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2015-16 Dallas Mavericks Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the Dallas Mavericks’ 2015-16 season.

Basketball Insiders

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Last season, the Dallas Mavericks won 50 games and finished as the seventh seed in the insanely competitive Western Conference. They were eliminated in the playoffs by the Houston Rockets in five games.

Then, Dallas had a rough summer. DeAndre Jordan obviously committed to the team and then backed out of his deal, leaving the Mavericks in a very tough position. Still, they were able to acquire players like Wesley Matthews, Deron Williams, Zaza Pachulia, Samuel Dalembert and JaVale McGee among others. However, they lost key player free agent Monta Ellis, who signed with the Indiana Pacers. Will this Mavericks squad be able to crack the top in the brutal West? If so, can they advance past the first round?

Basketball Insiders previews the Dallas Mavericks’ 2015-16 season.

Five Thoughts

I feel bad for the Mavericks. Had they been able to secure DeAndre Jordan, we’re talking about them as a solid playoff team in the Western Conference. But since Jordan backed out of his verbal agreement and left Dallas with few free agency options, I just don’t think the Mavericks have enough talent to be a playoff team in the brutal West. A starting lineup of Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews (coming off of an Achilles’ injury, which many players never fully recover from), Chandler Parsons, Dirk Nowitzki and Zaza Pachulia just doesn’t seem like a postseason team to me. There are a lot of holes on this Mavs squad. Like I said, this isn’t really Dallas’ fault; it’s just unfortunate how this summer played out for them because now they find themselves in a tough position without enough talent to keep up in a loaded conference. They may be able to sneak into the postseason as the eighth seed, but I think that’s their best-case scenario.

5th Place – Southwest Division

-Alex Kennedy

Had DeAndre Jordan ended up in Dallas, we’d all probably be having a different conversation about their title aspirations – but as it stands, the Mavericks do not look like a particularly formidable team. Deron Williams and Dirk Nowitzki are much closer to retirement than their peak years, Wesley Matthews is coming back from an Achilles injury and the center rotation is a fascinating hodgepodge of players past their prime and the enigmatic JaVale McGee. It’s not all bad, obviously. Chandler Parsons is still a really good young player, and J.J. Barea and Charlie Villanueva have been good for the team as reserves. Still, they play in a really tough division and it’s impossible to lose talent in a tough division and replicate team success. It’s probably going to be a long year for the Mavs.

5th Place – Southwest Division

-Joel Brigham

The Dallas Mavericks could be the odd team out in the Western Conference this season. This summer, they lost out on DeAndre Jordan in free agency – a signing that could have taken them to the next level – when he decided to return to the Los Angeles Clippers after much drama. They did add defensive stopper Wesley Matthews who, like Chandler Parsons, is returning from injury. Following the failed Rajon Rondo experiment, the Mavericks added a new point guard in Deron Williams. While some teams are going smaller, they signed legitimate centers JaVale McGee and Samuel Dalembert as well as acquiring Zaza Pachulia. Health and chemistry will play major roles, as they did last season. The Mavericks, led by Dirk Nowitzki, have talented pieces. But as other teams improved in the West, the Mavericks may find themselves on the outside of playoff seedings.

5th Place – Southwest Division

-Jessica Camerato

The Mavericks are desperately attempting to regain a spot among the league’s elite. However, the team has been unable to land a marquee free agent the past few seasons. From Dwight Howard to Chris Bosh to DeAndre Jordan, all have decided to sign elsewhere in free agency after listening to Dallas’ pitch. At the moment, it appears future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki won’t ever get a shot at a second ring, but the Mavericks are always well coached and should at least be in the hunt for a playoff berth.

5th Place – Southwest Division

-Lang Greene

JaVale McGee and Deron Williams are not filling the void that DeAndre Jordan left when he rescinded his agreement to sign with the Mavericks, and with Dirk Nowitzki continuing to age, I am really not sure if the Mavs are a playoff team, much less a contender. From a strictly basketball perspective, I like the thought of Williams playing pick-and-roll basketball with Nowitzki and finding Wesley Matthews behind the arc for some three-pointers. Matthews is just as deadly an outside shooter as Joe Johnson, so we at least know that Williams knows how to play with such a threat. I guess Williams emerges as the most important player on the roster for me because, for the most part, you know what you’re getting with Nowitzki and Matthews. Williams will attempt to drink from the Fountain of Youth (like Pau Gasol seemingly did last year) and resurrect his career. If he plays anywhere near his immense potential, the Mavs may do something this season. If not, then I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Pelicans, Suns and/or Jazz beat them out for the final few playoff spots out West.

5th Place — Southwest Division

-Moke Hamilton

Top of the List

Top Offensive Player: Dirk Nowitzki

Who else than Dirk? He’s seventh place all-time in points scored in the NBA (not counting the ABA) and is second-highest among active players (trailing Kobe Bryant). He’ll likely even pass Shaquille O’Neal at some point this season for sixth place, as he trails O’Neal by just 477 points. With Nowitzki entering his 18th season in the league, the case could have been made for newcomer Wesley Matthews to lead the team, but given the uncertainty surrounding him coming off of an Achilles injury, Nowitzki seems like a safe bet.

Nowitzki had a productive 2014-15 campaign, averaging 17.3 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists. He finished second on the team in scoring last season, behind Monta Ellis’ 18.9 points per game. The team will still revolve much around Nowitzki on offense, especially now that Ellis is gone. It’ll be interesting to see if his role changes any with Deron Williams now in the fold and when Matthews returns to 100 percent. The Mavericks will have more offensive weapons once they’re fully healthy, so the team may not need to rely too heavily on Nowitzki. He is one of a few players who gave his team the hometown discount (he’s owed just $8,333,334 this season) in order to help the front office assemble a talented roster, and this might be one of the more competitive squads they’ve had in the last few seasons.

Top Defensive Player: Wesley Matthews

The loss of Tyson Chandler to the Phoenix Suns is going to sting for a while. He was by far the team’s best defender last season, and his departure is going to open up a huge weakness for the Mavericks. But, with Chandler now gone, Matthews figures to take over as the team’s best defender. He arrives on a Dallas team not stacked with defensive-minded players, so he’ll likely be the team’s best option on that end of the court. While he comes in as a solid defender, his chances of becoming the best on the team rest largely on how he returns from his Achilles injury. This injury is among the worst that a player can suffer, and many individuals have struggled to return to form after coming back from this injury.

Matthews averaged 15.9 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals last season for the Portland Trail Blazers. Perhaps the biggest stat backing up Matthews’ case as best defender is his defensive plus-minus last season. He turned in a 2.27 defensive real plus-minus (DRPM), which puts him at 41st in the league. The DRPM is a player’s estimated on-court impact on team defensive performance, which is measured in points allowed per 100 defensive possessions. To compare, Chandler’s DRPM was 14th in the league at 3.54. Matthews’ 2.27 DRPM was the best on the Trail Blazers. He’s not the fastest defender, but he’s strong and is a reliable option throughout the course of the game.

Top Playmaker: Deron Williams

Perhaps no player in the NBA stands to benefit more from a change of scenery than Williams. Last season, the veteran point guard had his lowest production since his rookie campaign as he averaged 13 points, 6.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds. Williams will now have the opportunity to start over and return to form as one of the more productive point guards in the league – just as he was a few seasons ago. This season will be his chance to prove to everybody that he still has a lot left in the tank, as he’s set to enter his 11th year in the league.

Williams will also have the luxury of reuniting with his old teammate Wesley Matthews. The two played together for the Utah Jazz in the 2009-10 season, which was Matthews’ first year in the league and Williams’ last full season in Utah. The two have remained in touch and having that previous connection should help both players make a smooth transition to their new team. The Mavericks don’t necessarily need Williams to go out and dominate every game, but if he can run the offense and get his teammates involved, he’ll be a great addition.

Top Clutch Player: Dirk Nowitzki

During his time in the league, Nowitzki has become one of the most clutch players in the NBA. Over the years, we’ve seen him hit numerous clutch shots from all over the court, from three-pointers to layups to free throws after drawing contact. As he’s often double-teamed in crunch time, he’s even had clutch passes to find open teammates for easy baskets. Since the 2005-06 season, he’s ranked in the top 24 in total points scored during the last five minutes of games when the Mavericks were either ahead or behind by five points. While he’s faded down the list in recent years, he finished in the top seven in that same category from 2005-06 until 2010-11, and was even second in 2009-10. He’s established himself as a reliable option during late-game situations for the Mavericks and has proven more often than not that he’ll come up with some sort of big shot or play.

The Unheralded Player: Zaza Pachulia

Oftentimes when we think about unheralded players, we think of individuals who don’t get nearly as much love as they should. The first player who came to mind when looking at the Mavericks’ roster was Zaza Pachulia. This is a guy who has made a career out of being a tough center that doesn’t back down from anyone (as he showed against the Chicago Bulls in the playoffs). Pachulia obviously wasn’t the team’s top choice for center, but acquiring him from the Milwaukee Bucks for a second-round pick proved to be an underrated move this summer.

He’s been in the league for 12 seasons now and has averaged seven points per game over the course of his career. Last season with the Bucks, he averaged 8.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 steals. His 2.4 assists per game were good for seventh-best among all centers and his 1.1 steals per game ranked fourth-best. He could also be a candidate for the top defensive player on the team should Matthews need more time to return from his injury. Pachulia finished last year as having the 17th-best DRPM at 3.42, which was the highest of any current Mavericks player. He’s going to bring consistency to the lineup, and that alone should make head coach Rick Carlisle happy.

Best New Addition: Wes Matthews

We had this space locked in for DeAndre Jordan weeks ago, but we know how that story ended. Instead, we’ll shine the light on Matthews. We’ve already discussed his potential to become the team’s best defender. But overall, Matthews brings the most to the team out of the new additions. The team certainly has witnessed a lot of turnover this summer, as they’ve added Matthews, Deron Williams, Samuel Dalembert, Jeremy Evans, John Jenkins, JaVale McGee and Zaza Pachulia. Matthews is perhaps one of the biggest question marks on the team due to his return from his injury, but he’s the best acquisition if he’s healthy. He’s said in recent weeks that he’ll be ready to go for the Mavericks’ season opener, which would be excellent for Dallas, but that’s no guarantee.

The signing of Matthews represented one of the most risky moves of the summer given the uncertainty with his return. It became even riskier when Dallas decided to upgrade his deal to a max contract worth $70 million over four years once Jordan backed out of his deal. However, Matthews is still a player who has proven to be one of the best two-way guards in the league. As mentioned above, he averaged 15.9 points last season with the Blazers and averaged 2.9 three-pointers per game at a 38.9 percent clip. He’s emerged as one of the best shooters in the league and has improved his shot each year since entering the league in 2009. During his rookie year, he averaged just 0.8 threes made per game, and has improved that number each year culminating in his 2.9 makes per game last season. The potential is there for Matthews to be a huge-impact player, and the guard is ready to prove to everyone that he can be the same player who was very effective before his injury.

-Cody Taylor

Who We Like

Chandler Parsons: We like Chandler Parsons in what could turn out to be a contract year (if he opts out of the final year of his contract, worth $16,023,000, next summer). He’s a player who does a lot of things well, but not any one thing great, which is why he was left out of the previous section. It’s very possible this could be his last year in Dallas if he opts out, believing he can command a higher offer in free agency with the salary cap rising significantly. Since it seems likely Parsons will be playing for a new deal, he could have a huge season. He will be coming off of a knee injury, so he could be hampered at the start of the season, but if he can remain healthy this next season could be big for him. He’ll be entering just his fifth year in the league and the prime of his career. He averaged 15.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists during his first year in Dallas. He figures to see an even bigger role with Rajon Rondo and Monta Ellis leaving the team, meaning the potential for All-Star-type numbers could be there. With Nowitzki in the latter years of his career, Parsons could challenge him to be the team’s best offensive weapon.

J.J. Barea: The Mavericks opted to re-sign fan-favorite J.J. Barea this summer on a team-friendly deal that will pay him $16 million over four years. It may seem like a risk to give a 31-year-old a four-year deal, but a $4 million annual salary will be very small in the NBA’s new economic environment. Barea has solidified his place as the team’s backup point guard behind Deron Williams. He may even get a few starts this season depending on how healthy Williams can be. He is very capable of stepping in and producing should he need to take on a bigger role. In 10 starts last season, he averaged 11 points, 4.6 assists and 3.6 rebounds. Barea should be ready to go from the start of the season after playing exceptionally well for the Puerto Rican national team in the FIBA Americas tournament. He even had a 37-point, nine-assist, seven-rebound performance against the Dominican Republic to indicate just how ready he is for the upcoming campaign. He was a key member of the Mavericks’ 2011 championship team and knows how to get the job done in the postseason. With Barea returning, point guard is arguably the team’s strongest position.

Devin Harris: Harris could be in for a bigger role this season given the uncertainty with Wesley Matthews. He’s been a starter for much of his 11-year career, but played the last two seasons in Dallas in a reserve role. Harris averaged 14.2 points, 5.1 assists and 2.9 rebounds per 36 minutes last season, which could be a preview of what he’ll bring this season as he’ll likely fill in as a starter at times for Matthews. Last season was the first in which Harris was healthy and it showed. He’s been injured throughout his career and appeared in at least 70 games last season for the first time since his 2010-11 campaign. Although he’s lost a step since his first few years in the league, we like Harris this season in the sixth man role and as a possible fill-in starter.

Rick Carlisle: One huge advantage that the Mavericks hold is having Carlisle at the helm of the team. He’s been one of the best sideline generals in the league during his 13 seasons as a head coach. He’s guided his teams to over 600 wins, and has a career 59 percent win percentage. Under Carlisle, the Mavericks have been a great offensive team, as the team finished fifth last season in offensive efficiency. The problem lies on the defensive end, which Carlisle has admitted will be a point of emphasis during training camp. Last season, the Mavericks ranked 18th in the league in defensive efficiency, but the team knows they’ll need to improve on that end of the floor to compete in the stacked Western Conference. It’ll be interesting to see how Carlisle runs the offense this season with last year’s leading scorer Monta Ellis gone. Matthews and Parsons figure to see a large role in the offense once they are healthy and we’ll see how Carlisle uses Williams. Carlisle has proven that he can integrate new players into the system and make everything work, and this season should be no different.

Jeremy Evans: One player who we like that could have an improved season is Evans. It would seem likely that Evans stands to benefit in a new situation this year. He’s been a player who has averaged just 10.8 minutes per game during his first five seasons in the league, but could see an increased role in his first year in Dallas. He’s a player that can spark the team off of the bench with his energetic play. His vertical is 45 inches and he has plenty of highlight-reel dunks to his name. The Mavericks brought Evans in on a low-risk, minimum deal and could see tremendous value in Evans this season if he outperforms expectations.

-Cody Taylor

Strengths

The biggest strength for this team is their experience, since they have so many veterans. In fact, the team has the fourth-highest average age in the NBA, with only the Miami HEAT, Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs boasting a higher average. Players like Dirk Nowitzki, Deron Williams, Zaza Pachulia, Devin Harris, Samuel Dalembert and J.J. Barea have all been in the league for at least nine seasons and represent some of the key contributors on the team. While they may represent one of the oldest bunches in the league, they all have playoff experience and have had success in the league. With a lot of younger teams making the jump to playoff status, the Mavericks are an experienced team that don’t make a lot of mistakes, which is an advantage over some of the younger teams in the NBA. The team persuaded Nowitzki to take a pay cut to ensure they can stay competitive, and thus have opted to field a more-experienced squad to try to win one more ring for him. In terms of on-court strengths, as previously mentioned, Dallas had the fifth best offense in the NBA last year (scoring 107.2 points per 100 possessions).

-Cody Taylor

Weaknesses

It’s been much discussed to this point that the team’s overall health will be a big question mark this season. Wesley Matthews and Chandler Parsons likely won’t be ready to participate when the Mavericks’ training camp opens on Monday and it’s still unclear at this time whether they’ll be ready once the regular season starts on October 28. They represent a huge portion of the offense for next season and their overall health will dictate largely how the season can go. After those two players, Devin Harris will likely have health concerns attached to his name as well as he’s had a history of various injuries (even though he was mostly healthy last season). Then, obviously, Dirk Nowitzki’s health could be an issue as he’s set to enter his 18th year in the Association. On court, the Mavs must improve their 18th-ranked defense (allowing 103.7 points per 100 possessions).

-Cody Taylor

The Burning Question

Can the Mavs stay healthy enough to be a playoff team?

It’s a question that’s going to remain on everybody’s mind throughout the season. It’s clear that the team has enough talent to compete in the West, but that means several key players must stay healthy. While the news that Matthews and Parsons will be extremely limited in training camp isn’t necessarily a surprise, it is a concern due to the injuries that both players are recovering from. If the team can stay healthy and their key players can contribute at a high level, the Mavericks could be an underrated team in the West this season. A playoff berth isn’t out of the question, and neither is a postseason run if everything goes Dallas’ way.

-Cody Taylor

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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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