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Basketball Insiders Week in Review 1/18

Basketball Insiders looks back at articles from last week in case you missed any the first time around.

Kyle Cape-Lindelin

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Celtics Proactively Rebuilding

By Moke Hamilton

Doc Rivers looked on with a smirk. Satisfied and relieved, he exhaled as David Stern congratulated the Los Angeles Lakers on a well-played season.

As the tears streamed back in their locker room and Kobe Bryant plotted his revenge, Stern stood before the better than 17,500 fans in attendance and essentially serenaded them.

“…But there can only be one champion,” he said.

And that champion was, of course, the Boston Celtics.

As the seventh anniversary of that June 17 night approaches, the hope in Boston is that it will not take another seven years to experience that satisfaction again.

In all likelihood, it will not.

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Nikola Vucevic: An All-Star in the Coaches’ Eyes

By Yannis Koutroupis

On the heels of a career-best 34 points and 16 rebounds against the Portland Trail Blazers, Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic’s case to be an All-Star has never been stronger. He isn’t getting much love in the fan voting for the starters, receiving just over 68,000 total votes based off of last week’s most recent returns, but the head coaches from around the Eastern Conference who will be voting for the reserves are definitely taking note of his production.

“He’s a heck of a player,” Miami HEAT head coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You can’t just say he’s a good, young player anymore. He’s a very good NBA basketball player who is multi-skilled and a big target. There’s not a whole lot that he can’t do from the center position. He’s shooting the ball great and he’s a good passer and obviously he’s a very efficient post-up player.’’

“Vucevic has been a guy that you hear from multiple coaches around the league about how advanced he is,” Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens added. “He may very well be an All-Star center in the East at some point soon.”

Vucevic is leading the Eastern Conference in double-doubles, putting up 18.4 points and 11.1 rebounds a night. He’s doing so while shooting a career-high 52 percent from the field, and handling the increased burden of being a primary offensive option for the Magic exceptionally well.

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It’s All About Contract Options

By Steve Kyler

As the NBA trade season kicks into full gear, not only are NBA teams concerned about would-be free agents, they are also concerned about those players with contract options.

There are 33 players with either player options or early termination options, but they both achieve the same thing: allowing a player to become a free agent. What they do is slightly different.

A player option is a notification to continue the agreement, meaning the player must submit a document stating they wish to stay longer. Where as an early termination option requires the player to submit a document announcing they are choosing to leave.

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Fantasy: Using Game Counts to Win Your League

By Joel Brigham

Fantasy basketball (the head-to-head kind, at least) is kind of weird in that it doesn’t always matter who the best players are; it matters which of the best players are playing the most games in a given week. If Andre Drummond plays five games in a week where Anthony Davis only plays three, Drummond probably is going to be the more valuable fantasy asset during that particular matchup.

Knowing that, it’s important to be aware how weekly game counts will play out the rest of the season for certain players and teams. Any trade you make from here on out should take this information into consideration, as there are some teams with great fantasy schedules down the stretch and some that aren’t quite so good.

More importantly, there are some teams with schedule issues during the most important part of the season: the playoffs.

Here’s a look at how game counts could come into play the rest of the fantasy season:

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The Journey of an Undrafted Rookie

By Alex Kennedy

Every kid who has picked up a basketball and taken the sport even semi-seriously has imagined being drafted. “With the first pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, the [insert your favorite team] select [insert your name] from [insert your favorite college].” The fans in attendance are ecstatic. Your friends and family scream and celebrate. This one sentence from the NBA Commissioner’s mouth changes your life forever.

It’s all symbolic, of course, but it means you finally made it. It means all of your hard work paid off. It means you have joined an exclusive fraternity that millions can only dream about entering. It’s a moment often described as unforgettable – on par with getting married or holding your newborn child for the first time. It’s winning the lottery and realizing a lifelong dream all at once. It’s a fact that follows you for the rest of your life, whether it’s sitting proudly atop your biography or constantly coming up in conversations.

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Free Agent Head Coaches

By Cody Taylor

As the NBA season reaches its halfway point, teams out of the playoff race will begin to think about next season. With the trade deadline just over a month away, teams will begin trading off players for long-term assets and financial flexibility. In that same light, front offices will begin evaluating their coaching staff to determine if there is a better candidate out there that could lead them in the right direction. The process of bringing in a new head coach often takes place during the offseason when the coach can bring in his own staff and start looking for players that best suits his system. While head coaching positions could open up during the season, teams rarely bring in their long-term head coach mid-season and instead opt to promote an assistant until the end of the season.

This list looks at some of the best candidates currently not coaching. While we’re just focused on coaches who are unemployed, it’s worth noting that assistant coaches like Alvin Gentry, Nate McMillan and Lawrence Frank could be mentioned as possible candidates down the road too.

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What Should the Celtics Do With All Their Draft Picks?

By Jessica Camerato

Asset (noun): a valuable person or thing; something that is owned by a person, company, etc.

Front office executives stay tight-lipped on a lot of business matters. But Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge doesn’t hide his feelings when it comes to one issue: the value of accumulating draft picks.

“Draft picks are always tradable, players are not,” he replied when asked if there is such a thing as too many picks on Monday. “Draft picks are always assets until sometimes they’re drafted, until they become players, or until they become paid.”

The Celtics have stockpiled an arsenal of future picks into next five years. Some are their own, others are owed, and a handful are conditional. Regardless of where they end up falling in the draft order, the Celtics view them as movable pieces that have value far beyond the players they are eventually used to select.

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How to Reform NBA Contract Extensions

By Nate Duncan

In the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement, a priority for the owners was allowing teams to retain their own free agents in the wake of the Big Three convergence in Miami. They instituted a number of key reforms to encourage this, such as limiting sign-and-trades and increasing the amount the prior team could offer in raises relative to a new team. But, as noted in this piece, they almost completely undermined their efforts by limiting extensions in an effort to save them from themselves.

Under the previous CBA, teams gave out ludicrous eight-figure per year extensions to veteran players like Richard Hamilton and Stephen Jackson long before they were due to become free agents. In an effort to curb this, the new CBA limited any extensions for veterans (i.e., players not coming off rookie contracts) to four years, including the current season. Because the “current season” in this instance continues until June 30, the longest extension that can ever be given before a player becomes a free agent is three years.

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No Retirement Plans For Andre Miller

By Lang Greene

The NBA game continues to evolve. Gone are the days of dominant centers roaming the lane. Those guys have been replaced with stretch big men who can play a variety of roles and positions. But while the game on the floor continues to change one aspect of the league still holds true: The NBA is a young man’s league and even the greatest of athletes ultimately fall victim to Father Time.

Wizards point guard Andre Miller,  in his 16th NBA season, has been able to defy time and still remains highly effective in a young man’s game. The 38 year old floor general, in the final year of his current deal worth $4.6 million will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.

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Let’s Trade Jose Calderon

By Jesse Blancarte

Yesterday, Marc Stein and Ian Begley of ESPN reported that the New York Knicks are looking to trade Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani as they continue to clear out their roster.

Calderon was acquired by the Knicks last offseason in the deal that sent Tyson Chandler back to the Dallas Mavericks. Calderon, age 33, has had a disappointing season so far in New York. However, as Stein and Begley pointed out, many teams around the league still value Calderon, who is a great shooter, good distributor and brings veteran experience (including international experience with the Spanish National team).

Calderon may have a limited market, however, considering his age and the fact that he is set to make an average of $7,250,000 per season through 2016-17. The remaining two years on Calderon’s deal limits his value, especially in a league where it seems like every team is set at point guard. Another issue is that any team trading for Calderon cannot send any contracts that go beyond this season back to the Knicks as they are looking to shed salary for the upcoming offseason.

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Cap 101 – The Stretch Provision and Offset

By Eric Pincus

On December 22, the Detroit Pistons waived forward Josh Smith, despite owing him a total of $40.5 million for the 2014-15 season all the way through 2016-17.

Surprisingly, the Pistons have since gone on a tear, climbing to 11th in the Eastern Conference at 14-25, just two games behind the eighth-place Brooklyn Nets after a dreadful start to the season.

Smith hooked up with the Houston Rockets, on a one-year deal via their $2.077 million Bi-Annual Exception.  The Pistons used the Collective Bargaining Agreement’s stretch provision on Smith’s salary.

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Taking the Phoenix Suns to the Next Level

By Jabari Davis

With significantly higher expectations this season following Coach Hornacek’s surprisingly successful initial campaign as a head coach, the Phoenix Suns find themselves in a battle to remain within the playoff picture in an ever-so-tough Western Conference. At 23-18 and currently in what would be the eighth seed, the Suns have relied heavily upon a high-energy and fast-paced, but balanced attack that has been strong enough to at least compete with opponents on most nights.

The million-dollar question around the Valley of the Sun is whether they will use some of their backcourt and swingman depth in order to at least attempt to not only place more distance between themselves and other teams in pursuit of what will eventually be the final playoff spot (the Nuggets are 3.5 games back, but the New Orleans Pelicans trail Phoenix by just one game in the loss column and the Oklahoma City Thunder are lurking close by as well), but also propel this scrappy bunch into a realistic discussion with some of the West’s stronger competition? It’s one thing to beat or compete with a team that’s in the midst of three games in four nights in January, but an entirely different proposition when evaluating whether the Suns are strong enough to beat some of the West’s ‘elite’ in a seven-game series.

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Kyle Cape-Lindelin is based out of Portland, OR covering the NBA while being one of the newsline editors and contributor to "Out of Bounds."

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NBA Daily: Equal Opportunity System With Butler Fueling HEAT

Seemingly always trapped in “good but not good enough” territory, the Miami HEAT have finally turned a corner. They might even be contenders, writes Drew Mays.

Drew Mays

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209 wins, 202 losses.

That’s what the Miami HEAT have to show in the record column since LeBron James left in the summer of 2014.

Their record tells us out loud what we’ve known over the last five years: Miami is a proud franchise. The team maximizes what it has and is a perennial postseason threat no matter who is on the roster.

Middling seasons aren’t necessarily a good thing by NBA standards, however. Competitiveness is a stepping stone to title contention. Without contention, it makes sense to bottom-out and rebuild through draft capital and assets. 40-win seasons are neither of these things.

But what the HEAT have in their favor is their location. NBA stars love South Beach. And this summer, Miami got what it needed: A star to push them over the hump in Jimmy Butler.

Butler wasn’t the shiniest addition, but he was one of the most important. A top-15 player, Butler’s antics in Minnesota frustrated his value over the past few seasons.

Those annoyances were overshadowed by his play for Philadelphia in the playoffs last spring — even with Joel Embiid, Butler may have been the 76ers’ best player. Either way, he was definitely their most important. He took control of games as a ball-handler down the stretch, repeatedly working from 15-feet and in and running pick-and-roll when the games screeched to a halt and defenses were loaded up. With Butler in tow, the Sixers were a few bounces away from the Eastern Conference Finals — although, he’d tell you they would’ve won the whole thing.

Instead of running it back in Philadelphia, Butler flew south in free agency to where he’d always wanted to go: Miami. His signing, followed by the arrival of rookie Tyler Herro, the emergence of Kendrick Nunn, a jump by Bam Adebayo and the support of the rest of the roster has the HEAT at 15-6 and poised to make a deep playoff run.

Miami has seven players averaging double figures. Kelly Olynk, averaging 9.2 per game, is close to making it eight. The balance extends beyond scoring numbers – those eight players all play between 23 and 34 minutes, with fifth starter Meyers Leonard as the lowest-used regular at just under 19 minutes per game. No one shoots the ball more than Nunn and his 13.8 attempts per game, and four players average over 4 assists each night.

While most teams are built on top-down schemes with a few stars and role players filling in the blanks, Miami is thriving in an equal-opportunity system. Much of this has to do with their culture and ability to amplify each player’s talents.

This even attack wouldn’t exist if Herro wasn’t flourishing in his rookie season; if Nunn hadn’t become a revelation after going undrafted in 2018; if Adebayo hadn’t made a leap, detailed recently by Jack Winter; if Goran Dragic hadn’t accepted going to the bench after starting essentially the last seven years; if Duncan Robinson hadn’t developed into an NBA rotation player.

All of these things are hard to predict individually, let alone them coming together at once. But with Miami, and with what we know about Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra, it was almost a foregone conclusion.

Butler’s infusion into Miami’s culture has been the perfect marriage 20 games in. His toughness matches the HEAT’s, and he seems to respect the work ethic of his teammates – something that’s been a huge problem in the past. He’s been able to be “the guy” without forcing it, leading Miami in scoring, but trailing Nunn in attempts per game.

The HEAT’s diversity on offense has led to an effective field goal percentage of 55.2 percent, second-best in the league. They’re 3rd in three-point percentage, 6th in two-point percentage, and 7th in free throws made. They’re 10th in assists. Even with their league-worst turnover percentage, they are 11th in offensive rating and 6th in overall net.

Defensively, the team is doing what Miami has traditionally done. They’re eighth-best in opponent field goal percentage and 2nd in the entire league in three-point percentage at 31.6%. In today’s NBA, defending the three-point line that well will breed success.

After defeating the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday — and the defending champions’ subsequent loss to the Houston Rockets — the HEAT are tied with them for third place in the Eastern Conference standings. And we’re 20 games in, so what we’ve seen from them so far is real. They are contenders to represent the East in the Finals in June.

Toronto and the Boston Celtics are good. They’ve both had strong starts, bolstered by the ridiculousness of Pascal Siakam and the insertion of Kemba Walker, respectively. But they aren’t markedly better than Miami. Are their offenses good enough to overcome the HEAT in a playoff series?

The Milwaukee Bucks, the proverbial frontrunner, still have the glaring non-Giannis weaknesses. They lost Malcolm Brogdon and showed their vulnerability by losing four straight in the conference finals last year. Philadelphia struggled out of the gate, but have won 8 of their last 11. But sans Jimmy Butler, the Sixers face the same questions they faced before his arrival in 2018-19: Who is the guy down the stretch? Who can create offense late in a playoff game?

That hasn’t been answered for Philadelphia yet. There’s no assurance that it’ll be answered at all. That question is answered in Miami.

They have Butler now. They have their star.

Combine that with Herro, Nunn, Adebayo, Dragic, Justise Winslow — who they haven’t even had for half of their games thus far — and the rest of the package, and Erik Spoelstra has what he hasn’t had since LeBron James was still in Miami.

A contender.

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Simple Problems With Difficult Solutions

Matt John takes a look at three teams that need to address weaknesses in their rosters and the challenges each team faces in doing so.

Matt John

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Remember when Carmelo Anthony was out of the NBA? That seems so long ago now even though his stint in Portland started less than a month ago.

Let’s go back to that time. In ‘Melo’s almost one-year exodus from the NBA, fans, media, and even players alike were begging for his return. To be fair, this was based more on his reputation as one of the best scorers of his time rather than his recent play with his previous two teams.

Looking back, it was a little odd that for almost an entire year, absolutely no one wanted to roll the dice on Carmelo. Not even on a non-guaranteed contract. But, what was even odder was that although he had plenty of advocates on his side, said advocates couldn’t collectively decide which team really needed him.

At this stage in his career, it was a little tricky to figure out what role he could play because it wasn’t clear how much he had left in the tank or how he’d adapt to his decline after his underwhelming performances with both Oklahoma City and Houston. There was a lot of demand for Carmelo to come back to the NBA. Where he should make his comeback was the question.

Of course, now, we’ve seen that Carmelo can still bring it – so far – if given the right opportunity. The simple problem, in this case, was that Carmelo needed another chance in the NBA. The difficult solution was that, at the time, there was no clear-cut team that would have been perfect for him to go.

That brings us to this season. We are approaching the 1/4th mark in the NBA regular season and now we’re starting to see the true colors of some of these teams. The following teams have simple problems that need to be fixed. At the same time, how they’re going to solve them will be tough to figure out.

San Antonio Spurs

With every minute that passes, the playoff odds are looking less and less in the Spurs’ favor. When was the last time anyone said that about San Antonio? 1996? The naysayers have been dreaming of this day for longer than Vince Carter’s entire career, but this might just be the moment they’ve been waiting for – the end of an era.

San Antonio is currently 8-14, they have a point differential of minus-4.0, and worst of all, they’ve played one of the easiest schedules in the NBA. Maybe it would be different if Davis Bertans or Marcus Morris were around, but that doesn’t change that it’s only going to get harder from here.

Twenty-two games into the season and it’s clear the Spurs’ established stars – DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge – do not mesh well with one other, sporting a net rating of minus-7.2 together. Any three-man lineup with DeRozan/Aldridge plus one of Dejounte Murray, Bryn Forbes, and Derrick White has a frighteningly negative net rating – all are minus-7.3 or lower.

It gets worse. Both DeRozan and Aldridge have very negative net ratings – Spurs are minus-10.5 with Aldridge on the court, minus-13.3 with DeRozan. All three of Murray, White, and Forbes have negative net ratings as well, but why it looks worse for the former All-Stars is because those two are supposed to be the main ingredients of a projected playoff team and they’re most certainly not that right now.

Trading them would be the advisable next step but to who is the million-dollar question. Both of them are really good players. They’re just not great players. They’re both lethal scorers. Both of them can put up 20-30 points on any given night. The real issue is that even if they put up their usual numbers, that doesn’t always equate to a win. If you don’t believe that, look at the Spurs’ record again.

Aldridge would be easier to trade on paper because his contract is more favorable since it’s guaranteed for next season, but potentially trading for DeRozan is a little more delicate of a situation. DeMar has a player option after this season, which can be a catch-22 for players like him. If he plays well, he’ll opt out of the contract and go for his next payday. If he doesn’t, he’ll opt-in and drag the cap down another season.

That makes it harder for teams to invest assets for a guy like him. He would usually be worth more if his contract was longer, but the risk of him leaving after less than one season is too big to give up something good for him. There are teams that could definitely use the offensive boost that DeMar provides, but they may not have the matching contracts nor be willing to offer the young value that the Spurs would want in a deal.

Some retooling definitely looks in order for San Antonio, but this situation is a lot more complicated than it was last year.

Boston Celtics

At 15-5, the Celtics are both exceeding expectations and are fun to watch. In other words, they look like a Brad Stevens team again.

Boston’s offense has looked much-improved thanks to both better production from Brown, Hayward and Jayson Tatum as well as letting their most egregious ball stoppers walk. By having less pure scorers on the team, there are a lot more touches to go around, which has made the offense look more fluid than it did last year.

What’s more surprising than their more team-oriented offense is their stingy defense. The Celtics have the sixth-best defensive rating, allowing 104 points per 100 possessions, despite losing Al Horford and Aron Baynes.

Marcus Smart’s ability to cover just about anyone on the basketball court provides so much cushion for them on the defensive end. Brown, Hayward, and Jayson Tatum have all been stingy switchable wings that make life harder for opponents. Even guys like Semi Ojeleye and Grant Williams have proven to be passable options as undersized centers.

Even their pure bigs haven’t been that bad. Daniel Theis has been excellent as the team’s most reliable rim protector, allowing opponents to shoot just 52 percent at the rim, and Enes Kanter has the third-best net rating among rotation players, as Boston is plus-5.6 with him on the floor.

Despite that, no matter how good this Celtics crew may look, the knock on them will be the same until they change it: They need an upgrade in the frontcourt.

Theis has been about as good as the Celtics could have hoped for from him, but as of now he can only reasonably be counted on for 20-25 minutes at most. The Celtics have done a great job covering Kanter’s holes, but is that going to hold up in the postseason? Robert Williams III has made substantial progress, but the young mistakes he makes demonstrate that he’s still a year or two away.

Boston has been better than what many thought they would be, but they’d rest easy knowing they had another dependable option in their frontcourt.

Where do they get one though? They don’t have any expendable contracts to give up in a deal. They’ve made it clear that neither Hayward nor Smart are going anywhere, and for good reason. The only other big contract they have on the books is Kemba Walker, and they’re definitely not trading him.

Since Theis and Kanter get paid $5 million each, it’s hard to combine them for an upgrade because the hypothetical upgrade they would need would cost more than that. Since those two are Boston’s most proven bigs, it’d be hard to see them getting rid of both. Their only option might be the buyout market in February, which is a risky game to play.

As good as Boston has been, they haven’t squelched the fears surrounding their frontcourt issues. It only makes you wonder what this team would look like if they still had Al Horford.

Memphis Grizzlies

They may not be a good team right now, and probably won’t be a good team for a couple of years, but how can you not like this young Memphis Grizzlies team?

They’ve hit two consecutive bulls-eyes with Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant. They’ve got some good complementary veterans in Jonas Valanciunas and Jae Crowder as well as good complementary young guys like Brandon Clarke and Dillion Brooks.

It might be weird to say this, but even though they are one of the worst teams in the league, they’re ahead of schedule. The pieces are in place. They are forming a good culture. They probably will get another high lottery pick depending on what record they finish with. It’s a far cry from the Grit-n-Grind era, but the promise the young Grizzlies possess is undeniable.

There’s only one elephant in the room – Andre Iguodala. He’s been an issue that they’ve been avoiding ever since they acquired a first-round pick by adding his “services.” The word “issue” should be taken with a huge grain of salt because it’s not really causing any disruption. Iguodala wants to play for a winner, and Memphis wants to get something good for him.

It makes all the sense in the world. Neither side owes the other anything. Iguodala shouldn’t be spending what’s left of his career on a team that just pressed the reset button. Memphis shouldn’t let a guy with his skillset go if he can be had for something. Even at almost 36, Iggy is still a valuable player.

Besides the fact that no one is going to offer a first-round pick for a role player in his mid-30’s on an expiring deal, the biggest issue for the Grizzlies is that hardly any team vying for his services has an expendable matching contract to trade for Andre and his $17+ million contract.

Most teams who have expendable deals in the NBA are ones that don’t have any use for Andre because they’re not going anywhere. Atlanta, Cleveland, Charlotte, Detroit are all teams that have guys on overpaid deals that are worth giving up, but the likelihood that they go for a guy like him with the place they are at now isn’t likely.

Teams like the Clippers, Blazers or HEAT could certainly put themselves in the bidding, but that would require sacrificing guys who are thriving in their rotation, like Meyers Leonard, Moe Harkless, or Kent Bazemore.

The one option that makes sense is Dallas. They have a player currently out of their rotation that is being paid enough to be used to get Andre – Courtney Lee. They definitely need some help along the wing, and Iguodala would bring championship experience to a team that has exceeded all reasonable expectations.

What Dallas might do is try to see if they can get a better overall player since the team has both Lee’s and Tim Hardaway Jr’s contracts that can be used to acquire a star. They don’t have a lot of assets, but that may be worth looking into first before looking at Iguodala.

Releasing Iguodala would be Memphis’ last resort, which they don’t want to do, but finding an acceptable trade partner is going to be difficult especially if they want to get something back for him. The longer they wait, the lesser the value.

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Summer League Standouts Faring Well

Jordan Hicks takes a look back at some of the most notable All-Summer League Team players and discusses the contributions they’ve made up to this point in the NBA season.

Jordan Hicks

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The NBA season is in full swing and players are seeing their impact being felt throughout the league. Veterans continue to lead their respective franchises, and role players continue doing what they can to push the scales in their team’s favor.

While the more tenured professionals capture the bulk of the headlines, the first and second-year players often go unnoticed. There’s the occasional breakout star here and there, but for the most part, the young guys do what they can to find time on the court and help their club in any meaningful way.

Every summer, the NBA hosts the now-famous tournament in Nevada, the Las Vegas Summer League, where the stage is open for up-and-coming players to make their first mark in the NBA. Year after year, some newcomers supply the NBA loyalists with enough highlights to keep them happy until mid-October.

At the close of the tournament, a handful of players will make the All-Summer League Team – similar to an All-NBA Team for the regular season. Let’s take a look at how a handful of the All-Summer League Team members have fared this season and what their potential outlook looks like moving forward.

Brandon Clarke — First Team

The former college All-American out of Gonzaga University had quite the impact in his Summer League debut. Not only did he earn first-team All-Summer League honors, but he also took home the Summer League MVP and Tournament MVP, too. He was a statistical monster and a clear reason why the Memphis Grizzlies took home the coveted — to some at least — Summer League Championship trophy.

Clarke currently finds himself in a sixth man-style role. He’s sixth in the team in minutes per game and is doing plenty in that span. He’s averaging 11.8 points on 63 percent from the field and a more impressive 45.5 percent from three. He’s also bringing in 5.9 boards and just under a block [er game. His effective field goal percentage of 66.4 percent is currently good for fifth-best in the entire NBA.

In per 36 minutes, that would be 20.1 points, 10 rebounds and 1.6 blocks on average. He’s not getting starter minutes just yet, but it’s more than safe to say that the Memphis Grizzlies are receiving incredible value out of their 21st overall pick.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker — First Team

Selected with the 17th overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, Alexander-Walker contributed in a big way during the Summer League in Las Vegas. His athleticism is clearly a strong suit but his tenacity on the court is what helps him get minutes.

He’s playing a tad over 14 minutes per game for the New Orleans Pelicans thus far, netting 6.5 points and 2.1 assists on average. New Orleans’ roster is flooded with talented guards, so it’s no surprise Alexander-Walker isn’t getting more minutes, but he seems to be doing an admirable job with the minutes Alvin Gentry gives him.

In a loss to Miami a few weeks back, Alexander-Walker went 6-of-9 from three and finished with 27 points. He followed that performance with 19 points and 4 assists in a win against the Golden State Warriors. His minutes have been sporadic so far, but he’s contributed when given a chance. As the season goes on, look for Alexander-Walker to find more time in Gentry’s lineups.

Kendrick Nunn — First Team

Perhaps the biggest surprise of all the young players this season, Nunn has proven to be quite a threat on the offensive side of the court. He’s averaging 15.3 points per game, good for third on the talented Miami HEAT roster. He led the team with 22.4 points per game in October and was averaging 16.9 points through the first 10 games, but he’s cooled a bit.

For a team that was already planning on starting the season strong, the fact Nunn has managed to carve out 29.4 minutes per night is a testament to his nightly contributions. He has taken the confidence he earned from his Summer League accolades and is supplying the HEAT with stellar play on a nightly basis. There’s a chance his scoring will continue to die down a bit, but he’s already proven worthy of his roster spot in such a short amount of time.

Rui Hachimura — Second Team

The Washington Wizards are currently playing the fastest pace in the NBA and oddly enough have the fourth-best offense to date, too. Hachimura is a key reason for this.

He’s averaging 13.4 points on an effective field goal percentage of 50.4 percent. He’s also pulling down 5.6 boards and dishing out 1.7 assists per game. His season-high is 30 points on the road against the Los Angeles Clippers, and he’s scored in double-figures on 12 out of 19 games this season.

Hachimura’s long frame, coupled with his elite athleticism, allows him to get to the rim and create opportunities for himself as well as for his teammates. He’s still figuring the game out — his flaws on defense are easy to spot — but he has the ability to develop into a great basketball player.

Other recipients of Summer League honors include second-year players Mitchell Robinson, Lonnie Walker IV, Anfernee Simons and third-year player Jarrett Allen. Each of these guys has been producing for their respective teams in big ways.

The Las Vegas Summer League can sometimes be an interesting topic. Each year, second-year guys may or may not return to their Summer League squads and new faces abound. But if there’s anything that recent history has shown us, it’s that cream will always rise to the top. The guys that notch the All-Summer League honors will usually contribute to their teams almost immediately.

Each of these guys mentioned — and even the ones not discussed — will continue to cement their presence in the NBA and may very well become the regular season All-Stars of the future. It’s hard to decipher a player’s value based solely on box score statistics, but when one first enters the league, it’s never a bad thing to see the box score go up. For the young guys, it’s all about finding comfort and learning in which ways they can contribute best. Some may end up being the scorer, while others will develop into a defensive savant or playmaking maestro.

Whatever the future holds, remember the names above. They all have a solid chance of being the face of a franchise someday.

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