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NBA Sunday: Greg Monroe, Tristan Thompson And Now, Nerlens Noel

Just like Greg Monroe and Tristan Thompson, Nerlens Noel is betting on himself. But he could lose.

Moke Hamilton



After a lengthy stalemate that lasted into nearly September, 23-year-old Nerlens Noel has agreed to sign a one-year qualifying offer with the Dallas Mavericks.

In late May, there were suggestions that Noel could command a maximum-salaried offer from a few teams around the league, but with that not coming to fruition, Noel eventually agreed to return to Dallas on the one-year deal rather than sign the four-year, $70 million extension that the Mavericks did offer him. A maximum offer for the same four years would have been closer to $100 million.

The question as to whether or not Noel passing on the guaranteed coin is wise or not has been discussed quite a bit. He entered the league with a torn ACL that caused him to miss his entire rookie year. Having been a somewhat inconsistent performer through his first three years in the league, Noel showed some flashes in the 51 games that he played last season, but committing maximum dollars to him would have been a major risk for the cost-conscious Mavericks.

For Noel, though, if he can stay healthy, the gamble may prove to be worth it.

* * * * * *

Few things in life are guaranteed, but if you’re an NBA player, one such thing happens to be your contract. For the most part, young players coming off of rookie contracts with capped salaries don’t typically turn down the financial security that a hefty contract would yield, but if history is any indicator, Noel could be making a wise decision.

Back in August 2014, after a fairly impressive four years as a member of the Detroit Pistons and some tense negotiations, Greg Monroe eventually agreed to sign a one-year, $5.5 million qualifying offer with the Pistons. Although there were conflicting accounts as to whether or not the Pistons actually made a multi-year offer to Monroe, the big man would play out the final year of his contract and eventually sign with the Milwaukee Bucks as an unrestricted free agent the following summer. Monroe would end up receiving a three-year deal worth $50 million from the Bucks—an average of about $16.5 million per year. The Pistons were believed to have pegged his value at being somewhere between $12 million and $14 million.

For the most part, players coming off of rookie contracts don’t typically accept their qualifying offer.

According to SBNation, at the time Monroe accepted his qualifying offer, he was only the 14th player since 2003 to have done so. Of those 14, Spencer Hawes was the only one to eventually re-sign with his incumbent team.

Since Monroe, Tristan Thompson nearly became the second.

The summer after Monroe accepted his qualifying offer, Thompson and the Cavaliers found themselves at a bit of a stalemate when Thompson hit unrestricted free agency. With Thompson’s representatives being somewhat confident that Thompson’s hometown Toronto Raptors would be interested in his services come 2016, they opted to play hardball with the Cavs and hold out for a bigger payday than what was initially offered. The Canadian big man would eventually re-sign with the Cavs on a five-year deal worth $82 million—considerably less than the $94 million maximum contract for which he was eligible.

Thompson’s representatives were fairly outspoken in declaring that Thompson would not re-sign with the Cavs the following season had he accepted the qualifying offer. It may have been a bluff, but it worked.

Without question, Nerlens Noel and his representatives would look at the situations involving Monroe and Thompson as their precedent-setters. In each instance, the big men were eventually able to secure higher paydays by playing hardball and digging their heels in.

What makes the Noel situation interesting to observe is the fact that, while not being afraid of spending, Mark Cuban has historically been wise with how he allocates his cap money. Cuban has earned a reputation of running his team like a true business and simply walking away if and when the asking price is deemed too high. Over the past few years, we have seen quite a few instances where teams opt to retain their talent as exorbitant price tags, only to admit defeat shortly thereafter. Allen Crabbe, now of the Brooklyn Nets, serves as a fine example.

Cuban would rarely allow himself to be on the short end of such a stick.

In the case of both Monroe and Thompson, they had something that Noel doesn’t seem to have much of—leverage.

Through his first four years in the league, Monroe managed to play 31 minutes per game. Over that span, despite sharing minutes and touches with a crowded frontcourt in Detroit, he earned a reputation as being one of the more gifted young post players in the league. Best of all? He missed a total of just four games over that same duration. He was the embodiment of health and consistency. At the time he signed his qualifying offer, Monroe was tabbed by Phil Jackson as being his primary target to pivot the post in New York City, and it was a poorly kept secret.

With respect to Thompson, aside from his ability to stay on the floor, he had emerged as one of the finest rebounders in the entire league. His defensive instincts were impactful, to say the least. Best of all, Thompson had been instrumental in the Cavaliers winning the Eastern Conference in 2015. Under those circumstances—after appearing to be so close—it would have been difficult for the Cavs to allow such a talent to leave over a few million dollars. That LeBron James called Thompson’s contract situation “a distraction” and publicly stated his desire for a resolution only added to Thompson’s leverage. It came as no surprise, then, to learn that the two sides had eventually come to a resolution.

Leverage is everything, and Noel doesn’t seem to have much of it.

Betting on himself, Noel is entering the 2017-18 season with a lot at stake. If history is any indicator, he will likely find himself with a new address by the time next season begins, but how he performs this season will likely determine his wage. For him, the question is whether and to what extent teams across the Association will be willing to spend for him next season.

Deandre Jordan, Brook Lopez, Greg Monroe, DeMarcus Cousins, Enes Kanter, Derrick Favors and LaMarcus Aldridge are all expected to be free agents next summer, and those are only a few of the big men with whom Noel would be competing with for minutes (and salary cap dollars). The class could be headlined by the likes of LeBron James, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony.

Simply put, although history would suggest that Noel may eventually receive a bigger payday than what the Mavericks were reportedly offering him, opting to accept the qualifying offer is a major risk for a 23-year-old searching for his first hefty payday.

For his sake, let’s hope that Nerlens Noel knows what he’s doing.

And for his sake, let’s hope that we haven’t already seen the best of him.


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NBA Saturday: Kuzma Is The Main Attraction In Los Angeles

Kyle Kuzma, not Lonzo Ball, is the rookie in L.A. that is turning heads around the NBA.

Dennis Chambers



Out in Los Angeles, there is a dynamite rookie first-round pick lighting it up for the Lakers, invoking memories of the days when the purple and gold had homegrown stars.

That’s Kyle Kuzma. He was the 27th pick in the NBA Draft. Twenty-five picks after Lonzo Ball, the rookie that first sentence would have presumably been about had it been written three months ago.

Ball’s early season struggles are well-noted. He’s missing shots at an all-time bad clip for a rookie, his psyche seems a bit rattled, and he isn’t having the impact most Lakers fans would have hoped he would from the jump.

All of that has barely mattered, though, in large part to the show Kuzma has been putting on just 16 games into the 2017-18 season. In Friday night’s loss to the Phoenix Suns, Kuzma put up 30 points and 10 rebounds for the Lakers, the most by an NBA freshman so far this year. That performance was Kuzma’s sixth 20-point game of the young season, another rookie best. And to top it all off, Kuzma was the first rookie to reach the 30-point, 10-rebound plateau since none other than Magic Johnson, back in February of 1980.

Kuzma’s path to the NBA was much different than Johnson’s, though, along with his rookie counterpart Ball. Those two prospects were highly-touted “superstar potential” guys coming out of the college ranks. Kuzma? Well, he was a 21-year-old junior out of Utah who didn’t make the NCAA Tournament his last year and was a career 30 percent three-point shooter as an amateur.

The knocks on Kuzma began to change during the NBA Draft process and came to a head for the Lakers when long-time scout Bill Bertka raved about his potential.

“He got all wide-eyed,” Lakers director of scouting Jesse Buss told ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne. “And he said, ‘If this guy isn’t an NBA player, then I don’t know what the f— I’m looking at.'”

The Lakers took a chance on the 6-foot-9 forward who had a rare combination of a sweet shooting stroke to accompany his low-post moves that seemed to be reminiscent of players 20 years his senior.

Fast forward from draft night to the Las Vegas Summer League, and everyone could see with their own two eyes the type of player Los Angeles drafted. The numbers were startling: 21.9 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 1.1 steals, and 48 percent from beyond the arc out in Sin City for Kuzma, all capped off by a Summer League championship game MVP.

Summer League stats should be taken with a grain of salt, but what Kuzma did in July was proved he belonged.

Through the first month of Kuzma’s rookie campaign, when the games are actually counting for something, all he’s continued to do is prove that his exhibition numbers in Vegas were no fluke.

After his 30-point outburst, Kuzma now leads all rookies in total points scored (yet still second in scoring average), is fourth in rebounds per game, third in minutes, and third in field goal percentage.

By all accounts, Kuzma is outperforming just about every highly-touted prospect that was taken before him last June, and sans a Ben Simmons broken foot in September of 2016, he would be in line for the Rookie of the Year award if the season ended today.

Following Wednesday night’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, head coach Brett Brown had more than a few nice things to say about Kuzma.

“He’s a hell of a rookie,” Brown told NBC Philly’s Jessica Camerato. “That was a great pick by them.”

Brown went on to commend Kuzma for being “excellent” Wednesday night, when prior to his game Friday against the Suns, Kuzma set a career-high by scoring 24 points.

For all of the praise and the scoring numbers Kuzma is bringing to the Staples Center, his Lakers team sits at just 6-10 on the season, and has been on the wrong end of a number of close games so far this year.

While that’s good for second in the Pacific division right now, behind only the Golden State Warriors, it isn’t likely that type of success (or lack thereof) will get the Lakers to the playoffs. So, despite all of the numbers and attention, Kuzma isn’t fulfilling his rookie year the way he had hoped.

“It is cool, but I’m a winner,” Kuzma told Lakers Nation’s Serena Winters. “I like to win, stats don’t really matter to me. I just try to play hard and I want to win.”

Few projected the type of impact Kuzma would have this early on in his career, and even fewer would have assumed he’d be outperforming the Lakers’ prized draft pick in Ball. But surprising people with his game is nothing new to Kuzma.

From Flint, Michigan, to Utah, to Los Angeles, Kuzma has been turning heads of those that overlooked him the entire time.

With one month in the books as the Los Angeles Lakers’ most promising rookie, Kuzma has all the attention he could’ve asked for now.

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Kelly Olynyk Strengthens the HEAT Bench

David Yapkowitz speaks to Kelly Olynyk about his early showing in Miami.

David Yapkowitz



The past few years, Kelly Olynyk carved out a nice role for himself as an important player off the Boston Celtics bench. He was a fan favorite at TD Garden, with his most memorable moment in Celtic green coming in last season’s playoffs against the Washington Wizards in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

With Boston pushed to the limit and finding themselves forced into a Game 7, Olynyk rose to the occasion and dropped a playoff career-high 26 points off the bench on 10-14 shooting from the field in a Celtics win. He scored 14 of those points in the fourth quarter to hold Washington off.

He was a free agent at the end of the season, and instead of coming back to the Celtics, he became a casualty of their roster turnover following Gordon Hayward’s decision to sign in Boston. Once he hit the open market he had no shortage of suitors, but he quickly agreed to a deal with the Miami HEAT, an easy decision for him.

“It’s awesome, they got a real good culture here,” Olynyk told Basketball Insiders. “The organization is great, the city is great, the staff from the top down they do a good job here.”

Olynyk was initially the HEAT’s starting power forward to begin the season. In their opening night game, a 116-109 loss to the Orlando Magic, he scored ten points, pulled down five rebounds, and dished out three assists.

The very next game, however, he found himself back in his familiar role as first big man off the bench. In that game, a win over the Indiana Pacers, Olynyk had an even stronger game with 13 points on 50 percent shooting from the field, including 60 percent from three-point range, eight rebounds, and four assists.

Throughout the first eight games of the season, Olynyk was thriving with his new team. During that stretch, he was averaging a career-high 11.4 points per game on a career-high 55 percent shooting from the field and 60. 8 percent from downtown.

“I’m just playing, I’m just playing basketball,” Olynyk told Basketball Insiders. “They’re kind of letting me just play. They kind of let us all just play. They put us in positions to succeed and just go out there and let out skills show.”

For a HEAT team that may not be as talented on paper as some of the other teams in the Eastern Conference, they definitely play hard and gritty and are a sum of their parts. Night in and night out, in each of their wins, they’ve done it off the contributions from each player in the rotation and Olynyk has been a big part of that. Through Nov. 16, the HEAT bench was seventh in the league in points per game with 36.6.

In a win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 5, Olynyk was part of a bench unit including James Johnson, Tyler Johnson, and Wayne Ellington that came into the game late in the first quarter. The score at that point was 18-14 in Miami’s favor. That unit closed the quarter on a 16-6 run to put the HEAT up double digits. After that game, head coach Erik Spoelstra recognized the strength of the HEAT bench.

“Our guys are very resilient, that’s the one thing you’ve got to give everybody in that locker room, they’re tough,” Spoelstra said. “This is all about everybody in that locker room contributing to put yourself in a position, the best chance to win. It’s not about first unit, second unit, third unit, we’re all in this together.”

In Boston, Olynyk was part of a similar group that won games off of team play and production from every guy that got in the game. They were also a tough, gritty team and Olynyk has recognized that same sort of fire in the HEAT locker room.

“It’s a group of hard-nosed guys that can really grind it out and play tough-nosed basketball,” Olynyk told Basketball Insiders. “We can go a lot of places. We just got to stick together and keep doing what we do. We can compete with anybody and we just got to bring it every single night.”

At 7-8, the HEAT currently sit outside the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. Olynyk has seen a bit of a decrease in playing time, and likewise in production. He’s right at his career average in points per game with 9.5, but he’s still shooting career-highs from the field (54 percent) and from three-point range (47.4).

It’s still very early, though, and only one game separates the 11th place HEAT from the 8th place Magic. The HEAT are definitely tough enough to fight for a playoff spot, especially with Olynyk around helping to strengthen their bench.

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Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 11/17/17

Spencer Davies updates the list of names to keep an eye on and who’s in contention for DPOY.

Spencer Davies



We’re exactly one month into the season now, as the NBA standings have started to take shape headed into winter.

A couple of weeks ago, Basketball Insiders released its first Defensive Player of the Year Watch article to go in-depth on players that could compete for the prestigious award. Since then, there have been injuries keeping most of the household names out of the picture.

Guys like Rudy Gobert (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (ankle) have been or will be sidelined for weeks. Kawhi Leonard has yet to make his season debut recovering from a bothersome right quad.

While that isn’t the best news for fans and the league at the moment, it’s likely that those players will be just fine and return with the same impact they’ve always made. In the meantime, there are opportunities for others to throw their names in the hat as elite defenders. With new names and mainstays, here’s a look at six healthy candidates.

6) Joel Embiid

Trusting the Process in Philadelphia was worth the wait. As polished as the seven-footer is with the ball in his hands on offense, he might be even more dangerous as an interior defensive presence.

One of ten players in the NBA averaging at least a block and a steal per game, Embiid makes a world of a difference for in limiting opponents. Through 14 games, the Philadelphia 76ers are allowing just 96.4 points per 100 possessions with him playing. Furthering that, he’s the only one on the floor who dips the team’s defensive rating below 100 and has the second-highest Defensive Real Plus-Minus rating (3.03) in the NBA.

5) Kristaps Porzingis

Like Embiid, it’s been an incredible season for the one called The Unicorn. Before the season started, Porzingis stated it was a goal of his to accomplish three things—an All-Star game appearance, Most Improved Player, and Defensive Player of the Year.

So far, he’s on the right track. Outside of being the league’s third-highest scorer (28.9 points per game), the Latvian big man is hounding and deterring shot attempts nearly every time inside. According to SportVU data, Porzingis is allowing his opponents to only convert 35.1 percent of their attempts at the rim, which is the lowest by far among his peers seeing at least four tries per game. Oh, and when he’s off the floor, the Knicks have a 112.4 defensive rating, which is 9.3 more points per 100 possessions than with him on.

4) Nikola Jokic

At the beginning of the season, it looked like the same old story with the Denver Nuggets defense, but their intensity has stepped up on that end of the floor for the past couple of weeks. Playing next to new running mate Paul Millsap has taken some getting used to, but it seems like the two frontcourt partners have started to mesh well.

Though it might not have been the case a season ago, the Denver Nuggets are a net -12.4 per 100 possessions defensively without Jokic on the court as opposed to a team-best 100.1 defensive rating with him on. A huge knock on the Serbian sensation last year and before then was his inability to defend. He’s still got things to work on as a rim protector with his timing, but the progress is coming. He’s seventh in the league in total contested shots (168) and has been forcing turnovers like a madman. Averaging 1.6 steals per game, Jokic has recorded at least one takeaway in all but two games.

3) Draymond Green

In the first DPOY watch article, the Golden State Warriors had been better off defensively with Green sitting. That right there should tell you how much we can really put into data in small sample sizes. It’s changed dramatically since that point in time.

Without Green playing, the Golden State Warriors have a defensive rating of 105.4 as opposed to 98.4 on the same scale with him on the floor. His matchups are starting to grow weary of driving on him again, as he’s seen less than four attempts at the basket. Currently, in DRPM, he ranks eighth with a 2.60 rating.

2) Al Horford

The Boston Celtics are still the number one team in the NBA in defensive rating. Horford is still the straw that stirs the drink for Brad Stevens. If you didn’t see that watching that knockdown, drag-it-out game against the Warriors on Thursday, go back and watch it.

He has the highest net rating on the team among starters and is leading the team by altering shots and grabbing rebounds with aggressiveness we haven’t seen since he played for the Atlanta Hawks. Ranking fourth in Defensive Box Plus-Minus and in DRPM, Horford is continuing to make his presence felt.

1) DeMarcus Cousins

Dominance is the word to describe Cousins’ game. With a month-long absence of Gobert, he has a real chance to show fans and voters that his defensive side of him is no façade.

Next to his partner Anthony Davis, Boogie has kept up the physicality and technique of locking up assignments. The third and final member of this list averaging at least a block and steal per game, Cousins is at the top of the mountain in DRPM with a 3.13 rating.

The New Orleans Pelicans significantly benefit with him on the hardwood (102.3 DRTG) as opposed to him on the bench (112.7 DTRG). He’s one of six players in the league seeing more than six attempts at the rim, and he’s allowed the lowest success percentage among that group. He’s also contested 193 shots, which is the second-most in the NBA.

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