Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford made NBA history this season, becoming the first three-time winner of the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award. Crawford, who averaged 14.2 points in the regular season and 17.3 points in the playoffs, was an important contributor for the 53-win Clippers and will soon have the opportunity to cash in on his successful season.
In July, Crawford will be an unrestricted free agent. He could have a long list of interested suitors since the ability to create shots, lead a second unit and spread the floor with three-point shooting are highly valued skills in today’s NBA. With the league’s salary cap rising to an unprecedented $92 million due to a new national television deal, the 36-year-old will get a significant raise from the $5,675,000 he made this season in L.A.
Even though Crawford didn’t start most contests for the Clippers, he often finished them and came up big in late-game situations. In fact, Crawford led the team in fourth-quarter scoring with 341 points.
Without question, Crawford is one of the league’s best one-on-one scorers. He finished the season ranked seventh in the NBA in total isolation points and isolation points per game, trailing only James Harden, Carmelo Anthony, Damian Lillard, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and DeMar DeRozan.
He’s so effective because he can score in a variety of ways. His pull-up is deadly and he used the move to score 8.3 points per game, which was 11th-most among all NBA players. Crawford has great range too, as only 13 NBA players hit more threes than Crawford’s 117 this season. He’s also terrific at drawing contact (there’s a reason he has the most four-point plays in NBA history), and shot 90.4 percent from the charity stripe this season – the second– highest percentage in the league behind only Stephen Curry’s 90.8 percent.
Fellow NBA players have a lot of respect for Crawford and his game. With his handles, shot-creating ability and quickness, he’s incredibly difficult to contain. In March, Basketball Insiders talked to a number of players about what it’s like to defend Crawford.
“Jamal is one of the toughest covers in the league,” Portland Trail Blazers shooting guard C.J. McCollum said. “His ability to shoot off the dribble and manipulate ball screens makes him a unique guard. [He] also gives the Clippers a secondary ball handler. Jamal could potentially win [the Sixth Man award] every year.”
“He’s one of the best players to have ever come off a bench,” Indiana Pacers point guard Ty Lawson said. “You never know what he’s going to do. He might come down and just pull up for a three. Or he might give you a hesitation move, which he normally does right before he pulls up for a three, or he might just blow by you. It’s so hard to guard him. Even in the lane, he knows how to throw up floaters and he always seems to make them.”
“He’s so important to that team because he’s instant offense off of the bench,” Orlando Magic point guard Elfrid Payton said. “He’s somebody who can come in and bring energy and get the crowd into the game. Also, when it comes to closing games, he’s someone who can create his own shot, so he’s very important to the Clippers. He’s tough to guard because he is so good at making tough shots. No shot is a bad shot for him. I remember watching him when I was younger – four-point play after four-point play.”
“He’s a game-changer for them,” Blazers point guard Damian Lillard said. “They could be having a bad night and he can take over. He makes big shots, tough shots, and draws fouls if you’re too physical.”
Crawford’s teammates praise his game too, while also raving about his off-court contributions. After the Clippers were eliminated by the Blazers in Game 7 of their first-round series, Austin Rivers got choked up when discussing how much Crawford’s support and friendship meant to him.
“He’s the best teammate I’ve ever had, man,” Rivers said, holding back tears. “A lot of people doubted me when I came to L.A. a year ago. People thought I was just getting a chance because of my father. Jamal believed in me, man.”
Basketball Insiders recently caught up with Crawford to discuss his upcoming free agency, the Clippers’ future, the rising salary cap, his willingness to recruit star players and much more. Check out the exclusive Q&A:
Are you excited for free agency? Some players dread it, but others look forward to it. How do you feel about it?
Jamal Crawford: “Yeah, I’m really looking forward to it. I think with the way the league is now and the way things are going, this is a great time to be a free agent – for sure.”
With the salary cap going up, there will be some crazy contracts handed out. As a player, how much do you follow the cap information and how do you think the increase will impact things this summer?
Crawford: “I’m very aware of it. I have been for a while now, just being such a student of the game – and not just the game itself, but also things that are happening around the game and the way that the league is growing. I’m very aware of what’s going on. I think with the way that the popularity of basketball and the business of basketball are trending up, the game is in great shape.”
Most people don’t know what it’s like to be a free agent or how it feels to approach this process. There aren’t many jobs where there’s a public list that shows who you’re competing against, how productive they’ve been and what they’re earning. As you approach free agency, do you look at the other guards you’ll be in the market with and all of the teams with cap space and consider all of the scenarios?
Crawford: “Yes and no. Yes, because you have to be aware of which players are out there and what teams can do so that you know what people are looking for and what options exist. But I also say no because I feel like at the end of the day, I just need to do what I do on the court and I’m very comfortable in my own skin. I can feel good about what I’ve done and be confident entering the summer. I’m definitely aware of who else is out there, but I’m not too concerned about it.”
This is your first time entering free agency coming off of a Sixth Man of the Year season. How much do you think that helps you?
Crawford: “I think it helps, just because one of the knocks on me could be age, but I think age is only an issue if it shows. If you just watch me play and don’t know, I feel like you might think, ‘Oh, he’s 25 or 26.’ I’m better than a lot of guys who are 10 years younger than me. And, if you look, my numbers per-36-minutes are better now than they were 10 years ago when I was with the New York Knicks. I understand the rule that ‘Father Time is undefeated’ and all that, but for whatever reason – my faith in God, my style of play and my clean living – age hasn’t had any effect on me whatsoever.”
What’s your approach to fending off Father Time and staying effective for so long? Whatever it is, it has worked really well. Jared Dudley told me that you’re “the Benjamin Button of the NBA.” What’s the secret?
Crawford: “I think clean living and taking care of myself are really important. I’m always doing preventive stuff. I don’t wait until any injuries happen – knock on wood – to take care of my body. I’m always doing stuff like foam rolling, stretching, going in the cold tub, drinking a lot of fluids and staying in great shape. I’m always in great shape. I’ve never been a guy who gets out of shape and then needs to get back in shape. I feel like that’s like taking a job and leaving your house for nine months, and then when you come back, you try to turn on your lights and they’re popping and you try to start your car and you have issues. I think some injuries happen when you take a lot of time off and then try to get back into shape and back into playing. I don’t take that time off. I rest my body and recover, but I don’t take that kind of time off where I get out of shape because I think that’s when bad things happen.”
How do you feel after games or the morning after games? Do you feel more aches and pains than when you were younger?
Crawford: “No, I honestly feel fine. Because of the stuff I do after games like foam rolling, I don’t really allow the aches and pains to come. I’m always in prevention mode, especially with the Clippers’ trainers, who approach things the same way. They are always on top of things and they’ve taught all of us that prevention is key to be able to withstand a long season and avoid those aches and pains. Because I do all of those things and am very diligent about taking care of myself – foam rolling, stretching, working out – I feel fine. That’s why I play every single day in the summer. I don’t take time off because I feel great.”
What’s your hope this summer? I’m sure you’ll weigh your options since there are so many teams that have significant cap space, but are you hoping to re-sign with the Clippers?
Crawford: “My preference is to re-sign with the Clippers. But I understand that, at the end of the day, I’m a free agent so I have to look at everything. I have to take every call and consider every offer that comes to me and my agent. I have to, that’s just part of being a free agent. Like I said, my preference is to re-sign with the Clippers. But we have to take every single call that comes in. That’s the way it is.”
Has Doc Rivers (president of basketball operations and head coach of the Clippers) talked to you at all about free agency during your exit meeting or since your season ended?
Crawford: “We discussed it a little bit. He just said, ‘We want to bring you back and that’s part of the plan, for sure.’ I think I’m one of the priorities and he said that they want to bring me back to L.A. I thought the exit meeting went really well and he definitely made it clear that he wants me to re-sign.”
With the Clippers, this team has been together for quite some time and that kind of continuity is somewhat rare is today’s NBA. Since being eliminated, there have been some trade rumors and speculation that the team may be split up. Do you think the best approach is to bring the whole team back or do you think some changes need to be made?
Crawford: “I think chemistry is underrated. If you look at the really, really great teams, most of them have been together for years – and not just in this era either, even going back and looking at the great teams in NBA history. With us, if you look at the last two champions – the Spurs and the Warriors – we knocked both of those teams out recently [eliminating San Antonio in 2015 and eliminating Golden State in 2014]. I think we’re right there in terms of contending. We’re not far away whatsoever. Sometimes you have to keep knocking on that door until you break it down. It may take time and it may not be the easiest process, but that’s the way I kind of look at it.”
I feel like I ask you every summer, but how many more years do you want to keep playing? Every summer, you say five more years.
Crawford: “I know (laughs). It’s still the same! I’ll still say five years. I’m still in love with the game, I’m still playing at a high level and I still feel like I’m getting better as a player, which is crazy. This year, I thought my defense was better and I thought my all-around game was better. Initially, to start the season, I thought I took a step backward so that some of the new guys that we brought in could take a step forward. But then I switched, transitioning to being more aggressive in the second half of the year. I’ll still say that I want to play four or five more years. And if you ask me in four or five years, I may say four or five years again. As long as I’m playing at a high level and things are going well and I’m still in love with the game, why wouldn’t I keep playing?”
In today’s NBA, creating your own shot, spacing and shooting are extremely important. Do you think that the way the game is evolving benefits you and your style of play?
Crawford: “No question. No question. I think, obviously, spacing on the court is so important. If you’re a shooter, even if you are missing shots in a particular game, the other team still has to respect your shot based on what you’ve done and what you can do at any time if you can get hot. And I’m talking about any shooter, not just me. Teams have to respect that, which opens up the court. Shot creation is huge too, in the playoffs especially. When plays break down, you still have to manufacture a shot. When you have a guy who can get any shot he wants at any time or bail his team out on a bad possession to give you a chance at some points, that’s a very, very valuable weapon. When a play breaks down, it becomes, ‘Okay, we just have to get a great shot up. Who can us that shot?’ I think having that guy is very valuable. You see that from Kyrie Irving a lot. And, honestly, there are times for isolation. Sometimes that may be the best offense on particular possessions.”
Your teammates speak very highly of you and your presence in the locker room. How much do you think being a veteran leader helps your value?
Crawford: “I think that helps. What’s weird is that usually the guys who become a positive locker room presence and a veteran leader in the locker room aren’t contributing on the court as much because they’re in the last year or two of their career. I’m doing it at a time when I’m still playing at a high level, because that’s just who I am. That’s how I’ve always been. Hearing what Austin said… When he has tears in his eyes and he’s saying that I’m the best teammate he’s ever had, that means everything to me. That means the world to me. I obviously didn’t do that because I wanted that acclaim or attention. I did that because I wanted to be a great friend and a great teammate. You can ask any one of my teammates and they’ll say I do the same things to support them. I always try to remain positive and encourage guys. I can get on you if I need to, but it’s always a positive thing. It’s a long season, so you have to let guys know that you’re in this together and that you have their back. You can ask anyone, whether they’re a star or were on a 10-day, I’m the same way with anyone.”
You have so many friends around the NBA. You’re obviously close with all of the Seattle guys, but you have close relationships with so many random players that fans wouldn’t expect too. When I did that article about how your peers felt you deserved the Sixth Man of the Year award, players from all around the league campaigned for you. And you’ve had everyone from Kevin Durant to John Wall to Kyrie Irving to LaMarcus Aldridge to James Harden to DeMar DeRozan come through Seattle to play in your pro-am.
I bring all of this up because I’m curious: Are you open to recruiting during free agency this summer? Whether it’s for the Clippers or a new team, are you going to recruit other players?
Crawford: “No doubt about it. I’m glad you’re bringing it up, and I think you’re the first to do so. That’s an aspect of my free agency that a lot of people may not have thought about, but I certainly have. I feel like I’m cool with almost every player in the NBA. I think that respect comes because of, first off, what you do on the court and also who you are off the court. You’re as good as your peers think you are – no disrespect to the media or anyone else. We, as players, know who is a good pro and a great person and there’s a certain respect that comes with that. There isn’t a single player who I can’t get on the phone or talk to about a situation. When I sign with a team, I’m definitely willing to recruit and I’m almost positive I can land somebody too.”
What’s your response to the criticism of your defense? Does it bother you?
Crawford: “No, it doesn’t bother me at all. At first, I think they may have actually had a point. They had a right to say what they said. It’s obviously an opinion, but I’d agree that it had some validity at one point. But now, I think my defense has improved. I’m not saying that I’m Tony Allen or Kawhi Leonard or Garrett Temple by any means, but my defense is definitely respectable. And the way the league is now, it’s mostly built around team defense. You can’t touch a player or get physical, especially on the perimeter, so you really rely on team defense. I think the best defenses in the league are team defenses. I’m always going to give great effort and follow the scheme, whatever the game plan may be. At first, I think those critics had a reason to gripe about my defense. But now, I think I’ve improved. You can go back and look at my defense in the playoffs and see that it was pretty solid.”
Three Sixth Man of the Year trophies already gives you the record. Is a fourth coming before your career is said and done?
Crawford: “No question about it. Without a doubt. I can say that wholeheartedly. Alex, man, I wouldn’t lie to you or the people about this: I feel great and I can stay at this level for four or five more years, barring a major injury. With the way that the game is played and with my skill set, there’s no doubt I can do it. Think about it: When I was 32 years old and had just signed with the Clippers, people then were probably like, ‘Man, well, he’s older and may not be as effective.’ Well, I was the third-leading scorer and won two of four Sixth Man of the Year awards. I’ve heard critics say, ‘Well, he’s older now…’ for a while. If my age isn’t showing, it doesn’t matter.”
Does market matter to you? Last summer, a lot was made about the smaller-market teams landing free agents while teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks missed out on some players. Do you care about market size?
Crawford: “No. The market doesn’t matter to me at all. Like I said, my preference is to stay with the Clippers, but my door is open for anyone who wants to do business and has interest in me. I will seriously look at every single team that has an interest in me, regardless of the market.”
Reviewing the Nurkic Trade: Denver’s Perspective
The Denver Nuggets have been on a miraculous run this postseason, but that doesn’t mean that they’re infallible. Drew Maresca reviews the 2017 trade that sent Jusuf Nurkic from Denver to Portland.
The Denver Nuggets are fresh off of a 114-106 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, pulling within three wins of the franchise’s first trip to the NBA Finals. But what if I told you that the Nuggets’ roster could be even more talented by acting more deliberately in a trade from three years ago?
While Denver won on Tuesday night, they lost a nail bitter on Sunday – for which most of the blame has been pointed at a defensive breakdown by Nuggets’ center Mason Plumlee, who was procured in the aforementioned 2017 trade. What did it cost Denver, you ask? Just Jusuf Nurkic and a first-round pick.
Nurkic was a 2014-15 All-Rookie second team member. He played 139 games over 2.5 seasons in Denver, averaging 7.5 points and 5.9 rebounds in approximately 18 minutes per game. He showed serious promise, but Denver had numerous reasons to pursue a trade: he’d suffered a few relatively serious injuries early in his career (and he’s continued to be injury-prone in Portland), butted heads with head coach Michael Malone and – most importantly – the Nuggets stumbled on to Nikola Jokic.
The Nuggets eventually attempted a twin-tower strategy with both in the starting line-up, but that experiment was short-lived — with Jokic ultimately asking to move to the team’s second unit.
The Nuggets traded Nurkic to the Portland Trail Blazers in February 2017 (along with a first-round pick) in exchange for Plumlee, a second-round pick and cash considerations. Ironically, the first-round pick included in the deal became Justin Jackson, who was used to procure another center, Zach Collins – but more on that in a bit.
As of February 2017, Plumlee was considered the better player of the two. He was averaging a career-high 11 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists through 54 games – but it was clear that at 27, he’d already maximized his talent.
Conversely, Nurkic was only 23 at the time of the trade with significant, untapped upside. In his first few seasons with Portland, Nurkic averaged 15 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, while establishing himself as a rising star. As noted above, injuries have continued to be a problem. Nurkic suffered a compound fracture in his tibia and fibula in March 2019, forcing him to miss a majority of this current campaign. The COVID-19-related play stoppage in March gave Nurkic extra time to get his body right, and he returned to action in July inside the bubble.
And he did so with a vengeance. Nurkic demonstrated superior strength and footwork, and he flashed the dominance that Portland hoped he would develop, posting eight double-doubles in 18 contests. He averaged 17.6 points and 10.3 rebounds per game and while his play dipped a bit in the playoffs – partially due to a matchup with first-team All-NBA star Anthony Davis – he still managed 14.2 points and 10.4 rebounds in the five-game series. So it’s fair to say that Nurkic is still on his way toward stardom.
But the Nuggets are in the conference finals – so all’s well that ends well, right? Not so fast. To his credit, Plumlee is exactly who Denver expected him to be. He’s averaged 7.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in three seasons with Denver since 2017 – but to be fair, Plumlee is asked to do less in Denver than he had in Portland. Still, it’s fairly obvious that they’re just not that comparable.
Plumlee is a good passer and an above-average defender that’ll compete hard and isn’t afraid to get dirty – but he has limitations. He doesn’t stretch the floor and he is a sub-par free throw shooter (53.5 percent in 2019-20). More importantly, he’s simply not a major offensive threat and his repertoire of moves is limited.
High-level takeaway: Defenses tend to game plan for opponents they view as major threats – Nurkic falls into this category. Other guys pack the stat sheet through putback attempts, open looks and single coverage alongside the guys for whom opposing defenses game plan – that’s a more appropriate description of Plumlee.
On to the wrench thrown in by Zach Collins’ involvement. Statistically, Collins is about as effective as Plumlee – he averaged 7 points and 6.3 rebounds through only 11 games in 2019-20 due to various injuries – and he possesses more upside. The 22-year-old is not as reliable as Plumlee but given his age and skill set, he’s a far better option as a support player playing off the bench. He stretches the floor (36.8 percent on three-point attempts in 2019-20), is an above-average free throw shooter (75 percent this season) and is a good defender. Looking past Nurkic for a moment, would the Nuggets prefer a 22-year-old center that stretches the floor and defends or a 30-year-old energy guy?
Regardless of your answer to that question, it’s hard to argue that Nurkic should have returned more than Plumlee, definitely so when you factor in the first-round pick Denver included. There is obviously more at play: Denver was probably considering trading Nurkic for some time before they acted – did they feel that they could increase his trade value prior to the trade deadline in 2016-17? Maybe. Further, Nurkic and his agent could have influenced the Nuggets’ decision at the 2017 deadline, threatening to stonewall Denver in negotiations.
Had Nurkic been more patient or the Nuggets acted sooner before it became abundantly clear that he was on the move, Denver’s roster could be even more stacked than it is now. Ultimately, the Nuggets have a plethora of talent and will be fine – while it appears that Nurkic found a long-term home in Portland, where he owns the paint offensively. Denver can’t be thrilled about assisting a division rival, but they’re still in an enviable position today and should be for years to come.
But despite that, this deal should go down as a cautionary tale – it’s not only the bottom feeders of the league who make missteps. Even the savviest of front offices overthink deals. Sometimes that works in their favor, and other times it does not.
NBA Daily: They Guessed Wrong
Matt John reflects on some of the key decisions that were made last summer, and how their disappointing results hurt both team outlooks and players’ legacies.
It doesn’t sound possible, but did you know that the crazy NBA summer of 2019 was, in fact, over a year ago? Wildly, in any normal, non-pandemic season, it all would have been over three months ago and, usually, media days would be right around the corner, but not this time. The 2019-20 NBA season is slated to end sometime in early to mid-October, so the fact that the last NBA off-season was over a year ago hasn’t really dawned on anyone yet. Craziest of all, even though there will still be an offseason, there technically won’t be any summer.
Coronavirus has really messed up the NBA’s order. Of course, there are much worse horrors that COVID-19 has inflicted upon the world – but because of what it’s done to the NBA, let’s focus on that and go back to the summer of 2019. It felt like an eternity, but the Golden State Warriors’ three-year reign had finally reached its end. The Toronto Raptors’ victory over the tyranny that was the Hamptons Five – as battered as they were – made it feel like order had been restored to the NBA. There was more to it than that though.
Klay Thompson’s and Kevin Durant’s season-ending injuries, along with the latter skipping town to join Kyrie Irving in Brooklyn meant two things.
1. Golden State was down for the count
2. Brooklyn’s time wasn’t coming until next year.
A one-year window was open. Even if neither Golden State nor Brooklyn posed the same threat that the former did when it had Kevin Durant, those were two contenders out of commission. If there was a time to go all in, it was in 2019.
Milwaukee certainly seemed to go all in. For the most part. Malcolm Brogdon’s departure seemed a little odd since he was arguably their best non-Giannis playmaker when they were in crunch time. Not to mention there was nothing really stopping the Bucks from keeping him except for money. Detractors will call out Milwaukee for electing to cheap out by not keeping Brogdon and hence, avoiding the luxury tax. However, there’s more to it than that.
Milwaukee thought it had enough with the core it had on its roster. Coming off the best season they had put up since the eighties, they believed the franchise built the right team to contend. There was an argument that keeping Brogdon may have been overkill with their guard depth – let’s not forget that Donte DiVincenzo did a solid job in Brogdon’s role as the backup facilitator. This would have been more defensible had it not been for Milwaukee picking the wrong guy to let go. That was the indefensible part- electing to keep Eric Bledsoe over Brogdon.
Bledsoe wasn’t necessarily a bad investment. No one’s complaining about an almost 15 point average on 47/34/79 splits or playing individual defense tight enough to get named on the All-Defensive second team. By all accounts, Bledsoe earns his keep. That is until the playoffs. Bledsoe’s postseason woes have been a weight ever since he first entered Milwaukee, and this postseason was more of the same.
Bledsoe’s numbers dwindled to just 11.7 points on 39/25/81 splits, and Milwaukee getting ousted in five games at the hands of Miami made his struggles stand out even more than it had ever been. Bledsoe may be the better athlete and the better defender, but Brogdon’s all-around offensive savvy and his only slight dropoff defensively from Brogdon would have made him a bit more reliable.
Milwaukee guessed wrong when they opted to extend Bledsoe before the postseason last year when they could have waited until that very time to evaluate who to keep around. Now they face a hell of a lot more questions than they did at the end of last season – questions that may have been avoided had they made the right choice.
Now they could have kept both of them, yes, but it’s not totally unreasonable to think that maybe their approach with the luxury tax would have worked and maybe they would still be in the postseason right now had they gone with the homegrown talent. And just maybe, there wouldn’t be nearly as much of this Greek Freak uncertainty.
The Houston Rockets can relate. They got bruised up by a team that everyone thought Houston had the edge on going into the series and then crushed by the Lakers. Now, Mike D’Antoni is gone. The full-time small ball experiment likely did not work out. Since the Rockets emptied most of their assets to bring in Russell Westbrook and Robert Covington, there may not be a route in which they can become better than they presently are.
The mistake wasn’t trading for Russell Westbrook. The mistake was trading Chris Paul.
To be fair, most everybody severely overestimated Chris Paul’s decline. He’s not among the best of the best anymore, but he’s still pretty darn close. He deserved his All-NBA second team selection as well as finishing No. 7 overall in MVP voting. OKC had no business being as good as they were this season, and Paul was the driving force as to why.
For all we know, the previously-assumed tension between Chris Paul and James Harden would have made its way onto the court no matter what. Even so, Houston’s biggest obstacle in the Bay Area had crumbled. If they had just stayed the course, maybe they’re still in the postseason too.
To their credit, none of this may have happened had it not been for the Kawhi Leonard decision. Had he chosen differently, the Thunder never blow it up, and Houston might have very well been the favorite in the Western Conference. Instead, the Rockets took a step back from being in the title discussion to dark horse. But at least they can take pride knowing that they weren’t expected to win it all – the Clippers can’t.
Seeing the Clippers fall well short expectations begs the question if they too got it wrong. The answer is, naturally: of course not. They may have paid a hefty price for Paul George, but the only way they were getting Kawhi Leonard – one of the best players of his generation – was if PG-13 came in the package. As lofty as it was, anyone would have done the same thing if they were in their shoes. They didn’t get it wrong. Kawhi did.
On paper, the Clippers had the most talented roster in the entire league. It seemed like they had every hole filled imaginable. Surrounding Leonard and George was three-point shooting, versatility, a productive second unit, an experienced coach – you name it. There was nothing stopping them from breaking the franchise’s long-lasting curse. Except themselves.
Something felt off about them. They alienated opponents. They alienated each other. At times, they played rather lackadaisically, like the title had already been signed, sealed, and delivered to them. The media all assumed they’d cut the malarkey and get their act together – but that moment never really came. They had their chances to put Denver away, but even if they had, after seeing their struggles to beat them – and to be fair Dallas too – would their day of destiny with the Lakers have really lived up to the hype?
Even if it was never in the cards, one can’t help but wonder what could have happened had Kawhi chosen to stay with the team he won his second title with.
Toronto was the most impressive team in this league this season. They still managed to stay at the top of the east in spite of losing an all-timer like Leonard. That team had every component of a winner except a superstar. They had the right culture for a championship team. Just not the right talent. The Clippers were the exact opposite. They had the right talent for a championship team but not the right culture. That’s why the Raptors walked away from the postseason feeling proud of themselves for playing to their full potential while the Clippers writhed in disappointment and angst over their future.
In the end, everyone mentioned here may ultimately blame what happened to their season on the extenuating circumstances from the pandemic. The Bucks’ chemistry never fully returned when the Bubble started. Contracting COVID and dealing with quad problems prevented Westbrook from reviving the MVP-type player he was before the hiatus. As troubling as the Clippers had played, the extra time they would have had to work things out in a normal season was taken away from them.
For all we know, next year will be a completely different story. The Rockets, Bucks, and Kawhi may ultimately have their faith rewarded for what they did in the summer of 2019 – but that will only be mere speculation until the trio can change the story.
Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards
Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.
We got some updated NBA draft news this week when the league announced that several key dates have been pushed back including the draft, the start of free agency and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.
The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 16, but it will now likely occur sometime in November. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wildly out of control in the United States, all of these potential deadlines are fluid and subject to change.
With that said, we’re continuing our position by position breakdown here at Basketball Insiders of some of the top 2020 draft prospects. We looked at the point guards and shooting guards last week, and this week we’re covering the small forwards and power forwards.
The power forward crop, like the draft overall, doesn’t appear to be as strong as recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential contributors and high-level NBA players available, as well as one who might just turn out to be a star-caliber player.
Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old
Okongwu is the player who just might develop into a star on some level. He was actually underrated in high school and was snubbed for a McDonald’s All-American selection his senior year. He established himself early on at USC as the team’s best player as a freshman and now appears to have turned some heads.
He’s been mentioned as a lottery pick and in some mock drafts, he’s top 4-5. He possesses a great all-around skill-set; he can score in the post, he can put the ball on the floor and attack and he can shoot. But perhaps his biggest attribute is his versatility on the defensive end. He’s got quick feet and mobility and can guard multiple positions.
Okongwu might actually play center in the NBA, especially in small-ball lineups, but he’s mostly played power forward and so he’ll probably see time there in the league. His skill-set fits perfectly with today’s game.
Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old
Toppin is one of the older players in the draft, and in recent history, players that age tend to slip on draft boards. In Toppin’s case, it looks like the reverse might actually be true. He’s been projected as a lottery pick, and even going in the top 3.
He’s an incredibly athletic player who thrives in the open court. He looks like he’ll do well in an up-tempo offensive system that has capable playmakers who can find him in transition. He’s extremely active around the rim and he can finish strong. A decent shooter too, something he’ll need at the next level.
Toppin has the physical tools to be an effective defensive player, but that’s where the questions marks on him have been. In the NBA, he’s likely going to have to play and guard multiple positions. Whether or not he can adapt to that likely will answer the question as to what his ceiling can be.
Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old
Achiuwa is another intriguing prospect. this writer actually got to watch him play in person while he was in high school and he was very impressive. He looked like a man among boys. He’s projected to be a late lottery pick.
He has an NBA-ready body and he’s got some toughness around the rim and in the paint. He was a double-double threat during his one season at Memphis and his knack for rebounding is something that should translate to the NBA. He’s a very good defender too, in particular, as a rim protector. He’s very quick and has the ability to guard multiple positions.
One of the main knocks on Achiuwa is his shooting ability. He didn’t shoot that well in college and power forwards being able to space the floor is almost a requirement in today’s NBA game. It’s something he can certainly work on and improve on though.
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old
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