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NBA AM: Steph Curry’s Contract is a Bargain

Stephen Curry’s contract is one of the best bargains in the NBA, as the league MVP is grossly underpaid.

Alex Kennedy

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Stephen Curry’s Contract is a Bargain

Stephen Curry is one of the best players in the NBA, one of the greatest shooters in the history of the league and one of the most electrifying athletes in the universe. The Golden State Warriors point guard was the NBA’s 2014-15 Most Valuable Player and a unanimous selection for the All-NBA First Team. He broke several records this year – making the most threes in a single regular season and in a single postseason – and led the Warriors to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1975. Curry is a household name and a marketable fan favorite who’s one of the faces of the NBA – as evidenced by the fact that he led all players in All-Star votes this season (with 1,513,324).

But, at the same time, Curry is one of the most underpaid players in professional sports. Curry’s contract with the Warriors is one of the best values in the NBA and he’s an incredible bargain for the organization.

Now, let’s make something clear: Curry isn’t hurting by any means, especially when you factor in the additional money he makes from his various endorsement deals. However, there’s no question that he’s paid relatively little when compared to his superstar peers. And it’s not like he’s on his rookie-scale contract either, like Anthony Davis or other young players. He’s on his second contract and still significantly underpaid.

This season, Curry is earning $10,629,213. While this is a lot of money and many of us would switch bank accounts with him in a heartbeat, keep in mind that Curry is severely underpaid by NBA standards. Yes, Curry’s salary is enormous to most people. But, relatively speaking, it’s far less than what he should be making considering how much money he makes for the Warriors and the NBA, and how much his peers are earning while performing at a much lower level.

Consider this: There were 50 NBA players who had a higher salary than Curry during the 2014-15 season. Among those players were Larry Sanders (before he requested to be bought out and walk away from the NBA after failing multiple drug tests), JaVale McGee (who was waived in March and remains unsigned) and Andrea Bargnani (who is one of the biggest draft busts in recent years). These are just a few of the players ahead of Curry, but there are plenty more who have no business being ahead of the league’s MVP.

Curry isn’t even compensated fairly when compared to players who are at the same position as him. There are 11 point guards earning more than Curry this season, including non-All-Stars like Eric Bledsoe and Ty Lawson. Deron Williams made nearly twice as much as Curry this year, and Rajon Rondo earned significantly more money too. Rondo struggled so badly in the playoffs that the Dallas Mavericks deactivated him, made it clear that he wouldn’t be re-signed this summer and refused to give him a playoff share, yet his paychecks were larger than Curry’s.

And next year, Curry will be ranked even lower compared to the rest of the league’s floor generals since the lucrative extensions signed by Kemba Walker and Ricky Rubio will kick in, and free agents such as Goran Dragic, Reggie Jackson and Brandon Knight may sign deals larger than his this summer (especially since teams are preparing to spend ridiculous amounts of money with the salary cap set to rise in 2016).

Taking a look at all guards, Curry is the 19th-highest paid backcourt player. He made less money this season than players like Eric Gordon and Joe Johnson. And, again, he’ll rank even lower next year.

Perhaps the best evidence of Curry being grossly underpaid is the fact that he’s just the fourth-highest paid player on his own team, despite easily being the Warriors’ most important player. Teammates David Lee ($15,012,000), Andrew Bogut ($12,972,973) and Andre Iguodala ($12,289,544) made more than Curry this year. Next season, when Curry is making $11,370,786, he will drop to the sixth-highest paid member of the Warriors since Klay Thompson and Draymond Green will surpass him. Thompson’s contract extension kicks in (paying him $15,501,000) next year and Green seems poised to ink a maximum-level contract this offseason as a restricted free agent.

The craziest thing is that Curry’s contract will just keep looking smaller (and better for the Warriors) over the next couple of years. Curry has two more seasons on his current deal, as he’s set to earn $11,370,786 for the 2015-16 campaign and $12,112,359 for the 2016-17 campaign.

As previously mentioned, with the NBA’s salary cap set to rise significantly next summer due to the league’s new television deal, NBA teams are going to be handing out enormous contracts this summer (since those deals will soon look like bargains) and next offseason (since every team will have a lot of money to spend). According to agents and executives, many middle-tier 2015 free agents will be asking for more than what Curry currently makes. That means Curry’s deal will be even more of a bargain in two years, when even some role players may be making more than him just because of how much the cap spike will affect the business of the league.

So, how did this happen? Why is one of the league’s best players making less than he should?

The issue was that Curry signed his contract extension at the worst possible time. Remember, injuries were a huge problem for Curry early in his career. He missed many games due to ankle injuries, to the point that he was labeled injury prone and some people doubted that he could be a star-level player in the NBA. In his third season, right before he was set to negotiate a contract extension with the Warriors, he missed 40 of 66 games (in the lockout-shortened year) and he’d already had multiple surgeries on his right ankle. He had also dealt with other ailments that were relatively minor, but still kept him sidelined for short periods of time or limited him on the court, which led to additional questions about his durability.

With so much uncertainty about his health hanging over negotiations, Curry and the Warriors agreed to a four-year extension worth $44 million on Oct. 31, 2012. It made sense for Curry at the time given what he had been through. Because of his injuries, the safe approach was to lock in a long-term, guaranteed contract. The last thing he wanted to do was delay his pay day and risk having another serious injury that would hurt his value even more or – in the worst-case scenario – end his career and leave him with nothing.

Looking back, had Curry not signed the extension and hit restricted free agency after the season (betting on himself the way Jimmy Butler did this year), he likely would’ve been able to sign a much larger deal. That’s because the 2012-13 season was his breakout year, when he averaged career-highs in points (22.9) and assists (6.9). But hindsight is 20/20, and Curry made the smart choice that guaranteed him $44 million.

Curry got his long-term security, and the Warriors received somewhat of a discount since he hadn’t been able to play to his full potential yet or stay on the floor as much as they had hoped.

But believe it or not, some analysts felt that Golden State made a big mistake when they gave Curry the four-year, $44 million deal. Even though Curry had played pretty well when healthy, some people believed that the Warriors were taking a huge risk and that they may have been able to extend him for even less because of his ankle issues. The day that the deal was announced, Warriors general manager Bob Myers addressed the media and essentially had to defend his decision – answering questions about why he took the risk and why he felt confident Curry’s injuries were behind him. Some articles warned that the extension could potentially be terrible for the franchise and haunt them for years. It’s easy to forget now, but Curry faced plenty of doubt about his ceiling and his durability.

The move has obviously been amazing for the Warriors, who have become one of the NBA’s best teams. While Curry’s incredible talent is a huge part of that, his bargain contract has played a role in the franchise’s ascent too. Rather than having a ton of money tied up in their top-tier player, Golden State has been able to spend elsewhere because of Curry’s team-friendly deal.

If Curry had a huge contract, re-signing Thompson to such a large deal would have been more difficult. Retaining Green this summer would be a challenge too, since he’ll likely get a max offer sheet. Freeing up the necessary cap space to sign Iguodala two years ago likely wouldn’t have happened. Even improving their depth would’ve been tough since they likely wouldn’t have had the significant cap space they used to add key role players like Shaun Livingston and Marreese Speights in recent summers. Instead, the Warriors likely would have had little flexibility and limited options to improve their roster.

Golden State is a talented and deep team, yet their total payroll is just $72,585,093. That’s the 16th-ranked payroll in the league and they aren’t even in the luxury tax. Their cap situation would be very different if Curry’s contract was on par with his talent and accomplishments.

Fortunately for Curry, he has achieved ridiculous levels of success and will be get a huge contract in the summer of 2017 (when the cap will be much higher). Barring something crazy, his next deal will be the monster contract that he deserves. In the meantime, he’ll just need to keep cashing those endorsement checks from Under Armour, State Farm, Degree, Express, Muscle Milk and JBL among others.

For a complete list of the top 50 highest-paid players in the NBA for the 2014-15 season, click here. To see each team’s salary cap breakdown, click here.

Magic Players Excited About Skiles Hire

The Orlando Magic have hired Scott Skiles to be their new head coach, the team announced on Friday.

Orlando wanted an experienced, defensive-minded head coach and Skiles is exactly that. He has 13 years of coaching experience and has gone 443-433 in the regular season and 18-24 in the postseason throughout his career. The former point guard also had a successful 10-year playing career in the NBA, including five seasons with the Magic.

Basketball Insiders spoke to several Magic players, who were excited about the hire.

“[I’m] happy for our front office,” point guard Elfrid Payton said via text message. “It’ll be great learning from another former point guard.”

“I’m excited about a new beginning,” small forward Moe Harkless said. “I’ve heard a lot about Scott Skiles and am looking forward to meeting and working with him. Everything I’ve heard about him has been good. I’ve heard he’s a hard coach and he expects a lot out of his players, and that’s the kind of coach we need as a young team. We need to be held accountable and he’s the guy that’s going to do that for us. It’s a new opportunity for me to earn some more playing time too. Last year, I feel I didn’t really play a lot so it’s a opportunity to earn some minutes back and just be able to play my game. I’m looking forward to it and looking forward to working with him.

“Also, he’s a defensive-minded head coach, which I think is perfect for me because I love playing defense and practicing hard. I love all that stuff so having him coming in with his mindset to this team is a great opportunity for myself. Coming into the league, my goal was to be on the All-Defensive Team and that’s still one of my goals. With Scott Skiles coming in and his emphasis on defense, I definitely think he can teach me a lot and help develop me to be that guy.”

Last season, the Magic went 25-57, which was the third-worst record in the Eastern Conference. The front office fired Jacque Vaughn in February after the team failed to live up to expectations and he lost much of the locker room. The organization hopes to make a big leap this season and they’re entering the 2015-16 campaign with playoff aspirations.

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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Miami’s Struggles About More than One Player

Drew Maresca assesses the Miami HEAT’s early-season struggles and their statistical slide from the 2019-20 campaign.

Drew Maresca

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The Miami HEAT appeared to successfully turn the corner on a quick rebuild, having advanced to the bubble’s 2020 NBA Finals. It looked as though Miami took a short cut even, rebounding from the LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh era incredibly quickly. Ultimately, they did so through smart drafting – including the selections of Bam Adebayo, Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro – plus, a little luck, like the signing of Jimmy Butler and smartly sticking with Duncan Robinson.

But despite the fact that they should have improved from last season, the tide may have turned again in South Beach.

Through 15 games, the HEAT are an underwhelming 6-9 with losses in each of their last two games. Miami is also scoring fewer points per game than last season – 109.3 versus 112  – while giving up more – 113.1 against 109.1.

Miami has played the 14th-toughest schedule in the NBA, and there are some embarrassing and noteworthy loses thus far. They lost by a resounding 47 points to the Milwaukee Bucks earlier this season, with extra harsh defeats of 20 points to the lowly Detroit Pistons and the mediocre Toronto Raptors.

What’s to blame for Miami’s woes? Unfortunately for the HEAT, it’s a number of things.

First of all, they need more from a few of their stars – and it starts at the very top. Jimmy Butler was Miami’s leading scorer in 2019-20, posting 19.9 points per game. But this season, Butler is scoring just 15.8 points per game on a sub-par 44.2 percent shooting. While Butler shot poorly from three-point range last season, too (24.4 percent), he hasn’t connected on a single three-pointer yet in 2020-21. This, coming from a guy who shot 34.7 percent from deep in 2018-19 and 35 percent in 2017-18.

But it’s not just his lack of scoring that’s hurting. Butler is also collecting fewer assists and rebounds as well. He’s averaging only 5.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game, down from 6.7 ad 6.0 last season.

However, Butler’s main struggle this season has nothing to do with any statistic or slump. Butler has missed seven straight games due to COVID-19 protocols. Although to go-scorer wasn’t playing particularly well prior to isolating from the team – scoring in single digits twice – the HEAT are always in better shape if their leader takes the floor with them.

It’s not just Butler either. Tyler Herro also needs to regain his bubble form, at least as far as shooting is concerned. After connecting on 38.9 percent on 5.4 three-point attempts in 2019-20, he’s sinking only 30.2 percent of his 5.3 three-point attempts per game this season.

While Herro is scoring more – 17.2 points per game this season – and doing so more efficiently, he’s doesn’t pose the same threat from deep this season. So while he’s sure to pick it up sooner than later, he must do so to put more pressure on opposing defense.

It’s fair to assume Herro will solve his long-distance shooting woes, but the fact that he’s also struggling from the free throw line is concerning because it speaks more to his form. Herro is still well above the league average, connecting on 76.5 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe, but he shot a scorching 87 percent on free throw attempts last season.

So what’s behind the slump? More importantly, which Herro can the HEAT count on for the remainder of 2020-21? As much as Herro is on track to grow into an incredible player, Miami needs his efficiency to return to last season’s form if they expect to compete. But like Butler, a major part of Herro’s struggles are off the court.

Herro is currently dealing with an injury, having missed the last five games with neck spasms. Coach Erik Spoelstra noted that giving the injured Herro so many minutes before his big layoff likely exacerbated his injuries.

“There’s no telling for sure if this is why Tyler missed these games,” Spoelstra told the South Florida SunSentinel. “But it definitely didn’t help that he had to play and play that many minutes. We didn’t have anybody else at that point. If he didn’t play, then we would have had seven.”

But the HEAT’s struggles are about more than any one player – and that’s a big part of what makes Miami, Miami.

Still, their team stats are equally puzzling, like that the Miami HEAT currently ranks 20th in offensive rating and 23rd in defensive rating. In 2019-20, they were 7th in offensive rating and 11th in defensive rating. Obviously, something isn’t translating from last year, but what is it that’s missing?

Firstly, the HEAT are only the 18th best three-point shooting in terms of percentage. Last season, Miami was 2nd by shooting 37.9 percent. Herro returning to his old self should help quite a bit, and Butler making at least a few threes should improve spacing, too.

But it’s not just three-point shooting as the HEAT ranked last in field goal attempts last season, tallying just 84.4 attempts per game. And while they’re last again this season, they’ve managed to average even fewer attempts per game (81.7) despite maintaining nearly all of their roster.

The HEAT are also last in offensive rebounding, which translates to fewer field goal attempts and fewer points. And while Miami was 29th in offensive rebounds last season, they’re corralling 2.1 fewer rebounds this season (6.4) than in  2019-20 (8.5). What’s more, Miami is now last in total rebounds with only 40.9 per game. A number that also represents a fairly significant change as the HEAT were 17th a season ago with 44.4 per game – whew!

Lastly, Miami is turning the ball over more often than nearly any other team – sorry, Chicago – in 2020-21. During the prior campaign, the HEAT were barely middle of the pack, turning the ball over 14.9 times per game, a mark that left them 18th-best in the league. This season, they’re 29th and turning the ball over 17.7 times per game – dead last in terms of turnovers per 100 possessions.

It’s not all bad news for the HEAT, though. Bam Adebayo looks great so far, posting 20.3 points, 8.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. Second-year stud Kendrick Nunn is averaging 21.5 points on 56 percent shooting through the past four games; while Duncan Robinson is still a flame thrower, shooting 44.4 percent on 8.4 three-point attempts per game.

The HEAT’s upside is still considerable, but it’s easy to wonder if they captured magic in a bottle last season.

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What We Learned: Western Conference Week 4

Ariel Pacheco

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It’s only been a month, but the NBA season has already seen plenty of ups and downs. In the Western Conference, especially, the 2020-21 season has been a smashing success for some, but a complete and total slog for others.

But which teams have had it the best in the West so far? The worst? Let’s take a look in the latest Western Conference installment of Basketball Insiders’ “What We Learned” series.

The Clippers Hit Their Stride

Los Angeles’ holdovers from a season ago have often pointed to their regular season complacency as to why they fizzled out during last year’s postseason. And, because of that, they’ve made a concerted effort to play hard on every possession so far in the 2020-21 season.

So far, the results have been good. More than good, even; the Clippers, tied for the best record in the NBA with their in-house rival, the Los Angeles Lakers, are on a six-game win streak. Paul George has played like an MVP candidate, while Kawhi Leonard has looked healthy and at the peak of his powers. Offseason additions Nicolas Batum, Serge Ibaka and Luke Kennard have all made strong contributions as well.

With so many versatile players and a roster as deep as any in the NBA, anyone can be “the guy” for Los Angeles on any given night. And, tough to guard because of that versatility, they’ve managed the NBA’s second-best offensive rating through the first month.

After last season’s let-down, the Clippers have played without much pressure this season — and it’s showed. Still, with Leonard a potential pending free agent (Leonard can opt-out after the season), it’s paramount that the team play hard and show him they’re good enough to compete for a title in both the short- and long-term.

So far, they’re off to a great start.

Injury Woes Continue in Portland

Portland’s been bit by the injury bug. And badly.

Already without Zach Collins, the Trail Blazers have lost both Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum in recent weeks. They couldn’t have come at a worse time, either; Nurkic had turned a corner after he struggled to start the year, while McCollum, averaging 26.7 points on 62 percent true shooting, was in the midst of a career year.

It would seem, once again, like Portland has put it all on the shoulders of Damian Lillard. But, in a brutally competitive Western Conference, he may not be able to carry that load alone. They do have some solid depth: more of a featured role could be just what Robert Covington has needed to get out of a rut, while Harry Giles III, the former Sacramento King that was signed in the offseason, has a ton of potential if he can just to stay on the court. Carmelo Anthony, Gary Trent Jr. and Enes Kanter should see expanded roles in the interim, as well.

But will it be enough? We can only wait and see. But, if that group can’t keep the Trail Blazers afloat until Nurkic and McCollum can return, Portland could be in for a long offseason.

Grizzlies Are Competitive — With or Without Ja Morant

Memphis, on a five-game win streak, is just a half-game back of the West’s fifth seed. And they’ve managed that despite the sheer amount of adversity they’ve had to deal with to start the year. Jaren Jackson Jr. is expected to miss most of if not the entire season, multiple games have been postponed due to the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols and Ja Morant missed eight games due to an ankle sprain.

However, head coach Taylor Jenkins has the Grizzlies playing hard, regardless of who is in the lineup. They have the third-best defensive rating in the NBA at 106.1 and have managed huge wins over the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns.

Of course, Memphis is glad to see Morant over his injury and back in the lineup, but they might be just as happy to see how their entire core has progressed. Their success this season has, in large part, been a group-effort; rookies Xavier Tillman and Desmond Bane have been strong off the bench, while youngsters Brandon Clarke, Dillon Brooks and Grayson Allen have all proven integral pieces to the Grizzlies’ core for years to come.

As the year carries on, Memphis might not stick in the playoff picture. But, if their young core can continue to develop, they might not be on the outside looking in for much longer with Morant leading the charge.

What’s Going On In New Orleans?

The Pelicans have struggled and there wouldn’t appear to be an easy fix.

5-9, on a three-game losing streak and having dropped eight of their last nine, New Orleans just can’t seem to figure it out. The rosters fit around cornerstones Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram has proven awkward at best, as the team ranks in the bottom-10 in both offensive and defensive rating. Lonzo Ball has struggled offensively to start the season while JJ Redick can’t find his shot. Newcomer Eric Bledsoe has been fine but, as one of the team’s few offensive creators, his impact has been severely minimized.

Despite their stable of strong defenders, Stan Van Gundy’s defensive scheme, which has maximized their presence in the paint but left shooters wide open beyond the arc, has burned them continuously. Williamson’s effort on the defensive end, meanwhile, has been disappointing at best; he hasn’t looked like nearly the same impact defender he did at Duke University and in short spurts a season ago.

They still have time to work it out, but the Pelicans need to do so sooner rather than later. If they can’t, or at least establish some sort of consistency, New Orleans might never see the heights many had hoped to see them reach this season.

Be sure to check back for the next part of our “What We Learned” series as we continue to keep an eye on the NBA all season long.

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NBA Daily: Lonzo Ball Presents Difficult Decision For Pelicans

Lonzo Ball is struggling early in his fourth NBA season, leaving the Pelicans questioning whether he will be a part of the team’s long-term plans moving forward.

Garrett Brooks

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Lonzo Ball and the New Orleans Pelicans failed to reach an extension prior to the deadline entering the 2020-21 NBA season – which made this season an important year for the former second overall pick to prove his worth.

But things have not gone according to plan for Ball. Originally acquired by the Pelicans in the Anthony Davis trade, Ball has failed to get going early in the current season. After a few years of what seemed like positive progression in the guard’s shooting stroke, this 2021 has brought up the same questions that surrounded Ball in his earlier scouting reports.

In his first three seasons, Lonzo saw his three-point accuracy increase each year. It started at a 30.5 percent accuracy rate and had jumped to an impressive 37.5 by his third NBA season, 2019-20.

Now well into his biggest campaign yet, he sits below 30 percent for the first time in his career, though there is a lot of time left to see that number increase. If Ball expects to be part of the Pelicans’ long-term plans, improvement is absolutely vital.

Obviously, shooting is a key part of the NBA game today, especially as a guard. Simply put, a player needs to give his team the proper floor spacing needed to maximize their scoring output in an offensively driven league.

That point is especially true for Ball, who needs to prove he can play alongside franchise cornerstones Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson. Both players are showing the skillset to be a dominant one-two punch for years to come, and the biggest need around them is proper floor spacing.

So even with all the positives Ball brings to the defensive side of the floor and as a playmaker, he cannot fit alongside Williamson and Ingram unless he’s a threat to hit shots from behind the arc. He’s obviously trying to prove himself in that regard as he has never averaged more three-point shots per game than he currently is – and yet, the result has been concerning.

When the two sides failed to reach an extension this offseason, it was abundantly clear that the Pelicans needed to see consistency before they’d tie long-term cap space to the guard. In the early going of the season, Ball is perhaps playing his most inconsistent basketball since his rookie campaign with the Los Angeles Lakers.

But will the Pelicans benefit from not signing Ball prior to the season? Maybe even by getting him to agree to a team-friendly contract if his struggles continue all year?

That seems highly unlikely. First off, not all teams are as desperate for a good shooting guard as the Pelicans are. As previously stated, Williamson and Ingram are in place as the franchise cornerstones. That means every player brought in on a long deal from here on out is brought in with the plan to fit alongside the forward combination.

Most teams with cap space don’t have the luxury of already having two franchise cornerstones in place. That means they are more likely to build around a player they sign – that’s especially true for a player that will hit free agency at a young age as will be the case with Ball.

While there’s almost no way the Pelicans won’t make a qualifying offer to Ball this offseason, it becomes a whole different question when pondering if they’ll match any contract he signs, depending on the financials involved.

He’ll offer significantly more value to another franchise than he might to the Pelicans because of the fit. The New York Knicks, for example, will be among the teams with cap space this offseason, they could see Ball as a player they can build things around moving forward.

That instantly makes him much more valued by the Knicks than he currently would be by the Pelicans. Of course, New Orleans would maintain their right to match the contract, but what good would it be if he isn’t going to fit next to the stars of the team? At no point will he be prioritized over the likes of Williamson and Ingram, which means he’s on a ticking clock to prove he can play alongside them as the team continues its ascension.

The first step could be adjustments to the rotation that sees Ball play more of the traditional point guard role with the rock in his hands. This isn’t easy for head coach Stan Van Gundy to do though as Ingram and Williamson thrive with the ball in their hands.

In all likelihood, Ball’s future in New Orleans will hinge on his consistency as a shooter, which, contrary to popular belief, he has shown the ability to do in the past. First off, confidence and staying engaged are keys; while Ball has struggled with both of those things in his early NBA seasons.

The second is an adjustment to his tendencies. Instead of settling for the spot-up opportunity every time it is presented, Ball would benefit from attacking the closeout more often and maximizing the chances that come from doing so.

Those options are in areas like finding the next open man for a three-pointer, getting to the free-throw line and finishing at the rim instead of hitting the deep shot. If he does these things, he’ll quickly find himself facing less aggressive closeouts and will be more confident in his game. Naturally, those things could lead to a more successful shooting number as the season continues on.

Ball is as talented as they come and it’s understandable why the Pelicans want to slide him in behind the two franchise forwards they have. The unfortunate reality is that time is running out on pass-first guard’s big chance to prove it’s the right move for the Pelicans moving forward.

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