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Time’s Up: Five NBA Players Who Must Be Traded

Moke Hamilton identifies five players who must be traded ahead of the NBA’s February 20 trade deadline, otherwise their teams will miss a nice opportunity.

Moke Hamilton

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Only the strong survive, and as life continues on under the new economic era that the NBA’s 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement has brought forth, it is not the general manager who has the most money that will ultimately prevail.

No, it is the GM who has spent the most time with the barbell. But we, obviously, are not talking brute force strength here, we are talking mental muscle.

So you, Mr. GM, do you know how to survive in this new era? Do you know what you can do to get your team over the hump?

We do! Follow two simple rules.

First, do not allow useful players to flee your farm for free. Odds are, Gregg Popovich is not losing sleep in San Antonio over Gary Neal’s departure this past summer. But Mitch Kupchak and the Los Angeles Lakers? You can rest assured that the departure of Dwight Howard still disturbs.

That is exactly why Pau Gasol immediately emerges as one of our noteworthy names here.

But before delving into the details, observe the second rule: Do not put off for tomorrow what can be accomplished today, especially if your potential trade partners do not like the idea of being hard-capped or otherwise facing economic sanctions, and that is exactly what a sign-and-trade agreement does in this new economic era of the Adam Silver’s NBA.

In short, a team that receives a player in a sign-and-trade arrangement must be no more than $4 million above the luxury tax threshold after the trade is completed. The receiving team is also hard-capped at the apron amount for the duration of the season in which they receive the player. Even worse, the receiving team may not spend more than a taxpayer mid-level exception on summer acquisitions, so in other words, receiving a player in a sign-and-trade arrangement certainly is not all it is cracked up to be and it easily is no longer as viable an option as it was under the previous economic era.

So yes, Evan Turner and Greg Monroe, though possibly restricted free agents this summer, should be moved now.

The restrictions placed on receiving teams in sign-and-trade arrangements simply means that potential trade partners diminish significantly once February 20 passes.

So between now and then, Sam Hinkie, Joe Dumars, Mitch Kupchak, Masai Ujiri and even Daryl Morey would be wise to learn from the past mistakes of others. Each of those five should do their best to find a team that their respective players would like to go to, but does not want to be subjected to the restrictions born from a sign-and-trade arrangement.

Call them up and make the best effort to execute a trade involving the below players and do it before the February trade deadline. At the end of the day, everyone wins. The team trading the player gets something in return, the player leaving ends up in a situation where he is happy and the receiving team would not have to face any of the restrictions brought forth by executing the sign-and-trade.

It’s a no-brainer, is it not?

Of course it is. With that said, keep an eye on the following players as we draw nearer to the February 20 trade deadline.

Evan Turner (SG, Philadelphia 76ers)

Earlier this season, Evan Turner famously proclaimed that newly installed Sam Hinkie “is not my general manager” after Turner and the Sixers failed to come to an agreement on an extension. Turner has responded by turning in a good all-around season, despite the obvious struggles of the Philadelphia 76ers.

As it stands, the Sixers may make Turner a restricted free agent by extending him the required $8.7 million qualifying offer once they are eligible to, but that is no guarantee. In the summer of 2012, the Memphis Grizzlies opted to not extend O.J. Mayo a qualifying offer and saw him bolt to the Dallas Mavericks. Mayo was not as highly regarded as Turner, but their falling out of favor after being selected with lottery picks is somewhat familiar. The Grizzlies received nothing in return for a player who, despite his struggles, had perceived value around the league. Though they remain a power in the Western Conference, the Grizzlies obviously failed to maximize the value on their asset.

Turner, unlike Mayo, is just 25 years old and has shown, at least in spurts, that he can be a highly productive wing. Although the Sixers have some semblance of a nucleus upon which they can build, allowing Turner to leave on a four-year extension in the $40 million range—the amount he is likely to see on the open market—would be a tragic mistake.

There is no question that the Sixers should do their best to move him, right now, to a team that would not be in a position to meet his salary desires this summer.

Greg Monroe (C, Detroit Pistons)

Partially due to the acquisition of Josh Smith and the emergence of Andre Drummond, Greg Monroe has seen his production slip as a member of the Detroit Pistons. Like Turner, Monroe is completing his fourth year and could be made a restricted free agent by the Pistons this summer. Monroe’s qualifying offer is only about $5.5 million, but whether or not the Pistons would be willing to commit the kind of dollars it would take to secure Monroe for another four or five years is doubtful, especially after the club committed almost $80 million combined to Smith and Brandon Jennings last summer.

As far as big men go, Monroe will be among the most coveted this summer. It would not be surprising for him to receive a maximum offer from a team looking for an effective big man who can pass and make plays out of the post—during the 2012-13 season, with a higher utilization, Monroe averaged a mind-boggling 3.5 assists per game.

That, in and of itself, has immense value in the NBA. The presence of Drummond and the struggles of the Pistons, though, make it such that committing the dollars necessary to make Drummond happy may not be the wisest thing to do for the Pistons. All of that is true even before considering that Drummond and Monroe may actually be stunting one another’s development.

Waiting by idly until this summer and allowing Monroe the freedom to sign a maximum extension with another team? That would be ill-advised. He is highly coveted across the league and could probably fetch decent assets in return if the Pistons opted to move him rather than risking losing him for nothing this summer, if the Pistons aren’t prepared to open their wallet.

Clearly, the time to move Monroe is now.

Pau Gasol (PF, Los Angeles Lakers)

Like Amar’e Stoudemire during his tenure with the Phoenix Suns, Pau Gasol has been the subject of trade rumors for what seems like an eternity. His head-butting with Mike D’Antoni has been well-documented and whether or not Gasol would prefer to remain in Los Angeles once he becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer is doubtful.

Gasol went on the record as saying he would be interested in returning to the Memphis Grizzlies, where his younger brother has emerged as one of the best all-around centers in the league. A frontline featuring the two would be difficult to contend with, despite the health issues that have plagued the aging Pau over the past few years. If Zach Randolph sticks around, the Grizzlies would have a fearsome triad up front.

Fortunately for the Lakers, as long as Randolph opts into the $17 million he has due to him next season, the Grizzlies would not be able to offer Gasol more than a mid-level exception of $5.3 million in July.

The Lakers, with an eye toward luring free agents in the future, are hesitant to add long-term money to their payroll, but if Gasol is truly amenable to returning to Memphis, a deadline deal with the Grizzlies would both allow him to return to the team that drafted him while maintaining his full Bird rights heading into July.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Suns have registered interest in Gasol, but are reluctant to meet the asking price of the Lakers—a high draft pick in this year’s draft.

Though he may be over the hill and almost 34 years old, Gasol is still a versatile interior force and for the rebuilding Lakers, accepting 50 cents on the dollar for him would be more advisable than losing him for nothing.

For what it’s worth, the Grizzlies make for a more attractive trade partner for the Lakers than the Suns. The Suns, first, will be under the cap this summer and could maintain the flexibility necessary to simply sign Gasol outright. Additionally, the Suns may be reluctant to trade a pick to the Lakers without an assurance that Gasol would re-sign in Phoenix come July. The Grizzlies, on the other hand, have already been cited by Gasol as a desired destination and are unlikely to have the ability to sign Gasol to a lucrative offer this summer.

Whether it be to Phoenix or Memphis, though, the Lakers must move the Spaniard.

Kyle Lowry (PG, Toronto Raptors)

After being mentioned as a trade target for the New York Knicks earlier this season, Kyle Lowry has emerged as one of the conference’s hottest topics.

The Raptors and their improbable rise to the top of the Atlantic Division is due in large part to the impressive play of Lowry, whom many believe should have been named as an Eastern Conference All-Star.

Lowry’s 16.6 points and 7.5 assists per game this season both represent career-highs, and at just 27 years old, he still has perceived upside that may be realized if he finds himself in the right situation.

General manager Masai Ujiri was brought to Toronto to help build the team into a contender in his own image, and thus far, he has not done or said anything to quiet the speculation that there is no interest in retaining Lowry past this season. It is a situation that is eerily reminiscent of what Evan Turner is going through in Philadelphia.

At this point, the New York Knicks still make for a sensible destination for Lowry. Across the league, he has developed a reputation for being a player who wears out his welcome, and odds are, if opposing teams were tearing down Ujiri’s door for a chance to acquire the 27-year-old point guard, he probably would have been dealt already.

A three-team trade in which the Knicks send out a coveted piece in return for Lowry could make sense if the Raptors and Knicks could not agree to a one-on-one trade. Such a deal makes sense for both teams, but only if the Knicks decided that they would re-sign Lowry this summer and make him a part of the team’s future.

The team’s interest in both Rajon Rondo and Kyrie Irving is a poorly kept secret around New York, but with neither player a guarantee to hit the free agent market anytime soon—much less land with the Knicks—Ujiri could take advantage of the Knicks and their desperate attempt to sneak into the playoffs.

It is hard to imagine Lowry remaining a member of the Raptors past this season, and letting a productive point guard whose best days may be ahead of him go for nothing—that’s something only a team like the Knicks would do.

Omer Asik (C, Houston Rockets)

Although Omer Asik is under contract through the end of next season, his soap opera with the Houston Rockets has gone on long enough and moving him now is the right decision for the franchise.

Asik is a good insurance policy for Dwight Howard, but negative vibrations emanating from players who are not content with their playing situations are things that have the potential to poison an otherwise harmonious locker room. Asik is nearing a return from an extended absence due to a troublesome knee and there is no doubt that the Rockets are a better defensive team with him, but through 31 games without him, they are 20-11.

Without him, they have fared just fine, but the catalyst behind trading him now is simple: tomorrow is not promised. Both the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs know that well.

After being beat up by the Miami HEAT in the 2012 NBA Finals, injuries to Russell Westbrook have diminished the Thunder’s status as a contender. Obviously, in Westbrook’s absence this season, Kevin Durant has become the league’s consensus Most Valuable Player through its first half, but the assumption was that the Thunder would be the conference’s top team for years to come. Westbrook’s injuries have changed that.

That can happen at anytime, to any player—including both James Harden and Dwight Howard.

As for the Spurs, thus far this season, their health has been anything but optimal. Their return to the NBA Finals this year, at this point, seems like a long shot, especially if their troublesome health is a sign of what lies ahead.

With a brilliant half court scorer in Harden and a interior presence like Howard, the Rockets are a team that has the first two pieces toward enjoying sustained playoff success. They are one more piece away from potentially rising to the top of the conference, and they have Asik—a valuable player who is not happy with his role.

Why not deal him now? The fact remains that Asik’s presence on the Rockets’ roster and the continued questions about his status and demeanor will continue to be an unwelcome distraction for a young team still toiling and attempting to find itself amongst the conference’s elite.

There is simply little reason to continue to drag this out.

Knowing when to hold them and when to fold them is the responsibility of a good general manager. Bluffing and stalling has value, but with the trade deadline rapidly approaching, Turner and Monroe soon to hit restricted free agency, Gasol already thinking about another life in Memphis, Lowry playing himself into the highest trade value he will ever have and the Rockets’ existence as an emerging contender, Sam Hinkie, Joe Dumars, Mitch Kupchak, Masai Ujiri and Daryl Morey would all be wise to keep their cellphones charged.

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NBA AM: Was Watson Setup To Fail or Just Ill Equipped?

Was Phoenix’s Earl Watson setup to fail or did he just not have the tools and experience to overcome the tenuous job of a rebuild?

Steve Kyler

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Set Up To Fail? Maybe

The Phoenix Suns have parted ways with head coach Earl Watson just three games into the 2017-18 season. Associate head coach Jay Triano is expected to be his replacement as interim head coach.

Some have suggested that Watson was set up to fail, but let’s be honest for a minute. Was Watson really the best option the Suns had after parting ways with Jeff Hornacek during the 2015-16 season? Watson was well liked and that an easy and intoxicating concept, but even as an interim coach Watson won just nine games in 33 tries.

It’s not as if Watson took the team in a totally new direction; the Suns were a bad team when they took the gamble on Watson. Moving the needle wasn’t exactly likely when the massive inexperienced Watson took over the team. Is anyone really surprised he couldn’t make it work?

Sure, the roster and the priorities of the franchise were an uphill climb, but let’s be real for a minute: The Suns couldn’t have expected Watson to have the tools to bring it all together. Rebuilding is hard all by itself, and doing so with a head coach that has never coached isn’t exactly smart. In fact, it rarely works out.

It’s easy to say Watson was set up to fail, but equally easy to say he never had the experience to believe he’d be successful. It was a gamble on the Suns’ part, a gamble that ran its course.

So What Next?

The Suns are not very good, as three straight blow out losses have proven. It’s possible that Triano can make enough changes to at least get the Suns to compete, but the word in NBA circles was the Suns locker room had basically quit after three games, so Triano’s task may be tough for even a coach that been around the block a few times.

Like Watson, Triano is incredibly likable and approachable, but unlike Watson, Triano has experience. Triano has experience not only as a head coach, having coached the Toronto Raptors for three years, but he is the head coach of the Canadian National Team and has been on the Team USA and Portland Trail Blazers staff as an assistant. While Triano’s stint in Toronto looked a lot like Watson’s stint in Phoenix, the big difference is Triano has been around a lot more situations and may be better equipped to put a system and structure in place that could yield improvement, or at least that’s the newest bet the Suns are making.

With Triano at the helm, it’s also likely that the front office will have a better relationship than what’s emerged in Watson’s time in Phoenix. General Manager Ryan McDonough and Watson haven’t exactly been on the same page, and Watson had grown emboldened enough to make it clear in the media somethings were not in his control, often taken subtle shots at decisions made by the front office.

It is rare for inexperience and dysfunction to yield success. The hope is Triano will smooth some of that over.

“I Dont wanna be here.”

As news of Watson’s firing began to leak Suns guard Eric Bledsoe, who had a very good relationship with Watson, took to Twitter to announce “I Dont wanna be here.”

Bledsoe has been a constant name in NBA trade circles for the last few years, and with Watson out of the picture, Bledsoe seems to be looking for the door too.

The 27-year-old Bledsoe has two more seasons remaining on his deal, $14.5 million this season and $15 million owed for next season. The Suns have listened to offers on Bledsoe off and on for some time, with many in NBA circles believing this would be the season the Suns would finally trade him.

With Watson, a long-time champion of Bledsoe, out of the picture, there is a belief that Bledsoe’s role is going to decrease, which is likely why Bledsoe took to Twitter.

Pulling off a trade three games into the season seems highly unlikely, especially given that Bledsoe has likely killed his own trade value. There have been several teams over the last two seasons with interest in Bledsoe; the question is, will the Suns close this chapter or try and see if Bledsoe can help them right the ship under Triano and rebuild some trade value when the trade market opens up in December?

$41.11 Million

Of the Phoenix Suns’ $85.448 million in guaranteed contracts, $41.11 million belongs to Bledsoe, injured guard Brandon Knight and center Tyson Chandler. You can toss $10 million more for injured forward Jared Dudley. While Bledsoe and Chandler have played in all three regular-season games, both are not part of the long-term future of the team.

The question becomes, what role will they play under Triano?

The Suns are truly a tale of two teams. There is the old veteran squad that is clogging up the top of the Suns salary cap chart, and there are rookie scale players that are the future, and not coincidentally the players performing at their worst so far this season.

Will the Suns just let the $41.11 million owed at the top just sit, or will the Suns try and fire-sale some of those veterans? The belief is they would like to do the latter.

As much as people may want to say Watson was set up to fail, the evidence in the situation is he was never proven enough to succeed.

The Suns are in a dreadful no-man’s land of bad contracts and underperforming players. Maybe a more proven established coach could have set this situation in a better direction, but the reality is Watson was never experienced enough to handle a rebuild like this because getting the most out of players while losing is a very tough job even for the most experienced of coaches.

Watson, like many before him, will find another job in the NBA. Maybe like Triano who is replacing him, he can take the lessons learned in Phoenix and become a better coach somewhere down the road and get a shot with a team that wouldn’t require as much as the Suns desperately need.

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NBA Sunday: Kristaps Porzingis Sure Looks Ready To Be The Franchise

The Knicks hope Kristaps Porzingis can become their franchise. Thus far, he seems up to the challenge.

Moke Hamilton

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He stood in front of his mentor, isolated, just like they used to do in practice.

He’d seen the jab steps before and the head fakes—they were nothing new. And when Carmelo Anthony mustered the acceleration he still has in his 33-year-old legs to drive around Kristaps Porzingis, Anthony knew he had the 7-foot-3 Latvian big man beat.

Anthony triumphantly rose to the basket and delicately attempted his right-handed layup. Before he knew what hit him, though, Anthony’s shot had been sent to the free throw line.

The message was clear—Kristaps had taken the torch.

“It was fun,” Porzingis said about his confrontation with Anthony. “We went at it in practices a lot and one-on-one after practices.

“It was a lot of fun knowing what he was going to do and try to stop him.”

The Oklahoma City Thunder were much closer to the NBA Finals than the Knicks were last season, and removing Anthony from the Knicks and pairing him with Russell Westbrook and Paul George gives the Thunder a triumvirate that can at least conceivably challenge the Golden State Warriors. They are perhaps the only team in the entire league with enough firepower and defensive pieces.

So no, the Knicks may not be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy anytime soon, but at the very least, the franchise seems to be in good hands—the big, soft hands of Porzingis.

As young NBA players come into their own and attempt to fulfill the lofty expectations that everyone has of them, the third year is the charm, almost invariably. And in that that year, a young player can’t control the other pieces that are around him—that’s why they shouldn’t be judged by their team’s wins and losses.

In that third year, a young player also can’t really control the frequency of his injuries. The simple truth is that many 21 or 22-year-old players simply lack the hardened bones of a fully grown adult that most men become after the age of 25.

But what the young player can prove is that he is prepared to shoulder the burden and take the fight to anyone who stands before him. Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks epitomizes this ideal better than any other young player in the league. He is absolutely fearless and it’s a pleasure to watch.

So is Porzingis.

Since the influx of European-born players began about 20 years ago, we have seen our fair share of “soft” European players. His talent aside (which is considerable), Porzingis has proven to be anything but, and that by itself can help players go a very long way.

In what must have felt like the longest summer ever, Porzingis saw the franchise that drafted him undergo an overhaul that resulted in a light beaming so brightly on him, you would have thought the third-year forward was starring in a Broadway musical.

Say what you want about Porzingis, but he has already done all that he can to notify everyone that have anything to do with the Knicks that his bony shoulders aren’t indicative of the weight he’s capable of carrying.

And in Oklahoma City, against his mentor, Porzingis did the heavy lifting.

“I saw energy,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said after his team’s opening night loss.

“He was great moving. He played 38 minutes, and maybe last year that would be a struggle. He would maybe get tired, and get some silly fouls, but even toward the end on that 37th or 38th minute, he was still up hollering, moving, blocking shots and getting rebounds, so he had a great game and we expect a lot more of that from him.”

Being a Knicks fan is something that nobody should wish on their worst enemy. The franchise has made scores of maneuvers that lacked wisdom and seemingly gone out of its way to alienate people beloved by the franchise. On top of it all, Knicks tickets are among the highest in the entire league.

Fans as passionate and dedicated as Knicks fans deserve a team they can be proud of and a front office that dedicates itself to putting winning ahead of petty feuds and politics.

The hiring of Scott Perry may signify just that.

So when the Knicks traded Carmelo Anthony and ended up getting back 10 cents on the dollar for his value, everyone should have prepared for a long season in New York City.

Coming in, Knicks fans once again found themselves in the unenviable predicament of having to talk themselves into believing that Ramon Session, Michael Beasley and Tim Hardaway were capable of giving this team feel good moments. And while they certainly are, they will surely pale in comparison to the amount of losses that the club accrues along the way.

If there’s one thing the Philadelphia 76ers have taught everyone, however, it’s that the losses don’t necessarily need to be in vain.

So heading into this season, what Knicks fans should have been looking forward to and hoping for is nothing more than the installation of a culture that’s marked by effort, communication and selfless basketball—the hallmarks of the Golden State Warriors.

Aside from that, yes, they should have also come in with the hope that Kristaps Porzingis would take an appreciable step forward and prove himself to truly be a capable franchise cornerstone.

To this point, from the way he holds his head highly, despite a win or a loss, and the way he competes to the best of his abilities, despite his limitations. For now, it’s really all that could reasonably be asked of him.

When it was all said and done—when Porzingis looked the Knicks’ past in the eyes after the Thunder had soundly defeated his New York Knicks—Carmelo Anthony probably told him that he was proud of him and that he wished him all the luck in the world.

He probably told him to continue to work on his game and hone his craft and to block out the background noise.

And above all else, Carmelo probably told Kristaps that he believes he is capable of being his successor.

With his nodding head and serious demeanor, Porzingis, in all his glory, listened intently. Even more so, he believed every word. 

It doesn’t take all day to figure out whether the sun is shining—it’s an adage that remains as true in basketball as it does on a May Day in New York.

For Porzinigis, the bright sky and the beaming sunlight—he’s basking in it all. Not only has he becomes the Knicks’ franchise by default, he believes he’s capable of shouldering the burden.

In this town, that’s more than half the battle.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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