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NBA PM: Kennard Using Experiences, Opportunities To Grow In Rookie Season

Luke Kennard talks about his coaching influences, playing in the G-League and learning from Avery Bradley.

Ben Nadeau



Most rookies struggle to make the transition from collegiate star to role player, but, then again, most rookies aren’t Luke Kennard.

As those playing for head coach Stan Van Gundy often learn, minutes are earned, not given, and the first few weeks of Kennard’s NBA career have been tumultuous to say the least. From finding himself in the G-League to going toe-to-toe with Carmelo Anthony, Kennard has already experienced many of the highs and lows of professional basketball, all before the end of November.

Still, it hasn’t phased him one bit.

And what the Detroit Pistons have uncovered is a talented prospect that wants to contribute to the team’s surprise 13-6 record in whatever way he can. However, after the Pistons scooped up Avery Bradley in an offseason trade and signed Langston Galloway in free agency, opportunities have been tough to come by for the No. 12 overall selection from June’s draft.

In fact, through the first 19 games, Kennard was a healthy scratch in five of them — three as an inactive member of the roster and two via the undesirable DNP-CD. His early season rollercoaster ride took Kennard to the Grand Rapids Drive, the Pistons’ G-League affiliate, where he put up 26 points, four rebounds, three assists and four steals in 40 minutes. Although the experience was brief — the rookie hasn’t appeared with the Drive since that one game — Kennard was grateful for the chance to improve.

“It was good to get up and down a little bit because I wasn’t playing the first few games of the year, I wasn’t active,” Kennard told Basketball Insiders. “To go and play, get some game speed shots and reps in, it was good. I’m just taking the opportunities that I have and I want just to learn from it and get better.

“To be put in positions like that, it can only make me better.”

As a disciple of Duke University’s Mike Krzyzewski, Kennard averaged 19.5 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 2016-17, eventually emerging as a lottery pick with a knack for scoring. Krzyzewski has been long praised for his ability to develop NBA-ready prospects — including the Celtics’ Jayson Tatum — and Kennard is no different. Despite the inconsistent role thus far, Kennard has been able to take his lumps with a confident resilience that he credited to his time in blue and white.

“Under Krzyzewski, I just felt like he matured me as a player really quickly,” Kennard said. “He got me through the transition from high school to college and that allowed me to then take those experiences from him and move on to the NBA. I learned a lot from Coach K, he’s prepared me for this level and I can’t thank him enough for that.”

Now working with insightful mind of Van Gundy, it’s safe to say that Kennard is in great hands once again. In the locker room, Kennard was effusive in his praise for Van Gundy but understands that it can take some time to earn the trust of such a stalwart game manager. While many franchises are willing to let rookies sink or swim from the opening tip, Van Gundy frequently tweaks the rotation based on past production. Great minutes are rewarded, while poor performances — weak defense, low-energy effort, etc — mean less burn the next time out.

Even so, Kennard has found the transition between Krzyzewski and Van Gundy to be a smooth one, appreciative of their on-going commitment to development in all shapes and sizes.

“They’re both real hands-on,” Kennard said. “They want to make sure each player gets to their greatness, what they do best. I’ve talked to coach about a lot of different things and he just continues to teach me. He just wants me to improve and Coach K did the same thing. They’re both really involved in our development as players and it’s been great to learn from them.”

Since his G-League outing, Kennard has worked his way into Van Gundy’s good graces, a process that included three-straight double-digit scoring outings against the Miami HEAT, Milwaukee Bucks and Indiana Pacers earlier this month. Most impressively, perhaps, has been Kennard’s improved status as a defender — which was not exactly his calling card as a prospect — and the Pistons’ willingness to rely on him during crucial moments already.

First, it was his noteworthy effort on both Paul George and Anthony that earned him important minutes in Detroit’s narrow one-point triumph over the Oklahoma City Thunder last week. Then, just three days later, Kennard helped stave off a hungry Celtics side for a large chunk of the fourth quarter while the starters received some well-deserved rest. While it may not always work out, Van Gundy is willing to back Kennard in those high-intensity situations, according to Rod Beard of the Detroit News.

“We needed to give somebody a rest. If you’re going to be out there, you have to guard somebody,” Van Gundy told Beard. “I don’t know that I want a steady diet of a rookie guarding a perennial All-Star but it’s good that he gets some challenges like that for his growth.”

While his season averages (5.7 points, 41.6 percent) pale in comparison to some of the other rookies in his class, Kennard’s unselfish play and growth as a defender have made him a quality addition to Van Gundy’s rotation as of late. Even better, Kennard currently holds a plus-minus of plus-47 and the 6-foot-6 shooting guard hasn’t recorded a negative effort in the last eight games.

Predictably, Kennard pinned his improvement on both sides of the ball to the aforementioned Bradley, one of the league’s best man-to-man defenders.

“He’s been great, I’ve learned a lot from Avery,” Kennard said. “[Bradley] is obviously one of the best two-way guards in the league right now. To have a guy like that to play against and watch every day in practice, it’s pretty special. As a rookie, to have a guy like that my first year to learn from, it can’t get any better than that.”

In the end, Kennard is all about finding opportunities to grow and develop. After earning the shot to play big minutes under Krzyzewski at Duke, Kennard blossomed into a Consensus Second-Team All-American. As the only lottery pick from this year’s draft to feature in the G-League already, Kennard turned that into a learning experience and now seems to be a key member of the Pistons’ rotation moving forward. Developing alongside Bradley, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg here as well.

Through 19 games, Kennard has learned how to both sit down and stand out at the professional level. Going from inactive to guarding to Hall of Famers is not an easy task, no matter where you happened to be drafted. So far, it’s a chance that Kennard has openly relished, a space to contribute something to this encouraging stretch of Detroit basketball in his own way.

With successes like Krzyzewski, Van Gundy and Bradley in his corner, there’s no telling what opportunities will come next for Kennard — just know that he’s going to embrace them all with open arms.

Ben Nadeau is a Boston-based writer in his second year with Basketball Insiders. For five seasons, he covered the Brooklyn Nets for The Brooklyn Game.


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NBA Daily: Daniel Hamilton Hopes to Stick in OKC

Oklahoma City’s Daniel Hamilton speaks to Basketball Insiders about his time at summer league and sticking in the NBA.

David Yapkowitz



There are usually two main categories of guys who participate in the NBA’s summer league.

The players who are armed with guaranteed contracts are usually looking to expand on their game and test out new skills. Then there are the players who don’t have that kind of security, the ones who are looking for an opportunity to earn an invite to training camp in hopes of securing a coveted roster spot in the NBA.

For Daniel Hamilton, he kind of falls into both of those categories.

Hamilton just completed his rookie season with the Oklahoma City Thunder. He was signed last summer to a two-way contract and he split time between the Thunder and their G-League affiliate, the Oklahoma City Blue. He joined the Thunder’s summer league team in Las Vegas, his third consecutive summer with them.

“I’m working on getting stronger, lowering my turnovers, and continue getting reps up in the gym,” Hamilton told Basketball Insiders. “I’m getting shots up and different things like that.”

Hamilton was drafted by the Denver Nuggets with the 56th overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft but was immediately traded to the Thunder. He didn’t play with the Thunder right away though. He spent the entire 2016-2017 season with the Blue.

This past year was his second in the G-League. He finished the season as the Blue’s second-leading scorer with 16.9 points per game, behind Dakari Johnson’s 23.3. While he was on a two-way contract, he only saw action in six games with the Thunder. Most of his time was spent with the Blue.

“It was good, my first year doing the two-way deal. I had a lot of good times playing up with the pros and going down to the G-League,” Hamilton told Basketball Insiders. “The G-League was real good, being able to just go out and play and work on your game, and get wins as a team. We had a great team this past year, we finished top in our division. It was just a fun experience overall.”

This season was a bit different for Hamilton, however. It was also his first year playing a different position. Up to that point, he’d been a shooting guard. He played shooting guard as a standout at St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, CA. He was a shooting guard during his two years at UConn.

But the Thunder asked him to do something a bit different when he joined the team. They asked him to play point guard. He used his second season with the Blue to test out playing a new position. He averaged 7.8 assists with the Blue, but also 4.9 turnovers as he got used to being a playmaker. He used the Las Vegas Summer League to continue that adjustment.

“It’s been pretty good. My first year of playing point guard was this past year. It’s just something that I’m trying to get used to. Just trying to stay focused on whatever happens next,” Hamilton told Basketball Insiders. “I think it helped me expand my game, being able to do more than just one thing, to be versatile.”

In Las Vegas, Hamilton came close to averaging a near triple-double. Over the course of five games, he put up 7.8 points per game, 8.0 rebounds, and 6.6 assists. He’s got the skill and physical tools to be a playmaking guard at the NBA level. He’s been impressive both in the G-League and Summer League.

However, it remains to be seen what happens with him come the end of the summer. With the Thunder’s recent acquisition of both Dennis Schroder and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, it brings their roster to 15 guaranteed contracts. They’re allowed two two-way contracts, but have already used one on Deonte Burton.

They’ve got decisions to make regarding P.J Dozier, who was on a two-way last season, and rookies Hamidou Diallo and Devon Hall. Unless the Thunder can clear up a roster spot or two, it appears Hamilton will be fighting for that last two-way spot. He hopes he’s done enough to warrant strong consideration.

“The main thing is just continuing to get better and continue growing,” Hamilton told Basketball Insiders. “That’s just the number one thing to being here at summer league.”

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NBA Daily: Georges Niang’s Big Break

After dominating the G-League for a year, Georges Niang has more than earned this big opportunity with the Utah Jazz, writes Ben Nadeau.

Ben Nadeau



For Georges Niang, reaching professional stability was always going to be a tall order.

Even after four dominant seasons at Iowa State, the tweener forward was viewed as a draft risk. At 6-foot-8, the versatile playmaker has always scored in bunches but also struggled to find his place in the modern NBA. Despite excelling as a knockdown three-point shooter, the fundamentally sound Niang has bounced around the country looking for a long-term opportunity.

In the two seasons since he was drafted, Niang has played in 50 G-League games for three separate franchises and had his non-guaranteed contract waived twice.

As a summer league standout for the second straight offseason, Niang’s determined efforts officially paid off last week after he signed a three-year deal with the Utah Jazz worth about $5 million. Now with a fully-guaranteed contract under his belt for 2018-19, Niang has been eager to prove his worth both on and off the court — a newfound skill-set he happily attributes to Utah’s excellent system.

“In the Jazz organization, from top to bottom, they do a good job of nurturing guys and forming them into good leaders and things like that,” Niang told Basketball Insiders. “So, it was really easy to transition to summer league, [I’m] really just trying to lead by example, not with just my words.

“And I think playing hard, being a good teammate and doing the right thing –I think those are three things that the Jazz really stand for.”

But his meandering path toward year-long job security wasn’t destined to end up this way — no, not at all.

Selected by the Indiana Pacers in the 2016 NBA Draft with the No. 50 overall pick, Niang was correctly projected as a hard-working, high-IQ contributor that could put up points on almost anybody. Unfortunately, following a low-impact rookie year with the Pacers — and some short stints with their G-League affiliate, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, as well — Niang was waived the ensuing summer. Shortly thereafter, Niang latched on with the Golden State Warriors, where he participated in training camp and four preseason games — but, again, he was waived before the season began.

With the Santa Cruz Warriors, Niang flat-out dominated the competition for months, up until he grabbed a two-way contract from Utah in January. In total, Niang played in 41 games between Santa Cruz and the Salt Lake City Stars in 2017-18, averaging 19.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.1 steals on 45.7 percent from deep over 33.9 minutes per game.

Once attached to Utah’s affiliate franchise, Niang averaged a team-high 22 points per game and finished the campaign as the 13th-best scorer in the G-League. On top of all that, Niang was both an All-Star and honored with a spot on the All-NBA G-League First Team at season’s end.

Although he would ultimately play in just nine games for the deep Western Conference roster, Niang was simply laying important groundwork for the days ahead.

This summer, Niang averaged 16.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists in three contests during Utah Summer League. Given the golden opening to impress his future would-be-employers, Niang kept things rolling in Sin City and posted similar numbers over five games. On the back of a 20-point, eight-rebound performance early on in Las Vegas, Niang embraced the chance to fight and compete for his team — five full days before the Jazz signed him to a guaranteed deal.

“It was a real physical game, but those are the games you want to play in during summer league,” Niang said. “You want to play in those types of environments, where every possession matters and you gotta make plays down the stretch — and I think we did a really good job doing that.”

Those scrappy aspirations have been a staple of Niang’s since his collegiate days at Iowa State, too. During an ultra-impressive senior year, Niang tallied 20.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game for the Cyclones, leading their roster to 23 wins and an eventual trip to the Sweet Sixteen. That season, Niang took home the 2016 Karl Malone Award as Division-I’s top power forward and finished with 2,228 points, the second-best mark in school history.

Any way you slice it, whether at college or in the G-League, Niang can play, the moment just needs to reveal itself — and maybe it finally has.

Of course, this new contract — one that’s only fully guaranteed in 2018-19 — doesn’t ensure Niang any playing time and he’ll have some stiff competition. Just to get on the court, he’ll need to squeeze minutes from Derrick Favors, Jae Crowder and Joe Ingles — a tough task in head coach Quin Snyder’s defense-first rotation. No matter what his role or obligations end up amounting to, Niang is ready to meet that challenge head-on.

“In the NBA, everyone has a role,” Niang told Basketball Insiders. “So, obviously, things are gonna be peeled back and you’ll have a defined role. My role is just when I get the ball, and if I do, play-make for others or get guys open, defend multiple positions, play multiple positions on offense and knock down open shots.”

Although his past resume certainly speaks for itself, it’ll be up to Niang take his big break even further. But given his efficiency and execution at every other level, there’s little reason to doubt the forward now. Days before they signed Niang, he was asked if Utah was somewhere he could see himself for the foreseeable future — his response was precise and foreboding.

“I’d love to be here — what [the Jazz] stand for is what I’m all about. I’ve had a blast with all these guys and I’d love to keep it going.”

And now, he’ll get at least 82 more games to make his case.

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NBA Daily: The Carmelo Anthony Trade is a Rare Win-Win for All Involved

It is rare for a trade to be beneficial for all parties, but the Thunder-Hawks-76ers swap has the makings of a win-win-win situation.

Shane Rhodes



The Big Three Era in Oklahoma City came and went rather quickly.

On Thursday, the Thunder reached an agreement to trade Carmelo Anthony and a protected 2022 first-round draft pick to the Atlanta Hawks for guard Dennis Schröder, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. As part of a three-team deal with the Philadelphia 76ers, the Thunder will also walk away with Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot while the Hawks and 76ers swap Mike Muscala and Justin Anderson.

It is rare for a trade to be beneficial for all parties, but the Thunder-Hawks-76ers swap has the makings of a win-win-win situation. Just as well, the trade is perhaps even more beneficial for the players involved.

While Anthony may have wanted to stay with Russell Westbrook and Paul George, the trade is more than beneficial for him. After the trade goes through, the Hawks plan to buyout Anthony’s contract and he will reportedly receive the entire $27.9 million he is owed next season. Even better still, Anthony is free to join any team he wants, whether it be the Houston Rockets and friend Chris Paul, the Los Angeles Lakers and friend LeBron James, or elsewhere.

With his money already in hand, Anthony could sign on the cheap as well, making negotiations with any franchise that much easier.

For the Thunder, clearing Anthony’s massive salary from their books was of paramount importance. Staring down a $150 million luxury tax bill, Sam Presti managed to move Anthony and improve the team or, at the very least, make a lateral move depending on how you look at Schröder. Even as they take back the remaining $46.5 million owed to Schröder, the Thunder will save more than $60 million next season alone. That makes the trade worth it for Oklahoma City all by itself.

Still, the move allowed them to fill a need, perhaps more important than the cash savings as they look ahead to next season. Schröder not only fortifies the Thunder bench but the point guard position behind starter Russell Westbrook as well; he is another athletic playmaker that Oklahoma City can play on the wing with confidence. And, after averaging a career-high 19.4 points per game to go along with 6.2 assists last season, Schröder provides the Thunder offense with more firepower to compete against the other top teams in the Western Conference, a necessity if they hope to make a long playoff run.

For Schröder, the move to Oklahoma City is just as beneficial for him as it is for the team. Schröder is no longer the starter (he was unlikely to be the starter in Atlanta with Trae Young in the fold), but he can still make an impact and now he can do so for a contender.

The Hawks, as they should be, are playing the long game here. They acquired Jeremy Lin, an expiring contract, from the Brooklyn Nets earlier this offseason. After drafting Young, their guard surplus afforded them the chance to move Schröder’s deal off their books, netting them a first-round pick in the process and opening up playing time for the Young right away.

While the pick is top-14 protected (the pick becomes two second rounders if it doesn’t convey in 2022, every asset counts as the Hawks will look to add talent through the draft for years to come. With the addition of the Thunder pick, the Hawks now are owed an extra three first-round picks between the 2019 and 2022 drafts, a benefit for the Hawks whether they use those picks or trade them for already established talent. Meanwhile, Anderson, 24, presents another intriguing, and more importantly, young, option alongside the core of Young, Kevin Huerter, John Collins and Taurean Prince.

Anderson will almost certainly receive more playing time in Atlanta as they figure out who and who can’t help the team. His time in Philadelphia was mired by injury and he never had the opportunity to show what he could do. So, whether they use him as an asset in a future trade or plan to keep him on the roster, Anderson, at the very least, will have the opportunity to show what he can do.

For the 76ers, Muscala is essentially insurance for the reneged deal with Nemanja Bjelica. Bjelica agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the team but the stretch-four never signed his contract and backed out of the deal. With him out of the picture along with losing Ersan Ilyasova, Muscala was one of the few remaining options for the 76ers in that specific, stretch-big role.

Muscala doesn’t have the same shooting chops that Bjelica has, but he is younger and might have more upside alongside Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and co. Last season, Muscala, in addition to career highs in points and rebounds, averaged a career-high 3.2 three-pointers per game and hit 37.1 percent of them. While he likely won’t see the playing time he saw in Atlanta, Muscala should easily slide into a role off the bench for the 76ers. Moving Anderson and Luwawu-Cabarrot clears a logjam on the wing as well and will afford more minutes to Markelle Fultz (when he is ready), T.J. McConnell and rookies Zhaire Smith and Furkan Korkmaz.

As it stands, this trade made sense for all parties involved, and that alone is reason enough to consider it a win all around. While things could certainly change and hindsight is 20/20, this deal is beneficial for all three teams right now and could positively impact all three squads both next season and beyond.

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