three-point line, but he’s gotten good looks from the perimeter within the flow of the offense. And despite that, he’s made himself valuable on the court by contributing in other ways. He’s attacked the glass well, and he keeps the ball moving while looking to set teammates up for easy shots.
He’s managed to average double-digits in scoring with 11.8 points per game, and he’s put up 5.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists as well. Being able to be a positive on the court when his offense isn’t quite there yet is something he believes will help his career moving forward.
“I feel like if you play basketball, you’ve got to learn how to do everything. It’s just something I got to do,” Horton-Tucker told Basketball Insiders. “Whenever my shot is not falling, I know I can stay involved and rebound. I’ll still be able to contribute to a winning environment. I feel like I’ve been doing that the last few games that my shot hasn’t been falling.”
A few years ago, Horton-Tucker wouldn’t have had this opportunity to work on his game. The G League was much smaller than it is now, and most teams didn’t have affiliate they could send young players down to for development. NBA teams didn’t use the league as much, and many players viewed being sent down as punishment rather than a positive.
Without the G League, Horton-Tucker would likely have spent the majority season gathering splinters on the Lakers bench. With the growing expansion and usage of the G League, he’s able to get actual game reps in against legitimate competition to stay fresh.
He knew coming into this season that he wasn’t going to play much for the Lakers, if at all, so he’s grateful for being able to play with South Bay.
“It’s good to get your run in when you need to. I understand that I’m probably not going to get minutes with the Lakers right now,” Horton-Tucker told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just taking it one day at a time. I feel like the G League has been great. It helps us get our reps in and it helps our careers get started.”
While Horton-Tucker is still very young — he was one of the youngest players in the draft and just recently turned 19 years old last month — he has a skill set that should be able to eventually translate to regular NBA minutes. He’s a big guard who can generate his own offense, and he’s strong enough and skilled enough to be able to match up defensively against multiple positions.
He was recalled to the Lakers this weekend for their game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He only played in two minutes of garbage time and missed his only shot, a three-pointer. He’ll likely return to South Bay sometime soon, and when he does get brought back to the Lakers, garbage time minutes will be his role. But the NBA can be unpredictable at times, and injuries and whatnot can strike at a moment’s notice forcing players into immediate action.
In the event that he is called upon for regular minutes at some point this season, Horton-Tucker is confident in what he can bring to the team.
“I feel like I can bring the same things I bring to this team right now,” Horton-Tucker told Basketball Insiders. “It’s my versatility, being able to do things like rebounding, passing, just doing whatever they need me to do, I can do that.”
The Lakers are clearly going to be in win-now mode for the duration of LeBron James’ contract, but if Horton-Tucker continues with his development, it’s going to be hard to keep him off the court. He’s going to use this year to continue to learn, with the hopes of being able to play a meaningful role next season.
“I just want to get better all around. I want to play on the Lakers next year, that’s just my goal,” Horton-Tucker told Basketball Insiders. “Not being cocky or anything, but that’s just my goal, to play with the Lakers next season. That’s something that I’m going to work hard towards.”