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Blood Clots Can Be Serious and Life-Threatening

With Chris Bosh reportedly undergoing tests for a blood clot in his lung, Alex Kennedy shares his personal experience with clots.

Alex Kennedy

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Chris Bosh is reportedly being held out of training camp because Miami HEAT doctors won’t clear him to play due to his blood clotting issues. Because of this news, I wanted to re-post this story that I wrote in 2013 when Anderson Varejao was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism. Here is my story:

Anderson Varejao was on pace to have the best year of his career. However, in January of 2013, he suffered a quad injury that forced him to have routine surgery. That’s when things went downhill. Varejao developed a pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in his lung), which kept him sidelined for the entire season.

A pulmonary embolism isn’t a typical injury, one that heals on a specific timetable like a broken bone. This is a strange injury and one that can be difficult to bounce back from, as I learned from personal experience several years ago.

In August of 2012, I was flipping through television channels late at night when I noticed a deep pain that was shooting down my right shoulder. Shortly after, while watching ESPN, I started experiencing tightening in my lower back.

At first, I didn’t think much of these aches. After all, I had been horizontal in a hospital bed for six days so some soreness was somewhat expected. I had just undergone surgery due to Crohn’s Disease, which I’ve been battling for the last 13 years, and I was immobilized because a portion of my intestines had been removed along with part of my colon and appendix. Overall, my recovery was going well and I was set to be discharged soon, barring any complications. I told my nurse about the discomfort in my shoulder and lower back, but they chalked it up to the uncomfortable bed as well.

Throughout the next day, my pain worsened to the point that I wasn’t able to function. I had literally wrapped my shoulder and torso in heating pads and was trying to move my body in every possible position to get comfortable. No matter what I did, the pain persisted. By that night, I was in excruciating pain that I could no longer tolerate.

I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease when I was 12 years old. I’ve been dealing with flare-ups for over a decade and I’ve been hospitalized many times. I’ve had a wide array of ailments and complications due to my medical condition, so I have a relatively high pain tolerance (even dating back to my childhood). But this was by far the worst pain that I had ever experienced. Nurses often tell me that I’m one of their easiest patients because I’m calm, cool and collected, even when things are at their worst. I can typically tough out stomach cramping and sharp abdominal pain.

However, this was different. On this night, I was a mess. I was crying, punching the thin mattress and begging my nurse to page the doctor who was on call. After about an hour of this torture, the nurse returned to inform me that the doctor didn’t want to change my orders. Because I had been on pain medicine for the six days following my surgery and had just been taken off of it to prepare for discharge, he believed I was just trying to get some more pain medicine. The nurse, who felt terrible, said that she could only offer me Tylenol. Needless to say, it didn’t help. At this point, I was absolutely livid and in uncontrollable pain.

While I understand that there are addicts out there who will lie and deceive to get their hands on pain medicine, doctors shouldn’t automatically assume that they’re being duped. Some patients deserve the benefit of the doubt or, at the very least, a visit from the doctor. The message that I would have to continue suffering was told to the nurse over the phone and then relayed to me. I wouldn’t see a doctor for another 10 hours, which could’ve been the difference between me living or dying in hindsight.

The most painful night of my life continued, with seconds feeling like hours and hours feeling like days.

Eventually, my surgeon came in for his daily check-in at 7 a.m. and saw the state that I was in. He immediately knew that something was wrong, and ordered a chest x-ray as well as a CT scan. He also ordered a dose of IV pain medicine to be administered before these tests, which was one of the strangest experiences of my life. I went from one end of the pain spectrum all the way to the other. At one moment, my shoulder felt like it was being stabbed, my back was locked up and my body was convulsing. The next moment, I felt nothing and was smiling. It was such a weird sensations – going from perhaps the worst feeling of my entire life to one of the best feelings (complete relief) in several seconds.

The x-ray and scan showed that my pain wasn’t just from an uncomfortable bed (which would’ve been awfully embarrassing given the amount of agony I was in). It turns out I had developed a large pulmonary embolism (blood clot) in each lung. The larger of the two clots was so severe that a portion of my lung tissue died, which is called a pulmonary infarction. The infarction is what caused the bulk of my pain. According to my surgeon, the lung doesn’t have pain sensors so when something is going wrong such as a blood clot develops or lung tissue dies, the body starts to alert pain sensors in other body parts. This is why my shoulder and back hurt so badly; it was essentially my lung begging for help.

Not to sound dramatic, but I truly felt like I was going to die that night. That was unprecedented pain for me. Not to mention, pulmonary emboli usually cause patients to have anxiety and a feeling of doom. That perfectly sums up how I felt as I watched the clock tick slowly as my pain got worse and my mind raced. At that point, all I wanted was relief and answers, and I was genuinely scared that I wouldn’t get them soon enough. When I called my girlfriend in the morning and told her that I was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism, she immediately started to cry. Apparently she had already known the severity of a blood clot to the lung; I was pretty much learning on the fly from my surgeon while in a pain medicine fog.

My doctor immediately started me on blood thinning injections called Lovenox, which is a shot I had to give myself in my stomach every morning and night. He also continued my pain medicine, since the excruciating pain wouldn’t persist until the clots eventually broke up and the lung tissue regenerated.

Later in the day, my gastroenterologist came in to check on me. She was almost in tears as she explained just how close I had come to dying. Considering she’s a gastroenterologist who specializes in young adults, she clearly wasn’t accustomed to losing patients and was visibly affected. Not to mention, she had known me for 10 years so she was understandably distraught, just like my family and friends.

“Had your surgeon come in any later, who knows if you’d still be alive?” she said, shaking her head. “It’s a good thing he does morning rounds. Otherwise, who knows? Thank God he came when he did, and recognized what was wrong almost immediately.”

It wasn’t until this point that I realized just how close I came to death, and just how pissed off I was at the doctor who was on call the night before and completely ignored me.

The next few months were brutal, as I dealt with complications related to the clot. From August to November, I was admitted into the hospital six times for a total of 53 days. I also had to go to the emergency room 15 times during that span. The mindset is ‘better safe than sorry’ when dealing with a potential clot. Every pain in my shoulder, back or chest had to be checked to ensure it wasn’t going to kill me.

These days, both clots are completely gone, but even a year afterward I still occasionally felt side effects. If I exerted myself, I would have chest pain and shortness of breath. Every now and then, my shoulder and back would start to hurt.

Not only did the clot affect me physically, it definitely affected my mental state. I went from feeling like an invincible kid to realizing that the painful moments in that hospital bed could’ve been my last. I was forced to confront my mortality and deal with some anxiety every time similar symptoms surfaced. To have something so serious come out of nowhere is terrifying. It did strengthen my relationships and taught me not to take life for granted, but there’s no question that the experience messed with my head a bit. Still, I know it could be so much worse I’m thankful every day that I’m still alive.

Let’s get back to Varejao. He developed the clot in his lower right lung as he was recovering from the quad surgery. He had trouble sleeping, pain in his back and discomfort in his chest. He informed someone from the Cavaliers’ medical staff (who I assume was much more attentive than my doctor), and a scan revealed the clot.

Much like myself, Varejao didn’t realize the gravity of the situation until hearing from others just how common death is in these types of cases.

“They told me stories like, ‘Oh my God, I had a friend who died of a blood clot in their lung,’” Varejao told Yahoo! Sports. “And then somebody else tells me the same thing. Then you start to think about it and realize that this is more serious than I thought. A week after the surgery I was at home thinking about how I could be gone right now.”

“I was having my best season, the best time of my life, and a week later I’m in the hospital and I could be dead,” Varejao added. “It’s crazy. I’m very lucky.”

The clotting issue required him to miss the remainder of the season because he would be on anticoagulants. It would be impossible for a basketball player to take the court while on blood-thinning medicine. When I get blood drawn, it looks like someone just amputated my arm. I can’t even imagine how bloody things would get on the court with some of the physical play that Varejao endures in the paint. It remains to be seen how Varejao will respond in his first season back since the pulmonary embolism. All cases are unique and everybody responds differently to physical exertion.

He says he has been pain free for months and was able to stop taking the blood-thinning medication in April, which is an excellent step since some patients – including myself – must remain on the medicine for a longer period of time. He has able to work out, but he’s the first to admit that he still doesn’t quite feel like himself, estimating that he’s at 70 percent heading into the starting of training camp.

He’ll have to be careful on long flights throughout the season, as that’s when most clots are developed. Once a person has developed a pulmonary embolism, they become more susceptible to future clots. A professional athlete who is constantly traveling the country must be extra diligent.

With all of that said, Varejao isn’t the first professional athlete to experience a pulmonary embolism. It’s not like this is uncharted territory.

Back in 2011, tennis superstar Serena Williams developed the same kind of clot in her lung. Unlike Varejao, she was extremely limited for over one year. In fact, at one point, thought she might die.

“I was on my death bed at one point – quite literally,” Williams said in a press conference. “It got to the stage where it felt like I could hardly breathe. Some days I didn’t get out of bed at all. I just laid on a couch thinking why has this happened to me? … This has given me a whole new perspective on life and my career – and not taking anything for granted. I’m just taking one day at a time.”

After taking a year off, Williams was eventually able to return to form and duplicate her pre-injury success. However, that’s not always the case.

Two offensive linemen – Cleveland Browns guard Jason Pinkston and New York Giants tackle Stacy Andrews – were hospitalized with pulmonary emboli in recent year. Neither player has returned to the field since the diagnosis, despite being starters prior to the injuries.

Varejao, Williams, Pinkston and Andrews were fortunate that their clots were detected early. Many athletes have died over the years from pulmonary emboli, including Mack Lee Hill of the Kansas City Chiefs, Harry Agganis of the Boston Red Sox and Derrick Thomas of the Kansas City Chiefs among others.

Even if a pulmonary embolism isn’t career-ending, it can still greatly affect the individual’s life. Even after recovering from a blood clot in the lung, it’s not uncommon for a patient to experience shortness of breath or chest pain, especially when exerting themselves physically.

Sometimes, I would feel slightly fatigued and short of breath when I was sitting on the couch in the year following my clot. I can’t even imagine how an NBA player feels when he’s running up and down the court, banging with the best athletes in the world.

Varejao won’t know how his body will respond until he takes the court, but at the end of the day, the fact that he’s alive and in a position to resume his career at all is a blessing in itself.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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Looking Back At The Draft: The No. 12 Picks

David Yapkowitz assesses the 12th picks made in recent NBA Drafts and identifies the hits, misses and everything in-between.

David Yapkowitz

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The further you get into the NBA draft, the harder it is to categorize hits and misses. There aren’t many expectations with later draft picks, especially in the second round. If a player ends up panning out, then great. If they don’t, it’s no big financial loss for the team and they can easily cut ties. When you’re still in the lottery, however, you probably expect a little more than just an average player. Superstars are never guaranteed, especially with late lottery selections. But you probably would expect to have a quality rotation player if not probable starter with a late lottery pick.

Here at Basketball Insiders, we’re continuing our look back at the draft, pick by pick, with each of the No. 12 picks going back the last 10 drafts. Let’s see how those picks have panned out.

The Hits

Steven Adams – Oklahoma City Thunder – 2013

The OKC Thunder didn’t have a lottery pick in the 2013 draft, but they acquired it from the Houston Rockets as part of the James Harden trade. With Adams, the Thunder certainly hit the mark. Only Giannis Antetokounmpo (who 13 other teams in addition to the Thunder passed on) and Rudy Gobert are players picked after Adams who have fared better.

Adams has become one of the best defensive players and rebounders in the league as well as a great screen setter and roll man in the pick and roll. He plays his role to perfection and is a starting-caliber center. He may not have hit All-Star status, but he is a legit starter and with a lottery pick, that’s probably what you would expect.

Gerald Henderson – Charlotte Bobcats – 2009

I’m going with a hit on this one. Henderson played nearly all of his eight-year career with the Bobcats with the exception of his final two years with the Portland Trail Blazers and Philadelphia 76ers respectively. He was unfortunately forced into early retirement due to nagging injury issues.

But for the eight years he was in the NBA, he was a capable scorer and mostly a starting-caliber wing player. As mentioned, with a late lottery pick, a starting-caliber player is what you should expect. Henderson averaged double-digits in scoring for most of his career and he shot in the mid-’40s from the field. If not for injuries, he probably would have played in the NBA for a few more years.

The Misses

Xavier Henry – Memphis Grizzlies – 2010

Going back to the last ten drafts, Henry is the only player picked No. 12 that I would consider to be a miss thus far. He had some hype coming out of Kansas and was expected to be a first-round pick and NBA contributor. He didn’t play much as a rookie with the Grizzlies and was traded to the New Orleans Hornets.

He showed some brief flashes with the Hornets but never really was able to sustain any sort of consistent success. He got hurt during his stint with the Los Angeles Lakers and that pretty much ended his NBA career after five years. He’s had a couple of G League appearances since then but didn’t really show that he was ready for an NBA return.

The Middle of the Road

Taurean Prince – Atlanta Hawks – 2016

Again, for a late lottery pick, a starting-caliber player is what you expect your selection to develop into. Prince is here under the middle of the road rather than hits because it’s still too early in his career to determine if he is truly a full-time starter.

With the Hawks, he certainly looked the part. After a so-so rookie year, he stepped up in a big way, becoming a scorer and deadly three-point shooter with solid defensive capabilities. When he was traded to the Brooklyn Nets last summer, he was considered to be a big pick up. This season, although he started in 61 of the 64 games he suited up in Brooklyn, his shooting suffered and he wasn’t as effective as he had been in Atlanta. There is still time for him to be considered a hit though.

Jeremy Lamb – Houston Rockets – 2012

Lamb is another player who had some high expectations coming out of college but got off to a rocky start in the NBA. He showed some flashes in Oklahoma City but was wildly inconsistent. But like many players, a change of scenery seemed to be all he needed.
He broke out when he arrived in Charlotte, becoming a solid bench scoring threat and becoming more of a regular in the starting lineup as the years went on.

He rightfully earned himself a solid payday from the Indiana Pacers and he started 42 of the 46 games he played in. Unfortunately for him, he suffered a season-ending injury in February. The Pacers are hoping he can bounce back from that.

Luke Kennard – Detroit Pistons – 2017

Another player that is still a little early to categorize. For now, he appears to be a middle of the ground type player. This is only his third year in the NBA, and he’s shown improvement each year. This season was a breakout year for him.

Since coming to the league, he’s been a very good three-point shooter. This season he was knocking down 39.9 percent of his attempts. His scoring has gone up every season and this year he had broken through to double-digits. He has some injury concerns, and he was actually out when the NBA suspended the season. But if he can bounce back healthy, then he certainly looks like a solid pick at No. 12.

The Role Players

Trey Lyles – Utah Jazz – 2015

In a league where the game is changing and traditional big men aren’t as common as they used to be, Lyles fits right in. Lyles seemingly was another case of a player who needed a change of scenery to find his niche. He wasn’t able to stick in either Utah or Denver, and it wasn’t until this season, his first in San Antonio, that he looked like a capable role player.

Lyles became a regular starter for the Spurs, and again, that’s what you want from a lottery pick. He isn’t included in the hits yet because this is the first season out of his five that he’s shown this. He doesn’t have a big enough sample size. He shot a career-best 38.7 percent from three and if he keeps this up, he’ll be a good pick albeit a late bloomer.

Alec Burks – Utah Jazz – 2011

Burks once looked like he was going to become more than just a solid NBA player. He might have had borderline All-Star potential. At least a starting-caliber shooting guard. But unfortunately for him, his career was seemingly derailed by early injuries.

He has since bounced back though. He’s reinvented himself as a scoring threat off the bench. He put up a career-high 16.1 points per game with the Golden State Warriors in the first half of the season. On a playoff team though, he’s a second unit player and that’s exactly what the 76ers were hoping for when they traded for him. He only had 11 games in Philly before the season was halted, but he’s done well to change his game and be effective despite major injuries.

Too Early to Tell

Dario Saric – Orlando Magic – 2014

I’m introducing a new category here, the too early to tell group. These players either don’t have a big enough sample size, or they have had circumstances that may have hindered their abilities. Saric falls into the latter part of that. He’s been a solid starting stretch-four when he’s gotten consistent playing time. But he struggled to adapt to being thrown around in different roles and inconsistent minutes with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns. He’s a pending restricted free agent who might not figure to be in the Suns future plans. Quite a few teams should consider throwing an offer his way.

Miles Bridges – Charlotte Bobcats – 2018

It’s a bit too early to make any major assessments on Bridges. This is only his second year in the NBA, a season that has been cut short. He mostly came off the bench as a rookie and had a pretty solid year with some aspects he could certainly improve upon. He looked much improved this season albeit some areas he could still work on.

He became a regular starting small forward for the Bobcats this season. He upped his scoring and rebounding and he’s often asked to guard multiple positions. He’s young and has a lot of room to improve. I don’t quite feel comfortable yet placing him in one of the above categories so that’s why he’s too early to tell. The future does look good for him though.

The later you go in the draft, the fewer expectations you put on the player you drafted. Franchise level players are not common, there are only a handful in the league. But at least with first-rounders, and especially a lottery pick, you’d expect to get at least a quality rotation player.
Judging by the production of the all the No. 12 picks for the past ten years, it’s safe to say that they all have, or look like they will pan out in some capacity. Only one of them is a sure-fire miss.

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Looking At The NBA Draft: The No. 11 Picks

Drew Maresca assesses the 11th picks made in recent NBA Drafts and identifies the hits, misses and everything in-between.

Drew Maresca

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The 2020 NBA Draft was scheduled to take place in approximately one month from today. But then the COVID-19 pandemic happened and resulted in delays for just about every profession worldwide. So instead of preparing for the upcoming draft and/or analyzing the 2020 NBA Playoffs, we are looking back at recent drafts and how the picks fared.

Basketball Insiders began analyzing each pick of the last 10 or so drafts last week. As we make out way toward the end of the lottery, there is clearly less certainty around prospects. This is where guys who are seen as bigger risks go, as well as where guys who NBA personnel might have too little upside are selected. It’s where teams can be too creative for their own good, or where taking risks is paid off in spades.

So let’s turn our attention to the 11th pick in the NBA Draft, as we continue identifying hits, misses, middle-of-the-road guys and role players.

The Hits

Klay Thompson – Golden State Warriors – 2011

Thompson is the clear headliner of the 11th overall picks. He’s a three-time champion with five All-Star selections, two appearances on the All-NBA team and a selection for the All-Defensive team in 2018-19. Granted, Kawhi Leonard (14) and Jimmy Butler (30) were selected after Thompson; but there’s no one else you’d even consider taking over him – and the return on investment that Thompson has provided has been exquisite for an 11th pick. End of story.

Myles Turner – Indiana Pacers – 2015

The 2015 NBA Draft was really good. I mean, look: Turner dropped to 11 – that says it all. Turner was selected before Devin Booker; but otherwise, it’s pretty clear that he was the best available player.

Turner is among the rare seven-footers (technically 6-foot-1) who can shoot from deep – he’s a career 35.4% three-point shooter – and defend the rim – he also rejected 2.2 shots per game this season. Technically, that qualifies his as a unicorn, right?

But the Pacers’ commitment hasn’t been iron-clad. He’s only breached 30 minutes per game once, in 2016-17 – the same year he posted his career-high in scoring (14.5). Turner will struggle to fulfill his full potential unless he’s either given more time or traded. Still, Turner’s unique skillset renders him a “hit.”

Domantas Sabonis – Orlando Magic (and traded to Indiana Pacers)– 2016

Sabonis was an unnecessary pick for the Pacers. They’d selected Turner in the previous year’s draft, and they obviously could’ve used Caris LeVert (20) and Pascal Siakam (27).

Still, Sabonis has been so good that he forced his way into the Pacers lineup and onto this list. Unlike his teammate (Turner), Sabonis has received a serious commitment from the Pacers; he was awarded a new contract in 2019 (4 years/$77 million) before 2019-20, and he also received a career-high 34.8 minutes per game – this season also saw Sabonis secure career-highs in scoring (18.5) and rebounds (12.4). And he received wide-spread recognition throughout the league, too; Sabonis made his first All-Star team in his fourth season.

Ultimately, Sabonis is a bull on the block and he’s still only 24 – a sure thing.

The Misses

Terrance Williams – New Jersey Nets – 2009

Williams entered the league with potential oozing from him. The 6-foot-6 swingman averaged 12.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, 5 assists and 2.3 steals per game in his senior year for head coach Rick Pitino at Lousiville and looked like a great piece for the Nets. And throughout – and especially toward the end – of his rookie year, Williams looked like he might make the leap. He played in 78 games, starting nine of them; and he averaged 14.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game across the final two months of the year (22 games).

But for some reason, then-new coach Avery Johnson was against the idea of playing Williams. He was inactive and/or delegated to the G League for much of his sophomore season with the Nets – and then he was traded to Houston. From there, he never stuck anywhere for more than a season – and his effect was less evident than it was during his rookie campaign. Making matters worse, Williams was selected ahead of Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, Jeff Teague, Darren Collison and a number of other more productive players who would have been smarter picks than Williams was.

All of the talent was there for Williams; but for whatever reason, it never worked out. Was it his fault? That part is unclear. But either way, this one’s a miss.

Cole Aldrich – New Orleans Hornets (and traded to Oklahoma City Thunder) – 2010

The term “miss” is relative, but Aldrich is a “miss” in just about any draft. He stuck around the NBA for eight seasons, but his effect was minimal. He only started 18 times in his 339 career games – 16 of which were for the 17-win 2014-15 Knicks. And even then, he averaged only 5.5 points and 5.5 rebounds in 16 minutes per game.

2010 didn’t result in a huge influx in talent. From it, we got a few stars (e.g., Paul George and Gordon Hayward), but the draft produced more than its share of underwhelming players. And in Aldrich’s defense, most of the guys taken in the bottom-third of the 2010 lottery disappointed their teams; only Eric Bledsoe (18), Avery Bradley (19), Hassan Whiteside (33) and Lance Stephenson (40) were long-term starters selected after Aldrich — and none of them where under consideration at 11. Still, whoever made the call to draft Aldrich, be it New Orleans or Oklahoma City, should have looked more closely.

Michael Carter-Williams – Philadelphia 76ers – 2013

Carter-Williams was a pretty exciting prospect coming out of Syracuse University. He entered the league after a breakout sophomore campaign in which he led the Orange to the Elite Eight. He followed that up by winning the 2014 NBA Rookie of the Year award.

And all of that makes everything that transpired later even harder to stomach. Carter-Williams was traded to the Bucks in a three-team trade in 2015. His strong play continued in Milwaukee, but he struggled after suffering an ankle injury and was shut down after tearing his labrum. And it got worse from there.

Carter-Williams seems to have re-established himself in the NBA with the Orlando Magic, but he’ll never be the triple-double machine he once was. Add in the fact that Giannis Antetokounmpo was taken just four picks later and that leads to the eventual…that Carter-Williams is a “miss.” But that doesn’t mean he won’t stick in the league for at least the next few seasons – this writer feels that he will.

Malik Monk – Charlotte Hornets – 2017

Monk entered the NBA with a lot of momentum – mostly because he was attached to the New York Knicks, who picked eighth overall in 2017. However, Monk was selected 11th by the Hornets, and he’s struggled to live up to even that hype.

Monk shot an abysmal 28.4% on three-point attempts this season, which is even worse considering he was thought to be someone who could get hot from deep. He also possesses a below-average effective field goal percentage (47.8% in 2019-20) and his assist-to-turnover ratio is underwhelming.

Still, Monk had some impressive moments this year and his confidence remains. He might not be efficient, but he’s young and athletic. Monk will continue to get opportunities to prove himself, but he still has a lot to work on. A change of scenery might help, but Monk has lot to prove if he’s going to go down as anything but a “miss.”

Middle of the Road

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Los Angeles Clippers – 2018

In this particular instance, “middle of the road” is code for “really close to qualifying as a hit” – unfortunately, Gilgeous-Alexander isn’t quite there yet. Gilgeous-Alexander has played really well in his first two seasons. And he took a pretty impressive step forward in 2019-20, averaging 19.3 points per game as a starter alongside Chris Paul in Oklahoma City. Gilgeous-Alexander actually led the team in total minutes and he shot pretty well (35%) on three-point attempts, too.

But Gilgeous-Alexander is a natural point guard, and he was only third on the Thunder in assists. In fact, the Thunder’s two most frequently used lineups feature Chris Paul, or Paul and Dennis Schroder alongside Gilgeous-Alexander. That means that despite being a point guard, Gilgeous-Alexander has had the benefit of playing with at least one other lead guard for the majority of his minutes this seaon.

This is not meant as a knock on Gilgeous-Alexander – in fact, that will probably benefit him down the road. It’s just that a “hit” must be established. And while Gilgeous-Alexander will almost certainly join that club very soon, he’s still ramping up.

Cameron Johnson – Phoenix Suns – 2019

Johnson was a pretty weird pick as of draft night last year. While he posted good numbers in his final collegiate season (16.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists), his age led NBA executives to believe that his ceiling was low relative to his peers. It wasn’t completely unwarranted. Johnson had just wrapped up his fifth NCAA season, thanks to a knee injury and his transferring from Pittsburgh to North Carolina. As a result, the 23-year-old was the NBA’s oldest rookie witjh only three other first-round picks clocking in at 22 –Matisse Thybulle, Brandon Clarke and Dylan Windler.

But Johnson’s rookie year surprised a number of folks around the league. He posted 8.1 points per game on 39.7% shooting from three-point range. And he demonstrated a surprising amount of athleticism and better-than-expected decision making. Johnson still has lots to prove; but he very well may end up having a better career than anyone expected.

Role Players

Meyers Leonard – Portland Trail Blazers – 2012

On the one hand, Leonard hasn’t been shown up by many guys taken after him – only Evan Fournier is definitively better. On the other hand, he hasn’t turned into a world-beater, either. In fact, his stat line isn’t that different than two guys taken later in the 2012 first-round: Tyler Zeller (17) and/or Miles Plumlee (26).

Leonard posted the second-best season of his not-so-young career in 2019-20 – 6.1 points and 5.1 rebounds while shooting 42.9% on 2.4 three-point attempts per game – but what does that really say for an 11th pick? He’s clearly serviceable – but he’s no building block. He’s a great backup, he’s seven-feet tall and he can even shoot a little. Leonard will have a place in someone’s rotation for years to come. But will he ever be much else? Probably not.

Doug McDermott – Chicago Bulls – 2014

McDermott is exactly the player we expected him to be coming out of Creighton. He’s shot the ball well (41.3% career three-point shooter) and he scored it better in 2019-20 (10.4 points per game) than he did in any previous season.

But McDermott was selected just a few picks before Zach LaVine, T.J. Warren and Jusuf Nurkic. Comparatively, he’s just not as good as any of them. And he’s also been a limited defender and rebounder. So, it’s a stretch to think of McDermott as a successful pick.

But he sure can shoot it – McDermott has the fifth-best three-point percentage in the NBA in 2019-20, and that means he’s filling a key role for any playoff team.

The 11th pick has been proven itself a challenging spot for teams to make successful picks. There have been a number of gambles taken with the 11th pick in recent years. It’s hasn’t worked out great for most teams, but it only takes one pick to change a team’s fortunes – and NBA teams will continue to bet on their front office’s abilities to identify prospects. So don’t except teams’ strategies to change anytime soon.

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Looking At The NBA Draft: The No. 10 Picks

Matt John continues Basketball Insiders’ looking back series by examining the last decade’s worth of 10th overall picks.

Matt John

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As Basketball Insiders has continued its “Looking Back” series, it was only a matter of time until we crossed the double digits. Now that time has come. Today we are taking a look at how all of the tenth overall picks since 2009 have fared in the NBA.

As you probably know, as the lottery picks go down further and further, the prospects’ ceilings aren’t nearly as high. At the same time, the 10-14 range is usually reserved for teams that actually had no intention of being in the lottery to begin with. It’s usually around this point in the draft where if you got someone good with this selection, you got a steal. No questions asked.

The tenth overall selections since 2009 have overall done okay for where they were picked. As a group, they’ve done better than some of the other selections that were higher than them

The Hits

Paul George – Indiana Pacers – 2010

This should be a given. It only took three years for George to prove he was a household name. By that time, he had taken Indiana the furthest they had gone since the Reggie Miller/Jermaine O’Neal days and usurped Danny Granger as the team’s best player. Since then, George has routinely made both the All-Star team and an All-NBA team – save the one year he was recovering from one of the most gruesome leg injuries ever – while establishing himself as one of the league’s best two-way wings.

George has been a top-12 player for the duration of his career, which is impressive enough as it is. We knew he was a fantastic player. We just didn’t know he was an elite one until last year. Before a crippling shoulder injury stopped him in his tracks, George was a man possessed, averaging 28.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists. He maintained his efficiencies even while increasing his usage, which upped him from perennial All-Star to MVP candidate.

Since migrating to his hometown Los Angeles Clippers, we haven’t seen the same production from George. Some of that comes from the shoulder injury among others that he’s endured this season. Some of that comes from playing next to Kawhi Leonard. Even so, George is not to be underestimated as a right-hand man on a title team.

We’re going to see what PG-13 is truly made of when the Clippers go on their playoff run this year. We know that Kawhi will be on his A-Game when the playoffs start. George’s expectations are a little more uncertain. He’s received some flak in recent years for his inability to step up in the clutch as well as his somewhat lackluster playoff performances.

Although going toe-to-toe with LeBron James in the conference finals in back-to-back years would certainly certify him as a playoff performer, here’s a fact that’s fallen under the radar: George hasn’t made it out of the first round since 2014. As far as hits go, George has been a home run, and he could still prove to be a grand slam.

Most hilariously of all, there have only been two tenth overall picks in NBA history who have rivaled the production of Paul George — Paul Pierce and Paul Westphal. If another Paul gets taken No. 10 in the NBA draft, the bar for him should be set at Hall of Fame. At minimum.

CJ McCollum – Portland Trail Blazers – 2013

What McCollum has done should be appreciated more. Without him, Portland may not have been able to steady the boat as well as they did when they were pretty much gutted in the summer of 2015. Without him, Portland definitely would not have made the Western Conference Finals last season. We’re not taking anything away from Damian Lillard here. It’s just that if McCollum hadn’t been there, how far would Dame and the Blazers have gone?

The resume is pretty good for McCollum. He’s been one of the league’s premier scorers for five years now. He is half of one of the league’s top-scoring tandems. He’s been one of the few excellent players from one of the worst drafts of all time. Playing in the jam-packed Western Conference will probably prevent him from making an All-Star team, but he’s never not been in consideration.

There were better players taken after McCollum — Giannis Antetokoumnpo and Rudy Gobert — but Portland still nailed the selection when you consider only one guy that was taken ahead of him has been on his level (Victor Oladipo), and when you factor inconsistency, McCollum has a case over Oladipo.

The Trail Blazers are going to face more questions next season with the Western Conference still remaining a bloodbath and Lillard and McCollum entering the peak of their careers. No matter what happens, McCollum came into this league renowned for getting buckets. He may not have hit the ground running, but once he took off, he lived up to the hype.

The Misses

Jimmer Fredette – Sacramento Kings – 2011

Guys, can you believe “Jimmer Mania” was almost a decade ago? It seems like just yesterday we were all watching him shoot the lights out from just about everywhere on an NCAA basketball court. Yet, somehow, it feels like forever ago since he was last in the NBA.

Jimmer’s ultimately forgettable NBA tenure is really strange when you consider what the league is like now. He came in as an elite shooter above all else. Even if his scoring prowess from BYU wouldn’t have translated to the big leagues, his jumper should have made him a valued commodity. It somehow never was.

You can blame it on him starting his career in Sacramento if you’d like. He only played there for two-and-a half years. He played for organizations that were run much better at that time like the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs. He still never found his footing. His time in the NBA should teach us a lesson. We get plenty of sharpshooting guards who dominate the college game as snipers, but for every Stephen Curry, there’s always a Jimmer Fredette.

Years later, it’s good to see that Jimmer went on to establish himself as a household name. Even if that wasn’t in the NBA.

Thon Maker – Milwaukee Bucks – 2016

On paper, Thon should have been a perfect fit for the modern NBA. A rare combination of length, mobility and shooting would have made him the perfect floor-stretching five in the modern NBA. Early mixtapes of him before he was drafted hyped him up to be such a player. That hype soon died down to the point where once the Bucks took him tenth overall — picking him over Domantas Sabonis will eat at them for years — we were all pretty quick to call it a reach.

Outside of the rare occasional outbursts, which manifested in the playoffs of all places, Maker’s never really found himself in the league. For his size, he’s not a good rebounder and only an okay shot-blocker. For someone who shoots threes, he’s also a subpar three-point shooter. He’s managed to be a rotation player in Detroit, but he plays a tick under 13 minutes a game for one of the worst teams in the league.

His physical makeup will probably make for some interested suitors in a “low-risk/unknown-reward” scenario. It’s not his fault the Bucks swung for the fences when they took him, but because they did, he’s a bust.

Middle of the Road

Brandon Jennings – Milwaukee Bucks – 2009

There may not be a better player that exemplifies “Middle of the Road” better than Brandon Jennings. Talent-wise, he should be a hit. Career-wise, he should be a role player at best overall. He only played in the NBA for nine seasons. When he was at the top of his game, he was an excellent ballplayer.

Jennings at first made us all think he was a cornerstone in the making his first month in the league, which was highlighted by a 55-point rampage he hung on rookie Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors. He fizzled after that, but even so, he was averaging between 15-19 points a game while putting up five to seven assists in that time too.

His prime was cut short by an Achilles tear mid-season in 2015 — which was a shame at the time because he was playing the best basketball of his career at the time — and he was never the same after that. After some brief stints in Orlando, New York, Washington and Milwaukee again, Jennings had been phased out of the league in 2018.

Jennings does not deserve to be labeled as a miss because a cruel twist of fate ruined everything. Unfortunately, his short-lived career prevents him from being labeled a hit.

Justise Winslow – Miami HEAT – 2015

When an executive is willing to trade four first-round picks to take you ninth overall in the draft, that puts a fair amount of spotlight on you when you first enter the league. Justise Winslow already came into the NBA a winner, having won an NCAA championship. He was supposed to be an added bonus of youth and pizzazz to a Miami team that was locked and loaded upon first drafting him.

Five years later, Winslow has been… fine? The injuries have piled on for Winslow since entering the league, but when he’s on the court, he’s proven himself to be a finesse player. That title alone prevents him from being called a role player. At the same time, finesse players aren’t exactly stars. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Winslow has been as good as advertised defensively and has come along quite nicely as a playmaker and a rebounder. His shooting has been inconsistent and he hasn’t evolved into the scorer many thought he could be. A man of his skillset is incredibly useful, but there seems to be this feeling that begs the question, “Wasn’t he supposed to be better than this?”

Even while evolving into a Swiss army knife swingman, it’s a little disconcerting that Miami practically gave him away to Memphis for an aging Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder on an expiring contract. Many would proclaim that a steal for Memphis, but Winslow hasn’t exactly proven he’s good enough to be warranted as a steal both in the draft or in a trade.

Seeing as Memphis suddenly has a very promising future, let’s see how Winslow does now that he’s on a team that fits his timeline.

Zach Collins – Portland Trail Blazers – 2017

A shoulder injury early on interrupted what should have been Collins taking his next step as a pro. Into what is up in the air, but the returns on Collins since he started his career have been promising. He’s got some bounce in his game. He’s shown that he has good awareness on the court. He can stretch the floor, although he hasn’t proven to be entirely reliable. When last season’s playoff run ended, he was on the up-and-up.

Alas, that darn shoulder injury messed everything up. Jusuf Nurkic will be back next season, but he’ll need time to get his game in full swing. Hassan Whiteside will more than likely be gone. Factoring all of that, Collins will get another shot next year to show what he’s got.

As his role expands in Portland, we’re going to see who the real Zach Collins is.

Cam Reddish – Atlanta Hawks – 2019

The third amigo from the 2019 Duke Blue Devils, Reddish’s start in the league was pretty awful. That happens when your efficiencies in 2019 are 32 percent from the field and 26 percent from the three. 2020 has been a different story. His shooting percentage from the field has been 44 percent while his three-point percentage has bumped up to almost 40 percent.

A lot of rookies have uneven seasons during their first go-round. Atlanta as a team stinks as a whole, but as time goes on they should get better. In that time, Reddish should be able to demonstrate what kind of player he is. Let’s hope the 2020 Reddish is more indicative of who he is, because players who average more turnovers than assists definitely need to grow.

Role Players

Austin Rivers – New Orleans Pelicans – 2012

Can we stop giving Austin Rivers grief now? Yes, he was a bust in New Orleans. Yes, he’s Doc’s son. Yes, he rubs some players very much the wrong way. Rivers’ slow start in the league and family ties make him an easy target for critics, and it’s overshadowed that he has rebounded quite nicely after, well, a disastrous first tenure in New Orleans.

Rivers played some of the best basketball of his career under his father in LA. Rivers molded into a respectable scorer in their rotation by putting up some of his career bests, averaging 15 points and 4 assists. Although, one can argue that those were inflated numbers on a strictly average Clippers team.

In Houston, he’s found a more suitable role as a hybrid scorer/three-and-D type guard off their bench. 8.5 points off 42 percent shooting from the field including 36 percent from the field are good numbers for a team that centers its strategy around shooting threes. Rivers definitely deserves criticism after being selected No. 10 — Evan Fournier probably would have been the better guard to pick — but not for what he does these days.

Elfrid Payton – Orlando Magic – 2014

Unlike Rivers, Payton didn’t struggle out of the gate. He just never really took a big leap after a promising rookie season. He’s always proven himself to be a playmaker – he has a 6.6 career assist average in just 29 minutes, but his lack of shooting — a career 29 percent shooter from three — has kept him from making any meaningful progress.

Unless they have some of the most unreal athleticism or craftiness that we’ve ever seen, non-shooting point guards don’t make too big of a difference in the NBA. Payton hasn’t been a bust by any means. He’s been productive everywhere he’s gone. It’s just abundantly clear that where his career is right now is where he’ll be production-wise for the duration.

The shame of it all is, Payton’s never played for a playoff team. Orlando traded him to Phoenix just before they made the playoffs. He then signed with New Orleans just before the Anthony Davis fallout. Now, he’s in New York. Being a rotation a player on a good team is something he still hasn’t proven yet.

Can we please see that someday?

Mikal Bridges – Phoenix Suns – 2018

Over the last couple of years, Phoenix has had a string of failed draft picks over the last couple of years — Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, Josh Jackson — so any fruitful draft pick from the lottery, whether they’re a star or not, would be a welcome change of pace. Enter Mikal Bridges.

Bridges has been a half-decent two-way swingman for the Suns over his first two years. He’s not much of a pure scorer, but that’s not why Phoenix drafted him. He’s been more of the defensive specialist that the Suns have desperately needed since they launched their rebuild back in 2016 as well as an underrated floor-spacer.

His shooting efficiencies thus far in his career — 46/34/82 splits over his first two years — as well as his solid rebounding numbers as a wing (3.6 per game) show that he is already a solid role player on a team that’s been looking for the right supporting cast members.

So does Bridges meet the criteria stated earlier? Honest answer: They could have had Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, but, good enough.

As previously stated, the tenth pick in the draft doesn’t boast a whole lot of star power, but it’s not designed to. Paul George panning out into a full-fledged superstar is more luck than anything else. This group has overall met expectations. Only two guys didn’t live up to being the tenth pick. The others have done, at the very least, what their teams have asked of them.

If you compare them to say, the eighth pick, you’d be even more impressed.

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