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Washington Wizards 2018-19 NBA Season Preview

The Washington Wizards are the clear-cut front-runner to win the Southeast Division. The question is can they come together as a team to really compete for something more than that? Basketball Insiders takes a look at the Wizards in this 2018-19 NBA Season Preview.

Basketball Insiders

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The Washington Wizards are here to play solid but not spectacular basketball, reach the playoffs, win a series and then graciously bow out — just as they have in three of the last five years. More or less, the Wizards sport a former All-NBA point guard with an All-Star-minded sidekick and compete in the weaker conference, but they’ve never managed to defeat their massive second-round hurdles. To their credit, however, Washington keeps trying to improve wherever they can each offseason instead of fruitlessly blowing it all up.

Due to financial constraints, Washington could only make middle-tier moves this summer and did so by trading Marcin Gortat for Austin Rivers, signing Dwight Howard and drafting Troy Brown Jr. On top of that, they added Jeff Green and claimed Thomas Bryant off waivers. Those moves won’t make them championship challengers, but there’s still hope that they’ll finally become conference contenders — a fate they’ve chased since John Wall arrived in 2010.

Supported once again by Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr., is this the year that the Wizards fulfill their destiny or will they be just another bump in the road on the way to the Eastern Conference Finals?

To start us off, here are some thoughts from the Basketball Insiders team about the Wizards’ upcoming season.

FIVE GUYS THINK…

The Toronto Raptors acquired Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green this offseason. The Philadelphia 76ers are already a top Eastern Conference team with two young stars on track to become superstars and a core of talented young players. The Boston Celtics are getting Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back from injury this season. Meanwhile, the Washington Wizards acquired Austin Rivers and Dwight Howard. To be fair, Rivers and Howard are both capable players who have limitations in their respective games but could help Washington this season. However, it’s hard to argue that Washington did anything to push themselves ahead of the top three teams in the Eastern Conference. For some teams that doesn’t matter a whole lot since they aren’t currently trying to contend for a championship. The Wizards are and there doesn’t seem to be any path for them to push ahead of their top Eastern Conference rivals at this point, much less the top Western Conference teams.

1st Place – Southeast Division

– Jesse Blancarte

John Wall and Bradley Beal should be one of the best back courts in basketball. Otto Porter Jr. should be the perfect compliment to that talented duo. The Wizards should be a top team in the Eastern Conference. But they haven’t been and it’s hard to understand why. Last season, Washington was at its best when the team lived by the “Everybody Eats” mantra. If they just abide by that, they should be able to accomplish what they want. Maybe swapping out Marcin Gortat for Dwight Howard will do the trick? Who knows, but Scott Brooks is running out of time to elevate D.C. to where it’s supposed to be. Winning the Southeast Division would be a good start.

1st Place – Southeast Division

– Spencer Davies

The Wizards are going all in this season. Usually, adding Dwight Howard and Austin Rivers to your supporting cast would be seen as a good thing. Instead, most NBA audiences laughed at the Wizards because of Rivers’ and Howard’s reputations as locker room cancers. That wouldn’t have been a problem if it weren’t for the Wizards having a very tense locker room situation last season. Even if Rivers and Howard are on their best behavior, there’s no guarantee that adding them will pay off. For all the talent that they have, Washington has failed to maintain any consistency in the John Wall-Bradley Beal era. If things don’t improve, this could be it for them.

1st Place – Southeast Division

– Matt John

At this point, it seems like we have a pretty good idea of what the Washington Wizards are. At their very best, they can compete with nearly anyone in the East – but they’re rarely at that level for a number of reasons, and look like little but a middling playoff team in the weaker conference when they’re not on. Their offseason, which included bringing in the mercurial Dwight Howard as well as Austin Rivers, likely won’t do much to stem that inconsistency. It starts at the top with point guard John Wall, who shows flashes of greatness nearly every game…when he isn’t leading the league in time spent walking on the court, that is. Unless Howard is truly revitalized (long shot at this point) or the Wizards get major internal development from someone like Kelly Oubre or Bradley Beal, it’s hard to see them really challenging the Bostons and Torontos of the East – even if they take home another division crown.

1st Place – Southeast Division

– Ben Dowsett

On pure talent, the Wizards should be among the top teams in basketball; on pure talent. The problem is there is something that’s just not right with the Wizards. Maybe they break through this year and not only stay healthy, but learn how to compete as a unit. The problem is there just isn’t enough evidence to think that’s going to happen. On talent, the Wizards should be the second or third best team in the East, but until they show they can make that happen, it’s hard to put them much higher than top four.

1st place – Southeast Division

– Steve Kyler

TOP OF THE LIST

Top Offensive Player: Bradley Beal

With Wall on the shelf from late January to the end of March, Beal thrived in his featured role. During that period of time, Beal rang up 23.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.3 steals per game and earned his first-ever All-Star appearance. Despite his three-point percentage dropping from an elite 40 percent clip to a serviceable 37.5, Beal averaged 2.4 of them per contest over 82 games. In total, Beal knocked down 199 threes, even without his backcourt playmaker for half of them, and finished 13th-best in the NBA during 2017-18. When Beal is cooking, there are few players more unguardable — take, for example, the 41 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and 6-for-11 from three-point range effort he dropped on Oklahoma City just before February.

The sharpshooter even doled out a career-best 11 assists during a narrow three-point loss to the Indiana Pacers last year — so perhaps a larger share of the offensive possessions should be on the table moving forward. It’s hard to believe that Beal is just 25 years old and his best basketball is surely ahead of him, regardless of usage, role or responsibilities.

Top Defensive Player: Dwight Howard

Although Howard has become a maligned personality as of late, he’s still a capable NBA player — particularly so on the defensive end.

Almost incredulously, Wall led the Wizards in blocks per game last season at 1.1, with Gortat trailing shortly behind at 0.7. Over 14 years, Howard has always exceeded that mark, even posting six straight seasons of two-plus blocks per game from 2007-13. Those superhuman efforts are likely long gone for the 32-year-old, but his regular presence will help to mend a sub-par defensive unit. The Wizards allowed 45.4 points in the paint per game, which registered as the 12th-worst mark in 2017-18, while their 4.3 blocks were also toward the league cellar — two places Howard can definitively make a difference in.

Top Playmaker: John Wall

Headed into his ninth season, Wall remains one of the greatest playmakers this league has. Through 41 contests last year, Wall notched 9.6 assists per game, a tally that would’ve left him trailing just Russell Westbrook (10.3) had he officially qualified for the category. In the three seasons before that, Wall averaged 10-plus assists and landed in the top three league-wide each time too. In transition, defending Wall and his lightning-quick pace remains a total nightmare. Lag off and Wall will burn you, but guard him tightly and the unpredictable trailblazer will always find a wide-open three-point shooter.

Wall continues to be a frontrunner for the best point guard in the Eastern Conference and his fast-breaking distribution qualities are a huge reason why. The Wizards went just 20-21 without Wall in 2017-18, so they’ll be anxious to get a full campaign from their five-time All-Star and floor general. Quite simply, Wall puts his teammates in position to succeed — so don’t be surprised if Howard undergoes a much-needed career resurgence next to this playmaker.

Top Clutch Player: Bradley Beal

Due to the extra volume Beal experienced sans Wall, this category comes out a little skewed. Undoubtedly, Beal made (38) and took (124) the most clutch-time shots for Washington in 2017-18 and converted on a 30.6 percent conversion rate. Of course, there’s room to improve, but with teams keying in on Beal, it’s a solid total for the soon to be seventh-year marksman. To put it in context, Beal was only beat out in overall clutch-time buckets by LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Jrue Holiday, DeMar DeRozan, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis, Victor Oladipo, Kemba Walker, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard — so, it’s still some great company to keep, all things considered.

In addition, a special shout-out goes to Oubre, who shot 16-for-32 in such late-game situations, including a 47.1 percent clip from three-point range as well — a promising outlook for the developing wing, but more on him below.

The Unheralded Player: Kelly Oubre Jr.

While the Wizards’ current stars and big money players earn the headlines, Oubre’s development is among the most important storylines heading into the new campaign. The merits of Wall, Beal, Howard and Porter are not up for debate but if the Wizards want to take the next step, they’ll look toward Oubre to elevate his game. Oubre, 22, can be a handful for defenders and the 6-foot-7 small forward averaged 11.8 points and 4.5 rebounds on 40.3 percent last season. When Oubre scored 14 or more points in 2017-18, Washington went 17-10 — so his consistency will be key for a bench unit that recorded only 35.6 points per game, 15th-worst in the NBA.

If Oubre can improve his 34.1 percent rate from behind the arc, there’s a chance that the potential-laden professional can breakout before he reaches restricted free agency next summer.

Best New Addition: Dwight Howard

Howard arrives in Washington this fall after being traded by Charlotte to Brooklyn, wherein the Nets promptly bought him out — so he’s officially joining his fourth team in four seasons. Even if the experiment eventually comes up short, Howard appears to be a major upgrade at center. The future Hall of Famer has averaged a double-double in all 14 years of his career and, with little competition behind him, that streak isn’t in jeopardy. Gortat was no slouch (8.4 points, 7.6 rebounds), but rolling the dice on Howard is precisely the type of inexpensive, high-reward gamble this franchise must take.

Howard has played with loads of talented point guards in the past — James Harden and Kemba Walker included — but his fit next to Wall feels like its been years in the making. Howard can still (mostly) anchor a defense and catch lobs, so what else could you want? As an above average rim protector and shot blocker, Howard effectively addresses two weakness in one fell swoop.

If the locker room stays intact, this will be a no-brainer victory for the Wizards.

– Ben Nadeau

WHO WE LIKE

1. Otto Porter Jr.

One year removed from matching a max offer sheet from the Nets, the return on Porter has been acceptable, if not a tiny bit disappointing. Last campaign, his averages of 14.7 points, 6.4 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.8 three-pointers on 44.1 percent from deep nearly replicated his statistics from the season prior. That type of output is a nice sign of consistency, but it’s also not the bump the Wizards would’ve wanted after committing all that precious cap space to him.

Still, there’s plenty to like about the Washington wing as he further grows into his all-around game. For starters, the economical 6-foot-8 scorer shot 50.3 percent in 2017-18, a mark only beat out by Michael Beasley (50.7), E’Twaun Moore (50.8), Kevin Durant (51.6) and LeBron James (54.2) for small forwards. Of those four, none of them shot the three at a better clip than Porter, who finished with the third-best rate in the entire NBA.

To this point, we all know what the Wizards’ stars are capable of but if they want to get past their Celtics and Raptors-sized obstacles, they’ll need Porter to take a giant leap. As one of the league’s exceedingly efficient shooters, he’s already won half the battle — but will the volume opportunities ever be there for him alongside Wall and Beal?

2. Markieff Morris

After setting a career-bests for three-point percentage in back-to-back seasons, Morris has been a steady contributor in the nation’s capital. Now just one year away from an important trip to free agency at the age of 29, expect the 6-foot-10 stretch forward to keep the good times rolling. At 11.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game — and with the fifth-most technical fouls in 2017-18 — Morris will likely become the last option on offense with Howard in tow. Certainly, that’s not particularly ideal for Morris, but it’s a solid situation for the Wizards, both offensively and defensively.

Morris is not elite on either end, but he’ll adequately chip in, won’t take touches away from the stars and, importantly, cares a whole lot about winning ball games. For a team looking to compete at the highest levels, Washington could do far, far worse than the reliable hand of Morris.

3. Austin Rivers

No longer a punchline, Rivers should be a fantastic fit for Washington off the bench. As an improved ball handler, a solid defender and an even better bucket-getter, Rivers’ final efforts in Los Angeles turned out to be his best statistical outcome yet. Rivers averaged 15.1 points, four assists and 1.2 steals over 59 starts for the Clippers, even knocking down a career-best 2.2 three-pointers per game on 37.8 percent from long range to boot. Obviously, he’ll be behind Wall and Beal on the depth chart and he won’t hit 33.7 minutes per game again, but his acquisition might turn out to be one of the most consequential, under-the-radar moves this summer.

Rivers will join forces with Oubre, Brown and Green to revitalize a middle of the pack second unit — but don’t be surprised if the veteran starts popping up in Sixth Man of the Year discussions come March.

4. Scott Brooks

Heading into his third season as head coach of the Wizards, Brooks has done a fine job of keeping his roster of strong personalities content — this season, it’ll be even tougher. Howard and Rivers don’t come without their own personal dramas, but Brooks has succeeded in the balancing act thus far. Last year was tarnished by Wall’s injury, but 2016-17 saw the Wizards rank ninth in offensive rating (108.5). If Brooks can get them back to that level of execution, then Washington could be in the mix for home-court advantage in the first round.

Every conference contender needs a great coach: the Celtics have Brad Stevens, the Raptors had Dwane Casey and the 76ers have Brett Brown. Brooks frequently goes unmentioned in this category, but he’s proven himself in the postseason before — now he may finally have the roster to do so again.

5. Troy Brown. Jr.

The selection of Brown at No. 15 overall this June came as a surprise with their backcourt starters locked down for the foreseeable future. For now, Brown won’t help much in the three-point shooting department — 29.1 percent at Oregon — but he’ll provide plenty of bench versatility nonetheless. In Las Vegas this summer, Brown averaged 18.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.4 steals over five games — an exhibition of skills that’ll hopefully keep him out of the G-League and well-supplanted in Brooks’ rotation soon enough.

He’s got legitimate promise as an NBA-level scorer and at the age of 19, Brown is the fourth-youngest player in the entire league, so this might be a name you’ll see for a very long time. To start the campaign, Brown will be buried behind Porter and Oubre, but keep an eye on him. His three-point efforts will need to improve if he wants to carve out a bigger and better role this season and beyond. However, Wizards fans should be awfully excited about this rookie.

– Ben Nadeau

STRENGTHS

When Wall is healthy, the Wizards often rank near the top in transition points per game, even finishing in the top four in 2016-17. Ultimately, the previous campaign was a struggle without Wall for half the year and their record — 43-39, eighth seed — reflected that. This time around, Wall is not only injury-free but the additions of Rivers and Brown, plus the furthered development of Porter and Oubre, should conceivably have the Wizards in the conversation once again.

Out on the fast break, Wall makes the Wizards a dangerous dark horse candidate in the conference without question. Both Morris and Porter will extend the floor around Wall and Beal, while Howard is gifted at cleaning the glass. Even the bench, which has been remarkably thin in recent seasons, is looking deeper than ever.

If they stay healthy and get back into their signature transition game … you’ve officially been warned.

– Ben Nadeau

WEAKNESSES

The Wizards made just 9.9 three-pointers per game in 2017-18, the 10th-worst mark in the entire league. Wall will get his teammates into high-value shot attempts, naturally, but the jury is still out on the point guard’s career-best 37.1 three-point percentage from last year. Rivers’ 2.2 three-pointers per game will help ease those worries, but they came with starter’s minutes, a number that’ll decrease playing behind an All-Star-worthy backcourt. The Wizards’ strongest competition in the conference all made three-pointers with success last season — Raptors (fourth-best), Celtics (seventh) and 76ers (12th) — so the D.C.-based team has some catching up to do.

Beyond that, those large personalities will need to be watched closely, particularly so after adding Howard and Rivers. In an already weirdly-contested locker room, all this has the potential to be a beautiful, unifying partnership or a regrettable mess.

– Ben Nadeau

THE BURNING QUESTION

Are the Wizards a member of the Eastern Conference elite?

While the Celtics, Raptors and 76ers have the best odds of controlling the top postseason seeds again, there’s definitely an argument for Washington to join the pack, if not for a few caveats. Again, they must stay healthy. Generally speaking, Wall has done so since 2013, but we’ve seen how average this team ends up being without him — and would be again, even with their improved depth this time around.

Furthermore, the locker room must keep it together — another gimme, clearly, but this is no cakewalk. It’ll be up to Brooks to build a rotation that caters to everybody’s strengths and weakness while also maximizing their window for success, which is obviously easier said than done. However, this is probably the most talented roster the Wizards have had in over a decade.

Unfortunately, the Wizards also must deal with the pesky Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks and Miami HEAT in the conference’s second-tier, so they’re no longer the same shoo-in they’ve been before. Washington will absolutely improve on their barely .500 record from 2017-18 and they’ve got an outside shot of competing with the very best the East has to offer.

But even with the measurable upgrades in Howard, Rivers and Brown, it’d be tough to pick against their conference rivals like Boston or Philadelphia in the playoffs.

– Ben Nadeau

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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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Legacy

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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