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NBA Saturday: Who Will Have a Bigger Role?

Several players seem ready for an increased role due to a change of scenery or increase in minutes.

Alex Kennedy

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NBA Saturday: Who Will Have a Bigger Role?

Now that the NBA’s trade deadline has passed, several players seem poised for an increased role either because their team freed up more minutes for them or because they joined a new team that will use them more. Let’s take a look at some of the individuals who will likely play a bigger role going forward.

Cameron Payne, Oklahoma City Thunder: The Thunder traded D.J. Augustin to the Denver Nuggets as part of their package for Randy Foye, which means Russell Westbrook and Payne are the only point guards remaining on Oklahoma City’s roster. This shows how much trust the organization has in the rookie floor general, who was the 14th pick in this year’s draft. Payne has basically stepped into the role vacated by Reggie Jackson last February when he was traded to the Detroit Pistons. The 21-year-old has appeared in only 37 contests this season, averaging just 12.2 minutes per game, but that’s because he started the season outside of the rotation. Now that he has earned a bigger role over the last month and a half, those numbers will increase significantly. He has played his way into an important spot in the rotation for Oklahoma City and he’ll be a key contributor moving forward. Payne spreads the floor with his shooting (39.7 percent from three-point range this season) and he has shown he can heat up regularly. He could become an X-factor for the Thunder come playoff time.

Marcus Thornton, Detroit Pistons: On Thursday, the Houston Rockets traded Thornton and Donatas Motiejunas to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Joel Anthony and a 2016 first-round pick. Thornton was playing 18.8 minutes per game with the Rockets and averaging 10 points this season. The 28-year-old has a reputation for providing instant offense off of the bench and he should continue to do that with the Pistons. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will continue to start at shooting guard for Detroit, but his groin injury prior to the All-Star break showed that the Pistons desperately needed to improve their depth at the position. With Jodie Meeks out (he has appeared in just two games this season due to a fractured foot) and Darrun Hilliard unable to lock down a spot in the rotation, the Pistons had to play Stanley Johnson out of position at the two when Caldwell-Pope was unavailable. With Thornton in the mix and Meeks recently returning to practice, it seems shooting guard depth will go from being a glaring weakness to a big strength for Detroit.

Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic: The Magic were one of the most active teams prior to the trade deadline and the moves they made could lead to a bigger role for Gordon, who just had his coming out party during the Slam Dunk Contest at All-Star Weekend. The fourth overall pick in last year’s draft is averaging just 21.8 minutes per game and he has started in only 11 of the Magic’s 51 games this season. With that said, his minutes have increased quite a bit over the last month and a half, and he was moved into the starting five. With forwards Tobias Harris and Channing Frye no longer in Orlando, Gordon should continue to play big minutes and his role might expand even more. This season, the 20-year-old is averaging 7.7 points and 6.1 rebounds while shooting 46.5 percent from the field. Since becoming a starter, Gordon has averaged 9.7 points, 10.1 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 blocks. Gordon is still pretty raw and he’s far from reaching his ceiling, but it’s becoming clear that he can make an impact for the Magic right now as they try to make a playoff push.

Markieff Morris, Washington Wizards: This has been a rough year for Morris, but a change of scenery could be exactly what he needs so he can return to form. The Phoenix Suns parted ways with Morris, sending him to the Wizards for Kris Humphries, DeJuan Blair and a 2016 first-round pick that is top-nine protected. This season with the Suns, Morris was playing only 24.8 minutes per game (his lowest average since becoming a starter) and he appeared in just 37 games. His minutes increased in recent weeks because Phoenix was showcasing him for other teams, and he responded by averaging 20.6 points, 7.6 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.4 blocks and one steal in the month of February. Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld said he expects Morris to become the team’s starting power forward at some point, and it seems likely that his minutes will be more consistent in Washington. Morris’ per-36-minute stats for this season (16.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.3 steals) were right around the same level that he played at during the previous two years, which suggests he could do well if given an increased role in Washington.

Shelvin Mack, Utah Jazz: The Jazz badly wanted to trade for a veteran point guard to improve their backcourt, which currently consists of Raul Neto in the starting lineup and Trey Burke off of the bench. (Dante Exum, the Jazz’s usual starter, is out for the season due to a torn ACL). The Atlanta Hawks traded Mack to the Jazz for a second-round pick, and the 25-year-old should see his playing time increase. Before the trade, he appeared in only 24 contests for the Hawks while averaging a paltry 7.5 minutes per game. This could be a good situation for Mack, whose $2,433,334 salary for next season is non-guaranteed. Mack and Gordon Hayward played together in college at Butler and they’ll reunite in Utah. The Jazz had trade talks about other point guards such as Atlanta’s Jeff Teague and Houston’s Ty Lawson, but they ultimately decided to acquire Mack to provide a short-term fix rather than give up significant assets for a bigger name (which makes sense since they still view Exum as their point guard of the future). They’re hoping Mack can step up and play at a high level as they battle for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Anderson Varejao, TBD: The Cleveland Cavaliers traded Varejao to the Portland Trail Blazers in the three-team deal that brought in Channing Frye from the Orlando Magic. Shortly after the trade was finalized, the Blazers waived Varejao. The 33-year-old big man will be an unrestricted free agent once he clears waivers on Sunday. He can’t return to Cleveland due to NBA rules, but he’ll have his pick of other contenders. So far, the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder have been linked to Varejao and will likely express interest, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein. In Cleveland, there was a logjam in the frontcourt so he was buried on the depth chart behind players like Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov. In fact, he appeared in just 31 games and was averaging only 10 minutes per game prior to the trade. Now, he’ll have the opportunity to figure out which situation is best for him and it seems likely that he’ll join a team that can offer him playing time as well as the chance to contend. While his future remains up in the air, Varejao’s next team will likely play him more than the Cavaliers were this season.

Which of these players will thrive with more playing time? What other players are ready to take on an increased role? Leave a comment below.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener

Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.

Jesse Blancarte

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“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”

That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.

While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.

Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.

While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.

Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).

While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.

Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.

Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).

“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”

Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.

Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.

“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.

For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.

“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”

Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.

The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.

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Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics

Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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Returning just one starter from last year’s top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics underwent wholesale changes this past offseason.

Gordon Hayward signed a super max contract. Danny Ainge pried Kyrie Irving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. Jayson Tatum was selected with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.

In early July, though, there was an under-the-radar trade executed that hasn’t been mentioned much. Surprisingly, Celtics guard Avery Bradley was sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, a heady wing with size and versatility to add to a revamped core of players.

Bradley was a mainstay with the franchise for seven years and played a vital role as a part of Brad Stevens’ system, but Boston decided to move in a different direction. As for the man they got in return, he’s thrilled to be there.

“It makes me feel good,” Morris told Basketball Insiders of Ainge dealing one of his best former players for him. “It makes you feel wanted.

“This is my first time since I’ve been in the NBA I’ve been on a team with a bunch of guys that [are] All-Stars. With the maturity of the team being this high and having them high expectations on us, I’m excited to get the season going and see how far we can take this.”

The Detroit Pistons likely wanted to keep him, but the organization clearly felt Bradley’s skill set was too good to pass up. For Morris, he insisted there was no indication that his old team would send him away, but he hasn’t been bashful about talking up his new home.

“Had no idea that I was gonna be a Boston Celtic, but I’m ready for the challenge, you know?” Morris said. “I’m excited. Boston, being a Celtic—it’s something that growing up you don’t really see happening, but when it happens it’s an amazing thing.

“It’s like playing for the Patriots, you know what I mean? One of the most heralded teams and most heralded franchises, and Boston is one of those.”

Entering the seventh season of his career, Morris has remained a steady part of the league. During his time in Detroit, he started nearly every game for the Pistons and found a comfort zone that he believes will carry over in Boston.

“Just continue to be consistent, continue to build on my last past couple of years,” Morris said of his personal goals. “I really felt like I carved my spot in the NBA the last two years—averaging 14 a year and helping my team get to the playoffs one of those years, so I really think I’ve carved a niche in this league.”

The success has come thanks to his versatility and the NBA’s current direction pointing towards that type of game. All of a sudden, not having a defined position makes a player more valuable, something Morris is thankful for as he continues to bring a little bit of everything to the table.

“For guys like me, it’s great,” Morris said. “Coming into the league, I had this ‘tweener’ thing on my back and now it’s like [freaking] great to be a ‘tweener’ at this time. I’m actually happy that it’s switching to my position and guys that can do multiple things are being utilized more in this league.”

Putting the ball in the basket has come fairly easy for Morris, who averaged 14.1 points per game on 42.6 percent from the field over 159 games with Detroit. He’s able to stretch the floor and provide solid spacing offensively, and he envisions doing more than that for this Celtics group.

“And leadership,” Morris said. “I’m not too much of a vocal guy, but I’m a passionate guy on the court. I think that’ll rub off on guys. I love scoring. I love shooting the ball. But that’s not the only thing I do.

“I’ve been a tough defender around this league for the last past years and I’m really looking forward to hanging my hat on that again and just doing whatever it takes for my team to get to that next level.”

Stevens is aware of the impact Morris can bring in the locker room and on the floor. When he returns from a sore knee to make his debut for Boston, that’ll show through his play.

“He’s a guy that can stretch the floor at the four,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that can guard two through four. He’s tough. He’s smart. He works the right way. We’ll be better with Marcus Morris for sure. The versatility is a very important part of what we want to be.

“Whether he is starting in a couple of weeks or whether he’s coming off the bench, at the end of the day he’s gonna be a critical, critical part of our team.”

While he’s waited to come back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped up in his absence. With Hayward likely sidelined for the rest of the season, that success will have to be sustained. Morris is a big believer in this promising duo and sees how grounded they are to make that happen.

“They’re mature guys for their age,” Morris said. “Jaylen, I think he’s 20. He’s definitely a lot more mature than I thought. Jayson, too. He’s way more mature than your average 19-year-old.

“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I think those guys, they’re ready for the challenge. They love the game. They always in the gym, so I think it’ll be easy for ‘em.”

Part of Morris’ role is guiding those two and the other younger pieces that Boston has as they try and establish themselves as professionals. He’s kind of a coach per se, which is somewhat fitting considering what he did this summer.

Most basketball fans are aware of “The Basketball Tournament” that takes nationwide. For those that aren’t, it’s a single-elimination competition between 64 teams in which the champion receives a $2 million prize. Morris was the head coach of Team FOE—standing for Family Over Everything.

Along with his fellow Kansas alums, including his brother Markieff and Thomas Robinson, Morris coached his team to the final game. Team FOE was in front most of the game but ultimately fell to Boeheim’s Army, a squad filled with former Syracuse Orangemen.

“I was on my way man,” Morris said of coming close. “I actually liked it. I’m a smart guy. Me and basketball stuff, I can put it together real well. I was kinda upset we lost in the fashion that we lost, but we’ll be back next year.

“I’m a smart player,” he said regarding a potential future on the sidelines. “I know the game really well. Coaching comes easy for some guys and I’m just one of those guys.”

You could hear “Coach Morris” down the line, but for now and for years to come, Marcus is focused on his first year with Boston. It’s a team that surely has the talent to be the top team in the East it’s pegged to be. Stevens is a basketball savant with great leadership.

Even without an All-Star like Hayward and a 0-2 start, the Celtics should still be a force to be reckoned with. There’s an even greater demand for them to achieve their potential, especially knowing eyes will be on them, but Morris welcomes the challenge.

“Man, it’s pressure on every team,” Morris said. “It ain’t like it’s just all on the Boston Celtics. It’s pressure on every team. What’s a game without pressure anyway?

“Pressure makes it the best thing. That’s what we need to do anyway. I enjoy the pressure. Me personally.”

Shouldering the load won’t be easy, but if it comes down to it, Morris will be swimming instead of sinking. When all is said and done, he shares the same aspirations as most players do—raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer.

“I want to the win the championship,” Morris said. “You put this type of team together to get to those positions. I’m looking to be playing in June and trying to get to a championship.”

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