The Russell Westbrook Revival
By Moke Hamilton
Russell Westbrook curled around Serge Ibaka, simultaneously using him to screen off his primary defender and neatly receiving the handoff. Like a running back, Westbrook hid behind Ibaka for a split second before going back from where he came, but this time, with the basketball in tow.
Westbrook beat Iman Shumpert to the corner, hesitated when Quincy Acy showed and then, like freight train, exploded with a quick first step and accelerated down the baseline. Shumpert was left in his wake.
As he approached the basket, Westbrook showed no signs of attrition. There was no trepidation, no hesitation and no doubt.
Are The Kings Targeting George Karl?
By Steve Kyler
While this one seemed a little out of left field, the Sacramento Kings decided to part ways with head coach Mike Malone. The truth behind the curtain is, this one wasn’t nearly as shocking as it may seem despite the Kings’ hot start and somewhat improved situation.
Malone is a defensive-minded coach that was hired by new Kings owner Vivek Ranadive before he had hired his front office. There was a sense at least initially that Malone would be dictating a lot of the structure of the Kings, however over time that’s changed somewhat dramatically.
Ranadive has become much more hands on. He is much more involved in the day-to-day than your typical NBA owner in a very Mark Cuban kind of way. Malone’s defense-first mindset has been problematic for Ranadive for some time.
Lillard, Blazers are Winning and Feeling Confident
By Joel Brigham
The Portland Trail Blazers have been good for a few years now, but something about this current squad looks really, really good, and All-Star point guard Damian Lillard thinks he knows the reason why.
“It’s our confidence,” Lillard told Basketball Insiders. “Last year we surprised people and might’ve even surprised ourselves a little bit, but we won a playoff series without home court advantage.”
Confidence through success, however, is only a part of Portland’s maturation this year. Humility is another part of it.
Greg Monroe’s Limited Market
By Yannis Koutroupis
Like most of the players who signed this offseason, Detroit Pistons forward Greg Monroe became eligible to be traded today. As a 24-year-old versatile big man who has been good for 15 points and nine rebounds a game over the last four seasons despite the turmoil surrounding him, you would think teams would be beating down the Pistons’ door to acquire him. However, his situation is quite unique and it limits his market significantly.
Monroe was a restricted free agent last offseason, which gave the Pistons the right to match any offer he received. The Pistons made him a long-term offer, the value of which is unknown, but it was clearly shy of the max and Monroe decided to decline. There were other teams, specifically the Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns, who voiced an interest in trading for him but the Pistons held all the cards. They wanted great value in return in any sign-and-trade deal and had the rest of the league believing that they would match any offer for him to the point where Monroe was eventually forced to accept a $5.5 million qualifying offer.
Playoff Sleepers in the Eastern Conference
By Cody Taylor
The quarter mark of the NBA season is here and we are beginning to see which teams are alive in the playoff chase. In the Eastern Conference, there hasn’t been any one squad that has identified itself as the top team, as the top five are all within four games of each other. The Hawks and Cavaliers have been two of the hottest teams in the league as of late, as the Hawks have won nine out of their last 10 and the Cavaliers have won eight of their last. It appears to be a safe bet that some combination of the Raptors, Wizards, Hawks, Bulls and Cavaliers will make up the top five seeds in the East, leaving the last three spots up for grabs.
Currently the Bucks, HEAT and Nets occupy the six-through-eight spots in the East with the Magic, Celtics and Pacers right behind them. The Bucks have been one of the biggest surprises in the league thus far as they’ve won 12 games after winning just 15 all of last season. Given their youth and inexperience, it remains to be seen if they’ll be able to keep up their strong start so they could fall out of the picture at some point. The HEAT, meanwhile, are battling injuries with Josh McRoberts possibly missing the rest of the season and Chris Bosh out indefinitely with a calf injury. They’ve won just three out of their last 10 games and have one of the worst defenses in the league and are quickly falling in the standings.
With that being said, here are three teams that could sneak into the playoffs:
Kobe Bryant Remains A Double-Edged Sword
By Jabari Davis
Like most things involving the NBA’s third all-time leading scorer, Kobe Bryant’s recent and admittedly over-blown decision to publicly chastise his teammates was predictably met with both an understanding nod by some and the usual disdain and criticism of others. This is nothing new for Bryant, as the 19-year veteran has probably been the most polarizing sports figure over the last decade and a half.
If anything, what is actually surprising is the contingency that somehow expects Bryant to change his ways this far into a Hall of Fame career. Not that additional adjustments couldn’t have at least opened the door for a smoother transition into the next era of Los Angeles Lakers’ basketball but, again, an expectation of that makes us ask: just which Bryant have you been watching all of these years?
George Karl Interested in Kings Job
By Alex Kennedy
When the Sacramento Kings shockingly fired head coach Mike Malone, one of the first potential replacements that started being mentioned on the rumor mill was George Karl.
Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro worked with Karl in Denver, and Sacramento’s decision-makers (including owner Vivek Ranadive) want the team to play an up-tempo style of basketball and get out in transition, which is Karl’s strength.
The 63-year-old head coach remains available, doing a variety of broadcasting jobs such as providing analysis on ESPN and hosting a radio show on Sirius XM NBA Radio while he waits to get back into coaching. Shortly after he was fired by Denver back in June of 2012 (right after he won the NBA’s Coach of the Year award), he told Basketball Insiders that he wanted to resume his coaching career at some point, preferably with a team in the Western Conference.
Yesterday, on his radio show, Karl addressed the rumors about him possibly coaching the Kings and admitted that he’s interested in talking with Sacramento’s management at some point.
Unintended Consequences of Malone Firing Could Help Kings
By Nate Duncan
Under the stewardship of owner Vivek Ranadive, the Sacramento Kings have quickly established a reputation as perhaps the NBA’s most unconventional franchise. Since he took control in May 2013, Ranadive hired his coach before his general manager, signed Carl Landry to a four-year deal for the full mid-level exception, gave DeMarcus Cousins a max extension, traded for analytics pariah Rudy Gay and let Isaiah Thomas walk for the reputedly inferior Darren Collison. All of these moves drew varying degrees of criticism, although many (particularly Cousins, Gay and Collison) have achieved better results than many commentators anticipated.
Even those unconventional moves did not augur the latest head-scratcher, the firing of coach Michael Malone after only a season and a quarter. The consensus is that Malone did not deserve to be axed—he had the Kings playing .600 ball before Cousins missed the last nine games with viral meningitis. The doormat Kings had improved defensively on an individual and team level, especially with Cousins in the game. And Cousins, Gay, Collison and Ben McLemore had all shown significant improvement, on track for the best seasons of their careers so far.
Down Goes Bucks’ Star Rookie Jabari Parker
By Lang Greene
There are plenty of surprises around the league that have been uncovered during the first quarter of the 2014-15 campaign. The Charlotte Hornets’ implosion, Detroit’s plummet deeper into the Eastern Conference basement and of course all of the drama unfolding in the land of the New York Knicks – all showing that preseason scripts are rarely followed to the letter.
The Milwaukee Bucks have also been a surprise. A pleasant one to their fan base, in fact. In 2013, the franchise won a grand total of 15 games. This season, fortunes have reversed, as the club already has 13 victories and would be the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed if the playoffs started today.
However, the positive momentum starting to build in Milwaukee took a huge blow on Tuesday night when the franchise announced rookie forward Jabari Parker suffered a torn ACL in his left knee and would miss the rest of the season.
Let’s Trade Nets Guard Deron Williams
By Jesse Blancarte
Last week, ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Ohm Youngmisuk reported that the Brooklyn Nets are prepared to trade each of their star players, including Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez and Deron Williams. It’s still not clear whether each of these players will be dealt this season, but it seems likely that at least two out of the three will be traded.
The most talented and accomplished player of the bunch is point guard Deron Williams. He was selected to the All-NBA Second Team twice (2008, 2010), is a three-time All-Star (2010–2012), and has career averages of 17.4 points, 8.6 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game. For several seasons, Williams was considered to be one of the two best point guards in the NBA, along with Chris Paul. However, since being traded to the then-New Jersey Nets in early 2011, Williams has struggled through injuries, inconsistent play and has fallen short of the lofty expectations that came with his arrival in New Jersey.
Breaking Down the Rajon Rondo Trade
By Jessica Camerato
After less than two months, the first major move of the 2014-15 NBA season is here.
On Thursday evening the Boston Celtics traded Rajon Rondo and Dwight Powell to the Dallas Mavericks for Brandan Wright, Jameer Nelson, Jae Crowder, a conditional first round draft pick, a 2016 second round draft pick and a $12.9 million trade exception.
The move demonstrates the different directions of each team. The Mavericks are contending for a title now while the Celtics are rebuilding for the future. Here is a breakdown for both sides.
Will Phil Jackson be Able to Practice Patience?
By Tommy Beer
Let’s start with the recognition of the fact that the hand Phil Jackson was dealt was not ideal.
When Jackson was named President of the New York Knicks, back on March 18, the Knicks were at the tail end of a bitterly disappointing season. The undermanned roster Jackson inherited finished the 2013-14 season with a 37-45 record, missing the playoffs in the watered-down Eastern Conference.
Heading into the summer of 2014, it was understood that, in some respects, Jackson’s hands were tied due to the Knicks being well over the salary cap. Nonetheless, there we still important decisions to be made.
Who Are the NBA’s Best Centers?
By Mary Stevens
Back in the day, centers were often looked at as the cornerstones of many winning NBA franchises. While they might not be the main focus when building a contender today, they are still an important piece. Basketball Insiders talked to a number of NBA centers to get their thoughts on their peers. Using that information as well as stats, we put together this list of the best centers around the league:
Let’s Trade Pistons Forward Greg Monroe
By John Zitzler
On Monday, Jesse Blancarte offered up a number of possible trade scenarios involving Nets point guard Deron Williams. Along with Williams, the Nets have made Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson available and seem ready to unload some their top talent after starting 10-14.
Today we take a look at another big name who may be on move, Detroit Pistons forward Greg Monroe. After spending this past summer as a restricted free agent, Monroe and the Pistons were unable come to terms on a long-term deal. Not landing the lucrative contract he had in mind, Monroe settled for the $5.5 million dollar qualifying offer from the Pistons. His acceptance of the qualifying earned Monroe a no-trade clause, giving him the power to veto any deal that isn’t to his liking. No matter where Monroe finishes the season he will once again be in line for a big payday, a factor that will weigh heavily for any team considering acquiring the young big man since he will lose his bird rights with any trade, meaning they re-sign him without going under the cap.
NBA Daily: Why Teams Should Think Twice Before Tanking
Making up for the loss of a superstar is not a cut and dry, writes Spencer Davies.
Making up for the loss of a superstar is not a cut and dry affair.
If it happens, ownership and management have to choose between two options.
1) Attempt to stay competitive
2) Blow everything up and go for a high draft pick
The second choice seems to be the favorite path for executives to take as of late. After all, just look at the job the Philadelphia 76ers have done with perfecting the art of the aptly named process, “tanking.”
Former Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie’s three ultra-quotable words have turned NBA fans on to see the bigger picture. Who cares if a team has to suffer through multiple seasons of losing? If it takes a couple of years, so be it. In the end, we’ll reset with younger talent to build around. Trust The Process.
Philadelphia lost a lot of games between the 2013 and 2017 seasons. It was flat out brutal to watch. With that said, it did give the organization the opportunity to draft the likes of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and acquire a young international talent like Dario Saric.
They were extremely patient throughout this whole operation. Brett Brown remained the head coach through thick and thin. Players swore on buying into what was being preached.
Last season was a breakthrough for the Sixers. They won 52 games and made the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 campaign. Two of the guys they drafted turned into recognizable names with their play and have sky-high potential to break through in this upcoming season.
But is this really what it takes to achieve relevancy and perpetual competition in the NBA now? Do you really have to wipe the slate clean entirely and put out an unacceptable product year-in and year-out for half a decade so that there’s a possibility of one day becoming a winning franchise?
It’s obvious that Philadelphia did its homework, but who’s to say that other front offices can function like that? The Sacramento Kings have been in the doldrums for 12 years. The Orlando Magic have missed the playoffs for six straight seasons and the New York Knicks haven’t made an appearance in five.
What it comes down to is hitting on draft picks, plain and simple. You don’t hear often about the missteps of the process. Nerlens Noel was supposed to be a key piece of the Sixers core, as was Jahlil Okafor. Both of those players were top six selections in their respective drafts.
In order to acquire Noel (along with New Orleans’ 2014 first-round pick), Philadelphia sent Jrue Holiday, Pierre Jackson and the 42nd overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft to the newly branded New Orleans Pelicans.
In hindsight, this was an awful move—no bones about it. Holiday had been coming off an All-Star season. He stood a head above the rest on a roster mixed with veterans and middle-of-their-career players. Most impressive of all, it was only his third year in the league.
The Sixers picked a gamble that did not return the results they were hoping for. Michael Carter-Williams won Rookie of the Year and Noel had his moments, but there’s no way it was worth losing a player the caliber of Holiday. But they had to abide by the process by any means necessary, right?
Philadelphia hasn’t won a championship, yet they’re heading in the right direction. They were able to overcome those bumps in the road. The three teams in Sacramento, Orlando and New York to this point have not.
Tanking may not be the wrong answer. It’s not always the right one, though. It all depends on timing. Take a different approach of re-tooling in lieu of rebuilding.
A prime example of this viewpoint is the Utah Jazz last season. After Gordon Hayward signed with the Boston Celtics, many pundits stuck a dead duck label on the Utah Jazz. Those people said that in spite of the fact that the organization was on the rise with a brilliant head coach and an up-and-coming center bordering on best defensive player in the league status.
General manager Dennis Lindsey made a few moves here or there, but did not even think about giving up on the overall progress the Jazz had attained. He kept Quin Snyder and Rudy Gobert, drafted Donovan Mitchell and began a new chapter in the same book instead of writing a different novel.
Utah opened a ton of eyes last season, not only making the playoffs—competing until the very end. And even that was fluky when injuries came into the picture.
They never had to go into the gutter. In the four straight years the Jazz missed the playoffs, it wasn’t because of a set strategy to take a nosedive. They had the wrong coach the first two and were learning how to play winning basketball under the right leader the next two.
It seems as if the Cleveland Cavaliers are taking that route instead of the usual cry to “blow it up.” This isn’t comparing the impact of losing Hayward to LeBron James. That would be irresponsible. But they’ve clearly formed a strategy for all of this and were much more prepared the second time around.
Their true plans were revealed on July 24 when Kevin Love signed a four-year, $120 million extension to stick around with the wine and gold. Confusion surfaced all around. Nearly everybody in the NBA world expected general manager Koby Altman to trade him and stock up on future assets. After all, the Cavaliers’ first-round draft pick next season only conveys if they finish as a bottom 10 team in the league. If they do not, the selection goes to the Atlanta Hawks.
While that’s a true statement, nothing is guaranteed. Anything that happens in a season can be unpredictable. Anything that goes on in a draft is unpredictable.
In one timeline, Cleveland could be as bad of a team as some are predicting with Love. In another, they could make the playoffs and shock their doubters.
We don’t know what Collin Sexton will be in this league yet. We do know that experience is irreplaceable. Why not surround the young man with talent for him to breed confidence in himself and others? It’s better than losing a ton of games because the front office is waiting for the next guy to pair him with, right?
The Cavaliers are keeping their head coach. They’re acquiring players aching for an opportunity. They’re altering their direction, but keeping the same focus.
With LeBron James, Cleveland made four straight NBA Finals. In doing so, they’ve set a standard for the organization. Even with The King going west, why would it make any sense to change that message?
Considering the talent this league already has and the “super teams” that are being built among them, there is a difference between a ball club that wins 20 games and one that wins 35. They both miss out on the postseason and have a lottery pick, however, Team A silently creates losing habits while Team B tries to instill a culture of winning.
There is no perfect method for filling a void left by losing a superstar player. Nobody is a psychic.
Maybe it’s naïve to criticize “The Process” for not wanting to be in NBA purgatory—usually somewhere stuck between a seven seed in the playoffs and the 10th team in the conference standings—but tanking is a tricky game. Precision is necessary to pull it off. If it isn’t there, you’ll be in a world of hurt.
At least when you’re in NBA purgatory, you can add to what you have or try a different coach. Championship or bust is a dangerous mentality in the current landscape of sports.
Of course, that’s always the goal, but very few understand what it takes to get to that point. It all starts with a winning attitude, a quality of most teams that have tanked do not possess.
NBA Daily: The Summer’s Most Impactful Coaching Hires
There have been a lot of coaching swaps this offseason, but there are only a select few that should impact what happens next year.
Building a successful team is like cooking a meal. The players serve as the ingredients, while the coach serves as the cook who stirs the ingredients. A championship team requires the right ingredients just as much as it requires an adept cook.
Take the Warriors for example. Mark Jackson played an important role in putting Golden State back on the map in 2013. However, after it was clear that he wasn’t capable of pushing them much further the following year, they replaced him with Steve Kerr.
That made all the difference. The Dubs went from pseudo-contender to legitimate contender, thanks to their new coach revolutionizing the team’s offense. The team went from the league’s 12th-ranked offense in the league the previous season (107.5 points per 100 possessions) to its second (111.6). Stephen Curry’s evolution into a basketball supernova led the way of course, but it was Kerr’s revisions to the team that pushed them to another level.
It all started with how he handled his rotation. Making Draymond Green a full-time starter while also transitioning Andre Iguodala into the sixth man made the Dubs all the more lethal as a team. The final touch was forming the “Death Lineup”, which consisted of Curry, Green, Iguodala, Klay Thompson, and Harrison Barnes, that made Golden State nearly impossible to stop.
Golden State had a roster built for a title. All they needed was a coach who could get them the best results. Kerr was the man for the job.
That goes to show how vital a coach is to a franchise that has high aspirations.
Because of success stories like Golden State, we saw quite a few coaching changes this summer from teams hoping to have a Hollywood ending much like the Warriors.
Milwaukee Bucks – Mike Budenholzer
Poor Coach Bud. It’s not his fault that the Hawks team that he guided to 60 wins in 2015 slowly disintegrated over the last three years. Luckily he got out of there to avoid having to take on a rebuild. So now, he gets a fresh start in Wisconsin.
Budenholzer’s stock has gone down considerably since winning the Coach of the Year three years ago. That being said, he’s shown that when he has lemons, he can make lemonade. Now that he is running the show in Milwaukee, he is coaching one of the more unique situations in the league. Coach Bud now has a superstar at his arsenal in Giannis Antetokounmpo, which is something he never had in Atlanta.
It’s true that Milwaukee has been one of the league’s frequent underachievers since they kicked the tires of the Greek Freek era, but their talent cannot be understated. Remember that Coach Bud once made the likes of Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver All-Stars, statuses that they’ve never come close to regaining since. If he can do that with guys like Teague and Korver, imagine what he can do with Giannis and Co.
Milwaukee has also done a solid job building a team that fits Budenholzer’s emphasis on floor stretching. Adding Brook Lopez and bringing back Ersan Ilyasova should give a team that ranked 21st in three-point percentage more spacing. That’s quite impressive since Milwaukee had the ninth-best offensive rating in the league (109.8).
Milwaukee’s been trying to find their big break for a while now. They may have found theirs in Coach Bud.
Detroit Pistons – Dwane Casey
Nobody had a harder spring than Casey. Usually, winning Coach of the Year would be a moment worth treasuring, but in Casey’s case, it was far from it. Leading up to getting the award, Casey and the Raptors were swept by the Cavs for the second consecutive time, then he got fired shortly afterward. Casey getting Coach of the Year this season was pretty much like Dirk Nowitzki getting the MVP in 2007 after getting upset by the Warriors in the first round.
Thankfully, Casey’s illustrious resume was good enough for him to land on his feet just about anywhere. That anywhere happens to be Motown, where he’s replacing Stan Van Gundy as head coach. Detroit also has not had the most success since they’ve turned to Andre Drummond. That could be attributed to the unfortunate injuries that they’ve had to deal with in the last two years.
Despite having the persistent monkey on his back come playoff time, Casey has improved his craft in response to his failures. The Raptors saw improvement every year when Casey ran the show, and now Casey has the chance to show he can do the same in Detroit.
It will be an interesting transition going from the Raptors to the Pistons. Though not as talented as Toronto’s, Detroit’s strength should primarily come from their frontcourt. Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond should be one of the league’s best frontcourt pairings on paper. Casey has a reputation for making things work, so now that they will have a full season together, they may shine more than they did last season.
One particular question that should be answered is if Toronto’s problem was Casey or his roster. That may be answered by how Detroit does this season. Oh hey, speaking of Toronto…
Toronto Raptors – Nick Nurse
There seems to be a fair amount of optimism surrounding Nurse. Supposedly, he was the reason why the Raptors’ offense improved so much last season. Casey executed it to perfection, but Nurse was the one who designed it. Now, he’s at the forefront on a team that is desperate for success now more than ever.
This is Nurse’s first gig as a head coach, and the pressure is going to be on. It’s not just that Toronto’s been trying to get past its playoff demons. Now that they have Kawhi Leonard, they have to do everything in their power to keep him around — tall order given he seems hellbent on going to L.A.
Still, Leonard is an upgrade over DeMar DeRozan. Acquiring him, along with promoting Nurse, shows that the Raptors aren’t playing around. Being the head coach for one of the league’s powerhouses is a big break for Nurse. This may be his only to chance to prove he deserves a spot in this league.
James Borrego – Charlotte Hornets
Another Popovich protegee moving up through the ranks! Borrego has had some head coaching experience, though it was with the Orlando Magic, who were not going anywhere, three years ago. Now he’s going to Charlotte, a team that’s in a pretty tough situation right now.
Right now, Charlotte is hard-capped on a roster that does not have much room for improvement. The team has not made the playoffs in two years, and it’s hard to imagine how they improve from where they currently are. However, that might be why they hired Borrego.
Instead of going for a known name like Stan Van Gundy or Jeff Hornacek, they went with a guy who has learned under the NBA’s best coach for several years. Coach Bud became a great coach after learning from Pop, so perhaps Borrego may follow in his footsteps. This is a pivotal year for Charlotte since Kemba Walker’s bargain contract is expiring. If Borrego can help Charlotte return to the playoffs, then that could do wonders for them.
Note that David Fizdale, Lloyd Pierce, and Igor Kokoskov weren’t named. It isn’t fair to include them because the teams they are running are currently in the rebuilding phase with little expectation. They could be very impactful hires down the line. Just don’t expect a lot from them right away.
Same goes for J.B. Bickerstaff, but that’s because he already was the Grizzlies’ head coach. Now he’s full-time instead of interim. Call it cheating if you want to.
As for those who have been named, these hires should have a significant impact on what happens in the Eastern Conference playoff race this season. One of these hires could very well put their team in the finals, while another could put them in the NBA lottery.
NBA Daily: Five Second-Rounders Looking For Rookie Season Role
Although far from guaranteed, there are five recent second-rounders who could work themselves into important roles in 2018-19.
After months of speculation, rumors and workouts, the NBA Draft and their respective summer leagues are finally well in the rearview mirror. With training camps up next, franchises can begin to flesh out their rotations and decide the early season fates of their newly-arrived rookies — even if their selection didn’t come with as much fanfare or hype.
And although draft day studs like Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III are nearly guaranteed to contribute immediately, much of the class’ future is still up for grabs — a statement particularly true for those that followed the first round. Whether it was a strong summer league showing or a picture-perfect landing spot, here are the five second round draftees poised to leave a mark in 2018-19.
Kostas Antetokounmpo, Dallas Mavericks
2017-18: 5.2 points, 2.9 rebounds on 57.4 percent shooting
Much as been made of the youngest Antetokounmpo’s controversial decision to come out this spring, but his faith was rewarded by Dallas with the draft’s final selection. Back in June, our Spencer Davies dove into Antetokounmpo’s time at Dayton and it’s not difficult to see why the Mavericks took a swing on the raw 6-foot-11 prospect. Over four games in Las Vegas, Antetokounmpo averaged five points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks per game on 58 percent from the floor — which, of course, is not eye-popping but could foreshadow a role moving forward.
Between Dirk Nowitzki, Dennis Smith Jr., Harrison Barnes, DeAndre Jordan and the ever-talented Luka Dončić, Antetokounmpo will not be called upon to carry the scoring load at any point. On a two-way deal, the Mavericks have the luxury to develop the Greek-born stopper in the G-League until he’s ready to make a difference — but for a defensive-minded Rick Carlisle, that day could come sooner rather than later. With Dwight Powell and Ray Spalding fighting for minutes at power forward, Antetokounmpo could be an option at the three, where Barnes has just Dorian Finney-Smith behind him.
For a franchise that ranked 18th in DEF RTG (107.4) last season and will strive for their first postseason berth since 2016, giving spot defensive specialist minutes to Antetokounmpo seems like a win-win partnership.
De’Anthony Melton, Houston Rockets
2016-17: 8.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.9 steals on 43.7 percent shooting
After missing an entire season due to an improper benefits scandal at USC, Melton serendipitously fell to the Rockets way down at No. 46 overall. At 6-foot-3, Melton has a shot to contribute on both ends immediately as an above-average defender and a microwavable scorer. During his Las Vegas debut, Melton tallied 16.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, four assists and a summer league-leading three steals across five contests — albeit at an improvable 38 percent from the floor. As a tenacious playmaker, Melton should get ample opportunity to impress with a franchise looking to avenge their brutal Western Conference Finals defeat last spring.
On top of learning from one of the best point guards in league history, there also happens to be little competition for Melton in the rotation. In July, the Rockets signed Michael Carter-Williams, a former Rookie of the Year winner that averaged just 4.6 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists in 52 games for Charlotte in 2017-18 — and, well, that’s it. For a three-point bombing franchise like Houston, neither guard fits particularly well in that regard, but Melton’s 28.4 percent clip in one season as an 18-year-old still projects better than Carter-Williams’ 25 percent mark over five years.
Chris Paul missed 24 regular season games last year, but the Rockets are still willing to head into training camp with a second-round rookie and Carter-Williams holding down the backup point guard slot — that alone says far more about Houston’s faith in Melton than anything else.
Élie Okobo, Phoenix Suns
2017-18: 12.9 points, 4.8 assists on 39.4 percent from three
Outside of Džanan Musa and the aforementioned Dončić, the Phoenix Suns’ Élie Okobo entered draft night as the most promising overseas prospect in the bunch. Okobo, a 6-foot-2 Frenchman, could feasibly become the Suns’ franchise point guard by season’s end. The playmaking 20-year-old has just Brandon Knight ahead of him on the depth chart, a formidable NBA point guard, but one that does not fit Phoenix’s current rebuilding plan. Admittedly, his statistics won’t jump off the page just yet — 2.3 points, 3.5 assists in four summer league contests — but the potential for Okobo is certainly here.
While it’s worth noting that Okobo didn’t score in three straight contests after his impressive debut, he appears to be a suitable backcourt partner with franchise cornerstone Devin Booker. Whether he’s connecting with a backdoor cut in stride or hitting difficult running floaters, there are plenty of positives to take thus far. With a postseason appearance looking unlikely for the Suns, it’ll make sense to give Okobo the reins before long — even if they can’t move Knight’s contract worth $15.6 million in 2019-20.
Mitchell Robinson, New York Knicks
Needless to say, Mitchell Robinson could be an absolute treat for the New York Knicks.
For much of the pre-draft process, it looked like Robinson was a shoo-in first rounder, with many speculating that he even received a promise from the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 25 overall. Once the first 30 picks came and went without Robinson — who elected to pull out of the draft combine in May — the Knicks were more than happy to scoop him up. Across five summer league contests, Robinson averaged 13 points, 10.2 rebounds and a competition-leading four blocks per game on 67 percent from the field.
On a team-friendly four-year deal worth just $1.8 million in 2021-22, Robinson already looks like a bargain. But beyond his first-round talent at a second-round price, there’s a real chance that Robinson can contribute for New York right away. Following the recent news that Joakim Noah will be stretched if the Knicks can’t find a suitable partner by training camp, that leaves exactly two centers left on the roster: Enes Kanter and Robinson. The 7-foot-1 prospect is a natural replacement for the departed Kyle O’Quinn, while the newly-minted David Fizdale should love Robinson’s shot-changing impact defensively.
Even if Robinson shuttles back-and-forth to and from Westchester throughout the season, he could still seamlessly slide into the Knicks’ rotation from day one.
Jevon Carter, Memphis Grizzlies
2017-18: 17.3 points, 6.6 assists, 3 steals on 39.3 percent from three
Earlier this week, Matt John put forth an excellent case for what should be a comeback season for the Grit-And-Grind Grizzlies — but there’s one second-rounder still currently flying under the radar. Despite a stellar final season at West Virginia, Carter dropped into Memphis’ lap and there are few that so elegantly fit the franchise’s identity without effort. As the reigning back-to-back NABC Defensive Player of the Year, Carter should split the backup point guard minutes with newcomer Shelvin Mack, if not more by season’s end.
The additions of Jaren Jackson Jr., Kyle Anderson and Omri Casspi, along with renewed health from Mike Conley Jr. and Marc Gasol, will have Memphis eying the postseason once again — but Carter will likely be a fan favorite long before then as well. During his lengthy summer league initiation, Carter pulled in 11.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.1 steals over seven games. Although his 35 percent clip from the floor could use some restraint, he won’t need to shoulder offensive responsibilities with the Grizzlies.
Carter’s hard-nosed style of play will enhance an uncharacteristically poor Memphis defense from last season, with his years of extra experience allowing the bullish ball-stopper to drop into the rotation from the get-go.
With franchises focused on their high-ranking lottery picks, many second round draftees (and their often non-guaranteed contracts) will never carve out a consistent NBA role. But from backing up future Hall of Famers to filling a hole in the rotation, it should surprise no one if Antetokounmpo, Melton, Okobo, Robinson and Carter earn some big-time opportunities in 2018-19. Last year alone, Semi Ojeleye, Dillon Brooks and Jordan Bell all quickly found their niche at the professional level — so who will it be this year?