Basketball Insiders has recently started a new series detailing the top free agents by position as a primer for the free agency period beginning on July 1.
As a short recap, or if you’re looking for more pre-research, we’ve got you covered. Drew Maresca grabbed the point guards, then Jordan Hicks hit up the shooting guards a day later. On Friday, Spencer Davies went into the available small forwards — which now brings us to this point.
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 from $101 million to $109 million this offseason. Based on that, here are the projected numbers for max contracts:
$27,250,000 for players with 0-6 years of experience
$32,700,000 for players with 7-9 years of experience
$38,150,000 for players with 10+ years of experience
In addition, the mid-level exception for teams in the first year is expected to be $9,246,000, while the taxpayer MLE is expected to be $5,711,000 and the room MLE is expected to be $4,760,000.
If you want a full list of players in the pool, feel free to refer to this page for a list of all the notable free agents-to-be.
Kristaps Porzingis* – Dallas Mavericks – Last Year’s Salary: $5,697,054
Needless to say, this category both begins and ends with the Latvian unicorn, an insanely unique power forward that the Knicks had to ship off ahead of an oncoming trade demand. Although Porzingis himself has floated the idea of accepting the qualifying offer — a move that would make him unrestricted in 2020 — the Mavericks seem absolutely committed to keeping him around. Of course, Porzingis is currently in the latter-end stages of ACL recovery but the talents are undeniable. The last time he was healthy, the seven-footer was averaging 22.7 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks on 39.5 percent from three-point range. So being paired with Luka Doncic for the next decade, that’s a seriously dangerous core.
As reported, the Dallas appears ready to offer Porzingis the full five-year max worth $158 million — and, more, that the generational talent will accept it.
Naturally, it is worth noting the active rape allegations against Porzingis — although quiet currently — but it will not impact his free agency at this point in time.
Where Does He Fit: Everywhere, but Dallas will keep him.
New Deal: We’ll say 5 years/$158 million with the Mavericks.
Near Max Guys
Julius Randle – New Orleans Pelicans – Last Year’s Salary: $8,641,000
In March, this writer looked hard at Randle’s career-year and discussing his impending major payday — at long last, it’s almost here. Randle was surplus in the offseason that brought LeBron James to Los Angeles, so, instead of signing a long-term deal, the power forward bet on himself in a big way. Randle averaged 21.4 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists on 52.4 percent from the floor in New Orleans, a team that openly struggled with Anthony Davis’ mid-season trade request. He’ll have no shortage of suitors this summer — although those with the available money that Randle commands will be chasing bigger fish — Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, etc. — during the opening week of free agency.
Where Does He Fit: The amount of teams that could use a bullish, high-scoring power forward is not a short one, although the Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, Dallas Mavericks and Chicago Bulls are all reportedly interested in his services.
New Deal: The Knicks, after missing out on Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, move to a Plan B that includes young, potential-laden players like Randle. In New York, Randle grabs a well-deserved 4-year/$72 million deal and joins forces with Mitchell Robinson, Kevin Knox and RJ Barrett. All things considered, it’s a nice fallback plan for the Knicks.
Above Mid-Level Guys
Nikola Mirotic – Milwaukee Bucks – Last Year’s Salary: $12,500,000
Although his numbers bounced a bit after joining the Eastern Conference-leading Bucks in February, Mirotic has put himself in the crosshairs of a big offseason. Prior to that deal, Mirotic was thriving with the Pelicans, just like Randle, to the tune of 16.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.7 three-pointers per game on 36.8 percent from deep. In today’s NBA, Mirotic is not a unicorn by any means, but the stretch four is a position that every legitimate contender will chase this summer.
At 28 years-old, the Montenegran will be looking for a juicy, long-term deal and the Bucks have plenty of other big free agent concerns on their plate — Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and Malcolm Brogdon in particular.
Given Giannis Antetokounmpo’s swift rise to MVP status, it would behoove the Bucks to keep surrounding him with elite shooters and Mirotic fits the bill. But with all that other business taking precedence, it wouldn’t be surprising to see another team in need of shooting attempt a scoop on the 6-foot-10 flamethrower.
Where Does He Fit: Again, everywhere, especially teams that can make up for his defensive deficiencies like the Bucks or the rumored Utah Jazz.
New Deal: Mirotic could receive offers in the range of $13 million according to Jordan Brenner of The Athletic. Again, we’ll need to wait and see on a number of other conclusions before Mirotic becomes a priority, but the Bucks should remain the favorites for a 3-year/$39 million contract.
Bobby Portis* – Washington Wizards – Last Year’s Salary: $2,494,346
Bobby Portis wants as much as $16 million per year, according to The Athletic’s Tony Jones and Fred Katz, but the market is still very murky for the young forward. For their efforts, the Wizards have tendered a qualifying offer to Portis, thus making him restricted this offseason, but they’re not expected to match a huge offer.
The 24-year-old averaged 14.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game between two teams in 2018-19, continuing his ascent up the positional ladder. As an added bonus, Portis has improved his three-point shot along the way too, even hitting on 1.7 three-pointers on an excellent 40.3 percent clip.
That type of consistent rise might be worth investing in for a team that strikes out big, but wants to add a piece with potential nonetheless.
Where Does He Fit: The Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Utah Jazz, Milwaukee Bucks and New York Knicks all have interest in the rangy Portis, as reported by Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington. Additionally, the Knicks may increase their interest – a la Randle — should their Plan A goes sideways.
But if Favors moves on in Utah — or returns on a much, much smaller deal — Portis seems like an intriguing marriage, although his defense leaves much to be desired.
New Deal: Portis won’t quite reach his $16 million per year asking price, but the Mavericks will come close with a deal near 4 years/$52 million.
Derrick Favors** – Utah Jazz – Last Year’s Salary: $16,900,000
Favors, a long-time consummate piece for the steadily-growing Jazz, has a $17 million deal set for 2019-20 — but the Jazz have until July 6 to guarantee it. If not, Favors will become unrestricted — in fact, reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic, he will field interested calls when free agency opens just in case. Favors, who turns 28 next month, averaged 11.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per game and paired perfectly with Rudy Gobert, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year.
Where Does He Fit: Favors is a high-percentage forward that rebounds well, so although he wouldn’t command another $16 million-plus deal, there will be a market with little question. The nine-year veteran is the type of defender that can help transform a unit without eating up offensive possessions either. He won’t drag defenders away from the hoop, but he’s excellent at shutting down the opposition at the rim — so expect many, many teams to kick the tires.
New Deal: If the Lakers opt for depth over star status with that new-found cap space, Favors would be a fantastic option for Los Angeles. With Anthony Davis’ injury history and LeBron James’ need to rest up more often, Favors provides no-nonsense defense and strong rebounding at a reduced cost. If he doesn’t stay with Utah, it’s feasible to see Favors to the Lakers on a 2-year/$24 million agreement.
Thaddeus Young – Indiana Pacers – Last Year’s Salary: $13,764,045
The perennially-underrated Young hits free agency as a will-be targeted piece for many on-the-edge franchises. It’s not difficult to see how Young, a strong scorer with range and a big-time motor, could find a home across most of the league. As a highly-regarded team player, Young averaged around 12 points and 6 rebounds over 81 games in back-to-back seasons for the upstart Pacers. But with Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner developing nicely, the need to bring Young back has certainly lessened with Indiana in search of a valuable point guard instead.
Young is not a standout at any one thing, but he’s averaged 10 or more points in every campaign since 2008 and has a nose for tough, clutch baskets — often just when the Pacers needed it the most. Favors is the better defender, so expect the former to grab a slightly bigger deal, but Young won’t be far behind.
Where Does He Fit: Need a locker room guy? Hello, Phoenix. Need to plug some holes? The Boston Celtics sure make sense there. Hell, if the Jazz end up waiving Favors and need a new plan, Young would thrive in Utah, too.
New Deal: For this exercise, Young does the trick for a suddenly-thin Boston frontcourt at 2 years/$22 million.
Jabari Parker – Washington Wizards – Last Year’s Salary: $20,0000
Even with the tough injuries Parker has suffered over the years, it’s hard to believe that we’re here with the talented 24-year-old. After signing a two-year deal worth a whopping $20 million per season with the Chicago Bulls last summer, Parker dipped in and out of the rotation before he was traded with Bobby Portis to Washington. Parker can undoubtedly score, but he’s far removed from the campaign in which he averaged 20 points and 6.2 rebounds per game back in 2016-17 — still, it may be a worthy endeavor. The Wizards declined their option on year two of that aforementioned deal, but there’s mutual interest to negotiate a new one, reportedly.
Where Does He Fit: Parker fits well on a roster like Washington, a place where the expectations are low and their playoff chances are stuck in fifth gear. They’ve got Bradley Beal, obviously, but beyond that, the Wizards don’t have any choice but to keep looking for solutions that do work. Parker’s not a shooter with consistent range yet, unfortunately, but teams like Cleveland, Miami, Minnesota, Memphis and Charlotte should all do their due diligence on the 6-foot-8 bucket-getter.
New Deal: Parker’s got a next-to-no chance of receiving the same financial amount from last summer — but the structure might be similar. Memphis takes the dive at a 2-year/$20 million agreement, plus that all-important team option for year two once again.
Mid-Level or Below Guys
Ed Davis – Brooklyn Nets – Last Year’s Salary: $4,449,000
Davis was a beacon of shining light in Brooklyn, often gobbling up rebound after rebound as the Nets surprised everybody. Although he wasn’t a starter and much of the highlight-reel plaudits went to Jarrett Allen, Davis was, as always, one of the most valuable players on the roster for Brooklyn. He outpaced Rondae Hollis-Jefferson as the Nets’ best defender by rating (102.2) and had 32 outings with 10 or more rebounds in just 17.9 minutes per contest. When Davis left the Trail Blazers as surplus last summer, Portland fans rioted. Wherever Davis goes, he’s well-loved.
And if he took a discount to play for Brooklyn last year, he’s probably won’t do it again, per Michael Scotto of The Athletic.
The most the Nets can offer, via Bird Rights, is around two years at a total of $11 million.
Where Does He Fit: Whew, the flexibility! If the Nets snuck a fast one past the NBA last summer, the secret is definitely out now: Ed Davis, without a doubt, makes your team better. He, too, should be an option for just about everybody — but the Lakers should be the first to make that call. The Clippers, Jazz, Pelicans, Celtics and more, the list goes on as most franchises could use a rebounder like Davis.
New Deal: After bouncing around the league for much of his nine-year career, Davis can settle in with the Nets. He continues to fill a very real need, but until Jarrett Allen gets bigger and stronger — as well as the recently-drafted Nic Claxton — the Nets will need somebody like Davis. If he likes the opportunity for consistent minutes on a likely playoff-bound team, Davis could take the 2-year/$11 million offer and stay put.
Marcus Morris – Boston Celtics – Last Year’s Salary: $5,375,000
The Morris-wrapped enigma has been tough to nail down as of late, but he was an essential piece of that deep Boston roster. Over the last two years, Morris has done well both as a starter and off the bench alongside Al Horford and company. Notably, Morris has made one-plus three-pointer per game in every season since 2012 but also made a career-best 1.9 on 37.5 percent last year. When the Celtics were going through their mid-season slump, Morris didn’t mince words in the locker room and was key in righting the ship — so what team wouldn’t love a veteran like that?
Where Does He Fit: Morris may be Mirotic-lite from three-point range, but he’s a much better defender. The 6-foot-9 forward can play in a featured role or thrive as an energy piece off the bench. The Lakers need shooting, while the Kings need some new veterans to steer the likes of Marvin Bagley III and Harry Giles towards their respective next steps. With a nearly non-existent frontcourt, however, it might make sense for Morris to stick around in Boston too.
New Deal: Deep shooting and solid defense would be worth the mid-level exception/2-year partnership for the young and fast Sacramento Kings.
Taj Gibson – Minnesota Timberwolves – Last Year’s Salary: $14,000,000 DeMarre Carroll – Brooklyn Nets – Last Year’s Salary: $15,4000 Kevon Looney – Golden State Warriors – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601 Jordan Bell* – Golden State Warriors – Last Year’s Salary: $1,378,242
JaMychal Green – Los Angeles Clippers – Last Year’s Salary: $7,666,667
Zach Randolph – Sacramento Kings – Last Year’s Salary: $11, 692,308
Noah Vonleh – New York Knicks – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601
Kenneth Faried – Houston Rockets – Last Year’s Salary: $683,661
Mike Scott – Philadelphia 76ers – Last Year’s Salary: $4,320,500
Other Notable Free Agents
Ryan Anderson** – Miami HEAT – Last Year’s Salary: $20,421,546
Daniel Theis* – Boston Celtics – Last Year’s Salary: $1,378,242
Luc Mbah a Moute – Free Agents – Last Year’s Salary: $4,320,500
Dante Cunningham – San Antonio Spurs – Last Year’s Salary: $2,487,000
Maxi Kleber* – Dallas Mavericks – Last Year’s Salary: $1,378,242
Richaun Holmes – Philadelphia 76ers – Last Year’s Salary: $1,6000,520
Dragan Bender – Phoenix Suns — Last Year’s Salary: $4,661,280
Marquese Chriss — Cleveland Cavaliers – Last Year’s Salary: $3,206,160
Markieff Morris – Oklahoma City Thunder — Last Year’s Salary: $427,288
Cheick Diallo — New Orleans Pelicans – Last Year’s Salary: $1,544,951
Georges Niang** – Utah Jazz – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601
Jonas Jerebko – Golden State Warriors – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601
Lance Thomas – New York Knicks – Last Year’s Salary: $7,119,650
Michael Beasley – Free Agents – Last Year’s Salary: $3,500,000
Jeff Green – Boston Celtics – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601
Trey Lyles* – Denver Nuggets – Last Year’s Salary: $3,364,249
Anthony Tolliver – Minnesota Timberwolves – Last Year’s Salary: $5,750,000 Mike Muscala – Los Angeles Lakers – Last Year’s Salary: $5,000,000
Darrell Arthur – Denver Nuggets – Last Year’s Salary: $7,464,912
Jarell Martin* – Orland Magic – Last Year’s Salary: $2,416,222
Udonis Haslem – Miami Heat – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601
Sam Dekker – Washington Wizards – Last Year’s Salary: $2,760,095
Amir Johnson – Philadelphia 76ers – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601
Henry Ellenson**** – New York Knicks – Last Year’s Salary: $341,831
Quincy Acy – Free Agents – Last Year’s Salary: $85,458
Tyler Lydon – Denver Nuggets – Last Year’s Salary: $1,874,640
Chris Boucher** – Toronto Raptors – Last Year’s Salary: $457,418
Ivan Rabb** – Memphis Grizzlies – Last Year’s Salary: $1,378,242
Alize Johnson** – Indiana Pacers – Last Year’s Salary: $838,464
Duncan Robinson** – Miami Heat – Last Year’s Salary: $9,474
Ray Spalding – Phoenix Suns – Last Year’s Salary: $184,746
Isaiah Hartenstein** – Houston Rockets – Last Year’s Salary: $838,464
Yante Maten** – Miami Heat – Last Year’s Salary: $18,948
Gary Clark** – Houston Rockets – Last Year’s Salary: $596,873
*Qualifying Offer (If made and accepted, the player becomes a restricted free agent)
**Non-Guaranteed Contract (If the player is waived by his current team before the contract becomes fully guaranteed, he becomes an unrestricted 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)
****Team Option (The team has the choice of whether to pick up a player for another year or opt-out to have him become an unrestricted free agent)
Although this position isn’t as star-studded as the others, there are plenty of notable pieces worth adding. There are potential-laden youngsters and hard-working veterans to be hard — but most of these names won’t come off the board until the big shopping is done and dusted. Tomorrow, our series will wrap up just ahead of free agency opening, so be sure to stay tuned into Basketball Insiders.
NBA Daily: Davis Bertans Joins Ranks Of NBA’s Elite Marksmen
Not even his most ardent supporters knew what the San Antonio Spurs were losing and Washington Wizards were gaining with Davis Bertans. Nearing two months into the season, he’s suddenly among the best shooters in basketball. Jack Winters writes.
Not even the best shooter in the world can inform his team’s effectiveness from beyond the arc alone.
The assumption otherwise was put to the test in last year’s NBA Finals, when the Golden State Warriors — with Kevin Durant watching sidelined — proved hapless offensively without both Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson on the floor. If one of the Splash Brothers can’t turn a lineup of non-shooters into a threatening attack from deep, no one can.
But watching Davis Bertans this season, it’s tempting to think just how much better the San Antonio Spurs would be if he still played in the Alamo City. It’s not a complete hypothetical, either. Gregg Popovich is on record confirming the Spurs never would have traded Bertans to free up cap space if Marcus Morris had no interest in coming aboard. Less than a week after he agreed to terms with San Antonio, though, Morris reneged on his commitment to take a one-year deal with the New York Knicks.
It’s remiss to suggest retaining Bertans would make a season-altering difference for the Spurs. But what’s absolutely clear is that San Antonio’s loss has been a bigger gain for the Washington Wizards than anyone could have realistically anticipated.
The best suggest Bertans’ value in a league-wide vacuum this summer is what Washington gave up to get him. Aaron White was the team’s second-round pick in 2015 and played the last four seasons overseas. He might have a chance of finding his way to the league going forward, but it’s telling that White has expressed interest in transitioning to the NBA on multiple occasions only to head back to Europe toward the end of each offseason.
For all intents and purposes, it seems, the only thing of value Washington used to acquire Bertans was a trade exception. Take a bow, Tommy Sheppard. But it’s safe to say that not even the Wizards general manager saw this long-range onslaught coming.
Bertans cashed five more threes on Friday night in his team’s loss to the Miami Heat, bringing his season-long total to 78 on just over eight attempts per game. Only James Harden and Devonté Graham have connected on more triples than Bertans, and neither of them sniffs his 44.8 percent shooting from beyond arc. There are 35 players with at least 50 made threes this season; just four of them are have been more accurate than Bertans, per NBA.com.
Maybe some Spurs fans aren’t shocked by Bertans’ prowess from deep. He made a mini leap as a shooter in 2018-19, adding a bit of versatility to his long ball while upping his accuracy more than five points to 42.9 percent. Bertans isn’t some seasoned veteran, either. He was drafted in 2011 but only entered the league in 2016-17, and just turned 27. Some growth was to be expected from Bertans, basically, especially as the game’s emphasis on three-point shooting continues reaching new zeniths.
But the jump Bertans has made to join the exclusive shooting club reserved for the likes of J.J. Redick and Joe Harris is stunning nonetheless. After mostly serving as a weak-side floor-spacer and pet play shooter, Bertans is hunting threes this season while exuding the confidence and conviction of a true marksman with every step he takes on the floor.
Wonder why Bertans leads the NBA in points per possession in transition? He routinely sprints to open spots when the floor changes sides, and Washington ball-handlers know to look for him.
It’s hard enough for most guards to stop on a dime and launch catch-and-shoot triples in transition, which makes Bertans’ ability to do so all the more impressive. He stands 6-foot-10, but you’d never know it by the speed and footwork he often utilizes to create enough space for himself to launch.
All players Bertans’ size not named Durant are supposed to need an extra blip before letting fly. It’s hard enough for them to set their feet and square their shoulders to the rim on the move without worrying about getting a shot off in time to avoid an effective contest. But Bertans gets to his shooting form with remarkable ease, sometimes even hopping on the catch when his air space is closing fast, and owns one of the quickest releases in basketball.
Coming into 2019-20, Bertans had connected on just 20 off-dribble triples over three full seasons. He’s over halfway to that total through 21 games, regularly using a bounce or two to find some extra breathing room between he and the defense.
Is this Durant or Bertans?
Of course, Bertans would be the talk of the league even more than he is already if the skill he exhibits as a shooter fully translated to the rest of his game.
He can drive hard close-outs or turn the corner after a dribble hand-off with two or three dribbles to get to the rim, but has little workable wiggle in his handle. More problematic is his tendency to finish like a guard, too. Bertans is far better described as a fluid athlete than an explosive one, but that doesn’t mean he should regularly opt for floaters and scoops when challenged by rim-protectors in the paint.
His ceiling is also limited by his lack of positional versatility. Bertans is surprisingly light on his feet and fights hard defensively, but is way overstretched checking smalls. He possesses natural timing as a shot-blocker, but has short arms and vertical oomph needed to compensate. Bertans is a four-man, and that’s pretty much the extent of his positional scalability.
That’s why he’s probably best suited coming off the bench for the remainder of his career, perhaps closing games not just for Washington, but a title contender. Bertans is already proving himself as a high-impact offensive player, leading the Wizards – who boast a top-five offense, remember – in offensive rating and ranking behind only Bradley Beal in terms of net offensive efficiency. Lineups featuring that tandem are scoring 120.1 points per 100 possessions, almost 16 more than when Beal is on the floor without Bertans, per NBA.com.
The bad news for Washington? Bertans is an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, and an uninspiring list of marquee free agents assures he’ll be getting major upgrade on his $7 million salary. The Wizards should have enough flexibility to bring him back, but there’s no guarantee he’ll want to remain in the nation’s capital. It bears mentioning that Bertans has made clear he still considers San Antonio home.
But his future is a concern to be addressed another time.
For now, Bertans is a problem for Washington’s opponents to deal with, and unfortunately for them, there’s no workable answer to limiting his influence – just like that of every other shooter his increasingly rarified caliber.
NBA Daily: Horton-Tucker Making Most Of Time With South Bay Lakers
David Yapkowitz has a chat with Los Angeles Lakers rookie guard Talen Horton-Tucker about getting reps in the G League with South Bay and what he sees his role being in the NBA when that time comes.
When the Los Angeles Lakers drafted Talen Horton-Tucker this summer, the expectation was that he probably wouldn’t receive much playing time. On a veteran-laden team with championship expectations, there wasn’t going to be much of a role for a rookie.
That was further accentuated when Horton-Tucker suffered a stress reaction in his right foot, causing him to miss all of Summer League, which kept him limited during training camp. When he was finally cleared to return to the court, the Lakers assigned him to their G League affiliate, the South Bay Lakers.
He has suited up in only one game for the Lakers this season, but he’s played in every game with South Bay so far. In 11 games in the G League, he’s shown flashes of why the Lakers still drafted him despite suffering the foot injury during the draft combine.
His time in the G League was his first meaningful court action since leading Iowa State to the NCAA Tournament last spring.
“It feels great to be out here finally. I’m just trying to catch a rhythm with South Bay,” Horton-Tucker told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just taking it a day at a time. I feel like it’s been pretty good for my overall growth, that’s what’s important.”
Horton-Tucker has fit in well with the South Bay roster. He’s shown an ability to shoot from the perimeter at times, and he’s looked comfortable in putting the ball on the floor and making plays off the dribble.
His shot hasn’t always been on point, though. He’s shooting only 32.4 percent from the field and 24.2 percent from the three-point line, but he’s gotten good looks from the perimeter within the flow of the offense. And despite that, he’s made himself valuable on the court by contributing in other ways. He’s attacked the glass well, and he keeps the ball moving while looking to set teammates up for easy shots.
He’s managed to average double-digits in scoring with 11.8 points per game, and he’s put up 5.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists as well. Being able to be a positive on the court when his offense isn’t quite there yet is something he believes will help his career moving forward.
“I feel like if you play basketball, you’ve got to learn how to do everything. It’s just something I got to do,” Horton-Tucker told Basketball Insiders. “Whenever my shot is not falling, I know I can stay involved and rebound. I’ll still be able to contribute to a winning environment. I feel like I’ve been doing that the last few games that my shot hasn’t been falling.”
A few years ago, Horton-Tucker wouldn’t have had this opportunity to work on his game. The G League was much smaller than it is now, and most teams didn’t have affiliate they could send young players down to for development. NBA teams didn’t use the league as much, and many players viewed being sent down as punishment rather than a positive.
Without the G League, Horton-Tucker would likely have spent the majority season gathering splinters on the Lakers bench. With the growing expansion and usage of the G League, he’s able to get actual game reps in against legitimate competition to stay fresh.
He knew coming into this season that he wasn’t going to play much for the Lakers, if at all, so he’s grateful for being able to play with South Bay.
“It’s good to get your run in when you need to. I understand that I’m probably not going to get minutes with the Lakers right now,” Horton-Tucker told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just taking it one day at a time. I feel like the G League has been great. It helps us get our reps in and it helps our careers get started.”
While Horton-Tucker is still very young — he was one of the youngest players in the draft and just recently turned 19 years old last month — he has a skill set that should be able to eventually translate to regular NBA minutes. He’s a big guard who can generate his own offense, and he’s strong enough and skilled enough to be able to match up defensively against multiple positions.
He was recalled to the Lakers this weekend for their game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He only played in two minutes of garbage time and missed his only shot, a three-pointer. He’ll likely return to South Bay sometime soon, and when he does get brought back to the Lakers, garbage time minutes will be his role. But the NBA can be unpredictable at times, and injuries and whatnot can strike at a moment’s notice forcing players into immediate action.
In the event that he is called upon for regular minutes at some point this season, Horton-Tucker is confident in what he can bring to the team.
“I feel like I can bring the same things I bring to this team right now,” Horton-Tucker told Basketball Insiders. “It’s my versatility, being able to do things like rebounding, passing, just doing whatever they need me to do, I can do that.”
The Lakers are clearly going to be in win-now mode for the duration of LeBron James’ contract, but if Horton-Tucker continues with his development, it’s going to be hard to keep him off the court. He’s going to use this year to continue to learn, with the hopes of being able to play a meaningful role next season.
“I just want to get better all around. I want to play on the Lakers next year, that’s just my goal,” Horton-Tucker told Basketball Insiders. “Not being cocky or anything, but that’s just my goal, to play with the Lakers next season. That’s something that I’m going to work hard towards.”
NBA Daily: Most Improved Watch – 12/6/2019
A quarter of the way into the season, multiple players have begun separating themselves for the Most Improved Player award. Quinn Davis takes a look at five of these players and why they are worthy of the consideration.
The NBA season is now a quarter of the way through and the sample size is nearly large enough to make meaningful assessments of players and teams. This sample size is especially important when evaluating the Most Improved Player, as an early-season hot streak could prove to be fool’s gold by Christmas.
Two weeks ago, Basketball Insiders grouped certain players together to encapsulate a large number that could then be reasonably considered for Most Improved. Now, some of those players have separated themselves, rendering those groups unnecessary.
Andrew Wiggins has fallen closer to Earth since his early-season shooting barrage, while Brandon Ingram has continued his hot start and has shown no signs of cooling off. Luke Doncic has been a revelation and an MVP candidate, while Trae Young has continued to put up impressive numbers but is stuck on a 5-17 Hawks team.
I’ve already given away two, but here are the five names that have stood out from the rest.
5. Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors
Siakam has cooled a bit after his scorching start to the season, but his vast offensive improvements still make him worthy of a spot on this list. He is still hitting 38 percent of his non-corner threes and has been the central cog of the Raptors’ offense.
The Raptors’ offense is blitzing opponents with Siakam on the court, scoring about 114 points per 100 possessions. With him off, that number plummets to 99.8 points per 100 possessions, per Cleaning the Glass. That’s the equivalent of going from the second-best offense in the league to two points below the New York Knicks’ league-worst number.
Siakam is using three more possessions per game than last season in isolation and is scoring 0.90 points per possession on those plays. That’s only slightly below the 0.97 number he put up last year on the much lower volume. His post-game has also stayed efficient with higher usage. He is taking two more possessions per game in that department and is scoring 1.01 points per possession, compared to 1.08 last season.
His unique combination of strength and balance allows him to make multiple moves while staying in complete control. Here he overpowers a very good defender in Royce O’Neale, before flipping up a nifty turnaround bank shot.
The most impressive part of his game this season might be his pull-up shooting. This was simply not in the repertoire last season. He can dribble at the top of the arc and launch a three on a sagging defender with confidence like he does here over Bojan Bogdanovic.
Siakam has been great, but the biggest hindrance to his Most Improved campaign will be the fact that he won the award the last year. If his efficiency continues to dip, he will likely not receive consideration. That said, his jump to near-superstar this season is worthy of praise.
4. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Next on our list is a player who has also made a leap to superstardom. Doncic has taken the league by storm in his second season, blossoming into a genius point-forward that can dominate as a scorer or a passer on offense.
He is putting up stat lines that can only be described as Lebron-esque. Just earlier this week, he put up 33 points, 18 rebounds and 5 assists against the Pelicans, physically overpowering their frontcourt at only 20 years old.
Per Cleaning the Glass, his usage is at 40.5 percent, which is second in the league to only James Harden. Doncic has been asked to completely control the offense in only his sophomore season and has done so better than anyone could have expected.
Despite the increased usage, his effective field goal percentage has increased six percent from last season. Doncic’s three-point percentage has stayed constant at 34 percent, so this increased efficiency is coming almost solely from his dominance at the rim.
He is finishing 72 percent of his shots at the rim, up from 62 percent in 2018-19, per Cleaning the Glass. Doncic is also drawing fouls at a higher rate. He looks comfortable attacking NBA bodies and using his size to get where he wants on the court.
His scoring is bested only by his virtuoso passing. Better, Doncic’s assist rate is up a whopping 17 percent this season to 48.7 percent, putting him second in the league in that category.
Additionally, Doncic has the ability to manipulate defenses with his eyes. In the play below, he stares down the cutter on their move to the rim. Jordan Clarkson notices this and shifts to the paint to help. As soon as he veers too far from Delon Wright in the corner, Doncic whips the pass that way for a wide-open three.
Doncic’s MVP consideration may overshadow his Most Improved consideration, but the leap he made this season is certainly one of the league’s biggest.
3. Bam Adebayo, Miami HEAT
Adebayo makes his debut on this list after throwing his hat into the ring over the last few weeks. His defense has been key in the HEAT’s strong start to the season, anchoring the middle and keeping opponents out of the paint.
Opponents take only 31.4 percent of their total shots at the rim when Adebayo is on the court per Cleaning the Glass. That places in the 90th percentile of the league. When Adebayo takes a rest, that number soars to 40.9 percent, which is in the fifth percentile of the league.
His raw numbers are up across the board as well. The center is averaging a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds while shooting an efficient 56 percent from the field. Adebayo is up over 40 percent from mid-range for the first time in his three seasons.
The most impressive improvement in his game might be his off the bounce ability. He can consistently roast unsuspecting defenders with a quick dribble move to the cup. Here’s Jaylen Brown, thinking he is safe to relax guarding a center at the elbow. Adebayo uses one devastating jab step to shake Brown and get all the way to the rim for the dunk.
There are not many centers in the league that can move that quickly to the rim against a wing defender. If Adebayo keeps up the stellar defense and starts making a bit more of an impact on the stat sheet, he should garner serious consideration for Most Improved.
2. Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans
Brandon Ingram’s hot start was written off by some as streaky shooting, but it seems apparent now that he is well on his way to the best season of his career. He is still at 43 percent from deep and he seems more comfortable than ever before at shooting off the catch.
Ingram’s catch-and-shoot three-point percentage is up to 46.5 percent, a steep increase from his 31 percent last season. Even his free throw percentage, which has hovered in the ’60s through his first three years, is now up to about 84 percent.
Most of all, his raw stats are probably his best argument for the award. Ingram is up to 25 points, 7 rebounds and four assists with an effective field goal percentage of 56 percent, career-highs in all categories. As of now, he is having a rare year in which there’s an increase in both usage and efficiency.
He has significantly improved his pick-and-roll game this season as well. The Pelicans have scored 0.94 points per possession with Ingram as the pick-and-roll ball-handler, per NBA.com. That is up from the 0.79 number the Lakers posted in those situations last season.
In previous seasons, Ingram had a tendency to settle for long mid-range jumpers out of the pick-and-roll. He has decreased his attempts from that area now, opting instead to either take the three or get closer to the rim for a floater.
The talented youngster also has had more success attacking switches. If a smaller defender picks up, Ingram is able to use his size and length to get to the rim and easily convert the layup, as he does here against Devin Booker.
If Ingram’s statistics stay at their current levels, he will be right a the front of the race for Most Improved.
1.Devonte Graham, Charlotte Hornets
Simply put, Devonte Graham has been the leader of this race since day one. His meteoric rise from second-rounder seeing minimal court time to stud sixth-man to flamethrowing starting point guard has been a joy to watch.
Graham’s three-point barrage has been unprecedented. After canning 10 triples against the Warriors Wednesday night, Graham is up to second in the league in made threes, behind only the incomparable Harden.
The way Graham hits these threes is a work of art. In the first look at Most Improved, Graham was posting an unreal 50 percent mark on his pull-up. He is down to 41 percent now, but that number still ranks among the best in the league.
If he comes off a high screen and sees daylight, that ball is going up. His release is quick and fluid, leaving no chance for a sagging center to affect the play.
Graham has carried the Hornets’ offense through the first 20 games. The Hornets score about 112 points per 100 possessions with Graham playing. That number drops to an abysmal 95 when he sits, per Cleaning the Glass.
His pull-up shooting combined with much-improved passing — his assist percentage is up to 35.7 percent — has been the lone bright point for a mediocre team.
Being drafted in the second round and seemingly coming out of nowhere makes his story the most likely to gain Most Improved traction throughout the year. If his shooting keeps up, he will be the clear frontrunner for this award.
Those five are the stand-outs, but there is a lot of the campaign left to play. Any number of players could turn a corner and vault themselves into this conversation. Be sure to stay locked to Basketball Insiders as track every major award throughout the season.
In the hunt: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Malcolm Brogdon, Trae Young, Andrew Wiggins, Jonathan Isaac, Jaylen Brown, Luke Kennard, Aron Baynes, Devin Booker, OG Anunoby, Jabari Parker