To whom it may concern, this isn’t about any college player who has a skill set comparable to PJ Tucker.
Instead, this is more about players similar to Tucker currently on some of the league’s weakest teams that could be of use to teams trying to win.
Tucker is one of the league’s more renowned role players. He is a dependable three-point shooter, he’s a fantastic rebounder for his size, and of course, he’s one of the most physical defenders at the wing position. He has been worth every penny since coming to Houston so far and will be counted on more now that Houston’s short on wings.
As good as Tucker has been for one of the league’s best teams, people forget that Tucker was once on a team that really had no use for his services. Tucker was a valuable player for the Jeff Hornacek-led Suns, but once it was clear that the Suns were rebuilding, the veteran had no place on the team.
It was at 2017’s trade deadline that Tucker’s fortunes changed when Toronto acquired him. After the Raptors traded for him, Tucker played a big role in the team keeping the boat steady in the face of injuries thanks to his defense. The Raptors may have been taken out easily by the Cavaliers a short while later, but Tucker proved how valuable he could be on a good team.
Now, his services are being used to the best of their abilities in Houston. PJ Tucker’s story shows that guys like him shouldn’t be on teams that aren’t winning anytime soon. Alas, there are quite a few guys in the league right now currently in situations just like those.
It’s never too late for their situation to change. Take Garrett Temple for example. He was wasting away in Sacramento until Memphis acquired him to aid their playoff quest. Hopefully, this could lead to other teams pulling off similar trades.
The following players fit the bill as a “PJ Tucker” type.
Courtney Lee – New York Knicks
It’s sad to see one of the league’s prototypical 3&D shooting guards never really find a home in the NBA. Everywhere Courtney Lee’s gone, he holds his end. Yet, he can’t seem to last more than two years on a team before he’s somewhere else.
That seems to be the case in New York. With Kristaps Porzingis out for the foreseeable future, Kevin Knox hoped to be the new face of the franchise, and Tim Hardaway Jr. ahead on the depth chart, there’s a lot of doubt surrounding Lee’s future in New York.
Luckily for both him and New York, the remaining two years and $25 million on his deal are pretty tradeable, especially for someone as useful as him. Lee has shot 39 percent from three throughout his whole career with a reputation for being a tough perimeter defender.
Lee also has been a pivotal mid-season acquisition before. Twice in fact. When the Grizzlies acquired him in 2014, Memphis’ offense got a nice boost from Lee because he was a better floor spacer than Tony Allen. Two years later, Lee fit like a glove in Charlotte because of their emphasis on the three.
As useful as he is, Lee has no place on the Knicks right now. It sucks that he might have to move again, but if he does, he should go to someone who needs him.
Kent Bazemore – Atlanta Hawks
Bazemore has been a good soldier since playing in Atlanta. He’s seen the highest of the highs (the 2015 Hawks) and the lowest of the lows (the 2018 Hawks). Bazemore is a great locker room presence who can mentor some of the young talents the team has accumulated. Some of that young talent includes Taurean Prince, who might phase Bazemore out as he continues to grow.
As good of a teammate as he is, Bazemore’s talents are being put to waste in Atlanta now that they are approaching Year Two in their rebuild. This summer, the Hawks acquired Justin Anderson, who is unproven but has shown some potential. The Hawks may try to develop him along with the rest of the young guns.
Bazemore fits the 3&D prototype. He’s steadily improved his three-point shot, as he shot a career-high 39 percent from three. Unlike Lee, though, advanced metrics support the notion Bazemore is a serviceable defender. He ranked sixth among small forwards in Defensive Real Plus-Minus (0.96), and the Hawks’ defense surrendered 1.5 points per 100 possessions less with Bazemore on the floor.
With an $18 million salary this season, Bazemore is overpaid, but guess what? So is a good chunk of the rest of the league. Since Bazemore has proven himself in the playoffs, he might be a risk worth taking.
Jonathon Simmons – Orlando Magic
Simmons built off a great playoff performance with the Magic last season with an increased role. He saw his numbers go way up across the board. Sadly it’s with a team that’s only now starting to find its direction with its youth. Simmons has only been in the NBA for three years, but he’s going to be 29 once the season starts.
Advanced metrics really don’t support Simmons’ case this season, but his playoff performance from 2017 does. Simmons’ athleticism really helped the Spurs make it all the way to the Western Conference Finals while also averaging 10 points on 45 percent shooting including 35 percent from deep. He deserved the money he got from Orlando. The problem is, he’s playing for a young team that looks that looks like it’s going to rebuild some more after already rebuilding.
Simmons might also struggle to find time behind Evan Fournier, Jonathan Isaac, and maybe even Terrence Ross. Since he’s adequately paid, he wouldn’t be hard to deal.
DeMarre Carroll – Brooklyn Nets
Unlike the previous three mentioned, Carroll is on an expiring contract, so he would be hard to pry away. Brooklyn supposedly aims to have as much cap room as possible for next summer. If he’s leaving Brooklyn, it would probably be via buyout.
After a tough tenure in Toronto, Carroll had a nice redeem season in Brooklyn. The 13 points and 6.6 rebounds he averaged with the Nets is the highest he’s averaged since his breakout year in Atlanta in 2015. What makes him appealing as an asset would be that he is playing in a contract year. He should be going all out in hopes of securing his next contract. Especially since he’s 32 years old.
Whether he stays in Brooklyn for the entire season depends on their own season outlook. Now that Brooklyn is free from the repercussions of that awful KG/Paul Pierce trade, they control their own destiny. They can do what they want with Carroll.
These guys may all very well stay put this season, but given that the teams that they play for aren’t exactly top-notch, it would be a shame to see wings see another season of theirs go to waste.
NBA Daily: Luguentz Dort – A Different Kind of Point Guard
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.