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2015-16 Oklahoma City Thunder Season Preview

Basketball Insiders previews the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 2015-16 season.

Basketball Insiders



At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, we believe the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 2015-16 NBA season will be the most critical one thus far for the young franchise. The reason is simple: In the event that the season is unsuccessful – meaning the team fails to reach viable title contention – there’s a really good chance Kevin Durant answers the phone when 29 NBA teams call him up with free agency sales pitches next year. And if Durant walks, Russell Westbrook will likely do the same the following year. It’s a possibility that fans and supporters cannot bear to even contemplate. The decision-makers in OKC’s front office are trying to avoid that very worst-case scenario. Shortly after the abrupt end to their 2014-15 season, the coaching staff was revamped (Scott Brooks is out; Billy Donovan is in as head coach) and just minor roster changes were made. On paper, this is the deepest group of players to surround two of the league’s top players in Durant and Westbrook. Last season, a plethora of injuries to key players was the Thunder’s ultimate downfall. With all players now healthy and ready to make a run this season, it’s no understatement to pronounce this is the year that everything is on the line.

Basketball Insiders previews the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 2015-16 season.

Five Thoughts

The Thunder were obviously limited by injuries last season, so it’ll be nice to see them at full strength in the 2015-16 campaign. Kevin Durant should be back to 100 percent and players who have been training with the former MVP say he looks better than ever before and is determined to have a monster bounce-back campaign. Russell Westbrook was excellent last season and it’ll be interesting to see if he can continue that success (or at least produce close to that level) while playing alongside Durant this year. If Oklahoma City can stay healthy this year, their starting lineup of Westbrook, Dion Waiters, Durant, Serge Ibaka and Enes Kanter gives them a chance to be one of the West’s best teams. I loved the addition of 14th pick Cameron Payne, who was one of my favorite rookies in this class and someone who could be a very good sixth man for OKC as early as this season. The addition of head coach Billy Donovan was a solid move too, as he should be more creative on the offensive end and help that lineup reach its full potential. Oklahoma City has a chance to contend this season, but keeping everyone healthy is vital.

1st Place – Northwest Division

-Alex Kennedy

Everything depends on how healthy Kevin Durant can be this season, and based on how poorly his foot healed a year ago, there certainly are some doubts about whether he can stay on the floor for 82 games. Still, between Durant, Russell Westbrook and a Serge Ibaka, the Thunder should be the most dominant team in the Northwest, even if there are still some issues with their roster. Enes Kanter and Dion Waiters could help out a ton by making giant leaps forward this season, and it’s certainly time to see some progress from Steven Adams. Even without that, though, there’s enough star power to be a thorn in the West all season long, and with Durant healthy, they’re more than good enough for a title run too.

1st Place – Northwest Division

-Joel Brigham

The return of Kevin Durant instantly boosts the Thunder back into contention in the West. Last season, despite their injuries, the team just barely missed the playoffs thanks to jaw-dropping performances from Russell Westbrook. The key to the Thunder’s success is health, both Durant’s and Serge Ibaka’s (who also suffered a season-ending injury). Watch for Enes Kanter, who was acquired last season from the Utah Jazz, to be an impact player in the middle. The Thunder also landed Cameron Payne with the 14th pick in this year’s draft. Payne is entering the league with a chip on his shoulder and an abundance of swagger. The rookie will be ready to get on the court and contribute while learning from two star players.

1st Place – Northwest Division

-Jessica Camerato

One word sums up the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 2014-15 campaign: Injuries. There were a ton of them. Heading into training camp with the squad now fully healthy, the team looks to regain title contention form. It has been three seasons since the franchise made a run to the NBA Finals, so it’s acceptable to question whether the core group of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka has run its course. Durant, of course, will answer free agency questions all season long. So far, the All-Star has taken those questions head on, but will the rumors ultimately become a distraction internally? At the end of the day, the Thunder have the talent to make a Finals run. Let’s see if they get it done.

1st Place – Northwest Division

-Lang Greene

So long as Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are healthy, the Thunder should be able to sleepwalk to the division title and challenge any team in the Western Conference. At this point, though, I’m not sure that I’d favor them in a seven-game series over either the Golden State Warriors or San Antonio Spurs. What could make the difference for the Thunder is whether Enes Kanter is able to flourish while sharing the floor (and touches) with both Durant and Westbrook. The other thing that may be overlooked here is the fact that a rookie head coach is going to be taking over the team. Billy Donovan will find himself in the same situation that Steve Kerr did last season; that is, being a rookie head coach replacing a beloved, experience coach on a championship contender. It is an unenviable predicament for Donovan to find himself in and one that has gotten the best of most of his predecessors. With talents like Westbrook and Durant, though, he may not necessarily meet the same fate. The other teams in the Northwest Division won’t have a shot at the Thunder this season, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to their foes in the Southwest. Along with the L.A. Clippers, I am most interested in seeing what the playoffs will hold for them, so if you want a prediction on my part, chalk the Thunder in as the fifth seed, at worst, and a tough out come April.

1st Place – Northwest Division

-Moke Hamilton

Top of the List

Top Offensive Player: Kevin Durant

Durant is so skilled offensively that even when he had what was universally termed a “bad season” last year, his statistical numbers remained enviable. During his injury-plagued campaign, wherein he appeared in just 27 games, he managed to average 25.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.4 three-pointers per game. Nearly across the board, his shooting percentages (.578 in effective field goal percentage) topped his previous years’ numbers (.560). To the delight of those who love to watch him play, Durant recently proclaimed he is completely healthy and ready to go for the season. Of course, it’s difficult to forget all the foot surgeries last year. It’s hard to curb the notion that his foot issues might be a recurring problem. If he is indeed healthy and returns to that familiar and spectacular Durant form, nobody would be surprised if he captured his fifth scoring title or even his second MVP this season.

Top Defensive Player: Serge Ibaka

When you think of the Thunder’s defense, you have to think of Ibaka. He’s been named to the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team three of the past four seasons. He’s led the league in total blocks four of the past five seasons, and he’s far more than just an extraordinary shot-blocker. Ibaka, who just turned 26, is that rare breed of player who spreads the floor on offense and fiercely protects the rim on defense. At 6’10, he’s a physical beast, able to consistently swat away and alter opponents’ shots and disturb their flow seemingly at will. His teammates appreciate the way he cleans up their mistakes, both inside and outside the paint, with his distinctive combination of pure athleticism, speed and timing. Even though some of his numbers decreased last year (partly due to nagging knee issues that led to season-ending arthroscopic surgery in mid-March), he seems to improve defensively every year. Last season, he introduced three-point shooting as part of his arsenal (averaging 1.2 makes per game), which baffled many who believe the team is best served without Ibaka’s long-distance shooting. To others, this skill was just another reason to stand in awe.

Top Playmaker: Russell Westbrook

The Thunder’s starting point guard has steadily earned respect since he entered the league in 2008. The way he carried the team on his back last season – both in performance and leadership – in an effort to push them toward the playoffs was particularly exceptional. However, in a stacked Western Conference, the Thunder’s 45-37 record (the New Orleans Pelicans had the same record, but held the tiebreaker) yielded a ninth-place finish. Last season will be remembered for the near-ridiculous amount of injuries that plagued the team (Westbrook even missed 15 games with a broken hand and facial injury), but it will also be known as the season Westbrook became an NBA superstar in his own right. There were multiple lengthy stretches last year when Westbrook’s name ruled all NBA talk due to his singular performances and beyond impressive game contributions. Let’s run down his stats from last season, all career highs: 28.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, 8.6 assists, 2.1 steals, 8.1 free throws and an incredible 29.1 Player Efficiency Rating. He won his first league scoring title, and he led the league in triple-doubles (11) and Usage Percentage (38.4). He shattered too many records to list last season. He was in MVP consideration for months on end and had to settle for an MVP title of the All-Star Game instead. Not only is Westbrook the Thunder’s top playmaker, he’s a dominating force in nearly all facets of the game.

Top Clutch Player: Kevin Durant

Durant didn’t get much of a chance to show his clutch skills last year, but we’ve seen what magic he can work when the game is on the line. Westbrook had his clutch moments last year as the best option without Durant on the floor. It might have been nice to see what Ibaka or even sharpshooter Anthony Morrow could have done in that type of situation, but clutch duties historically fall to Durant or Westbrook when needed. Durant was league-ranked among the very best in clutch shooting over the past few seasons, and if healthy (as expected this year), he should land high on the list again. With Durant having considerably better shooting percentages in two-pointers, three-pointers and free throws than anyone else on the team, he’s the one to trust late in close games.

The Unheralded Player: Dion Waiters

There were mixed reactions when the Thunder acquired Waiters last January. Drafted fourth overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2012, it didn’t take long for the young shooting guard to be labeled a poor decision-maker and an inefficient shooter – terms that don’t seem to fit the Thunder prototype. By the time he landed in Oklahoma City in the middle of an unstable season, supporters chose to welcome a healthy player who had the ability to put points on the board instead of focusing on any shortcomings. Given the injury circumstances of so many players, Waiters was thrown in the rotation immediately, and the team relied on him to contribute in all ways humanly possible. In 47 games (20 as a starter), Waiters averaged 12.7 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 30.3 minutes. Critics point to his woeful shooting percentages (.392 on field goals, .319 on three-pointers and .625 on free throws), but his numbers did improve as the season progressed. He’s the only Thunder two-guard who can play both offense (Andre Roberson, a solid defender, struggles with scoring) and defense (Morrow, a dead-eye shooter, is a defensive liability). This is why many believe Waiters should land the starting job and let Morrow serve as the offensive spark off the bench. It will be interesting to see how Coach Donovan uses him and how he develops (remember, he’s just 23 years old) playing alongside healthy Thunder stars. He still displays that habit of looking for his own shot first and calling for the ball way too much, but he looks comfortable in a Thunder uniform.

Best New Addition: Cameron Payne

As pointed out, there wasn’t much of a roster shake-up during the offseason. The Thunder parted ways with Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones, and drafted point guard Cameron Payne with the 14th overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft and selected 7’0 center Dakari Johnson with the 48th pick. The only other addition is forward Josh Huestis, who they selected in last year’s draft before making him the first domestic draft-and-stash player. It’s not known how much playing time Payne will see this season with back-up point guard D.J. Augustin (in his final contract year) in place. He may log time with the Thunder’s D-League team (Oklahoma City Blue) or he may exceed expectations and end up taking over Augustin’s role as Westbrook’s primary back up sooner rather than later. Payne, 6’3, averaged 20.2 points, six assists and 1.9 steals per game in his final season at Murray State. He possesses that Thunder DNA: humility, great character and a strong work ethic. The left-handed guard has terrific potential in this league with his excellent court vision and scoring ability.

-Susan Bible

Who We Like

The Coaching Staff: Exactly one week after the season ended in disappointing fashion last April, the Thunder’s GM and executive vice president Sam Presti fired head coach Scott Brooks. It was a move more reflective of desiring a new, fresh direction rather than the failings of Brooks. Make no mistake, some of the criticisms lodged toward Brooks were deserved, but Presti decided the time was right to overhaul the coaching staff for this impending pivotal season. Instead of going with an experienced NBA coach, as expected, Presti chose the University of Florida’s head coach Billy Donovan. In a year where championship expectations have never been higher, was it risky to name someone with no history of NBA coaching to lead this supremely talented team? Perhaps. What we do know is Donovan can coach basketball as evidenced by taking Florida to two national championships and four Final Four appearances in his two decades there. Donovan was smart to name Monty Williams (ex-New Orleans Pelicans head coach) as an assistant and to secure the return of Maurice Cheeks (ex-Thunder assistant coach with a ton of previous NBA coaching experience) to the coaching staff. Donovan also brought in Anthony Grant, his longtime assistant at Florida and a previous head coach at Alabama and VCU, as well as Darko Rajakovic, the former OKC Blue head coach with 10 years of head coaching experience overseas. It’s an extremely talented collection of coaches. Without question, all eyes will be on Donovan during this pressure-filled season to see how smoothly he transitions to the big stage and how he manages a team expected to make it to the Finals this season.

Steven Adams: The midseason trade of center Kendrick Perkins opened things up for seven-footer Adams in his sophomore season, and he was able to show just how much he’s progressed defensively in a starting role (7.7 points, 7.5 rebounds in 25.3 minutes). That role lasted until he missed games due a hand injury and ensuing surgery, and by the time he returned, Kanter had joined the team and Adams was relegated to coming off the bench. The most concerning issue for Adams is his free throw shooting. Shooting .502 from the foul line last season (regressing from the previous year of .581) and opposing teams employing Hack-an-Adams with greater frequency, Adams simply must improve in this area. This is especially important given he was ranked second on the team in total free throw attempts (202). With Kanter on board, it’s hard to say if Donovan will start Adams or keep him with the second unit; the latter appears probable. Adams’ likability factor remains off the charts with his menacing physicality on the court and his earnest comments laced with hilarity off the court. Just 22 years old, Adams is a perfect fit for the Thunder, and his upside is phenomenal. Nothing fazes him – no matter what grief opponents give him, he never takes the bait.

Enes Kanter: Leave it to Presti to surprise the NBA world by managing to obtain a player not even linked to the Thunder when all of the trade deadline rumors were swirling last February. It was both refreshing and endearing to see how happy Kanter was to have landed in Oklahoma City. He seemed to be playing with pure joy, always smiling and cheering for his new teammates from the sidelines. It was quite a change from what he displayed in Utah. In 26 games as a starter, Kanter averaged career highs in points (18.7), rebounds (11, including five in offensive boards, something the Thunder desperately needed) and field goal percentage (.566). Both the rebounds and field goal percentage were also team highs. In Kanter, the Thunder finally have a legitimate low-post presence for easy buckets. Another young player at just 23 years old, the knocks on his defense are valid, but he has potential to improve. He has the quickness and strength to develop on the defensive end with proper teaching. Not to mention, playing alongside Ibaka should help hide some of his deficiencies on that end of the floor. His double-double ability should keep Durant happy, which is of paramount importance.

Sam Presti: It’s not always easy – or even wise – to make a decision that could alter the path of an already successful NBA team. Notwithstanding last year, the Thunder have been among the best of the best for several seasons now. Even though ‘The Dreaded Season of Injuries’ last year had nothing to do with Brooks’ coaching efforts, Presti saw that the timing was right to change sideline generals. Making a head coaching shift from a proven winner in Brooks over seven seasons (338-207 record in OKC) to a coach with no NBA experience was a move we have to respect. Finding a way to secure Kanter, that one missing piece the Thunder has long needed, is another one. And keeping last years’ roster largely intact is one more reason to give Presti credit.

-Susan Bible


Durant and Westbrook, both celebrating their 27th birthdays very soon, are entering their prime. Both are regarded, deservedly so, as dominant stars of this league. They are highly skilled, richly experienced and are nearly impossible to stop on the court. Presti has surrounded them with the best cast of supporting players yet. The team is stocked with long-range shooters, offensive and defensive post players, an athletic freak in Ibaka, veteran voices and a strong bench. The roster depth is tremendous. The one unknown is the new head coach. Donovan is a proven leader and winner, and he has all the motivation in the world to succeed with a talented coaching staff behind him. He has a complete team ready to buy into a new system and prepared to make noise. We like how Donovan stayed in town during the summer to cultivate relationships with his players. This is the season the Thunder may achieve their true potential.

-Susan Bible


One of the biggest concerns going into the 2015-16 NBA season is Kevin Durant’s health. Will he really return at 100 percent? The Jones fracture he suffered in last years’ training camp melded into an up-and-down season-long problem, requiring three surgeries over a six-month span. He dealt with a sprained ankle and toe too. When the reality of the situation set in, it was a bitter pill to swallow. Durant had missed just 16 games over a seven-year career; last season, he missed 55. Ibaka missed 18, Adams missed 12, Westbrook missed 15, Nick Collison missed 16, Roberson missed 15 and Mitch McGary missed 50. Injuries can bring down any team, but last year, the constant injuries were almost comical. Another concern is the distraction factor of Durant’s uncertain future with the Thunder. Because he’s about to enter the final year of his contract, the three-ring circus potential is very real.

Lack of ball movement has been an issue, and Donavan has vowed that the team will show improvement in that area. Establishing chemistry between the coaching staff and players may take time. It’s remarkable that Durant has yet to share the court with Kanter. Individual player weaknesses include Kanter’s defense, Adams’ free throw shooting, Waiters’ inconsistency as well as his on-an-island style of play, and Morrow’s defense.

-Susan Bible

The Burning Question

Will the Oklahoma City Thunder win the NBA title this season?

Barring a repeat of last year’s unbelievable rash of injuries, all the tools are in place for the Thunder to be one of the West’s best teams and seriously compete for the championship this year. The formidable one-two punch of Durant and Westbrook returning will be a welcomed sight. They are veteran players now and are eager to finally get that ring. If they fall short, Durant’s future in Oklahoma City is not at all certain. Donovan has assembled a solid coaching staff and is inheriting an experienced roster full of star power and solid depth in all positions. Home-court advantage during the playoffs, if attained, will be huge for them with their devoted fan base still as loud and energetic as ever. The pressure is on in Oklahoma City and, now more than ever, this season may be championship or bust.

-Susan Bible


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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



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



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:


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#17 – Aleksej Pokusevski – Oklahoma City Thunder

David Yapkowitz



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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