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NBA Daily: Pelicans Shouldn’t Rush A Davis Deal

Anthony Davis has asked out of New Orleans just ahead of the trade deadline. Spencer Davies writes on how things got to this point and what the future holds for both parties.

Spencer Davies

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It’s time to play the game again: Where will *insert superstar here* land after making a trade demand?

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski started out our week with a major news drop, reporting that Anthony Davis has requested a trade and will not re-sign once his contract is up in New Orleans. Rich Paul, Davis’ agent at Klutch Sports, relayed that his client is looking for a place where he can “win consistently and compete for a championship.”

New Orleans Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry says he has already spoken with Davis, who has no plans to sit out and will honor his contract. Remember –the All-Star forward is not a free agent until the summer of 2020.

Before we get into the whole ordeal of how things got to this point and what’s to come, let’s get one thing straight—this isn’t just any other player. This is Anthony Davis.

Davis is a walking double-double that can post whatever stat line he pleases any night he steps foot onto a basketball court. He is a monster presence in the paint with top-tier shot-blocking ability and is an undeniable force on the offensive end — a franchise changer.

Any team would be incredibly fortunate to acquire Davis. The most popular destination in probably everyone’s minds would be the Los Angeles Lakers.

LeBron James and Paul are the top dogs in Klutch Sports, an agency that lured Davis in this past September. The King has been rumored to be asking for another superstar to play with in Hollywood. It just makes too much sense. And don’t get it twisted, this report came out as a “tick-tock” move to get the wheels turning on preparing a deal – a major reason the Pelicans want a close eye on those all so familiar tampering rules.

But who’s to say Los Angeles has enough to offer?

According to Yahoo Sports reporter Chris Haynes, the New York Knicks are preparing to make an offer for Davis, as they have plenty of assets to construct a trade with. May they be willing to part ways with a dissatisfied Kristaps Porzingis? Would Kevin Knox or a first-round pick suffice?

These are valid questions, but is this really a team that will win consistently, as Davis supposedly prefers? It’s certainly a top market, however, that winning part of it isn’t happening unless New York can find another superstar-caliber talent in the offseason. Regardless, though, Davis reportedly would be willing to sign his extension in the Big Apple, which is surprising considering the state of the team currently.

The Boston Celtics have been linked to Davis for the past several years, but can’t legally trade for him until July 1 due to the Designated Rookie Extension Contract rule in the CBA, which states that a team can’t have two players on such a deal together. Kyrie Irving will become an unrestricted free agent on that date.

Earlier in the season, the Golden State Warriors were mentioned as a potential destination for Davis, but let’s not kid ourselves—they don’t have the assets to make that happen. Unless there’s a crazy swap of epic proportions with Kevin Durant or something, don’t count on it.

We could speculate from dusk ‘til dawn if we wanted to on this matter. Here’s what this reporter sees happening: Nothing.

Ask yourself this question: If you’re the Pelicans, why would you deal Davis right now? Again, this is not the final year of his deal.

As far as we know, he’s not somebody that will make a big fuss out of the situation. Usually, a disgruntled superstar in a locker room who knows of his intentions isn’t good, but Davis doesn’t seem like he’d be that type of player to disrupt things. If he’s going to be professional about it, then what’s the rush?

In all honesty, when healthy, the Pelicans are a good team. Julius Randle is boasting some loud numbers in a career-season and what will likely act as a contract year. Jrue Holiday continues to be sensational, averaging over 20 points and more than eight assists per game for the first time in his career. They have not been able to bring in a wing to complete the puzzle, yet playing smaller has worked on the offensive end.

So who or what do you point the finger at for not putting it all together? To be frank—the injury bug, for the most part.

New Orleans has been banged up almost all year long. After a fast start, they lost Elfrid Payton for two months. Between an ankle injury and a recent calf strain, Nikola Mirotic has been nicked up. Solomon Hill has missed a chunk of games. Even Davis, who is currently dealing with a left finger issue, is a part of these setbacks.

As Bleacher Report’s Preston Ellis points out, all but one of the Pels’ top five-man lineups in net rating has played fewer than 71 minutes together. That’s a shame considering how hot the team started to open the season.

The front office could’ve tried to go after a proven small forward to shore up the defensive end, with size lacking in positions one through three. Players like Trevor Ariza or Robert Covington, just as examples, might’ve made a huge difference. With that said, though, it’s not as if general manager Dell Demps hasn’t made an attempt to surround Davis with talent.

Around this time two years ago, Demps pushed all of his chips to the center of the table. He traded Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, then-rookie Buddy Hield and a 2017 first-rounder for Omri Casspi and All-Star big man DeMarcus Cousins. New Orleans didn’t make the postseason that year, but Boogie and The Brow became a revelation.

The Pels had a legitimate big three and veteran leadership the following season. While they had their ups and downs throughout the course of the campaign, January 2018 was a hot month. Having just ripped off seven wins in eight games, Cousins tragically suffered a torn Achilles in the closing moments of the team’s victory over the Houston Rockets. He’d be ruled out for the rest of the way, never to be seen in a NOLA uniform again.

Demps once again made it a point to not give up after taking a huge hit, so he acquired Mirotic to soften the blow and bolster the roster once more. It paid off right away.

New Orleans fought valiantly in Cousins’ absence and, behind the brilliance of Davis, Holiday, Mirotic and Rajon Rondo, made it to the second round of the NBA Playoffs before getting eliminated by the Warriors in five games.

Despite losing Cousins to that Golden State squad, the offense has actually improved statistically since then. The quick, up-and-down pace of the Pels’ has worked well with the personnel on the roster. It’s kind of ironic considering they’ve had two Defensive Player of the Year candidates for the past few years, but the glaring problem is on the defensive end, where they are often outmatched and unable to contain the corner three.

Davis’ timing with this announcement is not surprising because the season has quickly gone into a downward spiral. New Orleans sports a record of 22-28. They’re seven-and-a-half games back from first place in the Southwest Division and six-and-a-half games back from the eighth-seeded LA Clippers in an ultra-competitive Western Conference.

It’ll be intriguing to see whether the Pels decide to strike the iron while it’s hot or if they wait regarding a Davis deal. Reports are indicating they’ll be working on their own time and even the team’s latest statement confirms there will be no rush on jettisoning The Brow out of town.

It’s a shame that things will end like this, be it this season or next—especially with the poor luck NOLA has had on the injury front—however, it’s not all that unexpected. Arranged marriages between players and teams don’t always work out long-term anymore. It’s becoming more and more common for athletes to look out for themselves above all else. Some guys prefer the bright lights and big city, others want to win championships.

Based on what has been put out there, it sounds like Davis wants the best of both of those worlds. Unfortunately for him, he might have to wait until after the season for that to happen.

But if New Orleans does the opposite and finds a can’t-miss deal, then there will obviously be no choice. On the condition it happens, the organization would probably be throwing in the proverbial white towel on the year. Zach Lowe of ESPN reported that they have made Randle, Mirotic and E’Twaun Moore all available for picks.

Still, in the meantime, the Pels should keep playing Davis the way they have been. Nobody’s holding anybody hostage.

Just as players have to go by their feelings, teams have to look out for themselves, too. They can’t just give in to demands if it’s going to negatively affect what they’re trying to accomplish.

The Pels are down, but not out of the postseason race yet and Davis is an MVP candidate. If the deadline passes without agreeing to a deal, then they can treat this as if it never happened until the final buzzer sounds on their season.

Spencer Davies is a Deputy Editor and a Senior NBA Writer based in Cleveland in his third year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past five seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.

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NBA

NBA Daily: They Guessed Wrong

Matt John reflects on some of the key decisions that were made last summer, and how their disappointing results hurt both team outlooks and players’ legacies.

Matt John

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It doesn’t sound possible, but did you know that the crazy NBA summer of 2019 was, in fact, over a year ago? Wildly, in any normal, non-pandemic season, it all would have been over three months ago and, usually, media days would be right around the corner, but not this time. The 2019-20 NBA season is slated to end sometime in early to mid-October, so the fact that the last NBA off-season was over a year ago hasn’t really dawned on anyone yet. Craziest of all, even though there will still be an offseason, there technically won’t be any summer.

Coronavirus has really messed up the NBA’s order. Of course, there are much worse horrors that COVID-19 has inflicted upon the world – but because of what it’s done to the NBA, let’s focus on that and go back to the summer of 2019. It felt like an eternity, but the Golden State Warriors’ three-year reign had finally reached its end. The Toronto Raptors’ victory over the tyranny that was the Hamptons Five – as battered as they were – made it feel like order had been restored to the NBA. There was more to it than that though.

Klay Thompson’s and Kevin Durant’s season-ending injuries, along with the latter skipping town to join Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn meant two things.

1. Golden State was down for the count
2. Brooklyn’s time wasn’t coming until next year.

A one-year window was open. Even if neither Golden State nor Brooklyn posed the same threat that the former did when it had Kevin Durant, those were two contenders out of commission. If there was a time to go all in, it was in 2019.

Milwaukee certainly seemed to go all in. For the most part.  Malcolm Brogdon’s departure seemed a little odd since he was arguably their best non-Giannis playmaker when they were in crunch time. Not to mention there was nothing really stopping the Bucks from keeping him except for money. Detractors will call out Milwaukee for electing to cheap out by not keeping Brogdon and hence, avoiding the luxury tax. However, there’s more to it than that.

Milwaukee thought it had enough with the core it had on its roster. Coming off the best season they had put up since the eighties, they believed the franchise built the right team to contend. There was an argument that keeping Brogdon may have been overkill with their guard depth – let’s not forget that Donte DiVincenzo did a solid job in Brogdon’s role as the backup facilitator. This would have been more defensible had it not been for Milwaukee picking the wrong guy to let go. That was the indefensible part- electing to keep Eric Bledsoe over Brogdon.

Bledsoe wasn’t necessarily a bad investment. No one’s complaining about an almost 15 point average on 47/34/79 splits or playing individual defense tight enough to get named on the All-Defensive second team. By all accounts, Bledsoe earns his keep. That is until the playoffs. Bledsoe’s postseason woes have been a weight ever since he first entered Milwaukee, and this postseason was more of the same.

Bledsoe’s numbers dwindled to just 11.7 points on 39/25/81 splits, and Milwaukee getting ousted in five games at the hands of Miami made his struggles stand out even more than it had ever been. Bledsoe may be the better athlete and the better defender, but Brogdon’s all-around offensive savvy and his only slight dropoff defensively from Brogdon would have made him a bit more reliable.

Milwaukee guessed wrong when they opted to extend Bledsoe before the postseason last year when they could have waited until that very time to evaluate who to keep around. Now they face a hell of a lot more questions than they did at the end of last season – questions that may have been avoided had they made the right choice.

Now they could have kept both of them, yes, but it’s not totally unreasonable to think that maybe their approach with the luxury tax would have worked and maybe they would still be in the postseason right now had they gone with the homegrown talent. And just maybe, there wouldn’t be nearly as much of this Greek Freak uncertainty.

The Houston Rockets can relate. They got bruised up by a team that everyone thought Houston had the edge on going into the series and then crushed by the Lakers. Now, Mike D’Antoni is gone. The full-time small ball experiment likely did not work out. Since the Rockets emptied most of their assets to bring in Russell Westbrook and Robert Covington, there may not be a route in which they can become better than they presently are.

The mistake wasn’t trading for Russell Westbrook. The mistake was trading Chris Paul.

To be fair, most everybody severely overestimated Chris Paul’s decline. He’s not among the best of the best anymore, but he’s still pretty darn close. He deserved his All-NBA second team selection as well as finishing No. 7 overall in MVP voting. OKC had no business being as good as they were this season, and Paul was the driving force as to why.

For all we know, the previously-assumed tension between Chris Paul and James Harden would have made its way onto the court no matter what. Even so, Houston’s biggest obstacle in the Bay Area had crumbled. If they had just stayed the course, maybe they’re still in the postseason too.

To their credit, none of this may have happened had it not been for the Kawhi Leonard decision. Had he chosen differently, the Thunder never blow it up, and Houston might have very well been the favorite in the Western Conference. Instead, the Rockets took a step back from being in the title discussion to dark horse. But at least they can take pride knowing that they weren’t expected to win it all – the Clippers can’t.

Seeing the Clippers fall well short expectations begs the question if they too got it wrong. The answer is, naturally: of course not. They may have paid a hefty price for Paul George, but the only way they were getting Kawhi Leonard – one of the best players of his generation – was if PG-13 came in the package. As lofty as it was, anyone would have done the same thing if they were in their shoes. They didn’t get it wrong. Kawhi did.

On paper, the Clippers had the most talented roster in the entire league. It seemed like they had every hole filled imaginable. Surrounding Leonard and George was three-point shooting, versatility, a productive second unit, an experienced coach – you name it. There was nothing stopping them from breaking the franchise’s long-lasting curse. Except themselves.

Something felt off about them. They alienated opponents. They alienated each other. At times, they played rather lackadaisically, like the title had already been signed, sealed, and delivered to them. The media all assumed they’d cut the malarkey and get their act together – but that moment never really came. They had their chances to put Denver away, but even if they had, after seeing their struggles to beat them – and to be fair Dallas too – would their day of destiny with the Lakers have really lived up to the hype?

Even if it was never in the cards, one can’t help but wonder what could have happened had Kawhi chosen to stay with the team he won his second title with.

Toronto was the most impressive team in this league this season. They still managed to stay at the top of the east in spite of losing an all-timer like Leonard. That team had every component of a winner except a superstar. They had the right culture for a championship team. Just not the right talent. The Clippers were the exact opposite. They had the right talent for a championship team but not the right culture. That’s why the Raptors walked away from the postseason feeling proud of themselves for playing to their full potential while the Clippers writhed in disappointment and angst over their future.

In the end, everyone mentioned here may ultimately blame what happened to their season on the extenuating circumstances from the pandemic. The Bucks’ chemistry never fully returned when the Bubble started. Contracting COVID and dealing with quad problems prevented Westbrook from reviving the MVP-type player he was before the hiatus. As troubling as the Clippers had played, the extra time they would have had to work things out in a normal season was taken away from them.

For all we know, next year will be a completely different story. The Rockets, Bucks, and Kawhi may ultimately have their faith rewarded for what they did in the summer of 2019 – but that will only be mere speculation until the trio can change the story.

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NBA

Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards

Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.

David Yapkowitz

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We got some updated NBA draft news this week when the league announced that several key dates have been pushed back including the draft, the start of free agency and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.

The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 16, but it will now likely occur sometime in November. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wildly out of control in the United States, all of these potential deadlines are fluid and subject to change.

With that said, we’re continuing our position by position breakdown here at Basketball Insiders of some of the top 2020 draft prospects. We looked at the point guards and shooting guards last week, and this week we’re covering the small forwards and power forwards.

The power forward crop, like the draft overall, doesn’t appear to be as strong as recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential contributors and high-level NBA players available, as well as one who might just turn out to be a star-caliber player.

Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old

Okongwu is the player who just might develop into a star on some level. He was actually underrated in high school and was snubbed for a McDonald’s All-American selection his senior year. He established himself early on at USC as the team’s best player as a freshman and now appears to have turned some heads.

He’s been mentioned as a lottery pick and in some mock drafts, he’s top 4-5. He possesses a great all-around skill-set; he can score in the post, he can put the ball on the floor and attack and he can shoot. But perhaps his biggest attribute is his versatility on the defensive end. He’s got quick feet and mobility and can guard multiple positions.

Okongwu might actually play center in the NBA, especially in small-ball lineups, but he’s mostly played power forward and so he’ll probably see time there in the league. His skill-set fits perfectly with today’s game.

Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old

Toppin is one of the older players in the draft, and in recent history, players that age tend to slip on draft boards. In Toppin’s case, it looks like the reverse might actually be true. He’s been projected as a lottery pick, and even going in the top 3.

He’s an incredibly athletic player who thrives in the open court. He looks like he’ll do well in an up-tempo offensive system that has capable playmakers who can find him in transition. He’s extremely active around the rim and he can finish strong. A decent shooter too, something he’ll need at the next level.

Toppin has the physical tools to be an effective defensive player, but that’s where the questions marks on him have been. In the NBA, he’s likely going to have to play and guard multiple positions. Whether or not he can adapt to that likely will answer the question as to what his ceiling can be.

Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old

Achiuwa is another intriguing prospect. this writer actually got to watch him play in person while he was in high school and he was very impressive. He looked like a man among boys. He’s projected to be a late lottery pick.

He has an NBA-ready body and he’s got some toughness around the rim and in the paint. He was a double-double threat during his one season at Memphis and his knack for rebounding is something that should translate to the NBA. He’s a very good defender too, in particular, as a rim protector. He’s very quick and has the ability to guard multiple positions.

One of the main knocks on Achiuwa is his shooting ability. He didn’t shoot that well in college and power forwards being able to space the floor is almost a requirement in today’s NBA game. It’s something he can certainly work on and improve on though.

Honorable Mentions:
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old

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NBA

Looking Toward the Draft: Small Forwards

Basketball Insiders’ examination of the 2020 draft class continues with a look at the small forwards.

Drew Maresca

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It was announced on Wednesday that the NBA Draft would be delayed from Oct. 16 to Nov. 18. The rationale is that the extra month gives the league and its players association more time to negotiate changes to the CBA. It also grants teams additional time to procure information on prospects and allows the NBA to establish regional virtual combines. But nothing is set in stone.

Still, draft prep must continue. This year’s draft class has more question marks than usual – which was complicated by the cancellation of the NCAA tournament (along with the NIT and a number of conference tournaments). There are incredibly skilled offensive players with limited offensive upside and jaw-droppingly talented defenders with incomplete offensive packages. But if (recent) history serves as a guide, there will be a few guys who make an immediate impact – and some of them very well could be small forwards.

The small forward position is key for the modern NBA. Want proof? Survey the league and you’ll find that most – if not all – contenders have an elite small forward – Milwaukee, Los Angeles (both), Boston, Miami, Toronto.

But the list of can’t miss small forward prospects feels smaller than usual. Scanning the numerous legitimate mock drafts (including our own by Steve Kyler), it becomes apparent that we lack a consensus on which small forwards will be selected (and in what order) after the top 3 or 4. Can any of them grow into a star? Maybe. Maybe not. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s identify what the top few bring to the table.

Deni Avdija, Israel – 19 years old

Avdija is a relatively well-rounded prospect who’s played professionally since he was 16. He boasts good height (6-foot-9) and uses it effectively to shoot over and pass around opposing defenses. Further, Avdija is an exceptional playmaker and he’s incredibly confident, enabling him to take chances many players would be apprehensive trying. Avdija is a high-IQ player. And what’s more, he’s a surprisingly strong defender. His height and above-average athleticism allow him to block shots, and he’s more physical than you’d expect him to be.

But there are drawbacks to Avdija, too. His main issue is around shooting. Avdija shot only 28% in the EuroLeague last season, and he shot only 60% from the free-throw line. Further, while he’s a decent athlete, he’ll struggle to secure a role in the NBA. He’s going to need to add speed to stay with modern wings, and he’ll also have to bulk up to bang with power forwards.

Still, Avdija’s upside is alluring. He’s only 19, and his smarts, confidence and grittiness should provide him cover for much of his rookie season. Avdija should be the first small forward off of the board.

Isaac Okoro, Auburn – 19 years old

Avdija might be the flashier name currently, but Okoro will give him a run for his money in terms of which small forward is first off the board. Okoro is built like a traditional NBA wing; he’s 6-foot-6 with good strength packed in his muscular frame (215 lbs). Okoro finishes well around the rim and he converts well through contact. He’s an exceptional athlete who excels catching the ball on the move. Like Avdija, Okoro has the poise and composure of a more experienced player. Also, like Avdija, Okoro looked the part of a high IQ player in his lone season at Auburn.

And while all that is great, the main allure of Okoro is his defense. He’s a fairly advanced defender given his age, and his athleticism and timing make him an effective weak side help defender.

While Okoro’s raw abilities are exquisite, his refined offensive skills leave something to be desired. Okoro shot 28 percent on three-point field goals and he struggled from the free-throw line (67.2 percent). His mid-range jump shot also needs work, and he struggles in isolation situations.

If Okoro can hone his offensive game, he could grow into an All-Star. He has the ability to guard multiple positions, and his strength and athleticism give him a leg up on most prospects. But even if he doesn’t become an All-Star, he possesses a fairly high floor given his defensive abilities — and the guy definitely fills the state sheet (12.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, .9 steals and .9 blocks). He has lockdown defender potential and he’ll put his stamp on the game beginning on night one.

Devin Vassell, Florida State – 20 years old

Vassell played two seasons at Florida State, but he came into his own in his Sophomore season. He averaged 12.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. He shot a more than respectable 41.5% on three-point attempts, and he demonstrated a strong stroke from the free-throw line (73.8 percent) and on two-point field goal attempts (53.2).

Vassell is an extremely athletic leaper, who can rise up for a highlight dunk and sprint down the floor with ease. He has good body control and demonstrated a strong mid-range game, especially his step-back jump shot. But Vassell must generate more free throws through decisive moves to the hoop, which would be bolstered by a more muscular frame. Additionally, he must improve his ball-handling to get more from isolations.

Vassell will have an adjustment period in terms of scoring the ball at the next level. Fortunately, his defense and shooting should get him by. If he can bulk up and improve his handling, Vassell could grow into a serious player.

Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt – 20 years old

Nesmith probably has a lower floor than any of the other top small forward prospects given that he’ll be 21 by the draft. Still, he looked quite good in his Junior year, averaging 23 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game on a scorching 52.2 percent shooting from deep. Nesmith is an incredibly gifted shooter who has impressive range. His ability to catch-and-shoot and create space with fakes makes him a promising prospect – for the right team.

Nesmith is a high IQ player who uses his smarts on the defensive end. He’s also quite strong, can get buckets in the open floor and demonstrates above average ball-handling skills, as long as he’s not taking the ball to the hoop.

But there are inherent limitations in Nesmith’s game. He’s doesn’t create for his teammates too effectively and he turns the ball over more frequently than one would like with. Further, Nesmith is plagued by robotic movements that limit his athleticism. His ball-handling breaks down when taking the ball to the rack – something he’ll certainly have to work on in the NBA if he wants to be a versatile scoring threat against the bigger and stronger competition.

Still, Nesmith’s positives give him an excellent chance at being selected in the first round. His range alone will intrigue teams in need of a shooter.

Honorable Mentions:

Saddiq Bey, Villanova – 21 years old

Jaden McDaniels, Washington – 19 years old

Robert Woodard II, Mississippi State – 20 years old

With the uncertainty around small forward prospects, expect to see a revolving door of names enter the discussion after the first four wing prospects are off the board prior to Nov. 16 – assuming the draft is held then. But regardless of how you have them ranked, all of the aforementioned prospects have question marks. But all have had far more time to improve than they would have in years’ past. Let’s hope that shows come next season.

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