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NBA AM: Headed To Restricted Free Agency?

NBA teams have from the last day of the NBA Finals to June 30th to issue Qualifying Offers – who is likely headed to restricted free agency?… Basketball Insiders predicts whihc young NBA team could make the biggest jump next season.

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The Notable And Likely Restricted:  Free agency in the NBA comes in two yummy flavors: Unrestricted, where the player is free to choose his next team without regards to his previous team and restricted, everyone’s favorite flavor.

Restricted free agency has become the bane of free agency for players and agents, mainly because it ties up a player’s options. In order to make a player restricted a team must offer what’s called a qualifying offer. For first round draft picks this is a slotted number usually worth between 30 percent and 50 percent of the previous year’s salary based on where the player was drafted. For instance the first overall picks qualifying offer is a 30 percent increase over his previous year, wherein the 30th pick’s qualifying offer is 50 percent greater than his previous year’s salary.

Teams can begin making qualifying offers the day following the last game of the NBA Finals and June 30.

A qualifying offer is an offer for a one-year guaranteed contract, which becomes a regular contract if the player signs it.

In making the offer, the “home” team can match contracts offered by other teams, allowing the marketplace to establish terms and a price.

Here are some of the more notable players likely to be restricted free agents and what their teams are currently thinking in regards to their future:

Avery Bradley – Boston Celtics – $2,511,432 – QO -$3,581,302

The Celtics would like to bring Bradley back, but this one is going to come down to price. If a team gets silly with an offer the Celtics may very well let Bradley walk.

The Celtics value Bradley immensely, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out. Much like Tyreke Evans last year – a team could poach Bradley out of Boston with a heavy offer, the question becomes how much is too much for him?

Eric Bledsoe – Phoenix Suns – $2,626,474 – QO – $3,726,967

There is almost no scenario in which Eric Bledsoe is not matched by the Phoenix Suns. There have been some that have wondered if the Suns would match a full max contract offer and the answer there is very much yes. The Suns likely will set the bar themselves with an offer simply to move the process along. It’s doubtful that Phoenix set the price at max, which should be just at $15.75 million, but if someone else put that number on the table its highly likely the Suns match it.

Greivis Vasquez – Toronto Raptors – $2,150,188 – QO – $3,203,780

Vasquez would like to return to the Raptors, but he would also like to play a bigger role than he has in Toronto. Vasquez’s offer amount is not silly, so it is very likely Toronto issues it and lets the market dictate what his price should be. The Raptors feel strongly that they’ll get Kyle Lowry signed to a new deal and they have started to look at guards in the draft. There is a chance that Vasquez is sign-and-traded if a real offer comes his way, especially if Lowry re-signs.

Vasquez’s future in Toronto is very much up in the air and is tied directly to that of Lowry. If Lowry re-signs, it’s more likely than not that Vasquez is moved on for a number of reasons. That likely won’t play out until Lowry’s deal gets done, which means the Raptors restrict Vasquez to insure they have options should Lowry walk to another team.

Isaiah Thomas – Sacramento Kings – $884,293 – QO – $2,875,131

This one is tough. The Kings likely issue the offer sheet to give them options, but with the eighth pick they are already looking at point guards. Marcus Smart, Elfrid Payton and Tyler Ennis worked out there just this week. The Kings say they would like to have Thomas back, but there is a belief that if the price gets silly that Sacramento may let him walk much like they did with Tyreke Evans last year.

Thomas has played incredibly well for the Kings, so there is a chance they sign him or match offers if they are within reason, but if someone starts to get into the $9-$10 million per year range the Kings may pass in favor of other options.

For the last two years the Kings have hinted that Thomas is good enough to start for them, but is he good enough to win playoff games? That’s a debate the team has had internally for some time and likely why they are looking at point guards in the draft.

Thomas is a tough one to call. If the price is right the Kings likely keep him, but if the price gets hefty they may go elsewhere.

Kent Bazemore – Los Angeles Lakers – $788,872 – QO – $1,115,243

The Lakers are very high on Bazemore. His offer sheet is very nominal, so it’s expected they will issue it and lock up his rights. It will become interesting if another team offers a multi-year deal. The Lakers likely match it, but if someone starts to nip at the Lakers cap space it is unclear how committed to Bazemore they really are. In 23 games with the Lakers, Bazemore averaged 13 points on 45.1 percent shooting.

The smart money says he’s is back with the Lakers next season, but it seems likely someone will put a multi-year offer on the table even if it’s just something in the $1-2 million per year range.

Gordon Hayward – Utah Jazz – $3,452,183 – QO – $4,677,708

The Jazz are saying Hayward will be back. The question really becomes at what price? Hayward will get the qualifying offer and the Jazz will likely match whatever he gets offered in free agency. The question is will anyone test the Utah’s threshold of pain and offer silly money.

They say the most expensive players to obtain are someone else’s players and in this case anyone that wants Hayward is going to have to overpay for him. It’s believed the Jazz put a $8-$9 million per year extension offer on the table last summer for Hayward, so will he command more than $10 million per year on the open market?

The Jazz say they will match and Hayward will be back.

Jordan Crawford – Golden State Warriors – $2,162,419 – QO – $3,206,867

This one will be interesting because Crawford isn’t considered a high dollar player. His $3.2 million qualifying offer isn’t crazy money and it would give the Warriors the right to match offers, but at what price does Crawford become unreasonable?

In 42 games with the Warriors Crawford wasn’t exactly electric averaging just 8.4 points on 41.7 percent shooting from the field. Crawford started the final game of the season and knocked in 41 points, so he has scoring potential, but is that worth much more than he was earning last season?

Three years and $8-$10 million seems like the right number for what Crawford is as a player, will he command more than that and will Golden State match it if he does?

Evan Turner – Indiana Pacers – $6,679,867 – QO – $8,717,226

Pacers president Larry Bird sounds resigned to the idea that Evan Turner will be playing somewhere else during exit interviews. Considering his offer value is $8.7 million, it seems unlikely that the Pacers issue that, although they might, but again it seems unlikely.

Turner was not exceptional in his time with the Pacers, averaging 7.1 points per game in 27 games, reverting to more of what he looked like in Philly over the last two years. It will be interesting to see what the market place for the former second overall pick really is.

It’s doubtful that Turner lands a deal paying much more than he earned last year, the question is with Lance Stephenson headed to unrestricted free agency do the Pacers really let Turner walk or do they risk picking up his offer as insurance in case Stephenson bolts? The Pacers would have to make that decision on the offer sheet before they known what’s real with Stephenson.

Greg Monroe – Detroit Pistons – $4,086,454 – QO – $5,479,935

The Pistons continue to say that Greg Monroe is not going anywhere, that a new deal for him is very likely and that they would match offers if it gets to that point. Monroe’s offer value isn’t at all crazy and the Pistons have the flexibility to match Monroe all the way to the max. The question is will anyone really put a $15.75 million first year offer on the table for him?

There is a reality to a max offer sheet. It’s easy to say you would match it, but would the Pistons really do it? New president Stan Van Gundy says he’s watched enough tape to know that he can make a Monroe and Andre Drummond pairing work on offense. It’s the defensive side where the conflicts emerge, but Van Gundy believes if both players buy in, it would be a strength for the team not a weakness.

There is little doubt that Monroe is the top player likely to hit restricted free agency. The question is does he really get a max offer and will the Pistons really match it?

Patrick Patterson – Toronto Raptors – $3,105,301 – QO – $4,319,474

The Raptors credit their swing to the playoffs to their much improved bench this season. After trading Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings the Raptors got a handful of bench players in return that really changed the complexion of the team and while Patterson didn’t play a huge role, he is considered a valuable asset for the Raptors.

The question for Patterson is his offer, $4.3 million seems like his range. So do the Raptors issue it and see what the market brings back or do they simply try and work out a deal in that kind of price range?

Keeping Patterson seems like a smart move, the question becomes how much and does it happen after a trip through restricted free agency.

Ed Davis – Memphis Grizzlies – $3,153,860 – QO – $4,361,788

The Grizzlies have invested a lot into Ed Davis, but the question becomes how much is he worth on a new deal? It is very likely the Grizz issue the $4.3 million offer, if only to have the ability to match an offer. The Grizz are hoping to get a new deal done with Zach Randolph, which might make Davis’ value to the team significantly lower than maybe it already is.

Davis logged few minutes in the regular season and almost nothing in the postseason, even when Randolph was suspended. Davis had a few bright spot games, but hardly the body of work to believe he’ll get a major offer.

The Grizz under previous leadership really liked Ed, but it seems if he gets expensive for some reason they may pass on him in favor of someone who might be able to contribute.

This one will be interesting to watch, because Davis might be obtainable.

Kevin Seraphin – Washington Wizards – $2,761,114 – QO – $3,898,693

Seraphin has had some moments, the problem this year was he was parked behind far better players and rarely saw meaningful minutes. With a $3.8 million offer value, it’s almost worth issuing because he has shown some promise at times with the Wizards, especially with the uncertain future of Marcin Gortat.

The smart money say Seraphin gets the offer and the Wizards try and work out a reasonable deal. There may be some outside value, mainly because he is a 6’10 big that can score and he might be had fairly cheap.

Washington has said they would like to keep their core together, but it’s unclear how much they would pay Seraphin, especially if others get involved in the bidding process.

Trevor Booker – Washington Wizards – $2,350,820 – QO – $3,420,443

Much like Seraphin there have been times this year where Booker was pretty solid. With a $3.4 million offer, it’s almost worth issuing just to see if he can be retained fairly inexpensively.

Booker played extended minutes in April and was very productive for the Wiz. With ownership wanting to keep the core together it seems likely that Booker is back, although much like Seraphin, if the pricing starts to get silly, the Wiz may think twice.

Ekpe Udoh – Milwaukee Bucks – $4,469,548 – QO – $5,962,377

Given how committed the Bucks are to John Henson and how much cash they have committed to Larry Sanders and veteran Zaza Pachulia, it seems unlikely that Udoh will get the $5.9 million Offer that it would take to restrict him.

Udoh has had tons of injuries in his NBA career which makes it doubtful there is a huge push for him in free agency.

The smart money says the Bucks move on and Udoh is an unrestricted free agent. There simply isn’t a body of work to justify a $5.9 million offer and the Bucks really have plenty of options at his position under contract and may pick up a few more in the NBA Draft.

As a general rule of process most teams with cap flexibility match offers, simply to avoid losing a valuable asset. If a team matches a contract offer they cannot trade that player for one calendar year without that player’s consent. Teams have three days to match a signed offer sheet.

Players are under no obligation to sign an offer sheet from a team unless they want to play there. Equally, once a player signs an offer sheet the “home” team can either match or decline. Prior to physically signing an offer, the player can notify the “home” team of intent to sign and try and negotiate a sign and trade if the terms are way out of line, although a player is under no obligation to do that.

At any point in the process the home team can withdraw the qualifying offer and make the player unrestricted.

If you are curious about how the Rookie Scale Contract system maps out here are the slotted years through the 2017-2018 NBA Draft Class.

What Young NBA Teams Seems Poised To Improve?:  Basketball Insiders’ Steve Kyler, Lang Greene, Jessica Camerato, Alex Kennedy and Yannis Koutroupis debate which NBA teams could make the biggest jump next season.


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NBA Daily: Wiggins The X-Factor for Warriors

Stephen Curry will always be the face of the Golden State Warriors, and for good reason. Draymond Green spearheads their defensive attack but the key to their postseason fate lies in the hands of a guy that many people had already given up on.

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The 2020-21 regular season was a strange one for many reasons, but especially for the Golden State Warriors. Shortly before the NBA Draft, the team’s championship aspirations took a major hit with the injury to Klay Thompson. The best backcourt in the league would not be on full display this season, but they still had two-time MVP, Stephen Curry, to put on a show.

Curry did just that, dazzling basketball fans on a near-nightly basis. The sensational shots, ridiculous plays and high-drama situations were must-see TV that kept the Warriors in the national spotlight. To that end, Curry captured the scoring title for the second time in his career, averaging 32.0 points per game this season.

With limited options available to fill Thompson’s void, the team managed to add Kelly Oubre Jr to the roster, although it came at a steep cost. His salary is $14.4 million this season but because of Golden State’s luxury tax bill, ESPN’s Bobby Marks noted that adding Oubre would cost an additional $82.4 million, bringing their total to $134 million.

After a career year in Phoenix, Oubre struggled mightily trying to fit in with this group. Sometimes players in new situations can try to do too much at first, or sometimes pass on open shots in order to not seem selfish. Neither of these was the case for Oubre, who simply could not put the ball in the basket. His early-season shooting struggles had the Warriors pegged for the Draft Lottery.

Oubre eventually turned it around and began playing like himself. Another new face in the Bay area was rookie James Wiseman. He too struggled at the beginning of the season, which is to be expected for someone in his situation. The seven-footer from Memphis only played a handful of games in college and was trying to learn the NBA game on the fly. A season-ending injury cut short his rookie season, but he showed promise for the future.

The future is not something that Curry has on his mind. He and Draymond Green are playing to win now. That starts on Wednesday with their highly-anticipated showdown with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers. The league has quite the matchup to cap the new Play-In-Tournament.

Amid all of the highlight plays from Curry and all of the noise surrounding Green, one player sits in the shadows and is rarely mentioned. Andrew Wiggins was all the rage when he was selected number one overall in the 2014 NBA Draft. The former Kansas Jayhawk earned Rookie of the Year honors but ultimately struggled to find his place in Minneapolis.

After more than five seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Wiggins was traded to the Warriors in February of last season. Now having played a full season in a Warriors uniform, Wiggins could be their x-factor in the postseason.

One of the knocks on Wiggins has always been his drive, and his passion to reach his full potential. He has all of the physical tools and attributes to be one of the most prolific two-way players in the league. Sometimes the effort just isn’t there, but that narrative seems to have gone out the window. Wiggins has been playing excellent on both ends of the floor, which has translated to wins for the depleted Warriors.

While many people point to his scoring slightly declining, he still scored 19 points per game despite playing the fewest minutes of his career. He finished inside the top 40 in scoring this season. The real story for Wiggins is his efficiency, which has been incredible. He shot a career-high 48 percent from the floor this season and a career-best 38 percent from three-point range. His 54 percent effective field goal percentage is also the highest of his career.

As they prepare to battle the Lakers for the 7th seed in the Western Conference, Golden State must find ways to get stops on the defensive end. Stopping the likes of James, Davis and Dennis Schroder on the perimeter will be paramount to their success. It is easier said than done, but this is where Wiggins’ value can be felt. The Toronto native will be called upon to match up against James often, with Green defending their big men.

Wiggins finished fourth in Defensive RPM (2.72) this season at his position, 21st among all players in the league. That is by far the best of his career, as he ranked 85th last season among small forwards. He also finished inside the top five in the league in terms of contested three-point shots. That is important for the Warriors going forward, should they face the Phoenix Suns or Utah Jazz in the first round. Utah was the top three-point shooting team in the league and Phoenix was seventh-best in terms of percentage.

As if facing James and Davis weren’t difficult enough, the Warriors will have their hands full no matter which opponent they face next. Both have dynamic backcourts with Mike Conley/Donovan Mitchell in Utah and Chris Paul/Devin Booker in Phoenix. Wiggins will be tasked with trying to slow them down as well. There is elite talent everywhere you look out West.

Golden State finished the regular season with a 110.1 defensive rating, which was top five in the league. They managed to do that despite having a depleted roster and having the third-highest pace (102.2) in the league. Much of the credit will go to Green and Oubre but Wiggins has been a major factor in their defensive schemes.

Curry and Green have combined to play in 235 playoff games during their careers. Wiggins has only appeared in five playoff games, so this will be a new experience for him. The pressure always goes up in the postseason, and the Play-In Tournament is no exception.

Shortly after acquiring Wiggins, Steve Kerr put All-Defense expectations on him. “Defensively, we will ask him to take on the challenge of what that position entails. Guarding some of the best players in the league and adapting to our schemes and terminology.” To his credit, Wiggins has done just that.

Wiggins will not win the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award this season. He isn’t going to win the Defensive Player of the Year either. While those accolades matter to a lot of players, Wiggins is just focused on improving and winning games. The Warriors hope to do the same as they return to postseason play.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Examining Michael Porter Jr.’s Ascension

Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. is averaging over 25 points per game and looks like a future All-NBA player. Bobby Krivitsky examines Porter’s ascent and the questions that come with it.

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Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. has taken his game to new heights.

In the wake of Murray’s ACL tear in mid-April, Porter’s playing time has gone from 30.6 minutes per contest to 35.7, while his shots per game have risen from 12.6 per game to 16.5. The increased responsibility has fueled his ascent. He’s knocking down 56.3 percent of those attempts. He’s taking 8.2 threes per game and making a blistering 50 percent of them. As a result, Porter’s gone from averaging 17.5 points per game to 25.1. He’s also grabbing 6.1 rebounds and blocking almost one shot per contest.

At the time of Murray’s injury, the Denver Nuggets were in fourth place in the Western Conference. They remain there now, 9-4 in his absence, and they boast the eighth-highest net rating in the NBA.

The only way for the Nuggets to fall from fourth would be if they lost their four remaining games and the Dallas Mavericks won their final five contests because the Mavericks have the tiebreaker since they won the season series. On the more realistic end of the spectrum, Denver sits just 1.5 games back of the Los Angeles Clippers, who occupy the third seed in the West. The Nuggets won their season series against the Clippers, meaning they’d finish in third if the two teams ended the regular season with the same record.

There’s a bevy of questions surrounding Porter’s recent play that need to be asked but cannot get answered at the moment. That starts with whether this is anything more than a hot streak. While it’s impossible to say definitively, it’s reasonable to believe Porter can consistently and efficiently produce about 25 points per game. He was the second-ranked high school prospect in 2017 and entered his freshman year at Missouri firmly in the mix for the top pick in the 2018 NBA draft. That was thanks in large part to his offensive prowess as a 6-10 wing with a smooth shot that’s nearly impossible to block because of the elevation he gets when he shoots. 

A back injury cost him all but 53 minutes of his collegiate career and caused him to fall to the 14th pick in the draft. He ended up in an ideal landing spot, going to a well-run organization that’s also well aware of its barren track record luring star players looking to change teams, making it vital for the Nuggets to hit on their draft picks. 

Porter’s first year in the NBA was exclusively dedicated to the rehab process and doing everything possible to ensure he can have a long, healthy and productive career. Last season, finally getting a chance to play, he showed off the tantalizing talent that made him a top prospect but only took seven shots per game while trying to fit in alongside Nikola Jokic, Murray, Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant.

More experience, including battling against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, an offseason, albeit a truncated one, to prepare for a more substantial role with Grant joining the Detroit Pistons and Millsap turning 36 this year, helped propel Porter. 

But for the Nuggets, before Murray’s injury, the perception was that even though they weren’t the favorites to come out of the Western Conference, they were a legitimate title contender. How far can they go if Porter’s consistently contributing about 25 points and over six rebounds per game while effectively playing the role of a second star alongside Jokic? 

It seems fair to cross Denver off the list of title contenders. But, if Porter continues to capably play the role of a second star alongside Jokic when doing so becomes more challenging in the postseason, the Nuggets can advance past a team like the Mavericks or Portland Trail Blazers. And at a minimum, they’d have the ability to make life difficult for whoever they had to face in the second round of the playoffs.

Unfortunately, the timing of Murray’s ACL tear, which happened in mid-April, means there’s a legitimate possibility he misses all of next season. Denver’s increased reliance on Porter is already allowing a young player with All-NBA potential to take on a role that’s closer to the one he’s assumed his whole life before making it to the sport’s highest level. If the Nuggets are counting on him to be the second-best player on a highly competitive team in the Western Conference next season, it’ll be fascinating to see what heights he reaches and how far they’re able to go as a team.

Theoretically, Porter’s growth could make it difficult for Denver to reacclimate Murray. But given Jokic’s unselfish style of play, there’s room for both of them to be satisfied by the volume of shots they’re getting. Unfortunately, the Nuggets have to wait, potentially another season, but Jokic is 26-years-old, Murray 24, Porter 22. When Denver has their Big Three back together, they could be far more potent while still being able to enjoy a lengthy run as legitimate title contenders.

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NBA Daily: D’Angelo Russell Back on Track

D’Angelo Russell lost much of the 2020-21 season to injury. Drew Maresca explains why his return will surprise people around the league.

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D’Angelo Russell was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves last February, just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the entire season. But we’ve yet to see what Russell can really do in Minnesota.

The Timberwolves acquired Russell in late February in exchange for a future first-round pick – which transitions this season if they pick later than third – a 2021 second-round pick and Andrew Wiggins.

Sidenote: For those keeping score at home, the Timberwolves currently have the third-worst record in the league with five games remaining. It would behoove Minnesota to lose as many of their remaining games as possible to keep their 2021 pick. If the pick does not transition this season, it becomes unrestricted in 2020.

Trying to turn an owed pick into an unprotected future first is usually the wrong move; but in this instance, it’s better to keep the high first-rounder this year with an understanding that your 2022 pick will probably fall in or around the middle of the lottery.

The thinking around the deal was that Minnesota could qualify for the playoffs as soon as this season by swapping Wiggins’ contract for a young, talented lead guard in Russell. It has not played out as planned.

COVID resulted in a play stoppage shortly after the deal, robbing Russell of the opportunity to ramp up with his new team. When the NBA returned to finish the 2019-20 season, the Timberwolves failed to qualify for bubble play – and considering the US was still battling a global pandemic, Russell couldn’t easily practice with his new teammates and/or coaches.

The 2020-21 season began weirdly, too. The NBA proceeded with an abbreviated training camp and preseason. And while this impacted all teams, Russell was additionally hindered by the decision.

Ready or not, the season began. In 2020-21, Russell is averaging a near-career low in minutes per game (28.2) across just 36 games. He’s tallying 19.1 points per game on 43.6% shooting and a career-best 38.8% on three-point attempts. He’s also he’s posting a near career-best assist-to-turnover ratio (5.7 to 2.8).

Despite Russell’s contributions, the Timberwolves have failed to meet expectations. Far from the playoff squad they hoped to be, Minnesota is in contention for the top pick in this year’s draft. So what has gone wrong in Minneapolis?

Russell’s setbacks are fairly obvious. In addition to the lack of preparation with his teammates and coaches, Russell was diagnosed with a “loose body” in his knee, requiring arthroscopic knee surgery in February. As a result, he missed 27 consecutive games. Russell returned on April 5, but head coach Chris Finch revealed that he’d been on a minutes restriction until just recently.

Minnesota is clearly being cautious with Russell. Upon closer review, Russell has been restricted to under 30 minutes per game in all of his first 10 games back. Since then, Russell is averaging 31 minutes per game including an encouraging 37 minutes on May 5 in a four-point loss to Memphis.

Since returning from knee surgery, Russell is averaging 27 minutes per game across 16 games. Despite starting 19 of the team’s first 20 games, he hadn’t started in any game since returning – until Wednesday.

On the whole, Russell’s impact is about the same as it was prior to the injury, which should be encouraging to Timberwolves’ fans. He’s scoring slightly less (18.8 points since returning vs. 19.3 prior), shooting better from the field (44.9% since returning vs 42.6%% prior) and has been just slightly worse from three-point range (37.4% since vs. 39.9 prior). He’s dishing out more assists per game (6.5 since vs. 5.1 prior), too, and he posted three double-digit assist games in his last five contents – a feat achieved only once all season prior to his last five games.

Despite playing more and dropping more dimes, there’s still room to improve. Looking back to his career-bests, Russell averaged 23.1 points per game in 2019-20 in 33 games with Golden State (23.6) and 12 games with Minnesota (21.7).

But his most impactful season came in 2018-19 with the Brooklyn Nets. That season, Russell averaged 21.1 points and 7.0 assists per game, leading the Nets to the playoffs and earning his first trip to the All-Star game. He looked incredibly comfortable, playing with supreme confidence and flashing the ability to lead a playoff team.

At his best, Russell is a dynamic playmaker. The beauty of Russell is that he can also play off the ball. He has a quick release on his jumper and impressive range. His game is not predicated on athleticism, meaning he should stay at his peak for longer than guys like De’Aaron Fox and Ja Morant.

And while he’s been in the league for what feels like ever (six seasons), Russell just turned 25 approximately two months ago. Granted, comparing anyone to Steph Curry is unwise, but Curry wasn’t Steph Curry yet at 25. Former MVP Steve Nash hadn’t yet averaged double-digits (points) at 25. Twenty-five is also an inflection point for Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook. And the list goes on.

To be fair, Russell was drafted at 19 so he’s more acclimated to the league at this age than most, but his game will continue expanding nonetheless. He’ll develop trickier moves, become stronger and grow his shooting range. And a good deal of that growth should be evident as soon as next season since he’ll be fully healed from knee surgery and have a full offseason and training camp to finally work with teammates and coaches.

So while Minnesota’s 2020-21 season was incredibly bleak, their future is quite bright – and much of it has to do with the presence of Russell.

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