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NBA Daily: Trade Watch: Southeast Division

Which players could be on the move in the Southeast Division? James Blancarte goes through a list of candidates.

James Blancarte

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The NBA season is still young. Roughly 1/5th of the way through the regular season, the top teams in the Eastern Conference appear to have settled in. Due to the coaching change and the continued improvement of Giannis Antetokounmpo, among other things, the Milwaukee Bucks have absolutely worked their way into that top group of teams. While the top of the pecking order has become clearer, so too has the grouping of teams on the lower end of the rankings.

Right now, the Orlando Magic and Charlotte Hornets currently find themselves as the seventh and eighth seed with respectable records out of the Southeast Division. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Hawks have quickly found their place among the league’s bottom dwellers and are more focused on player development than making this year’s postseason. For the Miami HEAT and Washington Wizards, the playoffs are not an impossible goal but each team is facing its own challenges. With all of this in mind, here are some potential trade candidates for the Southeast Division.

Orlando Magic – Terrence Ross and Nikola Vucevic

The Orlando Magic are playing surprisingly good basketball right now. Before getting too optimistic, the Magic got off to a hot start last season before quickly coming back down to earth and finishing far outside the postseason picture. So long as Orlando is in the hunt for a playoff seed, the franchise might hesitate to change things up with a trade. However, should the team ultimately look to shake things up, Terrence Ross presents an interesting trade candidate.

Ross’s salary is a relative bargain ($10 million) for a capable wing. Ross can score in bunches, is hitting over 40 percent on three-point attempts and isn’t a disaster on defense. Ross is also set to be an unrestricted free agent after this season and may not figure into the team’s long-term plans. Flipping Ross’ expiring deal for some sort of asset could be a plus for the Magic.

Count Nikola Vucevic as another player on an expiring contract who doesn’t exactly fit the team’s long-term plans since Mo Bamba is slotted to be the center of the future. However, Vucevic is the team’s leading scorer and ranks second in individual net rating while Bamba is still quite raw and inexperienced. Trading Vucevic for any kind of future assets would indicate the team has shifted into tanking mode for the year, so don’t expect a deal for Vucevic to potentially materialize until we get closer to February.

Charlotte Hornets – Nicolas Batum

The Charlotte Hornets, like the Magic, have not had a lot of playoff success over the past few years. And like the Magic, should they continue to stay in the playoff hunt, they are more likely to hesitate to disrupt team chemistry with a trade.

However, this franchise does sport an expensive roster with limited flexibility. Should the opportunity ever arise, the Hornets should not hesitate to move Nicolas Batum. Batum is far and away the largest contract on the books and isn’t likely to come off until the 2020-21 season, assuming he exercises his player option. Batum’s numbers have dipped quite a bit and, while it’s still early in the season, this could become worrisome should the trend continue.

Despite being a negative asset overall, the possibility of getting off his contract would make giving up significant draft compensation and/or a promising young player worthwhile. This issue is even more pressing with Kemba Walker due for a huge pay raise from his current pay ($12 million).

Miami HEAT – Justise Winslow

There was a point in the offseason when the Miami HEAT reportedly made Josh Richardson available to the Minnesota Timberwolves in early Jimmy Butler trade talks. With the way Richardson has been playing of late, the idea of the HEAT trading him feels like a distant memory. Richardson has had a career year so far and likely isn’t even close to hitting his potential.

For now, Justise Winslow presents a more realistic trade candidate. Winslow, the 10th overall pick in 2015, has not lived up to the lofty expectations placed on him. He has been a contributing player and has occasional flashes of brilliance. His per-36 averages have been fairly consistent the past few years but he doesn’t appear to be taking any significant steps forward in his development. The HEAT haven’t shown any urgency in moving on from Winslow, but Miami would likely move him for a decent offer. For a team unable to secure dynamic talent elsewhere, the possibility of developing Winslow further might be worth the cost.

Washington Wizards – John Wall, Otto Porter and Bradley Beal

The Washington Wizards have run back the same core of players for several years hoping for a breakthrough at some point. That breakthrough has yet to happen and now tensions are reportedly running high in Washington. As Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN recently reported, Washington is now open to the idea of blowing up its roster and moving John Wall and/or Bradley Beal in a trade.

Otto Porter is essentially locked in around $27 million a year until 2020-21. Meanwhile, John Wall’s supermax contract kicks in next season and can run until 2022-23 (last year player option). Both players are highly productions but their respective contracts are massive. Should an opportunity come (unlikely but not impossible) to trade either, look for Washington to jump at the opportunity to help clear their books. Trading either player could be quite costly for the Wizards depending on what kind of assets they would have to attach to move either expensive player.

Beal is arguably the most attractive trade target of these three players. Based on recent reports, Beal is frustrated with the situation in Washington and probably would be opposed to being moved in a deal. However, Washington is going to demand a big return for Beal, so he may not be on the move any time soon.

Atlanta Hawks – Kent Bazemore

The Atlanta Hawks sit at the bottom of the Southeast Division, are only game ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference and have fallen well outside of the playoff picture. While prospects for this season area already bleak in mid-November there is light at the end of the tunnel in the form of rookie Trae Young. Young is showing off his dynamic skill set and is giving Hawks’ fans reason to be excited about his future. However, with a shift in focus to young prospects like Young, there is less of a need for competent veterans.

Kent Bazemore is a solid forward who can contribute on both ends of the court. This year, his three-point shooting has been off the mark as he is a few points below his career average. Regardless, he is scoring at a career-high clip and could be a useful player for a playoff contender in need of help on the wing. Bazemore has a big annual salary ($18 million) but he is good enough that a team desperate for help on the wing could get creative and swing a deal with Atlanta. A team like the Houston Rockets could use a player like Bazemore and has a few contracts and assets that could make a deal possible.

For now, the trade deadline is still a few months away and most teams don’t have a pressing need to make a move. The Southeast Division has a few teams that are in playoff contention, which may suppress an appetite for making a move. A deal for any of these players may not happen immediately but they could be on the move at some point before the February trade deadline.

 

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NBA Daily: Luguentz Dort – A Different Kind of Point Guard

Shane Rhodes

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The point guard position is a clearly-defined one – perhaps the most defined – in the modern NBA.

At the one, you are either an elite shooter (both inside and on the perimeter), ala Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard, an elite passer, ala Chris Paul, Ben Simmons and Russell Westbrook, or some combination of the two.

Luguentz Dort doesn’t exactly fit that bill.

The 20-year-old combo-guard out of Arizona State University didn’t shoot the competition out of the gym – Dort managed a field goal percentage of just 40.5 and hit on a meager 30.7 percent from downtown. And he wasn’t exactly the flashiest passer, as he averaged just 2.3 assists per game in his lone season with the Sun Devils.

He’s different. But, according to Dort, he has what it takes to run the point at the next level.

“I know that I can become a really good leader on the court and create for my teammates,” Dort said at the 2019 NBA Draft Combine.

Confidence and an “I-will-outwork-you” competitive attitude are at the center of Dort and his game. Those two aspects drive the engine that has made Dort one of the more intriguing prospects in the back end of the first round. He may not be the most talented player in this class, but Dort is hyper-competitive and can out-hustle anyone on any given night.

“When I play,” Dort said, “I’m really going at people to let them know it’s not going to be easy.”

There is a hunger in Dort – a desire to win that is evidenced in his game. An aggressor on both offense and defense, Dort’s motor is always going. His primary selling point is his defensive ability; built like an NFL defensive end, Dort can bring energy and effort to any defense. He has more than enough speed to stick with smaller guards on the perimeter and more than enough strength to bump with bigger forwards in the paint.

Dort has also shown a knack for jumping passing lanes to either deflect passes or outright steal the ball; Dort was fourth in the Pac-12 as he averaged 1.5 steals per game and 1.9 per 40 minutes.

Dort has made it a point to put that defensive ability and intensity on full display for potential suitors. At the Combine, Dort said he wanted to show teams “how tough I play on defense” and “how hard I play and the type of competitor I am.”

Offensively, Dort is an impeccable cutter. At Arizona State, Dort averaged 1.289 points per possession on cuts, according to Synergy Sports. When he goes to the rim, Dort used his size and power to his advantage in order to get to the basket and either drop it in the bucket or draw a foul. He isn’t Irving with the ball in his hands, but Dort can make a move with the ball to create space as well.

Dort isn’t a superb passer, but he has a solid vision and can make, and often made while at Arizona State, the right pass as well.

But can Dort overcome the inconsistencies that plagued him at Arizona State? Dort was, at times, reckless with the ball in his hands. Whether he drove into a crowd just to throw up an ill-fated shot attempt or forced an errant pass, Dort’s decision-making must improve. His shooting is suspect and his touch around the rim – two skills critical to the modern point guard – weren’t exactly up to snuff either.

There were lapses on the defensive end as well. Sometimes Dort would fall asleep off the ball or he would be too aggressive one-on-one. If he is too handsy or unaware, NBA veterans will take advantage of every chance they get against him.

But, according to Dort, he has worked on those issues.

“My decision making got a lot better,” Dort said. “My shot, my free throws, everything. I really worked on all that this season.”

But in order to truly make an impact at the next level, he’ll have to continue to work and refine those skills further.

More work has never been an issue for Dort. However raw he may appear, he has the look of and the work-ethic required of NBA-caliber talent. Dort’s ultimate goal for the Combine, other than draw interest from NBA teams, was simple: “learn about everything, get feedback and go back to Arizona and continue to work on my game.” Whether or not teams view him as a point guard, shooting guard or something else entirely is a matter for debate, but, standing at just over 6-foot-4, 222 pounds with a 6-foot-8 wingspan and high motor, Dort has the versatility and ability to stick at, and is willing to play, a variety of different spots on the floor.

“I want to play any position a team would want me to play,” Dort said.

He may not be the prototypical point guard, but with that kind of willing, team-first attitude, Dort, at some point or another, is almost certain to make it to and have an impact at the next level.

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NBA Daily: Brandon Clarke Working From The Ground Up

Because of the unusual path he’s taken to get here, Brandon Clarke has established himself as one of the more unique prospects in the 2019 NBA Draft, writes Matt John.

Matt John

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When the draft time comes along, teams who have the higher picks usually look for guys who have the highest ceiling. Because of this, they usually decide to take players on the younger side because they believe those who have less experience have more room to improve.

This puts Brandon Clarke at a slight disadvantage. Clarke is 22 years old – and will be 23 when training camp rolls around – and only just recently came onto the scene after an excellent performance for Gonzaga in March Madness this season.

Competing for scouts’ attention against those who are younger and/or deemed better prospects than him would be quite the challenge, but because of what he’s been through, said challenge didn’t seem to faze him one bit at the combine.

“It was a different path for me,” Clarke said. “ I’m 22 and there are some guys here that are only 18 years old. With that being said, I’m still here.”

The Canadian native has clearly had to pay his dues to get to where he is. Clarke originally played for San Jose State, a school that had only been to the NCAA Tournament three times in its program’s history – the most recent entry being 1996 – whose last alum to play in the NBA was Tariq Abdul-Wahad. Props to you if you know who that is!

Playing under a program that didn’t exactly boast the best reputation wasn’t exactly ideal for Clarke. In fact, according to him, it was disheartening at times.

“There were definitely times that I felt down,” Clarke said. “When I first went there, I was kind of freaking out because I was going to a team that had only won two or three games prior to me getting there.”

No tournament bids came from Brandon’s efforts, but the Spartans saw a spike in their win total in the two seasons he played there. The team went from two wins to nine in his freshman year, then went from nine wins to fourteen his sophomore year. Clarke’s performance definitely had a fair amount to do with San Jose State’s higher success rate, but the man praised the program for the opportunity it gave him.

“We did some really big things for that college so I’m really grateful for the stuff I could do for them,” Clarke said.

After spending two years at SJS, Clarke then transferred to Gonzaga where he redshirted for a year before getting himself back on the court. When he did, he put himself on the map.

Clarke dominated in his lone year with the Bulldogs, averaging 16.9 points and 8.6 rebounds – including 3.1 offensive boards – as well as 3.1 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. The man clearly established himself as a high-energy small-ball center at 6-foot-8 ¼ inches, and it paved the way for Gonzaga to get a one-seed in the NCAA Tournament and go all the way to the Elite Eight.

Brandon loved the experience with the Bulldogs, both for the opportunity they gave him and for what he was able to do for them on the court.

“It was a great year,” Clarke said. “I got to play with some of the best players in the country… It was everything that I ever dreamed of. I’m going to miss it a lot. From a personal standpoint, I was just really blessed that I was able to block shots… I felt that I was really efficient too and I really helped us on the offensive end taking smart shots.”

Both his age and the small sample size, unfortunately, go hand in hand so that it’s hard to pinpoint where exactly Brandon Clarke will be taken in the draft. The latest Consensus Mock Draft from Basketball Insiders has all four contributors disagreeing where he will be selected, ranging from being picked as high ninth overall to as low as 21st.

Where he will get selected will all depend on who trusts what could be his greatest weakness – his shotty jumper.

In a league where spacing is so very crucial to consistent success, Clarke’s inability to space the floor hurts his stock. His free throw shooting at Gonzaga saw a drastic improvement from San Jose State, as he went from 57 percent to almost 70. That’s not as much of a liability but not much of a strength either. His three-point shooting in that time took a dive in that time, going from 33 percent to almost 27, which definitely does not help.

To be a hotter commodity at the draft, Clarke had to prove he could shoot the rock from anywhere, which is what he set to do at the combine.

“That is my biggest question mark,” Clarke said. “I’ve been working really hard on it. So I’m hoping that they can see that I can actually shoot it and that I have made lots of progress on it, and that they can trust me to get better at it.”

The journey that Clarke has been on to get to where he is had made him all the wiser as a player. With him expected to enter the NBA next season, he had a simple yet profound message to aspiring young ballers everywhere.

“Trust yourself. Trust your coaches. Trust everybody around you that you love… Make the best out of the situation that you are in.”

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NBA Daily: Nassir Little’s Climb Back up the Draft Boards

Nassir Little’s measurements and personality shined through at the Combine, leading many to believe he may be better suited for the NBA than he was for the NCAA, writes Drew Maresca.

Drew Maresca

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From highly-touted prospect to reserve player and back, Nassir Little’s path to the pros has been an unusual one.

Little was a McDonald’s All-American and five-star prospect. And yet, he didn’t start a single game in his lone season at North Carolina.

He demonstrated the ability to take over a game at times – averaging 19.5 points per game through UNC’s first two games in the NCAA tournament. He also broke the 18-point barrier in six games this past season. But he also scored in single digits in 18 of the Tar Heels’ 36 games, resulting in him being labeled inconsistent by many professional scouts.

Luckily for Little, his skillset is highly sought after by NBA personnel. He is a 6-foot-6, 220 pound forward. He averaged 9.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game as UNC’s sixth man, demonstrating the versatility to switch between both forward positions fairly seamlessly.

And he very well may be one of the few players better suited for the modern NBA game than he was for the NCAA.

Little told reporters at the NBA combine that much of his struggles can be attributed to the hesitancy he developed in his own game through the lack of clarity provided to him by the North Carolina coaching staff.

“The coaching staff didn’t really understand what my role was, especially on offense,” said Little. “So it created a lot of hesitancy, which didn’t allow me to play like myself.”

But Little assured reporters that he’ll look more like the five-star recruit we saw when he was a senior at Orlando Christian Prep.

“Throughout the year I didn’t feel like I played like myself. The guy that people saw in high school is really who I am as a player,” Little said. “And that’s the guy that people will see at the next level.”

Not only does Little expect to be back to his old self, he sees greatness in his future.

“I feel like I am going to come in as, like, a second version of Kawhi Leonard and be that defensive guy,” Little said. “Later on in the years, add [additional] pieces to my game.”

And while a Leonard comparison represents a tall order, Little’s physical tools have fueled discussion about his defensive potential – which has resulted in his climb back up draft boards. Little measured in with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and posted an impressive 38.5-inch vertical jump (second amongst all 2019 participants), a 3.09-second shuttle run (third) and a 3.31-second ¾ court sprint (fourth) – all of which translates perfectly to the NBA.

While his physical prowess will certainly help him gain additional visibility throughout the draft process, Little claims to possess another attribute that everyone else in the draft might not necessarily have, too.

“A lot of guys talk about skill set, everyone’s in the gym working on their skillset. But me being able to bring energy day in and day out is something a lot of guys don’t do.”

To Little’s point, he projects extremely well as an energetic, defensive pest. He is an aggressive and physical defender who has drawn comparisons to guys like Marcus Smart and Gerald Wallace – both of whom are/were known for their high-energy play and dedication on the floor. While his athleticism and potential can open doors, his personality will ensure that teams fall in love with the 19-year old forward. Little came across as extremely likable and candid, which should factor into the overall process, especially when considering that other prospects with less personality project to be more challenging to work with. Moreover, the fact that he was named to the Academic All-ACC team speaks volumes to his discipline and dedication.

Little alluded to the fact that he already sat through interviews with 10 teams as of a week ago, including one with the San Antonio Spurs, which makes the Leonard comparison all the more intriguing.

“Each team has different needs,” Little said. “But they like my [ability] to score the basketball in a variety of ways and my defensive potential to guard multiple positions, they really like that. And my athleticism to be on the court and finish plays.”

If Little is lucky, he’ll be selected by the Spurs with the nineteenth pick. And if that happens, he would be wise to pay close attention to the advice given to him by Coach Gregg Popovich – and not only because he sees similarities between himself and former Popovich-favorite, Leonard. Coach Popovich has a long history of developing lesser known draft picks into borderline stars – Derrick White being the most recent example.

Considering Little’s physical tools, academic achievements and easy-going personality, he has everything one would need to have a long NBA career. Just how successful he ends up being is mostly up to him.

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