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John Jenkins Excited About Suns’ Direction

John Jenkins is excited about the Phoenix Suns’ direction, offseason additions and head coach Earl Watson.

Alex Kennedy

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John Jenkins of the Phoenix Suns turned 25 years old in March, but you’d never know it from talking to him or his close friends. That’s because he exudes maturity and professionalism. While it’s become cliché to say, Jenkins is truly wise beyond his years and admits that he “feels like I’m in my 30s” rather than his 20s.

It’s rare for such a young player to be considered a veteran leader in the locker room, but Jenkins’ teammates – current and former – view him as an elder statesman even though he’s still just 25 and fighting for job security like many up-and-coming players.

Because Jenkins is a consummate professional, he has become a mentor for a number of former teammates despite the fact that he’s not much older than them.

Jenkins started his NBA career with the Atlanta Hawks and, in his second season, he took point guard Dennis Schroder under his wing. When the two met, Schroder was a 19-year-old rookie who was not only adjusting to the NBA, but also getting acclimated to America since he was born and raised in Germany. Even though Jenkins is only two and a half years older than Schroder and still had a lot to learn about the league himself, he did everything he could to help Schroder with his transition. Jenkins left the Hawks in 2015 to sign with the Dallas Mavericks, but the two players have stayed in contact and Schroder remains extremely grateful for everything that Jenkins did for him.

“My man John Jenkins! He was my guy from the beginning,” Schroder told Basketball Insiders. “He helped me with everything, basically. He showed me where to go out to eat in Atlanta, how you take care of your body and that you have to give 110 percent whenever you step on the court. The biggest thing [he taught me] was how to be a professional and be a good teammate. I hope he’s going to get his minutes this year because he’s going to kill it [in Phoenix]! He’s family for life.”

Upon hearing Schroder’s quote, Jenkins smiles and responds, “That’s my little brother, man.”

Schroder isn’t the only young player Jenkins has befriended and mentored. Last season, Dallas Mavericks rookie Justin Anderson, who is also 22 years old, viewed Jenkins as a big brother type. Even though they only spent half a season together because Jenkins was waived by the Mavs, they remain close. In fact, Anderson stayed at Jenkins’ house this week so that they could work out together and the mentee could continue to pick his mentor’s brain.

“Being with John as a rookie allowed me to not only see what it takes to just be in the NBA, but what it takes to stay in the NBA,” Anderson said. “Being around him daily at the start of last season showed me different elements that are key to staying in the NBA – from being professional to being patient to being a relentless worker. I tell him daily that he has a sickness, but it’s one that I’m hoping is contagious; I want to catch it because his work ethic is second to very few.”

“It’s funny to me because in college, I was always that same guy,” Jenkins said with a laugh. “I’d help recruit guys and then once they’d get here, I’d show them how to work hard, plan their days out and how to recover. I’m like a maniac when it comes to that stuff. That’s a big reason why Justin Anderson is staying at my place for this whole week. He wants to get right for Tim Grgurich’s camp in Vegas. My fiancée and his girlfriend are cool, so it’s fun. We’re working out and even though I was only with him for half of the year in Dallas, I made sure to help him because he was a rookie. I told him, ‘Look, I’m not the oldest guy on the team, but I know what it takes to keep your body fresh and how to handle an 82-game season.’ I just told him, like I tell all the young guys, ‘How bad do you want this? You’ll get 20 years, max, at this. You might as well go all out.’ That means working as hard as you can, eating right, taking care of your body and having a strong belief system. I try to pass that on to all of the guys I encounter because it’s helped me a lot so far.”

It’s easy to see why Phoenix would want Jenkins around their young, impressionable players.

The Mavs cut Jenkins on Feb. 22 of this year due to a logjam on the wing, and two days later the Suns claimed his contract off of waivers. He has two years remaining on his deal with Phoenix ($1,050,961 for the 2016-27 season, and $1,178,992 for 2017-18) although both salaries are non-guaranteed. Still, it’s hard to imagine the Suns letting him go on such a bargain deal, especially if he continues to produce and be a positive influence.

Last season, Jenkins did his best to help some of the Suns’ younger players, but making those connections wasn’t as easy since he joined the team midseason. Even still, he had a number of good conversations with Devin Booker, who was 18 years old when he made his NBA debut and finished fourth in Rookie of the Year voting.

Now, Phoenix will enter the 2016-17 season with three teenagers on their roster (Booker, Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss) and a total of eight players who are 23 years old or younger. The Suns have brought in a number of veteran free agents to lead – such as Tyson Chandler (last summer), Jared Dudley and Leandro Barbosa among others – but Jenkins will try to do his part to help too in his first full season with the squad.

This side of Jenkins is rarely discussed outside of NBA circles. He acknowledges that it’s likely due to the fact that he’s typically reserved. However, he opens up around teammates because he loves sharing lessons he has learned and passing on any information that he feels can help his peers. In recent months, Jenkins was thrilled to see his friends experiencing success – with Anderson playing very well for Dallas in the playoffs and Schroder emerging as Atlanta’s starting point guard.

What’s next for Jenkins could be a breakout season of his own. He has bounced around the NBA a bit since being selected 23rd overall in the 2012 NBA Draft, suiting up for his third team in five years.

The fit with the Suns seems very good, though, and he played well after the team claimed him off of waivers in February. Last season, he averaged five points in 13 minutes per game while shooting an impressive 46.7 percent from the field and 40.6 percent from three-point range. In his two starts with Phoenix, he averaged 14 points, seven rebounds and 2.5 assists, while shooting 46.2 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three.

Over the course of his career, he has averaged 5.2 points on 44.9 percent shooting from the field and 36.3 percent from three-point range. He has appeared in 141 regular-season games, but started in just eight games. He has also been to the playoffs twice, appearing in eight postseason games during his time with the Hawks. In his second postseason run with Atlanta, he shot 66.7 percent from the field and 50 percent from three-point range.

Jenkins’ career per-100-possession stats – 20.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists and one steal – show how much he can impact the game when he’s given minutes.

In the last two months of last season, when Earl Watson was at the helm for the Suns, Jenkins’ minutes increased – Watson’s interim coaching tag has now been removed.

Jenkins fits Watson’s style of play, and there’s no question that he provides value when on the court. Last year, he led Phoenix in three-point percentage (40.6 percent) and elbow shooting percentage (50 percent). This skill set is a perfect fit for today’s NBA with the way shooting and spacing are valued, especially on a team like the Suns that likes to shoot from long distance – ranking 10th in the NBA in made threes per game last season.

Jenkins is also efficient, ranking second on the Suns in True Shooting Percentage (56.4) behind only Chandler, who obviously does his damage at the basket. Jenkins’ career True Shooting Percentage is an impressive 56.2 percent. He also ranked second on the Suns in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.13) last season, which likely helped earned Coach Watson’s trust down the stretch of the campaign.

Dudley, who re-joined the Suns on a three-year deal worth $30 million, is a fan of Jenkins’ game and believes the sharpshooter could be a difference-maker for Phoenix.

“Anytime you have a player like John who has a good basketball IQ and is a knockdown shooter, all you need to have is confidence and an opportunity,” Dudley said of Jenkins. “John will get his chance and when he does, he has to make the most of it.”

Basketball Insiders recently talked with Jenkins about how he joined the Suns, expectations for next season, Phoenix’s offseason moves, embracing a leadership role on the young team and much more.

Alex Kennedy: Being claimed off of waivers is a strange thing. Most people can’t relate to that process at all. There aren’t many other jobs where you’re let go and then a day or two later, an organization on the other side of the country can claim your contract and you have to relocate there immediately. What was it like going through that process and how did you ultimately land in Phoenix?

John Jenkins: “It was tough. It was my first time being in a situation like that and I loved Dallas. Being with them was great, but I was in a logjam playing behind two great players in Chandler Parsons and Wesley Matthews along with other veterans like J.J. Barea and Devin Harris. It was kind of like in Atlanta, where I was behind a veteran group of guys. I kind of expected [to be waived] when that time came because we were so guard heavy, and my contract likely meant that I was going to be the one to get cut. I had gotten some heads up, maybe three days before, but even still I wasn’t completely ready for that to happen. After my last game with the Mavericks, Coach Rick Carlisle told me to stand up and said a bunch of great things about me in front of the team. That was really cool of him. Then, a day later, I was waiting for the waiver period to pass to see if my contract would be cleared and if I’d become a free agent. Then, I was told by my agent that Coach Carlisle called the Phoenix Suns on my behalf and spoke highly of me. He looked out for me big time and I really appreciate that. I guess Phoenix liked what they saw from me when we played them in the preseason. [Editor’s Note: Jenkins averaged 19.7 points in 28.4 minutes for Dallas in the preseason]. They saw what I could do and they gave me a chance. That’s how I got here and I’m happy to be with the Suns now.”

Kennedy: That’s really interesting. Coach Carlisle is extremely respected around the NBA and is known for being one of the best coaches in the league. What did it mean to you to have that kind of backing from him, to have him looking out for you?

Jenkins: “It definitely wasn’t expected. I didn’t think he’d do what he did and go to those lengths to help me. I mean, it was in the middle of the season so he was worried about his guys, game-planning and what he had to do to get wins. For him to take time out of his busy schedule during the season to call another team about a player of his who was there for half the year, that meant the world to me. It gave me another chance to play in the NBA and keep my dream alive.”

Kennedy: You joined Phoenix in February, so you’ve been in the franchise for some time now. They have a very good reputation when it comes to their training staff and development program. What’s been your early impression of the organization?

Jenkins: “It’s been great. I love the direction that we’re heading in. We’re a very young team. I’m actually considered old compared to the guys on our team, even though I’m only 25. I thought that was pretty young, but I guess not (laughs). I’m pretty old compared to most of the guys in this group. The direction is great and I think they have the right people in place, from Coach [Earl] Watson all the way up to the front office to the owner Mr. [Robert] Sarver. I like the system that Coach Watson is putting in – it’s going to be great. I just like Coach Watson and what he’s about too. While I was in Las Vegas supporting the Summer League team, I was working out with a lot of the guys and it was great to get to know them even more. I just can’t say enough good things about the organization. The weight coach is incredible. The training staff always makes sure your body is feeling good at all times. Before every game, you’re on the table for at least 30 minutes so they can work on you and they can make sure your body is good. There are just a lot of things here that I wasn’t used to. I’ve been a part of two organizations that were big time in Atlanta and Dallas, but Phoenix is just one step [ahead] in terms of training and how they take care of their guys and all of that. They’re known for that and well respected when it comes to training and skill development and all of that.”

Kennedy: How much have you grown as a player and as a person from your first day in the NBA to right now?

Jenkins: “As a player, I’ve improved so much. It’s crazy. I’d say I’ve done a complete 180-degree turnaround, but it sucks because I haven’t really been able to play the minutes to show everybody just how much I have improved. I’ve gotten so much better and I’m a totally different player. When I first got into the league, I think I was known just as a shooter. While I still have the shooting ability, now I can take it off the dribble, finish at the rim, create for others – since I played some point guard in Dallas and a tiny, tiny bit in Phoenix – thrive in pick-and-rolls and things like that. There are just so many little things that I’ve added to my game. I’m looking forward to showing those thing off more. As a person, I’ve grown a lot too. As I mentioned, I’m getting married. My life has just been great. I’ve learned a lot of life lessons from basketball, like always staying patient, never getting down on yourself, how to handle money and how to deal with everything life throws at you. I feel like I’m 30 years old, not 25. I’ve been through a lot. I’ve had to change locations three times. Things like that force you to mature faster, because you have to. You don’t have a choice. My parents didn’t come out and live with me, I was alone and grew up. And now, having a wife, that’s definitely life-changing. Then, you’re making this money and you have to know how to manage it and be smart with it, so automatically you’re forced to act three or four years older than you really are. I’d definitely say I’m more like a 30-year-old than a 25-year-old.”

Kennedy: You had the chance to play for Earl Watson last season as he was adjusting to his first coaching job and learning the ropes. What did you think of the job he did?

Jenkins: “I thought he did a great job, man. When I got there, we were in a tough situation. We were losing a ton of games. Soon after I got there, we were able to pick it up a little bit, going on a couple two- and three-game win streaks. We were staying competitive against teams that were supposed to kill us, playing them really tough. Our confidence just kept rising and rising like, ‘Yo, we could be really good if we just keep trusting the process.’ That’s one thing that Coach Watson really preaches – trusting the process. I love everything that he’s about and he knows what he’s doing. He’s brought the same principles he learned from San Antonio and the other teams he’s been around and instilled them here. He’s a young coach [at 37 years old], but he’s wise beyond his years. He went to UCLA and as a teenager became close with John Wooden, who’s one of the best coaches ever. The things he says to us make you just think, ‘Wow, he’s ready for this job.’ I think he’s going to do a great job and he earned that job. They didn’t just give it to him. He earned it. When there were 20 games left in the season, he had us wanting to play every game and battle for him. Guys weren’t thinking about their vacations or anything like that, they were wanting to play hard for him. For him to be able to do that as a young coach, on a team that wasn’t going to the playoffs, in a frustrating season due to injuries and things like that, he kept us playing the whole year. That’s huge.”

Kennedy: The Suns added a number of players this summer, including veterans Jared Dudley and Leandro Barbosa and rookies Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss. What do you think of those moves and how much better can this team be after making those additions?

Jenkins: “I thought Ryan [McDonough] and the front office did a fantastic job in everything they did. I watched the draft picks in Summer League and they looked great. They’re so young, man! Bender is 18 and Chriss is 19, yet they’re already doing things on the court where you’re like, ‘Okay, they have a chance to be special.’ I think they’ll play a lot. As far as the veteran presences, they brought in two guys who are like legends in Phoenix in Jared Dudley and Leandro Barbosa. They’ve been on the great teams that Phoenix has had, back when they played with Steve Nash and those guys. They know what it takes to win. Barbosa even has a championship ring now after playing for the Warriors. I think he’ll be able to take what he learned from Golden State and from his 13 years in the NBA and pass it on to us. We’re a young team, so we’re all ears. We’re a very hungry team. That’s one thing I’ve noticed about this group. We all want to get better and we strive for that every day.”

Kennedy: What are your expectations for next year? The playoffs have been discussed in Phoenix for the last few years. Is that a goal that’s being discussed?

Jenkins: “Yeah, that’s the goal and nobody should count us out as long as we stay healthy. Like I said, we’re so hungry. And we have a coach who is really hungry too. The organization as a whole just really wants to get back to that level again. We’re going to do the best we can. I had no idea what to expect when Coach Watson became the coach, but I’ve just been so impressed by him. What he’s already started to do has been great and I think everybody is just going to latch on and give it all that we’ve got. Health was a big issue last year. But we want to make sure that you have to respect Phoenix every time you play us. For anyone who thinks, ‘Oh, it’s going to be an easy win,’ it’s not going to be like that all. We have a good mix of veteran and young pieces, and we can be scary.”

For more exclusive interviews from Alex Kennedy (with players such as Indiana’s Jeff Teague, New York’s Courtney Lee, Oklahoma City’s Victor Oladipo, Philadelphia’s Jahlil Okafor, Atlanta’s Kent Bazemore, Los Angeles’ Jamal Crawford, Sacramento’ Garrett Temple, Portland’s Moe Harkless), click here.

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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NBA

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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