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Looking At The NBA Draft: The No. 1 Picks

Matt John begins Basketball Insiders’ Looking Back series by taking a look at which first overall picks since 2009 were hits, misses or somewhere in between.

Matt John

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Last week, Basketball Insiders dove into NBA nostalgia by looking back at previous NBA drafts of recent memory, starting from 2014 all the way to 2017. Over the next two weeks, we’re going to be changing the formula up a tad. Instead of looking at entire drafts, we’re looking at the individual picks – starting from number one to number 14 – and how they have fared over the last 11 years.

In this new series, we’ll be going over which particular selections over the last ten years were hits, which were misses, which were square in the middle between the previously mentioned two terms, and who were the role players. Today, we’re starting at the top – the first overall pick.

The number one pick in the draft is the golden ticket. There aren’t a whole lot of better fortunes that a team can receive than winning the draft lottery. It can alter your fortunes on the flip of a dime. It doesn’t always happen, but for obvious reasons, a team’s future prospects usually get better the day when they pick first in the NBA draft. Speaking of obvious, most number one picks are hits because they were selected number one for a reason. Over the last 10 years, that’s been the case although there have been a few odd instances since 2009.

In order for a player who was picked number one to be deemed a hit, he has to meet one or two of the following criteria.

1. Has he been the best player – or at least one of the best players – in his draft?
2. Has (or had) his team’s fortunes changed for the better because of him?

The Hits

Blake Griffin – Los Angeles Clippers – 2009

Not many players in NBA history have gone through the ups and downs that Blake’s had to since being drafted by the Clippers 11 years ago.

In that time, the following has happened to him.
1. He missed his first season because of a preseason knee injury
2. He became the NBA’s most entertaining highlight reel as a rookie
3. He evolved his game towards becoming an MVP candidate by the age of 25
4. He was the poster boy for one of the biggest underachieving teams in NBA history
5. He injured himself so many times that he fell off everyone’s radar
6. He had a redeem season in his first full year in Detroit
7. He now is regarded as an awful contract as injuries have continued to keep him off the court

Craziest of all, he just turned 31.

All in all, Blake has absolutely been a hit as the number one overall pick in his draft. He’s more often been either the best player or one of the best players on the floor when he’s playing. Fellow 2009 draftees Stephen Curry and James Harden have made more substantial impacts on the league, but Griffin has done everything in his power to live up to the hype.

The only question that remains is where he goes from here. The more surgeries he gets, the less likely we are to see prime Blake come back. Even before his most recent surgeries, Blake was no longer the freak athlete during his heyday in LA. That’s why he deserves more recognition for accommodating his game to make up for his lost athleticism. If Blake loses even more of his natural abilities, let’s cross our fingers that he has a career much akin to Grant Hill’s when Hill faced a similar impediment in his 30’s.

John Wall – Washington Wizards – 2010

Not a lot of point guards have come into the NBA with the same amount of hype that John Wall did back in 2010. He was fast. He could jump. He had great vision. He had all the makings of a franchise floor general. For Washington, a team that was fresh off a locker room scandal the year before, any sort of youthful infusion was a welcome one, and they got one in Wall. Ten years later, the verdict on the Kentucky alum as of now is satisfactory.

Wall’s averaged a career 19/9.2/4.3 on 43/32/78 splits over his nine-year career, and had it not been for ongoing injuries over the last few years, those numbers could have been even higher and the Wizards could have had deeper playoff runs.

Wall has been a 5-time All-Star, he’s been borderline unstoppable when he’s at the top of his game and he’s led the Wizards to the most success they’ve had since the days of Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld. Paul George has had a better overall career, but those accolades alone are indisputable and certify him both as a hit and as one of the draft’s best players.

When he comes back, Wall’s got a lot of hurdles to clear to prove he’s still got it. Coming off season-ending surgery to remove bone spurs from his left heel is one thing. To then tear your Achilles by the flukiest of circumstances is a whole different realm and not to mention, unlucky. The worst part is, in his own words, Wall opted for the surgery in hopes of avoiding tearing his Achilles. Well, the worst will hopefully have passed when he returns next season (whenever that starts), and then, Wall, even though he’s shown himself as a star already, will have something to prove.

Kyrie Irving – Cleveland Cavaliers – 2011

Irving’s career arc is a little odd. His first three years in the league, he was putting up impressive numbers on Cleveland teams that went absolutely nowhere. Then, he became the perfect second-in-command to LeBron James when he returned to the Cavaliers for the next three years. He even won a championship in that time. Irving then decided he was tired of being the second banana and opted to become the guy in Boston. He soon grew sick of that too and went back to being a partner-in-crime when he decided to team up with Kevin Durant in Brooklyn.

Even if he’s now paired with his best friend and playing for his hometown team, no one really knows what Kyrie wants except Kyrie. Off the court, he embodies being an enigma. On the court, there’s no denying that he is one of the league’s best scorers.

Putting the ball in the bucket has never been an issue for Kyrie. For his career, he’s averaged 22.4 points on 46/39/88 splits. He already has plenty of playoff success to his name, and, should he and KD avoid the injury bug, there should be more to come. “Should” being the operative word.

Kyrie may never be the first option on a championship team, but he has definitely proven himself both as a winner and as an unguardable scorer. That makes him well worth the billing of a number one pick, even if he too has not shown himself to be the best player from his respective draft.

Anthony Davis – New Orleans Pelicans – 2012

We’ve discussed how previous players mentioned have proven themselves to be hits even if they haven’t been the best players in the draft. With Davis, he’s been a hit because he improved the fortunes of his team (at least as well as he could have) and he is the best player from the 2012 draft.

Davis has a once-in-a-generation physique that gives both him and his team so many advantages on the floor. His long-limbed body combined with his body control makes him incredibly hard to stop on the offensive end and impossible to avoid on the defensive end. Not many bigs can say that they averaged over 20/10 as well as two blocks at least one steal a game for his entire career, but Davis can.

Things didn’t work out as well as they should have in New Orleans, but AD did the best he could for them. He also probably could have handled his exit from the Pelicans better, but both sides are better off in the end. Now that he’s in Los Angeles, his efforts are going to really good use for a change. The Lakers have taken a huge jump this year, and Davis deserves much of the credit for that.

There doesn’t really need to be much more explaining as to why Davis is a hit. He’s an all-time talent who should finally taste some playoff success when the season resumes. Although, much like Irving, we haven’t seen if he can be the number one guy on a title team. Time will tell if we even get the chance.

Karl-Anthony Towns – Minnesota Timberwolves – 2015

See this is where things get a little muddled. Since entering the league, Towns has demonstrated that he may very well be the best player from his draft. In regards to if he’s made his team better, well that’s a loaded question. Towns is an offensive phenomenon. He can score from pretty much anywhere on the court. He’s also a talented passer and can get after the ball on the boards. Yet somehow, Minnesota has been one of the worst teams in the league throughout most of his tenure.

Basketball is most certainly a team game, so there’s accountability to go around for everyone, but Towns’ shortcomings on the defensive side are certainly worth noting, especially since he has the makings of a rim protector. Yet for some reason, he just isn’t one. As the Timberwolves’ leading man, he has to prove himself on that end if they are to go anywhere.

Even so, Towns was the sensible pick at No. 1 for Minnesota, and he’s still a wonder on the offensive end. In a lot of ways, he’s the perfect center for the modern NBA. With the growing emphasis on stretch bigs, many teams like having one who is efficient. Towns, in spite of whatever is ailing him on the defensive end, has become incredibly efficient as a shooter.

Not many players can boast that they are in the 50/40/90 club. For his career, Towns has a 53/40/83 for his career splits. There’s so much that Towns does right that it’s painful to see it not translate into anything. Minnesota’s future overall remains murky, but Towns’ brilliant future is certainly not.

Ben Simmons – Philadelphia 76ers – 2016

Simmons is quite a divisive prospect. What he’s good at, he is absolutely incredible. What he’s bad at, he’s just flat-out awful. Luckily for Philly, the good definitely outweighs the bad overall. That does not cancel out the bad. Simmons is already on a superstar-like level with the positives he brings to the court, but the weaknesses to his game limit his ceiling as a player.

Simmons came into the league with great physical advantages. Even for how tall he is, Simmons runs like a gazelle and has excellent vision. As an oversized point guard, he brings so many mismatches. Contrary to what his skeptics will tell you, he has actually improved in some areas since entering the league. The one aspect of his game that actually has come along pretty nicely is his overall defense. With hit footwork and statute, he’s evolved into one of the league’s better defenders. Is there anyone questioning if he’s going to make an All-Defense team?

It’s just the shooting that’s the problem. We can’t even say he’s a bad shooter because bad shooters at least attempt to shoot jumpers. That’s something Simmons flat-out refuses to do. He can do pretty much everything else on the court on offense except that. In the modern NBA, superstars can’t get away with that.

As of now, he is atop of his fellow 2016 draftees – which makes him a hit – but if nothing improves in the shooting department, then how much better will be than them when he hangs it up?

Zion Williamson – New Orleans Pelicans – 2019

There’s not really much to say about Zion because he only played in 19 games this season. In those 19 games, he’s looked not only like the insanely-hyped prospect we believed he would be going in, but he also might be the most dominant rookie big we’ve seen since Shaquille O’Neal.

His massive physique and his ultra-athletic body makes him a cannonball in the open floor. He’s already intimidating defenses and as long as he doesn’t get hurt again, he should be a force of nature. New Orleans previously had a force of nature just the year before. The difference this time is that it looks like they’ve built around their young superstar the right way.

The future is bright again in the Big Easy, and Zion is at the center of it.

The Misses

Anthony Bennett – Cleveland Cavaliers – 2013

When NBA bust came into people’s minds, the first names were Kwame Brown, Darko Milicic and Greg Oden. That was until the Cleveland Cavaliers shocked the masses when they took Bennett first overall.

In their one single solitary defense – and it’s not a good one – the 2013 draft did not have a good crop of talent upfront coming in. Outside of Victor Oladipo and CJ McCollum, no one from the draft’s top 10 has panned out to be anything more than a complementary player. Amazingly, pretty much everyone else who came to the NBA after being drafted has had a better career than Anthony Bennett.

At least the likes of Brown, Milicic and Oden actually did something when they played. Bennett showed us absolutely nothing outside of the occasional electrifying dunk. Those guys at least played a fair amount of time in the league. That’s something Bennett didn’t do as he hasn’t played in the league since 2017. For that, he has earned the title as the biggest bust in NBA history.

The Middle of the Road

Andrew Wiggins – Cleveland Cavaliers – 2014

Wiggins may have played his first NBA game with the Timberwolves, but for the first month of his NBA career, he technically was on the Cavs. Anyway, it’s difficult to label how Wiggins has fared as the first overall pick. He’s been able to put up pretty gaudy numbers since coming into the league, but his best numbers have never contributed to any sort of success.

Outside of the lone year they had Jimmy Butler, the Wolves hve remained among the NBA’s worst teams with many pinning the blame on Wiggins’ failure to evolve into a star. Even though Wiggins has shown improvements as a playmaker this season, the results have still remained the same to the point where Minnesota had to trade a first-rounder to unload him to Golden State for D’Angelo Russell. Lucky for him, this new situation gives Wiggins to prove he can be what many don’t think he is – an effective contributor.

It’s probably too late for Wiggins to be deemed a hit because he’s never been a star and his teams as a whole have almost never won with him at the forefront, but now that he’s with the Warriors, he does have the chance to prove he can help a winner. That might just be the perfect role for him.

Deandre Ayton – Phoenix Suns – 2018

It’s a little harsh to not deem Ayton a hit, but thus far, he hasn’t exactly shown enough to prove he’s going to be a game-changer. Compare him to the likes of Luka Doncic and Trae Young. Those two look like they are going to important fixtures in the league for years to come. Ayton has yet to prove he’s on their level. In his defense, it’s only been two years.

Besides, in those two years, Ayton has shown promise. In his second year, he’s averaging 19/12 on a cool efficiency of 55 percent shooting from the field. The problem is that it hasn’t led to much. The 25-game suspension early on this season didn’t help. The Suns playing arguably their best basketball of the season during that suspension doesn’t either. Now, the Suns are out of the playoff picture which means Ayton will need another year to prove he was worth picking number one.

Again, it’s only been two years, and it’s not his fault other young juggernauts from his draft have exploded onto the league so quickly. For now, we can’t call him a hit until we see results that justify that classification.

The Role Players

Markelle Fultz – Philadelphia 76ers – 2017

So Fultz was most definitely a bust in Philly. He did pretty much nothing for them and they knew it too. We all know that, in spite of his issues, there’s still plenty of time for him to figure it out and get his career back on track. This season was a step in the right direction even if it wasn’t

Fultz has not been spectacular in Orlando – definitely not good enough to justify being picked number one – but he has been a rotation player on a playoff team. That counts for something. At least he’s proven that he should be in the NBA. That was something that very much remained cloudy when this season started.

This is either going to be the first step towards Fultz reaching his potential or it just might be the first sign of what he is – a starting-caliber point guard. Either way, it’s nice to see that whatever was keeping him out of the league has been resolved now. He can play basketball again, and that’s what’s important.

As we can see, the first overall pick definitely makes a large impact whether it’s negative or positive. If he’s a franchise talent, that changes a team’s outlook for years to come. If he’s a bust, then the team has to look elsewhere following a likely wasted season. If it’s somewhere in between, then the future, while not necessarily golden, is still exciting.

Stay tuned as Basketball Insiders continues to dive into who were the best from each selection over the past 11 years.

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NBA Daily: Free-Agent Watch: Centers

Drew Maresca continues Basketball Insiders’ Free Agent Watch by discussing the robust class of centers set to hit the market.

Drew Maresca

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The NBA is returning incredibly soon, but it definitely won’t be the same – at least not initially.

While most aspects of the game will hopefully return to normal as soon as next season – and other fun surprises like the return of Jamal Crawford and Michael Beasley to the Brooklyn Nets (the latter of whom is still in negotiations) will bring some unexpected joy to an otherwise nerve-wracking situation –  the long-term financial implications of COVID-19 are very real. Immediately, players will sign lesser deals due to an assumedly smaller salary cap and teams with multiple max contracts on their books will struggle to surround their star players with the support they need to compete.

With that being said, Basketball Insiders is identifying the best free agents at each position with the new and unique realities facing NBA teams in mind. Today we turn out attention to the men in the middle. The center position has changed dramatically since the 1990s, when having an elite big man was practically a necessity. But the definition of “elite” has changed drastically between that era and this one. Historically, big men hunkered down in the post — they were burly and physical, blocked shots and grabbed rebounds. What they did not do was stretch the floor, handle the ball or defend guards like many at the position do today.

So let’s dive into the best centers available in free agency.

Marc Gasol, Toronto Raptors – Unrestricted – $25,595,7500

Gasol will be an unrestricted free agent following this season. And, from the surface, his prospects wouldn’t seem great; Gasol missed considerable time in 2019-20, playing in only 36 games due to a hamstring injury, which resulted in career lows in scoring, rebounds and blocks per game.

That said, there’s still some room for optimism – and it’s squarely rooted in his weight.

Gasol has slimmed down quite a bit since COVID-19 forced the NBA to shut down in mid-March. Returning lighter and more fit should allow him to move more seamlessly with the team on the court and further leverage his athleticism. It should also enable him to stay on the floor for longer stretches, another positive as Gasol’s presence on the court has often been positive for the Raptors; of Toronto’s six lineups that logged 100 or more minutes, Gasol is in all three that are at least +10 and didn’t play at all in the other three (which were -4.1, -10 and +3.1, respectively).

What’s more, Gasol’s a great passer, an excellent defender (he allowed the tenth fewest points per touch last season) and his three-point shooting has continued to improve dramatically (he shot 40.2% on 3.5 three-point attempts in 2019-20 – second among centers in the entire league behind only Karl-Anthony Towns).

Gasol isn’t the modern and mobile “point center,” but adding bits and pieces of that style to his game has surely made him a valuable asset on the open market, even at the age of 35 and despite the lackluster regular season. He’ll have eight games plus the playoffs to prove that he’s healthy and ready to contribute — if Gasol can step back up, he should be in line for a nice payday.

Hassan Whiteside, Portland Trail Blazers – Unrestricted – $27,093,018

Whiteside was meant to be a stop-gap for the Trail Blazers. Portland’s plan was always to bide their time until Jusuf Nurkic was able to return from a compound fracture of his left tibia and fibula.

But the 31-year-old put forth such an impressive 2019-20 campaign that, while it’s highly unlikely the team recants their dedication to Nurkic, Whiteside has almost certainly secured himself a major deal for next season.

Just look at Whiteside’s 2019-20 output so far; he improved essentially each month, which culminated in 19.6 points, 14.8 rebounds and 5 blocks per contest across five games in March. Further, Whiteside connected on 57.1% of his three-point attempts – even if he only launched seven all year. If Whiteside can convert threes at that rate – even at such a limited volume – he remains a threat who defenders must cover all the way to the three-point line.

To put Whiteside’s season in context, he secured a career high in points per game, led the league in blocks per game (3.1) and is the second-leading rebounder in the entire NBA. Not bad, right? It may not come from Portland, but Whiteside would certainly seem to be in line for a raise, and a big one at that. And, given his age, don’t be surprised to see him jump at potentially his last chance to cash in big.

Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers – Unrestricted – $3,500,000

Howard signed a one-year, non-guaranteed deal with the Lakers last summer. Expectations were relatively low, especially considering he was a last-minute signing; Howard was signed in August after DeMarcus Cousins suffered a knee injury.

But expectations and reality are not always aligned. Despite his age — Howard turned 34 last December — and the lack of actual playtime to go around with Anthony Davis and JaVale McGee soaking up most of the time at the five, Howard managed an impressive bounce-back season. In 62 games, Howard averaged 7.5 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks while hitting 73.2 percent of his shots and playing strong defense in just over 19 minutes per game.

Per-36, those numbers look even better: 14.1 points, 13,8 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per-36 minutes.

It could be tough for the Lakers to re-sign Howard, as they have about $75 million in guaranteed contracts next year before inking Davis to a massive new deal. That said, and while Howard will be competing with veterans like DeMarcus Cousins for a roster spot, he’s built a strong case for himself – especially if he’s willing to take another discount and continue to accept more of a reserve role.

Andre Drummond, Cleveland Cavaliers – Player Option — $28,751,774

The Cavaliers traded for Drummond for pennies on the dollar. Less than that, even.

In exchange for Brandon Knight, John Henson and a future second-round pick, the Cavaliers netted a two-time All-Star and the NBA’s leading rebounder in each of the last three seasons. It’s not like there was a major downtick in his play this season, either; in 2019-20, Drummond averaged 17.7 points and 15.3 rebounds per game.

But it’s not all sunshine and roses in Cleveland.

Drummond’s situation with the Cavaliers appears to be pretty open-and-shut. He’s been quoted as saying that he will exercise his $28.7 million player option, adding nearly $30 million in salary to Cleveland’s 2020-21 salary cap. But, just because Drummond said it doesn’t make it a guarantee. The Cavaliers could attempt to negotiate a long-term deal, bringing down their 2020-21 cap hit and guaranteeing Drummond more total dollars to appease him.

But there are a few questions that must be addressed before offering Drummond anything beyond next season. Firstly, does Cleveland believe that he’s versatile enough to play center in the modern NBA? Drummond shot just 28.6% on three-point attempts this season and he’s a sub-50% career free-throw shooter. Do those deficiencies outweigh Drummond’s strong contributions elsewhere (i.e. his scoring, rebounding and defense)?

The second question for Cleveland has more to do with his timeline rather than his play. Do the Cavaliers want to further invest in players on a different timeline to that of much of their young core (Collin Sexton, Darius Garland, Dante Exum, Kevin Porter Jr., etc.)? Drummond is set to turn 27 later this year and, while surrounding youth with a veteran leader is definitely the right move, Cleveland already has two of those veteran personalities in the locker room in Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson.

That said, while Love is signed through 2022-23, Thompson — a similar player to Drummond — is set to hit unrestricted free agency at the end of the season.

Cleveland’s strategy as of this past February’s trade deadline didn’t appear entirely cohesive — they resisted trading Thompson (and could now lose him for nothing) only to add Drummond to the fold. And, going forward, it looks as if they have two options: either overwhelm their roster with mismatched talent and try to let it work itself out, or they can surrender Thompson now or Drummond next season. We’ll know which direction they prefer very soon.

DeMarcus Cousins, Los Angeles Lakers – Unrestricted – $3,500,000

Last we checked, Cousins was working his way back from a torn ACL suffered just prior to the start of the 2019-20 season. Cousins’ stats were very good, but not quite great; the former Golden State Warrior averaged 16.3 points and 8.2 rebounds per game in 30 games last season, still hobbled in his recovery from a ruptured Achilles tendon. Before that, Cousins was averaging 25.2 points and 12.9 rebounds per game, shooting an impressive 35.4% on three-point attempts while bullying opponents at the rim (63.1%).

So, is a team willing to gamble on Cousins bouncing back to that form? It will have to wait until next season, as Cousins has stated his intent to sit out the NBA’s restart in Orlando, but the answer is probably yes, but for the right price.

Cousins was (and probably still is) an uber-talented player. But, like Howard this season, he may have to take a backseat-type deal before he can truly bounce back and earn his next big payday.

Whatever Cousins does is, ultimately, up to him, but, whether with the Lakers or another squad, it would seem wise for Cousins to ride the wave next season with a squad that could go the distance. Rather than rush himself back and risk another potential injury, Cousins could slowly work his way back and show teams that he can still get it done at a high level before hitting the market next offseason looking to cash in.

The return to basketball is inevitable. Of course, not everyone is happy with it, but that won’t stop teams from taking advantage of the remaining games in order to scout players and absorb new information. There are opportunities for players to secure future contracts, while other players will probably play their way into retirement and or out of the league. The 2020 free agent period will probably be the most chaotic version of itself, ever, and, while it may be a little rough for the front offices, it’ll be all the more fun for us to cover and watch.

And it’ll all be here in just a few short months.

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NBA Daily: Malachi Richardson Has Learned What It Means To Be A Pro

Spencer Davies catches up with Malachi Richardson about his participation in The Basketball Tournament, spending a season overseas and what it will take to get back to the NBA.

Spencer Davies

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At this time last year, Malachi Richardson had just come off a championship-winning season with the Toronto Raptors, and he was set for a five-game Summer League stint with the Golden State Warriors.

One year later, the matured 24-year-old swingman is competing for Boeheim’s Army in The Basketball Tournament to showcase his talents, ultimately poised to earn his way back into the NBA after a season overseas.

“I miss playing and being on the court with teammates to find ways to work together and win,” Richardson told Basketball Insiders. I’ve been training hard at Impact with Joe Abunassar this offseason to perfect my game. It’s going to be fun.”

Sporting a slimmed-down frame — he’s lost 17 pounds — Richardson scored 15 points and grabbed three rebounds in his TBT debut, a win over Men of Mackey. The Syracuse alum will take on Team Sideline Cancer this weekend.

Despite his short stay at ‘Cuse, playing for the Orangemen holds a special place in Richardson’s heart. It was where he capitalized on his McDonald’s All-American high school status and put it into action on a national collegiate stage for a top program, making him an attractive prospect at the NBA level. In June 2016, the Charlotte Hornets took the talented wing with the No. 22 pick.

“I wouldn’t change anything about my process,” Richardson said of his decision to enter the draft as a freshman. “Our Final Four run at Syracuse was special and I often reflect on how fun the game was for me at the time.

“Being a one-and-done put me at an advantage to be able to learn the business side of basketball early, so that I learned what it will really take for me to have a long NBA career.”

Richardson was traded a couple of weeks later to the Sacramento Kings, where he spent the beginning portion of his career. He appeared in 22 games during his rookie season, and the minutes in those were scarce.

However, he took advantage of G League assignments with the Reno Bighorns. In 11 games, Richardson averaged over 21 points and 4 rebounds per game, nailing 46 percent of his threes. Things were looking up heading into his sophomore season.

Richardson received an uptick in minutes and even earned his first four starts with the Kings, but it wasn’t for long. Sacramento dealt him at the 2018 trade deadline to the Raptors. He’d spend the next year-and-a-half with Toronto; again, he made the most impact in the G League, this time with the Raptors 905.

“The G-League is great for young guys, especially on teams that may not have as much opportunity for you to get on the floor with the NBA team,” Richardson said. “It gave me a chance to stay sharp so if I did get an opportunity on the NBA floor, I would be ready.”

The silver lining in the situation? An NBA title. During his time up north, Richardson was a part of a championship organization and had a great mentor in Danny Green. The lessons he picked up along the way can’t be replaced.

“On and off the court,” Richardson said. “Being a champion and a player that has made a name for himself as a specialist in the league he definitely helped me figure out what I can potentially be for a team.

“Being with the Raptors showed me what it takes to win at a high level in the NBA. From film, scouting reports, taking care of your body with treatment. And just coming in each day mentally prepared. From day one, it was clear that the goal was to win a championship, and being young in that locker room has put me at a serious advantage today.”

When last July’s summer league concluded, Richardson didn’t receive a training camp invite. He ended up signing with Hapoel Holon of the Israeli Premier League through mid-December. Next up was a move to Italy to join Vanoli Cremona in Lega Basket Serie A.

For the first time in his career, he was traveling from country-to-country and making a living overseas. Luckily, his loved ones were along for the ride and made the transition that much easier.

“Coming home to my son and family every day after a game or practice helped me grow because it’s made me leave the different obstacles of a professional athlete at the door,” Richardson said.

“My son looks at me as daddy. I can’t come home after a long day and not interact with him. He made me forget about a lot of the tough days at the gym as soon as I step in the door.”

Unfortunately, in late January, Richardson suffered a fractured hand and was subsequently released a couple of weeks afterward. By the same token, he took advantage of the opportunities and his hard work showed. In 21 total games (12 starts) between the two teams, Richardson averaged over 11 points and nailed a pro-career-best 43.9 percent of his threes.

“Playing overseas was a great experience for me. Being able to see the world and experience the different types of play styles was important for my growth as a player.”

While Richardson’s embryonic career has not been as straightforward as your usual typical first-round pick, hindsight is always 20-20. He’s determined to show his development as a player and a person.

“I’ve learned what it means to be a pro,” Richardson said of his improvements. “Just finding ways to make the most of my body and what I can do to be effective on the court. These were things that I did not take as seriously as I should have the first time around.”

Mental preparation is a facet Richardson is no longer taking for granted. He understands that the NBA is a business, and if you’re not at the top of your game, it can be a harsh one. So he’s going to continue to use his time wisely, mainly perfecting his craft in the gym.

“The different things I need to do basketball-wise that lets me know I’m locked in and ready to play and practice at a high level,” Richardson said.

“Scoring the ball is one thing I think I can do with the best of them, and I’m working on becoming a more complete player. I’m a better passer now and a better defender. Learning as a professional, not just a basketball player, has helped my game grow.”

An NBA return is the goal.

In the meantime, Richardson will look to add another trophy to his collection in TBT.

“I am really putting in the work with this offseason to be ready for whatever comes my way. I hope to get a chance to work out for some teams this offseason and earn a chance to get a roster spot in camp,” Richardson said. “My family has been an amazing support system for me and I’ve been locked in with my workouts, taking care of my body and waiting for the right call to show what I’ve accomplished this past year.”

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NBA Daily: Free Agent Watch – Power Forwards

Matt John continues Basketball Insiders’ Free Agent Watch by examining the power forwards that could potentially be hitting the market this summer.

Matt John

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Welcome back to Basketball Insiders’ Free Agent Watch series! We’re now making our way to the frontcourt players that could see a new team when the new NBA season starts in December.

On paper, the power forwards have the deepest pool of free agents talent-wise. Although, a few of these players on this list are mentioned because they potentially could hit the market. Common sense would say otherwise. Case in point — take a look at the first guy mentioned here.

Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers – Player Option – $28,751,775

Yeah, we *technically* had to include Davis in here because he could *technically* hit the open market, and he *technically* is listed as a power forward since he plays the majority of his minutes at that spot — 62 percent this season alone, which was his highest since 2014-15. His free agency (if he becomes one) should be pretty straightforward.

Whether he opts in or not, expect Davis back with the Lakers. LeBron James and the Lakers gave up a lot to get him to Hollywood. The Lakers will be damned if they’re going to let him go after they’ve had their best season since 2011, and LeBron will be damned if he’s going to let him go because as much as he’s defied father time; he’s only got so many years left at the top. The two of them have made up the NBA’s best pairing this season. If that breaks up, it’ll be pretty much impossible to find an adequate replacement.

Considering all the drama that led up to the Lakers acquiring Davis, it would take a 99-yard hail mary pitch against the Legion of Boom to get him off the Lakers. This is the best team that Davis has been on his entire career by far, and when you have LeBron taking a lot of responsibility off your shoulders on a team vying for a championship, there’s not a whole lot of incentive to leave. Unless you’re Kyrie Irving.

That’s where the real question lies. Davis will definitely stay on the Lakers for as long as LeBron is right there with him, but how long will that be? LeBron will be on the books for two more years after this season, and everyone knows of his plans to play with his son Bronny in the near future. Should LeBron go leave to take part in the family business, Davis’ future with the Lakers goes up in the air. LA doesn’t have to worry about that for another two years — and those two years should be prosperous — but it’s something they should keep in the back of their minds. Especially if there’s fire to these “return-to-hometown-Chicago” rumblings.

Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Clippers – Unrestricted – $6,000,000

When you have a championship window, you have to do everything you can to keep it open, even if it means paying more than what a guy is worth. People give Dan Gilbert so much grief for what he paid LeBron’s supporting cast in Cleveland, but give the guy credit. He knew he had an opportunity that he could not afford to let slip through his fingers. Now, Steve Ballmer has a similar predicament with Harell’s free agency coming up.

Harrell has easily been one of the league’s best bargain contract players over the past couple of years. Not many teams have bigs averaging 18/7 off the bench. The Clippers are the only team to have such a player while paying him chump change. They may no longer have that luxury when he hits the open market.

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George create a championship window that needs to have as few holes as possible. Letting Harrell walk will create one that cannot easily be filled. His energy on both sides of the floor makes him an absolute terror to deal with any opponent they go up against. He’s also going to be their best bet against Anthony Davis in what feels like an inevitable conference finals date with their crosstown rival.

Having both his bird rights and a limited market will help the Clippers in the negotiating room, but we’ve seen guys leave good teams for less money because they felt insulted by the deal they were offered. This is the chance for the Clippers to show that they truly are committed both to Harrell and the window they have.

Paul Millsap, Denver Nuggets – Unrestricted – $30,000,000

Millsap is the last of a dying breed in the NBA — a pure power forward. Because of the league’s versatility, we see more and more small forwards playing a fair amount of time at the four because they are multi-faceted enough to do so. Millsap impressively has been able to stay productive at the four even as the league has embraced this change. Even more so, the teams he’s been on have pretty much always been good.

At 35 years old, it’s clear Millsap is on his last legs. Although his per-36 stats look just about as good as they were during the height of his prime both in Utah and Atlanta, Denver’s decreased his minutes for a reason. At the same time, there’s a reason why Denver opted to pick up his $30 million team option last summer.

Millsap is definitely not going to see anywhere near the kind of contract he got from the Nuggets back in 2017, but there is going to be a lot of interested parties in his services once the season ends. He’s among those players that aren’t very flashy on the court nor anything spectacular in one area, but just a good fundamental basketball player all-around. He’s a good veteran presence in the locker room, and maybe he won’t put up the All-Star numbers he once could; but as it stands, if all you’re asking him is to be a rotation big on a playoff contender, he’ll do that for you.

Denver has the advantage both because of both its competitors’ lack of available funds and the team having Millsap’s bird rights. Returning to the Nuggets seems like the most obvious path, but Millsap does have to ask himself if he can win with them with what amount of prime he has left.

Serge Ibaka, Toronto Raptors – Unrestricted – $23,271,605

It’s tough to describe where Ibaka is in his career right now. He’s no longer the shot-blocking terror that he was during his time in Oklahoma City — from 3.7 blocks a game in 2011-12 to 0.8 this season — so when you hear stuff like that, you think he’s past his prime. Then you look at his numbers on the offensive end — 16/8 on 52/40/75 splits, some of his best numbers ever — and you would think he hasn’t lost a step.

The contract Toronto gave Ibaka back in 2017 may have been a bit of an overpay — who wasn’t overpaying in 2017? — but he has done what the Raptors have asked of him. He brought veteran experience, still blocks a shot or two, and spaces the floor for them most of the time. He doesn’t have the highest basketball IQ, but he knows what he can do well and sticks to it.

As far as where he goes after this season is quite the mystery. Toronto has been as awesome as a reigning champ who lost its best player could be, but even they have to wonder if it’s worth it to keep the whole band together for another run when Ibaka, Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol are all starting to get up there age-wise. The Raptors could really go either way, and there wouldn’t be a wrong answer. Masaji Ujiri has proven time after time that he knows what he’s doing.

Whoever gets Ibaka knows what they are getting. Besides the skills that have already been listed above, they are getting a champion. That can count for a lot in a playoff run.

Marcus Morris, Los Angeles Clippers – Unrestricted – $15,000,000

Not every player gets to go through what Morris did this season. He got paid a ton of money to play for a team that was bad enough to trade him to a contender willing to pay a high price for him, and now he gets a golden opportunity to showcase his talents for a payday. His odds of getting one took a hit for reasons that were out of his control, but still. This could not have worked out any better for Morris.

Now he’s on the Clippers, where he is the overqualified third wing to spell Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, as well as be a body to throw at LeBron. His three-point percentage took a bad spill once arriving in LA, but before that he was shooting a blistering near-44 percent from three in New York. Morris is a career 36.7 percent three-point shooter, so asking him to shoot that hot from three is placing unfair expectation, but if he can be a reliable shooter from that department, the Clippers will have no regrets for what they spent on him.

Considering the other Clippers who will be hitting free agency this summer, the odds of Morris coming back to LA seem slim on paper, but who knows how the low salary figures will impact free agency. Morris has proven that he is a valuable two-way wing that can play gritty defense as well as score the ball.

Buyer beware, though — Marcus Morris is in the Russell Westbrook mold of players that will not adapt to the system. The system adapts to guys like him. It doesn’t matter if he’s got the likes of Kawhi or PG-13 on his side. If the basketball is in his hands, his first instinct is to score. If you’re bringing him in, you have to know what you’re paying for. There’s much more good than bad to Mook, but the bad is still something that can’t be overlooked.

Marvin Bagley III, Sacramento Kings – Team Option – $8,963,640

“Uh…. what” you may ask? It’s true. Even as the second overall pick in the draft, Bagley’s rookie deal is structured to have a team option for his third year with the team for… some reason. To be honest, this is really brought up more for being a fun fact than anything else.

Because, even if Bagley has paled in comparison to some of his fellow 2018 draftees thus far — Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Jaren Jackson Jr., Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — Sacramento would be absolutely insane to let him go knowing the kind of potential he has… right?

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