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Utah Jazz 2019-20 NBA Season Preview

The Utah Jazz have been on an upward trend for some time, but this summer may have pushed them over the top in terms of being a serious title contender. Basketball Insiders takes a look at the Utah Jazz in this 2019-20 NBA Season Preview.

Basketball Insiders

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Remember when the Jazz were supposed to be rebuilding? Neither do we.

It’s truly astonishing that in the two years after Gordon Hayward deserted Salt Lake for Beantown, Utah has not only kept the wheels turning, but they are projected to be in a better spot now than they ever were with Hayward on the team.

They say when a door closes, a window opens. In Utah’s case, the window that they have opened in 2017 now has a championship in its view. Let’s not mince words. On paper, this is the best team Utah has constructed since the days of Jerry Sloan. Last year, the Jazz were regarded as a sleeper team, but now, nobody is sleeping on what this team can do.

Utah should be one of the best teams in the league this season, but they’ll have plenty of competitors to square off against. What separates Utah from its competition is that they don’t have nearly as many question marks tied to their roster. They may have some new faces, but these new faces are adding to an already great team as opposed to being added to make a great team.

With that, let’s take a look at the 2019-2019 Utah Jazz.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

The Jazz had a sneaky good offseason, which would have received far more media attention in years prior but, in 2019, adding Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Jeff Green and Emmanuel Mudiay to an already loaded roster doesn’t move the needle quite like adding a top-three player. The Jazz are deeper than most other teams in the league. Losing Derrick Favors and Jae Crowder will hurt on the defensive end, but the Jazz still have Dante Exum and Royce O’Neale who can play similarly versatile roles. And Conley is a huge upgrade from Rubio on both sides of the floor. So while the Jazz play in one of the toughest divisions in basketball, expect them to walk with the Northwest Division crown over the Nuggets and Blazers.

1st Place – Northwest Division

– Drew Maresca

If the Clippers were the winners of the offseason out West, then the Jazz were the team right behind them. It cannot be stressed enough how important the addition of Mike Conley was. Donovan Mitchell does not have to be the primary ball-handler and does not have worry about having to create for everyone else on the team as well. That’s Conley’s job now. Not only that, but they struck gold in free agency with Ed Davis, Bojan Bogdanovic, Emmanuel Mudiay, and Jeff Green. They’ll all fit well with the core of Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, and Joe Ingles. They are going to miss Derrick Favors though. He was a very good defensive player and efficient scorer in the paint. They also need to decide what to do with Dante Exum. He’s oozing with talent, but he’s been hampered by injuries and hasn’t shown himself to be worthy of the top five pick the Jazz used on him. Exum becoming a decent contributor would be huge for the Jazz. It’s probably too late to ever justify him as being a top five pick, but all they need out of him is someone they can rely on for a few minutes off the bench and play both guard positions. Thankfully for them, if he doesn’t pan out, they have other options they can play.

1st Place – Northwest Division

– David Yapkowitz

The Western Conference is absolutely loaded with championship contenders. It might be safe to say the Jazz could be one of them. Realizing improvements had to be made to bolster his roster, Dennis Lindsey hit a home run by acquiring Mike Conley Jr. to be Utah’s new floor general. He also brought in Bojan Bogdanovic to help boost the offensive side of the ball when the team needs a bucket. We’ve seen what Donovan Mitchell is capable of. Now he won’t have to be depended on to drop 30 on a game-by-game basis for Quin Snyder’s group to win games. Joe Ingles returns as the jack-of-all-trades player he is. Derrick Favors had to be moved, but Jeff Green and Ed Davis should be able to suffice in replacing the veteran big man. Look for these Jazz to be a real player.

1st Place – Northwest Division

– Spencer Davies

The Jazz may have had the most underrated offseason in the NBA, the addition of Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanović were master moves for a team that was pretty respectable before the deals. Add in the returning guy’s internal growth and Donovan Mitchell looked amazing for Team USA and it’s clear this is a team on the rise. Rudy Gobert is maybe the top defender on the planet. The Jazz seems like they have everything they need to really compete for something this year. If the Jazz stay health, home court and a deep playoff run isn’t out of the question, in fact it should almost be expected.

2nd Place – Northwest Division

– Steve Kyler

A lot of the focus of the offseason centered on the Lakers trading for Anthony Davis, the Nets landing Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, and the Clippers making a massive trade to acquire Paul George in order to secure a deal with Kawhi Leonard. Lost in the mix is the fact that the Utah Jazz made some aggressive moves to bolster its already talented roster and now enters the upcoming season as a true threat to just about any team, including those that landed star players. Through an array of moves, the Jazz added Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, Jeff Green, Emmanuel Mudiay and Ed Davis to their roster, which is still anchored by Donovon Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. Utah is talented, deep, experienced, well-coached and primed to be a top-level contender in the Western Conference this upcoming season.

2nd Place – Northwest Division

– Jesse Blancarte

FROM THE CAP GUY

The Jazz went under the cap this past summer to trade for Mike Conley and sign free Bojan Bogdanovic. The team used its Room Exception to add Ed Davis, leaving the team with just minimum contracts to add to the roster. Utah has just 12 guaranteed players, with six coming to camp with hopes of earning the three final spots.

Before November, the Jazz need to pick up team options on Donovan Mitchell and Tony Bradley. Looking ahead, Mike Conley has a $34.5 million early termination option for the 2020-21 season. If he decides to leave as an unrestricted free agent, Utah could near $30 million in cap space. With Conley, the Jazz will be over the cap next offseason.

– Eric Pincus

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Donovan Mitchell

Of all “top” players on this list, Mitchell’s listing as the Jazz’ top offensive player would be the most obvious choice of all them. Besides, you know, Utah’s top defensive player, but the point remains the same. Donovan Mitchell is the offensive alpha dog on a team that is hungry for its first championship.

The results weren’t always pretty, but Mitchell definitely stepped up his game after a sensational rookie year. After Utah got through the worst of their schedule at the start of the season, and after his understandable sophomore slump for the first two months of the season, Mitchell went on a tear around the time 2019 started.

From January 5th to the season’s end, Mitchell averaged almost 27 points, 4.8 assists, and 4.6 rebounds on 45/41/81 splits. It was a little late for him to make an All-Star bid, but should he continue to build off of that – playing for Team USA could take him a long way – then there’s no reason why he can’t make his first All-Star team.

The only question left is if he can keep his efficiency when it really counts. We’ll get to that later on.

Top Defensive Player: Rudy Gobert

This isn’t just the obvious choice as far as top choices for the Jazz. This might be the most obvious top choice out of anyone in the entire league. For two consecutive years now, Gobert has taken home the Defensive Player of the Year Award, which was well-earned on his part.

The proof is in the pudding. Gobert is the captain of Utah’s lockdown defense, which has been one of the best in the league ever since his rise to prominence in 2015. Just look at Utah’s defensive rating and where that placed them among their peers in that time.

2018-2019: 105.7 (2nd)
2017-2018: 103.9 (2nd)
2016-2017: 105.3 (3rd)
2015-2016: 103.9 (7th)
2014-2015: 104.1 (14th)*

*Note – when he became full-time starter after they traded Enes Kanter, their defensive rating was 97.6, good for first in the league in that span by far.

When the term “franchise player” gets thrown around, it’s usually based off of a player’s presence on the offensive end. Gobert has given us an alternate take on what makes a franchise player. The Jazz have some excellent pieces on defense, but it would all fall part if Gobert were to be out for any extended period of time. That’s not to take a shot at anyone else on the Jazz roster. “The Stifle Tower” is that good.

Gobert is the quintessential example of what would make a defense-first player a franchise player.

Top Playmaker: Mike Conley Jr.

With Donovan Mitchell expected to grow even more this season, it may not be long before he usurps Conley in this category. For now, Conley gets the nod as the team’s top playmaker for his efficiency in that department compared to his new Jazz teammates. Conley’s 6.4 assist average tops anyone currently on the Jazz roster from last season. There’s more to it than that though.

Conley had an assist percentage of 32.7 percent, which is more than six percent higher than anyone currently on the Jazz roster from last season. He also had an assist-turnover ratio of 3.45, which is also much better than anyone who played in Utah last season. Taking care of the ball has never been an issue for Conley. Considering that the team tied for fourth in turnovers a game last season – 15.1 – they should see an improvement on that front because of him.

Putting all stats aside, Conley’s presence should open up so much for the Jazz offensively. Both his passing and shooting will do many favors for Mitchell and Gobert that they’ve never had since pairing up together on that end. At worst, he’s a step up from Ricky Rubio, which is something that shouldn’t be taken too lightly. At best, he’s an exemplary second-command.

Top Clutch Player: Donovan Mitchell

The Jazz weren’t exactly the best team in the clutch. Last season, they went 15-18 in games that were deemed clutch, good for 21st in the league. There definitely needs to be some improvement there for a team that has a considerably higher ceiling.

Mitchell’s individual stats in the clutch are sort of diappointing. In three minutes a game, he scores 3.1 points while shooting 25 percent from three and 35.7 percent overall in situations considered clutch. It’s not all bad though. The Jazz are plus-6.3 with Mitchell on the court in the clutch, and now, the Spida should have better weaponry around him if they were to play in a game that is considered clutch this upcoming season.

This also revolves around expectations. Part of being a superstar is being the man when it matters the most. There won’t be many players who will have as much or even more pressure than Donovan will this season. In his first two years, he’s taken the league by storm somewhat unexpectedly.

Now, everyone will be watching his every move.

The Unheralded Player: Dante Exum

A year ago at this time, a lot of spotlight was put on Exum. More spotlight than he’d seen since being drafted fifth overall by the Jazz in 2014. He was coming off an encouraging playoff performance against the Rockets, got a sizable raise because of it and the Jazz were in dire need of as much help as possible now that they had started a new era with Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert at the helm.

Sadly, Exum went through yet another inconsistent and injury-ravaged season. His story last season ended usually like it always does. Just as he was turning it around for the better, another injury cut his year short.

Now that the Jazz have revamped the roster, Exum has fallen under the radar… again. With a clean slate of health, and the bar set higher for the team, Exum’s skillset could for the umpteenth year give the Jazz another dimension — a 6’6’’ point guard who is both an elite and versatile defender with a raw offensive game. Unfortunately, that was what many people thought he’d be last year. With the personnel that the Jazz have brought in, his skillset is now more of a secret weapon for Utah.

Then again, that’s what Exum’s always been since he’s been with the Jazz.

Best New Addition: Mike Conley Jr.

When deciding who exactly the best addition was for any team, it comes down to two specific criteria-

1. The best player that was added
2. The player that fills the most holes.

That’s why it was so hard to not make this a tie between Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic. From his elite three-point shooting alone, Bogdanovic fills so many holes for the Jazz. He can also play multiple positions and the team wouldn’t miss a beat. But for a team like Utah, who’s rarely ever been able to acquire all-star caliber players in their prime, Mike Conley Jr. is undoubtedly their best addition.

A player who’s always had the label of “Best player that’s never made an all-star team” would usually contend for best addition. Unless a surefire superstar was added around the same time, an excellent player like Conley is the obvious choice. Conley’s a 20-point scorer, a smart passer, a frisky defender, and he’s even got a reliable jumper. Best of all, he’s a playoff-tested veteran now on a team projected to go on the most extended playoff run it’s had in over a decade.

Utah needed a star who could bring another dimension to their team. They’ve never exactly been an attractive destination for stars in free agency. So, to get someone like Conley, who’s still in his prime, he was about as ideal as they could have hoped for.

-Matt John

WHO WE LIKE

1. Newly found Depth/Versatility on the wing

Just because he technically wasn’t their best addition does not mean that we can’t talk about how impactful Bojan Bogdanovic should be.

Bogdanovic was 10th in the league in three-point shooting, putting up an elite percentage of 42.5 from downtown. Of the nine players that ranked ahead, he had a much more important role in the offense than the likes of Joe Harris, Danny Green, Seth Curry, Davis Bertans. And, unlike Stephen Curry, Danilo Gallinari, Buddy Hield, and Malcolm Brogdon, Bojan did not have much offensive help by his side after Victor Oladipo went down.

Coming off of the best all-around numbers of his career, Bogey’s the best wing Utah’s had since Gordon Hayward. While his presence isn’t as commanding as Hayward’s was in his prime, Bogdanovic’s passing, rebounding and defense have all gotten better on top of his elite shooting. He should be the perfect third banana in Utah’s offense.

He won’t be alone. Last time we checked, Joe Ingles is still a member of this Utah team. Jingles has turned himself into Utah’s swiss army knife, averaging 12.1 points, 5.7 assists, and four rebounds, all while establishing himself as one of the league’s smarter defenders.

The playoffs proved that he definitely has his limits, but now that there’s more upfront talent on this squad, he may thrive even more now that the Jazz will be asking less of him than they did before.

Let’s not forget about Royce O’Neale. O’Neale’s followed a story much similar to Joe Ingles. Going from an unknown to a 3&D rotation guard, O’Neale’s given Utah their money’s worth. What’s most encouraging is that he was one of the few bright spots in what was overall a miserable postseason outing for the Jazz, averaging 10.6 points on 47/35/75 splits.

This is the deepest and most versatile Utah’s wings have been since 2017, back in the days with Hayward and Joe Johnson. We haven’t even started talking about the other productive wing that the Jazz added this summer. And hey, speaking of which!

2. Jeff Green

Uncle Jeff’s legacy in the NBA will always be the guy whose highlights you watch and wonder, how was this guy not an all-star? Lucky for him, the days of him expected to be either a star or the last piece of a title team are over and have been over for quite some time.

Over the last two years, Jeff’s found his niche playing in a lesser role for the teams he played for. First, as a rotation player for the Cavaliers, he played a surprisingly monumental role in helping them get to their fourth consecutive finals when he filled in for an injured Kevin Love. Then last year, Green put up some of the most efficient shooting numbers he’s had in years – 47/35/89 splits – as the 7th man for an irrelevant Wizards team.

Now he finds himself in a similar position with what may be the most well-rounded roster he’s ever played with. For where the Jazz have him in his rotation, this couldn’t be a more perfect situation for Green. If Utah pans out as well as they’re hoping to, Green’s days as a journeyman may be numbered.

3. Quin Snyder

Over the last three years, the Jazz’ moderate success with Snyder at the helm has put the league on notice. In that time, Snyder’s developed a good reputation for getting the most out of his roster despite *technically* not having a star on it.

The jury’s out on whether he’ll objectively have a starless roster by season’s end, but now that he has a contender on his hands, all eyes will be on Snyder to see if his magic will continue on a team that is expected to be good. That’s the difference between the Jazz now, and the Jazz of the last two years.

This is eerily similar to the test that Brad Stevens had with the Celtics when they got Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. He could get the most out of a roster with low expectations. When he had higher expectations and more egos to deal with, Brad’s magic halted.

As of now, Quin has no big egos to manage, and Utah has a roster that isn’t overstocked with talent and just enough for there to be a good balance. This season, as long as nobody gets hurt, we’re going to see Snyder’s true colors. If his success from the last two seasons prove to not be a fluke, we’re in for a treat.

4. Ed Davis

Getting rid of Derrick Favors to make room for someone who fits the team’s needs better was an elephant the Jazz had to confront sooner or later. Once he was traded, they needed a replacement, and they got the best one they could find for cheap value in Ed Davis. An energy rebounder/defender, there may not have been a better backup for Rudy Gobert than Ed.

Unlike Favors, a player with his skillset won’t be too good to have coming off the bench. That’s the role Davis has always thrived in. Favors is the better talent, but Davis makes more sense as the backup 5 than Favors did as the starting 4. By making this switch, Utah no longer has any awkward fits in the frontcourt.

Most remarkably, Davis needs Utah just as much as Utah needs Davis. Davis has always left a good impression for every team he’s played for. It seems that every stop he makes, his team is better off having him around- which makes you wonder why he hasn’t been on a team longer than three years. This season, his services will be used on a contender where they rightfully belong.

-Matt John

STRENGTHS

Defense wins championships as they say. For the last several years, with a healthy Rudy Gobert, the Jazz have boasted a championship-level defense. This season, it should be more of the same. Unless Gobert gets hurt for an extended period of time, Utah should have arguably the league’s best D at its arsenal yet again. Hardly anyone on this roster can be bullied on the defensive end, which can take a team very far in the playoffs.

In fact, now that he won’t be relied nearly as much to carry the offense, don’t be too shocked if Donovan Mitchell emerges as a two-way threat. The Spida has never been a slouch on that end, but he’d had to exert so much running the offense that his individual defense suffered because of it. Mitchell was well-regarded for his defense coming out of college, so him showing that in the NBA would be another step towards superstardom. Not to mention, it would make Utah’s specialty all the more, well, special.

Saying the Jazz have an elite defense would blow the mind as much as saying the sky is blue does at this point. We all know how good they are in that department. What could finally become a strength is their new and improved offense. For the last two seasons, Utah’s offense has been quite pedestrian in spite of Mitchel’s best efforts.

In 2017-2018, they scored 108.4 points per 100 possessions, good for 16th in the league. Last year, that went up to 110.9, which put them at 15th. Now that there is more playmaking and floor spacing to go around, that number is sure to go up. When you think about it, there may not be much that Utah can’t do.

As long as everyone can stay on the floor, this Utah Jazz team should be a well-oiled machine.

-Matt John

WEAKNESSES

What’s so strange is that the Jazz’ greatest strength may stem from the fact that they don’t have a lot of weaknesses, if any. At least on paper. After the summer they’ve had, they took care of two of their biggest weaknesses in secondary playmaking and shooting when they added Conley and Bogdanovic among others. More impressively, they did this without compromising their excellent defense. In fact, by trading Kyle Korver, their defense now has one less hole to cover.

For now, their weaknesses are more hypothetical than anything else. Conley has an injury history, so there’s always the risk of him going out. The bench doesn’t exactly provide much scoring support, but between Mitchell, Conley, and Bogdanovic, that’s enough offensive firepower between the three of them to support the second unit. There is one potential weakness that’s more than just a possibility. What’s worse is that it could make all the difference in the Jazz’ title hoops – Donovan Mitchell’s jumper.

Donovan’s definitely on the path to becoming a superstar, but his shooting deficiencies can’t be overlooked, especially in the playoffs. Houston essentially dared him to beat them as a shooter. As a result, he put field goal percentages of 25.6 percent from three and 36.2 percent overall. No matter how much you may like Mitchell, those are unacceptable numbers for a leader.

For the Jazz to take that next step, Mitchell has to show that he’s improved all-around from that department. The new additions will make his life easier, but the pressure will be on him to show that he’s dependable shooting-wise from anywhere in the half-court. If he doesn’t, that’s a problem. With this team, Utah can weather that storm more than they could last year, but failing to improve on his one weakness could trip the team up at the finish line.

-Matt John

THE BURNING QUESTION

How long will this window last?

Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert are both in their 20’s. As long as they stay in Utah, the Jazz will be in the playoff conversation. What we’ve learned over these last two seasons is that those two are good enough to put the Jazz in the playoff race, but also that, alone, they are not enough.

Luckily Dennis Lindsey and the Jazz ownership were smart enough to know that their supporting cast was in dire need of some upgrades. So, that’s exactly what they got them. Mike Conley Jr., Bojan Bogdanovic, Ed Davis, Jeff Green, and Emmanuel Mudiay gives Mitchell and Gobert the best reinforcements they could have realistically imagined. In fact, for a small market team, this was as perfect as the Jazz could have expected. With all of these guys aboard, the Jazz getting their first NBA title is no longer a fantasy.

“Let the good times roll” as legendary musician Rick Ocasek would say, but how long will these good times roll? Conley will be 32 when the season starts, as will Ingles. Bogdanovic will be 31 when the playoffs start. All three are very much in their primes, but for how much longer will they be at the top of their games? And when they start to fall out of their primes, how will the Jazz compensate?

This isn’t a problem Utah has to think about now. It is something they should keep in the back of their minds as the 2020’s arrive.

-Matt John

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NBA

2020 NBA Draft and Free Agency Roundable

Drew Maresca, Matt John and Steve Kyler discuss winners and losers of the NBA Draft and free agency.

Drew Maresca

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ALERT. ALERT. ALERT. The NBA’s 2020-21 season is scheduled to begin in less than a month.

If it feels like we just crowned the 2020 NBA Champions, that’s because we did. The Los Angeles Lakers secured their 17th championship on October 11, just over a month ago. Still, the new season kicks off in less than a month, on December 22; and the preseason could start almost two weeks earlier (December 11). And while there is much to look forward to pertaining to the new season, there is also much to assess.

November brought us trade season, the 2020 NBA Draft and a flurry of free-agent moves – all of which kicked off within days of one another, beginning on November 16. Basketball Insiders begins its 2020-21 coverage with Drew Maresca, Matt John and Steve Kyler assessing the abbreviated 2020 offseason:

NBA Draft Winners:

The draft had its share of surprises, but nothing outdid Tyrese Haliburton slipping to 12th. Haliburton shot up draft boards since the NCAA season came to an abrupt stop in March. His size and versatility were highlighted over and over again, and he was billed as an ideal running mate to pair with a score-first point guard. It seemed all but certain that he’d be a top-6 pick, with the Pistons at 7 being his assumed floor.

Well, this one was a mind-bender. Not only did he fall past the Atlanta Hawks — who he was linked within the lead up to the draft surprisingly — he was passed up by Detroit (who took another point guard in Killian Hayes) AND New York (who selected the 2019-20 Naismith Player of the Year, Obi Toppin) — both of whom were in the market for a point guard of the future.

But while it’s surprising that he fell to Sacramento, it’s far from a bad thing for Haliburton. He’ll line up next to point guard phenom De’Aaron Fox, who just inked a 5-year max extension. The Sacramento backcourt will look to move the ball up the court (FAST), and Sacramento could have found its backcourt of the future.

And it looks like Sacramento will give Haliburton more responsibility than originally assumed as they opted to pass on matching an offer sheet for shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanović (who will head to Atlanta). Further, guard Buddy Hield has a notoriously tumultuous relationship with head coach Luke Walton, making it look as though Haliburton can begin leaving his mark on the NBA immediately. Keep an eye on the rookie from Iowa State as a dark horse in the rookie of the year race.

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

If we’re being completely honest, the fact that this draft wasn’t renowned for its upfront talent and more renowned for its deep pool of solid players makes it difficult to determine who really are the big-time winners of this go-round. So for this year, I think I’ll label the teams that usually get maligned for their draft decisions that definitely made the right choice.

Let’s start with the Charlotte Hornets. Michael Jordan has been routinely made a laughingstock for the moves he’s made for the Hornets, but instead of playing it safe, he went with the high upside pick. Out of all the prospects in this draft, LaMelo Ball arguably has the highest ceiling. There are definitely red flags to his game but the Hornets swung for the fences here because Ball may very well have the best chance at becoming a star. If he flops, he flops but that’s not relevant here. For the Hornets, drafting him at the very least signifies that they really do want to change their fortunes.

Then there’s the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cleveland has made some… interesting draft choices with their lottery picks over the past decade, most recently with their 2019 pick, Darius Garland. This time, however, they actually picked the guy who actually fit with what they needed. Cleveland’s been sporting a piss poor defense over the last few years, so they brought in one of the draft’s most talented defenders. Isaac Okoro’s probably not going to be a star, but he definitely aids a big weakness of Cleveland’s. There just might be a light at the end of the post-LeBron tunnel.

Finally, as Drew pointed out, the Sacramento Kings made the perfect selection with Tyrese Haliburton. The do-it-all guard should be an excellent backcourt partner with De’Aron Fox, and his selection eases the pain of the recently departed Bogdan Bogdanovic. No one exactly knows what to make of the Kings’ current roster makeup with all the personnel and roster shakeups, but Haliburton should be another step in the right direction for them.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

They say the true test of an NBA Draft is not known for two maybe three years, and that likely will be true of the 2020 NBA Draft class. To that end, there were a couple of picks that jumped off the page, so let’s start with LaMelo Ball to Charlotte.

From a talent perspective, Charlotte may have gotten one of the best players in the draft. When you combine Melo’s natural ability with having Michael Jordan in his ear, the Hornets could end up with the top player in the class when it is said and done. The risk on Melo is two-part – first, durability, which we have seen with his brother Lonzo’s NBA career. Melo has played a lot of high-level basketball and his body does not reflect high-level physical development, and that could catch up to him as it did with Lonzo.

There is also a side-show factor.  There are enough things going on in an NBA season, but to have the sideshow that comes with the Ball family in Charlotte is a risk. James Borrego has built a strong foundation for Charlotte’s youth — will the spotlight and the bully pulpit Melo’s father Lavar Ball receives be a distraction? Time will tell, but the pick was an excellent one.

With the 15th pick, the Orlando Magic selected Cole Anthony, and while on the surface Anthony had an underwhelming season at North Carolina, its easy to forget he was one of the top scorers coming out of high school and was, by his own account, playing at 70 percent at UNC. If that’s true and Anthony can rebound to his stature coming out of high school, Orlando may have nabbed exactly what they were looking for — namely, an impact scorer. Time will tell if Anthony can be that guy at the NBA level, but getting Anthony’s offensive punch with the 15th represents incredible value.

With the 20th pick, the Miami HEAT selected Precious Achiuwa out of Memphis. Talk about the prototypical HEAT player. Achiuwa checks so many boxes for the HEAT; they now have interchangeability with Bam Adebayo, as they have similar physical styles of play. Achiuwa is a quality defensive presence that can guard four positions. To get such a perfect fit at 20 is uncommon and for Miami, it could be a nice selection.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

NBA Draft Losers:

Most teams drafted pretty well this year, or they strategically swapped their pick(s). But the Hawks’ selection of Onyeka Okongwu was curious for a few reasons. Before I get into the downside of the pick, let’s make one thing clear — this is no way means I think Okongwu wasn’t deserving of the 6th pick. On the contrary, Okongwu is a long and athletic big man who will probably affect the NBA game beginning on Day 1. But the Hawks didn’t need him. They just completed a trade for an athletic, shot-blocker in Clint Capela in February. Regardless of Okongwu’s upside, the Hawks simply don’t need another starting-caliber center. But they could have used a big, versatile forward like Deni Avdija.

The NBA is moving toward a positionless game. Avdija fits that mold to a T. He is a 6’9″ point forward who can score and create for others. Further, he’s a high IQ player who competes hard, plays on and off the ball and possesses strong defensive fundamentals.

Ultimately, the Hawks set themselves up for the future in free agency, so a wonky – but still productive – draft pick won’t set them back too much. But Avdinja’s upside is substantial. And he could have been inserted into the rotation immediately without stealing too many minutes from major players  (whereas Capela will obviously lose minutes to Okongwu).

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

As I said earlier, a draft like this makes it hard to decide who are the winners, and the same goes for the losers. For example, the Bulls definitely reached when they picked Patrick Williams, but a draft like this was the perfect time to reach for a prospect if you really liked him. In a case like this, if the other prospects aren’t good enough to make you think they’ll come back to haunt you, then go for the guy you like the most no matter what anyone else thinks.

In an offseason where pretty much everything uncharacteristically went their way, the Suns made an odd choice when they selected big Jalen Smith seeing how they already have a talented frontcourt and were perhaps better off with a guard like Kira Lewis or a swingman like Haliburton. However, if they think that developing DeAndre Ayton’s backup is the way to go, then go right ahead! We also have to remember that everyone thought that the Cam Johnson pick was terrible last year, and he made the whole NBA world eat their words.

There are definitely guys picked later in this draft who might wind up being better overall than Aaron Nesmith, but the Boston Celtics needed someone who can help them now. The Celtics’ second unit was desperate for a shooter and that’s exactly what Nesmith brings to them. The guys who could wind up being better than Nesmith will need time to develop, and Boston’s not waiting anymore. Maybe in previous years, but not now.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

There were not a lot of crazy questionable picks in the 2020 NBA Draft. Maybe we had too much time to micro analyze the class, or maybe teams just went more with popular opinion  That said there was one pick that sort of stood out as something of a reach – Patrick Williams at four to the Chicago Bulls.

To be fair, Williams is a quality NBA prospect and he could go on to have a fruitful NBA career; but at four with Killian Hayes and Tyrese Haliburton still on the board (and able to solve more pressing needs), Williams seems to be a stretch.

Every year there is a pre-defined order that most believe the draft will go in, so Williams going several spots higher isn’t out of the ordinary. The question is will Williams be a game-changer for a Bulls team desperate for a player in the draft that really moves the needle?

They say the draft should never be about solving positional needs, rather grabbing the best player available. I’m not sold on the idea that Williams was the best talent available at the four spot, so time will tell.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

Free Agency Winners:

The rich seemed to get richer in the NBA this offseason. Very few elite teams lost marquee players, and many actually added one or more. But one outlier is the Atlanta Hawks.

Atlanta had an impressive offseason, first adding elite prospect Onyeka Okongwu in the draft, and then adding Danilo Gallinari, Bogdan Bogdanović, Kris Dunn and Rajon Rondon in free agency. That’s an impressive haul for any team, but the Hawks just sped up their rebuild considerably, placing themselves squarely in the playoff discussion. Their new additions join an incredibly young core of Trae Young, Cam Reddish, Kevin Huerter, De’Andre Hunter, John Collins and Clint Capela. Rondo will be especially important for Young’s development, as Rondo is known to be an incredibly high-IQ player and cut-throat competitor. Gallinari and Bogdanović add versatility and shooting to a team in need of it. The Hawks were probably going to take a step forward and fight for one of the final playoff spots in the East prior to these signings. They’ll be even better now.

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

It’s tough to decide who really are among the biggest winners in free agency because it depends on what the team sought out to do and also because this free agency class was so weak that it was seen as basically the calm before the storm that will be next year’s class. If even. It honestly wasn’t too impressive.

Keeping what goals they had in mind, more teams won than lost. Atlanta got the best pool of players in free agency by a landslide. Houston got the best economic value for the players they added in the offseason. Utah and Miami for the most part ran it back while adding some new faces that should serve to make them better. Those guys were among the biggest winners, but not the winner of free agency. That belongs to the reigning champion Los Angeles Lakers.

Not a lot of NBA champions can brag that they got better after winning a title, but the Lakers have definitely been the exception. While it was not perfect, the free agency period went as fantastically as they could have hoped. Signing Wes Matthews was their most key signing of the summer because a. the Dennis Schroder trade makes even more sense now and b. Matthews will do everything Danny Green did for the Lakers at basically 1/5th of the price. Coming in at a close second was re-signing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who was brought back at a reasonable deal after an awesome playoff performance.

Honestly, they didn’t have to bring in Marc Gasol, but getting him for chump change, even on the back end of his career, was a steal. They were better off keeping Markieff Morris than letting him walk so they did just that. The one head-scratcher was giving Montrezl Harell the full mid-level exception. On the one hand, Harell’s better than the no-show he put up for the Clippers when they got spanked by the Nuggets, so that might be a good value for the Sixth Man of the Year. On the other, it’s hard to see Harell play in their closing lineups alongside LeBron and Anthony Davis. They learned that the more spacing they had during their title run, the better.

At best, Harell adds second unit scoring to a team that didn’t exactly have a whole lot of that last season, and at worst, he’s an expendable asset to dangle at the deadline. No matter what happens, the Lakers have had one of the best offseasons a reigning champion can have to the point where it’s really not a hot take to say that they are a considerably better team now than they were back in October.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

Free agency winners? The Lakers.

Seriously, to see the 2020 NBA Champions deepen their roster with Dennis Schröder, Montrezl Harrell, and Marc Gasol without giving up anything that truly mattered to their core? That is incredible front office work.

Here are a couple of other situations worth mentioning:

The Atlanta Hawks have completely remade their team and did so without doing anything break the bank silly. The veteran additions of Danilo Gallinari, Rajon Rondo, Solomon Hill and Tony Snell are solid pick-ups and nabbing Bogdan Bogdanović will be a great get, maybe on the high side money-wise, but given his talent so far, it was a solid signing and what you have to do to steal another team’s player.

The Miami HEAT running it back with functionally the same core is smart, too. The HEAT are just scratching the surface of their potential given how young so many of their core guys are. They wisely structured their deals to remain flexible, although the Bam Adebayo extension takes them out of the direct free agent market next summer, they won’t be tied to long-term boat anchor type deals and could always trade into a free agent they covet because of how many great assets the HEAT have.

Overall, all three teams did a really good job in such a compressed chaotic timeframe.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

Free Agency Losers:

To Matt’s point above, winners are tough to crown without seeing a finished product on the hardwood. Losers are a little easier. And there are a few clear losers. But the team that hurt itself the most is the Charlotte Hornets. It’s a weird pick because I do actually like their roster, and I think it’s significantly improved from last year’s team. And the guy that’s most to blame for the Hornets’ hate will probably be their best player in 2020-21, but the Hornets also grossly overpaid to get him.

The announcement that Gordon Hayward was signing with the Hornets took most of the NBA universe by surprise. Hayward waited until (essentially) the last minute to announce he would opt out of the final year of his contract, which would have paid him $34.2 million. It was widely assumed he did so to secure more long-term money, not to essentially duplicate his salary AND stretch it. But that’s exactly what he did.

Hayward ultimately announced his intention to sign with the Hornets for 4 years/$120 million. Now, signing a 30-year-old, former all-star is usually celebrated, but Hayward hasn’t been able to re-establish himself after suffering a brutal foot injury in the first game of the 2018-19 season. He did manage to 17.5 points per game last season, and he averaged a career-high in rebounds (6.7), but he averaged only 2.8 free throw attempts per game (down considerably from what he tallied in Utah). He also suffered more injuries last season, breaking a bone in his hand in November and suffering nerve pain in his foot during the playoffs. So exactly what player are the Hornets getting? And worse still, what will he be in 2023-24?

Numerous reports state that the Hornets and Boston Celtics are still working on a sign-and-trade deal, which could improve the Hornets’ future cap situation. But either way, they’re still on the hook to pay Hayward the entirety of this massive contract — and that’s not ideal.

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

If they manage to win the championship anyway, then the following won’t matter, but man oh man, the Bucks really missed out on such a golden opportunity when their sign-and-trade for Bogdan Bogdanovic fell through.

For a couple of days there, it really felt like Milwaukee had added the last piece of the puzzle. Bogdanovic’s abilities as a combo guard felt like such a perfect fit for what the Bucks are all about. His abilities as a scorer would have taken more pressure off of Khris Middleton, and his abilities as a shooter should have complemented Giannis’ game like a glove. As an added bonus, his 6’6” frame and his playmaking abilities would have further strengthened the Bucks’ motion offense and positionless basketball. This was it. The Bucks were going to be better than ever.

Until the rug got pulled right out from underneath them. The tampering debacle canceled everything, and the Bucks at this point can only wonder what could have been. Failing to acquire a superstar is one thing. Having a superstar then failing to get the guy that definitely would have made your championship aspirations the strongest they’ve been in years is another. That’s why they are my pick for the biggest loser in free agency.

In all fairness, their offseason wasn’t a total failure for them. In fact, props to them for not stubbornly trying to run it back when it was clear that something had to be done. Jrue Holiday is definitely an upgrade over the likes of Eric Bledsoe and George Hill. Getting a haul of buy-low additions like DJ Augustin, Bobby Portis, Torrey Craig, and Bryn Forbes will help fill out the bench, but none of those guys compare to what Bogdanovic could have done for them. With what’s at stake, it could very well haunt Milwaukee knowing that Bogdan Bogdanović slipped through their fingers.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

There were a few head-scratchers in free agency…

Not sure what the Detroit Pistons were thinking. They let their best free agent walk in Christian Woods, then turned around and gave a big deal to a slightly-average guy. Jerami Grant is a quality player, but three years and $60 million is a ton.

If the motivation was to go all in for one more run with Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose, mission accomplished; but I’m not sure that means anything, even in the East.

The Orlando Magic stayed largely quiet in free agency, which was surprising given that it seems the current squad has run its course. The Magic have long valued the idea of growing youth in an environment built around trying to win, but it’s clear that Evan Fournier who opted in to a massive final contract year worth $17 million, is primed to be moved and looks to be in camp next week.

The Magic do have some injury concerns specifically Jonathan Isaac who is recovering from an ACL tear and the questionable outlook of Mo Bamba, who had to leave the Orlando bubble unexpectedly back in August, due to physical struggles related to the Coronavirus.

With so much uncertainty around the Magic’s youth, their lack of movement in free agency was a surprise.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

One Move We’d Like To See:

Kevin Love to the Portland Trail Blazers. Portland enters 2020-21 with a bit to be excited about. They’re looking forward to a full season with Jusuf Nurkic in the middle, they re-signed Rodney Hood and they added a high-ceiling youngster in Harry Giles (as well as Derrick Jones Jr.). But even if they also bring back Carmelo Anthony, they’ll still need help at the forward spot. Enter Kevin Love.

Love is badly mismatched with the rest of Cleveland’s roster. He is 32, whereas nine of their players are 25 or younger. Further, Love is a five-time all-star and NBA champion, whereas the Cavaliers are in a full-on rebuild. It’s not an ideal match, and the Cavs should cash Love in before it’s too late.

Love to Portland makes perfect sense. He hasn’t been seen as a primary option in a number of years, but he still adds incredible value as a scorer, rebounder and passer. And that works perfectly considering Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum appears poised to stick in Portland for at least the next few seasons. Portland could sit tight, but adding Love would put them in the conversation with teams like the Nuggets and Clippers who hope to knock off the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.

Even if Portland can’t make a deal for Love, they should look to add a versatile power forward like Julius Randle. They can’t rely on Anthony and Giles to hold down the four spot and expect to compete for a championship. But if they maneuver correctly, Dame-time could translate to championship time in the Rose City.

  • Drew Maresca, Staff Writer

DeMar DeRozan/LaMarcus Aldridge to the Charlotte Hornets. By drafting LaMelo Ball and maxing out Gordon Hayward, the Charlotte Hornets are out to prove that they really want to be… not subpar! There will be no argument here that Charlotte paid above and beyond for Hayward’s services, but his contract is in the same ballpark as Tim Hardaway Jr’s- As overpaid as he is, he’s not going to take the money and run. He’ll do his best to live up to the deal Charlotte gave him even if it’s not very likely.

Alas, adding Hayward and Ball only puts Charlotte in discussion for one of the lower playoff seeds, and in no way does it guarantee that they’ll get one of them. If MJ and co. truly are serious about getting the Hornets back to the playoffs, what harm could it do to go all in and pry DeRozan and Aldridge from San Antonio? They have the expiring and near-expiring deals to make it work, like Nicolas Batum, Cody Zeller, and Terry Rozier, as well as appealing enough young talent without sacrificing the most appealing assets like Miles Bridges Malik Monk to pull it off. Aldridge’s and DeRozan’s names aren’t as sexy as they were three years ago, and that, along with their contracts expiring, is what makes a possible trade for them feasible. All signs are pointing to San Antonio moving on from both of them, so Charlotte needs to strike while the iron is hot- er, lukewarm in their case if we’re being really honest here.

Those two don’t make Charlotte a contender in the east – again, if it was 2017, it would be a different story – but they do make the Hornets more formidable as a playoff team. If there aren’t many better options for Charlotte, and from the look of things, there really aren’t, acquiring those two at least puts Buzz City back in the postseason, and might just complete the most talented Hornets teams we’ve seen in ages.

  • Matt John, Staff Writer

Let’s go with Houston…

When Mike D’Antoni and Daryl Morey left the Rockets, you knew the clock was ticking. It really hasn’t stopped, the question is when is Houston going to pull the trigger on a Russell Westbrook trade, and how soon after will James Harden follow?

The talk in NBA circles is Westbrook could be headed to Washington in a package for John Wall. Wizards president Tommy Sheppard has said that deal is not happening – that does not mean it couldn’t resurface later.

There was talk of James Harden wanting to be in Brooklyn with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, but Houston at this point seems set on waiting out the process and seeing if they can get both Harden and Westbrook back on board… How frequently has that worked out? Typically, when guys ask for the door, they usually get it, and the return usually goes down before it goes up.

Trying to move some $82 million in committed salary during the season is nearly impossible. This is why if Houston wants all the Nets’ and Wizards’ cookies, they need to make the move now or risk the offers or even the opportunity to dwindle away fast.

  • Steve Kyler, Editor and Publisher

The 2020-21 NBA season could end up just as chaotic as last season; but looking past the many challenges facing the league’s schedule, player movement has once again shifted the balance of power. There are new favorites this season, and more importantly, there will be surprise teams to look forward to, also. But regardless of which team you root for, NBA fans have much to be thankful for right this holiday season.

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Looking For A Few Great Voices!

From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

Basketball Insiders

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From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

We are considering adding new voices for the 2020-21 NBA Season, and what we are looking for is very specific.

Here are the criteria:
– A body of professional work that reflects an understanding of the NBA and basketball.
– Must live within 30 minutes of an NBA team.
– Must be willing to write two to three times per week on various topics as assigned.
– Must write in AP style and meet assigned deadlines.
– Be willing to appear in Podcasts and Video projects as needed and scheduled.
– Have a strong understanding of social media and its role in audience development.
– Be willing to work in a demanding virtual team environment.

Some things to know and consider:
– We are not hiring full-time people. If you are seeking a full-time gig, this is not that.
– This will be a low or non-compensation role initially. We need to understand your value and fit.
– We have a long track record of creating opportunities for those that excel in our program.
– This will be a lengthy interview and evaluation process. We take this very seriously, so should you.
– If you are not committed to being great, this is not the right situation for you.

If you are interested, please follow these specific instructions, Drop us an e-mail with:

Your Name:

The NBA Market You Live Near:

And Why We Should Consider You:

We do not need your resume, but a few links to work you have done under the above information would be helpful.

Please send all of this to: openings2021@basketballinsiders.com

 

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#17 – Aleksej Pokusevski – Oklahoma City Thunder

David Yapkowitz

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With the 17th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, the Oklahoma City Thunder select Aleksej Pokusevski from Serbia. The Thunder completed a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves to acquire the pick.

Pokusevski is a long term project, but one that has has an intriguing skillset. A 7-footer with good speed and quickness, Pokusevski plays like a wing and can pass like a guard. But, to truly thrive at the next level, Pokusevski will need to put on some serious weight.

Again, he’s a project. But Pokusevski’s ceiling is sky-high. And, with a rebuild ahead of them, the Thunder have more than enough time to work with him and ensure he reaches it.

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