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NBA PM: Injuries Give Spurs Reserves Opportunity to Shine

San Antonio’s reserves are stepping up as key players go down with injuries, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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The San Antonio Spurs are currently battling the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. The Spurs led Game 1 by as many as 25 points and seemed poised to take a crucial game on Golden State’s home court. San Antonio was being led by Kawhi Leonard, who has continued to display MVP-worthy dominance on both sides of the floor in the playoffs. Unfortunately, Leonard went down after tweaking his ankle not once, but twice in the third quarter of Sunday’s game before sitting the remainder of the contest, which had a huge impact on the outcome of the game.

Defeating the Houston Rockets and making it to the Western Conference Finals was quite an accomplishment. In addition to the ankle sprain to Leonard (originally suffered against the Rockets), the Spurs had to overcome a ruptured quad tendon to starting point guard Tony Parker as well. Since Parker went down, the Spurs have relied on a couple of key reserves. The production from these reserves will be even more critical if Leonard is forced to miss significant time. Despite the disappointing loss in Game 1, the early returns have been positive so far for San Antonio. Let’s take a look:

Jonathan Simmons

With the injuries to both Parker and Leonard, the impact of Jonathon Simmons has been crucial for the Spurs. For casual fans of the NBA, Simmons is a relatively unknown player pulled from deep within the Spurs’ system. For many diehard Spurs fans and Texas natives, Simmons’ recent success is not such a surprise.

Simmons spent his college career playing for various schools in Texas, culminating with his one-year stay at the University of Houston. Despite going undrafted in the 2012 NBA Draft, Simmons tried out and earned a spot on the Austin Toros (the Spurs NBA Development League Team) in September 2013. In 2015, the Spurs called Simmons up from the D-League. In his two seasons with the Spurs, Simmons has averaged 16.6 minutes per game and 6.1 points per game. He even started two games his rookie season and eight games this season.

Getting to this point has not been easy for Simmons, who spoke in 2016 about tryouts, the NBA D-League and eventually making it to the NBA with the Spurs.

“It was a grind,” Simmons stated. “I enjoyed every bit of it, don’t take any part of it for granted. It definitely humbled me along the way. I’m enjoying this part even more.”

In the five games since Parker went down, Simmons has scored 13.2 points on 47.3 percent shooting, including 1.4 steals in 25.2 minutes per game. While increasing his playing time and production, Simmons posted a +8.2 net rating and 55.1 true shooting percentage. He is shooting well, defending effectively against both guards and forwards and is proving himself a more than capable backup for San Antonio. If Leonard is to miss any significant time, Simmons will need to be at his absolute best to help fill that massive void. San Antonio’s offense runs primarily through Leonard and he often shuts down the opponent’s best offensive player. Without Leonard, Simmons will be asked to help take on some of those responsibilities — an almost impossible task but one he seems ready to take on.

Patty Mills

While the rise of Simmons has been a welcome surprise to many, what guard Patty Mills has done has been much more expected. Once Parker went down, the Spurs immediately leaned on Mills, a career-backup to Parker, to take the starting role and produce.

Mills is now key to the Spurs’ success and played in all but 11 minutes of Sunday’s game. Although he did not shoot well, going 1-8 in the game, Mills came up with what could have been the play of the game.

The Spurs were down three with 33 seconds remaining when Mills rushed Warriors guard Klay Thompson and simply ripped the ball out of his hands. Thompson immediately fouled Mills putting him on the line where he hit both free throws and brought the Spurs within one. This lightning-quick turn of events gave the Spurs a shot to take back the lead in a game that had been slipping away since Leonard went down in the third quarter.

Unlike Simmons, a home-grown product of Texas, count Mills as one of the Spurs’ successful investments in overseas talent. The 55th pick of the 2009 NBA Draft out of Australia, Mills has continued a slower ascent within the organization. Now in his eighth season, Mills started a career-high eight games this season and had never started more than three before this season. Furthermore, Mills had never started a playoff game in his career until now. In the last two seasons, his playing time had peaked at 20.5 and 21.0 minutes per game, respectively.

With Mills as the replacement, the Spurs have divided ball handling responsibilities amongst a few players with a good amount of success. In the eight games leading up to and including Parker’s injury, the Spurs averaged 18 assists a game. Since the injury, the Spurs are averaging 24.2 assists per game. Additionally, since Parker’s injury, Mills is scoring 12.8 points, 4.2 assists, 1.4 steals in 33.2 minutes per game as the starter — a significant leap from the 21.7 minutes a game he averaged in the first round.

Head Coach Gregg Popovich (sort of) spoke about Mill’s production and value.

“I don’t want to talk too much about Patty Mills because the more I say good the more we’re gonna have to pay him [in free agency],” Popovich joked.

Mills has his limitations, but he has filled in admirably for the Spurs up this point.

Dejounte Murray

Point guard Dejounte Murray is still a few months shy of his 21st birthday. Yet, like the players above, Murray is already proof of the success of San Antonio’s player development program. Although his impact has been relatively minor this season, Murray actually started eight of the 38 games he has played in. Many teams would not trust a rookie to play any sort of significant minutes during the season, let alone start. Count this maneuver by the Spurs coaching staff as one that has paid off this postseason.

The time spent in the NBA D-League (15 games with the Austin Toros) helped to ensure him the opportunity to get more playing time, develop and have the chance to be productive and remain in game shape during the season. Murray showed a positive attitude earlier in the season when asked about a possible D-League assignment.

“If they want me to go down there and play, I don’t have a problem going there to play,” Murray stated.

Now, less than a year later, Murray finds himself thrust into the spotlight in the Western Conference Finals. Since Parker’s injury, Murray has played in four of five games and averaged 17.8 minutes per game. Although his contributions don’t match those of the players above, receiving any reliable contributions from a first-year player in this situation must be considered a net positive. In these games, Murray is averaging 6.8 points, 2.5 assists, one steal and has a plus-minus of 9.3.

And yet, to those who know him, Murray’s success is not such a surprise. Spurs veteran Manu Ginobili spoke highly of Murray and his future potential earlier in the season.

“[Murray] has talent,” Manu Ginobili stated. “He has ball skills. He has athleticism. When you have those few things, and then you listen and want to get better, then if you get all [the other)] things together, your career is on the way up. He has a very bright future. He knows that. We all know that.”

James Blancarte is a writer for Basketball Insiders. He is also an Attorney based in Los Angeles, California.

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NBA

Trae Young Believes He’s NBA Ready

Trae Young has exceeded expectations since his freshman year of college, and he believes he will continue to do so in the NBA

Matt John

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Before the collegiate season started, many believed that the best players in the upcoming NBA draft were going to be bigs. DeAndre Ayton, Mo Bamba, and Michael Porter Jr., all of whom were 6’10’’ or taller, were considered to be among the top prospects coming out of the NCAA, but Trae Young had something to say about that.

Coming out of high school, Young was regarded as one of the better incoming freshmen, but not among the best of the best. Young ranked no. 23 in ESPN’s top 100 in 2017 and was ranked third among point guards, behind Collin Sexton and Jaylen Hands, which led to low expectations for him. Young proved right out of the gate that he was much better than the scouts had rated him.

Young tore up college ball as an Oklahoma Sooner, as he averaged 27.2 points and 8.7 assists while shooting 42 percent from the field including 36 percent from three. While Young’s play made him stand out among his peers, it didn’t translate into much success on the court. The Sooners went 18-14 on the season and were eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Now that the season is over, Young is shifting his focus to his next stop: the NBA. With the draft coming up in just a little over a month, only one word comes to mind when describing Young’s current mindset: Confidence.

“I bring a lot of things to the next level. I think I would bring an immediate impact off the court as much as I do on the court,” Young said at the NBA combine. “I can space out the defense. I can attack defenders in multiple ways, get my teammates involved. I think I can pretty much do it all for a team and I’m looking forward to whichever team I go to and making a huge impact.”

While Young is not expected to be picked in the top five, he should be picked between the six to ten range. Any player who is selected in that range has to work his absolute hardest to live up to the lengthy expectations that he will certainly face once he enters the NBA. Young luckily sounds like he is up to the task.

“I prepared extremely hard coming into the college season and making a huge impact right away, and I’m working two times as hard this summer preparing to get into the NBA level,” Young said. “I want to make a huge impact right away.”

Young is expected to be a high lottery pick, but he doesn’t care much for where he is selected as much as he cares about going to the team that suits him best.

“My main focus is going to the right team. It’s not about going one, two, three or 30. You see a lot of guys going in the second round in certain years that make big impacts for teams,” Young said. “It’s all about the fit for me. Whether that’s one or whether that’s whatever it is, I’m going to be happy and I’m going to be ready to make an impact.”

Young’s expected high draft position stems from his electrifying play as a scorer in college. Young’s performance for Oklahoma his freshman year was impressive enough to draw comparisons to NBA megastar Stephen Curry. While Young is flattered to be mentioned in the same breath as Curry, he takes pride in being his own player.

“He’s a two-time MVP and a champion. I mean, I love the comparison but I feel like I bring a lot of different things from different players’ games to the table,” Young said. “I’m just trying to be the best version of Trae Young. That’s all that matters to me. I’m just getting started in this thing so hopefully I can achieve some of those things.”

Young’s skillset may remind fans of Curry, but Young prides himself on modeling his game after his favorite player of all time: Steve Nash.

“With his size and my size, we’re pretty similar,” Young said. “He is very cerebral. He can score on all three levels and he knows how to get his teammates involved. He’s a winner so I feel like a lot of his characteristics match with mine.”

Those who have watched Young know of his offensive repertoire, but skeptics have pointed to his defensive shortcomings as a red flag. Young, however, believes his play at the combine will show that he can be a positive on the other side of the ball.

“I’m excited about having the opportunity to show people that I can play defense, and I’m excited to show that from day one,”

When all is said and done, Young may very well wind up being the most prolific scorer to come out of what many believe is a loaded draft, but Young has much bigger ambitions in mind for his career.

“I think I’m the best overall player in this draft, but my main focus isn’t necessarily to be the best player in this draft,” Young said. “My goal is to be the best player in the NBA. That’s what I’m focusing on each and every day.”

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NBA Daily: Jaylen Hands Makes Good Showing at the NBA Combine

Jaylen Hands made a good showing at the NBA Combine by displaying his offensive skills and defensive intensity.

Jesse Blancarte

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UCLA has produced a few of the NBA’s top point guards over the last decade or so, including Russell Westbrook and Jrue Holiday. Jrue’s younger brother, Aaron Holiday, has declared for this year’s draft and is projected by several NBA insiders to be selected with a first-round pick (likely in the 20-30 range). But Aaron Holiday isn’t the only UCLA point guard who may end up taking his talents to the NBA this offseason. Jaylen Hands, who is still just 19 years old and finished his freshman season, has also entered his name into this year’s draft.

While Hands has entered his name into the draft and participated in the NBA Combine, he has not hired an agent, which preserves his ability to return to college (Hands has until June 11 to make a final decision). Considering Hands’ young age and raw skill set, he isn’t projected by many insiders to hear his name called on draft night. But he certainly helped his cause in the Combine, showcasing his offensive talents, the muscle he has added to his slight frame since the end of his freshman season and aggressiveness on defense.

Basketball Insiders spoke with Hands at the Combine about his development, going through the pre-draft process, competing against familiar faces and more.

“It’s crazy, it’s crazy because when we were younger, they said the exact thing: ‘You guys are going to see each other forever.’” Hands said when asked about competing against many of the same players over the years and now at the Combine. “And you don’t really believe what they’re saying. But now you go through high school, you’re a senior, All-Star activities and you go to the Combine, you see the same people. It’s crazy.”

Hands has a notable skill set but is a raw prospect that many believe would be better served spending another year in college. While Hands needs to continue filling out his frame, he did register decent measurements at the Combine in relation to a top guard prospect – Trae Young of Oklahoma. Hands weighed in at 1.2 lbs heavier than Young, and outmatched Young in height (with and without shoes), standing reach and wingspan. Ironically, Hands has the smallest hands of all players that participated in the Combine. While these measurements don’t mean that he is currently a comparable prospect to Young, they could address some concerns about his current physical profile and how it may ultimately translate to the NBA.

Hands proved himself to be a confident and aggressive player in his freshman season at UCLA – something that he believes has led to misconceptions about his game.

“I’m not a point guard,” Hands said when asked about what misconceptions people have about his game.

I wouldn’t say it’s common, like it’s the main thing. But I’ve heard that I shoot first or something like that. I just feel like I attack a lot. I think I attack a lot and I’m of size to being a [two guard], so I think some people get it misconstrued. I just think I’m attack first, set my teammates up, get what I get.”

Hands is clearly aware of the common perceptions and current shortcomings in his game, which is why he is working hard to improve his overall skill set and is testing the NBA waters to get feedback from teams.

“Before I came here, just being more steady working on my shot, making good reads out of the pick and roll, finishing.” Hands said when asked about what parts of his game he was working on before coming to the Combine.

Hands was asked to clarify what he believes is his best strength at this point. Hands didn’t hesitate and pointed toward his ability to make plays off the dribble.

“My best strength is getting in the paint. So I get in the paint and make plays,” Hands said.

Hands is also clearly aware of UCLA’s history of producing quality point guards and has a chance to one day develop into a quality guard at the NBA level. However, with Holiday heading to the NBA and no major competition for the starting point guard position at UCLA next season, it may benefit Hands to hold off on turning pro for at least another year.

Whether he stays at UCLA or commits to this year’s draft, there’s no doubt that Hands is going to keep pushing to develop into a quality NBA player.

“I want to be the best player I can in the league,” Hands said. “That’s my goal.”

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: 2018 60-Pick NBA Mock Draft – 5/22/18

The final 2018 NBA Draft order is set and Basketball Insiders’ publisher Steve Kyler offers up his latest 60-pick NBA Mock Draft.

Steve Kyler

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Lots of Draft Movement

With the draft order now set for the 2018 NBA Draft, there is some sense of how the draft might play out.

The buzz coming out of the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago is that a number of picks could be had in trade include all three of the top selections. Word is the initial asking price is very high and more of an indication to the San Antonio Spurs that if they do want to part with disgruntled star Kawhi Leonard, they are open for business.

It’s also worth noting that there is a growing sense that both the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawk may be far higher on some of the domestic bigs in the draft more so than euro sensation Luka Dončić. Both teams are expected to take a long look at Dončić, so their views on him could change as we get closer to the draft, but for now, Dončić may go lower.

Here is the latest 60-Pick NBA Mock Draft, reflecting the final draft order and the latest buzz, rumors, and intel from in and around the NBA:

Dates To Know:

The NCAA requires all players wishing to maintain their college eligibility, without penalty, to withdraw from the NBA Draft by 11:59 pm on May 30. That is an NCAA mandated date, not related to anything involving the NBA, and that notice must be delivered in writing.

The NBA’s draft withdrawal date is June 11 by 5:00 pm ET. The NBA’s date allows a prospect to remain NBA draft eligible for future NBA drafts and is not related to any NCAA rule or date. There are ways for college players that did not accept benefits to return to college. However, they may be subject to NCAA penalties.

The 2018 NBA Draft is June 21.

The Pick Swaps:

The Cleveland Cavaliers are owed the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round pick as a result of the Kyrie Irving trade this past summer. The Brooklyn Nets traded several unprotected picks to Boston as part of the Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trades in 2015.

The Philadelphia 76ers are owed the LA Lakers’ 2018 Draft pick, unprotected, as a result of the 2012 Steve Nash trade with the Suns. The Suns traded that pick to the 76ers as part of the Michael Carter-Williams three-team trade with the Milwaukee in 2015. The 76ers traded that pick to the Boston Celtics as part of the draft pick trade that became Markelle Fultz before the draft; it has 2 through 5 protections. This pick will convey.

The LA Clippers are owed the Detroit Pistons first-round pick in 2018 as a result of the Blake Griffin trade.

The Phoenix Suns are owed the Miami HEAT’s first-round pick as part of the Goran Dragic trade in 2015, it is top-seven protected and would convey to Phoenix based on the final NBA standings.

The Phoenix Suns were owed the Milwaukee Bucks’ first-round pick as part of the Eric Bledsoe trade. The pick would only convey if the Bucks pick landed between the 11th and 16th pick, which based on the final NBA standings did not convey. The Suns will now receive the Bucks 2019 first-round pick assuming it falls between the fourth and 16th pick.

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Minnesota Timberwolves’ first-round pick as part of the Adreian Payne trade in 2015. The pick was lottery protected and would convey to Atlanta based on the final NBA standings.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are owed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first-round pick as part of the Jazz/Wolves Ricky Rubio trade this past summer. The Jazz acquired the pick as part of the Thunder’s deal to obtain Enes Kanter in 2015. The pick was lottery protected and would convey based on the final NBA standings.

The Chicago Bulls are owed the New Orleans Pelicans first-round pick as a result of the Nikola Mirotic trade. The pick was top-five protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

The LA Lakers are owed the Cleveland Cavaliers first-round pick as a result of Jordan Clarkson/Larry Nance Jr. trade. The pick was top-three protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

The Brooklyn Nets are owed the Toronto Raptors’ first-round pick as part of the DeMarre Carroll salary dump trade this past summer. The pick was lottery protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

The Atlanta Hawks are owed the Houston Rockets’ first-round pick as part of a three-team deal with the LA Clippers and Denver Nuggets involving Danilo Gallinari and taking back Jamal Crawford and Diamond Stone. The pick was top-three protected and based on the final NBA standings would convey

Check out the Basketball Insiders’ Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects – http://www.basketballinsiders.com/top-100-nba-draft-prospects/

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, @mike_yaffe, @MattJohnNBA, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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