Shooting has always been valued in professional basketball, and it’s become even more important of late in the NBA. The league average for three-point attempts per game was 34.1 in 2019-20, up from 29 just two seasons earlier and 20 back in 2012-13, according to Basketball-Reference.
Well, that alone probably has a lot to do with why Chasson Randle is back in the NBA for the 2020-21 season.
“All summer long you hear teams are looking for shooting. That’s something I pride myself on – knocking down shots,” Randle recently told Basketball Insiders. “It’s something I work on constantly during the summer and the season, getting reps and staying confident.”
Randle is a career 37.8 percent three-point shooter with a career-high of 40 percent across 49 games with the Washington Wizards in 2018-19. But Randle is a pro’s pro, meaning he works on all aspects of his game and prides himself on more than just shooting.
“Picking up full [court], create a little havoc on the defensive end, changing the pace of the game,” Randle explained when asked about his other strengths. “And then I’ve worked on my playmaking ability and running the team all summer, making different reads out of pick and rolls and putting myself in situations that I’ll see in games.”
Randle has bounced around the NBA quite a bit for a 27 -year-old. In early December, he agreed to terms with the Oklahoma City Thunder for the 2020-21 season. Unfortunately, the team added a number of guaranteed contracts through trades this offseason and were unable to move players they may not be interested in keeping. As a result, Randle recently found out that he’ll start the 2020-21 season with the team’s G-League affiliate (the Oklahoma City Blue). Still, it is expected that he’ll be called up at some point this season.
Last season — just prior to the COVID-19 shutdown — Randle was with the Golden State Warriors, where he played three games. And while his time in California was cut short, he learned a lot from the organization.
“Everything is top-notch from top to bottom – how they communicate with each other [as an organization] and the players. And how the players communicate is huge,” Randle explained. “ [There’s] a lot of camaraderie and togetherness and it shows when they play. It was a short experience, I wish I would have had more time with them (to learn and compete), but I’m grateful for them none the less.”
The Warriors failed to qualify for the bubble, which prohibited Randle’s involvement in Orlando. But he explained that if given the opportunity to do so, he would have played any way he could.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Randle said. “I’m a basketball player. Anytime there’s a game going on, I’m down to play. I would’ve loved to have been in the bubble and showcase what I can do.”
But Randle has entirely new challenges ahead of him this season with the Thunder. Fortunately for the quasi-veteran, he’s not alone. Oklahoma City made a flurry of offseason moves that resulted in returning only six players from last season – Darius Bazley, Hamidou Diallo, Luguentz Dort, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Isaiah Roby and Mike Muscala. They’re a young team with limited continuity.
So, it would make sense that a player with Randle’s poise and professionalism could be able to carve out a role on such a young team.
“I think it’s a mix,” Randle said regarding his standing with the Thunder. “Thing about this game is that everybody has to be somewhat of a leader in their own way. I’ve been in roles where I’ve been the guy and I’ve also been in roles where I’ve had to follow. I’m comfortable doing both.”
“But this season in particular, whatever they need from me, I feel like I’ll be able to provide simply because over the course of my career, I’ve done so many different things, so I’m excited.”
According to his agent, Darrell Comer, Randle missed the 2020 preseason due to contract negotiations and the franchise’s need to make additional roster cuts. But Randle traveled with the team and observed them in action, so he’s encouraged with what he’s seen.
“Watching the guys throughout the preseason, I see a lot of things,” Randle said. “The ball moves. they’re playing free with a lot of pace and flow. I think my role fits right in as a shooter and a playmaker. And then on the defensive end, picking up full and being a pest.”
Randle repeatedly emphasized the idea of being more than a shooter over and over, often relaying his ability to make plays for others and defend. But he explained that the work he put since returning from a January stint in China has prepared him to prove it on the court. Randle followed a tedious training regimen in the Bay Area that began in April – and for much of the spring, he isolated himself from others outside his girlfriend by working out at home using whatever he could get his hands on.
“Early on. we didn’t know what the virus was,” Randle said. “I wasn’t going anywhere from when they shut things down in March until April. We stocked up. Luckily, my girlfriend can cook and I can do a little bit in the kitchen, too.
“But I was doing home workouts then, like on YouTube, and I had bands and free weights. Once mid-to-late April hit though, my girlfriend’s brother-in-law has a huge facility in his garage – machines, weights, treadmills, everything you need. I was there twice-a-day on most days. We called it the grindhouse, that was the deal. Then once I was able to get access to a court, probably a few weeks later, it was back to normal for me. Like an extended offseason.”
But once he was able to, he got right back to long days in the weight room, on the court and in film sessions, always trying to add just a little more to his game.
“Sunday is the Lord’s day, so I don’t do much on Sundays beyond stretching,” Randle explained. “Monday is weights at six in the morning until around ten. At ten, I get on the court shooting until noon. Then I’ll go back at like two-thirty or three and get another workout in with weights.”
But that wasn’t all.
“Also, if there’s a pickup game at night, I play pickup. And that’s like Monday-through-Friday. Saturday it was just one workout. I was lifting probably at least four times per week.”
But the best players are cerebral. They can’t just work on their craft, the most elite also prepare for their opponent, studying film, hoping to identify a weakness or a pattern to exploit.
“I’d also watch the film of myself, things I can improve on,” Randle continued. “My trainers do a great job sending me stuff through an app we have. I can watch my workouts to see how I’m shooting, my footwork.
“If it’s a pick-and-roll and the ball is in my hands. If it’s a live dribble. I’m looking get into the defender’s body, create contact, come off the screen . . . or if I’ve already used my dribble, setting up that man, making him think I could reject and then come off the screen.
“Or I’m looking at defense and my positioning, where I could have helped, my closeout. It’s all the little details you could pick up on that go a long way,” Randle said. “Everyone is so good in the NBA. It’s those details that separate the good from the really good players. So I’m just trying to figure out how I can get a little better every day.
“But another thing we focused on this offseason was my passing and making reads out of the pick-and-roll. I’ve been watching the film on Chris Paul and how he’s so patient coming off of screens, he uses his dribble to create windows for himself – and that’s stuff we work on in the gym. I’ll have a guy guard me, and a roller, and we’ll rep it out to build familiarity. Cutting down on turnovers, one-hand passes. Every little thing that can happen in a game. We had the time, we figured we might as well… for me, I’m always looking for ways to get better.
“Then I’m crashing at like ten-thirty to do it all again the next day. My girlfriend’s mad at me, but it’s the life, man. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, being an NBA player.
“And I’m having so much fun enjoying the process.”
It’s somber times for many people in the United States and around the globe. COVID-19 has ravaged families, killing hundreds of thousands and leaving millions in financial peril. Its effect on athletes isn’t yet known, with long-term symptoms like brain fog not yet reported or discussed in professional athletes. Keyontae Johnson, a Florida University guard and 2019-20 All-SEC team member, recently collapsed during a game was recently diagnosed with acute myocarditis, which will force him to miss at least three months according to sources. So Randle is approaching COVID-19 with total seriousness, while not allowing it to get in the way of his dreams.
“I don’t believe they (NBA trainers and team executives) would put us in a situation where we would be harmed, or our families,” Randle explained. “I feel for that kid. I’m glad he’s doing great. At the end of the day, basketball is a way to provide for myself and my family. It’s something that’s been a part of me since I was a kid. To let that go in my prime, I wouldn’t be able to do that. I’m down to play now. I trust our medical staff and everyone has done a great job so far.”
But regardless of his determination, things will be different. To start the 2020-21 season, only six teams will allow fans to attend games, all of whom must obey local health mandates. A few others plan to open arenas up to fans at a later date. It won’t be exactly like the bubble, but it will be significantly different than the last time Randle was on an NBA court. Plus, for what it’s worth, most NBA arenas are significantly larger than the gyms in ESPN’s World Wide of Sports complex used for the bubble in Orlando, Florida, making it all the more daunting to play with a limited or non-existent crowd.
“I’ve talked to a lot of guys who played in the bubble and the pre-season with no fans – they say it’s weird,” Randle mused. “For me, you treat practice like a game and there’s no one in practice. So you go out there and do your job like it’s any other game. When I’m playing, I don’t necessarily see the fans, I hear them but don’t necessarily see them. They’re importing the 2K simulated sound in the arenas. But I’ll just have to see when we get there I guess.”
In the end, Randle belongs in the NBA – but lots of guys who aren’t there now can say the same thing. What’s slightly different about Randle is that he understands that. He’s grateful for the opportunity while also understanding that he needs to continue to prove himself.
But the professional in him expects to be criticized along the way, although Randle doesn’t necessarily buy into all of it.
“Criticism doesn’t hurt me,” Randle said. “If I don’t believe something somebody’s saying about me isn’t true, then I prove them wrong. It’s something I’ve had to do for a very long time. I can do it again. I’m all for learning and getting better.”
NBA Daily: Can the Hawks Keep Up Their Strong Play?
Drew Maresca analyzes the Atlanta Hawks strong play and looks ahead at how they’ll fare in the final 16 games of the season.
This season’s condensed schedule has resulted in less time to assess teams and the transactions they made at the trade deadline or in the buyout market. So it’s understandable if you wrote off the Atlanta Hawks as the bust of 2020-21 – but make no mistake about it, the Hawks are surging.
As alluded to above, Atlanta began the year slowly. They started off 11-16. Trae Young played relatively well through that stretch, averaging 26.6 points, 9.3 assists per game and shooting 37.1% on three-point attempts – but the results just weren’t there.
And while you can debate if Young was a catalyst for or a victim of his team’s poor start, he bore the brunt of it. After he was named an All-Star in the 2019-20 season, he was left off the team this season, as the narrative around him has shifted to that of someone hunting for fouls who could be hurting the game more than he’s helping it.
Surprisingly, Atlanta decided to keep its core group together, opting to hang onto John Collins despite his butting heads on offensive philosophy with coach Lloyd Pierce and Young, separately. According to The Athletic’s Chris Kirschner and Sam Amick, Collins voiced displeasure in a January film session over the timing of certain shot attempts and a needed to get settled into offensive sets more quickly.
Rather than succumb to the trade rumors, the Hawks decided that Pierce was at fault and or lost the locker room. Per The Athletic’s Chris Kirschner, Sam Amick and David Aldridge, Young, Cam Reddish and other Hawks were reportedly on board with a potential change and so a move was made.
At the time it appeared shortsighted. But in hindsight, it was exactly what the Hawks needed.
While there are still questions to be answered around Collins and his long-term fit in Atlanta, especially since he’ll become a restricted free agent this Summer and little progress was made in negotiations last offseason, the Hawks are 16-6 under interim head coach Nate McMillian.
In fairness to Pierce, the Hawks are just beginning to get healthy. Danilo Gallinari and 2020 lottery pick Onyeka Okongwu recently returned from injuries, with the former playing a key role, averaging 13.4 points on 40.7% shooting from deep; Gallinari is back on the mend, though, with foot soreness.
But the Hawks were also without guard Bogdan Bogdanovic from mid-January until early March. And they are still without Reddish and De’Andre Hunter, both of whom are instrumental to the Hawks success.
Still, the Hawks have pushed through. Lou Williams, who was added via trade for Rajon Rondo at the deadline, should definitely help. Williams is a walking bucket and he’s matched his Clippers output through nine games with Atlanta (12 points, 3.5 assists and 2.0 rebounds per game.)
A significant result of their strong play is that Atlanta is currently tied for fourth in the Eastern Conference, meaning that the Hawks could realistically secure home-court for the first-round of the playoffs. But before the Hawks do so, there are some questions that need to be answered.
First up, how do the Hawks manage their rotation when they haven’t even seen lots of combinations of their best players on the floor together?
When healthy, the Hawks are incredibly deep. There are the presumed starters: Young, Bogdanovic, Kevin Huerter, Gallinari and Capela. And there’s the bench: Collins, Gallinari, Reddish, Hunter, Williams, Solomon Hill and Okongwu.
Remember, McMillian has only been the coach since March 2, Williams was just added in late March and Hunter hasn’t played since late January.
Coach McMillian has been around long enough to know that 12-man rotations simply don’t work in the playoffs. Unfortunately for the Hawks, they haven’t had nearly enough time to land on a starting lineup, let alone which players work best together.
Atlanta has just 16 games remaining to figure it out. And they can’t waste a single game.
And that brings us to a second challenge: while it is nearly impossible for the Hawks to overtake the 3rd-place Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta is far from guaranteed the fourth seed. As previously mentioned they are tied with the Celtics, meaning they could just as easily find themselves in the fifth spot. And while the Hawks have the tenth-easiest remaining schedule, according to Tankathon.com, the Celtics possess the eleventh-easiest. And the Celtics are surging, too, having won seven of their last 10 contests.
But it’s not just Boston. the New York Knicks, Miami HEAT and Charlotte Hornets are all within striking distance, too. While Charlotte and New York have their own challenges ahead that make them less-than-likely to pass Atlanta, Miami’s fate is closely aligned with that of Victor Oladipo and his recently reinjured knee. If Oladipo returns quickly with little to no effects, the HEAT could surpass be problematic for the Hawks and a number of other Eastern Conference opponents.
And if you’re really cynical, you can focus on who Atlanta has beaten in its time under McMillan. Over the course of the 22 games in which McMillian has been interim head coach, 11 of the team’s 16 wins have come against sub-.500 opponents – and another three were against teams that are exactly .500.
Looked at differently, the McMillian-led Hawks have defeated just two winning teams, one of which was against the Anthony Davis-less Lakers in a contest in which LeBron James exited after just 11 minutes due to injury.
So kudos to Atlanta for turning around a season that easily could have went sideways. But there is much left for the Hawks, an untested team who’s beaten mostly teams that they should, to prove.
NBA PM: Defensive Player of the Year Watch
It’s clear at this point in the season that Rudy Gobert should be the Defensive Player of the Year. But is there any way another player could unseat him for the award?
The seventh edition of The Defensive Player of the Year Watch for Basketball Insiders is here! In this week’s ranking, there’s not much change beyond the addition of the formerly-injured Philadelphia 76ers star, Joel Embiid. It’s impossible to leave him off of this list and it should come as no surprise if he ends the year as both a contender for this award as MVP. Sure, he’d have to outplay Rudy Gobert, but he’s only a streak of lockdown games away.
As the last full month of games for the NBA season gets underway, it’s time to see who else’s elite defensive play has kept them in the running.
1. Rudy Gobert (Previous: 1)
The Utah Jazz center has been the clear frontrunner for a third career Defensive Player of the Year award, as well as his third in the last four seasons. There is no denying the fact that the Stifle Tower has been the focal point of the defense throughout their unprecedented run with the best record in the NBA. When Gobert is on the floor, it’s going to be hard for an opposing player to get an uncontested shot around the rim, and his presence is a factor night-in and night-out.
Coming off a strong month of March where he averaged 3.5 blocks per game, the Frenchman has tailed off a bit, averaging only 1.6 blocks per game midway through April. While this recent downward trend isn’t lessening his case, Gobert still holds the No. 2 spot with 2.8 blocks per game.
Diving deeper into the numbers is where Gobert really shines, however. His defensive rating is 102.3 this season, second to only Jazz teammate Mike Conley, per NBA Advanced Stats. He also finds himself third in defensive win shares with 0.166. It’s clear that Gobert is the leading candidate for another DPotY, even the likely winner barring any significant setbacks to his season.
Even the center is our clear frontrunner, Ben Simmons may say otherwise.
Ben Simmons comments on his Defensive Player of the Year race against Rudy Gobert: “I scored 42 points on him in Utah, and apparently I’m not a scorer.”
— Legion Hoops (@LegionHoops) April 13, 2021
2. Joel Embiid (Previous: N/A)
Returning from a left knee bone bruise, the 7-foot center has gotten right back to the elite level few others can match. In a matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Embiid showed the NBA that he is back and out for blood. Over 27 minutes, Embiid totaled 27 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 blocks. The star took over in a short amount of time as the 76ers trounced the Thunder 117-93 – but his defensive impact should not be taken for granted.
Stacking up against the rest of the league, Embiid ranks in the top five in three major defensive categories: defensive win shares, defensive rating and blocks per game. Embiid is just behind Julius Randle in the defensive win shares statistic with 0.149, good enough for fifth in the NBA, per NBA Advanced Stats. In defensive rating, Embiid is also fifth with a rating of 104.6, just .1 off Marc Gasol.
If Embiid can raise these numbers more in line with Gobert, he may be able to steal the award. Think about it. Giannis Antetokoumpo was able to win the award after an unbelievable season in which he won the MVP – why can’t Embiid do it too?
3. Myles Turner (Previous: 2)
If not for the elite defensive play from Gobert and Embiid, Turner would be the de facto leader in the race. After being a rumored name on the trade market this past offseason, the decision to keep Turner in the fold has paid off for the Indiana Pacers. The league leader in blocks has managed to put together a great season on defense but the Pacers, and specifically Turner himself, have been hurt by injuries.
Where things stand right now, Turner has a sizeable lead in blocks per game with 3.5, 0.7 more than Rudy Gobert. It’s looking more and more likely by the day that Turner will once again be the leader in blocks in the NBA, a feat he also achieved in 2018-19.
While this is an outstanding feat for the young center, it won’t be enough to get him this coveted award – there’s always next season though.
4. Mike Conley (Previous: 3)
The Jazz floor general has made his impact felt this season on both ends of the floor following a down season. Many had written off Conley and bashed the Jazz for the trade as he just didn’t look like the same player, but he has completely turned that around. Needless to say, without Conley, it’s hard to imagine the Jazz having the success they have had this season. Together, Conley and Gobert have been a nightmare for opposing offenses as they constantly apply pressure to the ball.
But the advanced statistics are what truly put Conley’s season in perspective. In the defensive rating category, Conley has been the league leader for some time now. While it has fluctuated throughout the season, he has still managed to keep an incredible 100.9 defensive rating, per NBA Advanced Stats. He also ranks second in DWS with 0.171, just .02 off the league leader, LeBron James. Conley has also been very efficient in stealing the ball as he is tied for seventh with 1.3 steals per game.
If a guard were deserving enough for this award it would be Conley, but due to the play of the guys ahead of him, it doesn’t look like he will have the strength to win it.
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Previous: 4)
The Greek Freak has a had very underrated season on defense, if not overall. He hasn’t been the topic of the MVP conversation as he was the past two seasons, but his defensive presence in the paint is undeniable.
Antetokounmpo has averaged a stellar 1.1 steals and 1.3 blocks per game, all thanks to those incredible athletic abilities and length. He also ranks seventh in defensive win shares with a DWS of 0.139, per NBA Advanced Stats. His defensive rating of 106.6 also ranks in the top 15.
While the Bucks have looked like a contender out of the Eastern Conference this season – their franchise cornerstone won’t be named the winner of any awards this year.
Honorable Mention: Jimmy Butler (Previous: 5)
The leader of the Miami HEAT is putting together another elite defensive season. Currently, he is the league leader in steals per game with 2.1, a lead he has held steady for weeks now. Butler ranks seventh in defensive rating with a mark of 105.4, per NBA Advanced Stats. He also ranks sixth with a DWS of 0.148. But if the HEAT surge through the last stretch of the season, Butler could earn more consideration for this prestigious award.
As the last full month of the regular season takes off, it has been clear that the Utah Jazz have the frontrunner for the DPotY award – plus another major runner-up contender to boot.
Will anyone else be able to top Gobert’s defensive output this season? It doesn’t seem likely, but anything is possible in this crazy, ever-changing landscape.
NBA Daily: Is Mitchell Robinson’s Injury a Blessing in Disguise?
Drew Maresca explores what Mitchell Robinson’s injury means to the New York Knicks — this season and beyond.
The New York Knicks are right in the middle of a playoff push. They are currently in the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference and they appear to be in good shape to at least qualify for the play-in tournament, 6.5 games ahead of the 11th seeded Toronto Raptors.
The Knicks have remained in the playoff picture despite starting center, Mitchell Robinson, missing 23 of the team’s 55 games.
Most recently, Robinson exited a March 27 contest against the Milwaukee Bucks in the first quarter with a broken foot. Including the March 27 game against Milwaukee, New York has won five of their last 10 games without Robinson.
As recently as last season, Robinson was viewed as the team’s answer at center – and, along with RJ Barrett, the team’s only long-term building blocks. This take has aged badly given the progress made by Julius Randle and the success had by rookie Immanuel Quickley (and to a lesser degree, Obi Toppin.)
But in celebrating the team’s present, it’s fair to question their future – does New York’s success without Robinson mean he’s expendable?
The 2020-21 season has been challenging for Robinson, who already missed 15 games earlier this year with a broken right hand. Somewhat miraculously, the Knicks have continued their strong play without Robinson In total, New York is 13-11 without Robinson and just 15-16 with him.
The timing of the injury is apropos.
The Knicks and Robinson were expected to engage in contract discussions this offseason. They still have some time to figure out a path forward, but the injury makes an otherwise straightforward contract negotiation trickier. The Knicks possess a team option for Robinson in 2021-22 for $1.8 million, which is significantly below market value for a player of Robinson’s stature.
Robinson is averaging 8.3 points, 8.1 rebounds and (a career-low) 1.5 blocks per game. He’s also averaging a career-high 27.5 minutes per game, due — in part — to his ability to avoid fouls. Robinson averaged 3.2 fouls per game last season, fouling out of seven games. He’s down to 2.8 personal fouls per game this year and hasn’t fouled out of a single contest.
A long-term agreement appeared likely between the Knicks and Robinson prior to his (presumably) season-ending foot injury. Similarly skilled, albeit more polished, players have signed significant deals in the recent past. Clint Capella signed a 5 year/$90 million deal in 2018, which is higher than what most expected Robinson to fetch — but it probably would have been referenced in negotiations.
Following the injury, a smaller deal is likely — if at all. The Knicks will probably still pick up Robinson’s option, but they could either trade him or let him play out next season without an extension. And while the Knicks must decide if they’d like to prioritize Robinson, Robinson must decide how much of a discount, if any, he’s willing to accept from New York (or anyone.) Robinson just signed with his sixth NBA agent (Thad Foucher of the Wasserman Group) and he’s expected to chase some of the money he missed out on by skipping the 2018 NBA Draft Combine and falling into the second round.
But Robinson shouldn’t push too hard in negotiations as the Knicks can just as easily turn to someone on their current roster as his replacement — and it would cost them far less in guaranteed money.
Enter Nerlens Noel. Noel has been a pleasant surprise for president Leon Rose and Knicks’ fans alike. He’s averaging 5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game on the season; but he’s come off the bench for much of it, receiving just 23.1 minutes per game.
But even in limited time, Noel has had a major impact on the team’s defensive. He’s first in the NBA in defensive plus-minus (3.3), second in the percentage of the team’s blocked two-point field goal attempts (8.9%) and third in defensive win share (2.7).
And he’s been even better in Robinson’s absence. In his last 10 games, Noel is averaging 5.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocks in 26.1 minutes per game.
Noel signed in New York for just one year/$5 million this past offseason. While that is cheap relative to other starting-caliber centers, he’s not doing anything he hasn’t done in the past. Noel is averaging fewer points, assists and steals per game while securing more blocks and essentially the same number of rebounds. So, if teams knew what Noel could do entering 2020-21, why would they pay him more next season for the same output? Unfortunately, free agency is a fickle beast and there’s no rhyme or reason as to why teams weren’t interested in like Noel last year — but the Knicks will likely have the upper hand in negotiations.
Ultimately, the Knicks’ desire to keep Noel shouldn’t influence their preference to re-sign Robinson. Remember, Robinson set the single-season record for field goal percentage last season (74.2%) and he averages greater than two blockers per game over his career. He’s an elite lob target, and he closes out on shooters better than just about anyone in the league.
Contract negotiations are a zero-sum game in which one party wins at the expense of the other. Robinson and the Knicks should enter into negotiations delicately. Robinson probably feels owed given his cumulative salary relative to his past performance, and the Knicks were probably hoping for a more concrete body of work, leading to more certainty around an offer.
The reality is that Robinson has struggled with injuries — this year and in previous seasons — and his game hasn’t developed significantly since his rookie season. He is also a very unique talent who should get even better with more time under coach Thibodeau.
So for the best possible outcome, all parties must concede.
The Knicks are best with both Robinson and Noel. As much as Robinson’s injury will hinder how far New York can go this season, it can be key in their future. If Robinson and Noel are amenable to the idea of returning at a slight discount, it can ensure their defensive excellence continues — and if it’s at the right number(s), it should allow for considerable financial flexibility to continue maneuvering.
And the Knicks haven’t been savvy maneuverers in a long time.