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Dunc’d On: Preseason Week One Thoughts

Nate Duncan shares his impressions from the first week of the preseason.

Nate Duncan

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With a week’s worth of preseason games in the books, it is possible to make a few observations about the teams I have seen a bit of.  Obviously given the sample and the preseason, anything here is only of limited utility.  But there are some legitimate takeaways so far, especially on player’s health or fitness going into the season.

Chicago Bulls

–The biggest takeaway for the Bulls is that Derrick Rose looks excellent.  His defense has been outstanding, and while he is not quite the athletic force he was getting to the rim, that may be more a function of him being 26 instead of 23 when we last really saw him.  Granted, Rose had trouble translating his preseason success into the regular season early last year before his injury, but this preseason has provided about as many positive signs as Bulls fans could have hoped for.  The only issue so far has been his midrange jumper, which as Grantland’s Kirk Goldsberry noted has declined precipitously.  Rose does not appear to be rising on balance very well, as he almost always lands with his body oriented in a different direction.

–Nikola Mirotic has been a mixed bag. He showed *Marv voice* the entire repertoire in the opener against the Wizards, but has struggled offensively since.  He has been a little shy taking open spot up threes, looking to drive even when he has plenty of time to get the shot off.  That may just be a relic of his play in Europe. There, his driving game was more effective due to a lack of shotblockers, and there is also a little bit more of an unselfish ethos.  He should be a very effective offensive player once he adjusts, because he has a very high skill level.

Defensively his team defense has been encouraging. Mirotic has more quickness in rotations than anticipated, and his quick hands and length have provided a solid deterrent in the paint despite the fact he is not a leaper.  One-on-one he has struggled a bit more because he does not get into a deep enough stance and does not have a ton of quickness laterally.  And, the defensive boards have been a sore spot as well.

A plus though is that Mirotic appears in great cardiovascular shape.  He runs the floor hard, competes for offensive rebounds and still gets back on D.

–Joakim Noah is clearly still working his way back from offseason knee surgery.  Interestingly, we never found out precisely what that surgery actually was other than a “clean-up.” But the fact that Noah reportedly only resumed basketball activities for training camp after a May surgery would indicate that it was more than a small meniscus trim that a “clean-up” would normally imply.

Noah will eventually be himself on defense, but his offense will be something to keep an eye on as his athleticism declines with age—he turns 30 this year.   He can be an effective midrange shooter when wide open, but his slow and low release means that teams can stray very far off him and still recover.  They have not been guarding him at all in the preseason, and that is a problem when Pau Gasol is trying to post up.  Some of Noah’s scoring shortcomings have been mitigated by having the ball in his hands so much the last two years, because the man with the ball generally must be guarded. But with Rose and Gasol in the lineup now we will see less of Noah facilitating this year, so he must be a threat off the ball.  It may be that this is much ado about nothing, but it is something to keep an eye on as the regular season begins.

–Jimmy Butler looks to be in absolutely outstanding shape.  It seems clear that wear and tear and a toe injury sapped his athleticism a year ago, but he is now jumping out of the gym the way he was back in 2012-13.

ButlerMcDOop

Butler is attacking the basket hard on cuts and getting to the free throw line off passes from the Bulls’ skilled big men.  The only thing we have yet to see is his three point shot.  Butler has taken only one in three games, which is really going to hamstring the Bulls’ offense if he can’t at least be a consistent threat out there.

–Gasol has looked excellent defensively, as he is functioning as the center with Noah at power forward.  He has eight blocks in three games.  On offense his midranger has been effective, but he has not been particularly effective posting up, perhaps in part due to the lack of spacing.

–One thing to watch is coach Tom Thibodeau’s rotations.  He has a history of extreme rigidity, which has hurt the Bulls in the past.  Thus far in the preseason, Thibodeau has started Noah and Gasol, who are both really centers.  Rose, Butler and Mike Dunleavy fill out the starting lineup, which has played well despite a relative dearth of shooting.  But the bench units have been disappointing.  Granted it is preseason, so we may see more mixing and matching of starters and reserves when the real games begin.

My suggestion would be to play Gasol in three stints, like the Mavericks and Spurs often deploy Dirk Nowitzki and Tony Parker.  Taj Gibson for Gasol early would allow him to return for Noah and play with the second unit when Rose sits.  This second stint could give Gasol minutes with Mirotic, who could space the floor for postups and allow Gasol to work as a go-to option.  It would also behoove the Bulls to try a few minutes each half with Rose and Mirotic to run spread pick-and-roll, as Mirotic’s shooting would facilitate Rose’s drives.

To really compete for a championship, this Bulls team needs to get to the top 10 in offense this year.  With the offensive talent on hand, that type of finish seems possible.  But, Thibodeau is going to need to find the right mix of players in his regular units to make that happen.

Golden State Warriors

–Andrew Bogut is shooting free throws left-handed now!  To my knowledge, this was something no one had reported on at all until he unveiled it against the Lakers on Sunday night.  After shooting a miserable 34 percent last year, perhaps Bogut came to the conclusion that the after-effects of his awful elbow injury in 2010 would prevent him from shooting passably with his natural right hand.  He started 1-4 with the new approach.

–The Warriors’ offense already features much more ball movement than under Mark Jackson.  The problem with Jackson’s approach was not merely his fondness for iso-ball, but the fact that little movement occurred off the ball during those isos and postups.  That defect has been remedied as of the first two games, although it remains to be seen how the Warriors will look against a defense that is not the Los Angeles Lakers.  How the Warriors play offensively without Curry could be the biggest key (non-health division) to whether they can reach the high 50s in wins.  With Kevin Durant’s injury, a top three seed appears a bit more realistic for a lot of teams in the West.

–Brandon Rush has looked excellent so far.  He cut quite a bit of weight from his nadir in Utah a season ago, when he was probably about 15 pounds too heavy and struggled with his confidence.  He is looking like a viable rotation piece as a three and D player, and potentially an excellent signing for the minimum.  Despite the “Splash Brothers” moniker, the Warriors could really use another shooter on the wing aside from Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry.

–Backup center is the only real weakness to emerge for the Warriors.  Festus Ezeli still has yet to make his debut after a setback with shin discomfort, and Ognjen Kuzmic has not impressed offensively and looks pretty limited athletically.  Mareese Speights’ weakness executing the system defensively has been well-documented, so the Warriors do not have a great in-house option backing up the injury-prone Bogut.

–This play was perhaps my favorite so far of the preseason.  As the Lakers were getting blown out of the gym, Kobe put Ronnie Price on Harrison Barnes and tried to pressure up Stephen Curry.  This was the result.

CurryDropOff

Los Angeles Lakers

–I have seen all three of the Lakers’ preseason games. After an encouraging start against the Nuggets, the Warriors have put their weaknesses in stark relief.   We knew this team would struggle defensively without a single above-average defensive player on the roster aside from the limited Ronnie Price.  But as Stephen Curry roasted Steve Nash to start Sunday’s game, it was apparent that the Lakers really didn’t have a superior option.  Bryant is not a stopper at this point in his career, although he is better on-ball than off.  Jeremy Lin was injured and has never been great on D, and Wesley Johnson is probably too slow.  It is very difficult to imagine a scenario in which the Lakers avoid the bottom five in defense this year.

–Another underappreciated Laker weakness was highlighted by Byron Scott’s comments earlier this week that he wanted the Lakers taking less than 15 threes per game.  That seems like lunacy in today’s NBA, but L.A. really doesn’t have three-point shooters aside from Nash until Ryan Kelly returns from a hamstring injury.  Against Golden State, they took a mere three from downtown, making none.  On a related note, the Lakers managed 75 points.

–The good news for the Lakers is that Kobe Bryant has looked about as good as could be expected so far.  Unlike his abortive return a year ago, he looks to be about the same weight as he finished 2012-13.  Despite the torn Achilles and the knee fracture, I wouldn’t say he looks much worse than might have been expected with another two years of aging had he stayed healthy.

Brooklyn Nets

–The encouraging news for the Nets is that Brook Lopez looks like he is back.  Lost amidst the Nets’ horrible start last year was Lopez’s injury, and the fact that he was on pace for a wonderful individual offensive season.  He looked like his old self against Sacramento in China early Sunday morning.

–Lionel Hollins gave Mason Plumlee and Lopez a few minutes together, but it is hard to imagine that pairing working well with Plumlee’s limited shooting range and Lopez’s penchant for posting up.  Plumlee also struggles out on the floor against power forwards despite his athleticism.  It is a bit of a conundrum for coach Hollins, as Lopez, Plumlee, and Kevin Garnett are all best at center at this point in their careers.

–Garnett looked great in the few minutes he played, looking quite spry as he skied for a defensive rebound and a goaltend.  Maybe we just caught him on a good day (which can be fewer and further between as players age), but it was good to see.

–The Nets were very effective posting their smalls a year ago.  With the departures of Paul Pierce and Shaun Livingston, that strategy will be deployed a bit less this year, but Joe Johnson and Deron Williams can still be lethal in that role.  They may want to try it with Lopez out of the game though, as he had trouble finding a spot to avoid gumming up the spacing.  It may just be rust hurting his timing for cutting to the basket, but the small postups were ineffective when he played.

–Deron Williams looked relatively spry and canned a few jumpers, but he was not particularly successful getting into the paint against Sacramento’s usually porous defense.  I did not see enough to posit whether he will be significantly improved after procedures on his ankles in the offseason, although reports from previous games and camp have been positive.

–Sergey Karasev spent the summer in relative limbo before being traded to the Nets as the Cavs cleared space for LeBron James. There appears to be almost no chance he will be in the rotation, which is not a surprise with the veteran wings the Nets have.  But it would be nice if he had improved his body some in the offseason.  Instead, he looked to have extremely high body fat for a young 20 year old wing.  Considering athleticism is his biggest roadblock to success in the NBA, it is disappointing.

Sacramento Kings

–Ramon Sessions was a very underrated signing late in the summer.  He is probably the best passer the Kings have rostered since Brad Miller, and has also showed an ability to keep the defense honest with his jumper so far.

–Nik Stauskas is going to get attacked defensively, as he noted the other day.  A typical sequence saw Deron Williams wave off a pick-and-roll to isolate against him, although he missed a reasonably tough jumper since the help was waiting behind Stauskas.  The good news for the Kings is Stauskas can shoot, dribble and pass.  It turns out those skills are pretty important for basketball.  Moreover, Stauskas looks like he belongs out there athletically.  He certainly isn’t going to help the Kings’ defensive woes, but I would expect him to supplant Ben McLemore as the starter by season’s end, especially with Darren Collison’s playmaking limitations.

–The reports that Omri Casspi had slimmed down appear accurate.  I had noted it would really help him to do so after he looked a little heavy down the stretch with Houston a year ago, and he is much quicker getting to the basket and asserting himself in the floor game.

–The Kings are another team  that somehow does not have a single high-minute player on their roster who projects to play above-average NBA defense.  It is really difficult to see how they are going to improve on last year’s point-prevention, and that is a problem since the offense could take a step back without Isaiah Thomas.

Washington Wizards

–With the unfortunate injury to Bradley Beal, we are going to find out whether Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr. can play.  While that may torpedo Washington’s hopes of getting home-court in the first round, determining whether a long-term in-house solution is available at the three is a silver lining.

Nate Duncan is an NBA analyst and attorney. He writes regular features for Basketball Insiders and chats weekly at 11 Eastern on Tuesdays.

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G-League

NBA Daily: Power Ranking The Two-Way Standouts, Part II

With trade season in the rearview mirror, Ben Nadeau takes stock of the NBA’s impressive collection of two-way standouts.

Ben Nadeau

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Last week, the NBA’s trade deadline finally came and went — along with plenty of worthwhile fireworks of their own — and buyout season is officially in full swing. But as franchises continue bolstering their roster ahead of the postseason (or lottery-bound future efforts), another deadline occurred recently without much fanfare. In January, the cutoff to sign players to two-way contracts passed — so where does that leave affairs headed into the midseason break?

Previously, Basketball Insiders took a swing at ranking the 30-best two-way players but, quickly, it became clear that there would need to be a Part II. Since then, the Pacers signed Edmond Sumner to a contract that extends through the remainder of the season, plus a team option in 2019-20. Our No. 12 selection has a home in Indiana and — with All-Star Victor Oladipo sidelined with a serious injury — Sumner has proven his worth in the postseason-ready rotation. And, funny enough, Chris Boucher — who was spotlighted in the introductory paragraphs in Part I as a would-be ineligible roster member for Toronto — earned his own multi-year contract as well.

If you’re in need of some honorable mentions and Nos. 30-11, the Part I rankings can be found right here.

But as a rapid-fire recap: Since 2017, two-way contracts have granted a team to carry two more roster spots that won’t count against the salary cap. These players, who must have less than four years of NBA experience, can be swapped between the professional level and the G League for up to 45 days in a season. While these two-way standouts will be ineligible to compete in the playoffs, franchises are able to convert these contracts to regular deals if they have the roster spot to do so. With that out of the way, here’s the best of the bunch — beginning with a very special (and retconned) honorable mention.

Honorable Mention: Chris Boucher, Toronto Raptors

So, the top ten list is officially a top nine with Boucher moving to the Raptors full-time, excellent news for the deep conference frontrunners. Previously, the former Oregon Duck would’ve been ranked at No. 2 and, well, it was a deserved spot. Boucher averaged a whopping 27.6 points, 11 rebounds and 4.2 blocks over 23 games with the 905. For what it’s worth, these numbers slotted Boucher second, fourth and first, respectively, league-wide. In college, Boucher was a highly-touted prospect before a torn ACL sent him tumbling down and, eventually, out of draft boards. After one season as a two-way player for Golden State, Boucher ended up in Toronto — now, he’s a member of the Midseason All-NBA G League Eastern Conference squad.

His NBA-level statistics certainly aren’t as eye-popping, not even close — but now Boucher can receive minutes on Finals-worthy contender. Being behind Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka will cap any short term potential, but the shot-blocking scorer can learn from some of the very best at his position. In 17 games, Boucher has averaged 3.8 points and 0.9 blocks, still, the sky may just be the limit for this talented 26-year-old. Undeniably, Boucher has earned his new multi-year contract with partial guarantees — now can he keep rising?

9. Amile Jefferson, Orlando Magic

Jefferson has been a G League standout since he went undrafted out of Duke in 2017 — now the 6-foot-9 forward has been a rebounding force for two different teams in two consecutive seasons. In 2017-18, Jefferson was named to the All-NBA G League Second Team and the All-Defensive Team after he posted 17.7 points and 12.8 rebounds over 46 games for the Iowa Wolves. This season, now with the Eastern Conference-leading Lakeland Magic, not much has changed.

With nearly identical numbers, Jefferson remains one of the G League’s most consistent forces to date. As the third-ranked rebounder, Jefferson gobbles boards and scores at an effective rate too, with his 58.2 percent mark from the field coming in at 13th-best during the calendar year as well. Notably, the Magic’s frontcourt depth is absolutely loaded, so unless injuries strike the postseason hopefuls, Jefferson will remain behind Aaron Gordon, Nikola Vucevic, Khem Birch and the recently-shelved Mohamed Bamba.

8. Danuel House Jr., Houston Rockets

Earlier this season, two-way standout Danuel House Jr. ran out of eligible days with Houston — but when the Rockets offered a guaranteed three-year deal, the sharpshooter declined it. That decision meant that House would stay with the Rockets’ G League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Barring a change in heart from either side, House, 25, will become a restricted free agent this offseason. Over 25 games with Houston, House averaged 9.1 points and 3.6 rebounds, even starting 12 contests throughout his rapid ascent in the playoff-destined organization.

House has another full year of prior NBA experience too and tallied 6.6 points and 3.3 rebounds over 23 games for the Phoenix Suns in 2017-18. The Vipers are currently two games behind Santa Cruz for the G League’s best record and House, as of late, has been instrumental in that chase. Last Friday, House helped Rio Grande down the South Bay Lakers with 24 points, seven assists and the game-clinching free throws with just seconds remaining. Although House cannot play another game for the Rockets on his current two-way deal, his successes this campaign still enters him fairly high on our list.

7. Theo Pinson, Brooklyn Nets

As far as new revelations come, the Nets’ Theo Pinson may just take the cake. After four successful seasons at North Carolina, including an NCAA Championship in 2017, Pinson went undrafted. During that senior campaign at UNC, Pinson tallied 10.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists over 29 minutes per game — solid, if not spectacular. More importantly, Pinson was a poor three-point shooter, hitting on just 25.7 percent of his attempts at the Division-I powerhouse. Scooped up after the draft by Brooklyn, Pinson has been a nice surprise for the talented prospect-developing franchise in the Northeast.

Over 25 games on Long Island, Pinson has averaged 20.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 6.6 assists — thanks to those efforts, the point guard landed on the Midseason All-NBA G League Eastern Conference squad too. In one of the more positive storylines of the season, Pinson has even become an above average shooter from deep and now makes three three-pointers per game at a very respectable 37.3 percent clip. Perhaps best of all, Pinson recently provided a burst of energy for Brooklyn too. In a close battle against the Knicks, Pinson exploded for 19 points and eight rebounds on 3-for-5 from three-point range over 26 minutes.

Either way, in the last year or so, Pinson has improved massively on his biggest weakness, dominated the G League and made an impact at the NBA level — not a bad way to start your once-undrafted professional career by any means.

6. Jordan Loyd, Toronto Raptors

First and foremost, Loyd, too, was named to the Midseason All-NBA G League Eastern Conference team, in a theme that will continue sharply from here on out. Still, distilling Loyd’s massive 2018-19 to a single honor would be a disservice to the rookie. Loyd has done a little bit of everything for the Raptors 905, although he was passed over by Toronto to sign Malcolm Miller instead. The 6-foot-4 guard has averaged 21.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.9 assists and 1.9 steals over 34.9 minutes per game. His fine tandem with the aforementioned Boucher seems to be dead for now, but the pair continuously tore up the G League alongside each other for most of the stat-stuffed campaign.

On Jan. 28, Loyd even pulled down a triple-double against Windy City by tallying 24 points, 17 rebounds and 11 assists. Back in 2017-18, Loyd was one of Israeli Premier League’s biggest stars, earned an All-Star Game berth and finished the season as the third-highest scorer (17.4 PPG), Again, the Raptors’ loaded backcourt — Kyle Lowry, Jeremy Lin, Danny Green, Norman Powell, and, by the postseason, Fred VanVleet — has hindered Loyd’s potential impact in the NBA. Honestly, that’s fine: Just stand aside and watch with wonder as Loyd pushes the reigning champions back into the G League postseason all by himself now.

5. P.J. Dozier, Boston Celtics

The Maine Red Claws may be a disappointing subplot to the latest G League narrative but newcomer P.J. Dozier has been an absolute dream. Through 33 games in Portland, Dozier has averaged 21.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game over a 35-minute clip. Not to be a broken record, but, of course, Dozier was another easy selection for the Midseason All-NBA G League Eastern Conference roster too. Dozier has featured in four games for Boston, a total double that of his appearances with Oklahoma City as a rookie last season — but his G League numbers have seen a major rise since then as well.

The 6-foot-6 guard is averaging about 8.5 more points per game, but his greatest rise has been the boost in assists, nearly tripling from his 2017-18 campaign. Progress, particularly from within the Celtics’ organization, is nothing to ignore. Like teammate R.J. Hunter, Boston’s other two-way player, his potential for the season, if not longer, is capped. Of course, that could change this summer depending on where the Kyrie Irving and Terry Rozier chips end up falling in free agency, but Dozier has become an absolute force since joining Boston.

Dozier has averaged just 1.8 points over a paltry 2.5 minutes per game for Boston — regardless, he’s officially a prospect worth keeping tabs on.

4. Alan Williams, Brooklyn Nets

You guessed it: Alan Williams is yet another Midseason All-NBA G League Eastern Conference roster honoree. And, after his tumultuous journey, it’s a well-earned award for the 6-foot-8 big man. Through many world-traveling tribulations — outlined here — Williams signed a multi-year contract with Phoenix in July of 2017. Unfortunately, that feel-good story was short-lived as Williams underwent surgery to repair his meniscus in September, rehabbed until March, played five meaningless games and then was waived at season’s end.

Thankfully, the Suns’ loss became the Nets’ gain and Williams has dominated in the G League for Long Island. The affectionately nicknamed ‘Big Sauce’ has averaged 20.6 points and 13.2 rebounds over 28 games, numbers that place him as a top ten scorer and the second-best board-snatcher league-wide. During Williams’ only major appearance for Brooklyn this season thus far, he grabbed eight points and eight rebounds in eight minutes — a line he’s proven capable of repeating over and over with the proper court burn.

It feels like a matter of time before Williams gets his next chance at the NBA level — but who will scoop up the elite rebounder?

3. Yante Maten, Miami HEAT

At this rate, Yante Maten will be a household name before too long in NBA circles — if he isn’t already. Maten was a four-year standout — 19.3 points per game as a senior — at Georgia before he went undrafted and landed one of Miami’s two-way deals this summer. In return, all Maten has done is tallied 26.4 points (second) 10 rebounds (fifth) and 1.2 blocks per game for the Sioux Falls Skyforce this season. Maten, a 6-foot-8 forward, has been sidelined with an ankle injury since Jan. 2 but he and teammate Duncan Robinson — ranked at No. 18 in Part I — were both named to the Midseason All-NBA G League Western Conference roster last week as well.

Maten has not featured for the HEAT in 2018-19 but his scoring prowess is quickly making himself a name. During an early December win against the Stockton Kings, Maten dropped a blistering 42 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks on 15-for-21 shooting. Miami only averages 105.1 points per game, the 27th-worst mark in the entire league — bested by three free-falling franchises: Chicago, Cleveland and Memphis — so injecting Maten’s scoring punch could provide a much-needed lift.

For now, we’ll have to settle for a healthy return from the inactive list — sadly, it’s been far too long since Maten torched the G League. If things break right for him, it won’t be much longer before he gets his NBA call-up either.

2. Angel Delgado, Los Angeles Clippers

Your current rebounding leader is, handily, the Clippers’ Angel Delgado. At 17.3 points and 14.6 rebounds on 58.8 percent shooting, Delgado’s looming presence has been well-known all season for Agua Caliente. In more recent news, Delgado made his NBA debut for Los Angeles on Feb. 8 and chipped in three points and four rebounds over 14 minutes against the Indiana Pacers. Following their trade that sent Tobias Harris across the country to Philadelphia, the Clippers have some intriguing paths to end this season — many scenarios of which include Delgado’s growth.

As of publishing, Los Angeles holds the conference’s eighth and final postseason berth, winning two of their last three games post-Harris’ departure. Delgado, 24, is coming off back-to-back stellar seasons with Seton Hall, where the frontcourt menace tallied 13.6 points and 11.8 rebounds per game for the Pirates. In January, Delgado pulled down an otherworldly 31 rebounds against the OKC Blue — no, that’s not a type. For now, at least, Delgado is behind Montrezl Harrell, one of 2018-19’s breakout stars, newcomer Ivica Zubac and G League teammate Johnathan Motley, the latter of which has played in 15 games for Los Angeles this season.

Of note, both Delgado and Motley were both named to the Midseason All-NBA G League Western Conference roster.

1. Jordan McRae, Washington Wizards

And, in a reveal that shouldn’t surprise anybody: Jordan McRae is basketball’s best two-way player — at this point, the resume is too much to ignore. Yes, McRae is a Midseason All-NBA G League Eastern Conference awardee, but he’s also an NBA Champion. So far, McRae has seen it all: Finals experience, another previous D-League All-Star selection, a trip (albeit a short one) overseas to play with a prestigious club, Baskonia, and remains the current scoring leader in today’s G League. McRae, 27, has averaged a dominant 30 points per game — which that would rank him behind just Antonio Blakeney (32.0) for the highest single-season PPG tally in G League history — along with 5.1 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.8 steals.

With 78 NBA games and counting under his belt, McRae is both seasoned and untapped. In an inspired drubbing of the Red Claws last month, McRae poured in 54 points and nine rebounds on 18-for-31 shooting — and there are plenty of other MVP-worthy efforts to choose from as well. The Wizards, struggling to stay afloat without All-Star John Wall, could certainly use McRae’s talented efforts. Ultimately, a combination of developmental and financial cap reasons may keep him from getting his contract converted by season’s end, as Candace Buckner of The Washington Post wrote in January. Through 19 games, McRae has averaged 4.3 points and 1.1 rebounds — but make no mistake, he’s one of the best scorers the G League has ever offered up.

There they are! From top to bottom — and split over two articles — there’s a definitive list of the NBA’s best two-way players. While some are still feeling out basketball at the post-collegiate level, there are plenty of hardened, consistent contributors already. There are high-ranking scorers and rebounders, but other newcomers arrive with overseas experiences, national championships and difficult injury histories. The G League has always given athletes an intriguing — if not unlikely road to the league — but thanks to the two-way deals, those narratives have often become downright compelling.

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NBA

NBA All-Star Friday Recap

Basketball Insiders recaps NBA All-Star Friday 2019, which featured a four-point shot and a deep pool of talent in the Rising Stars Challenge.

Matt John

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NBA All-Star Celebrity Game

The NBA All-Star Celebrity Game had a variety of big names to trot out on Friday night. This list included former NBA players such as Ray Allen and Jay Williams, current WNBA players Stefanie Dolson and A’ja Wilson, entertainers such as JB Smoove, Mike Colter, and Hassan Minhaj, and last year’s MVP, Quavo.

The Home Team was coached by WNBA legend Dawn Staley while the Away Team was coached by WNBA superstar Sue Bird.

Team Staley pulled ahead multiple times throughout the game, but every run they made was followed by a run by Team Bird. Team Bird’s comeback attempt fell short as Team Staley ultimately won 82-80.

Internet Comedian Famous Los led the way for Team Staley, scoring a team-high 22 points on 10-16 shooting while dishing out three assists in the team’s victory. Jay Williams razzled and dazzled as well, scoring 18 points on 8-15 shooting while dishing out five assists – including this beauty.

What could have been with Jay Williams…

Quavo topped his performance last year for Team Staley, scoring a game-high 27 points in total, highlighted by what may very well be the only five-point play to ever happen in an NBA-sponsored basketball game. Quavo shot 13-19 from the field while also corralling nine rebounds as well. Ray Allen also put up a vintage performance, putting up 24 points on 11-21 shooting, nine rebounds and five assists.

There were a few interesting wrinkles to this game. A four-point shot was implemented in which $4,000 would be donated to charity for each shot made from distance. Ten four-pointers were made in the game, totaling $40,000 in charity donations.

Two more fun facts: We didn’t even get a tip-off in this game. Comedian Brad Williams stole the ball from the ref to start it off. Also, just because it’s a harmless exhibition does not mean participants won’t get into it. JB Smoove and Hassan Minhaj got a little testy at the end of the first quarter.

Other participants included:

From Team Bird: Ronnie 2K (Director of influencer marketing, 2K Sports), AJ Buckley (Actor, “SEAL Team”), Bad Bunny (Singer), Marc Lasry (Milwaukee Bucks’ Co-Owner), Adam Ray (Host of About Last Night), Amanda Seales (Actor/Comedian), James Shaw Jr. (Hometown Hero), Brad Williams (Host of About Last Night)

From Team Staley: Chris Daughtry (Singer), Terrence Jenkins (TV Personality/Actor), Dr. Oz (TV Personality), Rapsody (Rapper), Bo Rinehart (Musician), Steve Smith (Former NFL Player), Jason Weissman (Hometown Hero)

MTN DEW ICE Rising Stars

If last year’s Rising Stars game had an overabundance of talent, this one may have very well topped it. That’s how loaded this year’s class was.

Let’s start with what could be a preview for what’s to come next year: Luka Doncic’s performance. More specifically, his connection with Lauri Markaanen. Throughout the first quarter, Doncic found Markaanen everywhere, either for easy alley-oops or wide open threes on the pick and pop.

Why bring this up? Because this is exactly what we could expect to see from Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis when they share the court together, as Markaanen has a similar skill set offensively to Porzingis’.

As for the game itself, Team USA jumped out to a 12-point lead at the half, thanks primarily to the likes of Jayson Tatum (16 points on 6-12 shooting) and Kyle Kuzma (21 points on 10-16 shooting).

Team World wouldn’t go down without a fight. In the third quarter, they managed to cut the deficit down to a point thanks primarily to Doncic and Ben Simmons’  collective efforts, but that was as close as they got. Team USA pulled away in the fourth quarter as they went on to win 161-144.

Simmons led the way for Team World, as he finished with 30 points on 14-17 shooting on a squad where, outside of Simmons, the scoring was pretty well spread out as Doncic, Markaanen, DeAndre Ayton, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Rodney Kurucs, OG Annonuby, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Okogie all had 10 points or more.

Team USA had a few standouts, including Kuzma (35 points on 15-27 shooting), Tatum (30 points on 12-24 shooting), Donovan Mitchell (20 points, nine assists, seven rebounds), and Trae Young (25 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds). All were deserving of the MVP, but the award ultimately went to Kuzma.

Tonight, we go a little deeper into All-Star Weekend with the Dunk Contest, Three-Point Shooting Contest, and the Skills Challenge. Stay tuned!

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NBA

NBA Daily: Can Tobias Harris Put the 76ers Over the Top?

Shane Rhodes breaks down whether the addition of Tobias Harris can push the 76ers into the NBA Finals.

Shane Rhodes

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The Philadelphia 76ers made perhaps the biggest move of trade season when they acquired Tobias Harris from the Los Angeles Clippers. Harris, in the midst of a career year, was on the path to a lucrative contract come this summer. But, with an uncertain future in Los Angeles, Philadelphia capitalized and made their move to win now.

In doing so, the 76ers have put together, arguably, the most talented starting roster in the Eastern Conference. But what exactly does Harris bring to the team, and can he put them over the top of their competition in the East?

Harris has very much looked the part of an All-Star this season and has given Brett Brown and the 76ers coaching staff yet another weapon with which to attack defenses. The 26-year-old has posted career highs in points (20.7), rebounds (7.8) and assists (2.8) per game, field goal percentage (49.7) and three-point percentage (43.0) this season and should prove a significant upgrade over Wilson Chandler, who was sent to Los Angeles in the trade, on both offense and defense.

In a superior lineup, his Harris’ play should only improve as well.

His statistical values may dip with the move to Philadelphia, but, in a way, the team may look at that as a positive; with so many talents on the floor together, Brown, in theory, should be able to utilize Harris in order to reduce wear and tear on his other players — namely Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Jimmy Butler — and keep them somewhat fresh for the postseason, if not at the expensive of some personal stats.

Harris is another player that can handle the ball and should lead to even more movement within the 76ers offense. He has shown over the years an ability to push the ball up the floor in transition and should relieve some of the pressure from Simmons in that area as well. In the event that he is the lone star on the floor, or should the ball movement stop, Harris able and willing to break out his do-it-himself kit; he may not dance a defender like Kyrie Irving, but he is more than capable of sizing up his man and either hitting a shot in their face or brute-forcing his way to the basket.

Harris is a more-than-capable shooter and, off the ball, should provide Simmons with another reliable perimeter outlet and open things up on the interior open things up inside for him and Embiid as well.

Defensively, Harris isn’t a wizard, but the effort and energy are there and should shine in the already competent 76ers defense. While it may not be ideal in all situations, Harris has the size to bang down low with some centers and the quickness to keep up with smaller players on the perimeter. Harris’ length — a near seven-foot wingspan — should also prove an asset, as he will allow the defense to switch on almost every possession. In the postseason, that could prove invaluable.

As good as this acquisition may look on paper, it isn’t without its cons or risks. Harris’ is another primary option on a team that already had three of them in Embiid, Simmons and Butler; could the presence of too many options bog things down a la the Boston Celtics earlier this season?

His contract situation, alongside the impending free agency of Butler, should give some pause as well.

The team has hedged its future on those two players and given up some good (and some great) assets to acquire them. Should Butler leave, Harris would provide the 76ers with the ultimate insurance policy but, should both players move on after the season it could set the team back years.

The 76ers have plenty of pre-existing issues to figure out as well, a losing record against their chief Eastern Conference competition — Milwaukee Bucks (0-1), Toronto Raptors (1-2) and Celtics (0-3) — most prominent among them.

But, with Harris in the fold, the 76ers seem to have all the pieces of the puzzle. If the players can put it all together, they could very well find themselves in the NBA Finals come June.

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