This is the second part of our Nike Hoop Summit report, focusing on the World team. As with our Team USA report, the players are divided into tiers based on likely NBA potential.
Emmanuel Mudiay, Point Guard, Committed to SMU
The most important thing to understand about Mudiay is that he absolutely is a point guard despite being 6’5 in shoes with a 6’8.5 wingspan. He has a very solid handle and can execute advanced dribble moves and hesitations in the pick-and-roll, as well as create separation with his crossover. He has above-average quickness, although he is more a very good athlete than a nuclear Derrick Rose, John Wall, or Russell Westbrook type.
Mudiay was relatively unimpressive in some of the practices I saw, but his stated plan was to get his teammates involved more in practice before taking over in the game. That is ultimately what he did, shooting 8-18. That could have been much better had he not missed a few bunnies at the rim, but he certainly showed the ability to penetrate and push the ball for layups on the break even against the athletic Team USA roster.
The Congo native’s jump shot is not great, and his range at this point is much more midrange than FIBA 3. But his form is solid and he is beyond the point where players like Derrick Rose and John Wall were with their jumpers at an equivalent stage. Mudiay is going to SMU next year, where he will be coached by Larry Brown. That should help him smooth out the rough edges of his game, assuming he can get along with the demanding coach. Brown was the reason he went to SMU, so one would think it should work out well.
Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Shooting Guard, Ukraine
The 16 year-old Mykhailiuk was already covered in detail in the first practice report, and I saw little to change my opinion later in the week. The Ukrainian’s only weaknesses are his physical strength* and propensity to take a few bad jumpers. In the game, one fairly ridiculous attempt from behind the backboard in the right corner earned him a seat on the bench for much of the contest. In total he played only 13 minutes. This was a shame because even right now he is a much better player than either Jamal Murray (32 minutes) and Brandone Francis (19 minutes), and might have helped boost the World’s 82 offensive efficiency.
*He has already filled out quite a bit in the last year or so, as evidenced by the below video from when he was 15.
As it was, Mykhailiuk still had a chance to show off some nice passes against the US press and get a couple of deflections that illustrated his quick hands on defense, but he finished 1-4, 0-3 on threes. Ultimately, Mykhailiuk looked the part of a future lottery pick. He speaks excellent English, and there is a decent chance he comes to the US to start college in the fall as one of the youngest freshman in the country.
In the meantime, the dunk contest footage at the start of this video provides an excellent idea of his athleticism.
Make sure to also read: Duncan’s scouting report on the USA’s top players in the Nike Hoop Summit
Karl Towns, Center, Committed to Kentucky
Towns had a disappointing game relative to his performance earlier in the week, as he only managed 17 foul-filled minutes as a result of some questionable calls. But it was telling that his absence was a major factor, as the World team played the US evenly when he was in there. He had two impressive blocks of shots in the air, including a helpside swat of a Jahlil Okafor jump hook up near the square of the backboard. He frustrated Okafor’s attempts to post him up as well, showing off his improved strength. Towns and Okafor even got into it at one point before he was unjustly charged with his fourth foul. It is noteworthy how much Towns has improved his ability to mix it up inside over last year’s Hoop Summit.
Offensively Towns had a nice catch and finish and a solid postup for a one-footed hook coming across the lane, but missed a couple other hooks inside. He did not get much chance to play pick-and-pop on the perimeter, and did not shoot a jumper during the game. Nevertheless his length, movement and shooting ability make him a very intriguing long-term prospect even if he never develops into a one-on-one post scorer.
It really is a tough call between Towns and Okafor for best big man prospect in the class of 2015. Okafor has the better pedigree and feel for the game, and will be in the perfect four-out system to showcase his skills at Duke next year. Towns is going to what will be a very crowded Kentucky frontcourt, and John Calipari may not really use his shooting ability at all.* I fully expect Okafor to have the better year next year, but I may slightly prefer Towns as a long-term prospect at this point due to his shooting and potential as a rim-protector.
*He could conceivably deploy some enormous units with Towns at the 4 since he can shoot, then go with a massive zone defense, but that does not seem like Calipari’s style.
Potential NBA Rotation Players
Trey Lyles, Power Forward, Committed to Kentucky
In other settings, such as the U-19 World Championships last July, Lyles was able to use his strength and footwork to get buckets inside. But this was not Lyles’ best week, as he proved unable to get much going during practices or the game. He was usually matched up with Towns in practice, and proved unable to overpower him or really get clean looks off against his length. He had to resort to a lot of fadeaway jumpers, which predictably did not convert at a high rate. He had similar problems finishing inside against Team USA’s athleticism during the game, as he shot 3-11 despite taking all of his shots in the lane. Lyles did finish with 11 rebounds, five offensive, in his 25 minutes. His jumper was not really falling this week, but he has solid form and looks comfortable enough shooting in the 15 foot range.
Lyles moves well laterally for his 250 pound size, playing at the top of the World’s 3-2 zone that pressured upcourt to take time off the shot clock. He also has a solid rebounding mentality and hits the glass hard. He too has been compared to Carlos Boozer, but I think he has more quickness and a higher skill level at this point than Boozer did, as well as much more length with his 7’3.5 wingspan and 6’10 height in shoes. He does not really block shots, nor is he going to dunk on people, but he is by no means a bad athlete either. These attributes mean that Lyles should be able to at least avoid being a defensive liability in the NBA.
In Related: Basketball Insiders’ NBA Draft page
Damien Inglis, Combo Forward, France
The French small forward has an NBA body and then some at a chiseled 6’8, 240, with a 7’3 wingspan and huge hands. Unfortunately, he does not play with the greatest intensity, so a lot of his athleticism doesn’t quite translate. At no point during the week would one have described him as playing particularly hard. The effort was not bad, but it did not stand out either. The contrast between he and the American wings one year his junior was striking. That was exacerbated by the fact he did not appear to have much feel or many moves aside from simply a three point set shot.
That shot does appear to be a weapon though. He has a very compact release and has clearly worked on not bringing the ball down to his waist before shooting, although he doesn’t have the highest release point. He is shooting 40 percent on threes on limited attempts in French Pro A competition, and while he may not become quite that level of shooter in the NBA he should at least be a threat from beyond the arc. He does not turn 19 until May, so he has plenty of time to work on his skills.
Because he is not a particularly gifted scorer or ballhandler, Inglis is perhaps most intriguing as a small ball spotup four. He should be able to hold up strengthwise at that position, and did not get taken advantage of under the basket at the bottom of the World’s 3-2 zone. He is not really a shotblocker though, nor did he particularly impress on the boards.
If Inglis can up his intensity level and prove he can hold up as a four, he becomes a much more intriguing prospect.
Fringe/Second Round NBA Players
Clint Capela, Center, Switzerland
Capela was being talked about as a lottery pick before the week started, but that would be a major reach in my opinion. This is now the second time I’ve seen him in person after the 2013 adidas Eurocamp in Treviso, and he did not stand out in either setting. Lyles, Towns, and Inglis started over him, and rightfully so based on their practice performances.
At 6’11, 222 with a 7’4 wingspan, Capela’s skills are limited to blocking shots and finishing alley oops around the rim.* He has a herky jerky jump shot that actually went in a few times, but it did not look smooth enough to be a major weapon for him. He looks like his skill level is always going to be more center than power forward, and that is a problem given how thin he is.
*He did have one nice layin finish from behind the backboard during the game, but that was an aberration.
Most concerning is Capela’s lack of feel overall. He was the most likely World player to make mental errors, although there may have been a bit of a language barrier involved there as well. During the game, he picked up four fouls in the first half with some silly over the backs. Throughout the week he did not prove particularly adept at finding creases for guards to give him dumpoffs, and his few postups invariably resulted in wild misses or turnovers. He also is very weak right now. In a 2 on 2 drill in which the defense switched the pick and roll, Capela proved totally unable to post up even against guards.
Capela has some potential due to his length and solid if not outstanding jumping ability, measured at 31 inches at the 2013 Eurocamp. However, his skill level and feel leave a lot to be desired. I do not see him as better than an early second-round prospect at this point.
Jamal Murray, Combo Guard, Canada
Murray goes 6’4.5 with a 6’8 wingspan, weighing in at 195 pounds. His best attributes are his shooting ability and his February 1997 birthday, making him a year younger than every player in the game but Mykhailiuk. He is very steady for his young age, earning a game-high 32 minutes.* And he also is an excellent shooter for a high school junior, with easy range out to the FIBA line. During one impressive sequence, he drained two consecutive threes as the pick and roll ballhandler when his man went under the screen. Murray is not really a point guard, but can handle the ball and bring it up in a pinch. He largely handled the ball for the World team as the closest thing to a point guard when Mudiay sat.
*This may have been aided by the fact that coach Roy Rana is also the coach of the Canadian junior teams.
The Canadian’s biggest weakness is a lack of athleticism. He does not appear to be a particularly good leaper, nor does he create separation off the dribble without a screen. He could certainly stand to improve his defense, which is a worry given his lack of elite quickness. Murray was guarding Tyus Jones at the end of the game and got torched a couple of times by him one-on-one as Team USA put the game away in the fourth quarter.
It is hard to give Murray a high ceiling due to his lack of athleticism, but he should make a nice college player with his shooting ability. An NBA future may be too much to ask unless he can develop into a J.J. Redick level shooter and improve his quickness.
James Birsen, Small Forward, Turkey/Fenerbahce
I first saw Birsen at the 2012 Eurocamp, when he was still 17. Since then he has grown to 6’10 and gotten a little stronger, but he is a below average athlete and probably always will be. He has not improved as much as one would have hoped in the last two years, despite the fact he plays in the Euroleague for Turkish powerhouse Fenerbahce. He has nice vision and willingly takes FIBA threes with solid form, although these did not fall at a particularly outstanding rate for him during the week.
Birsen can put the ball on the deck but lacks the quickness to get by his man, often having to settle for a contested jumper near the free throw line with his man still in front of him. He will throw the occasional incisive pass and willingly moves the ball, but his lack of explosion really limits his upside. He seems to fit the stereotype of the old school Euro small forward: someone who is tall and can shoot but lacks the athleticism to play on the wing or as a big. He logged a number of minutes as a smallball four with the World big men in foul trouble, but it is not his natural position.
As a smart player in a good program who already has some high-level experience, Birsen might be worth a draft and stash late in the second round whenever he eventually comes out. If he becomes an absolute money shooter and gets strong enough to mix it up inside, it’s possible he could find a role in the NBA. But it is likely that his limited physical profile will prevent that from happening.
Nikola Jokic, Center, Serbia/Mega Vizura
Jokic might have been the most skilled big man at the Hoop Summit when you consider his outside shooting, but his complete lack of strength and explosion really limit his NBA future. The 19 year old was reportedly very solid in the first two practices, and he showed flashes of that later in the week. He is deadly in the post when he gets a smaller player switched onto him, and is an excellent shooter out to the FIBA arc, even on pick and pops.
But it really is hard to see him surviving on the interior in the NBA. Although he somehow weighed in at 253 lbs, he sure doesn’t look it. He is thin, but also has zero muscle definition and can’t jump at all. At 6’11 with a 9’3 standing reach, he still is barely able to dunk even when wide open. And challenging shots is not his forte either; for comparison, look how much higher Towns gets on this dunk despite their similar standing reaches.
Jokic was also totally overmatched in post defense against Jahlil Okafor during the game.
Perhaps this sounds harsh, but Jokic is being talked up as an NBA prospect and it is hard to see how he gets there unless he can really improve his athleticism. Given how his body looks, that does not seem to be in the offing even if he does hit the weights.
Gao Shang, Wing, China
Gao was somewhat superior to recent Chinese prospects at the Hoop Summit, as he at least did not look totally out of place in the practices. He has a nice release on his jumper and can drain international threes. He earned the nickname “G-Money” from the coaching staff since he compiled the best record in the shooting drills. At 6’7, 220 he is muscular and doesn’t get pushed around.
Gao is not a particularly skilled dribbler or passer, and was not really able to finish inside either. He moves his feet pretty well, but still has below-average NBA athleticism. Unfortunately, he required an interpreter which did not help in picking up some of the schemes, and he only played three minutes in the game. Nevertheless, one NBA scout remarked to me that he killed the World team’s momentum early in the fourth quarter as the US broke away from a 61-61 tie at the end of three. Gao is not really an NBA prospect, but should have a reasonable international career.
Brandone Francis, Shooting Guard, Committed to Florida
Francis turns 20 in September, but the Florida commit was not really able to make an impact here. He is a shooting guard with good form on his jumper, but does not appear to have FIBA range yet. That jumper is his best attribute, as his body is a little doughy at 6’4.5″, 208. He doesn’t have a lot of explosion or ability to get by guys off the dribble, nor did he really make any great passes during the week. He should have a nice college career, but an NBA or even high-level international future would be a major surprise.
A Cautionary Note
It is important to remember that we are dealing with just a few practices here, and thus a rather small sample size. For instance, I wrote earlier that Justise Winslow struggled to finish non-dunks inside. This was based on a sample of about eight shots over the course of the week. Obviously, much more evaluation is needed to arrive at a definitive evaluation of these prospects, especially in separating out the upper echelon.
Nevertheless, in-person scouting trips like this prove quite valuable to gauge players’ athleticism, see their work habits and how they respond to coaching in practice, and get a sense of how they interact with their teammates.
NBA Daily: Capela’s Injury is a Massive Setback for Houston
Clint Capela’s thumb injury couldn’t have come at a worse time. Spencer Davies looks at the massive loss, who may get opportunities and what moves the Houston Rockets could make in response.
James Harden has a real challenge on his hands.
The Houston Rockets’ remarkable stretch from mid-December to the New Year behind the reigning MVP helped put them back in the middle of the playoff picture.
But he had a right-hand man—the same right-hand man who has emerged as a dominant two-way interior presence over the last three years under Mike D’Antoni—and that is Clint Capela.
Friday afternoon, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Capela would be out for at least the next month with ligament damage in his right thumb. There’s a chance that the 24-year-old big man could get a second opinion from a hand specialist following the MRI he took Monday.
Before sustaining the injury in Orlando, Capela was having a career season with the Rockets on the offensive end, significantly up-ticking his previous year averages to an impressive 17.6 points and 12.6 rebounds in over 34 minutes per game.
At the bottom of the barrel in defensive rebounding (and 29th in total rebounds per game), Houston already struggles on the glass as it is. However, they are doing a solid job of preventing their opponents from crashing the boards. Taking Capela out of the equation hurts because of his fundamental ability.
According to NBA.com, the Rockets rebound the ball as a team 89.9 percent of the time when Capela boxes out under the basket. He averages six of them per game and the vast majority of those are coming on the defensive end. It’s a simple part of the game, yet such an important aspect for a group that struggles in that area.
With Capela sidelined, Houston loses its rim protector. While it may be true that he’s not having as much success as last year defending in the paint, he is one of only four players in the league seeing at least seven attempts per game within five feet or less. More importantly—anywhere on the floor—the Swiss center is a top five shot contester among all of his peers.
Offensively speaking, Harden might be the most disappointed. He and Capela have developed an incredibly impressive two-man game through the Beard’s ability to finish at the rim.
Using the pick-and-roll to their advantage, the opposing big often chooses to help his man cover Harden, leaving Capela there for the easy high-handoff. It’s a play this duo has literally executed at will, and it’s been made deadly over the last few seasons.
Couple that with the athleticism and precision both have—few teams stand a chance at stopping it. And, back to the battle of the boards, Capela pulls down five offensive rebounds per game and provides second chance opportunities consistently.
If you don’t get the picture, we’ll leave it at this—the Rockets have to do something to keep up in a crowded Western Conference. The postseason hunt cannot solely rest on the shoulders of Harden. He has accomplished unfathomable feats in his career and was the NBA’s 2017-18 Most Valuable Player, but this is another type of challenge.
Houston’s players are dropping like flies. Sure, Chris Paul is on the mend and likely to return soon, and the same could be said of Eric Gordon, but there is little depth in the frontcourt . They’re down to Nene, Marquese Chriss and Isaiah Hartenstein as men in the middle. The rest are versatile forwards with the ability to play multiple positions, but not the one they need desperately at the moment.
We all know what Nene is capable of. That said, he’s not going to play 34 minutes per night at his age. In fact, the veteran has only eclipsed the 20-minute mark four times total in the last two seasons. There’s no doubt that he’ll give Houston a solid boost in spurts, but that’s likely not sustainable throughout the entirety of a game.
This writer is curious to see what Chriss does with the opportunity in front of him. It is fair to say that his athletic ability matches, or even supersedes, Capela’s, so the alley-oops will be there for him. However, these important questions remained unanswered: Can he screen? Can he rebound? Can he take the challenge?
Chriss was a top 10 draft pick not even three years ago. There’s a ton of potential that can be tapped into here. Unfortunately for the Rockets, they’re going to need to see growth and development quickly with little leeway for mistakes. They probably can’t depend on a raw 21-year-old prospect to steadily produce the way Capela has.
Hartenstein offers more size than both of those two and has played in 22 games this season. Still, he has only appeared in one contest since December 3. Hartenstein has taken advantage of his floor time, but the sample size is extremely small. Again, not nearly enough to fill the Capela void.
There are a few names out there that Houston general manager Daryl Morey could pursue.
Purely out of speculation, Bulls center Robin Lopez might be a good fit for a veteran squad and the organization is reportedly refusing to negotiate a buyout, so that may be worth paying attention to.
Hawks big man Dewayne Dedmon has quietly put together two impressive seasons in Atlanta. He’s a consistent player who fights for rebounds and gives a solid effort on the defensive end. And an extra attractive quality for D’Antoni—his expanded shooting range. John Collins has stated his own case for extra playing time with stellar play, so Dedmon probably won’t fit into the plans too much longer.
Tristan Thompson is giving his all with the Cleveland Cavaliers. He just returned from a foot injury and is getting back to the pre-injury version of himself. The 27-year-old is matching his career-high in points per game and is grabbing a career-best 11.2 rebounds per game to boot.
Like Capela, he is a monster on the offensive glass and excels at the fundamentals of the game with pick-and-roll situations and box outs. The only drawback to Thompson is his hefty, fully guaranteed salary, but he’s only on that deal for this year and the next.
With Cleveland looking to take on “bad” contracts with future assets attached, the Rockets should most definitely consider moving Brandon Knight or some other package along with a pick or two.
This is just a matter of spitballing a few names that might fit the bill for Houston. Heck, even if it’s a minor depth move, going out and getting an underutilized player like Skal Labissiere in Sacramento would make a difference to ensure the others aren’t winding themselves down with a huge increase in playing time.
Whatever the Rockets decide to do, the road to the playoffs has become a whole lot bumpier. Harden is going to have his work cut out for him LeBron James style a la 2017-18. We’re all anxious to see how he responds to such a challenge.
The past is the past—and CP3 was incredible for Houston last postseason—but it sure would be nice to have Montrezl Harrell around now, wouldn’t it?
NBA Daily: The Wizards Have Been Reborn
Despite John Wall’s season-ending injury, the Wizards have somehow risen above in their darkest hour, which could do wonders for them for what’s left in the season, writes Matt John.
Ever since the season began, we all wondered: if Washington wasn’t going to blow it up, what exactly could they do to right the ship?
They were obstinate in keeping Scott Brooks as head coach, and to be fair, they shook a few things up. They traded Austin Rivers, who was not fitting in, and Kelly Oubre Jr. – who they didn’t want to re-sign for luxury tax reasons – for Trevor Ariza, a veteran that John Wall and Bradley Beal respected during his previous stint on the team.
Blowing it up seemed like an elephant in the room they were going to have to confront at some point, but not anymore.
We were wondering what on earth was going to fix Washington’s problems, and now we may have our answer: Take John Wall out of the equation.
Since Wall went down for the season to remove bone spurs from his heels, the Wizards have gone 5-4, good for slightly above average, but when you consider that they are currently 18-26, they should take any victory they can get.
Also, take a look at who two of those wins came against: Philadelphia and Milwaukee. Perhaps just a fluke, but Sunday, they pushed Toronto to the brink in double overtime. All three of those teams are at the top of their class in the Eastern Conference, and all three of them are trying their darndest to get home court advantage over each other, so they would not take any game against inferior opponents lightly.
Even if this wasn’t the solution Washington was hoping for, it seems that in a time where the doubt placed on them is stronger than ever, the team has finally found a spark. How have they gotten themselves back on course? For a few reasons.
Bradley Beal’s superstar play
Is it too late to throw Beal in the MVP conversation?
Since we’ve entered the halfway mark and at this point, it’s a two-man race between James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo, yes. Not to mention it’s only been nine games, but holy schnikes this nine-game stretch has got to be the best of Beal’s career.
Since Wall went down, Beal has been putting up 30.2 points on 47.2 percent shooting from the field, including 41.3 percent from three. Along with that, Beal is dishing out 6.4 assists a game, grabbing 5.4 rebounds a game and averaging 2.4 steals a game.
His scoring numbers were bound to go up with him being the primary focus. It’s his all-around game that’s really opening some eyes. Beal’s never averaged more than 4.5 assists or 4.4 rebounds in his career. Seeing him run the point while demonstrating a better nose for the ball has been a revelation.
Since the Wizards have been playing better because of this, Beal’s uptick in his stats all-around shows that it’s not a fluke. We knew Beal was a great player, but did anyone see him playing at this high a level?
Beal finding another gear unfortunately also makes a fair case that Wall may have been holding him back. The only way we’ll know for sure if he sustains this for the rest of the season.
Otto Porter’s return to form
Despite being one of the premier three-and-D players in the league, Porter’s numbers have been down this season.
This season, Porter is averaging 12.6 points on 48.2 percent shooting including 39 percent from three. Those are some pretty solid numbers, but compared to what Porter’s been able to put up in the past – He’s averaged between 13 to nearly 15 points a game to go with 50 to 51 percent shooting from the field (including 44 to 45 percent from three over the last two years) – that’s a step back. That’s not good when you’re getting paid over $26 million.
Since coming back from his most recent injury, Porter is showing more signs of his old self. His field goal percentage still isn’t quite as good as the precedent he’s set for himself, but Porter is shooting 45 percent from three in this span, which has definitely played a part in him averaging 16 points per game.
The most encouraging stat from Porter is plus-minus, where over these past seven games since his return, he averages a plus-8.3. If Porter’s field goal percentages can return to form, then the odds of the Wizards keeping this up will end in their favor.
The Rotation Guys are stepping up
That, of course, had to be a given with Wall being out. Tomas Satoransky is putting up solid all-around numbers in these last nine games, averaging 11 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 5.3 assists. Since he filled in well for Wall when he went out last year, seeing him do that again shouldn’t be shocking anyone in DC.
Trevor Ariza has been okay. He’s averaged 14.5 points in these last nine games, but on 36.8 percent shooting including 30.6 percent from three. His average plus/minus has been -0.9.
It’s really been the offseason additions that have filled in quite well.
Who would have guessed that in an offseason where the Wizards added players with higher profiles like Austin Rivers and Dwight Howard that their most fruitful additions came from the likes of Jeff Green and Thomas Bryant?
Forget this nine-game stretch in regards to Jeff Green. Did you know, according to Basketball-Reference, that he’s putting up some of the most efficient numbers of his career this season? He’s posting career highs in effective field goal percentage (.557), true field goal percentage (.607) all while having the lowest usage rate in his career (16.9 percent). Green may have found a permanent home in the very city he grew up in.
Bryant has become one of the growing feel-good stories of the season. After his 31-point/13-rebound performance against the Suns, Bryant has established himself as a solid fill-in at the starting center position since Wall’s departure, averaging 13.3 points on 64.9 percent shooting from the field while also averaging 7.8 rebounds a game. Not bad for someone who was cut by the Lakers last summer.
In retrospect, perhaps we should have seen this coming. According to NBA.com, the Wizards are a minus-6.8 with Wall on the floor this season. Last season, when Wall went out with a knee injury back in February, the team went a respectable 14-12, which is not fantastic, but respectable.
The question worth pondering is whether they should keep this going. The Wizards are currently two games in back of Charlotte for the eighth seed in the east. On the one hand, getting a low seed in the playoffs isn’t exactly much to be excited about since the top of the east is actually quite strong this season. On the other hand, according to Tankathon, Washington has the third easiest schedule in the league going by strength. If this strong play proves to not be a fluke, the Wizards may prove to be the one team nobody in the east wants to play.
Then there are the impending returns of both Dwight Howard and Markieff Morris. Morris’ numbers have taken a hit both this season and the season before. With Wall out and other players stepping up their games, viewers should focus on how Morris plays without Wall since he’s in a contract year.
Putting all of the gossip surrounding Dwight off the court aside, Howard was the biggest prize of the offseason and came at a discount compared to what he can do on the court. According to Basketball-Reference, the Wizards are currently 28th in rebounding average with 40.7 per game. Howard has still been one of the league’s best rebounders so he could give a monumental boost in that department.
The Wiz may have some hope after all in spite of Wall’s injury appearing to signify their demise, which is something absolutely nobody believed at the start of the new year. Whether they truly are better without Wall really depends on how they perform for the rest of the season.
If they prove that they are better off without him, then Wall’s super-max extension that kicks in next season could be a bigger problem than we thought. This writer has an easy retort for that.
NBA Daily: How The Nets Reversed Their Fortunes
After hastily suggesting that the Brooklyn Nets should consider tanking, Ben Nadeau admits that he was totally and completely wrong.
Just over a month ago, one Basketball Insiders writer foolishly suggested that the Brooklyn Nets — despite all their youth, determination and overall grittiness — should strongly consider tanking out for the remainder of the 2018-19 season.
At the time, the Nets were floundering without do-it-all playmaker Caris LeVert — holders of a dismal 3-10 record following that gruesome injury, in fact. Between their lingering injuries, the once-neverending on-court debate over D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie and an inability to finish games to the final buzzer, it almost seemed like a no-brainer. After all, losing might’ve resulted in a Zion Williamson-shaped prize headed the borough’s way, coincidently, during the first season in which the Nets have owned their own first rounder since 2013.
Since the original piece was posted on Dec. 8, the Nets have done little beyond rattling off 13 wins in their last 17 contests, becoming one of the NBA’s hottest teams along the way. In a mere instant, Dinwiddie got paid and continued to play out of his absolute mind, Latvian rookie Rodions Kurucs was jettisoned into the starting lineup to great success and even Russell suddenly appeared to approach that metaphorical corner.
As of Friday, Brooklyn has gone from single-digit winners (9-18) to the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed (21-22). So, uh, unfortunately, it looks like a once well-thought out article belongs firmly and totally in the garbage. The Brooklyn Nets are not tanking in 2019 and nor should they be — but just how wrong has that take become over the last 36 days? Well, let’s find out.
Take No. 1: “But with so many crucial, organization-altering decisions on the very near horizon, Brooklyn will need to reevaluate their direction if the losses continue to pile up. At what point does incubating culture come at the expense of missing out on an elite prospect?”
The record obviously speaks for itself — and per Nets PR recently, their 13-4 record over the last month is only bettered by the San Antonio Spurs and Indiana Pacers’ three-loss efforts. During that stretch, the Nets have ranked fourth in field goal percentage (47.9), fifth in three-pointers made (12.8) and sixth in points (114.7) per game. The defense is still a work in progress — although Brooklyn been much better at getting crucial stops when they need them — but the offense has hummed like a well-oiled machine.
From Oct. 17 to Dec. 8, the Nets’ offensive rating came in at 107.9, a mark that left them just 17th-best. In the last 18 games, however, head coach Kenny Atkinson has worked his magic touch and elevated his oft-injured roster all the way up to 111.6. Not only does it rank 10th-highest, but it’s additionally better than the Clippers, Bucks, Trail Blazers and Thunder in that time span as well. All of these plaudits have come with the useful Allen Crabbe missing most of the red-hot streak and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, the team’s best man-to-man defender, sitting for the last six contests.
In layman’s terms, the Nets have gotten a whole lot better in a hurry, even without their roster at full health.
And on the other hand, it’s not that the Nets have rid themselves of all their important choices — the immediate futures of Ed Davis, DeMarre Carroll, Hollis-Jefferson and others remain — but they’ve addressed one of their biggest difficulties already. Dinwiddie may not have received his sought-after extension right on Dec. 8 — and he even left money on the table to boot — but the now-financially-secured point guard has been the consistent key and engine behind Brooklyn’s fast resurrection.
Which brings this teardown to the second previous point of conversation…
Take No. 2: “As two of the Nets’ best players, a desire to retain them both is understandable — but unless one is willing to come off the bench for the foreseeable future, it may not be the road the franchise wants to head down.”
Of course, there are some variables left to play out here: Mainly, Russell’s foray into restricted free agency this summer. Even then, the last month of basketball has gone a far distance toward proving that the-one-or-the-other notion may not be the only way forward for Brooklyn. Over the last 18 games, Dinwiddie has confidently poured in 19.3 points and 5.5 assists per game — both upticks on his averages from Oct. to early Dec — even hitting a number of clutch buckets in the process.
Dinwiddie has continued to come off the bench in a hyper-aggressive sixth man role — and may even be the current odds-on favorite to win the annual award come April — but it hasn’t slowed down his backcourt partner lately either.
Amidst this recent stretch, Russell has averaged 17.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists on 44.2 percent from the floor. He’s tallied multiple, complete 30-plus point efforts while also distributing the ball seamlessly in a quick-moving offense. Most importantly, the Nets have deployed their promising guard in the fourth quarter at a higher rate as well — he’s no longer just cheering his teammates on through clutch moments, Russell is leading them. Sure, there are nights where Russell still struggles — like his five-point, six-turnover disappointment versus Boston last week — but his improved play has onlookers asking if the fourth-year’s sky-high potential is finally coming to fruition.
Russell turns just 23 years-old next month but if he keeps playing like this, the will-they-won’t-they match debate will disintegrate long before free agency. Needless to say, if this positive turn is a permanent look for Russell, he’ll be staying in Brooklyn long-term. In the course of a month, ultimately, it may be just the road this franchise wants to head down after all.
On a more interesting note, not only have the Nets toyed with playing both Russell and Dinwiddie at the same time, thus eliminating the Sophie’s Choice conundrum between choosing who to sit, but Atkinson has also thrown Shabazz Napier into the mix. A three-guard lineup wouldn’t work for most teams, but the Nets must utilize their talent in any shape or form they can. The electric ballhandlers have both been exceptional as of late, so Brooklyn hasn’t had to worry about taking turns or trying to guess who’ll possess the hotter hand.
Their ability to play together could be a major development as the Nets decide how to ride this rebuild into 2020 and beyond.
Take No. 3: Play the kids, trade the veterans
Last but not least, there was a hope for a youthful jolt of energy to the arm. If the Nets were going to flounder, they might as well do it with some panache, right? Turning the keys to the wobbly wagon over to the kids — specifically Rodions Kurucs, Džanan Musa, Alan Williams and Theo Pinson — would theoretically grant them valuable experience for years to come. Past that, the Nets and the always trade-savvy general manager Sean Marks could then ship off effective veterans on large, expiring contracts for future assets. Instead, almost the opposite has happened.
Obviously, Kurucs’ role promotion been undeniably prudent and invaluable within this Nets mini-run — but after that? Musa, who had averaged 20.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.1 steals in 32.4 minutes for Brooklyn’s G League affiliate in Long Island this season, was diagnosed with a left shoulder subluxation in mid-December and has yet to return. Williams, although a G League menace, was released by the Nets on Jan. 2 so the center could pursue a more lucrative contract in China, only to return this week after complications. And despite torching the Maine Red Claws for 43 points on Thursday, Pinson has yet to totally sort through his burgeoning skills at the NBA level.
That lack of consistent in-game burn has allowed the roster’s strong veteran presence to shine on through entirely. DeMarre Carroll was cold in the season’s early aughts, but he’s torched opposing defenses lately with a new-look approach. Last week alone, Carroll dropped 19-, 20- and 20-point efforts back-to-back-to-back on a combined 19-for-33 from the floor. The junkyard dog likely won’t regain his effortless wizardry from his career-best 2017-18 campaign, but this revitalized version — which Carroll chalked up to assistant Jordan Ott — isn’t just expiring trade bait, he’s absolutely essential to the Nets’ successes.
It’s often tough to predict the daily statistical contributions from Jared Dudley — but for what he lacks in big scoring performances, the 33-year-old has been universally hailed for his leadership. Aside from being well-loved, Dudley has started in 25 games for Brooklyn this season, always willing to hit some much-needed late three-pointers and do the dirty work without complaint. While he’s not the future answer at the position by any means, it’s safe to say Dudley is going nowhere during this busy trade deadline season. Without Carroll or Dudley, there’s no way the Nets would’ve stayed this hot for this long — that seems almost certain.
Kenneth Faried is still glued to the bench, but in two of his three appearances since Dec. 8, the Manimal has turned in double-doubles lines. Whether there’s a trade or a buyout on the horizon, something else must be in store for the handy power forward.
At the end of the day, it was too hasty to turn a watchful eye toward Zion Williamson and his killer draft class that early. But after falling prey to a bad 3-10 streak, and without LeVert for the foreseeable future, it looked like a potential route with merit. It’s strange how quickly things can change in the NBA and the Nets, once again, appear to be a shining example of this clause. Thirty-six days ago, the Nets were tumbling down the conference ladder with a bubbling point guard controversy and a glaring need for an exit plan. Now in mid-January, the Nets look wholly competitive despite a slew of injuries, while Dinwiddie and Russell have not only existed in conjunction with each other, they’ve thrived.
Brooklyn won’t be looking for a youth movement to save them, or even see the season out — that’s a strategy for those secret tankers. And although this writer incorrectly doubted the Nets, the franchise never wavered. Not everything has been fixed, handled or dealt with, of course, but it no longer feels like slapping a band-aid on a massive bleeding wound and calling it good enough. These Nets, competitive and scrappy, are here to stay, which is a significant accomplishment considering where the team stood not too long ago.