Nothing inspires NBA intrigue quite like potential. The NBA has by far the most interesting draft; basketball is the one major sport where the fan can actually watch enough of the prospects to have an opinion beforehand. And there are few enough draftees and players in the league that one can actually keep track of them all. In this most star-driven of leagues, the search for the next luminary is one of the most fascinating endeavors.
This list, inspired by a question in my weekly chat and similar lists from Baseball Prospectus, Basketball Prospectus and Football Outsiders, is a stab at assessing the league’s future stars. The question: Which players 23 or under (as of February 1, 2015) would you most want to have for the rest of their career? Age 23 was chosen because it encompasses up to a year after what would be the typical player’s senior year in college. It is also probably the last year in which one can say “he’s only ____ years old!” and have it credibly imply his ceiling ought to be much higher than his current performance.
Important things to remember in these rankings:
1. Age. This is perhaps the most important variable in predicting future performance. A certain level of performance means much more if it occurs at 19 than at 22, because players generally continue to improve until reaching their peak between (roughly) 25 and 29.
2. Certainty. A older player’s established level of performance can act as somewhat of a brake on simply picking the youngest players. An older player is closer to his peak and thus there is more certainty as to what he will eventually become. There is a temptation to overvalue the “limitless potential” of a younger player, when that youth also means more can go wrong in the fulfillment of that potential. Injuries, roster fit, poor coaching or simply an inability to improve as much as hoped can all derail a young player. You would much rather have a 22-year-old Kawhi Leonard, who has already established a very high level of performance, than a 19-year-old who might be slightly better one day but could also fall well short of Leonard’s production.
3. Position. No player exists in a vacuum. NBA teams are trying to build a full roster that can compete for a championship, and that impacts player value. The wing and center positions are the most difficult to fill, whereas more teams have quality starters at point guard or power forward. This is extremely important to consider when building a team—with a great wing or center it is much easier since good players at other positions are more readily available. Another key variable is whether the player projects to defend his position adequately in time. Most players this young, especially bigs, are not going to be great defenders. But if a player, especially a big, is below average defensively that makes for some unique team-building challenges.
The list will also adopt a similar bent as my list of the NBA’s top 10 players from last March.
1. Anthony Davis. Age 21
He has probably been the best player in the league to this point, with a five point advantage in PER over anyone else. What’s more, his team’s performance with him on the court has finally caught up with his box score contributions. Davis might be among the top-five 21-year-old prospects ever. He should really be about five tiers above the rest of this list.
2. Kyrie Irving. Age 22
The Cleveland point guard took the league by storm as a 19-year-old rookie with one of the best seasons ever by a teenager. Since then he had largely stagnated, derailed by nagging injuries and a general ineptitude in Cleveland to which he certainly contributed, especially on defense. But a summer with USA basketball and the arrival of LeBron James and Kevin Love has Irving back on track so far this year. His defensive effort has improved (though he still has a ways to go), and overall he has seen a massive increase in efficiency. Irving’s True Shooting Percentage is now above 60, as he makes a ridiculous 71 percent within three feet and has also upped both his three-point volume and percentage to career highs. What’s more, the Cavs are finally playing better basketball with him on the court. A season ago, they were 1.6 points per 100 possessions worse when he played despite the overall lack of talent on the roster. It may prove difficult for Irving to ascend to greater statistical heights as long as James and Love are also soaking up possessions, but that should not obscure how good Irving has been this year.
3. Jabari Parker. Age 19
Like the rest of the 2014 draftees, Parker’s ranking is based much more on his potential skillset and even pre-draft evaluations than what he has actually done on the court from a statistical standpoint in only 20 or so games. I rated Parker number one on my 2014 draft board, and what we have seen so far only bolsters that position. As I wrote a few weeks ago, Parker has popped off the screen with his combination of athleticism and skills. He has not been asked to create a great amount, but for a rookie even his average usage rate (he leads rookies in that department) and above-average PER is a great sign. In isolation against power forwards he often manages to get a good shot, he has been great finishing at the basket (72.4 percent from less than three feet including 39 dunks already), and his passing eye has been excellent for such a young power forward. He could probably handle a greater creation burden than he’s being given so far. The only really disappointing aspect has been his adaptation to the NBA three-point line, where he is clearly uncomfortable and is only 4-16.
The Chicago product’s best long-term position is probably power forward because he will usually have an offensive advantage there, but he possesses the skills of a wing player. With quick enough feet and enough heft to guard the post, he could eventually evolve into a plus defender at the power forward position, able to switch off onto smaller players with some modicum of competence. Even now, he has not been a total disaster defensively, which is something in itself for a young power player.
While Irving gets the nod over Parker on this list due to the fact he has successfully navigated three more years of development, Parker’s rarer skillset probably gives him the higher ceiling.
4. Kawhi Leonard. Age 22
The youngest NBA Finals MVP would not appear to have nearly the offensive ceiling of the players above him on this list. This is the first season of his career with an above-average usage rate, as Gregg Popovich has made a concerted effort to get the ball to Leonard as a creator as he prepares him for a role as the proclaimed future of the franchise. As Kevin Pelton wrote, Leonard has moved his game outside a bit as a result and is taking more jumpers, especially off the dribble. His efficiency has fallen as a result, but Popovich will live with those growing pains in pursuit of the long-term goal of making Leonard more of a primary option.
But even if Leonard does not prove capable of becoming a top-two offensive option on a good team, he still deserves his place on this list with his outstanding defense, shooting and rebounding on the wing. He even has the ability to slide up to the four in small lineups. That combination of skills is essential for team-building. Even if you accept that he lacks the ceiling of an offensive superstar, Leonard provides the greatest certainty of any player on this list.
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo. Age 20
The Greek Freak has earned that nickname and then some. He is probably in the top 10 players of the last 10 years in terms of pure athletic potential on a basketball court with his incredible length and growing strength and athleticism. He also, despite the “new” age limit, was essentially the same age as LeBron James was when he came into the league due to his December birthday. Now at 6’11 with an enormous wingspan, the physical potential is limitless.
That said, we have not quite seen the evidence to indicate Antetokounmpo will be a premium offensive player. He can score in transition and off advantage situations in the halfcourt, but he has not yet shown the quick change of direction, acceleration or moves to really shake his man one on one like the best wing scorers. Of greater concern is the fact that his shot has completely abandoned him this year. He is 2-13 on threes and 19/68 on twos away from the rim. Fortunately, he has gotten to the restricted area for 122 shots on which he shoots a healthy 64 percent. But the bigger issue is his complete and puzzling unwillingness to take open threes after a totally respectable performance from downtown last year.
Defensively, he needs to increase his hip flexibility so he can really get into a stance and guard, although he has shown potential as a stopper (like against Joe Johnson down the stretch in a double OT thriller against the Brooklyn Nets). Another small issue is that Giannis has not had particularly noteworthy efforts on the boards or creating turnovers.
None of this is meant to disparage him as an overall prospect – he’s on this list for a reason. But he has not quite shown enough in actual performance to put him any higher on this list.
6. Andre Drummond. Age 21
Drummond was another player who came into the league at somewhat of a younger age, so he remains only 21 in his third season. He is one of the league’s best rebounders, especially on the offensive end. In a functional offense with some modicum of shooting around him, Drummond would be a great threat rolling to the rim for alley-oops. He also has great potential as a shot-blocker, although he struggles with his positioning on help defense and curiously is not as much of a deterrent at the rim as his size would suggest even when he’s there in time.
But after feasting on inside shots his first two years, Drummond has really struggled this season
Much of that is due to how he has been used. Stan Van Gundy tried Drummond extensively as a postup option early in the season, but he was not nearly ready for that kind of burden. The result is a career low .477 True Shooting Percentage for Drummond on the season, which is of course exacerbated by his execrable free throw shooting. But that is in large part a function of the postups and the overall lack of shooting and playmaking for the Pistons’ miserable offense. Nevertheless, it is debateable whether he will ever be anything approaching a primary option on offense, especially considering the free throws.
Drummond’s quick feet and hops should allow him to evolve into an elite defensive player in time, although trying to block a shot with his right hand on occasion would help. At the very least then, Drummond projects as a rebounding and defensive monster who finishes at an elite level on the pick and roll, with the potential for more scoring with his quick feet and massive frame. While others below him have more superstar potential, Drummond has already produced at an elite level in the box score for two years. That certainty means a lot.
7. Bradley Beal. Age 21
Beal is a player whose burgeoning reputation has exceeded his actual production to date. He started for a second-round playoff team and had some nice games during Washington’s run last year, but overall he is not a star yet. Last year he had a 14.3 PER, while he is at 11.7 this year in 11 games as he returns from his wrist injury.
Fortunately, a lot of Beal’s offensive problems could be cured by better shot distribution. He takes a ton of long twos and rarely gets to the foul line, but he’s solid at the rim and great from beyond the arc at 40 percent last year and 49 percent this year. There is no excuse for someone with that kind of three-point stroke to have a below-average True Shooting Percentage. Hopefully Beal will improve the versatility of his release from downtown and pick up some veteran tricks to get to the line, both of which could really improve his efficiency.
Stardom could absolutely be in his future, but he is further away than commonly believed just yet. We also must ding Beal a bit for his injury history, as he has missed significant time in all three of his seasons so far.
8. Dante Exum. Age 19
The Australian has as much potential as some of the players much higher on this list, but so far his season has been quite the mixed bag (which was expected given he is coming from Australian high school basketball). He has outperformed expectations defensively given his background, showcasing his length and elite lateral quickness to contain opposing point guards.* He also has shown the elite vision necessary to be a full-time point guard, although his ball-handling needs a lot of work. Finally, Exum has shown the ability to heat up from outside on occasion, although overall his jumper has been pretty bad.
The main disappointments have been his low usage rate (although typical for a rookie) and relative inability to beat his man off the dribble and finish at the rim. He now sports a 6.9 PER, which is obviously not good. Nevertheless, he has not been asked to do too much offensively yet in the pick and roll, which will ultimately be his bread and butter. Although it would be nice to see more explosive rim attacks, overall he looks right on schedule for a player I ranked number two on my 2014 board.
9. Rudy Gobert. Age 22
Most fans will think this seems very high for Gobert, who was picked No. 27 in the weak 2013 draft with a pick the Jazz bought from Denver. But the Frenchman with the 7’9 wingspan and 9’7 standing reach is already nearing the point at which he constitutes an above-average defense on his own, as Spain found out during a monumental upset at the World Cup. Not only is Gobert already an elite rim-protector, allowing opponents to shoot just 39.3 percent at the basket on 5.3 attempts per game, but he has elite quickness and straightline speed for the center position as well.
Gobert still needs work on the offensive end, where the Jazz have often struggled to score with him on the floor. Part of that is a function of playing a lot of minutes with their young bench, but he also doesn’t quite understand where to be to avoid gumming up the spacing. And if he has a body on him inside, he really struggles to finish. However, he hits the offensive glass at an elite rate, runs the floor hard and has good hands to catch passes inside. There is no reason he cannot be an offensive asset as a pick and roll partner in time, and he seems to have improved his free throw shooting to passable levels. The overall result is a 20.3 PER this year and the potential to have a Defensive Player of the Year type impact if he gets stronger and keeps working on his game. While he doesn’t have superstar offensive potential, his near certain defensive impact earns him a spot on this list.
10. Joel Embiid. Age 20
Embiid’s place on this list could be premature given his injury history and the fact he may not play an NBA game until next year due to a navicular fracture in his foot. But if he were healthy, he would be a lot higher, possessing more potential than anyone on it aside from Davis. For those who have forgotten, Embiid was dominant on a per minute basis at Kansas, showing facility in all the big man skills. He even has a nice touch from outside for a center.
Red flags like the potential for reinjury, lost development time and even the fact he was a year older than a typical freshman are all there. But NBA teams love upside, and Embiid has it.
Honorable Mentions In No Particular Order
These players belong in Tier 5 as well, as there was little to separate them from Gobert and Embiid.
Derrick Favors. Age 23
Favors has fallen off the radar as a prospect since the Jazz have floundered. Their defense in particular has suffered, as Favors simply is not good enough at protecting the rim to be a center. But he is lighting it up from midrange this season and hopes to develop a three-point shot over this summer. This may presage a potential move to the four. More to the point, he’s 23 and has a 22.8 PER. At power forward, his postup game would be even more effective while his defense could move from a minus to average or above. If he and Gobert can ultimately play together, Utah could improve very quickly on defense.
Jonas Valanciunas. Age 22
The big Lithuanian is starting to get there offensively, now sporting a .627 True Shooting Percentage. He gets to the line at a massive rate, where he drains 80 percent. But Toronto has struggled with him on the floor defensively, to the point where he still does not close games for Dwane Casey. Despite his length, he has struggled to protect the rim and execute the system. If that changes, he may shoot up this list.
Nikola Mirotic. Age 23
Many said Mirotic would be a top-10 or even top-five pick in this most recent draft, and he has shown flashes of that offensive skill with his deadly three-point shot, high free throw rate and ability to drive-and-kick. He also has shown more aptitude than anticipated as a help defender and has great hands. Unfortunately, he is perhaps the league’s worst one-on-one defender out on the floor. Kemba Walker proved that in embarrassing fashion the other night, but he gets blown by nearly every time. That’s going to need improvement, but in time he could be a massive weapon in pick and pops.
Players to Watch In No Particular Order
Even at this level, and with the limited NBA data available on some of these prospects so far, a number of names could easily ascend this list. But for now, they remain a tier below.
Andrew Wiggins. Age 19
Wiggins is likely the most controversial omission from the top 10. I already explained why I believe his ceiling is much lower than many believe during the draft process, and I have not seen much statistically or with the eyes to change my mind. His game still looks very mechanical. The biggest reason for optimism is his three-point jumper, on which he is a solid 12-29 so far. Nevertheless, that is too small a sample to really get excited yet.
Tobias Harris. Age 22
A cynic might say Harris already is what Jabari Parker might become, but Parker is much more explosive, stronger and skilled than Harris at this age. Nonetheless, Harris is having a breakout year. Granted a lot of that is built on a potentially unsustainable improvement from downtown (he is at 43 percent after 25 percent last year), but he’s maturing into a nice scorer. Unfortunately it is hard to imagine him ever stopping anyone at the four, which is by far his best offensive position.
Marcus Smart. Age 20
Smart was young for a player entering the draft after his sophomore year, and I had him third on my board due to his pick and roll proficiency and ability to get to the basket and finish. While he has been as advertised defensively and as a competitor, that lofty ranking is looking optimistic. Granted, he has had little opportunity in high pick and roll so far, but he has taken a ridiculous 36 of his 55 shots from beyond the arc while playing mostly off the ball. That’s a distribution for a Kyle Korver type, not for someone who has struggled with his jumper throughout his career. He’s shooting 28 percent on threes this year. Until Smart starts getting to the basket and creating efficient shots for himself and others, he has no chance of moving up this list.
Nerlens Noel. Age 20
Last year was largely lost for Noel as he rehabbed from his ACL injury. The Sixers ostensibly were fixing his jump shot, but it still looks like it will never be a weapon for Noel. While Noel is a great shot-blocker and should be a great overall defender in time, he’s probably always going to be a center on offense. It remains to be seen if he can get strong enough to play there defensively as well. Meanwhile, the Sixers need to put an actual NBA team around him so he can focus on finishing at the basket instead of trying to create. The return of Michael Carter-Williams has helped.
Michael Carter-Williams. Age 22
Last season’s Rookie of the Year has a lot of skills, but he’s shooting 38 percent from the field and 24 percent on threes after a miserable shooting year a season ago. Until that improves, he’s not moving up this list.
Shabazz Muhammad. Age 22
After the age scandal and a season with limited playing time in Minnesota, Muhammad was totally off the radar. But he now has a 20.7 PER in 347 minutes so far this year, and looks much more explosive with a knack for scoring inside.. He’s worth monitoring.
Victor Oladipo. Age 22
Despite missing much of the first month of the season with a facial fracture, Oladipo has picked up where he left off last year. He provides very good defense at either guard spot, and he is up to 38 percent on threes in his young season. Oladipo probably doesn’t project as a high enough ceiling offensive player to really become a star though. If he were doing this a couple of years younger, maybe you could see it.
Steven Adams. Age 21
While it is impressive Adams is starting for the Thunder, it has been a disappointing season for him offensively. He’s shooting only 49 percent, which is too low when he isn’t shooting much outside the basket area. Also, his offensive rebound rate has cratered from elite to pretty average for a center. He is a solid deterrent at the rim, but his upside looks like solid starter at best right now.
Dennis Schröder. Age 21.
Schröder was an accidental omission from this list, as he absolutely deserves to be on here. After being completely unplayable as a rookie, he is now closing some games for Atlanta and sports a 20.4 PER. He is almost certain to regress from his hot start, as he shoots an unsustainable 20/38 on twos outside the restricted area. But any player his age with his per minute numbers deserves watching.
Which prospects are the most intriguing to you? Leave your thoughts in a comment below!
NBA Daily: Why Teams Should Think Twice Before Tanking
Making up for the loss of a superstar is not a cut and dry, writes Spencer Davies.
Making up for the loss of a superstar is not a cut and dry affair.
If it happens, ownership and management have to choose between two options.
1) Attempt to stay competitive
2) Blow everything up and go for a high draft pick
The second choice seems to be the favorite path for executives to take as of late. After all, just look at the job the Philadelphia 76ers have done with perfecting the art of the aptly named process, “tanking.”
Former Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie’s three ultra-quotable words have turned NBA fans on to see the bigger picture. Who cares if a team has to suffer through multiple seasons of losing? If it takes a couple of years, so be it. In the end, we’ll reset with younger talent to build around. Trust The Process.
Philadelphia lost a lot of games between the 2013 and 2017 seasons. It was flat out brutal to watch. With that said, it did give the organization the opportunity to draft the likes of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and acquire a young international talent like Dario Saric.
They were extremely patient throughout this whole operation. Brett Brown remained the head coach through thick and thin. Players swore on buying into what was being preached.
Last season was a breakthrough for the Sixers. They won 52 games and made the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 campaign. Two of the guys they drafted turned into recognizable names with their play and have sky-high potential to break through in this upcoming season.
But is this really what it takes to achieve relevancy and perpetual competition in the NBA now? Do you really have to wipe the slate clean entirely and put out an unacceptable product year-in and year-out for half a decade so that there’s a possibility of one day becoming a winning franchise?
It’s obvious that Philadelphia did its homework, but who’s to say that other front offices can function like that? The Sacramento Kings have been in the doldrums for 12 years. The Orlando Magic have missed the playoffs for six straight seasons and the New York Knicks haven’t made an appearance in five.
What it comes down to is hitting on draft picks, plain and simple. You don’t hear often about the missteps of the process. Nerlens Noel was supposed to be a key piece of the Sixers core, as was Jahlil Okafor. Both of those players were top six selections in their respective drafts.
In order to acquire Noel (along with New Orleans’ 2014 first-round pick), Philadelphia sent Jrue Holiday, Pierre Jackson and the 42nd overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft to the newly branded New Orleans Pelicans.
In hindsight, this was an awful move—no bones about it. Holiday had been coming off an All-Star season. He stood a head above the rest on a roster mixed with veterans and middle-of-their-career players. Most impressive of all, it was only his third year in the league.
The Sixers picked a gamble that did not return the results they were hoping for. Michael Carter-Williams won Rookie of the Year and Noel had his moments, but there’s no way it was worth losing a player the caliber of Holiday. But they had to abide by the process by any means necessary, right?
Philadelphia hasn’t won a championship, yet they’re heading in the right direction. They were able to overcome those bumps in the road. The three teams in Sacramento, Orlando and New York to this point have not.
Tanking may not be the wrong answer. It’s not always the right one, though. It all depends on timing. Take a different approach of re-tooling in lieu of rebuilding.
A prime example of this viewpoint is the Utah Jazz last season. After Gordon Hayward signed with the Boston Celtics, many pundits stuck a dead duck label on the Utah Jazz. Those people said that in spite of the fact that the organization was on the rise with a brilliant head coach and an up-and-coming center bordering on best defensive player in the league status.
General manager Dennis Lindsey made a few moves here or there, but did not even think about giving up on the overall progress the Jazz had attained. He kept Quin Snyder and Rudy Gobert, drafted Donovan Mitchell and began a new chapter in the same book instead of writing a different novel.
Utah opened a ton of eyes last season, not only making the playoffs—competing until the very end. And even that was fluky when injuries came into the picture.
They never had to go into the gutter. In the four straight years the Jazz missed the playoffs, it wasn’t because of a set strategy to take a nosedive. They had the wrong coach the first two and were learning how to play winning basketball under the right leader the next two.
It seems as if the Cleveland Cavaliers are taking that route instead of the usual cry to “blow it up.” This isn’t comparing the impact of losing Hayward to LeBron James. That would be irresponsible. But they’ve clearly formed a strategy for all of this and were much more prepared the second time around.
Their true plans were revealed on July 24 when Kevin Love signed a four-year, $120 million extension to stick around with the wine and gold. Confusion surfaced all around. Nearly everybody in the NBA world expected general manager Koby Altman to trade him and stock up on future assets. After all, the Cavaliers’ first-round draft pick next season only conveys if they finish as a bottom 10 team in the league. If they do not, the selection goes to the Atlanta Hawks.
While that’s a true statement, nothing is guaranteed. Anything that happens in a season can be unpredictable. Anything that goes on in a draft is unpredictable.
In one timeline, Cleveland could be as bad of a team as some are predicting with Love. In another, they could make the playoffs and shock their doubters.
We don’t know what Collin Sexton will be in this league yet. We do know that experience is irreplaceable. Why not surround the young man with talent for him to breed confidence in himself and others? It’s better than losing a ton of games because the front office is waiting for the next guy to pair him with, right?
The Cavaliers are keeping their head coach. They’re acquiring players aching for an opportunity. They’re altering their direction, but keeping the same focus.
With LeBron James, Cleveland made four straight NBA Finals. In doing so, they’ve set a standard for the organization. Even with The King going west, why would it make any sense to change that message?
Considering the talent this league already has and the “super teams” that are being built among them, there is a difference between a ball club that wins 20 games and one that wins 35. They both miss out on the postseason and have a lottery pick, however, Team A silently creates losing habits while Team B tries to instill a culture of winning.
There is no perfect method for filling a void left by losing a superstar player. Nobody is a psychic.
Maybe it’s naïve to criticize “The Process” for not wanting to be in NBA purgatory—usually somewhere stuck between a seven seed in the playoffs and the 10th team in the conference standings—but tanking is a tricky game. Precision is necessary to pull it off. If it isn’t there, you’ll be in a world of hurt.
At least when you’re in NBA purgatory, you can add to what you have or try a different coach. Championship or bust is a dangerous mentality in the current landscape of sports.
Of course, that’s always the goal, but very few understand what it takes to get to that point. It all starts with a winning attitude, a quality of most teams that have tanked do not possess.
NBA Daily: The Summer’s Most Impactful Coaching Hires
There have been a lot of coaching swaps this offseason, but there are only a select few that should impact what happens next year.
Building a successful team is like cooking a meal. The players serve as the ingredients, while the coach serves as the cook who stirs the ingredients. A championship team requires the right ingredients just as much as it requires an adept cook.
Take the Warriors for example. Mark Jackson played an important role in putting Golden State back on the map in 2013. However, after it was clear that he wasn’t capable of pushing them much further the following year, they replaced him with Steve Kerr.
That made all the difference. The Dubs went from pseudo-contender to legitimate contender, thanks to their new coach revolutionizing the team’s offense. The team went from the league’s 12th-ranked offense in the league the previous season (107.5 points per 100 possessions) to its second (111.6). Stephen Curry’s evolution into a basketball supernova led the way of course, but it was Kerr’s revisions to the team that pushed them to another level.
It all started with how he handled his rotation. Making Draymond Green a full-time starter while also transitioning Andre Iguodala into the sixth man made the Dubs all the more lethal as a team. The final touch was forming the “Death Lineup”, which consisted of Curry, Green, Iguodala, Klay Thompson, and Harrison Barnes, that made Golden State nearly impossible to stop.
Golden State had a roster built for a title. All they needed was a coach who could get them the best results. Kerr was the man for the job.
That goes to show how vital a coach is to a franchise that has high aspirations.
Because of success stories like Golden State, we saw quite a few coaching changes this summer from teams hoping to have a Hollywood ending much like the Warriors.
Milwaukee Bucks – Mike Budenholzer
Poor Coach Bud. It’s not his fault that the Hawks team that he guided to 60 wins in 2015 slowly disintegrated over the last three years. Luckily he got out of there to avoid having to take on a rebuild. So now, he gets a fresh start in Wisconsin.
Budenholzer’s stock has gone down considerably since winning the Coach of the Year three years ago. That being said, he’s shown that when he has lemons, he can make lemonade. Now that he is running the show in Milwaukee, he is coaching one of the more unique situations in the league. Coach Bud now has a superstar at his arsenal in Giannis Antetokounmpo, which is something he never had in Atlanta.
It’s true that Milwaukee has been one of the league’s frequent underachievers since they kicked the tires of the Greek Freek era, but their talent cannot be understated. Remember that Coach Bud once made the likes of Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver All-Stars, statuses that they’ve never come close to regaining since. If he can do that with guys like Teague and Korver, imagine what he can do with Giannis and Co.
Milwaukee has also done a solid job building a team that fits Budenholzer’s emphasis on floor stretching. Adding Brook Lopez and bringing back Ersan Ilyasova should give a team that ranked 21st in three-point percentage more spacing. That’s quite impressive since Milwaukee had the ninth-best offensive rating in the league (109.8).
Milwaukee’s been trying to find their big break for a while now. They may have found theirs in Coach Bud.
Detroit Pistons – Dwane Casey
Nobody had a harder spring than Casey. Usually, winning Coach of the Year would be a moment worth treasuring, but in Casey’s case, it was far from it. Leading up to getting the award, Casey and the Raptors were swept by the Cavs for the second consecutive time, then he got fired shortly afterward. Casey getting Coach of the Year this season was pretty much like Dirk Nowitzki getting the MVP in 2007 after getting upset by the Warriors in the first round.
Thankfully, Casey’s illustrious resume was good enough for him to land on his feet just about anywhere. That anywhere happens to be Motown, where he’s replacing Stan Van Gundy as head coach. Detroit also has not had the most success since they’ve turned to Andre Drummond. That could be attributed to the unfortunate injuries that they’ve had to deal with in the last two years.
Despite having the persistent monkey on his back come playoff time, Casey has improved his craft in response to his failures. The Raptors saw improvement every year when Casey ran the show, and now Casey has the chance to show he can do the same in Detroit.
It will be an interesting transition going from the Raptors to the Pistons. Though not as talented as Toronto’s, Detroit’s strength should primarily come from their frontcourt. Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond should be one of the league’s best frontcourt pairings on paper. Casey has a reputation for making things work, so now that they will have a full season together, they may shine more than they did last season.
One particular question that should be answered is if Toronto’s problem was Casey or his roster. That may be answered by how Detroit does this season. Oh hey, speaking of Toronto…
Toronto Raptors – Nick Nurse
There seems to be a fair amount of optimism surrounding Nurse. Supposedly, he was the reason why the Raptors’ offense improved so much last season. Casey executed it to perfection, but Nurse was the one who designed it. Now, he’s at the forefront on a team that is desperate for success now more than ever.
This is Nurse’s first gig as a head coach, and the pressure is going to be on. It’s not just that Toronto’s been trying to get past its playoff demons. Now that they have Kawhi Leonard, they have to do everything in their power to keep him around — tall order given he seems hellbent on going to L.A.
Still, Leonard is an upgrade over DeMar DeRozan. Acquiring him, along with promoting Nurse, shows that the Raptors aren’t playing around. Being the head coach for one of the league’s powerhouses is a big break for Nurse. This may be his only to chance to prove he deserves a spot in this league.
James Borrego – Charlotte Hornets
Another Popovich protegee moving up through the ranks! Borrego has had some head coaching experience, though it was with the Orlando Magic, who were not going anywhere, three years ago. Now he’s going to Charlotte, a team that’s in a pretty tough situation right now.
Right now, Charlotte is hard-capped on a roster that does not have much room for improvement. The team has not made the playoffs in two years, and it’s hard to imagine how they improve from where they currently are. However, that might be why they hired Borrego.
Instead of going for a known name like Stan Van Gundy or Jeff Hornacek, they went with a guy who has learned under the NBA’s best coach for several years. Coach Bud became a great coach after learning from Pop, so perhaps Borrego may follow in his footsteps. This is a pivotal year for Charlotte since Kemba Walker’s bargain contract is expiring. If Borrego can help Charlotte return to the playoffs, then that could do wonders for them.
Note that David Fizdale, Lloyd Pierce, and Igor Kokoskov weren’t named. It isn’t fair to include them because the teams they are running are currently in the rebuilding phase with little expectation. They could be very impactful hires down the line. Just don’t expect a lot from them right away.
Same goes for J.B. Bickerstaff, but that’s because he already was the Grizzlies’ head coach. Now he’s full-time instead of interim. Call it cheating if you want to.
As for those who have been named, these hires should have a significant impact on what happens in the Eastern Conference playoff race this season. One of these hires could very well put their team in the finals, while another could put them in the NBA lottery.
NBA Daily: Five Second-Rounders Looking For Rookie Season Role
Although far from guaranteed, there are five recent second-rounders who could work themselves into important roles in 2018-19.
After months of speculation, rumors and workouts, the NBA Draft and their respective summer leagues are finally well in the rearview mirror. With training camps up next, franchises can begin to flesh out their rotations and decide the early season fates of their newly-arrived rookies — even if their selection didn’t come with as much fanfare or hype.
And although draft day studs like Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III are nearly guaranteed to contribute immediately, much of the class’ future is still up for grabs — a statement particularly true for those that followed the first round. Whether it was a strong summer league showing or a picture-perfect landing spot, here are the five second round draftees poised to leave a mark in 2018-19.
Kostas Antetokounmpo, Dallas Mavericks
2017-18: 5.2 points, 2.9 rebounds on 57.4 percent shooting
Much as been made of the youngest Antetokounmpo’s controversial decision to come out this spring, but his faith was rewarded by Dallas with the draft’s final selection. Back in June, our Spencer Davies dove into Antetokounmpo’s time at Dayton and it’s not difficult to see why the Mavericks took a swing on the raw 6-foot-11 prospect. Over four games in Las Vegas, Antetokounmpo averaged five points, 2.5 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks per game on 58 percent from the floor — which, of course, is not eye-popping but could foreshadow a role moving forward.
Between Dirk Nowitzki, Dennis Smith Jr., Harrison Barnes, DeAndre Jordan and the ever-talented Luka Dončić, Antetokounmpo will not be called upon to carry the scoring load at any point. On a two-way deal, the Mavericks have the luxury to develop the Greek-born stopper in the G-League until he’s ready to make a difference — but for a defensive-minded Rick Carlisle, that day could come sooner rather than later. With Dwight Powell and Ray Spalding fighting for minutes at power forward, Antetokounmpo could be an option at the three, where Barnes has just Dorian Finney-Smith behind him.
For a franchise that ranked 18th in DEF RTG (107.4) last season and will strive for their first postseason berth since 2016, giving spot defensive specialist minutes to Antetokounmpo seems like a win-win partnership.
De’Anthony Melton, Houston Rockets
2016-17: 8.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.9 steals on 43.7 percent shooting
After missing an entire season due to an improper benefits scandal at USC, Melton serendipitously fell to the Rockets way down at No. 46 overall. At 6-foot-3, Melton has a shot to contribute on both ends immediately as an above-average defender and a microwavable scorer. During his Las Vegas debut, Melton tallied 16.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, four assists and a summer league-leading three steals across five contests — albeit at an improvable 38 percent from the floor. As a tenacious playmaker, Melton should get ample opportunity to impress with a franchise looking to avenge their brutal Western Conference Finals defeat last spring.
On top of learning from one of the best point guards in league history, there also happens to be little competition for Melton in the rotation. In July, the Rockets signed Michael Carter-Williams, a former Rookie of the Year winner that averaged just 4.6 points, 2.7 rebounds, 2.2 assists in 52 games for Charlotte in 2017-18 — and, well, that’s it. For a three-point bombing franchise like Houston, neither guard fits particularly well in that regard, but Melton’s 28.4 percent clip in one season as an 18-year-old still projects better than Carter-Williams’ 25 percent mark over five years.
Chris Paul missed 24 regular season games last year, but the Rockets are still willing to head into training camp with a second-round rookie and Carter-Williams holding down the backup point guard slot — that alone says far more about Houston’s faith in Melton than anything else.
Élie Okobo, Phoenix Suns
2017-18: 12.9 points, 4.8 assists on 39.4 percent from three
Outside of Džanan Musa and the aforementioned Dončić, the Phoenix Suns’ Élie Okobo entered draft night as the most promising overseas prospect in the bunch. Okobo, a 6-foot-2 Frenchman, could feasibly become the Suns’ franchise point guard by season’s end. The playmaking 20-year-old has just Brandon Knight ahead of him on the depth chart, a formidable NBA point guard, but one that does not fit Phoenix’s current rebuilding plan. Admittedly, his statistics won’t jump off the page just yet — 2.3 points, 3.5 assists in four summer league contests — but the potential for Okobo is certainly here.
While it’s worth noting that Okobo didn’t score in three straight contests after his impressive debut, he appears to be a suitable backcourt partner with franchise cornerstone Devin Booker. Whether he’s connecting with a backdoor cut in stride or hitting difficult running floaters, there are plenty of positives to take thus far. With a postseason appearance looking unlikely for the Suns, it’ll make sense to give Okobo the reins before long — even if they can’t move Knight’s contract worth $15.6 million in 2019-20.
Mitchell Robinson, New York Knicks
Needless to say, Mitchell Robinson could be an absolute treat for the New York Knicks.
For much of the pre-draft process, it looked like Robinson was a shoo-in first rounder, with many speculating that he even received a promise from the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 25 overall. Once the first 30 picks came and went without Robinson — who elected to pull out of the draft combine in May — the Knicks were more than happy to scoop him up. Across five summer league contests, Robinson averaged 13 points, 10.2 rebounds and a competition-leading four blocks per game on 67 percent from the field.
On a team-friendly four-year deal worth just $1.8 million in 2021-22, Robinson already looks like a bargain. But beyond his first-round talent at a second-round price, there’s a real chance that Robinson can contribute for New York right away. Following the recent news that Joakim Noah will be stretched if the Knicks can’t find a suitable partner by training camp, that leaves exactly two centers left on the roster: Enes Kanter and Robinson. The 7-foot-1 prospect is a natural replacement for the departed Kyle O’Quinn, while the newly-minted David Fizdale should love Robinson’s shot-changing impact defensively.
Even if Robinson shuttles back-and-forth to and from Westchester throughout the season, he could still seamlessly slide into the Knicks’ rotation from day one.
Jevon Carter, Memphis Grizzlies
2017-18: 17.3 points, 6.6 assists, 3 steals on 39.3 percent from three
Earlier this week, Matt John put forth an excellent case for what should be a comeback season for the Grit-And-Grind Grizzlies — but there’s one second-rounder still currently flying under the radar. Despite a stellar final season at West Virginia, Carter dropped into Memphis’ lap and there are few that so elegantly fit the franchise’s identity without effort. As the reigning back-to-back NABC Defensive Player of the Year, Carter should split the backup point guard minutes with newcomer Shelvin Mack, if not more by season’s end.
The additions of Jaren Jackson Jr., Kyle Anderson and Omri Casspi, along with renewed health from Mike Conley Jr. and Marc Gasol, will have Memphis eying the postseason once again — but Carter will likely be a fan favorite long before then as well. During his lengthy summer league initiation, Carter pulled in 11.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.1 steals over seven games. Although his 35 percent clip from the floor could use some restraint, he won’t need to shoulder offensive responsibilities with the Grizzlies.
Carter’s hard-nosed style of play will enhance an uncharacteristically poor Memphis defense from last season, with his years of extra experience allowing the bullish ball-stopper to drop into the rotation from the get-go.
With franchises focused on their high-ranking lottery picks, many second round draftees (and their often non-guaranteed contracts) will never carve out a consistent NBA role. But from backing up future Hall of Famers to filling a hole in the rotation, it should surprise no one if Antetokounmpo, Melton, Okobo, Robinson and Carter earn some big-time opportunities in 2018-19. Last year alone, Semi Ojeleye, Dillon Brooks and Jordan Bell all quickly found their niche at the professional level — so who will it be this year?