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NBA Daily: Jae’Sean Tate a Sleeper Pick in the Draft

Ohio State’s Jae’Sean Tate could be a sleeper in the NBA Draft, writes Simon Hannig.

Simon Hannig

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Jae’Sean Tate out of Ohio State is a sleeper pick in this draft. Tate, a 6-foot-4, 230 pound forward, bounced back in a big way in his last two years after a down first two years in his college career.

He is not projected in any mock drafts yet, but he is a very good defensive player and a very good offensive player. He finishes very well in traffic. He might be a bit undersized in terms of height, but he makes up for it with his great athleticism. He is also a great passer, even in traffic. He has great vision on the court as well.

Tate creates for his teammates very well. He shot a very high percentage from the floor this past season. He has a very high basketball IQ. He also spaces the floor very well, and for a 6’4″ guy, he can rebound the ball very well. He averaged 6.2 rebounds per game this past season.

He is the energy guy NBA teams would love to have, and he labels himself as an energy guy.

“Just a tough guy,” Tate said at the NBA Combine. “I think I can defend one through four, and just bring energy. My whole career at Ohio State, I’ve been that energy guy and a guy who’s going to make tough plays. I’m able to score in the post and take bigger defenders on the drive, so I think that’s going to be my fit.”

He also wants to be a hard-nose defender in the NBA. He reads the floor very well on the defensive end of the floor. He creates havoc on that end of the floor. He averaged 1.1 steals and 0.6 blocks per game this past season. In total, he had 36 steals and 19 blocks on the season.

“I think I’m just going to be one of those tough-nosed defenders, man,” Tate said. “That’s my whole mindset. Go in there and just defend every play, and just whatever the coach needs me to do, that’s what I want to do. I’ve done it at every level. I’m not really a position, have a position, but at every level I found a way to make it work. And I think if a team will just take a chance on me, I can be successful at the next level.”

It may take a couple of years of development, but Tate is a sleeper in this draft. Any team needs an energy guy off the bench. He can be a Marcus Smart type of energy guy, spark plug off the bench. He certainly has the qualities to be that type of player. What makes this kid special is how high of a percentage he shoots on the offensive end. Not many college players shoot 55.7 percent from the floor. The one aspect of his offensive game he needs work on is his three point shooting. It will come overtime. He shot 31.4 percent from three in his this past season.

Tate wants to be a hybrid type of player who can be in small-ball lineups.

“I don’t like to use the comparison but kind of like a Draymond-type guy; like a hybrid, play small ball, able to defend guards and bigger offensive players,” Tate said.

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NBA AM: Is This It for Indiana?

Following their major drop-off, Matt John explains why the Pacers trying to get back to where they were may not be the best decision.

Matt John

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Remember when, following the maligned trade of Paul George, the sky was the limit for the Indiana Pacers? The 2017-18 Pacers were one of the best stories in the NBA that season because they made their opponents work for their victories, and they put on a spectacle every night.

It’s hard to believe that all transpired three whole years ago. When Cleveland eliminated Indiana in a very tight first-round series, I asked if having the exciting season that they did – when many thought it would turn out the opposite – was going to benefit them in the long run. Three years later, this happens.

We were getting plenty of smoke about the Pacers’ drama behind-the-scenes beforehand, and now, we have seen the fire firsthand. More and more reports indicate that the crap has hit the fan. Indiana has seemingly already had enough of Nate Bjorkgren in only his first year as his coach. When you see the results they’ve had this season compared to the last three, it’s not hard to see why.

The Pacers have routinely found themselves in the 4-5 playoff matchup for the last three years. Sadly, despite their fight – and, to be fair, they had pretty awful injury luck the past two postseasons – they haven’t been able to get over the hump in the first round. They may not have been in the elite tier, but they weren’t slouches either. So, seeing them not only fail to take the next step but look more and more likely for the play-in is as discouraging as it gets. Especially after they started the season 6-2.

If these reports about the tensions between the players and Bjorkgren are real, then this has already become a lost season for the Pacers. It’s too late in the season to make any major personnel changes. At this point, their best route is just to cut their losses and wait until this summer to think over what the next move is.

In that case, let’s take a deep breath. This has been a weird season for everyone. Every aspect minus the playoffs has been shorter than usual since last October. Everything was shortened from the offseason to the regular season. Oh, and COVID-19 has played a role as the season has turned out, although COVID-19 has probably been the least of Indy’s problems. Let’s think about what next season would look like for Indiana.

TJ Warren comes back with a clean bill of health. Caris Levert gets more acquainted with the team and how they run. Who knows? Maybe they finally resolve the Myles Turner-Domantas Sabonis situation once and for all. A new coach can come aboard to steady the ship, and it already looks like they have an idea for who that’s going to be

Should they run it back, there’s a solid chance they can get back to where they were before. But that’s sort of the problem to begin with. Even if this recent Pacers’ season turns out to be just a negative outlier, their ceiling isn’t all too high anyway. A team that consists of Warren, Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brogdon, and Caris Levert as their core four is a solid playoff team. Having Turner, Doug McDermott, TJ McConnell, Jeremy Lamb, and the Holiday brothers rounds out a solid playoff team. Anyone who takes a good look at this roster knows that this roster is a good one. It’s not great though.

Just to be clear, Indiana has plenty of ingredients for a championship team. They just don’t have the main one: The franchise player. Once upon a time, it looked like that may have been Oladipo, but a cruel twist of fate took that all away. This isn’t a shot at any of the quality players they have on their roster, but think of it this way.

For the next couple of years, they’re going to go up against Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. All of whom are on the same team. For potentially even longer, they’ll be going up against the likes of Giannis Antetoukounmpo, Joel Embiid, and Jayson Tatum. With the roster they have, they could make a series interesting against any one of those teams. However, it’s a rule of thumb in the NBA that the team with the best player usually wins the series. Not to mention, they’d have to beat most of the teams those players play for to go on a substantial playoff run. That’s a pretty tall order.

There’s no joy in talking about the Pacers like this because they have built this overachieving underdog from nothing more than shrewd executive work. They turned a disgruntled and expiring Paul George into Oladipo and Sabonis. Both of whom have since become two-time all-stars (and counting). They then managed to turn an expiring and hobbled Oladipo – who had no plans to return to Indiana – into the electric Levert. They also pretty much stole Brogdon and Warren away while paying very little for either of them.

That is fantastic work. The only hangup is that, as of now, it just doesn’t seem like it will be enough. But, doubt and skepticism are things Indiana’s had thrown their way consistently since 2017. Many thought their approach to trading Paul George would blow up in their face, and since then, they’ve done everything in their power to make everyone eat their words.

Kevin Pritchard’s got his work cut out for him this summer. This season will hopefully turn out to be nothing more than performance ruined by both the wrong coaching hire and an unusual season that produced negatively skewed results. But at this point, Pritchard’s upcoming course of action this summer shouldn’t be about getting his team back to where they were, but deciding whether he can get them a step or two further than that by adding more to what they have or starting over completely.

Indiana’s had a rough go of it in this COVID-shortened season, but their disappointing play may have little to no bearing on where they go from here.

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NBA

NBA AM: Defensive Player Of The Year Watch

Rudy Gobert would appear to be the front runner for Defensive Player of the Year. But should he be? A few players have made it quite the interesting race — and Dylan Thayer lays out exactly who.

Dylan Thayer

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The postseason is almost here as the NBA regular season winds down to its last couple of weeks. At this point, it is obvious to tell whether a team is going to make the playoffs or head for an appearance in the NBA draft lottery. What hasn’t been obvious thus far though is who is going to win the MVP award, but it looks to be between Nikola Jokic, Damian Lillard and Joel Embiid. The DPotY award has been one that most could agree belongs to Rudy Gobert for the season he is having. The official site of the NBA however does not agree with this notion. Anyways, let’s jump right into our eighth edition of the Defensive Player of the Year Watch for Basketball Insiders!

1. Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz (Previous: 1)

It’s too late to displace Rudy Gobert from this position in these rankings because his season has been that good. While the Utah Jazz are destined to finish amongst the top of the Western Conference, Gobert will also finish at the top of this award’s final tally, even if he somehow isn’t the winner. Without the center from France, the Jazz defense would be out of sorts, as just his presence around the rim is enough to ward off the opposing offense. Just ask the Spurs.

And while he did get completely crossed out of his shoes by Devin Booker recently, it is a season-long award, so don’t hold that against him. For the majority of the season, he has held firm in key defensive stats such as defensive rating, defensive win shares and blocks per game. He ranks second in all three categories, per NBA Advanced Stats 𑁋 101.4 defensive rating, 0.181 defensive win shares and 2.8 blocks per game. These are key indicators that he has been having a monster season, along with the Jazz being one of the best teams in the league. As things continue to unfold, expect Gobert to come out of the season as the DPotY. 

2. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers (Previous: 2)

The seven-foot-three center for the Philadelphia 76ers has had a memorable season under Doc Rivers. The hiring of the new coach made a big impact on the Sixers’ future and helped Embiid take his game to even higher levels. The Sixers have looked like a title contender throughout the season, thanks to great defense from their two stars. Embiid holding down the paint and Simmons being a pest on and off the ball around the perimeter. His defensive rating is fifth among qualified starters with a rating of 105.6, to go along with 1.4 blocks and 1.0 steals per game. Averaging more than a block and steal per game puts Embiid in elite company defensively, as P.J. Washington and Bam Adebayo are the only other centers putting up similar numbers. Embiid should be a finalist for this award for the impact and effect he leaves on the defensive end of the floor for the Sixers every game.

3. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers (Previous: N/A)

Simmons has been severely disrespected on this list many times, so now is the time to give him the recognition he deserves. As the number two offensive option for the Sixers, the defensive end is a different story, as Simmons brings a lot of energy to the defensive unit. Statistics aside, he has been a complete machine on defense wreaking havoc on his opponents. Whether it’s sending a Charlie Brown three flying into the stands or picking off an inbound pass intended for Coby White and taking it to the basket to ice the game, he has been having one of the best defensive seasons across the NBA. The advanced stats back up the claim as he ranks fifth in defensive win shares with 0.142. He’s also third in the league in steals per game with 1.7 per game to go along with 0.6 blocks per game. His play on defense has raised eyebrows everywhere, and he should be in the running for the DPotY award.

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks (Previous: 5)

The Greek Freak has been having another historical season, even though he hasn’t gotten the credit he truly deserves. This happens when you have insane statistical seasons the past few years though, some people stop paying attention. Antetokounmpo should be recognized for the impact he has on winning for the Milwaukee Bucks, especially on the defensive end. Antetokounmpo averages 1.3 blocks and 1.2 steals per game at the power forward position and is always someone opposing players have to think about when they’re on offense. He also ranks seventh in defensive win shares (0.139) and eighth in defensive rating (106.3), so the advanced metrics also show just how valuable he is to have. While he may not win the award this year, even though he is the reigning DPotY, he should still be in the conversation as one of the game’s elite defenders.

5. Jimmy Butler, Miami HEAT (Previous: Honorable Mention)

The leader of the Miami HEAT has been having another phenomenal season on defense as the HEAT gear up for the playoff run. He has been a thief on defense as he leads the league in steals with 2.1 per game. Butler is so quick to display his elite defensive IQ as he is always there to jump the passing lane or attack a ballhandler at his vulnerable dribbling moments. Butler also ranks in the top 10 in defensive win shares with 0.138. It is clear that with him, Bam Adebayo, and the newly-acquired Victor Oladipo, that the HEAT are going to be a defensive nightmare for opposing teams this postseason.

Honorable Mention: Mike Conley, Utah Jazz (Previous: 4)

The game tape doesn’t jump off the screen to represent Conley’s case for the award, but as the season comes to an end, it is clear that Conley has played a huge role on the Jazz defense. Opposing teams not only have to worry about the Stifle Tower in the middle of the Jazz defense, but they also have to worry about the pesky point guard looking to steal the ball at any moment. Conley’s season has been remarkable as his improved play has been a catalyst of the improved play out of Utah. The advanced statistics give Conley a big lift and vaulted him into these rankings, as they are just too hard to ignore when he’s been at the top all season. Conley leads the league in both defensive rating (99.9) and defensive win shares (0.181), as well as the 1.4 steals per game he posts for the season.

The running for the DPotY is coming to an end. It looks like the center for the Utah Jazz, Gobert, is going to be the winner, but anything is possible. The Simmons for DPotY movement has begun to make waves on Twitter, so maybe he comes up and wins the award. It is the NBA and nothing is completely assured, so don’t be surprised if the winner isn’t who you thought it would be. Here’s to another great NBA regular season despite all of the obstacles that were faced during the pandemic. Stay tuned for the next edition of the rankings!

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NBA

NBA AM: Now What? – Oklahoma City Thunder

Matt John continues Basketball Insiders’ Now What series by diving into the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Matt John

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Welcome back to another edition of Basketball Insiders’ Now What? Series. Today, we’re focusing on the once-revered-now-rebuilding Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder have lost twice the amount of games that they won this season, which is pretty much right where we expected them to be. In spite of their immediate prospects as a team not looking good for the next couple of years, there may not be a young team whose future is brighter than OKC.

They already have the face of the franchise in the works. They have a few other intriguing young assets. They have barrels of first-round picks to use. Their record of 21-42 won’t impress anyone, but what’s there not like about where the Thunder are headed?

Strengths

You can’t spell strength without S-G-A!

Okay, yes you can, but the point is, OKC already had its new face of the franchise before their rebuild even started when they traded for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Not many players can say that they averaged almost 24 points on 51/42/80 splits, but Gilgeous-Alexander can! Adding the 5.9 assists and 4.7 rebounds a game, and you’ve got a young superstar in the making! Oh and as an added bonus, Shai’s got some nice tutelage from Chris Paul last year and some gritty playoff experience from the last two postseasons, so when the Thunder start taking off, their new face of the franchise has got a good idea of what to expect in a playoff atmosphere.

He’s not the only bright spot in OKC. There is also Lu Dort. He’s followed up with a modest improvement in an increased role in Oklahoma City after a pretty solid performance in the bubble. 14.2 points a game is a pretty solid jump from 6.8, even if his shooting splits are not-so-modest at 40/35/75. Upon further review, Dort’s April numbers show that he might just have another gear or two to his game. 25.7 points and 5.7 rebounds with 47/46/72 splits in a seven-game span can make one wonder. Considering he hung 42 on the Utah Jazz, the winningest team in the NBA fighting tooth and nail to get homecourt advantage, Dort might be in the running for Most Improved Player next season.

Of course, there are other youthful prospects, like Moses Brown, Darius Bazley, and Keinrich Williams. They deserve a shout-out, but Gilgeous-Alexander and Dort. Those guys should be on OKC’s next playoff team.

Weaknesses

When teams are rebuilding, it’s their full intention to be weak. That’s why it’s a little difficult to point out weaknesses in a team that doesn’t have much strength, to begin with. But can there be weaknesses in their rebuild? Let’s find out.

In spite of being one of the worst teams in the league, the Thunder can sleep well at night knowing that their future is in good hands. Sure their roster is weak, but they knew that all too well when they tore it all down in the offseason. It’s a small price to pay for what should be a great future ahead. They could not have played this any better. There is one loose end – Al Horford.

There’s no enjoyment in ragging on Horford because he’s had a nice bounceback year following the outright disaster he was in Philadelphia. By all indications, he still has enough left in the tank that by all accounts, he should be on a team that’s trying to win. It’s just that, nobody is going to want to pay almost $42 million (should he be waived in 2022) for a big approaching his mid-30s. The only way to trade someone like that is for a worse contract or if you’re planning on attaching assets to get him out.

The Thunder have publically declared their intentions of trading Horford this summer. Realistically, their options are either to wait out the contract until they can waive it, or waive it now and stretch the cap hit.

Opportunities

This section is probably what’s brought up the most by viewers who know anything about the Thunder these days. If there’s one thing OKC is knee-deep in, it’s opportunities. They own 17 first-round picks from now until 2026. Thanks to Russell Westbrook and Paul George, the Thunder have unprotected first-rounders that could be golden not too long from now or at could draw a disgruntled superstar in a trade. Other rebuilding teams would kill to be in a situation like that.

But there’s also something else they have on their hands. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort have deserved every last bit of praise thrown their way, but the one prospect that’s made everyone a bit curious is one Aleksej Pokusevski. Poku’s traditional stats won’t jump out at you in the slightest, but his slender frame, passing vision, and shooting stroke make him an unorthodoxly exciting prospect.

There may not be a player rawer in the league than Poku right now. For all we know, he could be a Giannis-type prospect or he could be another Perry Jones III. Either way, the tantalizing potential with Poku could very well be the deciding factor in if this new era of Thunder basketball being ushered in will be more fruitful in the playoffs than the last.

Threats

So, about those first-round picks. It’s never a bad idea to accumulate assets when you’re rebuilding. You just have to make sure you don’t go too overboard because one way or another, those assets are turning into players. This was a conundrum that Boston went through not too long ago. In the 2016 NBA Draft, the Celtics had eight picks. Five years later, the only one that has remained with the team is Jaylen Brown. Everyone else was traded away or waived in a couple of years. In other words, the assets were wasted.

OKC hopefully will do everything they can to not back themselves into a similar corner, but those 17 first-round picks over these next six years are going to be 17 human bodies one way or the other. The Thunder will have to choose carefully what they’re going to do with them. Luckily, Oklahoma City has all the time in the world to think up their next move, but this is something that they cannot brush to the side.

It’s saddening knowing that the Thunder had a decade-long window on their hands in the 2010s and only managed to get to the finals once. But, instead of moping around thinking about what could have been, they’ve been heads-on in their rebuilding approach. They now have the privilege of simply developing a fun and energetic product before it turns into something more meaningful.

But at some point or another, they’ll need to remember that they can’t go through a deja vu.

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