It’s been the summer of change for the Golden State Warriors. After helping them to back to back championships and three straight NBA Finals appearances, Kevin Durant left to the Brooklyn Nets. Not only that but longtime veterans Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, who were key players on title teams, are also gone. To make matters worse, Klay Thompson is expected to miss a good portion of the season while he recovers from an ACL injury.
It’s not all gloom and doom for the Warriors, however. Stephen Curry and Draymond Green are still around. Thompson is probably going to be back sometime after the All-Star break. D’Angelo Russell, one of the top rising stars in the league is now in the Bay Area. There is enough left to still make the Warriors a formidable team. There’s going to be some question marks regarding the bench, but there’s no reason to believe this team still isn’t one of the better teams in the Western Conference.
FIVE GUYS THINK…
How the mighty have fallen. The Warriors were seemingly set to rule the Western Conference, and the NBA, for quite a while. But a couple of injuries later, and everything changed. The Warriors have fallen back down to Earth and have rejoined the rest of the pack. That’s not to say they won’t still be among the NBA’s elite. As long as they have the core group of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, they will be a contender. Thompson will likely be out until the All-Star Break at the earliest, but they have a replacement in D’Angelo Russell. The main area of concern, however, is going to be the bench. Their depth has been one of their strengths in years past, but this season it’s a bit of a question mark. They have players capable of playing big roles off the bench with Willie Cauley Stein, Alec Burks, Omari Spellman and Glenn Robinson III, but those players haven’t exactly been the models for consistency. Steve Kerr has seemingly managed to get the most out of his players though it’s possible they end up forming a good second unit.
2nd Place – Pacific Division
– David Yapkowitz
The Warriors dynasty seems to be a thing of the past. But that does not mean they’re in need of a rebuild. They still have their big-three under contract for the foreseeable future (Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green). And while none of them are as durable and effective as they were a few years back, they are still all top-5 league-wide in their respective positions. They also made out pretty well in Durant’s departure – returning D’Angelo Russell; especially considering Durant could have walked for nothing. Unfortunately, that move also cost the Dubs Andre Iguodala. Shaun Livingston left, too – recently announcing his retirement. While the Warriors might be taking a wait-and-see approach with Russell, it might be in their best interest to swap him out for additional depth if they hope to continue to compete for championships with their current team.
3rd Place – Pacific Division
– Drew Maresca
With Kevin Durant off to Brooklyn, Andre Iguodala idle in Memphis and Shaun Livingston retired, the Golden State Warriors have had some major losses. Even Klay Thompson, who tore his ACL in the NBA Finals, is out until late winter or early spring. So the question everybody has is: Is the dynasty over? The Dubs don’t think so. We’ll see an unfamiliar duo with Stephen Curry and a rising star in D’Angelo Russell, which should make for a blazing backcourt. Looking at the additions of Willie Cauley-Stein and Omari Spellman – along with the return of Kevon Looney – the big man situation is solidified on both ends. Draymond Green is still the straw that stirs the drink. There’s a possibility that Jacob Evans breaks out as a second unit sensation, in addition to Summer League starling Alen Smailagic and Villanova standout Eric Paschall. Steve Kerr still has two-thirds of his original core to work with, so let’s not be foolish and eliminate Golden State from the playoffs in our minds. The five-game NBA Finals appearance streak though? That could be in jeopardy.
3rd Place – Pacific Division
– Spencer Davies
Eventually, every NBA dynasty comes to an end. While the Warriors still have Steph Curry and Draymond Green and that is a ton more than some teams have, the juggernaut is no more and the Warriors are mortal again. Klay Thompson will likely miss most if not all of the 2019-20 NBA season, which means if the Warriors are smart about their long-term future, this season will be more about “load management” with an emphasis on developing their newfound youth. The surprise addition of D’Angelo Russell gives the Warriors an interesting All-Star level guy to look at before the trade deadline, so it’s not as if the Warriors will head to the NBA basement, but winning more than 45-50 games seems unlikely given the circumstances.
4th Place – Pacific Division
– Steve Kyler
It’s unfortunate that the Golden State Warriors were hit with several devastating injuries to key players in the 2018-19 playoffs. In the aftermath, Kevin Durant is now a member of the Brooklyn Nets, Klay Thompson is still a Warrior but will be rehabbing well into the season and Golden State is now led by just Stephen Curry and Draymond Green. Any team would be thrilled to have Curry and Green leading the team, but these are the Warriors, who have been historically dominant and talented over the last few seasons. Despite having very little depth on the roster, I do believe that Curry, Green and new addition D’Angelo Russell could lead the Warriors into the playoffs. However, I also will not be surprised if this team underperforms or is edged out of the postseason by a dangerous, fringe playoff team like the Sacramento Kings. The first six spots in the Western Conference place are, as of now, seemingly locked in by the top teams in the West. There are two spots open for a few teams to fight over and I’m just not sure where Golden State will end up. A lot will depend on how quickly Klay Thompson can return to action and play at his usual levels.
3rd Place – Pacific Division
– Jesse Blancarte
FROM THE CAP GUY
The Warriors responded quickly to Kevin Durant’s intention to leave for the Brooklyn Nets, orchestrating a dual sign and trade that brought in All-Star D’Angelo Russell on a five-year $117.3 million max contract. The goal is to integrate Russell into the team’s core, but if he doesn’t fit their style of play, he can be traded after December 15. The Russell deal also triggered a hard cap for the Warriors at $138.9 million, which is why the team felt compelled first to deal Andre Iguodala to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Golden State will pay the repeater tax after this season, should they remain over the $132.6 million threshold. Currently, the team has roughly $138.6 million in guaranteed salary in just 13 players. Should they finish the year at $138.9 million in payroll, they’ll pay $16 million in tax. Given the team had initially prepared to pay Durant the maximum (while retaining Iguodala), the tax bill is probably a relief to what the team had originally expected.
– Eric Pincus
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Stephen Curry
Curry remains a top 5-6 player in the league and one of the most explosive offensive threats. He is a threat to score from literally anywhere on the court. He is the motor that has kept the Warriors running the past few seasons and the driving force behind their championship teams. He obviously hasn’t had to shoulder the offensive load as much when Durant was on the team, but this season is going to be different.
This past season, at the age of 30, he continued his efficient scoring, He averaged 27.3 points per game while shooting 47.2 percent from the field, 43.7 percent from the three-point line, and 91.6 percent from the free-throw line. During the 2015-16 season, the season before Durant arrived, Curry vaulted himself into the vaunted 50/40/90 club while averaging a career-high 30.1 points per game. Now with Durant gone, and Thompson out to start the season, don’t be shocked to see Curry return to those levels of scoring. Sure he has a little more wear and tear on his body, but he’s still in the prime of his career. Look for some big offensive performances from him this season.
Top Defensive Player: Draymond Green
There’s no question about it, Green is the heart and soul of the Warriors defense. He’s been the catalyst that’s made the Warriors one of the best defensive teams in the league. He’s arguably the most versatile defensive player in the league right now, capable of bodying up big men in the post, being an interior shot blocker, and able to cover guard and wings on the perimeter.
Green will also have some help behind him with Kevon Looney expected to be the full-time starter at center. Together the duo will be one of the best defensive frontcourts in the league. Green will have a legit shot blocker behind him, so he can afford to be a little bit more aggressive on the perimeter. Green has never been one to shy away from a challenge, and with many predicting the Warriors demise, it’s just the sort of thing to light another fire under him and see his name mentioned again in the Defensive Player of the Year race.
Top Playmaker: D’Angelo Russell
Yes, I know Curry is still on the team and is one of the best in the league with ball in his hands. But things are different in the Bay this season. Adjustments are going to have to be made and Steve Kerr is going to have to put his players in the best possible situations to succeed. Curry is also one of, if not the best off-ball player in the NBA. It’s a nightmare for defenders to chase him around multiple screens as he looks to get open. Russell has emerged as one of the better playmakers in the league. It’s not at all farfetched to imagine Russell being the primary ball-handler.
Russell thrives with the ball in his hands and he averaged 7.0 assists last season; more than Curry. He also isn’t as good a catch and shoot player as Curry is, nor is he as efficient moving without the ball. It might be in Golden State’s best interest to shake things up a little bit and allow Russell to facilitate the offense while Curry plays more off-ball. If that happens, look for Russell’s assist numbers to shoot up.
Top Clutch Player: Klay Thompson
Sure he’s going to be out for the first half of the season, but Thompson is arguably the most clutch player on the team, and certainly one of the best in the league. His 41 points in Game 6 of the 2016 Western Conference Finals, with the Warriors facing elimination, is legendary. Last season, before he got hurt in Game 5 of the Finals, he was well on his way to another amazing elimination game performance.
Clutch doesn’t just mean hitting big shots in the fourth quarter — clutch is also measured by a player’s overall performance in big games. Thompson is certainly capable of hitting big shots down the stretch, he’s done it multiple times. But he seemingly rises to the occasion in the playoff when the Warriors have needed a huge game. He’s going to have that extra motivation when he returns to the court, and the Warriors will be well off for it.
The Unheralded Player: Jacob Evans III
Evans rarely saw the court last season as a rookie and he spent most of his time in the G League with the Santa Cruz Warriors. But with the overhaul of the Warriors bench, Evans is going to be called upon to give the team some quality production. He’s primarily a wing player who can split time at both shooting guard and small forward, but he’s going to be leaned upon to provide minutes at point guard this season.
During Summer League, he was given an opportunity to ease into his new position. He did a solid job, showing off nice court vision and awareness with the ball in his hands as the primary facilitator. It’s going to be his job to step into the role Livingston has played for the past several seasons. That also includes being a good defender. He had a good summer league, now it’s time for that to translate to the regular season.
Best New Addition: Alec Burks
It wasn’t too long ago that Burks was seemingly a rising star in the NBA with the Utah Jazz. A few injuries later, however, and now he’s simply trying to show he can still be an effective NBA player. The Warriors bench is the biggest question mark heading into the season and Burks has a chance to solidify the second unit.
Coming to the Warriors was a great situation for him. He’s going to get the minutes to contribute right away and prove himself while also being on a winning team. He did average 11.6 points per game while shooting 37.8 percent from three last season in 34 games with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He’s always been a decent three-point shooter, and that’s what the Warriors are going to need from him, instant offense off the bench. He’s the best scorer in the second unit as of this moment.
– David Yapkowitz
WHO WE LIKE
1. Kevon Looney
Looney had a case for being listed as the team’s unheralded player. Last season, he was suffering from injuries too, but he toughed it out and gave the Warriors all he had in the Finals despite clearly being in pain. He’s been a part-time starter, and there isn’t any compelling reason why he shouldn’t be in the starting lineup. He’s a good rim protector and interior defender, and he can switch out on the perimeter like Green can. He’s an improving offensive player and is solid in the pick and roll. He should be able to have a career-year and really establish himself as a true difference-maker.
2. Willie Cauley-Stein
Cauley-Stein is somewhat of an enigma. In his four years with the Sacramento Kings, he’s shown flashes of potential followed by inconsistency. He was a good defensive player in college, but that hasn’t always translated to the NBA for him. He is a mobile big though who has a decent offensive touch, and that’s what the Warriors will need from him. He can run the floor well in transition and finish plays as well as being the roller in the pick and roll. This is perhaps his last chance to prove he’s a consistent NBA player.
3. Omari Spellman
Spellman wasn’t exactly the model of consistency during his rookie season, and the Atlanta Hawks gave up on him after just one year in the NBA. On a Warriors team whose bench is full of question marks, he’s got the opportunity to show Atlanta that they gave up on him too early. He brings a different skill set to the team than the other bigs on the roster. He has the ability to stretch the floor and shoot from distance. He’s primarily a power forward, but he can shift over to center in small-ball lineups.
4. Alen Smailagic
Smailagic made a little bit of history this past season when he opted to play in the G League in anticipation of the NBA Draft. He was then drafted this past summer by the New Orleans Pelicans before they traded his rights to the Warriors. Watching him in person with Santa Cruz last season, he’s got all the tools to be a successful big man in today’s game. He is very athletic and can finish well in the paint, but he also stretches the floor and can shoot from three. He’s not bad defensively either. The Warriors won’t need contributions from him immediately and they can afford to be patient with him as he develops.
The Warriors are going to have to rely on the leadership of their key guys more than ever this season. Thankfully for them, they’ve got some of the best leaders in the league. Sure Iguodala and Livingston were highly respected players in the locker room, and they will certainly be missed, but they still have Curry, Thompson, and Green. With the core three still intact, there shouldn’t be any locker room issues or whatnot creeping up this season, those players will see to it. Along with Kerr, the trio will keep this team in line. While they are not the Warriors of seasons past, their key vets will ensure that this team doesn’t suffer much of a drop-off.
Although the Warriors have been top-heavy, one of their strengths during their title years has been the depth of their bench. Last season, their second unit was already starting to show some cracks, and now the armor has completely fallen off. If Kerr decides to start Cauley-Stein and bring Looney off the bench, then they’ll have some dependable play with the second unit. But everyone else remains a question mark. Can Evans adapt to point guard and take a big leap despite not playing much as a rookie? Can Spellman keep his weight down and be a consistent outside threat? Can Burks regain his prior form and be a legit wing scorer? What are they going to get from Glenn Robinson III? This is going to be an issue for the Warriors and whatever playoff success they hope to have, depends on it.
THE BURNING QUESTION
How far will the Warriors drop?
Golden State clearly isn’t going to be running roughshod through the NBA like they have in the past. Other teams in the West are feeling great about their chances of making it to the NBA Finals. But how much of a drop-off will the Warriors actually have? Of course, they’re going to miss the offensive dynamic that Durant brought to the team, but his departure might allow Curry to get back to his former level of scoring. Thompson’s presence will be missed while he recovers, but his absence is why Russell is now on the roster. There is enough on this team to keep them afloat until Thompson gets back. And once playoffs begin, anything can happen. The Warriors will be a team nobody wants to see in the postseason. They’re still good enough for a top 4-5 finish in the West. The rumors of their demise have been greatly exaggerated.
Reviewing the Nurkic Trade: Denver’s Perspective
The Denver Nuggets have been on a miraculous run this postseason, but that doesn’t mean that they’re infallible. Drew Maresca reviews the 2017 trade that sent Jusuf Nurkic from Denver to Portland.
The Denver Nuggets are fresh off of a 114-106 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, pulling within three wins of the franchise’s first trip to the NBA Finals. But what if I told you that the Nuggets’ roster could be even more talented by acting more deliberately in a trade from three years ago?
While Denver won on Tuesday night, they lost a nail bitter on Sunday – for which most of the blame has been pointed at a defensive breakdown by Nuggets’ center Mason Plumlee, who was procured in the aforementioned 2017 trade. What did it cost Denver, you ask? Just Jusuf Nurkic and a first-round pick.
Nurkic was a 2014-15 All-Rookie second team member. He played 139 games over 2.5 seasons in Denver, averaging 7.5 points and 5.9 rebounds in approximately 18 minutes per game. He showed serious promise, but Denver had numerous reasons to pursue a trade: he’d suffered a few relatively serious injuries early in his career (and he’s continued to be injury-prone in Portland), butted heads with head coach Michael Malone and – most importantly – the Nuggets stumbled on to Nikola Jokic.
The Nuggets eventually attempted a twin-tower strategy with both in the starting line-up, but that experiment was short-lived — with Jokic ultimately asking to move to the team’s second unit.
The Nuggets traded Nurkic to the Portland Trail Blazers in February 2017 (along with a first-round pick) in exchange for Plumlee, a second-round pick and cash considerations. Ironically, the first-round pick included in the deal became Justin Jackson, who was used to procure another center, Zach Collins – but more on that in a bit.
As of February 2017, Plumlee was considered the better player of the two. He was averaging a career-high 11 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists through 54 games – but it was clear that at 27, he’d already maximized his talent.
Conversely, Nurkic was only 23 at the time of the trade with significant, untapped upside. In his first few seasons with Portland, Nurkic averaged 15 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, while establishing himself as a rising star. As noted above, injuries have continued to be a problem. Nurkic suffered a compound fracture in his tibia and fibula in March 2019, forcing him to miss a majority of this current campaign. The COVID-19-related play stoppage in March gave Nurkic extra time to get his body right, and he returned to action in July inside the bubble.
And he did so with a vengeance. Nurkic demonstrated superior strength and footwork, and he flashed the dominance that Portland hoped he would develop, posting eight double-doubles in 18 contests. He averaged 17.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per game and while his play dipped a bit in the playoffs – partially due to a matchup with first-team All-NBA star Anthony Davis – he still managed 14.2 points and 10.4 rebounds in the five-game series. So it’s fair to say that Nurkic is still on his way toward stardom.
But the Nuggets are in the conference finals – so all’s well that ends well, right? Not so fast. To his credit, Plumlee is exactly who Denver expected him to be. He’s averaged 7.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in three seasons with Denver since 2017 – but to be fair, Plumlee is asked to do less in Denver than he had in Portland. Still, it’s fairly obvious that they’re just not that comparable.
Plumlee is a good passer and an above-average defender that’ll compete hard and isn’t afraid to get dirty – but he has limitations. He doesn’t stretch the floor and he is a sub-par free throw shooter (53.5 percent in 2019-20). More importantly, he’s simply not a major offensive threat and his repertoire of moves is limited.
High-level takeaway: Defenses tend to game plan for opponents they view as major threats – Nurkic falls into this category. Other guys pack the stat sheet through putback attempts, open looks and single coverage alongside the guys for whom opposing defenses game plan – that’s a more appropriate description of Plumlee.
On to the wrench thrown in by Zach Collins’ involvement. Statistically, Collins is about as effective as Plumlee – he averaged 7 points and 6.3 rebounds through only 11 games in 2019-20 due to various injuries – and he possesses more upside. The 22-year-old is not as reliable as Plumlee but given his age and skill set, he’s a far better option as a support player playing off the bench. He stretches the floor (36.8 percent on three-point attempts in 2019-20), is an above-average free throw shooter (75 percent this season) and is a good defender. Looking past Nurkic for a moment, would the Nuggets prefer a 22-year-old center that stretches the floor and defends or a 30-year-old energy guy?
Regardless of your answer to that question, it’s hard to argue that Nurkic should have returned more than Plumlee, definitely so when you factor in the first-round pick Denver included. There is obviously more at play: Denver was probably considering trading Nurkic for some time before they acted – did they feel that they could increase his trade value prior to the trade deadline in 2016-17? Maybe. Further, Nurkic and his agent could have influenced the Nuggets’ decision at the 2017 deadline, threatening to stonewall Denver in negotiations.
Had Nurkic been more patient or the Nuggets acted sooner before it became abundantly clear that he was on the move, Denver’s roster could be even more stacked than it is now. Ultimately, the Nuggets have a plethora of talent and will be fine – while it appears that Nurkic found a long-term home in Portland, where he owns the paint offensively. Denver can’t be thrilled about assisting a division rival, but they’re still in an enviable position today and should be for years to come.
But despite that, this deal should go down as a cautionary tale – it’s not only the bottom feeders of the league who make missteps. Even the savviest of front offices overthink deals. Sometimes that works in their favor, and other times it does not.
NBA Daily: They Guessed Wrong
Matt John reflects on some of the key decisions that were made last summer, and how their disappointing results hurt both team outlooks and players’ legacies.
It doesn’t sound possible, but did you know that the crazy NBA summer of 2019 was, in fact, over a year ago? Wildly, in any normal, non-pandemic season, it all would have been over three months ago and, usually, media days would be right around the corner, but not this time. The 2019-20 NBA season is slated to end sometime in early to mid-October, so the fact that the last NBA off-season was over a year ago hasn’t really dawned on anyone yet. Craziest of all, even though there will still be an offseason, there technically won’t be any summer.
Coronavirus has really messed up the NBA’s order. Of course, there are much worse horrors that COVID-19 has inflicted upon the world – but because of what it’s done to the NBA, let’s focus on that and go back to the summer of 2019. It felt like an eternity, but the Golden State Warriors’ three-year reign had finally reached its end. The Toronto Raptors’ victory over the tyranny that was the Hamptons Five – as battered as they were – made it feel like order had been restored to the NBA. There was more to it than that though.
Klay Thompson’s and Kevin Durant’s season-ending injuries, along with the latter skipping town to join Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn meant two things.
1. Golden State was down for the count
2. Brooklyn’s time wasn’t coming until next year.
A one-year window was open. Even if neither Golden State nor Brooklyn posed the same threat that the former did when it had Kevin Durant, those were two contenders out of commission. If there was a time to go all in, it was in 2019.
Milwaukee certainly seemed to go all in. For the most part. Malcolm Brogdon’s departure seemed a little odd since he was arguably their best non-Giannis playmaker when they were in crunch time. Not to mention there was nothing really stopping the Bucks from keeping him except for money. Detractors will call out Milwaukee for electing to cheap out by not keeping Brogdon and hence, avoiding the luxury tax. However, there’s more to it than that.
Milwaukee thought it had enough with the core it had on its roster. Coming off the best season they had put up since the eighties, they believed the franchise built the right team to contend. There was an argument that keeping Brogdon may have been overkill with their guard depth – let’s not forget that Donte DiVincenzo did a solid job in Brogdon’s role as the backup facilitator. This would have been more defensible had it not been for Milwaukee picking the wrong guy to let go. That was the indefensible part- electing to keep Eric Bledsoe over Brogdon.
Bledsoe wasn’t necessarily a bad investment. No one’s complaining about an almost 15 point average on 47/34/79 splits or playing individual defense tight enough to get named on the All-Defensive second team. By all accounts, Bledsoe earns his keep. That is until the playoffs. Bledsoe’s postseason woes have been a weight ever since he first entered Milwaukee, and this postseason was more of the same.
Bledsoe’s numbers dwindled to just 11.7 points on 39/25/81 splits, and Milwaukee getting ousted in five games at the hands of Miami made his struggles stand out even more than it had ever been. Bledsoe may be the better athlete and the better defender, but Brogdon’s all-around offensive savvy and his only slight dropoff defensively from Brogdon would have made him a bit more reliable.
Milwaukee guessed wrong when they opted to extend Bledsoe before the postseason last year when they could have waited until that very time to evaluate who to keep around. Now they face a hell of a lot more questions than they did at the end of last season – questions that may have been avoided had they made the right choice.
Now they could have kept both of them, yes, but it’s not totally unreasonable to think that maybe their approach with the luxury tax would have worked and maybe they would still be in the postseason right now had they gone with the homegrown talent. And just maybe, there wouldn’t be nearly as much of this Greek Freak uncertainty.
The Houston Rockets can relate. They got bruised up by a team that everyone thought Houston had the edge on going into the series and then crushed by the Lakers. Now, Mike D’Antoni is gone. The full-time small ball experiment likely did not work out. Since the Rockets emptied most of their assets to bring in Russell Westbrook and Robert Covington, there may not be a route in which they can become better than they presently are.
The mistake wasn’t trading for Russell Westbrook. The mistake was trading Chris Paul.
To be fair, most everybody severely overestimated Chris Paul’s decline. He’s not among the best of the best anymore, but he’s still pretty darn close. He deserved his All-NBA second team selection as well as finishing No. 7 overall in MVP voting. OKC had no business being as good as they were this season, and Paul was the driving force as to why.
For all we know, the previously-assumed tension between Chris Paul and James Harden would have made its way onto the court no matter what. Even so, Houston’s biggest obstacle in the Bay Area had crumbled. If they had just stayed the course, maybe they’re still in the postseason too.
To their credit, none of this may have happened had it not been for the Kawhi Leonard decision. Had he chosen differently, the Thunder never blow it up, and Houston might have very well been the favorite in the Western Conference. Instead, the Rockets took a step back from being in the title discussion to dark horse. But at least they can take pride knowing that they weren’t expected to win it all – the Clippers can’t.
Seeing the Clippers fall well short expectations begs the question if they too got it wrong. The answer is, naturally: of course not. They may have paid a hefty price for Paul George, but the only way they were getting Kawhi Leonard – one of the best players of his generation – was if PG-13 came in the package. As lofty as it was, anyone would have done the same thing if they were in their shoes. They didn’t get it wrong. Kawhi did.
On paper, the Clippers had the most talented roster in the entire league. It seemed like they had every hole filled imaginable. Surrounding Leonard and George was three-point shooting, versatility, a productive second unit, an experienced coach – you name it. There was nothing stopping them from breaking the franchise’s long-lasting curse. Except themselves.
Something felt off about them. They alienated opponents. They alienated each other. At times, they played rather lackadaisically, like the title had already been signed, sealed, and delivered to them. The media all assumed they’d cut the malarkey and get their act together – but that moment never really came. They had their chances to put Denver away, but even if they had, after seeing their struggles to beat them – and to be fair Dallas too – would their day of destiny with the Lakers have really lived up to the hype?
Even if it was never in the cards, one can’t help but wonder what could have happened had Kawhi chosen to stay with the team he won his second title with.
Toronto was the most impressive team in this league this season. They still managed to stay at the top of the east in spite of losing an all-timer like Leonard. That team had every component of a winner except a superstar. They had the right culture for a championship team. Just not the right talent. The Clippers were the exact opposite. They had the right talent for a championship team but not the right culture. That’s why the Raptors walked away from the postseason feeling proud of themselves for playing to their full potential while the Clippers writhed in disappointment and angst over their future.
In the end, everyone mentioned here may ultimately blame what happened to their season on the extenuating circumstances from the pandemic. The Bucks’ chemistry never fully returned when the Bubble started. Contracting COVID and dealing with quad problems prevented Westbrook from reviving the MVP-type player he was before the hiatus. As troubling as the Clippers had played, the extra time they would have had to work things out in a normal season was taken away from them.
For all we know, next year will be a completely different story. The Rockets, Bucks, and Kawhi may ultimately have their faith rewarded for what they did in the summer of 2019 – but that will only be mere speculation until the trio can change the story.
Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards
Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.
We got some updated NBA draft news this week when the league announced that several key dates have been pushed back including the draft, the start of free agency and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.
The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 16, but it will now likely occur sometime in November. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wildly out of control in the United States, all of these potential deadlines are fluid and subject to change.
With that said, we’re continuing our position by position breakdown here at Basketball Insiders of some of the top 2020 draft prospects. We looked at the point guards and shooting guards last week, and this week we’re covering the small forwards and power forwards.
The power forward crop, like the draft overall, doesn’t appear to be as strong as recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential contributors and high-level NBA players available, as well as one who might just turn out to be a star-caliber player.
Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old
Okongwu is the player who just might develop into a star on some level. He was actually underrated in high school and was snubbed for a McDonald’s All-American selection his senior year. He established himself early on at USC as the team’s best player as a freshman and now appears to have turned some heads.
He’s been mentioned as a lottery pick and in some mock drafts, he’s top 4-5. He possesses a great all-around skill-set; he can score in the post, he can put the ball on the floor and attack and he can shoot. But perhaps his biggest attribute is his versatility on the defensive end. He’s got quick feet and mobility and can guard multiple positions.
Okongwu might actually play center in the NBA, especially in small-ball lineups, but he’s mostly played power forward and so he’ll probably see time there in the league. His skill-set fits perfectly with today’s game.
Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old
Toppin is one of the older players in the draft, and in recent history, players that age tend to slip on draft boards. In Toppin’s case, it looks like the reverse might actually be true. He’s been projected as a lottery pick, and even going in the top 3.
He’s an incredibly athletic player who thrives in the open court. He looks like he’ll do well in an up-tempo offensive system that has capable playmakers who can find him in transition. He’s extremely active around the rim and he can finish strong. A decent shooter too, something he’ll need at the next level.
Toppin has the physical tools to be an effective defensive player, but that’s where the questions marks on him have been. In the NBA, he’s likely going to have to play and guard multiple positions. Whether or not he can adapt to that likely will answer the question as to what his ceiling can be.
Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old
Achiuwa is another intriguing prospect. this writer actually got to watch him play in person while he was in high school and he was very impressive. He looked like a man among boys. He’s projected to be a late lottery pick.
He has an NBA-ready body and he’s got some toughness around the rim and in the paint. He was a double-double threat during his one season at Memphis and his knack for rebounding is something that should translate to the NBA. He’s a very good defender too, in particular, as a rim protector. He’s very quick and has the ability to guard multiple positions.
One of the main knocks on Achiuwa is his shooting ability. He didn’t shoot that well in college and power forwards being able to space the floor is almost a requirement in today’s NBA game. It’s something he can certainly work on and improve on though.
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old