What aspects of their game are the 2014 NBA Draft prospects working on? Basketball Insiders asked them.
Whose Draft Stock is On the Rise?
The 2014 NBA Draft is one week away, which means teams are starting to zero in on players and prospects are starting to climb based on their performance in the pre-draft process. Here is a look at eight prospects whose stock is on the rise:
Doug McDermott – McDermott is the biggest name on this list and even though he entered the pre-draft process ranked relatively high, his stock is still soaring and it’s very possible that he’ll be picked in the top eight on June 26.
Initially, McDermott was expected to be a mid-to-late first rounder, which wasn’t bad for him considering he’ll be 23 years old in January and there were some questions about the level of competition he dominated against at Creighton.
However, there’s a bit of a love fest going on over McDermott. This started at the NBA combine in Chicago, when McDermott came off incredibly well in interviews. One executive who interviewed McDermott in Chicago said that he and his fellow front office staffers fell in love with the forward during their face-to-face meeting, to the point that the group cheered and high-fived when McDermott correctly answered a tough math question designed to trick players. That’s how likeable this guy is. As a coach’s son, McDermott says all of the right things and carries himself very well, which is an important part of this process.
However, he has also wowed teams on the court and surprised some talent evaluators in workouts. The guy can flat out score the ball and hit shots from anywhere on the court, so it’s no surprise that he has been able to dominate in the workout environment and embarrass some of his peers. One executive recently told me that McDermott is the best shooter to come through the draft in quite awhile. The Creighton star averaged 26.7 points per game as a senior and he never shot below 52.5 percent from the field during his collegiate career. Last season, he hit 44.9 percent of his three-point shots, a number that was actually down from his campaigns as a junior (49 percent) and sophomore (48.6 percent). Not to mention, he’s also a solid rebounder and has an exceptional basketball IQ.
McDermott was able to put up these ridiculous numbers despite being Creighton’s lone NBA prospect. After McDermott, the next highest scorer for the Bluejays was Ethan Wragge, who averaged just 10.4 points. Executives believe that McDermott will be even more of a threat in the NBA since he’ll be surrounded by NBA-caliber players and defenses won’t be throwing the kitchen sink at him.
There’s no question that McDermott’s defense is a concern, but he has vowed to work hard on that end of the floor to improve. As previously mentioned, his age is also a bit scary. How much more room for improvement does he really have? And does it make sense to pick him over one-and-done prospects like Aaron Gordon or Noah Vonleh, both of whom are four years younger than McDermott?
McDermott has been mentioned as a serious option for the Sacramento Kings at No. 8, Charlotte Hornets at No. 9 and Philadelphia 76ers at No. 10. It’s hard to imagine him slipping out of the lottery at this point, and there’s also the possibility that a team will trade up to land McDermott on draft night.
Elfrid Payton – The biggest climber in recent weeks has been Payton, who is now drawing interest from several teams in the teens and even getting serious looks from lottery teams.
Entering his junior season at Louisiana-Lafayette, he was being projected as a second-rounder. After a dominant campaign in which he averaged 19.2 points, six rebounds, 5.9 assists and 2.3 steals while leading ULL to the NCAA Tournament, he was being projected as a late first-round pick. Now, after dominating pre-draft workouts, it’s unlikely that he drops past the Boston Celtics at No. 17 (as a number of people around the NBA have said that this is his floor).
Payton has had the chance to work out against some of the other top point guard prospects in this draft class, including Marcus Smart and Tyler Ennis among others, and he has done a fantastic job. Entering this process, there were some questions about how he would fare against NBA-level competition, since he didn’t face the toughest opposition in college. However, his workouts have erased that concern and now the only question surrounding Payton is just how high will he go on June 26?
After seeing him destroy his peers in workouts, many teams went back to the film to see what they missed on Payton throughout the season. They were reminded that he was one of the best players in the nation last year, ranking 11th in the country in field goals (237), 11th in assists (208), ninth in steals (80) and sixth in points produced (732). His lockdown defense also earned him the Lefty Driesell Award, which is given to college basketball’s top defensive player.
His shot needs some work, but there is just so much to like about Payton. He has the size (6’4), length (6’8 wingspan) and quickness to cause problems in the NBA, and these traits have led to some comparisons to Rajon Rondo (whom Payton says he studies and models his game after). Payton can run the pick-and-roll and facilitate for teammates, and his swarming defense will make his NBA head coach fall in love with him.
Payton is also incredibly tough, which isn’t a surprise when you consider that his father, Elfrid Payton Sr., was a star defensive end in the Canadian Football League, playing from 1991 to 2004 and making seven All-Star appearances throughout his career. He was a two-time Grey Cup champion and was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
Several destinations for Payton include No. 8 to the Sacramento Kings (or slightly below that to the Kings if they trade down), No. 12 to the Orlando Magic, No. 16 to the Chicago Bulls or No. 17 to the aforementioned Celtics.
Rodney Hood – Entering the pre-draft process, Hood was being projected in the 20-25 range, but he has really helped in his draft stock lately. Now, it seems that Hood could go in the late lottery or mid-teens.
Hood has a lot of fans around the NBA, and it’s hard to imagine him falling past the Chicago Bulls at No. 16 given their need for scoring and three-point shooting.
The former Duke forward is automatic shooting the ball from just about anywhere on the court. He has really impressed teams in workouts with his scoring ability, and teams like that his excellent shooting ability is an obvious translatable skill that will help his transition to the league.
Even though Hood’s shooting is his biggest strength, he’s determined to show teams that he’s much more than just a shooter. He’s an efficient scorer with a high basketball IQ, and he has been working hard to improve his ballhandling and finishing at the rim so he can be a more well-rounded scorer. He has also been spending a lot of time in the weight room to bulk up and add some strength to his lanky frame. Hood also believes he’s better defensively than advertised, and throughout this process he has pointed out that he was often tasked with guarding the opponent’s best player on most nights for Duke.
Teams also love Hood’s work ethic and desire to be great. He has been very committed to the pre-draft process, doing two-a-days in the gym at IMG Academy. He has also changed his diet to follow a professional nutrition plan while doing vision training, swimming drills, weightlifting, drills on the IMG football field and more to prepare for the NBA, which proves how serious he is about getting better.
Hood will turn 22 years old in October, which is likely the only reason he isn’t being mentioned as a top-10 pick. Some teams may feel that he doesn’t have the upside of a younger prospect. However, Hood does have a lot of supporters around the NBA and he seems poised to have a long, successful career.
T.J. Warren – If you read a lot of mock drafts, you’ve probably noticed that Warren keeps climbing higher and higher with every new version that comes out.
Initially, he was being projected as a late-first round pick – an attractive prospect for a win-now team like the Houston Rockets, Miami HEAT or Oklahoma City Thunder. Now, you’re starting to see Warren projected to go just outside of the lottery, with teams like the Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls and Phoenix Suns being mentioned as possible landing spots for Warren.
One executive whose team is picking in the late-20s recently told me that they would select Warren in a heartbeat if he fell to them, but that there’s “no way” he’ll be available when they’re on the clock.
Warren is one of the best scorers in the draft, as last season he averaged 24.9 points and led the nation in field goals made (342). He was also one of the most efficient players in the country, finishing with a 31.3 PER that was the second-highest among the draft’s top 100 prospects (behind only Doug McDermott).
Warren scores most of his baskets on two-point jumpers, which is somewhat rare these days since most scorers knock down threes, finish at the rim or get to the foul line. But there’s no question that Warren is extremely skilled and has a great feel for the game. He’s expected to go in the middle of the first round, which is much higher than previously anticipated.
Zach LaVine – It’s easy to see why LaVine’s stock is up. The pre-draft environment is perfect for an athletic freak like LaVine, who can wow teams with his vertical leap and quickness. Teams see his athletic testing (including his 46-inch vertical leap) and wonder just how good he could become in an NBA development program.
Sure, he’s extremely raw and needs a lot of work, but he has certain things that you just can’t teach that are attractive to teams. A team can likely help LaVine improve his jump shot and ballhandling, but they can’t help a more skilled prospect become an athletic specimen who jumps out of the gym.
That’s why LaVine is getting so many looks right now; the draft is all about potential and most teams select players based on who they can become a few years down the road versus who they are now.
In college, LaVine played well in the beginning of the season at UCLA, but came down to earth in a big way late in the year. He isn’t a good shooter, which is a concern, and his assist rate leaves a lot to be desired. There are also concerns about his ability to play point guard in the NBA, since he’s more a combo guard who would need to learn the position and really improve his skills as a floor general.
He’s only 19 years old and teams are excited about his upside, since he has all of the physical tools to be a very solid player in the NBA. The question is, as a boom-or-bust prospect, how high will he go on draft night? He’s someone who makes sense in the 15-20 range, since he’s a low-risk, high-reward pick there and a team can afford to be patient with him as he develops rather than expecting results from day one.
Jarnell Stokes – If you watched this year’s NCAA Tournament, there’s a good chance you know about Stokes. He was the monster for Tennessee who looked like a man among boys and consistently racked up double-doubles. Now, he’s performing similarly well in pre-draft workouts and seems to be solidifying himself as a first-round pick.
For much of the college season, Stokes was being projected as a second-rounder because teams worried that he was a bit undersized as a power forward and they weren’t sure if his skills would translate to the NBA. However, as teams have gotten a chance to see Stokes up close in workouts, they are confident that he can continue to be an interior force at the next level.
Stokes is 6’8.5 with a 7’1.25 wingspan, but it’s his mass and strength that separates him from a lot of big men. He weighs 263 lbs. and is incredibly strong, as evidenced by his 22 bench-press reps at the combine, where the all-time record is 27 reps.
His lower-body strength is ridiculous and his legs literally look like tree trunks, allowing him to move and overpower players who are bigger than him. What’s even more impressive is that Stokes says he had never really done squats until beginning his pre-draft training, which means he should be able to get even stronger once he enters an NBA development program.
Stokes is an excellent scorer and a beast on the offensive glass. He’s also young for a junior at 20 years old. Stokes has been on the NBA radar for quite awhile, since he was one of the top high school players in the 2011 class. This season at Tennessee, he averaged 15.1 points and 10.6 rebounds while shooting 53.1 percent from the field. Several years ago, he wanted to become more of perimeter player and modeled his game after Carmelo Anthony. However, he now understands that he’s at his best down low and he started studying film of Karl Malone and David West during his junior season.
Stokes is drawing interest from a number of teams in the 25-30 range, with the Miami HEAT said to really like him at No. 26. They’ve already worked him out once and are bringing him back for a second workout, which is why you’re starting to see Stokes to Miami in many mock drafts.
In a recent ESPN article by numbers guru Kevin Pelton, Stokes was rated the 12th-best prospect in terms of wins above replacement player projection.
Also, here’s a story to give you of an idea of Stokes’ toughness and competitiveness. He was recently being driven to a workout for the Miami HEAT, when a car came out of nowhere and crashed into his vehicle. Stokes sustained a concussion, lacerations and his face was covered in blood, but he had to be talked into getting into an ambulance to go the hospital because he still wanted to make it to his draft workout. Doctors told him that he would likely need to take three-to-four weeks off, but Stokes was back working out for teams one week later after reshuffling his schedule. That’s the kind of guy that I want on my team.
Shabazz Napier – Napier’s meteoric rise obviously started during the NCAA Tournament, when he shocked the world by leading Connecticut to a championship – his second title in four years.
While his strong play during March Madness certainly helped him a lot, there were still some questions about how he would translate to the NBA given his size and age.
At 6’1 and 175 lbs. with a 6’3.25 wingspan, many talent evaluators felt that he was too small to dominate against NBA opposition like he did in college. He’s also about to turn 23 years old next month, which has teams wondering if he still has much upside, and that doesn’t look great next to teenage point guard prospects like Tyler Ennis and Zach LaVine.
However, there’s no question that Napier can play and he should be able to help an NBA team off of the bench from day one. That’s why he’s currently climbing draft boards, because the playoff teams in the 20-30 range believe he can make an immediate impact as a reserve.
Some teams like to go for the dare-to-be-great pick, selecting a project who could turn out to be a steal after a few years of development. But there are also teams that pick more conservatively and those are the teams that are showing a ton of interest in Napier.
Napier could sneak into the teens, to a team like the Chicago Bulls or Boston Celtics. If he doesn’t go that high, he’ll almost certainly get snatched up in the late first-round by a team like the Memphis Grizzlies, Miami HEAT, Charlotte Hornets (for a reunion with Kemba Walker), Los Angeles Clippers or San Antonio Spurs. Napier’s college resume is basically perfect, and some team is going to grab him in the first round.
Mitch McGary – McGary’s sophomore season at Michigan didn’t go quite as planned. After emerging as a key contributor during the Wolverines’ national championship run as a freshman, he decided to return to school and was expected to be the team’s focal point after Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. left for the NBA.
However, McGary ended up playing in just eight games as a sophomore due to a back injury and he averaged a mediocre 9.5 points and 8.3 rebounds. Then, during the NCAA Tournament, McGary tested positive for marijuana, which would have led to him being suspended for all of next season, so he entered the 2014 NBA Draft despite the fact that his stock had dropped significantly.
McGary was hoping for a breakout season that propelled him into the lottery, but that obviously didn’t happen and now he’ll likely go lower than he would have had he entered the 2013 NBA Draft.
With that said, McGary’s stock has been climbing in recent weeks and a number of executives believe that the big man has a promise from a team in the 20-30 range.
McGary’s decision to skip the NBA draft combine in Chicago several weeks ago was strange, and now he is refusing to work out for a number of teams. Whenever this happens, it usually means that a player has a promise from a team in the first round, since the team will encourage the player to shut down workouts and avoid other teams to ensure that they land their guy.
A number of teams have tried very hard to get McGary in for a workout, but his camp isn’t budging, which has talent evaluators around the NBA wondering which team has made him a promise. Fringe first-round picks don’t turn down workouts unless their camp has something up their sleeve.
Executives have speculated that he could have a promise from the Los Angeles Clippers at No. 28, Oklahoma City Thunder at No. 29 or San Antonio Spurs at No. 30. These are attractive organizations (hence why McGary’s camp would agree to shut down workouts) and each of these teams could use a skilled big man who’s capable of contributing right away. These teams likely view McGary as a great value pick late in the first round, considering he was being discussed as a potential lottery pick one year ago before the injury and suspension significantly hurt his stock.
Check Out Basketball Insiders’ Latest Mock Draft
Every week until the 2014 NBA Draft, Basketball Insiders’ draft experts are putting out their “Consensus Mock Draft” as well as a draft notebook discussing their selections.
What We Learned: Western Conference Week 4
It’s only been a month, but the NBA season has already seen plenty of ups and downs. In the Western Conference, especially, the 2020-21 season has been a smashing success for some, but a complete and total slog for others.
But which teams have had it the best in the West so far? The worst? Let’s take a look in the latest Western Conference installment of Basketball Insiders’ “What We Learned” series.
The Clippers Hit Their Stride
Los Angeles’ holdovers from a season ago have often pointed to their regular season complacency as to why they fizzled out during last year’s postseason. And, because of that, they’ve made a concerted effort to play hard on every possession so far in the 2020-21 season.
So far, the results have been good. More than good, even; the Clippers, tied for the best record in the NBA with their in-house rival, the Los Angeles Lakers, are on a six-game win streak. Paul George has played like an MVP candidate, while Kawhi Leonard has looked healthy and at the peak of his powers. Offseason additions Nicolas Batum, Serge Ibaka and Luke Kennard have all made strong contributions as well.
With so many versatile players and a roster as deep as any in the NBA, anyone can be “the guy” for Los Angeles on any given night. And, tough to guard because of that versatility, they’ve managed the NBA’s second-best offensive rating through the first month.
After last season’s let-down, the Clippers have played without much pressure this season — and it’s showed. Still, with Leonard a potential pending free agent (Leonard can opt-out after the season), it’s paramount that the team play hard and show him they’re good enough to compete for a title in both the short- and long-term.
So far, they’re off to a great start.
Injury Woes Continue in Portland
Portland’s been bit by the injury bug. And badly.
Already without Zach Collins, the Trail Blazers have lost both Jusuf Nurkic and CJ McCollum in recent weeks. They couldn’t have come at a worse time, either; Nurkic had turned a corner after he struggled to start the year, while McCollum, averaging 26.7 points on 62 percent true shooting, was in the midst of a career year.
It would seem, once again, like Portland has put it all on the shoulders of Damian Lillard. But, in a brutally competitive Western Conference, he may not be able to carry that load alone. They do have some solid depth: more of a featured role could be just what Robert Covington has needed to get out of a rut, while Harry Giles III, the former Sacramento King that was signed in the offseason, has a ton of potential if he can just to stay on the court. Carmelo Anthony, Gary Trent Jr. and Enes Kanter should see expanded roles in the interim, as well.
But will it be enough? We can only wait and see. But, if that group can’t keep the Trail Blazers afloat until Nurkic and McCollum can return, Portland could be in for a long offseason.
Grizzlies Are Competitive — With or Without Ja Morant
Memphis, on a five-game win streak, is just a half-game back of the West’s fifth seed. And they’ve managed that despite the sheer amount of adversity they’ve had to deal with to start the year. Jaren Jackson Jr. is expected to miss most of if not the entire season, multiple games have been postponed due to the league’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols and Ja Morant missed eight games due to an ankle sprain.
However, head coach Taylor Jenkins has the Grizzlies playing hard, regardless of who is in the lineup. They have the third-best defensive rating in the NBA at 106.1 and have managed huge wins over the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Phoenix Suns.
Of course, Memphis is glad to see Morant over his injury and back in the lineup, but they might be just as happy to see how their entire core has progressed. Their success this season has, in large part, been a group-effort; rookies Xavier Tillman and Desmond Bane have been strong off the bench, while youngsters Brandon Clarke, Dillon Brooks and Grayson Allen have all proven integral pieces to the Grizzlies’ core for years to come.
As the year carries on, Memphis might not stick in the playoff picture. But, if their young core can continue to develop, they might not be on the outside looking in for much longer with Morant leading the charge.
What’s Going On In New Orleans?
The Pelicans have struggled and there wouldn’t appear to be an easy fix.
5-9, on a three-game losing streak and having dropped eight of their last nine, New Orleans just can’t seem to figure it out. The rosters fit around cornerstones Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram has proven awkward at best, as the team ranks in the bottom-10 in both offensive and defensive rating. Lonzo Ball has struggled offensively to start the season while JJ Redick can’t find his shot. Newcomer Eric Bledsoe has been fine but, as one of the team’s few offensive creators, his impact has been severely minimized.
Despite their stable of strong defenders, Stan Van Gundy’s defensive scheme, which has maximized their presence in the paint but left shooters wide open beyond the arc, has burned them continuously. Williamson’s effort on the defensive end, meanwhile, has been disappointing at best; he hasn’t looked like nearly the same impact defender he did at Duke University and in short spurts a season ago.
They still have time to work it out, but the Pelicans need to do so sooner rather than later. If they can’t, or at least establish some sort of consistency, New Orleans might never see the heights many had hoped to see them reach this season.
Be sure to check back for the next part of our “What We Learned” series as we continue to keep an eye on the NBA all season long.
NBA Daily: Lonzo Ball Presents Difficult Decision For Pelicans
Lonzo Ball is struggling early in his fourth NBA season, leaving the Pelicans questioning whether he will be a part of the team’s long-term plans moving forward.
Lonzo Ball and the New Orleans Pelicans failed to reach an extension prior to the deadline entering the 2020-21 NBA season – which made this season an important year for the former second overall pick to prove his worth.
But things have not gone according to plan for Ball. Originally acquired by the Pelicans in the Anthony Davis trade, Ball has failed to get going early in the current season. After a few years of what seemed like positive progression in the guard’s shooting stroke, this 2021 has brought up the same questions that surrounded Ball in his earlier scouting reports.
In his first three seasons, Lonzo saw his three-point accuracy increase each year. It started at a 30.5 percent accuracy rate and had jumped to an impressive 37.5 by his third NBA season, 2019-20.
Now well into his biggest campaign yet, he sits below 30 percent for the first time in his career, though there is a lot of time left to see that number increase. If Ball expects to be part of the Pelicans’ long-term plans, improvement is absolutely vital.
Obviously, shooting is a key part of the NBA game today, especially as a guard. Simply put, a player needs to give his team the proper floor spacing needed to maximize their scoring output in an offensively driven league.
That point is especially true for Ball, who needs to prove he can play alongside franchise cornerstones Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson. Both players are showing the skillset to be a dominant one-two punch for years to come, and the biggest need around them is proper floor spacing.
So even with all the positives Ball brings to the defensive side of the floor and as a playmaker, he cannot fit alongside Williamson and Ingram unless he’s a threat to hit shots from behind the arc. He’s obviously trying to prove himself in that regard as he has never averaged more three-point shots per game than he currently is – and yet, the result has been concerning.
When the two sides failed to reach an extension this offseason, it was abundantly clear that the Pelicans needed to see consistency before they’d tie long-term cap space to the guard. In the early going of the season, Ball is perhaps playing his most inconsistent basketball since his rookie campaign with the Los Angeles Lakers.
But will the Pelicans benefit from not signing Ball prior to the season? Maybe even by getting him to agree to a team-friendly contract if his struggles continue all year?
That seems highly unlikely. First off, not all teams are as desperate for a good shooting guard as the Pelicans are. As previously stated, Williamson and Ingram are in place as the franchise cornerstones. That means every player brought in on a long deal from here on out is brought in with the plan to fit alongside the forward combination.
Most teams with cap space don’t have the luxury of already having two franchise cornerstones in place. That means they are more likely to build around a player they sign – that’s especially true for a player that will hit free agency at a young age as will be the case with Ball.
While there’s almost no way the Pelicans won’t make a qualifying offer to Ball this offseason, it becomes a whole different question when pondering if they’ll match any contract he signs, depending on the financials involved.
He’ll offer significantly more value to another franchise than he might to the Pelicans because of the fit. The New York Knicks, for example, will be among the teams with cap space this offseason, they could see Ball as a player they can build things around moving forward.
That instantly makes him much more valued by the Knicks than he currently would be by the Pelicans. Of course, New Orleans would maintain their right to match the contract, but what good would it be if he isn’t going to fit next to the stars of the team? At no point will he be prioritized over the likes of Williamson and Ingram, which means he’s on a ticking clock to prove he can play alongside them as the team continues its ascension.
The first step could be adjustments to the rotation that sees Ball play more of the traditional point guard role with the rock in his hands. This isn’t easy for head coach Stan Van Gundy to do though as Ingram and Williamson thrive with the ball in their hands.
In all likelihood, Ball’s future in New Orleans will hinge on his consistency as a shooter, which, contrary to popular belief, he has shown the ability to do in the past. First off, confidence and staying engaged are keys; while Ball has struggled with both of those things in his early NBA seasons.
The second is an adjustment to his tendencies. Instead of settling for the spot-up opportunity every time it is presented, Ball would benefit from attacking the closeout more often and maximizing the chances that come from doing so.
Those options are in areas like finding the next open man for a three-pointer, getting to the free-throw line and finishing at the rim instead of hitting the deep shot. If he does these things, he’ll quickly find himself facing less aggressive closeouts and will be more confident in his game. Naturally, those things could lead to a more successful shooting number as the season continues on.
Ball is as talented as they come and it’s understandable why the Pelicans want to slide him in behind the two franchise forwards they have. The unfortunate reality is that time is running out on pass-first guard’s big chance to prove it’s the right move for the Pelicans moving forward.
NBA Daily: What We Forgot
With the NBA season now a month old, Matt John looks into no what we have learned, but we had previously forgotten.
With every new NBA season, we tend to forget a few things here and there; players or teams that go through a down year are often, warranted or not, cast aside for the next best thing, only to resurface in the NBA’s collective conscience later on.
Like last season, for example, Dwight Howard was regarded as a nothing-addition for the Los Angeles Lakers, a gamble that they may have been better off not taking. However, Howard played an integral role in the Lakers’ run to the NBA title and reminded everyone that, when he plays without distractions, he’s one of the league’s fiercest around the basket.
But that’s just one example. So, who or what has been re-discovered this season? Let’s take a look.
Stephen Curry: Still Phenomenal
Nobody’s forgotten that entirely. It’s just been a while since people have seen Curry at the peak of his powers.
Sure, it was easy to be skeptical of what he was capable of coming into this season. But, with Kevin Durant gone, Curry had free reign to score and shoot as much as he desired. And, with that freedom, Curry’s put up his best numbers since 2016, his second MVP season. In 15 games, Curry’s averaged 28.2 points 5.5 rebounds and 6.1 assists and shot 45 percent from the field, 37 percent from three and 93 percent from the line. He’s reminded everyone why he’s one of the games best and that he can accomplish anything or score on anyone on any given night.
Of course, the absence of Durant, as well as the loss of Klay Thompson and others, has led to another atypical season for the Warriors. Their 8-7 has them tied for seventh in the Western Conference and, while they have certainly improved on how they looked to start the season, they have a long way to go before they’re back in title contention.
The Warriors may never again reach the heights they once knew, either before or with Durant. But, until Father Time dictates otherwise, Curry should long remain a nightmare for the opposition.
Tom Thibodeau Can Get It Done
What can you say about the New York Knicks? Unironically, a lot.
Not only have they shown themselves to no longer be the butt of the NBA’s jokes, but, compared to the last decade-plus of Knicks’ basketball, the 2020-21 season might be their brightest yet.
Julius Randle’s transition into more of a point forward-type has generated a career-year and All-Star buzz. RJ Barrett has continued to improve rapidly, while rookie Immanuel Quickley has “quickley” become a fan favorite. Most impressive of all, however, is that New York has allowed the fewest points per game (102.7) and the fourth-fewest points per 100 possessions (106.8) in the NBA.
In other words, they finally look like a competent basketball team. But what’s changed? Two words: Tom Thibodeau.
The players have bought in to Thibodeau’s scheme and, clearly, it’s had a positive effect. Of course, the disaster that was his Minnesota Timberwolves tenure made us forget just what a proven head coach Thibodeau could be, but he’s put it all together in the past and, in New York, he would seem to be doing so once again.
Of course, there is plenty left to do. The Knicks’ spacing is a joke — and a bad one at that. In fact, their entire offense could stand to see some of that energy they bring on defense; the Knicks are dead last in the NBA at 101.3 points per game.
Still, at 8-8, New York is no longer a doormat and, given the last few seasons, that’s probably the best they could’ve hoped for. Rome wasn’t built in a day and the Knicks won’t be either, but the franchise looks like they may have finally turned a corner toward relevance.
Maturity Issues Loom Large
Like the Knicks, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been another NBA-darling this season. And again, like New York, their players have bought in; head coach J.B. Bickerstaff has everyone playing with energy on defense and, while their offense hasn’t quite reached the same level, they’re competing to the best of their ability.
Of course, the progress of Kevin Porter Jr. could have been the cherry on top of it all. But that ship has sailed.
After an outburst directed toward general manager Koby Altman, Cleveland has since moved on from the young forward. Of course, the Cavaliers knew Porter came with baggage when they selected him with the last pick of the first round in the 2019 NBA Draft, but his potential was salivating and Cleveland had hoped they could help him grow — not only as an NBA player, but as a person. There have been success stories in the past, troubled players that have come in and shut out the noise and become both respectable characters and NBA players. DeAndre Jordan, a former lottery talent, dropped in his own draft due to similar concerns, but overcame those issues and has since gone on to play a long career.
Unfortunately, it just hadn’t gone that way with Porter and the Cavaliers, as the noise became too much to bear for a team with a long road back to relevancy. It’s reminded everyone just how hard it can be, both as a player and as their team, to deal with those issues and, regardless of the talent or potential, the headache sometimes just isn’t worth the risk.
Luckily for Porter, it’s not too late; a fresh start with the Houston Rockets should do him wonders. And, hopefully, the Rockets can help him overcome that baggage, his maturity issues and whatever else he may be dealing with.
But even if they don’t or can’t, Porter must wake up and seize his opportunity while he still can; if he sees another falling out in Houston, there’s no telling if he’ll ever get another chance elsewhere.