Kevin Durant reached a career milestone on Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Durant became the 44th player in NBA history to score 20,000 points and, at age 29, the second-youngest to reach that threshold (LeBron James was the youngest, reaching 20,000 points at age 28). Durant’s accomplishment was significant, but it was Lou Williams’ performance that was arguably the story of the night.
With Patrick Beverley, Milos Teodosic and Austin Rivers all sidelined with injuries, the 2015 Sixth Man of the Year—and this year’s frontrunner for the award—started in the Clippers’ backcourt alongside rookie Jawun Evans. Williams got going early by knocking down a three-pointer and assisting on a DeAndre Jordan alley-oop, but Williams really caught fire in the third quarter.
Williams scored 27 points in the third quarter and ended the game with a career-high 50 points. He shot 16-for-27 from the field, 8-for-16 from three-point range and 10-for-10 from the free throw line. He also recorded seven assists and two rebounds.
Despite missing Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, the Warriors maintained a lead in the early part of the third quarter, but Williams stayed active, managed to find open looks within the flow of the Clippers’ offense and kept his team within striking distance until it took the lead, 83-81.
Improbably, Williams and Jordan have managed to keep the Clippers within range of making the playoffs.
At 19-21 the Clippers are just two games out of the sixth seed. Los Angeles has lost Beverley (out for the season), Teodosic, Rivers, Danilo Gallinari and Blake Griffin to injuries at different points this season, but the team has played relatively well, but no one has been better than Williams.
It seems Williams’ play this season has the Clippers looking to keep him around for the foreseeable future. Shams Charania of Yahoo reported on Wednesday that Los Angeles and Williams have engaged in discussions regarding a possible contract extension.
Sources: Lou Williams and the Clippers have recently engaged in contract extension discussions, but no deal's formed as sides evaluate positions. Williams went for 50 points against the Warriors in Oakland tonight. He's eligible for an extension during season.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) January 11, 2018
From pulling up for deep jumpers, to splitting defenders and attacking the rim, to drawing contact and knocking down his free throws, Williams had just about every part of his offensive repertoire going for him in the third quarter. Durant had quite a night himself but he was one of many players that had positive things to say about Williams’ performance.
“He ordered 50-piece nuggets on us tonight,” Durant said. “Lou got it going.
“It was hard to stop him. His pull-up three is a cash shot. We were too loose on him and let him go whereever he wanted.”
Williams generally diverts any focus from his play to the team’s pursuit of a playoff spot, but even he was willing to indulge in his impressive performance against the Warriors.
“I’ve been playing with confidence for the past month or so now, so tonight was similar to other nights that I’ve had,” Williams said. “I’ve had some special nights this far in the year. But this one was pretty good.
“Obviously 50 is a huge number. It’s a great accomplishment. For me, it was more important to get a win, try to close that gap to get back to .500, especially with the injuries, with guys in and out of the lineup, for us to still have that opportunity, to be in the playoff fold. So, I’ve been playing with confidence for the past month or so now.”
The Clippers are currently caught between two different paths moving forward.
Without all of their key players available, the Clippers don’t have the collective talent to be a major threat in the postseason. With this in mind, the franchise has to consider the possibility of moving Jordan, Williams and other players who can be free agents after this season before the deadline to accumulate assets to build with for the future.
However, considering that the team is just two games back of the sixth seed, Griffin is close to returning from the concussion he suffered recently and several role players are playing at a high level, it seems as though the team is leaning towards going forward with the core of this roster, rather than stripping it down before the trade deadline.
The Clippers’ front office may change course if the Clippers drop off and lose pace in the West. But, for now, Williams has the team focused on making the playoffs and doing some damage if and when they make it.
If he keeps dropping 50, anything is possible.
Ranking the Free Agents – Power Forwards
Basketball Insiders continues to evaluate the top free agents at each position. David Yapkowitz breaks down the power forwards.
This week at Basketball Insiders, we’re taking a look at the top free agents set to the open market in just a few weeks. We’ve already covered the point guards, shooting guards, and small forwards. Now we check in with the power forwards.
There may only be a few power forwards who can probably expect a max or near max deal this summer, but there are quite a few guys that, for the right price, can end up being difference makers on a team next season.
Before getting into the actual free agents, here’s a look at what the salary cap numbers project to be. The NBA’s salary cap is expected to jump to $101 million this offseason. Based on that, here are the projected numbers for max contracts:
$25,250,000 for players with 0-6 years of experience
$30,300,000 for players with 7-9 years of experience
$35,350,000 for players with 10+ years of experience
Max/Near Max Guys
Julius Randle* – Los Angeles Lakers – Last Year’s Salary: $4,149,242
Julius Randle is definitely in line for a bigger payday this summer. The fourth-year forward turned in his best NBA season yet and was arguably the Lakers best player for most of the year. He played in all 82 games with 49 starts.
He put up career-high numbers across the board with 16.1 points per game on 55.8 percent shooting from the field. Most of Randle’s scoring comes in the paint where his “bully” ball type game has proven quite effective. He has an improving jump shot and at 23 years old, he still has his best years ahead of him.
He will be a restricted free agent, giving the Lakers the ability to match any offer he receives, but doing so could come at the expense of signing two max-level free agents as has been the team’s plan. It’s going to be an interesting dilemma for the Lakers as Randle most likely will attract interest right away from potential suitors thus forcing the Lakers hand early on in free agency.
Aaron Gordon* – Orlando Magic – Last Year’s Salary: $5,504,420
Aaron Gordon will also most likely receive a max or near max contract his summer. Early in the season when the Orlando Magic started out hot, Gordon was playing like an All-Star and even a borderline MVP candidate.
The Magic’s play then went rapidly south, but Gordon finished the season averaging 17.6 points per game, 7.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists, all career-highs. At the beginning of the season, he displayed a much improved three-point shot. The Magic have tried him at small forward before, but he’s a natural at power forward.
Gordon is also a restricted free agent allowing the Magic to match any offer. At age 22, he should also have his best years ahead of him. For a team like the Magic, in need of talent and quality young players, re-signing Gordon is probably ideal. But it’s also important to note that the Magic have a newer front office in place, one that did not draft Gordon. It’s also possible that John Hammond and Jeff Weltman might want to shape the roster in their vision.
Above Mid-Level Guys
Jabari Parker* – Milwaukee Bucks – Last Season’s Salary: $6,782,392
Jabari Parker is perhaps one of the most interesting and intriguing names on the free agent market. A former No. 2 overall pick, as a rookie Parker looked like he was definitely part of the Bucks growing young core. Unfortunately for him, injuries struck him hard as he suffered two ACL tears during a three-year period.
This season, he struggled a bit to find a role with the Bucks. There’s no question that if he’s healthy, he’d be quite an asset to any team. He represents the new breed of power forward with a perimeter game. Prior to his injuries, he’d almost assuredly be a max contract guy. It’s a bit difficult to imagine any team willing to pay him anywhere close to that now.
The Bucks have the option to match any contract offer he gets as he is a restricted free agent. It’s conceivable that they would do so as it will probably take a massive offer to pry Parker away from the Bucks. It’s unlikely that any team is willing to go that high.
Thaddeus Young** – Indiana Pacers – Last Season’s Salary: $14,796,348
Thaddeus Young could be another intriguing power forward on the free agent market. The thing with Young is he has a player option he could choose to exercise and become a free agent. Never an All-Star, Young has been a steady and dependable player his entire career.
His numbers were a bit under his career averages this season. He put up 11.8 points per game on 48.7 percent shooting from the field and he pulled down 6.3 rebounds. Nevertheless, he remained an important part of the Pacers rotation, especially on the defensive end.
Should he hit the open market, there likely wouldn’t be any shortage of suitors.
Derrick Favors – Utah Jazz – Last Season’s Salary: $12,000,000
Ed Davis – Portland Trail Blazers – Last Season’s Salary: $6,352,531
Montrezl Harrell* – Los Angeles Clippers – Last Season’s Salary: $1,471,382
Mid-Level Or Below Guys
Mike Scott – Washington Wizards – Last Season’s Salary: $1,471,382
Ersan Ilyasova – Philadelphia 76ers – Last Season’s Salary: $357,454
Trevor Booker – Indiana Pacers – Last Season’s Salary: $332,516
David West – Golden State Warriors – Last Season’s Salary: $1,471,382
Nemanja Bjelica* – Minnesota Timberwolves – Last Season’s Salary: $3,949,999
Kevon Looney – Golden State Warriors – Last Season’s Salary: $1,471,382
Mike Muscala** – Atlanta Hawks – Last Season’s Salary: $5,000,000
Amir Johnson – Philadelphia 76ers – Last Season’s Salary: $11,000,000
Channing Frye – Los Angeles Lakers – Last Season’s Salary: $7,420,912
Quincy Acy – Brooklyn Nets – Last Season’s Salary: $1,709,538
*Qualifying Offer (If made, the player becomes a restricted free agent.)
**Player Option (The player has the choice of whether to opt-in for another year with his current team or opt-out to become an unrestricted free agent.)
NBA Daily: Four International Prospects Worth Stashing
While much of the international buzz has fallen on Luka Dončić, there are four other overseas prospects worth keeping your eye on.
Without fail, mock drafts come and go all spring with little mention of potential international draftees. It makes perfect sense. Not every overseas athlete can get the buzz of Real Madrid’s Luka Dončić — or, in most cases, even that of Élie Okobo and Džanan Musa, two international prospects with decent chances of going in the first round next week. Still, would it surprise you to know that seven international draftees were taken in the second round in 2017? Or that 2016 went one better and reached eight? In fact, 2015 saw 10 foreign-born prospects get selected after pick No. 30 — so this is a trend, not an aberration.
Granted, a handful of those draftees haven’t and will not ever play meaningful NBA minutes — but the point still very much stands. However, outside of those aforementioned three — Dončić, Okobo and Musa — even the most-educated of fans would be hard-pressed to rattle off four more transatlantic options. Luckily, Basketball Insiders has your back. Memorize these easily-digestible profiles to impress your friends and family during the NBA Draft — you can thank us later.
Isaac Bonga, Germany — Fraport Skyliners
Age: 18 — Height: 6-foot-9 — Position: SG/SF
Last Mock Rank: No. 39 to Philadelphia
By most accounts, Bonga will be drafted next week — so, admittedly, he’s not the deepest cut on this list. But if the German isn’t on many casual radars just yet, he should be soon enough. His statistics are hardly remarkable — Bonga averaged just six points, three rebounds and 2.3 assists per game in 2017-18 — but his physical measurements project him as a difference-maker. Standing at 6-foot-9, the 18-year-old talent has some legitimate playmaking abilities already. Of course, overseas highlight reels have proven to be misleading time and time again — but watch this timestamped move from last summer’s FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup and try not to get too excited.
Comparing Bonga to other size-aided court generals is weak at best, but he also boasts a seven-foot wingspan, shoots 92.1 percent from the free throw line and his on-court vision is noteworthy for a teenager. Bonga’s best individual performance of the season came against Eisbären Bremerhaven, where he notched 16 points, five rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks on 2-for-2 from three-point range. Given his current stature, he won’t be limited to just defending one or two positions if he bulks up over the next couple years either. There’s no guarantee that Bonga will make it professionally in America, but there are some compelling reasons to take a wait-and-see approach with this capable youngster.
Rodions Kurucs, Latvia — FC Barcelona
Age: 20 — Height: 6-foot-9 — Position: SF
Last Mock Rank: No. 37 to Sacramento
Originally, Kurucs had considered coming over last season after scoring 9.5 points per game for FC Barcelona II. Although raw, the then-19-year-old was a projected late first-rounder for much of the workout process — but he ultimately opted to head back to Spain for another year. In 2017-18, his counting statistics improved nominally, but he finally spent time with FC Barcelona, one of Europe’s top clubs. Unfortunately, that’s also where things begin to get a bit tricky.
Between his allegedly expensive buyout and Barcelona freely swapping Kurucs between their two clubs to keep him away from visiting scouts, the Latvian is now widely seen as a second-round pick across the board. He had until June 11 to withdraw his name, but — perhaps knowing that things will forever remain difficult in Spain — is just going to make the most of a bad situation. Even with his up-and-downs, Kurucs is often a crafty scorer that can go both inside and outside with the ball.
Although Kurucs has two-way potential, make no mistake, the offense is the prospect’s bread and butter. As we’ve learned in recent years, the NBA will always find room for deadeye shooters and that’s what Kurucs may eventually bring to the table. The talent is here for Kurucs but his long-term NBA future likely depends on which franchise he lands with.
Issuf Sanon, Ukraine — Petrol Olimpija
Age: 18 — Height: 6-foot-3 — Position: G
Last Mock Rank: No. 57 to Oklahoma City
Qualifying as one of the more under the radar options, Sanon is a Ukrainian baller currently playing for Petrol Olimpija in Slovenia. In 2017-18, Sanon averaged six points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.1 steals over 20.2 minutes per game and presently projects as a combo guard. Although his professional moments have offered glimpses of an NBA-worthy path, Sanon made his biggest mark last summer at the FIBA U18 European Championship. In what would become his breakout tournament, Sanon averaged 19.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists over seven games.
During a slim two-point defeat to Turkey in the Round of 16, Sanon tallied 27 points, five rebounds, four assists, three steals and made three of his five attempts from deep. He’ll need to continue developing at the three-point line — he shot just 29.3 percent this season — but Sanon looks like he could be a viable 3-and-D candidate down the road. That said, like many international second-rounders, it’s unlikely that Sanon will come over for a few years at least. But if he keeps developing at this rate, drafting and stashing Sanon would be a shrewd move for any franchise.
Arnoldas Kulboka, Lithuania — Capo d’Orlando
Age: 20 — Height: 6-foot-9 — Position: F
Last Mock Rank: Unranked
Last but not least, there’s Arnoldas Kulboka — a long-ranged assassin with the numbers to back it up. In 2017-18, Kulboka went on loan to Capo d’Orlando of Serie A, a club with which he quickly found success. He was even named Best Young Player in the Basketball Champions League, a new, FIBA-led, European-wide competition. At the 2017 U19 Basketball World Cup, Kulboka averaged 13.7 points, 3.9 rebounds and two assists over seven games. As an athletic, microwavable shooter, Kulboka naturally goes through bouts of inconsistency — but when he’s on, the Lithuanian appears like a tremendous prospect. In the tournament opener against Germany, Kulboka dropped 25 points, eight rebounds and five assists on 5-for-8 from downtown. What else could you want?
On the flip side, during Lithuania’s quarterfinal defeat at the hands of Italy, Kulboka scored just five points on 1-for-15 shooting — so there’s certainly still room to improve. Given his NBA-ready range and his perfect fit in a modern offensive system, those facets alone make Kulboka worth considering. Regardless, success at the international level from an early age is not always an indicator of future achievements, that much should be obvious. But for a mid-to-late second rounder, franchises could do far worse than stashing Kulboka.
While there’s no promise that everybody on this list will even join the NBA someday, they’ve all proved that their names should be known heading into draft week. From former FIBA standouts to those with positionless potential, these four overseas standouts could be difference-makers in the forthcoming years.
NBA Daily: The Kawhi Leonard Sweepstakes is On
Kawhi Leonard reportedly wants out of San Antonio, which means plenty of teams will look to make competitive bids. Shane Rhodes breaks down the situation.
Kawhi Leonard wants out.
Kawhi Leonard wants out from the San Antonio Spurs, league sources tell Yahoo.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) June 15, 2018
Frustrated with the San Antonio Spurs, Leonard is forcing their hand. And, in an offseason already flush with available talent, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year has just penciled himself near the top of every team’s shopping list.
As the Spurs move forward, they will have a bevy of suitors to consider. Which teams can offer them the best package for their two-way superstar?
Los Angeles Lakers
Kawhi Leonard is reportedly interested in heading to Los Angeles, according to Chris Haynes of ESPN.
Whether they involve Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma or some combination of the three, the Los Angeles Lakers have a stable of quality, high-upside talent to provide in any trade scenario. The Spurs could take them in an effort to accelerate a mini-rebuild while trying to maximize Head Coach Gregg Popovich and retain relevancy in the Western Conference.
Leonard, more so than the aforementioned kids, provides a huge incentive for the likes of LeBron James and Paul George to consider donning the purple and gold next season as well. If the ultimate goal is a super-trio of James, George and Kawhi, the Lakers almost have to make a play for him.
While the Spurs won’t want to help any other team improve, especially one in-conference, they may not get a better offer if Leonard has his heart set on the Lakers come 2019.
Los Angeles Clippers
Like the Lakers, the Los Angeles Clippers also hold Leonard’s attention according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. They don’t have the glitz, glamor and high-upside talent of their Los Angeles contemporaries, but the Clippers present an interesting trade partner with the combination of veterans and draft capital that they possess.
The Clippers hold Nos. 12 and 13 overall in next week’s NBA Draft. While those two picks alone likely aren’t enough, pairing them alongside potential on-the-block veterans — Tobias Harris, DeAndre Jordan, Danilo Gallinari and others — could put the Clippers in the conversation. And, while it is unknown if Leonard’s camp will assure teams of him re-signing long-term, the Clippers have one of the best executives in the league, Jerry West, to hang their hat on in negotiations.
For the Spurs, acquiring the 12th and 13th overall picks allows them to quickly add talent through the draft (whether they choose to use the picks or package them to move up) while the veterans allow them to remain competitive in the brutal Western Conference.
The Boston Celtics don’t need to trade for Kawhi Leonard. The team that found themselves minutes from the NBA Finals without Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward playing a single minute in the postseason will, health permitting, be a bonafide contender next season and for the foreseeable future.
Still, Danny Ainge and Co. have shown that, if they have the means to improve their team, they will do so, regardless of the risk.
Again, the Celtics don’t necessarily need Leonard to compete for a title. However, they are in a unique position; not only do the Celtics have the assets to acquire Leonard but have the ability to make the BEST offer for the superstar wing, should they be so inclined. A combination of high-upside draft capital and ascending players — Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and others — on cheap, rookie contracts would certainly be appealing to San Antonio. Plus, shipping Leonard to Boston gets him out of the Western Conference, another benefit for the Spurs.
While it may hurt Boston fans to see the likes of Tatum and Brown leave town, a potential foursome of Irving, Hayward, Leonard and Al Horford could be devastating as well and, perhaps, even the answer to the Golden State Warriors’ Hamptons 5.
While the Philadelphia 76ers could certainly use a General Manager right about now, having Head Coach and former San Antonio assistant Brett Brown running the show in the interim isn’t the worst thing in the world.
The 76ers have been connected to James and George since their elimination from the postseason, but Leonard may be a better fit than both. Leonard is a superior defender to George and, unlike James, affords Ben Simmons the opportunity to remain the primary ball handler on offense.
Philadelphia, like Boston, also has the added benefit of residing in the Eastern Conference.
After the departure of Bryan Colangelo and a strange rookie season, the 76ers could be willing to part with Markelle Fultz in addition to other players or picks in order to add a player of Leonard’s caliber as well. If anyone could remedy what ailed the former No. 1 Overall Pick’s shot, it would be the Spurs own Chip Engelland, one of the best shooting coaches in the NBA.
The Phoenix Suns have been stuck in a perpetual rebuild for quite some time. While they have the assets to get a deal done, would they be willing to dangle the No. 1 overall pick for Leonard?
Back in May, Phoenix GM Ryan McDonough told Wojnarowski that the Suns were “open” to moving the No. 1 pick and that there were “a few players” that the team would consider trading the pick for. While the team has since come out and said that they will likely keep the pick, anything can happen in the NBA and a proven commodity like Leonard doesn’t become available all too often.
This scenario can be a win-win for both teams. The Suns add a Most Valuable Player candidate to their roster alongside budding star Devin Booker and high-upside swingman Josh Jackson. Meanwhile, San Antonio has the chance to bring in a new franchise player in addition to anyone else the Suns send their way — Marquiss Chriss, Dragan Bender, etc.
The 2018 Offseason had already planned to be an eventful one. Now, with the Leonard-Lottery in full swing, it has the potential to change the NBA landscape.