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NBA Daily: Jonathan Isaac: Time To Shine

Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac spoke to Basketball Insiders about finding comfortability, rushing things and his friendship with Mohamed Bamba.

Ben Nadeau

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On the surface, it was a big summer for the Orlando Magic.

Aaron Gordon practically got a max contract and the highly-rated Mohamed Bamba became the shiniest addition to an already young, talented roster. But to focus your full attention on those two would be a massive disservice to Jonathan Isaac, the Magic’s next great franchise cornerstone.

Still, if you’re heading into this regular season in need of a refresher course on the burgeoning second-year professional, you certainly wouldn’t be alone. After going No. 6 overall in 2017, Isaac worked through normal rookie season yips in a reserve role but suffered a nasty ankle injury in November that shelved him for 45 of the following 48 games.

His return in March was welcomed, albeit unexplosive. Now (nearly) healthy, Isaac is currently preparing for what he hopes will be a full-on breakout season — but the forward has noted some major changes in his perspective and outlook.

“It’s huge, man, it’s just a huge difference from where I’m at mentally with it all,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders. “Like last year, all the nerves and anxiousness of just like: ‘Oh, media day’ — like the first one. But there’s definitely a calmness and stillness about this one and it’s easier.”

Over his 27 contests in 2017-18, Isaac posted an average of 5.4 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks in 19.9 minutes per game. All things considered — including the injury that nearly derailed the 21-year-old for an entire season — those were some encouraging returns. But in an outstanding rookie class, Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum only served to fade Isaac further into the background — well, that is, until his coming out party this summer.

Out in Los Angeles, Isaac stood out in a big way, dominating alongside the looming — and his now close friend — Bamba, tallying 14.3 points, seven rebounds, 1.3 steals and 2.7 blocks in three games. From turnaround fadeaways on the baseline to nailing jumpers off the dribble, Isaac appeared more confident and comfortable on one end, while continuing to be a rim-protecting, shot-changing pest on the other. Simply put, if people weren’t ready to talk about the 6-foot-10 hyper-mobile Isaac, they certainly are now.

“Having people talk about you always feels great, especially if it’s positive things,” Isaac joked. “Having people see growth and say: ‘Wow, we might see something here that we didn’t expect’ or ‘he’s able to do things that we didn’t expect’ — it feels great.

“It definitely adds fuel to the fire, wanting to get that place of becoming the great player that I see myself becoming. It just gives me more incentive to work harder.”

An assumed eruption for Isaac would firmly entrench him in the new-era Magic blueprint, one that includes the aforementioned Gordon — who earned a contract worth $76 million in July — and Bamba. Together, the long, athletic trio would hopefully form a terrorizing force in the Eastern Conference for years to come. And although it’s easy to pick out those with the ceilingless potential on Orlando’s roster, Isaac was quick to heap praise on the entire roster before reluctantly talking about himself.

“I hate to talk about this because I don’t want to put too much emphasis on just us three,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders. “[Evan, Vucevic], these guys are big-time basketball players and great players for our team. Mo is just coming into his own, I’m just coming into my own and I don’t want to leave any of those guys out — D.J. — so many guys that are going to be great for us this year. But I do definitely see that buzz around me, AG and Mo.”

But as our Spencer Davies detailed in the offseason, the optimism surrounding their newly-minted twin towers is what might just excite onlookers the most. Unsurprisingly, their on-court chemistry has soared, even boasting a fun moment in which the pair simultaneously blocked the same shot during Summer League. (“If we ever do that again — that’ll be a miracle,” Isaac laughed in recollection.) However, it’s the duo’s real-life kinship that has truly blossomed in the days since the draft. Isaac and Bamba, who go back to high school together, have spent much of their free time learning what makes each other tick.

“I would say it’s definitely two-fold — Mo is a great dude and so full of energy,” Isaac said. “And he’s really smart and just hanging out with him has been fantastic, getting to know him more, getting to know about his family and where he comes from and all that.

“It’s been good to have real heart-to-heart moments.”

Needless to say, those fun anecdotes will only stay fresh as long as the wins keep coming for a Magic team still searching for an identity. Outside of last season’s minor aberration — Orlando finished one game better than the Atlanta Hawks at 25-57 — the Magic have come in last place within the Southeast Division every year since 2012-13. That season, naturally, was the first without Dwight Howard, the franchise’s last truly dominant force in the paint and a multi-time Defensive Player of the Year winner.

While Isaac would someday like to emulate that Future Hall of Famer’s successes in blue and white, the forward showed promise of his own throughout that hampered rookie season. Had Isaac qualified, his 1.1 blocks per game would’ve ranked him just barely behind the Nets’ Jarrett Allen for the best shot-blocker in the class, and he recorded multi-block efforts in a third of his total contests. As Isaac continues to improve, so will Orlando’s overall team numbers — a should-be featured anchor in a shaky unit that ranked 11th-worst in 2017-18 for defensive rating.

According to Isaac, that recently unearthed Summer League prowess comes from a strong faith and a growing comfort.

“Me, I put it all on my faith and that is honestly where it comes from for me,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders. “Having that new confidence in myself, a new stillness in myself — yeah, it definitely comes from the work as well, getting in and working hard . . . But also time as well, letting time take its toll and me being more mature and comfortable with myself.”

If there really was some self-proclaimed nervousness last season, Isaac looks to have shed those insecurities today. For as frustrating as that ankle injury may have been, Isaac has come away with lessons that’ll guide the rest of his bright career. That stillness — a word he returns to time and time again — places Isaac in new territory far before he’s even scratched his on-court potential as well. In a way, those initial setbacks could galvanize an already promising prospect.

But even if Isaac wanted to rush things before — back from injury, into the spotlight — he now believes that it’ll all work itself out eventually.

“Absolutely [I wanted to rush it], and I think that’s such a part of my stillness and my comfortability and calmness in it now,” Isaac said. “It’s not on my timing, I give that all to God. It’s his will for my life and where he wants me to be is where I’m gonna be.

“All I can do is focus on how hard I work, how hard I approach each and every day — but the time will come where everything unfolds.”

Ben Nadeau is a Seattle-based writer in his second year with Basketball Insiders. For five seasons, he covered the Brooklyn Nets for The Brooklyn Game.

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NBA Daily: Bought Out Players Faring Well With New Teams

The deadline for teams to send their unwanted players to the buyout market was March 1. Jordan Hicks takes a look at some of the key acquisitions since the deadline and how they are helping postseason pushes.

Jordan Hicks

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The buyout market seems to be gaining more and more popularity with each season. While rebuilding teams tend to forego more seasoned players in order to give their younger guys some run, veteran players often find themselves bought out or waived prior to the deadline.

Teams competing for a spot in the playoffs – so it seems – have increasingly taken advantage of this situation by signing guys that can definitely help them get enough wins. While you definitely will not find All-Stars in the pool of available players, oftentimes solid role players find themselves there due to a myriad of reasons.

It could be that their previous teams wanted to give more playing time to guys more in-line with their future plans. It could also be because their previous team was simply wanting to lose games in order to increase their draft position, which is also known as tanking. By waiving better players on your roster and keeping less talented ones, teams can essentially give themselves a better chance to lose games without totally making it look like they’re doing it on purpose.

This year had one of the stronger pools of players on the buyout/waived market as of March 1st in recent memory, so let’s take a look at some of the top players and how they’ve fared since joining their new team.

Wesley Matthews

Matthews was part of the marquee trade that sent Kristaps Porzingis to the Dallas Mavericks. He ended up with the Knicks, but after two short games, they realized they didn’t want his talent interfering with their draft position. They waived him prior to the deadline and he was picked up by the Indiana Pacers.

This has turned out to be an incredibly important acquisition for the Pacers – primarily due to the fact that they lost All-Star Victor Oladipo for the season.

Matthews brings grittiness on the defensive end and a diverse set of skills offensively. He is an above average shooter from the three-point line, averaging 38.8 percent on 6.1 attempts per game since joining Indiana. He has added much-needed scoring to the offense as well – currently at 12.5 points and 2.4 assists each night.

He’s very clearly a step below Oladipo, especially when considering what Vic brought to both ends of the floor, but the fact that the Pacers added him without having to give up any assets is pretty remarkable.

While he has yet to add any considerable value on defense, Matthews has ranked fifth on the team in offensive rating since joining them on February 7. If Oladipo was still on the roster, you could argue that they wouldn’t necessarily need Matthews. But in light of recent events, being able to add Matthews as easily as they did was certainly a win for the franchise.

Enes Kanter

Another player the Knicks decided to unload was Enes Kanter. He was sent to the player pool via buyout, and it is safe to assume that New York had to spend handsomely to send him there.

Kanter is an interesting player. He has always been able to get buckets around the rim, as well as grab rebounds, but he has always struggled defensively. This was not why the Knicks wanted to let him go, however. Tension had been growing between Kanter, the front office, and the coaching staff, as they wanted to limit his minutes in lieu of the younger players on the roster.

Enes just wanted to play, and, by being bought out and signing with the Portland Trail Blazers, he’s been able to do just that.

Since joining Portland, the team as gone 9-3. While he continues to have his struggles on defense, he is posting 10 points and 6.7 rebounds on only 18.2 minutes per night.

Since the acquisition, Meyers Leonard has seen a decreased role. Kanter has turned into the de-facto backup to starting center Jusuf Nurkic. While Kanter is a poor defender himself, Portland has enough solid defensive players in the frontcourt that they haven’t had too much of a problem hiding him on that end of the floor.

Jeremy Lin

Lin headed to the market after being bought out by the Atlanta Hawks. He was picked up by the Toronto Raptors, who have struggled to field consistent backcourt players off the bench due to injuries – which was made more difficult after dealing Delon Wright to the Grizzlies as part of the Marc Gasol trade.

In 13 games with the Raptors, Lin is averaging 8.4 points and 2.5 assists in 20.8 minutes per game. He has struggled to find any consistency with his shot, as he’s averaging just 39 percent from the field and a morbid 18.4 percent from three.

That shooting has every opportunity to increase. Lin is a 34.3 percent shooter from downtown over the course of his career.

The Raptors will need Lin to pull his shooting together as the season wraps up for a strong playoff campaign. The bench unit was a major part of their success last season and it is proving to be another key part this year. In order for Toronto to finally reach their goal of winning the Eastern Conference, they’ll need Lin to be at his best. He isn’t the only key to their success, but he’ll have a major impact on how the Raptors finish out the season.

There are still plenty of solid players on the market. Carmelo Anthony, Ben McLemore and Nick Young could provide instant offense off the bench. Greg Monroe, Marcin Gortat and Zach Randolph could help improve the frontcourt of any team in need. Whether or not teams decide they need their services, only time will tell.

While the season plays out, it will be interesting to see just what impact these players discussed – as well as those not mentioned – will have for their franchise in the postseason.

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NBA Daily: Justin Bibbs Gets First NBA Opportunity In L.A.

Justin Bibbs spoke to Basketball Insiders about joining an NBA team after going undrafted, playing in the G League, his developing skill set and more.

David Yapkowitz

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One of the best moments in the life of an aspiring pro basketball player is to receive the news that an NBA team wants to sign them.

For Justin Bibbs, that dream became a reality of his when the Los Angeles Clippers called him up to the team on a 10-day contract last week. The former Virginia Tech guard went undrafted last summer and was spending his first professional season in the G League with Maine Red Claws, the affiliate of the Boston Celtics.

This past Sunday against the Brooklyn Nets was actually his first day being around the team as they had immediately assigned him to the Agua Caliente Clippers after signing him.

“To be honest, I still don’t have words for it. It’s kind of indescribable,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “I always wanted to be on this level, but now that I’m here I just trying to take in every second of it, just relax and let God do his thing.”

Bibbs had a decent showing with the Celtics in summer league, leading to him being added to their training camp roster. He was ultimately cut and joined the Maine Red Claws as an affiliate player. Each NBA team is allowed to assign up to four players to their G League affiliate, players who were in training camp and are guaranteed a G League roster spot.

Affiliate players, however, are still considered ‘free agents’ in that they can sign with any NBA team. Bibbs played in 44 games with the Red Claws and averaged 11.8 points per game, 3.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists.

At Virginia Tech, he was a knockdown outside shooter (42.4 percent) and a strong defender. He has good size for a guard at 6-foot-5 and 225-pounds. It’s those qualities that he’s hoping to bring to the Clippers should he get the chance on the court.

“I always bring energy defensively and I just play my game. On offense, I bring shooting,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “But it’s whatever the coach tells me to do and basically just playing the right way.”

Although Bibbs has reached his goal of the NBA, he’s in a different situation than the rest of his Clippers teammates. They’re all secured with guaranteed contracts. Bibbs has ten days to prove himself to team brass, ten days to show he’s worth keeping around a bit longer.

“I’m happy that my play has been rewarded, that the organization believed in me enough to give me a 10-day. Its motivation for me to keep going,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “I was called down from the G League team, and I’m just trying to get all the sets and plays and stuff, trying to make that adjustment. But it’s definitely a blessing.”

He’s played in three games for the Agua Caliente Clippers so far, logging 27.1 minutes per game off the bench. He’s put up 9.7 points per game on 45.8 percent shooting from the field, 5.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists during that stretch.

He’s yet to log any minutes for the Clippers, but he’s just thrilled to be a part of an NBA organization. Despite being undrafted, he always knew that he’d get to this level at some point.

“Yeah I did, for sure I did. I didn’t know when or how, but I always thought I would be here,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “I had no idea what team, but being out in LA, I’ll take that as a blessing. But yeah I thought I would be here for sure.”

For players like Bibbs who are on 10-day contracts, nothing is guaranteed. But he’s soaking up the entire experience as long as he can. Whether the Clippers decide to retain him a little bit longer, or he moves on to another opportunity, he just wants to be able to play his game.

“My overall goal is just to actually play my game my way and not be restricted,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “Kind of just play freely and right now that’s what I’ve shown, that’s what got me here. I’m just taking in the whole process, just taking it all in and getting the experience and knowledge.”

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: 60-Pick NBA Mock Draft – 3/19/19

With the field of teams set for the 2019 NCAA March Madness tournament, things should get noisy over the next few weeks on the NBA Draft front. Steve Kyler offers up another 60-pick Mock Draft before all the zaniness begins.

Steve Kyler

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Let the Madness begin.

The basketball world will shift its attention to college basketball’s biggest stage over the next few weeks, especially this weekend’s opening round of 64.

While the tournament doesn’t necessarily make or break a player’s draft stock, this will be the first time some notable draft prospects will face elite talent and, more importantly, the pressure of the big stage. You can check out march madness predictions 2019 here.

Expect things in the draft world to start to percolate, not just because of the magnitude of the games, but also because a lot of NBA scouts will be in the same places, which is where the draft chatter originates.

Equally, a lot of NBA teams will watch games together in the conference rooms this week, so more group discussion on players will happen inside NBA teams’ front offices, and that could lead to new preference information flowing into the NBA Draft information bubble.

Here is this week’s 60-Pick Mock Draft, based on NBA games played through 3/18/19:

Here are the first-round picks that are owed and how those picks landed where they are.

The Atlanta Hawks are to receive the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first-round pick as a result of the Kyle Korver trade in 2017, which is top-10 protected. But based on the standings, it will not be conveyed.

The Boston Celtics are to receive the Memphis Grizzlies first-round pick as a result of the three-team Jeff Green trade in 2015; the pick is top-eight protected and, based on the current standings, would not convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are to receive the Dallas Mavericks first-round pick as a result of the Luka Dončić – Trae Young swap on draft night in 2018. The pick is top-five protected and, based on the standings, would convey.

The Boston Celtics are to receive the more favorable of either the Sacramento Kings or Philadelphia 76ers first-round picks as part of the Markelle Fultz pre-draft trade in 2017. Based on the current standings, the Kings pick is the more favorable and would convey to Boston.

The Boston Celtics are to receive the LA Clippers first-round pick as a result of the Deyonta Davis draft day trade with Memphis in 2016. The Grizzlies got the pick in their Jeff Green/Lance Stephenson deal at the deadline in 2016. The pick is lottery protected and, based on the current standings, would not convey.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are to receive the Houston Rockets first-round pick as a result of the three-team deadline deal that sent out Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss.

The Brooklyn Nets are to receive the Denver Nuggets first-round pick as a result of the Kenneth Faried – Darrell Arthur trade in July 2018. The pick is top-12 protected and, based on the current standings, would convey.

The San Antonio Spurs are to receive the Toronto Raptors first-round pick as a result of the Kawhi Leonard – DeMar DeRozan trade in July 2018. The pick is top-20 protected and, based on the current standings, would convey.

The Phoenix Suns are to receive the Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick as a result of the Eric Bledsoe trade in 2017. The pick has top 3 and 17-30 protections, designed to yield a lottery-level pick to Phoenix. Based on the current standings this pick would not convey. If the debt is not settled this year, the pick in 2020 would be top-7 protected.

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