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.
Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards
Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.
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.
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old
Looking Toward the Draft: Small Forwards
Basketball Insiders’ examination of the 2020 draft class continues with a look at the small forwards.
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.
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.
NBA Daily: Opposite Plotlines for Today’s Matchups
With the two matchups going on today, Matt John examines the two teams who could be in the most trouble because of one of their individual stars for opposite reasons.
The second round of the NBA playoffs was hyped up to be one of the most entertaining we’ve had in years. So far, they haven’t fallen short of expectations. We knew that Houston and Los Angeles’ battle of opposite philosophies would make for some twists and turns. We knew that Boston and Toronto would duke it out in an Atlantic Division showdown. We knew that Miami would push Milwaukee to new heights. We didn’t really know if the Nuggets would give the Clippers a good series, but the fact that they have so far has made an intense postseason all the more gripping.
Anyway, today we’re getting two games from two series in completely opposite places. The Lakers and the Rockets will face off for the series lead, while the HEAT will try to finish off the Bucks once and for all. Below, we’re going to focus on two teams who have an individual star that either may be more flawed than we thought or one that may not be as flawed as we thought.
Bucks vs. HEAT: Giannis is great and all, but…
We all pretty much knew this was going to be a good series. We did not expect this.
The buzz surrounding Bucks v. HEAT was that Miami was going to make Milwaukee earn every win they got in this series. If that was the plan, then Miami has failed miserably, because until Khris Middleton went supernova on them on Sunday, Milwaukee had come up terribly short.
Let’s first give Miami the credit that they are due and more. With Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler alone, Miami was going to be a tough matchup for Milwaukee – but to see the Bucks all but roll over in this series is an unpleasant sight. Acquiring Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala has paid huge dividends and it’s showing. There are other factors involved, but Miami’s defensive efforts have limited Giannis to 21.8 points a game and that’s played a role in the HEAT being in the driver’s seat of this series.
Speaking of Giannis Antetokounmpo, this series has not been a good look for the Defensive Player of the Year. Especially since it looks like his second consecutive MVP (presumably) is right around the corner. So, to see both him and Milwaukee, once an unstoppable force without an immovable object in sight, get stopped by a sturdy but not immovable squad is saddening.
Nearly a year ago, Basketball Insiders compared these current Bucks to the Dwight Howard-led Orlando Magic from the late-2000’s/early 2010’s. To oversimplify things, both were contenders led by a superstar with a rare physique that made them tough to stop. To put the superstar in the best position, they surrounded them with playmakers and three-point shooters.
While the teams’ roster constructions weren’t exactly the same, their strengths as a team certainly were. Now we’re seeing the Bucks’ flaws just as we did the Magic 10 years ago. If you have the personnel to make the lone superstar uncomfortable, the team doesn’t function as well.
Giannis is near impossible to stop, but the one major flaw is that if you take away his ability to drive and force him into a jumper, he loses his rhythm. Even if his shot is on – never a guarantee – his opponents will let him beat them that way until he makes them pay. Hardly any team can pick on this, but the HEAT are one of them, and now they’re one win away from their first Eastern Conference Finals since LeBron James took his talents out of South Beach.
This ultimately is what puts Antetokounmpo below the likes of LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard for now. Those guys are rare physical specimens like him, but their elite games don’t revolve entirely around their natural gifts as he does or Dwight did. At 25 years old, there’s plenty of time for him to change that and, for all we know, he will, but to see him struggle at a time when the conference was supposed to run through him has ignited tons of questions.
Milwaukee’s technically not out yet, but they’ve shown their mortality against Miami. If this really is it for them, then they’ve got to find a quick fix for this problem because if they don’t, then the unspeakable may happen.
Lakers vs. Rockets: Westbrook has been bad and all but…
Shaking off the rust and recovering from a balky knee would be tough for anyone. For Russell Westbrook, it’s killing his productivity and, in turn, the Rockets’ playoff chances. He’s averaging 15.6 points on 39/16/47 splits with a most recent 10-point, 4-of-15 effort from the field which included seven turnovers and air balling wide-open threes sticking out like a sore thumb.
It also doesn’t help that he’s playing the Lakers of all teams. When Westbrook has been in, the Lakers have taken advantage of his shortcomings offensively and it shows both on the court and the stat line.
Most of Westbrook’s damage is hurting Houston on the offensive end. With the All-Star guard in the game, Houston is minus-13.7 with him on the court, the worst offensive rating on the team. The 12 turnovers he’s coughed up in this series probably have something to do with that.
With Westbrook’s struggles and his predecessor Chris Paul coming off of his best individual season since 2016, this, of course, has led to many second-guessing the swap last summer. Or let’s rephrase that: People have been second-guessing that trade since the moment it was announced and, in light of recent events, they’re piling on now more than ever.
Maybe they’re right. Even after playing in the NBA for over a decade now, Westbrook still hasn’t proven that he can control himself enough to reach his potential as a team player. We’ve seen glimpses. On the other hand, Paul showed that he can still pick apart defenses while holding his own on that end.
But replacing Paul with Westbrook was Harden’s idea. He didn’t want to play with Paul anymore and chose to play with one of his closest friends. You may think that the better fit is what’s best for the team, but we’ve seen the damage that can happen when your team’s best players have friction with one another. It hurt Utah this season. It hurt Boston last season. It destroyed the Lakers back in 2013. There’s no telling what it could have done to Houston this season.
Besides, we know that as bad as Westbrook has been, he’s capable of being better. Not a knockdown shooter, not even an efficient scorer, but he has done better in the past when the focus was on him. The more days he takes to shake off the rust from his knee, the more optimistic the Rockets ought to be.
The Rockets have to take the glass-half-full on this one because they don’t really have a choice otherwise.
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