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Is Julius Randle In Danger of Burning Out?

Drew Maresca examines the potential durability of Julius Randle as his workload increases

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The New York Knicks, led by head coach Tom Thibodeau, are playing .500 basketball through 40+ games. Let that sink in.

Their best player, Julius Randle, leads the league in minutes played (1547), and their second-leading scorer, RJ Barrett, is fifth (1410) despite his inexperience; Barrett is just 20-years-old.

Neither Randle nor Barrett have shown serious signs of fatigue. On the contrary, Barrett’s sophomore campaign is going well, with Barrett averaging 17.2 points and 6 rebounds per game; and Randle is doing even better, posting career-bests in points, rebounds and assists.

But amongst the optimism in New York, the shortened careers of Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Joakim Noah haunt the more cynical of the fan base. And while it is a near certainty that Thibodeau plans on going full steam ahead, the question of how logging heavy minutes will effects players’ longevity looms.

Injuries are as much happenstance as they are a culmination of events, and age and dedication to one’s body factor in, too. So while there’s a well-established narrative about Coach Tom Thibodeau and how he plays his guys too many minutes, let’s exonerate him outright before diving into the players themselves. After all, the great coach Gregg Popovich played Tim Duncan for 3,000+ minutes in four different seasons, and that didn’t run him into the ground. Phil Jackson and Doug Collins leaned heavily on Michael Jordan, playing him 3,000+ minutes on 12 different occasions, including in 2002-02 as a 40-year-old. Jackson also played Kobe Bryant at least 3,000 minutes in five different seasons (Bryant also played 3,000+ minutes in 2012-13 under coach Mike D’Antoni). And the list goes on.

Essentially, the better the player, the more minutes they play. It’s that simple. In spite of a growing push to manage players’ workloads (i.e., load management), coaches have their own agendas – and it’s not nearly as sinister as that sounds. Coaches want to win now, and that makes sense because they rarely make it through a rebuild with the same franchise.

But back to the matter at hand: should Knicks fans be worried about Randle and the number of minutes he plays? Let’s extrapolate what he’s played thus far for a full season and compare that to others from the recent past.

Randle is averaging 36.7 minutes per game, and he’s played in all 42 of the Knicks’ contests so far this season. The 2020-21 season is shortened, spanning just 72 – but for comparison’s sake, we’ll spread it across 82. If he continues to play at his current rate, that works out to 3,009 minutes.

Believe it or not, just five players have amassed 3,000 or more minutes in a single season in the past five years: Bradley Beal (3,028) in 2018-19; LeBron James (3,026) in 2017-18; Andrew Wiggins (3,048) and Karl-Anthony Towns (3.030) in 2016-17; and James Harden (3,125) in 2016-17.

Granted, the 3,000-minute mark is an arbitrary line in the sand – after all, 2,900 minutes spread across 82 games is just another 1.2 minutes per game – but the fact that only five players have surpassed 3,000 in a single season over in the past five seasons is telling and simplifies the argument.

After a quick perusal of the list, it becomes clear that only ultra-talented players secure this accomplishment. James, Harden, Beal and Towns are exactly the type of players that teams dream of when beginning a rebuild, and not the type that franchise would misuse. While Wiggins may not be elite, he, too, is ultra-talented and could still grow into an All-Star caliber player. This year, Wiggins is shooting career-highs on two-point and three-point field goal attempts, while turning the ball over at a near career-low, all while scoring 17.7 points in 32.1 minutes per game.

So it’s mostly great players who play 3,000+ minutes. But does doing so harm their longevity? Nothing is conclusive and it’s anyone’s guess if the culmination of the minutes played will ultimately be to blame for any late-career deterioration, but all five are still active and, better still, healthy. In fact, all five are having career years in one way or another – Harden’s making a run at MVP, having transformed himself into the ultimate distributor; James continues to impress with his age-defying antics, averaging 25.8 points, 8.0 assists and 8.1 rebounds per game at 36-years-old; and Beal, Towns and Wiggins are all continuing to grow as players, too.

They have all been unaffected by playing 3,000+ minutes so far. But while the long-term effects are still undecided, the short-term effects are easily identifiable.

Following the 2015-16 season, Harden followed up his 3,125 minutes with 81 games and more than 2,900 hundred minutes, across which he averaged a then-career-high 29.1 points per game. And he won the MVP the season after that (2017-18).

Following the 2016-17 campaign, both Wiggins and Towns played another 82 games each, averaging 36.3 and 35.6 minutes per game, respectively – and while both saw small drops in production, they were also acclimating to a notoriously prickly teammate in Jimmy Butler. They also qualified for the playoffs for the first time in either of their careers in 2016-17.

James is the outlier of the bunch, of course. Following 2017-18, James suffered a hamstring injury that ended his season. He suffered the injury on Christmas Day, but he probably would have returned had the Lakers been in the playoff hunt – and his output was still incredibly impressive prior to the injury (25.8 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8 assists in 35.2 minutes per game). James had also just turned 34 just prior to the injury, so he’s a unique case in that he was already approaching his mid-30s in his last 3,000+ minutes season.  It’s worth mentioning that James surpassed 3,000 minutes seven times prior to 2017-18 and hadn’t missed a considerable amount of time until 2018-19.

Following the 2018-19 season, Beal played 36 minutes per game in the pandemic-shortened season, in which time he secured a career year, averaging a career-high 30.5 points, 6.1 assists and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 51.5/35.3/84.2.  And he’s upped the ante this season, too – averaging career-bests in points (32.5) and rebounds (5.2).

It’s understandable that fans worry about the longevity of their stars. And it’s especially so from the Knicks’ fan base, which appears ever-so near to some success for the first time in decades. But players play. Hell, Thibodeau himself is huge on riding his very best players – see some of those former and current Minnesota contributors on this very list.

And Randle prepared himself for the long-haul, using the extended break between last season and 2020-21 to get into the best shape of his career. Could a freak injury derail his career year? Of course. If it does, it will more a product of happenstance than a durability issue. So relax, and enjoy what he’s doing – because it hasn’t been done in Madison Square Garden in a while.

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Wizards, Lakers agree to Russell Westbrook and Three-Player Trade Deal

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The Los Angeles Lakers have agreed with the Washington Wizards to acquire Russell Westbrook in a three-player trade, sending Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and the No. 22 pick in Thursday’s 2021 NBA Draft to the Wizards. According to ESPN, the Wizards are also giving up their 2024 and 2028 second-round picks as well. During last night’s draft, at pick No. 22, the Lakers sent Wildcats’ center Isaiah Jackson to the Pacers via the Wizards. At pick No. 15, the Wizards drafted Gonzaga’s forward Corey Kispert. In the second round, at pick No. 31, the Milwaukee Bucks traded NBA G League player Isaiah Todd to the Wizards via the Pacers.

On Thursday, Harrell decided to pursue his $9.7 million player option for next season. Yesterday, rumors surfaced across social media regarding a possible Lakers-Kings trade involving Harrell. Despite all the wrong predictions and mindless speculation over these last couple of days, this trade move could work out for both teams.

After all, Westbrook is a 9-time NBA All-Star and three-time assists leader. In his MVP season back in the 2016-17 season, over the course of 81 games, he averaged a career-high 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 10.4 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. On Twitter, Westbrook tweeted, “I’m blessed to have been a part of such a stand up organization. It didn’t take long to make a home in DC, and I will forever be grateful and appreciative of my experience with the organization. Thank you!”

In the 2020-21 NBA season, Caldwell-Pope averaged 9.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game in 67 games started for the Lakers. The 28-year-old shooting guard will make $13 million next season. As for Kuzma, in 68 games played last season, he averaged 12.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. Kuzma is set to earn $13 million next season. For Harrell, in 69 games played last season, he averaged 13.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game. The six-foot-seven power forward/center is also a six-year player. Instead of having one or two notable super stars, the Wizards having several contributing players might work out better in their favor.

Last season, in 65 games played in his only season spent on the Wizards, Westbrook averaged 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 11.7 assists. The 32-year-old point guard finished the 2020-21 season with 38 triple-doubles, ranking first in the league and second highest in his own playing career. Westbrook also surpassed Oscar Robertson last season for the most all-time assists; Robertson accumulated 181 triple-doubles in 14 seasons. Now, the two-time NBA scoring champion has 184 career triple-doubles, the most all-time for any player. Furthermore, this is Westbrook’s fourth team in his NBA career.

He is the fifth former MVP in league history to play on four different teams over the course of four seasons or less, adding to the existent list of Bob McAdoo, Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Derrick Rose. Moreover, on December 2, 2020, Westbrook was traded by the Houston Rockets to the Wizards for John Wall and a 2023 first-round draft pick. He is set to earn $44.2 million in the upcoming season. His player option for the 2022-23 season is $47 million. This trade deal will not be official until August 6th.

Per Bovada’s NBA Futures odds, the Lakers now have +300 odds of winning their eighteenth championship in the 2021-22 season. This is a move from 4/1 odds before the trade, leaping the Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors, and they now have the second best odds behind the Brooklyn Nets (+250). Westbrook also has the best odds of leading the league in assists next season, with first place odds showing EVEN. He is ahead of James Harden (+150), Trae Young (+450), and Luka Doncic (+600). With +6600 odds, he also ranks 19th in the NBA for next season’s MVP odds, trailing Lakers’ teammates such as James (+1200) and Davis (+2800).

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Russell Westbrook joins L.A. Lakers in One of the biggest trades in NBA History

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(Image courtesy of AP)

In one of the biggest NBA Draft trades ever, Los Angeles Lakers acquired the services of Washington Wizards’ former MVP, Russell Westbrook, last night!

As a result of the trade, the Lakers can now boast a holy trinity of attacking talent in Westbrook, Anthony Davis, and, of course, Lebron James, unlike anything seen in recent memory. Assuming this new contingent clicks into gear, it might just be the most frighteningly talented trio to play together in NBA history, rivaling the Bulls triple horn of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman, or that great Lakers team of the late 80s with Magic Johnson, James Worthy, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

In exchange for their star man, the Wizards received three players and what was the No 22 overall pick in last night’s NBA Draft. The former Lakers tasked with replacing Westbrook in Washington will be Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Montrezl Harrell.

Washington then spent the Lakers No.22 pick on Kentucky’s Isaiah Jackson, but immediately traded him on to the Indiana Pacers in a deal that saw the Wizards acquire pick No.31 and point guard Aaron Holiday. Wizards then used pick No.33 to draft Isaiah Todd to bolster their ranks at power forward.

 

(Image courtesy of AP)

The effervescent Westbrook had another great year in 2020-21, averaging 22.2 points, 11.7 assists, and 11.5 rebounds per game in his first season with the Wizards.

In joining the Lakers star cast, which already boasts the likes of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Westbrook, a 9x NBA All-Star & 2016-17 MVP, will now be hoping to end his NBA championship drought.

Westbrook has since taken to social media to thank the WashingtonWizards franchise for a great year spent in the capital, tweeting:

“Thank you DC! You welcomed my family and I with open arms from day one,” he wrote. “Everyone from the front office, to the training staff, the coaches, my teammates, and the fans. I’m grateful y’all took a chance on me and supported me every step of the way.”

“I’m blessed to have been a part of such a stand up organization. It didn’t take long to make a home in DC, and I will forever be grateful and appreciative of my experience with the organization. Thank you!”

With a legendary point guard now fixed among the ranks, 2020 NBA Championship winners the Lakers have all the talent required to wrestle back the title from the freshly-crowned Milwaukee Bucks.

So, get yourselves ready for an influx of NBA betting lines on Antetokounmpo, Holiday, and Middleton vs. LeBron, Davis, and Westbrook for next year’s championship games!

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NBA Draft Results 2021: Complete List of First & Second Round Picks

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The 2021 NBA Draft unfolded live at the Barclays Center earlier tonight and it did not disappoint!

60 college standouts were selected in total; each will be gunning for a big rookie year once the new season gets underway on October 19.

(Image courtesy of Associated Press)

The Detroit Pistons did exactly what their fanbase asked for when they opted to draft Oklahoma States’s Cade Cunningham, with the first overall pick.

It may not have been much of a surprise to see the Pistons exit the Barclays Center, NY, with the freshman All-American (and -10000 betting favorite) in the bag, but that won’t dampen the excitement in Detroit! Cunningham averaged 20.1 points, 3.5 assists, and 6.2 rebounds per game for Oklahoma, so expectations are high for the young point guard, who will now be tasked with bringing the glory days back to a Motor City that hasn’t tasted championship gold since 2004.

The Houston Rockets took shooting guard Jalen Green from G League Ignite with the No.2 overall pick, before the Cleveland Cavaliers vouched for Evan Mobley, a forward out of USC, at No.3.

A complete list of picks from rounds 1 & 2 is featured below. A more detailed draft analysis and grades will follow shortly.

Round 1

 
Pick Team Player College
1. Detroit Pistons Cade Cunningham Oklahoma State
2. Houston Rockets Jalen Green G League Ignite
3. Cleveland Cavaliers Evan Mobley USC
4. Toronto Raptors Scottie Barnes Florida State
5. Orlando Magic Jalen Suggs Gonzaga
6. Oklahoma City Thunder Josh Giddey Adelaide 36ers, NBL
7. Golden State Warriors (from Minnesota) Jonathan Kuminga G League Ignite
8. Orlando Magic (from Chicago) Franz Wagner Michigan
9. Sacramento Kings Davion Mitchel Baylor
10. Memphis Grizzlies (from New Orleans) Ziaire Williams Stanford
11. Charlotte Hornets James Bouknight UConn
12. San Antonio Spurs Josh Primo Alabama
13. Indiana Pacers Chris Duarte Oregon
14. Golden State Warriors Moses Moody Arkansas
15. Washington Wizards Corey Kispert Gonzaga
16. Houston Rockets (from OKC) Alperen Sengün Beşiktaş, Turkey
17. New Orleans Pelicans (from Memphis) Trey Murphy Virginia
18. Oklahoma City Thunder Tre Mann Florida
19. Charlotte Hornets (from New York) Kai Jones Texas
20. Atlanta Hawks Jalen Johnson Duke
21. LA Clippers (from New York) Keon Johnson Tennesee
22. Indiana Pacers (from Lakers, Wizards) Isaiah Jackson Kentucky
23. Houston Rockets Usman Garuba Real Madrid, Spain
24. Houston Rockets Josh Christopher Arizona State
25. New York Knicks (from Clippers) Quentin Grimes Houston
26. Denver Nuggets Nah’Shon Lee Hyland VCU
27. Brooklyn Nets Cam Thomas LSU
28. Philadelphia 76ers Jaden Springer Tennessee
29. Brooklyn Nets (from Phoenix) Day’Ron Sharpe North Carolina
30. Memphis Grizzlies (from Utah) Santi Aldama Loyola (Maryland)

Round 2

 
Pick Team Player College
31. Washington Wizards (from Bucks, Pacers) Isaiah Todd G League Ignite
32. New York Knicks Jeremiah Robinson Earl Villanova
33. LA Clippers (from Orlando) Jason Preston Ohio
34. Oklahoma City Thunder Rokas Jokubaitis FC Barcelona/ Lithuania
35. New Orleans Pelicans Herbert Jones Alabama
36. Oklahoma City Thunder Miles McBride West Virginia
37. Charlotte Hornets (from Detroit) JT Thor Auburn
38. Chicago Bulls Ayo Dosunmu Illinois
39. Sacramento Kings Neemias Queta Utah State
40. Memphis Grizzlies (from New Orleans) Jared Butler Baylor
41. San Antonio Spurs Joe Weskamp Iowa
42. Detroit Pistons Isaiah Livers Michigan
43. New Orleans Pelicans Greg Brown III Texas
44. Brooklyn Nets Kessler Edwards Pepperdine
45. Boston Celtics Juhann Begarin Paris basketball
46. Toronto Raptors Dalanao Banton Nebraska
47. Toronto Raptors David Johnson Louisville
48. Atlanta Hawks Sharife Cooper Auburn
49. Brooklyn Nets Marcus Zegarowski Creighton
50. Philadelphia 76ers Filip Petrusev MegaBasket, Serbia
51. Memphis Grizzlies Brandon Boston Jr. Kentucky
52. Detroit Pistons Luka Garza Iowa
53. Philadelphia 76ers Charles Bassey Western Kentucky
54. Milwaukee Bucks (from Indiana) Sandro Mamukelashvili Seton Hall
55. Oklahoma City Thunder Aaron Wiggins Maryland
56. Charlotte Hornets Balsa Koprivica Florida State
57. Detroit Pistons (from Charlotte) Scottie Lewis Florida
58. New York Knicks Balsa Koprivica Texas
59. Brooklyn Nets Raiquan Gray Florida State
60. Milwaukee Bucks (from Indiana) Georgios Kalaitzakis Panathinaikos, Greece

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