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NBA PM: Kenneth Faried’s Payday is Coming

After a strong close to the 2013-14 season and an impressive summer so far, Kenneth Faried has a big payday coming his way.

Yannis Koutroupis

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Kenneth Faried’s Payday is Coming

So far in the 2014 FIBA World Cup, Team USA is 3-0 with a 35.6 point average margin of victory. They did have a little bit of a scare against Turkey recently and their toughest challenges are ahead with teams out of their group like Australia, Greece and Spain in particular really looking formidable. However, there’s no doubting now that despite the absence of some of the NBA’s biggest stars, a team capable of winning the gold has still been put together.

The depth of Team USA’s talent pool has been on full display. Anthony Davis and James Harden have taken over the leadership roles in place of Kevin Durant and Kevin Love, who opted not to play after originally considering it. This comes as no surprise. Davis is a former No. 1 overall pick who is coming off of his best year as a professional and was already on the fast track to stardom prior to the start of the tournament. Harden has been one of the best shooting guards in the league since being traded to the Houston Rockets two years ago and he came into the tournament highly motivated after an early exit from the 2014 NBA playoffs and wide-ranging criticism about his defense.

KennethFariedInsideOnly1Somewhat surprisingly, though, is the fact that up to this point Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried has been the third best player on a Team USA squad that also features Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry among other more proven NBA players.

Faried is averaging 14.3 points and 8.3 rebounds while shooting a blistering 80 percent from the field, which leads all players in the World Cup. He’s become a fixture in the starting lineup and one of the most important players on the team.

All this from someone who wasn’t given a serious shot by most to make the team at the outset of training camp.

Defying the odds and exceeding expectations is nothing new for Faried, who was unranked nationally out of high school and had little college interest outside of Morehead State, where he went on to be one of the best power forwards in college basketball for the next four years. Faried averaged a double-double from his sophomore year on after coming up two rebounds a game shy his freshman year of averaging one then as well. He finished with 2,009 career points and 1,673 career rebounds, yet there were a lot of questions about how well he would translate to the NBA that pushed him down the draft board on draft night 2011. He measured in at 6’6 without shoes, didn’t have much perceived upside as a senior and was regarded as somewhat limited offensively.

That led to Derrick Williams, Enes Kanter, Tristan Thompson, Jan Vesely, Bismack Biyombo, Jimmer Fredette, Alec Burks, the Morris twins, Chris Singleton and Nolan Smith all being drafted ahead of him as he fell to the Nuggets at 22.

Three season removed from that draft, it’s safe to say Faried was one of the biggest steals and vastly underrated. He’s been a more than solid pickup for the Nuggets, boasting a career average of 12.1 points and 8.6 rebounds in 26.5 minutes a night, but during the final two months of last season he showed the potential to be a premiere starter in this league, averaging 19.2 points and 9.8 rebounds in March and 21 points and 13 rebounds in April.

Picking up where he left off in the regular season with Team USA this summer is the best-case scenario for Faried because it comes in the midst of contract extension negotiations with the Nuggets, who have made it abundantly clear that they would like to get a deal done with him and view him as a long-term centerpiece.

“We’ll talk to his representation,” Nuggets general manager Tim Connelly told Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post. “I think Kenneth is happy here. I think he’s really embraced what (Coach) Brian (Shaw) is trying to instill. Those are the type of guys that deserve to get paid.”

“Kenneth was great,” Connelly added. “I think there was an adjustment period with Kenneth and Brian. And for the last couple of months he was playing at as high a level as anybody. He’s the heart and soul of our team. His consistent energy and toughness, I was really happy to see. I think he grew this year. I think he really improved on both ends, not just the offensive end. He’s a guy that’s going to play a huge role in our success moving forward.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll have good discussions this summer with his representation and we’ll see if we can’t figure something out.”

According to Zach Lowe of Grantland, the Nuggets have already reached out to Faried’s agent about a contract extension. Because they have his Bird rights, he’s eligible for roughly a five-year, $89.1 million extension from them, which averages out to about $17.82 million a year. That figure stands to change about $3-5 million over its duration due to a likely increase in the cap for the 2015-16 NBA season, when the extension would begin.

The Nuggets and Faried have until October 31 to try and negotiate an extension, otherwise they will put talks off until next summer when a $3.2 million qualifying offer will make him a restricted free agent and preserve the Nuggets’ right to match any offer he receives. Faried would be eligible to receive a deal somewhere in the neighborhood of $66.2 million over four years, which is $16.55 annually.

As good as Faried has been in his NBA career so far, especially in the last two months and with Team USA this summer, a max offer isn’t going to come his way unless he puts up 20-10 regularly next season. The question is, are the Nuggets willing to come close enough to a max offer to make it financially rewarding enough for Faried to commit early and avoid free agency all together?

At this point, the deals that Larry Sanders and Derrick Favors have can be looked at as the absolute floor for a Faried deal. Sanders’ deal pays him $44 million over the course of four years, while Favors is making $12.25 on average in his four-year deal that goes into effect this season. So, if the floor is $11-12.25 million and the ceiling is $17.82 – that’s roughly a five million gap that the two sides have to negotiate with. Of course, Faried’s contract will likely be structured with the annual 7.5 percent raises and ascend rather than having a flat rate across the board, but a deal that works for both sides is definitely achievable before the deadline given Faried’s market value and marked improvement.

The last time the Nuggets were in a similar position was with Ty Lawson. Lawson was coming off of his rookie contract, earned a significant raise and although it took right up until the deadline, the two sides were eventually able to agree to terms before restricted free agency ever came into play. Lawson’s deal was for four years, $48 million and currently has him as the highest paid player on the team at $11.595 million going into next season.

A deal with Faried will likely exceed that and make him the highest paid player on the team, but as the Nuggets’ decision makers indicated, he’s the kind of guy you can feel comfortable paying because of the way he works and the example he sets with how hard he plays. He has the necessary leadership qualities to be a team’s highest paid player.

With JaVale McGee having two years, $23.25 million left on his deal, Danilo Gallinari having two years, $22.4 million left on his and Arron Afflalo having a player option for $7.5 million that he will strongly consider declining for a bigger, long-term deal, the Nuggets have some tough decisions coming up and some cuts they’re likely going to have to make. Faried isn’t one of them, though. Even at a price tag of $14 million per over five years (assuming that’s what it would take to keep him), he’s worth locking up early and building around along with Lawson.

Preseason International Schedule Increases

The NBA announced today that three top international teams, Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv, Maccabi Haifa and Flamengo, will travel to the U.S. and Canada for nine preseason games against nine NBA teams this October.  The nine games are the most ever played by international teams on North American soil during one preseason.

The games will tip off with Maccabi Tel Aviv taking on the Cleveland Cavaliers on Oct. 5 at Quicken Loans Arena, followed by a matchup with the Brooklyn Nets on Oct. 7 at Barclays Center.

Flamengo, which plays its home games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, will play the Phoenix Suns on Oct. 8 at US Airways Center and the Orlando Magic on Oct. 15 at Amway Center.  Flamengo concludes its trip against the Memphis Grizzlies on Oct. 17 at FedExForum.

Maccabi Haifa, which plays its home games in Haifa, Israel, begins its trip versus the Washington Wizards on Oct. 15 at Verizon Center, followed by a game against the Portland Trail Blazers on Oct. 17 at Moda Center and a game against the Sacramento Kings on Oct. 18 at Sleep Train Arena.  Maccabi Haifa concludes its trip with an Oct. 22 game against the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre.

Maccabi Tel Aviv is the reigning Euroleague champion, having defeated Real Madrid under the leadership of current Cleveland Cavaliers Head Coach David Blatt.  With six European Championships, one Adriatic Championship, 51 Israeli Championships, 41 Israeli Cups, and five League Cups, Maccabi Tel Aviv is one of the most successful teams in the history of European basketball.  Maccabi Tel Aviv has played 20 games against NBA teams and was the first European club to compete against an NBA team, defeating the 1978 NBA champion Washington Bullets in Tel Aviv.

Maccabi Haifa is the reigning Super League runner-up and defeated Maccabi Tel Aviv to win the 2012-13 Super League Championship, the club’s first championship since its founding in 1953.  Maccabi Haifa’s trip to the United States will mark the fourth time in five years the team has traveled to the United States to play NBA teams, most recently during the 2013 preseason when the club took on the Phoenix Suns, Detroit Pistons and Memphis Grizzlies.

On March 22, 2014, Flamengo defeated Pinheiros to win the 2014 FIBA Americas League championship.  In May, Flamengo defeated Paulistano to win its third Novo Basquete Brasil (NBB) title.  NBB is Brazil’s premier professional men’s basketball league.  Flamengo will play in the 2014 Intercontinental Cup in Rio de Janeiro in September, where the team will face Maccabi Tel Aviv.  Flamengo’s visit to Phoenix on Oct. 8 will mark the team’s first game against NBA competition.

These games complement the existing NBA Global Games 2014-15 schedule, which includes nine NBA teams playing seven games in six countries (seven cities).

During the 2013-14 regular season, the NBA featured a record 92 international players from 39 countries and territories on official rosters (active and inactive).

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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The X-Factors: Brooklyn

Drew Maresca continues Basketball Insiders’ “X-Factor” series by identifying potential difference-makers for the Brooklyn Nets when the NBA returns this July.

Drew Maresca

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The NBA season appears ready to resume. It looks set to do so in Walt Disney World (Orlando, Florida), and it may or may not consist of all 30 teams.

While the details aren’t entirely ironed out, it seems to no longer be the question of if, but when for the 2019-20 season’s return. With that in mind, Basketball Insiders has set out to identify the x-factors of each team in their respective quests to qualify for and advance in the 2020 NBA Playoffs. We’ve already covered the New Orleans Pelicans and Portland Trail Blazers. Next up, we turn out attention to the most controversial of the whole bunch – the Brooklyn Nets.

The Nets are currently 30-34 – a significant step back from the winning season they posted in the previous season (42-40). But injuries and acclimating to new star players cost them dearly. Fortunately for the Nets, they are still either the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference or 15th in the league overall, depending on how the playoffs are to be seeded – but either way they’ll pick up where they left off or qualify for the postseason, facing off against either the Toronto Raptors or the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Nets have as much to gain from the two-month-long, COVID-19-related interruption as anyone. But they also have plenty of unanswered questions – and big ones at that. Questions include, “How effectively will Jacque Vaughn take over in Kenny Atkinson’s place?” and “Will Jarrett Allen’s relegation to the bench continue? If so, will it adversely affect team chemistry?” But somehow, those aren’t even the team’s biggest x-factors.

Their first x-factor is their biggest – almost literally. It’s also, figuratively, the NBA’s biggest x-factor—and it’s not even close. It’s Kevin Durant. When healthy, Durant is one of the three best players on the planet – even with LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo. But just how good is he? Well, he’s good for 27 points and 7 rebounds per game across his entire 12-year career. He also dealt 5.9 assists per game in 2018-19 on average – a career-high. He’s long, scores in every way imaginable, defends and plays better in the clutch – to which his two-NBA Finals MVP awards speak.

But enough about Durant’s abilities, will he be ready to play?  Unfortunately for Brooklyn, it’s unclear if its newest and shiniest toy is ready to be unboxed. Durant tragically ruptured his Achilles tendon in Game 5 of last year’s NBA Finals, and he hasn’t played since. Durant’s representatives did an excellent job of managing expectations, clearly stating that — regardless of circumstance — Durant was unlikely to return at all in 2019-20.

And all was well in Brooklyn. The Nets still had to work Kyrie Irving into their rotation, and they were clearly on board with Durant’s rehab plan. The media’s expectations have been tempered, leading to a more seamless rehabilitation schedule, and it was widely known that Durant would not return before the start of 2020-21.

But expectations change quickly in New York. First, we saw leaked videos featuring Durant working out painlessly on the basketball court, in which he was running and jumping. And then, COVID-19 turned our worlds upside down. It put the entire NBA season and just about everything else on hold. As we approached the light at the end of the tunnel that is the NBA season, the NBA universe began considering what finishing the season would mean to players and staff. Paramount in that series of questions is one that greatly affects the Nets – does the late-July start date for the return of the NBA season give Durant enough extra time rehabbing his Achilles to come back this season?

Unfortunately for Brooklyn – as well as the broader basketball community – the answer is probably “no.” The risk is too great. As unique and talented as Durant is, he’s also bound to be out of basketball shape. The speed of the game would be a challenging adjustment, even if he is fully healed. After all, healthy and ready are worlds apart. But nothing’s been decided yet, and that means there’s still a chance. And it’s ultimately, entirely up to Durant – who’s been unsurprisingly tight-lipped.

If Durant does return, he would headline a pretty deep and very talented roster. But Durant along doesn’t make the 30-34 Nets a contender all by himself. He needs at least one other piece to do so, which leads us to Brooklyn’s other major x-factor – Kyrie Irving.

Like Durant, Irving alone doesn’t make the Nets a contender – we actually have more evidence of this given that the Nets were only 4-7 through Irving’s first 11 games before he suffered an injury. But Irving played incredibly in that time, averaging 28.5 points, 7.2 assists and 5.4 rebounds. Maybe the problem was less Irving and more the team’s ability to fit around him? Then again, maybe not. Either way, Irving is an obviously special player who can steal away an opponent’s momentum in the blink of an eye. And like Durant, Irving thrives on clutch situations, sporting a few highlight-worthy crunch-time moments and one legendary game-winner in the 2016 NBA Finals.

So how is Irving an x-factor? After starting out the season on fire, Irving missed 26 consecutive games with a shoulder injury. He returned to play in nine games in early 2020 before opting for surgery to repair his injured shoulder on March 3. The New York Daily News reported in April that Irving would be sidelined for approximately six months, which means Irving shouldn’t be ready to return until September.

Still, it’s within the realm of possibilities that Irving opts to speed up his rehab schedule. After all, allowing an entire season to go to waste with the core and role players that Brooklyn has under contract is unwise. Championship windows aren’t open forever. Granted, this season was always seen as a throwaway for Brooklyn. But making a run this season is kind of like betting with house money. Ultimately, if one of Durant and Irving want to return, expect the other to follow.

So assuming they’re healthy enough to do so,  what would the Nets chances be with them both back in the fold? The less-likely scenario is unfortunately the more interesting one. And it’s against the Lakers.

The Lakers are clearly the favorites – even with Durant and Irving dressing for the other side. They have the league’s best player and its most dominant big man, respectively. And while Irving and Durant would be healthy, the time off would have likely aided James more than anyone.  So if the NBA decides to re-seed all 16 playoff teams and Durant and Irving can return, the Nets face a very tough decision.

But the other possibility is more likely, and it provides an easier first-round matchup with the Raptors. This writer was down on the Raptors all season, and they made sure to prove me wrong at just about every possible juncture to do so. But the fact remains – they’re not as good as their record indicates. They’re 46-18 this season, good for the second-best record in the East and third-best in the entire league. They’re quite good – but they just don’t have the horsepower to play with the elite teams in the league (e.g., Lakers, Clippers, Bucks, against whom they are a collect 1-4). When Leonard left, so too did any hopes of winning another championship with this particular unit. The thought of facing off against Durant and Irving has probably haunted Masai Ujiri and Nick Nurse since the idea first entered their brains a month or so ago.

This isn’t predicting an upset, but let’s put it like this: if Durant returns, I would advise bettors to steer clear of this matchup. And if Durant and Irving lead a first-round upset, they’ll enter the Eastern Conference semifinals (or the equivalent of them) with serious momentum and nothing to lose – and that’s a dangerous combination.

One way or the other, the NBA season will be back this summer. As much as this season will always carry an asterisk, it will still end with an NBA champion being crowned.

And that matters to the players — asterisk or not.

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The X-Factors: Portland

Spencer Davies continues Basketball Insiders’ “X-Factor” series by looking at potential game-changers for the Portland Trail Blazers when the NBA returns.

Spencer Davies

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Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

That’s probably an appropriate way to characterize the steam that’s been picking up over the last week regarding the eventual return of the NBA. What the plan exactly will be is yet to be determined, but there are potential scenarios surfacing left and right. And with the NHL officially having a resumption blueprint set in stone, we’re probably not too far away from learning The Association’s fate.

In an effort to prepare ourselves for that day, Basketball Insiders has begun an x-factor series for each team around the current playoff picture. Basically, “if this happens…” or “what if this player is healthy?” type of scenarios are what we’re looking at. Ben Nadeau kicked us off Tuesday with Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans. Today, we’re going to look at the Portland Trail Blazers, who are in a similar situation out in the Western Conference.

Scratching and clawing for that final seed to make the postseason for the seventh straight season, the Blazers have work to do at 29-37. They’re going to need help in the standings race with several other squads surrounding them chasing after the same thing. Along with the Pelicans and Sacramento Kings, Portland is 3.5 games back of the West’s eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies. Even the San Antonio Spurs are hanging by a thread with their playoff streak in jeopardy with a four-game hole in the standings.

We can technically call this our first dependent situation. There is going to be a ton of schedule watching around these five teams. It’s all contingent on the NBA’s decision about how to go about a return — a 72-game benchmark, a play-in tournament, straight to the postseason, etc. Who’s going to have an easier schedule? Who’s going to have more games to play and increase their chances?

For example, the Blazers could have six games left to play to make up that gap on the Grizzlies, a team that was next up on their list in a pivotal head-to-head scenario. The Spurs, however, would have nine games to try and right the ship — by far the highest amount of contests in comparison to the four others they’re fighting against. None of this is concrete because we don’t know what solution the league is going to agree upon; that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t come to mind as a hypothetical.

Then, there’s that Damian Lillard guy. You know, the dude that is Portland’s franchise. The man that went on a mid-January to early February eight-game run where he absurdly averaged over 45 points, 9.6 assists and 5.5 rebounds, while nailing 53 percent of both his field goals and three-balls. He averaged 40 minutes in this stretch, quite literally putting the team on his back to keep pace with the surging Grizzlies.

Lillard’s publicly come out and said flat-out that if the league elects to go with the benchmark idea, he wouldn’t participate. He’d gladly support his teammates and join them, just not on the court for games. Speaking with Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, the All-Star point guard expressed his desire for a tournament-style setup where there are playoff implications on the line. Suiting up to satisfy certain criteria with no incentive isn’t his preferred method of return. He wants to compete and, considering the effect of rustiness and other unknowns that could play a factor in these hypothetical matchups, Lillard would love for Portland to be the group that knocks others out unexpectedly.

Let’s not forget that the Blazers could have two starting-caliber players back that would’ve made their return from injury at some point this past March, either. Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins have their own specific capabilities that can dramatically improve what the team’s been missing since the beginning of the year.

Nurkic is an outstanding interior presence that brings physicality and finishing ability, as well as a big body to secure rebounds and dare opponents to come into the paint. This is no knock on Hassan Whiteside, who has arguably had the best season of his career as a blocking and boarding machine. It’s more about the lack of depth behind him, which is where Nurkic can step right in without Portland losing its reliability at the five. It’s been a revolving door at backup center for the Blazers, which has allowed the opposition to attack at will and get easy buckets. Nurkic’s return will shut that right off, as well as give the second unit a reliable scoring option.

Collins, his frontcourt partner, was supposed to have a breakout campaign in store for the league. Instead, the athletic third-year big man suffered a dislocated left shoulder just three games into the season. While it has sidelined him since then, he was targeting March as a return target. Obviously, with the league suspending operations, that didn’t happen as planned. But with the calendar turning to June in less than a week, and with his optimism shining through his rehab, it’s probably OK to assume Collins is close to being in the clear for a comeback.

Collins brings things to the table that neither Nurkic nor Whiteside does — an ability to stretch the floor being the most obvious skill that stands out. He can knock down triples at a decent rate and, more importantly, create space for Lillard and CJ McCollum to operate. The 6-foot-11 power forward has quicker foot speed than the other bigs Portland has, too.

Though the Blazers should be plenty excited about Nurkic and Collins’ impending return, they also have to be realistic about how much those two will play. We already mentioned Collins’ shoulder dislocation, but Nurkic hasn’t been on the floor since Mar. 25 of last year. Terry Stotts and his coaching staff will have to pay close attention to each of their minutes. How that whole situation is handled will be crucial to ensure there’s no long-term damage done for any party.

Just like the rest of their competition, the Blazers will have to also monitor how their older veterans handle ramping things back up again. Carmelo Anthony and Trevor Ariza are both in their mid-30s and have taken on a heavy minute load. They are starters who average over 30 minutes per game that just abruptly stopped playing for months. It isn’t going to be easy on anybody, but the younger players can probably recover and restart easier than those seasoned vets.

Gary Trent Jr. and Anfernee Simons are likely to come out of this hiatus with the most energy out of anybody simply because they’re the youngest guys on the team. We all know how hungry the dynamic duo of Lillard and McCollum is going to be. It’s exciting to think about.

All we can do now is wait to find out what the next steps are toward a restart.

Luckily for us, that news might not be too far away.

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The X-Factors: New Orleans

Ben Nadeau kicks off a new Basketball Insiders series by examining potential game-changers for when the NBA resumes play.

Ben Nadeau

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Basketball is back, baby.

Well, sorta. OK, actually, not really. But they’re talking about it. Finally.

Beyond that, they’re apparently making true, meaningful progress. And although the NBA is circling through potential scenarios — bubble games, re-seeding, ignoring conferences, etc. — there’s a very real chance that this shindig gets underway by mid-July.

To celebrate the re-arrival of actual talk and analysis, Basketball Insiders is kicking off its newest series — this time, one that focuses on a real-life hypothetical. The idea of an x-factor is inherently goofy, typically leading to sentences like: “Well, if Player Z hits 43 percent of his three-pointers, they’ll be tough to beat.” And, yeah, duh.

Given the sport-wide break, there are some perfectly valid questions to be asked. For example, with an extra two months off, where does Victor Oladipo’s health stand? If he’s fully healthy, the Indiana Pacers are going to be a whirlwind of a problem for their higher-seeded first-round matchup. Could the return of Jonathan Isaac to the Orlando Magic ensure their postseason place? And, finally, Kevin Durant – a decision that looms large over every other potential proceeding.

But that’s not why we’ve gathered at this particular URL right now – that would be to discuss the New Orleans Pelicans, a franchise that currently finds itself 3.5 games out of the final playoff spot. Naturally, any chance for success depends on the NBA ratifying a plan that behooves the Pelicans’ hopes. Whether that’s a return to the regular season or a totally-invented play-in series, it doesn’t matter as New Orleans needs some help outside of their own good fortunes.

Should they get the opportunity to control their own fate, there’d be plenty to research and anoint as a Holier Than Thou X-Factor. We could talk about J.J. Redick’s 45.2 percent mark from three-point range or how his 110 postseason games are 28 more than the rest of the roster combined.

Maybe there’d be a paragraph or two on Brandon Ingram’s steady ascent to stardom. Ingram’s post-Los Angeles quest to become a sure-fire No. 1 option has been a compelling narrative, but can he do it when the games matter most? Lonzo Ball, the playmaking point guard, knocked down 21 of his 36 attempts from deep over the final four Pelicans games — if that were a permanent level of consistency for the pass-first general, then that would change everything, too.

And Jrue Holiday, the remaining cornerstone following the departure of Anthony Davis, would get his first chance to anoint himself as a hero in the football-heavy city. Surely, if the Pelicans are to sneak into the altered postseason — and, dare we say it, make some noise — those would be important conditions to quantify.

Still, for all the positives, negatives and worthy storylines out there for New Orleans, not a single one matters as much as Zion Williamson does.

Since the 19-year-old phenom debuted on Jan. 22, the Pelicans went 11-9. It’s not a spectacular showing, but one dragged down by losses to the Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets, Milwaukee Bucks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers twice. Generally speaking, however, Williamson wasted no time acclimating to the NBA and the numbers speak for themselves: 23.6 points and 6.8 rebounds on 56.9 percent shooting.

The highlights include the 35 points he hung on the Lakers and six other occasions of 25 or more in just 19 games. Moreover, Williamson has only scored under 20 points on three occasions and shot worse than 50 percent twice — once 8-for-18 (44) in the other showing versus Los Angeles and a tough 5-for-19 effort (26.3) against the league-leading Bucks. Of course, if they hobbled into the postseason, they’d have to play those very same Lakers over and over again.

Alas, the so-called chosen one will have his fair share of questions when the season resumes. Remember that 4-for-4 explosion against the San Antonio Spurs in his career debut? Well, he’s just 2-for-9 otherwise, often going entire games without even hoisting from long range. Williamson wasn’t supposed to enter professional basketball as a three-point marksman, but that epic – and believe us, we don’t use that word lightly – introduction might have skewed the outlook.

At Duke, Williamson went just 24-for-71 (33.8 percent) from deep and it’ll be a weak link that follows him – just as it does Ben Simmons – for the time being. Free throws weren’t expected to be a major, glaring issue either as he hit on 64 percent in college and, well, he’s right around the same mark currently. If you ignore 1-for-6 and 3-for-8 showings during a couple of double-digit victories versus the Boston Celtics and Golden State Warriors, that number looks even better too.

But enough about the few cons – of which Williamson has certainly made a focus during his quarantine workouts – what’s the ceiling? And how much should we be pulling for a postseason debut here? In a crazy campaign like this, the added bonus of Williamson-made magic might be a thread worth pulling for – even at the rejection of a Ja Morant-led foray instead.

Needless to say, if the resumed regular scenario arrives and the Pelicans have just five or so attempts to make up a 3.5 game deficit in the standings, Williamson probably wouldn’t play at all. It’s also certainly possible that the rookie was just shaking off the rust before — just ask the aforementioned Oladipo. After taking an entire year to recover from a brutal ruptured tendon, the former All-Star only averaged 13.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.1 assists on 39.1 percent shooting, all would-be career-lows.

Bet your bottom dollar, however, that with an extra 60 days of training at full speed under his belt, Oladipo will be closer to 100 percent than ever – a much-needed boost to an already well-rounded Pacers side. Could a trained-up Williamson provide the same type of edge? Upon his debut, one of the few worries that lingered – aside from re-injury – was about his perceived stamina and fatigue. Getting dropped into high-intensity workouts against adults twice your age is no joke, but try it after three months of rehab following a preseason meniscus tear.

With that context, the fact that Williams averaged 20-plus points on nearly 30 minutes per game is a superhero-level accomplishment.

At 37.2 percent, the Pelicans are the NBA’s fourth-best three-point shooting franchise – so even if Williamson doesn’t come back ready to unleash from deep, his team will be. On top of that, New Orleans’ 116.2 points per game are tied for fourth-best, too. Between Williamson, Holiday, Ball, Ingram and Redick, scoring appears to be the least of their issues headed into a restarted season.

But the defensive rating of 111.6 is a cause for concern, the second-worst standing of any team still within arm’s reach of the postseason (Portland, 113.6). Williamson has posted an encouraging mark of 103.1 on that end through 19 games, which also happens to be the highest mark of anybody employed by New Orleans right now.

In fact, Williamson’s multi-position defense and overall athleticism have already left quite the footprint. Since his debut in January, the Pelicans have posted a defensive rating of 109.2 – good enough for the No. 8 spot across the entire league. The Williamson Effect is here to stay and it’ll only improve as the roster meshes and the rookie acclimates even further – that seems to be a foregone conclusion.

If you thought Williamson was impressive coming off a serious injury with no stamina, his elevated play – whether in assumed individual efficiencies or overall team impact – could push the Pelicans into new territory. Elsewhere, there are aspects of New Orleans that deserve attention but none are as postseason-transforming as the second return of Williamson – let us just hope that the NBA provides a stage for the show.

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