Lin Ready for Fresh Start With Lakers
It is 2 a.m. on July 12 and Jeremy Lin is asleep in his Beijing hotel room. He’s in the midst of his annual Asia tour, which spans several weeks and features basketball clinics and publicity events across China and Taiwan, so he’ll take every moment of shuteye he can get. The trip is going well, allowing Lin to escape from all of the drama back home – the constant trade rumors, the controversy over the Houston Rockets using his jersey number to recruit Carmelo Anthony and the comments from Daryl Morey hinting a Lin trade was inevitable because “it’s just math.”
Here, thousands of miles away, Lin can relax and not worry about all of that.
At least, that’s what he had hoped.
Moments later, Lin is awakened. His cell phone starts ringing and buzzing non-stop. He knows it could only mean one thing. He recognizes his agent’s number and answers the phone. Just as he had suspected, the Rockets have traded him. Lin had seen the writing on the wall for quite some time, he just wasn’t sure when the move would be finalized or which team would acquire him. His agent tells him that he is being dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers. Lin proceeds to wake up his family, friends and associates to share the news. By the next morning, he is on a flight to Los Angeles to take a physical.
While it’s never fun to get that kind of life-changing phone call at 2 a.m. on the opposite end of the world, Lin couldn’t contain his excitement when he heard he was L.A.-bound. The 25-year-old had no idea where Houston was going to ship him, but he was ecstatic when he found out that his next team would be the Lakers. He would get to return to California, where he was born and raised, and learn from future Hall of Fame guards like Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash. He also recognized that he would have an excellent opportunity to contribute in Los Angeles, since Nash’s injuries have left the team searching for a starting point guard. Throw in the franchise’s incredible history and the national exposure that comes with donning purple and gold and it seems like the perfect landing spot for Lin.
“I was extremely excited,” Lin told Basketball Insiders in a phone interview. “I thought it was great for me to have a new opportunity and a new situation, and I thought that would be an awesome start. I thought it would be cool, obviously, going to L.A. since I’m from California and I have a lot of friends and family out there. I thought it would be a great opportunity playing-wise too, so I was really excited and ready to get out there.
“I mean, it’s by far the most prestigious organization I’ve ever been a part of, obviously with all of the championships and just the level that it’s traditionally been known to be at. I think it’s a challenge for us to get the team back to where it was before and I think we have an opportunity to really surprise people this year. I think people aren’t expecting too much from us, and maybe they shouldn’t, but we’re hoping that we obviously do a lot better than anticipated.”
People often forget that Lin is just 25 years old and that he has only started 140 games throughout the course of his four-year career. Linsanity – his epic run with the New York Knicks – made him a household name, but it’s important to realize that he’s still a young player whose best basketball is likely still ahead of him. He’s looking forward to continuing his development in Los Angeles.
“I definitely don’t think I’m close to my prime yet,” Lin said with a laugh. “I’m 25 years old and I think because of the way things have happened, people always think I’m older or I’ve been around longer than I really have. I’ve played two full seasons in the NBA – two full seasons and those 25 games in New York. I guess people have been very quick to write me off just because they saw how it started and then they saw what I was like in Houston, but I have to just keep reminding myself it’s a marathon. If, God willing, I can still play another 10 years, I think it’s just the beginning for me.”
As he continues to expand his game, he’ll have two Hall of Fame guards alongside him in the backcourt, which should do wonders for his development. Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant have been injured in recent years, but Lin is hoping to pick their brains and learn as much as he can from his legendary teammates.
“It’s really exciting,” Lin said of playing with Bryant and Nash. “What can’t you learn from them? People have been asking that question a lot, and it’s kind of, like, I want to learn everything. Kobe is a little different just because he’s a different position, but there’s just so much from a mental aspect and from like a recovery standpoint and so many different things like footwork [that he can teach me]. There are things that both of them can teach me, so I’m actually really, really excited. I’m hoping our team gets out there early or something before camp so I can start spending more time with them right away.”
Last season, Lin averaged 12.5 points and 4.1 assists in 71 games for the Rockets. He came off of the bench behind Patrick Beverley for much of the season, but was serviceable when put in the starting lineup, averaging 14.2 points and 4.5 assists in 33 starts. He had several monster games that got the fans dreaming of Linsanity 2.0, such as a back-to-back in November in which he had 34 points, 11 assists and 5 rebounds against the Philadelphia 76ers, just one game after he poured in 31 points on 10-17 shooting against the Toronto Raptors.
However, even though he experienced some success in Houston and emerged as a contributor, he’s not surprised that his time with the Rockets came to an end. He realized that he wasn’t part of their long-term plan and now he’s just happy to move on and be out of the rumor mill.
“The writing was kind of on the wall,” Lin said of his time in Houston. “For me, I just felt like they were heading in a different direction, which is okay and I totally understand it from a business standpoint. They want to get that third superstar and so I think guys like me, Omer [Asik] and Chandler [Parsons], we knew that they wanted a third superstar, that was no secret, and we knew it would be hard to keep us if they were to do that. I think maybe the thing I was most shocked by is that they didn’t get the third superstar, but they lost what they traded away anyway. I thought for sure they would get a third superstar, I just didn’t know who. I kind of felt like the writing was on the wall for me and that my time in Houston was winding down.”
The Lakers recently named Byron Scott the team’s new head coach, and the two men can’t wait to work together. Scott has worked with a number of star-level point guards throughout his coaching career, including Jason Kidd on the Nets, Chris Paul on the Hornets and Kyrie Irving on the Cavaliers.
“The thing I like about Jeremy is that he’s feisty,” Scott said. “He’s tough. He competes. I’ve coached against him in a number of games, so I know how he is. He’s a competitor. The point guard position in this league today, on the defensive end, is vital. Guys don’t have to be great one-on-one defenders, but they have to go after you. They have to just continue to be persistent at that end of the floor. I think Jeremy is like that, and offensively, obviously he can shoot the ball, he can push the ball up and down the floor, he gets to the basket and he’s a very, very intelligent basketball player. After coaching against him for a few years, it’s going to be fun to coach him.”
“I think it’s great,” Lin said of the decision to hire Scott. “I think the first thing that he talked about from a public standpoint was reestablishing the franchise, the team and the emphasis on defense. I think that’s great, and I think that’s how you have to win games. If you look at the top four teams, the top two from the East and the top two from the West, they’re always top five, top 10, in the NBA in defensive efficiency. I know that’s been one of my weaknesses in the past, but I truly believe I’m a much better defensive player now and I think I’ll be able to contribute a lot to this team.”
Lin has made the playoffs over the last two seasons with the Rockets, and he’s expecting to do the same with the Lakers even in the insanely competitive Western Conference. He knows it will take a huge leap in the standings considering L.A. is coming off of a franchise-worst 27-55 record, but he’s optimistic that the pieces are in place for a postseason run. When asked if making the playoffs is his top goal entering the 2014-15 season, Lin doesn’t hesitate.
“Yeah, it is, for me,” Lin said. “I haven’t spoken with my teammates about what our team goal is, but I don’t ever go into a season not expecting to fight for a playoff spot, and I think we have the pieces. I think Carlos Boozer is just, like, really good. I don’t know; people seem to be [doubting him]. Maybe his stock has fallen over the last couple of years, but people forget he’s a career 18 and nine guy. He puts up numbers like that. And I heard Kobe is healthy, so I think we’ll be just fine.”
Lin’s life has been a whirlwind since his breakout 25-game stint with the Knicks back in the 2011-12 season. His ascent to stardom was so unique because it basically happened overnight. One day, he’s the undrafted kid out of Harvard who is riding the Knicks’ bench and being stopped by security on the way into Madison Square Garden. Then, all of a sudden, he’s one of the most recognizable faces on earth and everybody’s favorite underdog. He still has to pinch himself sometimes to confirm that this is all real.
“Does this ever feel surreal?” I asked him.
“Yeah, every day. Every day,” Lin said with a laugh. “Every day it’s something a little different, you know I might just be walking around and there might be someone who’s just like over-the-top excited, or I might go on an Asia trip and fans are going crazy, or it might just be like me at home on a computer and I might look and see all the adidas stuff that I have and just the fact that I have an endorsement. There are just so many reminders of how crazy this journey has been. There are definitely times when I still have to remind myself like, ‘Wow, this is real.’
“It’s a journey. I’m going through it together with my family and friends because I’m not the only one affected. My family and my friends, they are all affected and we’ve all had to go through similar things in terms of learning how to navigate this world and being able to figure out who to trust and how to put ourselves in good positions versus risky positions. I think we all are going to go through this journey, this process, together and we’re all learning together and I think that makes it easier because it’s not really squarely on my shoulders. I do think, in a sense, my family and close friends still see me the same, they still see me as more like kid Jeremy, or whatever, so I don’t think they see me that differently. They’re not like, ‘Oh wow, we’re going to treat you differently because of this or that.’”
Early on, Lin would get very stressed out trying to juggle all of the demands and pressure that come with being in the spotlight. Everyone wants a piece of his time. At one point, during the height of Linsanity, club promoters were offering a ridiculous sum – over $1,000 – to anyone who could pass along Lin’s phone number.
Speaking of ridiculous, consider this. There’s a chance that Lin may be voted on to the Western Conference All-Star team this season as a starter. That may seem crazy when you look at some of the other guards in the conference, but he racked up 883,809 votes last year – third behind only Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul. Now, with the combined support of Lakers Nation and the international audience, Lin may be able to get the necessary votes to be an All-Star.
As crazy as things can get, Lin has gotten used to the lifestyle and grown accustomed to these previously-unfamiliar situations.
“I think being overwhelmed is just part of it,” Lin said. “Theoretically, I like to say, ‘Make sure I never get overwhelmed,’ but the fact of the matter is that’s going to happen. It’s going to happen quite often. I think it’s more just how you deal with it and building a support network around it, and being able to deal with certain situations. I’m not always going to control the situations, but how I handle those situations, I think I’m getting better at it, growing and I think that’s where the spiritual aspect of things helps me a lot, just being able to deal with the stress and the pressure.”
Lin’s laid-back attitude helps him decompress. He doesn’t worry about critics or things that are out of his control, and that has removed a lot of unnecessary stress from his life.
“I used to get pretty upset [at haters] or maybe not understand where the hate was coming from,” Lin said. “It didn’t seem like it made sense to me. I felt like the reasons for hate weren’t anything necessarily related to, like, a bad decision or anything from my end, it was just maybe more because of the attention. But again that’s one of those things where it’s kind of like, it happened, it is what it is and that’s just part of life. I’m not really going to talk about that anymore.”
Now, Lin seems to block out critics and not worry about what they think. When asked if he feels he has proven that he’s a starting-caliber point guard in the NBA, Lin’s answer is somewhat surprising.
“You know what, that’s a good question; I don’t know and I don’t think I actually care anymore, and I think that’s just where I’m at in my life,” Lin said. “I don’t care to figure out what the answer to that question is anymore. Before I [had] kind of like a chip on my shoulder, things to prove, people to prove wrong. Now, I’m just like when I get out there I’m going to play and everyone’s going to formulate their own opinion and it’s going to change every single day. I don’t think my own opinion of myself has ever changed. I still believe I am capable of that. But that’s just me, that’s if you ask me. I’m not really worried about what everyone else is thinking anymore.”
Lin is focused on things that he can control. He’s training every day in Palo Alto, which is where he works out every offseason.
“I’m here every summer,” Lin said. “I’m just working on my floater, my defense, my three-point percentage and my left hand. Those are the top four things.”
When he’s not working out, he spends some time watching film and breaking down his game. I asked him if he ever watches footage from those 25 Knicks games when Linsanity blew up.
“Rarely,” Lin said. “Every once in a while, but not very often. Sometimes I go back to kind of look at things I did well, or different things, different moves, certain things that I’ve kind of gotten away from. More like when I create my summer workouts, or me and my trainer, we kind of talk about what we want to work on, and every once in a while I’ll go back and take a look to see if there’s anything I used to do that was really effective that I’ve gotten away from. But no, I’m not really sitting there reliving the past, re-watching my film.”
Lin is focused on the future, and for good reason. He’s nearing his prime and entering a perfect situation. He’ll get minutes, playing for the NBA’s most prestigious franchise on basketball’s biggest stage. He’ll be on national television consistently and have the opportunity to prove that his past success wasn’t some fluke. All eyes will be on Lin this season and he’s determined to make the most of the opportunity that he’s been presented.
Lakers Work Out Michael Beasley
The Los Angeles Lakers worked out Michael Beasley at their El Segundo, California, practice facility on Wednesday afternoon, sources close to the situation confirm. The workout was first reported by Dave McMenamin of ESPNLA.com.
The Lakers had been expressing interest in Beasley for several days, but nothing is imminent between the two parties. Beasley is also receiving interest from several other franchises and continues to weigh his options, according to sources.
Even though the former No. 2 overall pick’s career hasn’t gone exactly as planned, he’s still intriguing to executives. He’s only 25 years old and remains incredibly talented.
Teams were also impressed with Beasley’s stint with the Miami HEAT in the 2013-14 season, during which the forward played efficient basketball (shooting a career-best field goal percentage and finishing top 10 among small forwards in efficiency rating) and displayed maturity when asked to handle a reduced role on the contending team.
Beasley is currently working out in Los Angeles with his childhood friend Kevin Durant. He continues to field interest from teams and weigh his free agency options.
The Lakers currently have 12 players under contract for the 2014-15 season, with $67,361,996 in guaranteed commitments.
Dahntay Jones Shines at Open Workout
Several weeks ago, unrestricted free agent Brandon Rush scheduled an open workout during the Las Vegas Summer League, hoping to temporarily draw some executives away from the Thomas and Mack Center and display his skill set at the nearby Impact Basketball facility.
The workout was a huge success, with over 15 teams in attendance, and Rush ultimately inked a new contract with the Golden State Warriors that evening.
Now, Dahntay Jones is hoping for similar results. The 33-year-old held an open workout for teams this afternoon and looked good, according to league sources.
A number of teams were in attendance for Jones’ workout, including the Sacramento Kings, Cleveland Cavaliers, San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Washington Wizards among others.
Jones has appeared in nearly 600 NBA games over the course of his 10-year NBA career, averaging 5.6 points. He has had stints with the Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings, Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks.
Reviewing the Nurkic Trade: Denver’s Perspective
The Denver Nuggets have been on a miraculous run this postseason, but that doesn’t mean that they’re infallible. Drew Maresca reviews the 2017 trade that sent Jusuf Nurkic from Denver to Portland.
The Denver Nuggets are fresh off of a 114-106 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, pulling within three wins of the franchise’s first trip to the NBA Finals. But what if I told you that the Nuggets’ roster could be even more talented by acting more deliberately in a trade from three years ago?
While Denver won on Tuesday night, they lost a nail bitter on Sunday – for which most of the blame has been pointed at a defensive breakdown by Nuggets’ center Mason Plumlee, who was procured in the aforementioned 2017 trade. What did it cost Denver, you ask? Just Jusuf Nurkic and a first-round pick.
Nurkic was a 2014-15 All-Rookie second team member. He played 139 games over 2.5 seasons in Denver, averaging 7.5 points and 5.9 rebounds in approximately 18 minutes per game. He showed serious promise, but Denver had numerous reasons to pursue a trade: he’d suffered a few relatively serious injuries early in his career (and he’s continued to be injury-prone in Portland), butted heads with head coach Michael Malone and – most importantly – the Nuggets stumbled on to Nikola Jokic.
The Nuggets eventually attempted a twin-tower strategy with both in the starting line-up, but that experiment was short-lived — with Jokic ultimately asking to move to the team’s second unit.
The Nuggets traded Nurkic to the Portland Trail Blazers in February 2017 (along with a first-round pick) in exchange for Plumlee, a second-round pick and cash considerations. Ironically, the first-round pick included in the deal became Justin Jackson, who was used to procure another center, Zach Collins – but more on that in a bit.
As of February 2017, Plumlee was considered the better player of the two. He was averaging a career-high 11 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists through 54 games – but it was clear that at 27, he’d already maximized his talent.
Conversely, Nurkic was only 23 at the time of the trade with significant, untapped upside. In his first few seasons with Portland, Nurkic averaged 15 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, while establishing himself as a rising star. As noted above, injuries have continued to be a problem. Nurkic suffered a compound fracture in his tibia and fibula in March 2019, forcing him to miss a majority of this current campaign. The COVID-19-related play stoppage in March gave Nurkic extra time to get his body right, and he returned to action in July inside the bubble.
And he did so with a vengeance. Nurkic demonstrated superior strength and footwork, and he flashed the dominance that Portland hoped he would develop, posting eight double-doubles in 18 contests. He averaged 17.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per game and while his play dipped a bit in the playoffs – partially due to a matchup with first-team All-NBA star Anthony Davis – he still managed 14.2 points and 10.4 rebounds in the five-game series. So it’s fair to say that Nurkic is still on his way toward stardom.
But the Nuggets are in the conference finals – so all’s well that ends well, right? Not so fast. To his credit, Plumlee is exactly who Denver expected him to be. He’s averaged 7.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in three seasons with Denver since 2017 – but to be fair, Plumlee is asked to do less in Denver than he had in Portland. Still, it’s fairly obvious that they’re just not that comparable.
Plumlee is a good passer and an above-average defender that’ll compete hard and isn’t afraid to get dirty – but he has limitations. He doesn’t stretch the floor and he is a sub-par free throw shooter (53.5 percent in 2019-20). More importantly, he’s simply not a major offensive threat and his repertoire of moves is limited.
High-level takeaway: Defenses tend to game plan for opponents they view as major threats – Nurkic falls into this category. Other guys pack the stat sheet through putback attempts, open looks and single coverage alongside the guys for whom opposing defenses game plan – that’s a more appropriate description of Plumlee.
On to the wrench thrown in by Zach Collins’ involvement. Statistically, Collins is about as effective as Plumlee – he averaged 7 points and 6.3 rebounds through only 11 games in 2019-20 due to various injuries – and he possesses more upside. The 22-year-old is not as reliable as Plumlee but given his age and skill set, he’s a far better option as a support player playing off the bench. He stretches the floor (36.8 percent on three-point attempts in 2019-20), is an above-average free throw shooter (75 percent this season) and is a good defender. Looking past Nurkic for a moment, would the Nuggets prefer a 22-year-old center that stretches the floor and defends or a 30-year-old energy guy?
Regardless of your answer to that question, it’s hard to argue that Nurkic should have returned more than Plumlee, definitely so when you factor in the first-round pick Denver included. There is obviously more at play: Denver was probably considering trading Nurkic for some time before they acted – did they feel that they could increase his trade value prior to the trade deadline in 2016-17? Maybe. Further, Nurkic and his agent could have influenced the Nuggets’ decision at the 2017 deadline, threatening to stonewall Denver in negotiations.
Had Nurkic been more patient or the Nuggets acted sooner before it became abundantly clear that he was on the move, Denver’s roster could be even more stacked than it is now. Ultimately, the Nuggets have a plethora of talent and will be fine – while it appears that Nurkic found a long-term home in Portland, where he owns the paint offensively. Denver can’t be thrilled about assisting a division rival, but they’re still in an enviable position today and should be for years to come.
But despite that, this deal should go down as a cautionary tale – it’s not only the bottom feeders of the league who make missteps. Even the savviest of front offices overthink deals. Sometimes that works in their favor, and other times it does not.
NBA Daily: They Guessed Wrong
Matt John reflects on some of the key decisions that were made last summer, and how their disappointing results hurt both team outlooks and players’ legacies.
It doesn’t sound possible, but did you know that the crazy NBA summer of 2019 was, in fact, over a year ago? Wildly, in any normal, non-pandemic season, it all would have been over three months ago and, usually, media days would be right around the corner, but not this time. The 2019-20 NBA season is slated to end sometime in early to mid-October, so the fact that the last NBA off-season was over a year ago hasn’t really dawned on anyone yet. Craziest of all, even though there will still be an offseason, there technically won’t be any summer.
Coronavirus has really messed up the NBA’s order. Of course, there are much worse horrors that COVID-19 has inflicted upon the world – but because of what it’s done to the NBA, let’s focus on that and go back to the summer of 2019. It felt like an eternity, but the Golden State Warriors’ three-year reign had finally reached its end. The Toronto Raptors’ victory over the tyranny that was the Hamptons Five – as battered as they were – made it feel like order had been restored to the NBA. There was more to it than that though.
Klay Thompson’s and Kevin Durant’s season-ending injuries, along with the latter skipping town to join Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn meant two things.
1. Golden State was down for the count
2. Brooklyn’s time wasn’t coming until next year.
A one-year window was open. Even if neither Golden State nor Brooklyn posed the same threat that the former did when it had Kevin Durant, those were two contenders out of commission. If there was a time to go all in, it was in 2019.
Milwaukee certainly seemed to go all in. For the most part. Malcolm Brogdon’s departure seemed a little odd since he was arguably their best non-Giannis playmaker when they were in crunch time. Not to mention there was nothing really stopping the Bucks from keeping him except for money. Detractors will call out Milwaukee for electing to cheap out by not keeping Brogdon and hence, avoiding the luxury tax. However, there’s more to it than that.
Milwaukee thought it had enough with the core it had on its roster. Coming off the best season they had put up since the eighties, they believed the franchise built the right team to contend. There was an argument that keeping Brogdon may have been overkill with their guard depth – let’s not forget that Donte DiVincenzo did a solid job in Brogdon’s role as the backup facilitator. This would have been more defensible had it not been for Milwaukee picking the wrong guy to let go. That was the indefensible part- electing to keep Eric Bledsoe over Brogdon.
Bledsoe wasn’t necessarily a bad investment. No one’s complaining about an almost 15 point average on 47/34/79 splits or playing individual defense tight enough to get named on the All-Defensive second team. By all accounts, Bledsoe earns his keep. That is until the playoffs. Bledsoe’s postseason woes have been a weight ever since he first entered Milwaukee, and this postseason was more of the same.
Bledsoe’s numbers dwindled to just 11.7 points on 39/25/81 splits, and Milwaukee getting ousted in five games at the hands of Miami made his struggles stand out even more than it had ever been. Bledsoe may be the better athlete and the better defender, but Brogdon’s all-around offensive savvy and his only slight dropoff defensively from Brogdon would have made him a bit more reliable.
Milwaukee guessed wrong when they opted to extend Bledsoe before the postseason last year when they could have waited until that very time to evaluate who to keep around. Now they face a hell of a lot more questions than they did at the end of last season – questions that may have been avoided had they made the right choice.
Now they could have kept both of them, yes, but it’s not totally unreasonable to think that maybe their approach with the luxury tax would have worked and maybe they would still be in the postseason right now had they gone with the homegrown talent. And just maybe, there wouldn’t be nearly as much of this Greek Freak uncertainty.
The Houston Rockets can relate. They got bruised up by a team that everyone thought Houston had the edge on going into the series and then crushed by the Lakers. Now, Mike D’Antoni is gone. The full-time small ball experiment likely did not work out. Since the Rockets emptied most of their assets to bring in Russell Westbrook and Robert Covington, there may not be a route in which they can become better than they presently are.
The mistake wasn’t trading for Russell Westbrook. The mistake was trading Chris Paul.
To be fair, most everybody severely overestimated Chris Paul’s decline. He’s not among the best of the best anymore, but he’s still pretty darn close. He deserved his All-NBA second team selection as well as finishing No. 7 overall in MVP voting. OKC had no business being as good as they were this season, and Paul was the driving force as to why.
For all we know, the previously-assumed tension between Chris Paul and James Harden would have made its way onto the court no matter what. Even so, Houston’s biggest obstacle in the Bay Area had crumbled. If they had just stayed the course, maybe they’re still in the postseason too.
To their credit, none of this may have happened had it not been for the Kawhi Leonard decision. Had he chosen differently, the Thunder never blow it up, and Houston might have very well been the favorite in the Western Conference. Instead, the Rockets took a step back from being in the title discussion to dark horse. But at least they can take pride knowing that they weren’t expected to win it all – the Clippers can’t.
Seeing the Clippers fall well short expectations begs the question if they too got it wrong. The answer is, naturally: of course not. They may have paid a hefty price for Paul George, but the only way they were getting Kawhi Leonard – one of the best players of his generation – was if PG-13 came in the package. As lofty as it was, anyone would have done the same thing if they were in their shoes. They didn’t get it wrong. Kawhi did.
On paper, the Clippers had the most talented roster in the entire league. It seemed like they had every hole filled imaginable. Surrounding Leonard and George was three-point shooting, versatility, a productive second unit, an experienced coach – you name it. There was nothing stopping them from breaking the franchise’s long-lasting curse. Except themselves.
Something felt off about them. They alienated opponents. They alienated each other. At times, they played rather lackadaisically, like the title had already been signed, sealed, and delivered to them. The media all assumed they’d cut the malarkey and get their act together – but that moment never really came. They had their chances to put Denver away, but even if they had, after seeing their struggles to beat them – and to be fair Dallas too – would their day of destiny with the Lakers have really lived up to the hype?
Even if it was never in the cards, one can’t help but wonder what could have happened had Kawhi chosen to stay with the team he won his second title with.
Toronto was the most impressive team in this league this season. They still managed to stay at the top of the east in spite of losing an all-timer like Leonard. That team had every component of a winner except a superstar. They had the right culture for a championship team. Just not the right talent. The Clippers were the exact opposite. They had the right talent for a championship team but not the right culture. That’s why the Raptors walked away from the postseason feeling proud of themselves for playing to their full potential while the Clippers writhed in disappointment and angst over their future.
In the end, everyone mentioned here may ultimately blame what happened to their season on the extenuating circumstances from the pandemic. The Bucks’ chemistry never fully returned when the Bubble started. Contracting COVID and dealing with quad problems prevented Westbrook from reviving the MVP-type player he was before the hiatus. As troubling as the Clippers had played, the extra time they would have had to work things out in a normal season was taken away from them.
For all we know, next year will be a completely different story. The Rockets, Bucks, and Kawhi may ultimately have their faith rewarded for what they did in the summer of 2019 – but that will only be mere speculation until the trio can change the story.
Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards
Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.
We got some updated NBA draft news this week when the league announced that several key dates have been pushed back including the draft, the start of free agency and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.
The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 16, but it will now likely occur sometime in November. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wildly out of control in the United States, all of these potential deadlines are fluid and subject to change.
With that said, we’re continuing our position by position breakdown here at Basketball Insiders of some of the top 2020 draft prospects. We looked at the point guards and shooting guards last week, and this week we’re covering the small forwards and power forwards.
The power forward crop, like the draft overall, doesn’t appear to be as strong as recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential contributors and high-level NBA players available, as well as one who might just turn out to be a star-caliber player.
Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old
Okongwu is the player who just might develop into a star on some level. He was actually underrated in high school and was snubbed for a McDonald’s All-American selection his senior year. He established himself early on at USC as the team’s best player as a freshman and now appears to have turned some heads.
He’s been mentioned as a lottery pick and in some mock drafts, he’s top 4-5. He possesses a great all-around skill-set; he can score in the post, he can put the ball on the floor and attack and he can shoot. But perhaps his biggest attribute is his versatility on the defensive end. He’s got quick feet and mobility and can guard multiple positions.
Okongwu might actually play center in the NBA, especially in small-ball lineups, but he’s mostly played power forward and so he’ll probably see time there in the league. His skill-set fits perfectly with today’s game.
Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old
Toppin is one of the older players in the draft, and in recent history, players that age tend to slip on draft boards. In Toppin’s case, it looks like the reverse might actually be true. He’s been projected as a lottery pick, and even going in the top 3.
He’s an incredibly athletic player who thrives in the open court. He looks like he’ll do well in an up-tempo offensive system that has capable playmakers who can find him in transition. He’s extremely active around the rim and he can finish strong. A decent shooter too, something he’ll need at the next level.
Toppin has the physical tools to be an effective defensive player, but that’s where the questions marks on him have been. In the NBA, he’s likely going to have to play and guard multiple positions. Whether or not he can adapt to that likely will answer the question as to what his ceiling can be.
Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old
Achiuwa is another intriguing prospect. this writer actually got to watch him play in person while he was in high school and he was very impressive. He looked like a man among boys. He’s projected to be a late lottery pick.
He has an NBA-ready body and he’s got some toughness around the rim and in the paint. He was a double-double threat during his one season at Memphis and his knack for rebounding is something that should translate to the NBA. He’s a very good defender too, in particular, as a rim protector. He’s very quick and has the ability to guard multiple positions.
One of the main knocks on Achiuwa is his shooting ability. He didn’t shoot that well in college and power forwards being able to space the floor is almost a requirement in today’s NBA game. It’s something he can certainly work on and improve on though.
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old