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2015-16 Houston Rockets Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the Houston Rockets’ 2015-16 season.

Basketball Insiders



The Houston Rockets had an interesting 2014-15 season. They were seriously depleted throughout the season, but still managed to nab a high playoff spot and advance to the Western Conference Finals.

This summer, the Rockets improved in two ways. One, they pounced on Ty Lawson when his relationship with the Denver Nuggets had soured, picking up the speedy point guard without giving up much. But perhaps more importantly, they got healthy. I mean, a 37-year-old Jason Terry was their starting point guard in the postseason once Patrick Beverley went down last season.

Now, they are back at full strength with Beverley, Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas back. Motiejunas missed the final 11 games of the regular season and the entire playoffs. Jones was injured five games into the season, missed almost three months and thencame back, but was injured a few other times throughout the year. Beverley missed several games early in the season, but then was out for the rest of the year starting in late March with a wrist injury. Superstar Dwight Howard also missed a huge chunk of the year with an injury.

This team seems on the precipice of greatness. They have two superstars in James Harden (an MVP candidate last year) and Howard, and they have good role players and young developing talent. This could be their year if everything breaks right.

Five Thoughts

Even if the Rockets hadn’t have traded for Ty Lawson, they still would’ve been considered among the favorites in the West this upcoming season. But finally getting that much-needed point guard is only going to open things for up this team even more. Guarding James Harden just got a lot more difficult with Lawson in the backcourt, and spreading the court out only means good things for Trevor Ariza’s three-point volume. Dwight Howard shouldn’t be any less effective than he was a year ago, and the power forward rotation (Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas and Montrezl Harrell) is one of the best in the NBA. This team is going to be insanely entertaining, but more importantly they’re also going to be insanely good.

2nd Place – Southwest Division

– Joel Brigham

The Rockets snapped their first-round elimination streak by reaching the Western Conference Finals last season. Once there, though, the Golden State Warriors took the series, 4-1. The Rockets have proven they can win consistently over 82 games; now, the challenge is becoming a team that could win a title. The team gets Patrick Beverley, who missed the postseason due to injury, back while looking to fill the void of Josh Smith, who left for the Los Angeles Clippers. One of the more significant changes is the addition of Ty Lawson. Any time a team brings in a new point guard, especially one who has had troubles with previous teams, there could be a transition period on the floor. Given their talent, the Rockets should still be a lock for the playoffs.

3rd Place – Southwest Division

-Jessica Camerato

The Houston Rockets have posted back to back 50-plus win campaigns and last season reached the Western Conference Finals. The Dwight Howard and James Harden era has gotten off to a solid start. But more will be expected of this unit during the 2015-16 campaign. The low-risk, high-reward addition of Ty Lawson could help push the team over the hump, if the veteran floor general is focused on basketball. Harden is a perennial MVP candidate and although showing signs of decline, Howard remains a force on the interior. Another 50-win campaign is a near certainty, but this team will ultimately be judged on their playoff success.

2nd Place – Southwest Division

-Lang Greene

This is obviously a talented team and I like the addition of Ty Lawson since they didn’t have to give up much and he agreed to make the final year of his contract non-guaranteed. However, when I look at Houston, I still think they’re a tier below the top teams in the Western Conference like the San Antonio Spurs, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder. They may prove me wrong, but I have them finishing as the fifth-seed at best this year, and I can’t see them representing the West in the Finals.

2nd Place – Southwest Division

-Alex Kennedy

I have a lot of respect for the Rockets and what they accomplished last season. After losing so many of their pieces from the 2012-13 season, there were some who wondered if they would even be a playoff team last year. Josh Smith became an important player for them and Pablo Prigioni gave them good minutes as well, so I think their losses will hurt. I am on the fence as to how I feel about Ty Lawson. His talent is undeniable but he is going to take touches and shots away from James Harden and it’s natural to wonder if that’s a good thing considering the success they had last year. I still think the Rockets are one player away from being a serious contender out West, but I was proven wrong last year. Let’s recall that they were one James Harden buzzer-beater away from being locked into a 2-2 series against the Warriors. I’d be surprised if the Spurs aren’t the top team in the Southwest but I doubt the Rockets will be far behind.

2nd Place — Southwest Division

-Moke Hamilton

Top of the List

Top Offensive Player: James Harden

“The Beard” is the only person who could fill this slot for the Rockets. He is a scoring machine. He gets to the free throw line with ease, his Euro-step is legendary and his shot is deadly. His offensive prowess can never be doubted.

With his high-usage as the team’s number one offensive option, especially once injuries forced him to carry the team, it’s impressive that Harden shot 44 percent overall and 37.5 percent from deep last year. Also, as the player who attempted by far, the most free throws, he sure made the most of them, shooting nearly 87 percent from the charity stripe. Seriously, in 2014-15 he attempted 170 more free throws over the course of the season than the next closest player (Russell Westbrook’s 654), and 283 more than the third player on the list (DeMarcus Cousins’ 541). Both Westbrook and Cousins missed significant time last year, but it still goes to illustrate Harden’s amazing offensive ability to get to the line.

Top Defensive Player: Dwight Howard

While Patrick Beverley deserves credit for his tough defense too, it’s clear that the 29-year-old Howard (who won Defensive Player of the Year three times in a row from 2009-2011) should receive this spot. Howard has been hobbled a bit by injuries, but when healthy, he’s still got it.

Not only does he block shots (as he does in spectacular fashion, at a rate of 1.3 per game), more importantly he changes shots in the lane and discourages opponents from taking many attempts near the hoop when he is patrolling the paint. That’s all in help defense, but Howard also guards his man well and finishes the play by securing a ton of rebounds to the tune of 10.5 a game in 2014-15. If healthy, Howard could challenge for Defensive Player of the Year honors again.

Top Playmaker: Ty Lawson

Of course, resolving Lawson’s documented off-court issues with alcohol will be a priority for him and the team, but if he can get on the court, he will really help the Rockets get over the hump. If Lawson plays to his full potential and fits with Houston, he helps them in their quest for a title. The 27-year-old averaged 9.6 assists last year, which put him third in the league, only behind Chris Paul and John Wall. If he’s starting or coming off the bench, Lawson will jump-start the offense, getting everyone involved and taking the ball to the hoop if the situation calls for it.

Best Clutch Player: James Harden

This category has to belong to The Beard. With the game on the line, he’s going to have the ball in his hands. He can get to the hoop and finish in the lane if they do a high pick-and-roll, he is one of the best isolation players in the NBA, he can shoot it from deep if you need a three and he can draw a foul and then be money from the line. He’s easily the number one option in crunch time for Houston.

Unheralded Player: Donatas Motiejunas

Motiejunas has been unheralded since he came into the league three years ago. That’s all going to change this year. He is somewhat less physically gifted than starting power forward Terrence Jones, but is more skilled. Motiejunas is a seven-footer, who can shoot and has an arsenal of post moves. In that sense, he is comparable to former Houston mainstay Luis Scola, but is five inches taller, can shoot from deep and is much more agile.

It isn’t far fetched to think by the end of the year, Motiejunas will have surpassed Jones on the depth chart and be in the conversation for the Most Improved Player award. The only question for him is his health. The talent and opportunity are already there for him.

Best New Addition: Ty Lawson

Lawson has to be the best addition to the Rockets. They drafted a couple guys in Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell, but Lawson is obviously the biggest addition. He was Daryl Morey’s splashy move that could put Houston over the top if all goes as planned.

He is fast. Really fast. Lawson can handle the ball, meaning that the offense won’t stall if Harden doesn’t have it. Harden will usually have the ball and initiate the offense, but now he won’t have to. Lawson can run the break and defend his position (not as well as Beverley, but he brings a lot more to offense) and he should take some of the load off of Harden.

-Eric Saar

Who We Like

Trevor Ariza: He is a good all-around player. He can do pretty much everything well, but nothing at an elite level. With defenses focusing all their attention on Harden on the perimeter and on Howard in the paint, Ariza will fill it up as a catch-and-shoot guy. He’s a good 3-and-D player to have in the starting lineup around superstars, and he makes up for the deficiencies of the other players in the starting five. For example, Houston can switch the defensive assignments of Harden and Ariza so Harden doesn’t get torched and so he can save his energy for offense.

Terrence Jones: As of now, Jones is the starting power forward for the Rockets. He is an energy guy for sure, but he’s more than just that. He has some definite skill. While he doesn’t shoot much from deep, last year he converted on a little over 35 percent of his three-point attempts, which is quite good for someone his size. He may lose his starting spot to Motiejunas as the season progresses, but possibly not if he can consistently hit the deep ball with more volume, spacing the floor to help out Howard and Harden.

Patrick Beverley: Depending on the status of Lawson, Beverley could be starting alongside Harden like last year or be an absolute lockdown defender on the second unit. There is something to be said for a team being able to lockdown their opponents’ “spark off the bench.” If the opposing team’s bench can’t get anything going offensively, their starters have to come back in earlier than usual, causing them to be more tired at the end of the game. If Beverley is coming off the bench, he’ll need to work on his playmaking as he won’t be able to rely on Harden to initiate the offense. It’s also possible we’ll see Lawson and Beverley alternate as starters depending on matchups.

Corey Brewer: Brewer is like that energy guy in pickup basketball that plays intense defense on one end and is also somehow the first guy to leak out for the easy “almost cherry-picking bucket.” The 29-year-old journeyman can hit the occasional three-pointer, but doesn’t have a great percentage from behind the line. He is that spark (in every facet of the game) for the Rockets and always give them a chance to get back in the contest with his smart hustle plays.

Sam Dekker: Dekker, along with Montrezl Harrell, were great additions to Houston’s depth acquired through the draft. Dekker will probably play more than Harrell because he is a bit more polished and can stretch the floor with his three-ball. There aren’t too many minutes available for Dekker or Harrell, but regardless, they could make an impact for the Rockets, especially if there’s an injury.

Clint Capela: Right now, Clint Capela is the only backup center to Dwight Howard, although Motiejunas can play center in a pinch if called upon. The 21-year-old from Switzerland hasn’t played much, but there certainly is potential there. The Rockets could be in a bind if Howard gets hurt, because Capela is so raw, but the young center will be able to learn from Howard, continue his development and potentially make an impact in his reserve role.

-Eric Saar


You can certainly see Daryl Morey’s fingerprints on this team’s offensive philosophy, as they focused on threes a lot last year. The Rockets were first in three-pointers attempted and made last season, while they were dead last in two-pointers attempted. They also excel at playing fast, as they had the second-fastest pace in the league.

Led by Harden and Ariza, the Rockets ended up third in the league in steals with 777 on the season, which ends up being just under 9.5 steals per game as a team. To further illustrate this point, Houston forced their opponent into a turnover 14.6 percent of the time, which was fifth-best in the league. Also, last season, the Rockets were great at causing poor shots from deep. Houston ranked first in opponents’ three-point percentage in 2014-15.

-Eric Saar


Many players on the Rockets can’t shoot free throws. They were second in free throws attempted and fifth in free throws made, due to the Hack-a-Howard strategy some Rockets’ opponents employed and Harden’s knack for getting to the line. All of Houston’s big man rotation from last year (Howard, Jones, Motiejunas, etc.) shot free throws basically right at 60 percent or worse, bringing down the team’s average to 71 percent, making them the fourth-worst free throw shooting team in the NBA.

While the Rockets are the seventh-best offensive rebounding team, they are horrible rebounders on the defensive end. They grab the defensive rebound 72.9 percent of the time, which is third-worst in the NBA.

The Rockets are a turnover and foul prone team. They committed 16.7 turnovers per game, which puts them as the third-worst team in that category. They were also the fourth-worst team in terms of committing fouls with 22 per game.

-Eric Saar

The Burning Question

Will the Rockets be able to stay healthy enough to reach their full potential?

Really, health is the biggest question with this team. They clearly have the talent (in superstars and quality role players). They have a good coach in Kevin McHale. They have continuity and chemistry within the team, aside from adding a talented piece in Lawson over the summer. The only obstacle is can this team stay healthy enough throughout the season to make the playoffs (almost certainly) and will they be at full strength for a Finals run? The answer to that question will largely determine just how well this season goes for Houston.

-Eric Saar


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Reviewing the Nurkic Trade: Denver’s Perspective

The Denver Nuggets have been on a miraculous run this postseason, but that doesn’t mean that they’re infallible. Drew Maresca reviews the 2017 trade that sent Jusuf Nurkic from Denver to Portland.

Drew Maresca



The Denver Nuggets are fresh off of a 114-106 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, pulling within three wins of the franchise’s first trip to the NBA Finals. But what if I told you that the Nuggets’ roster could be even more talented by acting more deliberately in a trade from three years ago?

While Denver won on Tuesday night, they lost a nail bitter on Sunday – for which most of the blame has been pointed at a defensive breakdown by Nuggets’ center Mason Plumlee, who was procured in the aforementioned 2017 trade. What did it cost Denver, you ask? Just Jusuf Nurkic and a first-round pick.

Nurkic was a 2014-15 All-Rookie second team member. He played 139 games over 2.5 seasons in Denver, averaging 7.5 points and 5.9 rebounds in approximately 18 minutes per game. He showed serious promise, but Denver had numerous reasons to pursue a trade: he’d suffered a few relatively serious injuries early in his career (and he’s continued to be injury-prone in Portland), butted heads with head coach Michael Malone and – most importantly – the Nuggets stumbled on to Nikola Jokic.

The Nuggets eventually attempted a twin-tower strategy with both in the starting line-up, but that experiment was short-lived — with Jokic ultimately asking to move to the team’s second unit.

The Nuggets traded Nurkic to the Portland Trail Blazers in February 2017 (along with a first-round pick) in exchange for Plumlee, a second-round pick and cash considerations. Ironically, the first-round pick included in the deal became Justin Jackson, who was used to procure another center, Zach Collins – but more on that in a bit.

As of February 2017, Plumlee was considered the better player of the two. He was averaging a career-high 11 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists through 54 games – but it was clear that at 27, he’d already maximized his talent.

Conversely, Nurkic was only 23 at the time of the trade with significant, untapped upside. In his first few seasons with Portland, Nurkic averaged 15 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, while establishing himself as a rising star. As noted above, injuries have continued to be a problem. Nurkic suffered a compound fracture in his tibia and fibula in March 2019, forcing him to miss a majority of this current campaign. The COVID-19-related play stoppage in March gave Nurkic extra time to get his body right, and he returned to action in July inside the bubble.

And he did so with a vengeance. Nurkic demonstrated superior strength and footwork, and he flashed the dominance that Portland hoped he would develop, posting eight double-doubles in 18 contests. He averaged 17.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per game and while his play dipped a bit in the playoffs – partially due to a matchup with first-team All-NBA star Anthony Davis – he still managed 14.2 points and 10.4 rebounds in the five-game series. So it’s fair to say that Nurkic is still on his way toward stardom.

But the Nuggets are in the conference finals – so all’s well that ends well, right? Not so fast. To his credit, Plumlee is exactly who Denver expected him to be. He’s averaged 7.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in three seasons with Denver since 2017 – but to be fair, Plumlee is asked to do less in Denver than he had in Portland. Still, it’s fairly obvious that they’re just not that comparable.

Plumlee is a good passer and an above-average defender that’ll compete hard and isn’t afraid to get dirty – but he has limitations. He doesn’t stretch the floor and he is a sub-par free throw shooter (53.5 percent in 2019-20). More importantly, he’s simply not a major offensive threat and his repertoire of moves is limited.

High-level takeaway: Defenses tend to game plan for opponents they view as major threats – Nurkic falls into this category. Other guys pack the stat sheet through putback attempts, open looks and single coverage alongside the guys for whom opposing defenses game plan – that’s a more appropriate description of Plumlee.

On to the wrench thrown in by Zach Collins’ involvement. Statistically, Collins is about as effective as Plumlee – he averaged 7 points and 6.3 rebounds through only 11 games in 2019-20 due to various injuries – and he possesses more upside. The 22-year-old is not as reliable as Plumlee but given his age and skill set, he’s a far better option as a support player playing off the bench. He stretches the floor (36.8 percent on three-point attempts in 2019-20), is an above-average free throw shooter (75 percent this season) and is a good defender. Looking past Nurkic for a moment, would the Nuggets prefer a 22-year-old center that stretches the floor and defends or a 30-year-old energy guy?

Regardless of your answer to that question, it’s hard to argue that Nurkic should have returned more than Plumlee, definitely so when you factor in the first-round pick Denver included. There is obviously more at play: Denver was probably considering trading Nurkic for some time before they acted – did they feel that they could increase his trade value prior to the trade deadline in 2016-17? Maybe. Further, Nurkic and his agent could have influenced the Nuggets’ decision at the 2017 deadline, threatening to stonewall Denver in negotiations.

Had Nurkic been more patient or the Nuggets acted sooner before it became abundantly clear that he was on the move, Denver’s roster could be even more stacked than it is now. Ultimately, the Nuggets have a plethora of talent and will be fine – while it appears that Nurkic found a long-term home in Portland, where he owns the paint offensively. Denver can’t be thrilled about assisting a division rival, but they’re still in an enviable position today and should be for years to come.

But despite that, this deal should go down as a cautionary tale – it’s not only the bottom feeders of the league who make missteps. Even the savviest of front offices overthink deals. Sometimes that works in their favor, and other times it does not.

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NBA Daily: They Guessed Wrong

Matt John reflects on some of the key decisions that were made last summer, and how their disappointing results hurt both team outlooks and players’ legacies.

Matt John



It doesn’t sound possible, but did you know that the crazy NBA summer of 2019 was, in fact, over a year ago? Wildly, in any normal, non-pandemic season, it all would have been over three months ago and, usually, media days would be right around the corner, but not this time. The 2019-20 NBA season is slated to end sometime in early to mid-October, so the fact that the last NBA off-season was over a year ago hasn’t really dawned on anyone yet. Craziest of all, even though there will still be an offseason, there technically won’t be any summer.

Coronavirus has really messed up the NBA’s order. Of course, there are much worse horrors that COVID-19 has inflicted upon the world – but because of what it’s done to the NBA, let’s focus on that and go back to the summer of 2019. It felt like an eternity, but the Golden State Warriors’ three-year reign had finally reached its end. The Toronto Raptors’ victory over the tyranny that was the Hamptons Five – as battered as they were – made it feel like order had been restored to the NBA. There was more to it than that though.

Klay Thompson’s and Kevin Durant’s season-ending injuries, along with the latter skipping town to join Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn meant two things.

1. Golden State was down for the count
2. Brooklyn’s time wasn’t coming until next year.

A one-year window was open. Even if neither Golden State nor Brooklyn posed the same threat that the former did when it had Kevin Durant, those were two contenders out of commission. If there was a time to go all in, it was in 2019.

Milwaukee certainly seemed to go all in. For the most part.  Malcolm Brogdon’s departure seemed a little odd since he was arguably their best non-Giannis playmaker when they were in crunch time. Not to mention there was nothing really stopping the Bucks from keeping him except for money. Detractors will call out Milwaukee for electing to cheap out by not keeping Brogdon and hence, avoiding the luxury tax. However, there’s more to it than that.

Milwaukee thought it had enough with the core it had on its roster. Coming off the best season they had put up since the eighties, they believed the franchise built the right team to contend. There was an argument that keeping Brogdon may have been overkill with their guard depth – let’s not forget that Donte DiVincenzo did a solid job in Brogdon’s role as the backup facilitator. This would have been more defensible had it not been for Milwaukee picking the wrong guy to let go. That was the indefensible part- electing to keep Eric Bledsoe over Brogdon.

Bledsoe wasn’t necessarily a bad investment. No one’s complaining about an almost 15 point average on 47/34/79 splits or playing individual defense tight enough to get named on the All-Defensive second team. By all accounts, Bledsoe earns his keep. That is until the playoffs. Bledsoe’s postseason woes have been a weight ever since he first entered Milwaukee, and this postseason was more of the same.

Bledsoe’s numbers dwindled to just 11.7 points on 39/25/81 splits, and Milwaukee getting ousted in five games at the hands of Miami made his struggles stand out even more than it had ever been. Bledsoe may be the better athlete and the better defender, but Brogdon’s all-around offensive savvy and his only slight dropoff defensively from Brogdon would have made him a bit more reliable.

Milwaukee guessed wrong when they opted to extend Bledsoe before the postseason last year when they could have waited until that very time to evaluate who to keep around. Now they face a hell of a lot more questions than they did at the end of last season – questions that may have been avoided had they made the right choice.

Now they could have kept both of them, yes, but it’s not totally unreasonable to think that maybe their approach with the luxury tax would have worked and maybe they would still be in the postseason right now had they gone with the homegrown talent. And just maybe, there wouldn’t be nearly as much of this Greek Freak uncertainty.

The Houston Rockets can relate. They got bruised up by a team that everyone thought Houston had the edge on going into the series and then crushed by the Lakers. Now, Mike D’Antoni is gone. The full-time small ball experiment likely did not work out. Since the Rockets emptied most of their assets to bring in Russell Westbrook and Robert Covington, there may not be a route in which they can become better than they presently are.

The mistake wasn’t trading for Russell Westbrook. The mistake was trading Chris Paul.

To be fair, most everybody severely overestimated Chris Paul’s decline. He’s not among the best of the best anymore, but he’s still pretty darn close. He deserved his All-NBA second team selection as well as finishing No. 7 overall in MVP voting. OKC had no business being as good as they were this season, and Paul was the driving force as to why.

For all we know, the previously-assumed tension between Chris Paul and James Harden would have made its way onto the court no matter what. Even so, Houston’s biggest obstacle in the Bay Area had crumbled. If they had just stayed the course, maybe they’re still in the postseason too.

To their credit, none of this may have happened had it not been for the Kawhi Leonard decision. Had he chosen differently, the Thunder never blow it up, and Houston might have very well been the favorite in the Western Conference. Instead, the Rockets took a step back from being in the title discussion to dark horse. But at least they can take pride knowing that they weren’t expected to win it all – the Clippers can’t.

Seeing the Clippers fall well short expectations begs the question if they too got it wrong. The answer is, naturally: of course not. They may have paid a hefty price for Paul George, but the only way they were getting Kawhi Leonard – one of the best players of his generation – was if PG-13 came in the package. As lofty as it was, anyone would have done the same thing if they were in their shoes. They didn’t get it wrong. Kawhi did.

On paper, the Clippers had the most talented roster in the entire league. It seemed like they had every hole filled imaginable. Surrounding Leonard and George was three-point shooting, versatility, a productive second unit, an experienced coach – you name it. There was nothing stopping them from breaking the franchise’s long-lasting curse. Except themselves.

Something felt off about them. They alienated opponents. They alienated each other. At times, they played rather lackadaisically, like the title had already been signed, sealed, and delivered to them. The media all assumed they’d cut the malarkey and get their act together – but that moment never really came. They had their chances to put Denver away, but even if they had, after seeing their struggles to beat them – and to be fair Dallas too – would their day of destiny with the Lakers have really lived up to the hype?

Even if it was never in the cards, one can’t help but wonder what could have happened had Kawhi chosen to stay with the team he won his second title with.

Toronto was the most impressive team in this league this season. They still managed to stay at the top of the east in spite of losing an all-timer like Leonard. That team had every component of a winner except a superstar. They had the right culture for a championship team. Just not the right talent. The Clippers were the exact opposite. They had the right talent for a championship team but not the right culture. That’s why the Raptors walked away from the postseason feeling proud of themselves for playing to their full potential while the Clippers writhed in disappointment and angst over their future.

In the end, everyone mentioned here may ultimately blame what happened to their season on the extenuating circumstances from the pandemic. The Bucks’ chemistry never fully returned when the Bubble started. Contracting COVID and dealing with quad problems prevented Westbrook from reviving the MVP-type player he was before the hiatus. As troubling as the Clippers had played, the extra time they would have had to work things out in a normal season was taken away from them.

For all we know, next year will be a completely different story. The Rockets, Bucks, and Kawhi may ultimately have their faith rewarded for what they did in the summer of 2019 – but that will only be mere speculation until the trio can change the story.

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Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards

Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.

David Yapkowitz



We got some updated NBA draft news this week when the league announced that several key dates have been pushed back including the draft, the start of free agency and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.

The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 16, but it will now likely occur sometime in November. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wildly out of control in the United States, all of these potential deadlines are fluid and subject to change.

With that said, we’re continuing our position by position breakdown here at Basketball Insiders of some of the top 2020 draft prospects. We looked at the point guards and shooting guards last week, and this week we’re covering the small forwards and power forwards.

The power forward crop, like the draft overall, doesn’t appear to be as strong as recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential contributors and high-level NBA players available, as well as one who might just turn out to be a star-caliber player.

Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old

Okongwu is the player who just might develop into a star on some level. He was actually underrated in high school and was snubbed for a McDonald’s All-American selection his senior year. He established himself early on at USC as the team’s best player as a freshman and now appears to have turned some heads.

He’s been mentioned as a lottery pick and in some mock drafts, he’s top 4-5. He possesses a great all-around skill-set; he can score in the post, he can put the ball on the floor and attack and he can shoot. But perhaps his biggest attribute is his versatility on the defensive end. He’s got quick feet and mobility and can guard multiple positions.

Okongwu might actually play center in the NBA, especially in small-ball lineups, but he’s mostly played power forward and so he’ll probably see time there in the league. His skill-set fits perfectly with today’s game.

Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old

Toppin is one of the older players in the draft, and in recent history, players that age tend to slip on draft boards. In Toppin’s case, it looks like the reverse might actually be true. He’s been projected as a lottery pick, and even going in the top 3.

He’s an incredibly athletic player who thrives in the open court. He looks like he’ll do well in an up-tempo offensive system that has capable playmakers who can find him in transition. He’s extremely active around the rim and he can finish strong. A decent shooter too, something he’ll need at the next level.

Toppin has the physical tools to be an effective defensive player, but that’s where the questions marks on him have been. In the NBA, he’s likely going to have to play and guard multiple positions. Whether or not he can adapt to that likely will answer the question as to what his ceiling can be.

Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old

Achiuwa is another intriguing prospect. this writer actually got to watch him play in person while he was in high school and he was very impressive. He looked like a man among boys. He’s projected to be a late lottery pick.

He has an NBA-ready body and he’s got some toughness around the rim and in the paint. He was a double-double threat during his one season at Memphis and his knack for rebounding is something that should translate to the NBA. He’s a very good defender too, in particular, as a rim protector. He’s very quick and has the ability to guard multiple positions.

One of the main knocks on Achiuwa is his shooting ability. He didn’t shoot that well in college and power forwards being able to space the floor is almost a requirement in today’s NBA game. It’s something he can certainly work on and improve on though.

Honorable Mentions:
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old

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