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NBA Daily: Injured Players Ready to Return

Injuries are brutal, but they are inevitably part of the game. Chad Smith looks at three players that missed all of last season that figure to be major contributors this year.

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Injuries are a part of the game and they can significantly alter how an entire season plays out. They can derail a franchise, test a team’s depth and take a mental toll on the players themselves. Rehab and time away from the game can help to a certain extent, but getting back to form has proven to be extremely difficult for some. There are three players that didn’t play at all last year, but figure to be major contributors to their respective teams this season.

How these players adapt and perform this year will largely determine the playoff seeding in the loaded Western Conference. All three of these players happen to play in the out west, two of them on teams slotted in the same division. They all play different positions on the floor, but their impact will be vital to their team’s success.

Will they get up to speed quickly? Can they return to the same version of themselves? Will they be able to stay healthy all season? These are all questions that loom over each franchise as they prepare to tackle the grueling 82-game season.

Kristaps Porzingis

The Unicorn made his way out of New York City and into the Lone Star State. The Dallas Mavericks paid a steep price for the talented big man, and will finally be able to reap the rewards this year. The basketball world has been salivating at the opportunity to see the dynamic pairing of Porzingis and Luka Doncic, last year’s Rookie of the Year. How will it all work out? Even they don’t know at this point. After all, he hasn’t played in a game since Feb. 6, 2018.

On paper, the pick and roll possibilities are endless. When at full strength, Porzingis is a monster that is nearly impossible to tame. He proved that in New York, where he was clearly the focal point of the offense and a great interior defender. Now with more spacing and another star to keep the defense honest, it would figure to be a dream scenario for the Mavericks. Especially when you consider that Doncic and Porzingis are just 20 and 24-years old, respectively.

The real question isn’t about how the pair will run the offense — however, the concerns on defense are real. The organization tried to address that with the addition of Delon Wright, who is capable of anchoring the defense from the guard position. Both Seth Curry and Jalen Brunson will get plenty of guard minutes as well, depending on the situation. With their dynamic duo both on the floor playing heavy minutes, they will also need solid defensive play from Dwight Powell inside. Powell will fit nicely with Porzingis, as he was an elite pick and roll finisher last season, averaging 1.33 points per possession as the roll man.

How many players in the league right now would you feel comfortable giving a five-year max contract? Porzingis is one of those guys and Dallas agreed. The Mavericks gave him the full $158 million extension, which will go a long way in keeping him and Doncic together for quite some time. Porzingis is under contract through 2023 and Doncic is entering year two of his rookie deal.

The Mavericks have a lot of different parts and pieces to surround Porzingis, up to head coach Rick Carlisle to make it all work. As one of the brighter minds in the game, fans in Dallas should be able to rest easy knowing their team is in such capable hands.

Dejounte Murray

Dejounte Murray is the lone player on this list that has already played for his current team. The San Antonio Spurs looked significantly different the last time Murray was on the floor though. The ultra-athletic point guard was destined to have a breakout year before going down in the preseason. Since his injury, the Spurs have re-tooled their roster dramatically.

In fact, the San Antonio now has one of the biggest backcourt log jams in the league with Derrick White, DeMar DeRozan, Patty Mills, Marco Belinelli, Bryn Forbes and, potential breakout candidate, Lonnie Walker IV.

A healthy Murray at 100 percent is clearly the Spurs’ starting point guard as his length and defensive skillset are undeniable. White figures to be in the other guard spot, with DeRozan likely playing more small forward with the starting unit. What does this mean for Rudy Gay and how much will LaMarcus Aldridge play at the center position? Floor spacing will likely be an issue for the Spurs, who will sorely miss the long-range shooting of Davis Bertans.

In his second season, Murray was named to the NBA All-Defensive Second Team after ranking in the top ten in three major defensive categories. His progression should be on his offensive game. Viewed as an unwilling shooter, Murray should do like most guards and develop a consistent step-in mid-range jumper, or a high-percentage floater.

If Murray is able to improve his shooting, it will greatly boost San Antonio’s chances of success this season. This will open up the offense even more for DeRozan and Aldridge, who live for the mid-range game. Murray is also an excellent cutter and moves very well without the ball in his hands. The 22-year old has so many weapons at his disposal on both ends of the floor.

Gregg Popovich has guided this team to the playoffs for 22 consecutive seasons. The organization has made it to the postseason 39 of the last 43 years. So just when it appears as if might take a step back, Popovich gets the most out of whatever players he has. With a full healthy roster at his fingertips, don’t be surprised to see San Antonio in the postseason once again.

Michael Porter Jr

The great unknown — Michael Porter Jr. is the one with the most questions. Largely because this is the one that no one has seen yet. When the Denver Nuggets drafted Porter Jr with the 14th pick in the 2018 draft, it was almost a sigh of relief. The injuries were a major concern, as he dropped down the draft board. The Nuggets took a chance on the highly talented forward, and they hope that pays off this year.

Denver has arguably the deepest team in the league and for good reason. They are stacked at every position with proven players that constantly prove they can play at a high level. Obviously, the don’t need Porter Jr. to come right in and crack the rotation, but what if he does?

Nikola Jokic is the heartbeat of this team, and Jamal Murray is unquestionably the best playmaker on offense. They have a healthy abundance of shooting and big men that can work inside, but the one thing they don’t really have is an athletic scorer that can finish above the rim. That is where Porter Jr. comes in.

While he may not have a defined role, Porter Jr. will need to show that he can earn minutes. He will be competing with guys like Paul Millsap, Mason Plumlee, Juan Hernangomez and the newly acquired Jerami Grant. Porter Jr. was slated to make his Summer League debut in July but suffered a left knee sprain in practice that held him out once again. Now, the 21-year old has his sights set on training camp.

There is a reason the 6-foot-10 forward was once seen as a generational talent. He can handle the ball, lead a fast break, shoot from deep, rebound and, of course, play above the rim. Despite missing what was supposed to be his rookie year, Porter Jr. was able to travel with the team during the season and even suited up in the playoffs. In many ways, it is similar to what Ben Simmons went through in Philadelphia.

The Nuggets had an incredible season a year ago, winning 54 games which earned them the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. Unfortunately, their time didn’t last as long as they had hoped, but head coach Michael Malone will have his same group of players ready to improve upon last year’s success. Add to that the possible X-Factor in Porter Jr,. and it just might be the recipe for success the Nuggets have been looking for since their last trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2009.

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Mike D’Antoni to step away as Nets assistant coach

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On Wednesday evening, the Brooklyn Nets organization announced that assistant coach Mike D’Antoni would not be returning to Steve Nash’s coaching staff for the 2021-22 NBA season. Coach D’Antoni is deciding to step down from his position after one season spent with the organization. The reason D’Antoni is deciding to leave the team is unknown. In late June, D’Antoni met with the Portland Trail Blazers for the vacant head-coaching position; he was interviewed twice.

From ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the 70-year-old veteran coach is still seeking to pursue another job as head coach. Coach Nash commented on the story stating, “I will forever be grateful for his guidance and will carry on a lifetime of lessons from the many years we’ve spent together. Our players and staff all benefited from this time in Brooklyn and we wish Mike, Laurel, and their family the very best in what lies ahead.” This news has personally shocked Nash, considering their history together.

In his 16-year NBA head coaching career, D’Antoni’s W-L record is 718-555 (.564). Despite never winning an NBA championship, D’Antoni won the 2005 Coach of the Year award with the Phoenix Suns when Nash was his star point guard, and he won his second award while coaching the Houston Rockets in 2017. The 2004-05 Suns finished 62-20 (.756), ranking first in the Pacific Division and first overall in the Western Conference. However, the Suns went on to lose four games to one against the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals.

The 2017-18 Rockets ended their season 65-17 (.793), ranking first in the Southwest Division and first in the Western Conference Finals. Though, once again, D’Antoni’s team came up short, losing in Game 7 versus the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. Coach D’Antoni was also the NBA All-Star Game head coach in 2007 and 2018. Moreover, the Nets lost another assistant coach this offseason after the Boston Celtics hired Ime Udoka to become their next head coach. On July 9, 2021, the Nets hired former Trail Blazers assistant coach David Vanterpool to their coaching staff.

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NBA

NBA Draft: Déjà Vu in Detroit

Tomorrow night the Detroit Pistons will make the first overall selection in the NBA Draft for just the second time in team history. They selected a Hall of Famer with that pick 51 years ago. Chad Smith details why it might happen again, this time with a player that resembles a guy that was once the face of their franchise.

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It has been 18 years since the Detroit Pistons had a top-three pick in the NBA Draft. Unfortunately, it was arguably the worst selection in the history of the event as they took Darko Milicic second overall ahead of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. It was a night that everyone in Detroit would love to forget, and now they might be able to do just that.

Detroit will kick off the 2021 NBA Draft on Thursday night in what has been labeled as a loaded draft class, especially at the top. The last time the Pistons had the top overall pick, they did well by selecting Hall of Fame center Bob Lanier out of St. Bonaventure in the 1970 draft. The organization is hopeful that history will repeat itself.

Cade Cunningham is the consensus number one pick this year, which speaks volumes when considering the other candidates. While Detroit has not publicly hinted that they will take Cunningham, it would be an absolute shocker if he does not end up in the Motor City. It is a place that Cunningham has already grown fond of.

Should things go according to plan on Thursday night, there could be some déjà vu in Detroit. Aside from the Darko debacle, the last top-three selection by the franchise came in 1994 when they took Grant Hill out of Duke. The physical attributes are quite clear. Both players are listed at 6’ 8” tall and around 220 pounds. Just as their build is the same, so too is their demeanor on and off of the court.

Both Cunningham and Hill have similar playing styles and share many of the same strengths and weaknesses. They have incredible vision and passing ability that allows them to create for teammates. They use their size and strength against smaller defenders near the basket and are incredibly versatile with the ball in their hands. They are able to initiate offense from anywhere on the floor and have a complete all-around game that includes defense.

Hill recorded 29 triple-doubles in his career. That is something that Detroit hopes to get out of the 19-year old playmaker. Unlike many situations where the top overall pick finds himself on a team lacking talent, the Pistons have done a marvelous job of transforming their roster under Troy Weaver. Most of their core is already under contract for next season and will be earning less than $6 million.

Cunningham will join Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee, as well as two All-Rookies in Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart. With Killian Hayes missing much of his rookie season due to injury, the Pistons have plenty of talent surrounding their new floor general. With some more talent and veteran leadership possibly coming onboard during free agency, Detroit should be able to return to the postseason next year.

As gifted as Cunningham is, he is not the most explosive athlete for his size. He won’t blow by defenders on the perimeter or leap over them for a highlight dunk, but that doesn’t stop him from attacking the basket. Like Hill, he has shown the ability to either create for teammates, create for himself, or simply finish at the rim. He makes the right reads against traps and hard hedges, making him even more difficult to defend.

The versatility is on full display whether it be on offense or defense. Cunningham’s seven-foot wingspan adds another element to his game as a physical defender with active hands. His high basketball IQ allows him to capitalize on filling passing lanes and his timing on shot-blocking. His improved jump shot has also elevated him as a true dynamic threat, scoring from all three levels.

As a Freshman at Oklahoma State, Cunningham averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.6 steals per game while shooting 44 percent from the floor. He plays under control and never looks rushed or uncomfortable. It may take him some time to adjust to the NBA game but he has all of the tools and attributes you would want a top prospect to possess.

The fit in Detroit is tailor-made for the versatile guard. Cunningham can do a little bit of everything and elevates the play of his teammates. Whether he is facilitating, scoring, or playing off the ball, his impact on the court is significant. Despite not being an elite athlete, he can initiate the offense and get his own shot when needed.

Detroit clearly lacked guard play last season, with Hayes out of the lineup. They relied upon Grant and Plumlee to fuel their offense, with the rookies filling in at times. With the addition of Cunningham and the return of Hayes, the Pistons will have a sensational young backcourt to go along with their already established frontcourt.

There is also the potential for Detroit to have one of the most improved defenses in the conference. With their length and athleticism, this young core fits right in with the culture of a blue-collar team built around defense. Much of their success will ride on the shoulders of Dwane Casey, as he returns for his fourth season in Detroit.

Both Hill and Cunningham are from Texas and their birth dates are just ten days apart. Hill spent his first six seasons in Detroit, where he enjoyed the prime years of his playing career that included the Rookie of the Year Award. Five of his seven All-Star seasons came as a member of the Pistons and he was often seen as the next great superstar.

While injuries derailed his career, Hill’s journey ended with a trip to the Hall of Fame. While it is too early to put those expectations on a 19-year old, it is safe to say that the Pistons are in good hands for many years to come.

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Draft Kings

Team Argentina vs. Spain – Preview, Prediction, & Betting Picks

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On Thursday, July 29th at 8:00 a.m. (EST), Argentina will take on Spain in this Group C preliminary round matchup. The Spaniards will enter this game as the selected favorites, while the Argentinians embrace their underdog role, as they lost their opening game 118-100 against Mavericks’ guard Luka Doncic and the Slovenian team. The last time Spain won the gold medal for the men’s team was at the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup, where they defeated Argentina 95-75.

Game Details

Date & Time: Thursday, July 29th at 8:00 a.m. (EST)

Location: Saitama Super Arena; Saitama, Japan

Availability: Peacock (live) & NBC Sports Network (delayed)

Spread: Spain -8.5 (+100) (per DraftKings Sportsbook) 

Over/Under: 167

Best Moneyline: Spain -400, Argentina +300

  • Table odds retrieved from DraftKings

Argentina vs. Spain Preview

Team Argentina’s starting lineup in Thursday morning’s game consists of Facundo Campazzo, Luca Vildoza, Patricio Garino, Luis Scola, and Marcos Delia. In the team’s 118-100 defeat versus Slovenia, in 27 minutes played, forward Scola led the team on the stat sheet, accumulating 23 points, four rebounds, one assist, and one block. Guard Campazzo also earned 21 points, six rebounds, four assists, and three steals. According to Bovada’s Olympic futures odds, the Argentinians have the eighth best odds to win the gold medal, with +8000 futures odds. Argentina has the third best odds (+2000) of winning Group C.Argentina vs. Spain Preview

Moreover, the starting lineup for Spain consists of Ricky Rubio, Rudy Fernandez, Juan Hernangomez, Victor Claver, and Marc Gasol. Their bench also includes two-time NBA champion center Pau Gasol. In the Spaniards’ 88-77 victory over Japan, Rubio led the team all across the board, leading the team with 20 points, two rebounds, and nine assists. Forward Claver finished his performance with 13 points, nine rebounds, and one steal. Additionally, with +1000 futures odds, Spain has the fifth best odds of winning the gold. Spain has the second best odds (EVEN) of winning Group C.

Prediction: Spain wins by 8 points

Team Spain are the more trustworthy, superior bet in this matchup. Pau Gasol, the seven-foot-one six-time NBA All-Star, is 41-years-old. Marc, his brother, is also 36. Leading into the Tokyo Olympic Games, basketball experts and bettors were wondering if age would be a significant factor for the Spaniards. However, thus far, it has been quite the contrary. Ricky Rubio has also proven to be an important piece for helping the team to become legitimate title contenders. In the 2020-21 NBA season, Rubio averaged 8.6 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 6.4 assists.

As for Argentina, Scola and Campazzo are carrying the team right now. In their 18-point loss to Slovenia, the Argentinians shot 5-for-31 (16.1 percent) from beyond the arc. To add insult to injury, the team was out-rebounded 59 to 32 overall. This cannot happen against the top contenders, such as versus Slovenia, France, Spain, or the USA. Sooner or later, the wheels on the wagon will eventually fall off. There are bettors giving Spain a -12.5 point spread in this matchup, but it might be best to stick with the -8.5 spread, first provided by DraftKings. In this game, some bettors are anticipating a 20-point blowout repeat of the 2019 FIBA World Cup Final.

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