ALERT: THIS IS NOT A DRILL. FREE AGENCY BEGINS IN FOUR DAYS.
With that being said, Basketball Insiders is kicking off a new series ranking the free agents by position. This first piece will rank the top 10 free agent point guards in terms of ability and the contract they will receive.
In this series, we will provide: a player summary, an overview of their 2018-19 salary, a projected 2019-20 salary and an opinion on where we feel they fit best and/or sign.
For context, here is a comprehensive list of all notable 2019 free agents.
Before getting into the actual free agents, here’s a look at what the salary cap numbers project to be. The NBA’s salary cap is expected to jump from $101 million to $109 million this offseason. Based on that, here are the projected numbers for max contracts:
$27,250,000 for players with 0-6 years of experience
$32,700,000 for players with 7-9 years of experience
$38,150,000 for players with 10+ years of experience
In addition, the mid-level exception for teams in the first year is expected to be $9,246,000, while the taxpayer MLE is expected to be $5,711,000 and the room MLE is expected to be $4,760,000.
The point guard position is at least as important as any other position in basketball. And while basketball has taken strides to become more positionless, there is still significant value in having a floor general to direct the offense and maintain a preferred pace and playing style.
2019 free agency features lots of talented point guards, many of whom seem open to the idea of joining a new team.
Let’s explore the 10 best free agent points guards and project where they’ll sign and the length and value of their new contracts.
Kyrie Irving – Boston Celtics – Last Year’s Salary: $20,099,189
Irving is the definitive best point guard available. Everyone may not love his approach on and/or off the court, but he is the only player on his specific list of accomplishments, including leading a championship team.
Furthermore, Irving is only 26 years old and is the only point guard on the list capable of being the best player on a playoff team.
Irving made approximately $20 million last season. He chose to not opt-in to the final year of his contract, thus enabling him to enter unrestricted free agency.
He is eligible for the Supermax by Boston having been selected to an All-NBA team this season.
Where Does He Fit: The Clippers, Knicks, Lakers and Nets are all viable options – many of whom are in need of a point guard. The Nets are viewed as the favorites to land Irving, and ironically so considering the Nets could just as easily forge ahead with the younger D’Angelo Russell. But as good as Russell is, Irving is a clearly superior player at this stage of their respective careers. Irving can be cut and pasted into the Nets lineup and he instantly improves the team.
New Deal: Irving will ultimately sign with Brooklyn for 4 years/$140 million– especially following rumors that he hasn’t enjoyed living in Boston.
D’Angelo Russell* – Brooklyn Nets – Last Year’s Salary: $7,019,698
This ranking might surprise some considering that Kemba Walker is the more talented of the two and has yet to be listed. But we’re ranking free agents and not players, and since luring Walker out of Charlotte will require paying the 29-year-old the full max, Russell is the more appealing of the two.
Russell’s 2018-19 salary was the final year of his rookie deal, which netted him $7.019 million. He is due for a major raise.
Russell is only 23. He will cost approximately $23 million in his first season – significantly less than Walker’s Supermax He will continue to improve over the course of the next few seasons, and it seems that he now understands the work and dedication required to maintain success in the NBA.
Where Does He Fit: Russell’s perfect fit is Brooklyn; but unfortunately, it seems as though the Nets are content to chase Irving. And Russell has apparently moved on quickly himself. While the Suns and Timberwolves are rumored to have interest in Russell, there is no better landing spot for the young lead guard than his former team – the Lakers. Rumors began circulating earlier this week that there is mutual interest between the two, and the Lakers are projected to have enough cap space to swing a deal.
New Deal: Russell may not fit the Lakers timeline as well as Walker, but he’ll fit in their salary cap better. Let’s say Russell signs a 4 year/$100 million deal with the Lakers.
Kemba Walker – Charlotte Hornets – Last Year’s Salary: $12,000,000
Walker is definitely a special point guard and player in the NBA. He gets buckets, makes his teammates better and operates without much of the drama that has surrounded Irving or Russell for the majority of their careers, respectively.
And Walker will probably be the second-best point guard signed this offseason in the 2019-20 season. But he is also two years older than Irving and six years older than Russell. He turned 29 last month, which means he has limited time remaining in his prime – especially for a guy listed generously as 6-foot-1; smaller guards are highly reliant on their quickness, and once that begins to wane, so too does their effectiveness.
Walker made only $12 million dollars in 2018-19 and is due for a hefty raise. Look for Walker to either cash in and sign a full max or give Charlotte a slight discount and remain with the Hornets on a five-year contract.
Where Does He Fit: While his age is prohibitive for teams looking to build around a younger core (e.g., Phoenix and Dallas), his timeline syncs up nicely with the Lakers and Celtics. Both teams would be ideal landing spots for Irving, but the Celtics are projected to have enough cap room to offer Walker a max. LA appears unable to free up enough space.
New Deal: Walker is eligible to sign a five-year, $231 million Supermax deal with Charlotte, but the allure of chasing a title will be too much to pass up. Walker may ultimately flee to the Celtics with a 4-year/$140.6 million deal.
Near Max Guys
Terry Rozier* – Boston Celtics – Last Year’s Salary: $3,050,390
Rozier took a step back in 2018-19. But he still put up relatively strong numbers – he ended the season averaging 14.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists per 36 minutes. And he can still hang his hat on his 2018 NBA Playoffs performance.
Where Does He Fit: Rozier just turned 25 years old and he should be a main target of teams like the Knicks, Pacers, Suns and Bulls. Rozier made only $3 million in 2018-19, and he is eligible for a significant raise. He rejected a deal last year that would have paid him $12 million per year.
New Deal: It sounds as if Rozier’s camp is excited about going to Indiana in a starting point guard role; Rozier and Pacers star Victor Oladipo share an agent. His contract with the Pacers could come somewhere in the neighborhood of 3 years/$45 million.
Above Mid-Level Guys
Ricky Rubio – Utah Jazz – Last Year’s Salary: $14,975,000
It feels like Rubio has been in the NBA forever. But in reality, Rubio is still only 28 years-old. This will be his first go-round in unrestricted free agency. Rubio’s coming off of a nice season in which he averaged 12.7 points and 6.1 assists per game.
Where Does He Fit/New Deal: Rubio’s 2018-19 salary was $14.9 million. The Suns have become the favorites for Rubio’s services next season. As previously noted, the Suns have only $14 million in cap space. Be on the lookout for Rubio signing with Phoenix for 3 years/$50 million.
George Hill** – Milwaukee Bucks – Last Year’s Salary: $19,000,000
Hill was an important part of the Bucks’ rotation He is an above average defender and shooter. And he doesn’t command many touches, nor does he disrupt continuity or chemistry. But he is also 33-years-old, which will limit the teams that chase him in free agency.
Where Does He Fit/New Deal: Hill made $19 million last season. His contract technically runs through 2020-21, but his contract allows the Bucks to buy him out for only $1 million if it’s completed prior to July 2. The Bucks will waive Hill and offer him a longer-term deal starting at less than what would otherwise be a $19 million cap hit. Look for Hill to re-sign with Milwaukee for 2 years/$26 million.
Tyus Jones* – Minnesota Timberwolves – Last Year’s Salary: $2,444,053
Jones had a breakout year of sorts in 2018-19. He set the NBA record with a 6.9-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Furthermore, he’s coming off a season in which he set career highs in points, assists and rebounds per game. And he’s only four years into his career. Having just turned 23 bodes well for Jones, as he should continue to improve over the next few years.
Where Does He Fit/New Deal: Jones made $2.444 million in 2018-19. He can go out and sign an offer sheet as a restricted free agent, forcing the Timberwolves’ hand. Or they can reach an agreement quickly. Either way, Jones should command a contract in the range of 4 years/$40million. And we’ll expect him to re-sign with Minnesota given his relationship with Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Wolves head coach Ryan Saunders.
Patrick Beverley – Los Angeles Clippers – Last Year’s Salary: $5,027,028
Beverley is the quintessential point guard if you’ve already got a lead ball-handler and/or scorer. He is among the best defensive point guards in the league. He’s also an antagonist who is completely unafraid of literally anyone – including Kevin Durant, as was evidenced in the 2019 playoffs. Beverley turns 31 this July, but that shouldn’t deter interested teams.
Beverley made $5 million in 2018-19. He certainly proved his worth this past post-season, again. While he’s unlikely to get too much more, he is likely to receive a longer-term contract considering the market he’s created for himself.
Where Does He Fit/New Deal: Lots of teams are interested in Beverley, which bodes well for the Chicago native, including the Bulls, Mavericks and 76ers; but he fits in with Dallas the best. Assuming the Mavericks maintain the requisite space, a deal with Dallas for 2 years/$22 million might be the best option.
T.J. McConnell – Philadelphia 76ers – Last Year’s Salary: $1,600,520
McConnell definitely played himself into a handsome contract. He had a great playoff run, and his nagging defense was noteworthy in the playoffs against the Nets and Raptors.
Where Does He Fit/New Deal: The 27-year-old made only $1.6 million in 2018-19. There are rumors of mutual interest between the Suns and McConnell. If the Suns strike out on Russell, Beverley and Rozier, they could turn their attention to McConnell,. But the 76ers also still need his services and they will be over the cap if they re-sign Butler and Harris (while unable to exceed it to sign others whose bird rights they do not possess). McConnell could just ultimately sign with Philadelphia for 3 years/$30 million.
Mid-Level or Below Guys
Delon Wright – Memphis Grizzlies – Last Year’s Salary: $2,536,898
Wright has been serviceable for most of his four-year career, but his breakout took place in Memphis following a trade from Toronto at the 2019 deadline. Wright averaged 12.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.3 assists in his nearly 31 minutes per game over 26 games with Memphis. Wright is also 27-years-old and still has most of his prime ahead of him.
Where Does He Fit/New Deal: Wright’s contract for 2018-19 was $2.536 million. He, too, will get a significant raise. He probably won’t take home quite as much as McConnell, but it will be close. Look for Wright to sign with the Magic– who were interested in acquiring him at the deadline – for 3 years/$27 million.
Shaun Livingston** – Golden State Warriors – Last Year’s Salary: $8,307,692
Livingston has been an important piece of the Warriors’ championship teams. He has also been a seemingly perfect teammate, playing his role perfectly and not asking for anything more than he’s been given.
Where Does He Fit: Livingston’s length and high basketball IQ have made him irreplaceable in Oakland – and his role will likely grow next year when the Warriors move to San Francisco considering the injuries and/or departures or Durant and/or Klay Thompson, and the team’s lack of salary cap space. The Warriors will need the 34-year-old-to-be, and would struggle to replace him considering they’re already over the cap.
New Deal: Livingston made $8.3 million in 2018-19. His re-signing with Golden State is probably the most predictable move of all the projections on this list. He will likely sign a one year/$8 million deal with the Warriors– after alluding to possibly even retiring in an interview with NBC Sports in October 2018 and re-affirming that he’s close to being done with our own Spencer Davies this past winter.
Derrick Rose – Minnesota Timberwolves – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601
Rose had something of a resurgence in 2018-19. He notched a career high of 50 points last October, playing strongly beyond his career night, too. He averaged 18 points, 4.3 assists and 2.7 rebounds per game – which represents a better season than he’s had since 2015-16.
Rose didn’t make much last season, which is a bargain considering the season he posted. He may not get a long-term deal, but he will most certainly command significantly more than $2 million.
Where Does He Fit/New Deal: Rose fits in nicely with a number of teams. He can still provide scoring punch off the bench, with his best fit being with Indiana or Chicago. While Indiana is probably the better landing spot, Chicago will be in serious need of help at the point guard spot. And it is there that Rose could reunite with his hometown team that drafted him on a one year/$10 million contract.
Other Notable Free Agents
Darren Collison – Indiana Pacers – Last Year’s Salary: $10,000 Elfrid Payton – New Orleans Pelicans – Last Year’s Salary: $3,000,000 Cory Joseph – Indiana Pacers – Last Year’s Salary: $7,945,000
Rajon Rondo – Los Angeles Lakers – Last Year’s Salary: $9,000,000
Emmanuel Mudiay* – New York Knicks – Last Year’s Salary: $4,294,480
Shabazz Napier** – Minnesota Timberwolves– Last Year’s Salary: $1,942,442
Quinn Cook* – Golden State Warriors – Last Year’s Salary: $1,544,951
J.J. Barea – Dallas Mavericks – Last Year’s Salary: $3,710,850
Ish Smith – Detroit Pistons – Last Year’s Salary: $6,000,000
Trey Burke – Dallas Mavericks – Last Year’s Salary: $1,795,015
Frank Jackson** – New Orleans Pelicans – Last Year’s Salary: $1,378,242
Yogi Ferrell** – Sacramento Kings– Last Year’s Salary: $3,000,000
Shaquille Harrison** – Chicago Bulls – Last Year’s Salary: $1,311,265
Jerian Grant* – Orlando Magic – Last Year’s Salary: $2,639,314
Frank Mason** – Sacramento Kings– Last Year’s Salary: $1,378,242
Shelvin Mack – Charlotte Hornets – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601
Ryan Arcidiacono** – Chicago Bulls – Last Year’s Salary: $1,349,383
Raul Neto – Utah Jazz – Last Year’s Salary: $2,150,000
Tim Frazier – Milwaukee Bucks – Last Year’s Salary: $196,553
Jeremy Lin – Toronto Raptors – Last Year’s Salary: $487,109
Isaiah Thomas – Denver Nuggets – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601
Raymond Felton – Oklahoma City Thunder – Last Year’s Salary: $1,512,601
Michael Carter-Williams – Orlando Magic – Last Year’s Salary: $59,820
*Qualifying Offer (If made and accepted, player becomes restricted free agent)
**Non-Guaranteed Contract (If player is waived by current team before contract becomes fully guaranteed, he becomes unrestricted free agent)
The 2019 free agent class is filled with point guard talent. Lots of teams will add a new floor general. And lots of point guards will get paid. This particular free agent class boasts an even breakdown of established point guards and unproven floor generals.
Still, some teams will miss out on their desired point guard and will be forced to turn to Plan B, C or even D. Either way, the madness begins this Sunday at 6 pm EST.
NBA Daily: Russell Westbrook — Full Throttle
When Houston traded for Russell Westbrook last summer, they had to embrace him, warts and all. Matt John goes into what the Rockets have done to achieve just that and how their most recent deals could net them the most efficient Westbrook they could’ve hoped for.
Russell Westbrook doesn’t care what you call him, whether a high-usage, low-efficiency chucker, an anti-spacer that clogs the lane, or an empty stat-chaser. To Westbrook, it’s all the same: noise, especially if you are focused on Basketball Betting.
And, no matter what you may think of him, nothing is stopping Westbrook from playing at his own pace: fast (to say the least).
Westbrook’s style is so lively, so twitchy, that it’s hard not to it in just about everything he does on the court. While it’s certainly contributed to many of his flaws, the aggression he’s played with, the bounce in his step, has helped him rack up the accolades and eye-popping stats that he has throughout his career.
As a basketball player, Westbrook is the quintessential perfect storm; a tornado of fire, accolades and counting stats.
But because his warts — his sans-Kevin Durant postseason success, his paltry shooting numbers (particularly this season) — are as obvious as his talent, nobody seemed enthralled when it was announced that Westbrook was set to rejoin James Harden, this time with the Houston Rockets. Dating back to Kevin Garnett and Shaquille O’Neal in 2010, there has arguably never been as little fanfare concerning two former MVPs joining forces.
There was one silver lining, however: in his new home, Westbrook would be surrounded by shooters. Better yet, shooters that would prove consistently reliable on the defensive end. In Houston, Westbrook wouldn’t have to be Mr. Do It All. But would it be enough?
No was the early, and loud, return. Through the season’s first two months, the Rockets were 23-11, a strong record, no doubt. But fans couldn’t help but wonder if Westbrook had helped, or hurt, their cause. By New Year’s Eve, Houston was plus-3.9 with Westbrook on the floor, but were somehow better — plus–9.5 — with him off.
The Rockets may have managed with Westbrook, but he wasn’t making them better. Of course, in that time, Westbrook had carried his weight as Houston’s no. 2 — 24.2 points and 7.1 assists — but his efficiency was as bad as it had ever been, if not worse. His 43/23/80 splits, while also coughing the ball up 4.4 times a game, had Rockets fans in shambles, the 23 percent from three-point range especially glaring as Westbrook was taking nearly five a game.
Making matters worse, Chris Paul, whom Daryl Morey traded for Westbrook, was not-so-quietly having his healthiest, most productive season since 2016 with the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder. On top of Westbrook’s struggles, Paul’s resurgence made it seem as if Morey had made a terrible mistake.
But, Westbrook seemed to turn a corner in the new year. In January, he averaged 32.5 points on 52/25/76 splits, while the Rockets were plus-2.5 with him on the court and minus-0.9 with him off. While that was an improvement, Houston went 7-7, though Westbrook missed four of those games. Even if he was technically better, he still served as the scapegoat.
Something was holding both the Rockets and Westbrook back.
That something, in Westbook’s case, was the Rockets. Morey and Co. had asked Westbrook to play their style, which meant spot-up threes — not exactly Westbrook’s forte — and a slower pace. In essence, it was the complete antithesis of Westbrook. In time, it became clear that, if Morey’s experiment was ever going to work, Houston would have to adapt to Westbrook, not the other way around.
And, because Morey would do anything and everything in his power to win, the Rockets did just that. By trading Clint Capela, who, while a young, proven and still promising big, was a poor fit with Westbrook, for Robert Covington, Houston embraced small-ball and, in turn, embraced Westbrook’s ability and game to the fullest extent.
Relying on Covington, Danuel House Jr and PJ Tucker to hold their own against much bigger frontcourts will be an interesting sight come playoff time. And trading Capela — a young, high-upside and cost-controlled big — is certainly a gamble. But this version of the Rockets may arguably be the closest thing we ever see to the “perfect team” around Westbrook, and it may just be Houston’s best bet to win a title.
Now, the lane is completely free. Westbrook will be playing with shooters virtually non-stop. That means fewer threes on his part, driving to the basket with no one to get in his way, opening up more room for those shooters. And, while Westbrook’s perfect team does not equate to the perfect team period, it could equate to a deeper playoff run.
Since Houston’s shift, the returns have been promising. Post-Capela (his last appearance was Jan. 29), Houston has played six games and gone 4-2. And, minus their stinker against Phoenix, another game in which Westbrook did not play, each of those games has provided ample proof that an entire small-ball squad can be viable. Houston came out the victor against two of the best teams in the NBA this season, the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, and another team with plenty of size, the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Rockets have also averaged 115.9 points per game, while Westbrook has led the team with 34 points per game and shot 51.5 percent from the field. So, in other words, he’s being efficient. Just don’t ask about his three-point shooting.
A “sample size” disclaimer will probably haunt the Rockets between now and the postseason, but the headline here is that thus far, it’s working. It’s not all because of Westbrook — through this stretch, Houston has been a plus-0.9 when Westbrook’s hit the bench — but he’s not hurting them as he did before.
In due time, we’ll see if Morey’s latest experimental maneuvering will pay off. But it’s clear that, if they go down, they’ll go down with Westbrook, rather than against him. They’ll be confident for sure, because, come the postseason, Westbrook will hit the court as he always has: full throttle.
NBA Daily: Trade Deadline Gives Jerome Robinson Opportunity And Encouragement
After struggling to break into the Clippers’ stingy rotation, Jerome Robinson was part of a three-team trade last Thursday that landed him on the Washington Wizards. Drew Maresca explores the the new opportunity available to Robinson in Washington, D.C.
Always one of the most entertaining times of the year, the trade deadline is an annual must-see event for basketball fans. But in addition to the excitement it brings, it can also introduce a headwind of confusion. Case in point: The three-team trade between the New York Knicks, Washington Wizards and Los Angeles Clippers.
After lots of posturing and deliberation, the Knicks agreed to trade Marcus Morris to the Clippers for Moe Harkless, an unprotected 2020 first-round pick and more.
But even with that structure decided upon, that aforementioned more remained undefined for longer than fans on either side would have liked. Even after the Landry Shamet and Montrezl Harrell rumors were debunked, there was still a lot of excitement in New York about potentially acquiring one or more of the following young talents: Terrance Mann, Mfiondu Kabengele or Jerome Robinson. All three had been rumored to be headed for the Big Apple at some point in the run-up to the deadline.
Just like the rest of us, Robinson watched as the trade continued to unfold.
“I knew that same day, that morning, that it could be the Knicks or the Wizards,” Robinson told Basketball Insiders. “At that point, I knew I was probably going to be out of [Los Angeles]. I didn’t know where to. But I eventually got a phone call and it was Washington.”
In short, Robinson is a 22-year-old former lottery pick — No. 13 overall back in 2018 — and a talented scorer that has struggled to acclimate and find consistent court time since he joined the league.
But it’s not entirely his fault.
At 6-foot-4, Robinson was chosen by a team with plenty of established shooting guards on the roster already. Immediately, Robinson was competing directly with established players like Avery Bradley and Lou Williams for the right to even step on the floor. And then there was Shamet too, another rookie that arrived in Los Angeles during the 2019 deadline and quickly gobbled up most of the remaining minutes.
As if the chances to develop weren’t hard enough to come by for Robinson, the Clippers’ successful offseason meant they would enter 2019-20 with legitimate championship aspirations. And with the team focused solely on reaching the NBA Finals, Robinson assumed he was in basketball purgatory — but the trade deadline brought along a new opportunity.
“I think [being traded] is a blessing in disguise,” Robinson told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a great opportunity to showcase what I can do. I just have to go do it.”
Robinson received less than 10 minutes per game during his rookie season and only got a minuscule bump up to 11.3 this season. Given aspirations and additions, the team couldn’t give Robinson the playing time he needed to find some much-needed footing. Former head coach Doc Rivers’ main criticism of Robinson was that he didn’t look for his own shot enough.
These days, however, Scott Brooks — the Wizards’ head coach — and Robinson, unsurprisingly, have already spoken about this and the message is the same one that Rivers previously preached: Look for your shot.
“Me and Scott talked a couple of days ago,” Robinson said. “After practice, chopped it up for 10 or 15 minutes. He told me he wants me to just be me and not hesitate.
“Coach thinks that’s something I’ve always been able to do, but that I’ve been hesitant with at times in Los Angeles,” Robinson continued. “I told him that was due more to some kind of circumstances.”
But Robinson is obviously excited to play with more freedom and learn from in-game experiences.
“That’s something I can do here, whereas [with the Clippers], if you have a bad game, it’s kind of next man up.”
But there’s no rush in Washington.
The Wizards are still in the early stages of a rebuild and won’t likely be contenders soon, so Robinson will have the opportunity to become the first guard off the bench for the Wizards. And that newly-found chance will be invaluable as it’ll finally allow for him to prove that he belongs in the NBA.
Drew Gooden, the Wizards’ announcer and a 14-year NBA veteran, also spoke with Basketball Insiders about the good fortune Robinson will have at his new home.
“The situation that the Washington Wizards are in as an organization, you just don’t know what’s going to happen this summer at all,” Gooden said. “But he can definitely play himself into a better situation through your playing and willingness to be in the organization.”
So far, so good for Robinson and the Wizards. Since the move, Robinson’s minutes have already increased to 18.3 minutes per game — but other challenges lie ahead for the sophomore, like learning an entirely new playbook.
“That can be difficult,” Ish Smith told Basketball Insiders. “Especially for him because he’s playing right away. A lot of times when I’ve been moved, I wasn’t playing. The good thing about here with coach Brooks is that it’s free-flowing.
“We play so unselfishly that it makes it easier to adjust to and there’s not a lot to think about.”
Further, Gooden spoke about what Robinson must do to continue improving.
“I think there’s only so much on-the-court work you can, or I could, do with guys,” Gooden told Basketball Insiders. “Then it becomes mentoring and the mental aspect and adjustments. Lots of people forget that. It’s not just knocking down shots — it’s ‘how can I get that shot consistently?’ [and] ‘how can I knock it down more consistently?’ That’s the mental part.
“And then the preparation leading up to the game is another skill a player must have,” Gooden continued. “And it’s hard to have that as a younger player. So if there’s an opportunity to talk to him and steer him in the right direction on or off the court, I’m up for it.”
Despite a slow start in the league, Robinson still has loads of tools that are valuable in the modern NBA landscape. And that’s why the Wizards and those close to the team are excited for Robinson to ramp up.
“What I’ve seen so far is that [Robinson] has a lot of pop to his game,” Gooden said. “I know that term’s used in baseball more, but it translates to the NBA game in that when he’s on the court, something’s going to happen.
“He’s not just running back and forth,” Gooden added. “He’s either scoring the ball, creating a hard foul or turnover, something’s going to happen. I’ve seen him play really hard and with a lot of energy so far.”
Over his 10 years playing professional basketball, Smith has seen his fair share of new opportunities too — and he’s ready to see what Robinson does next.
“His talent is there,” Smith told Basketball Insiders. “He just needs to adjust to things – different coaching, teammates, areas of the country. But so far, so good. And it’s our job to make him comfortable so that he can succeed.”
If Smith and co. handle all that and Robinson flourishes with the Wizards, the young prospect might ultimately fulfill his potential. So even though Robinson’s career didn’t kick off as expected with a franchise with fast-moving aspirations, there’s always a chance to grow and get better.
And with the knowledgable encouragement of those around him like Brooks, Smith and Gooden, it’s officially Robinson’s turn to make a name for himself in Washington.
NBA Daily: Hawks See Another Level In De’Andre Hunter’s Future
Spencer Davies has a chat with Atlanta Hawks head coach Lloyd Pierce and forward De’Andre Hunter to discuss the rookie’s first half of the season, his progression as a player and where his game might end up.
With NBA All-Star weekend on the horizon, the city of Chicago is preparing itself for three days of nonstop entertainment. Before the bevy of contests and competitions, as well as the game itself, we’ll have one of the most anticipated Rising Stars matchups based on star-power alone.
It’s a shame — and probably unfair — that De’Andre Hunter won’t be participating, or in attendance at all.
After all, the Atlanta Hawks’ rookie has played 31.5 minutes per game over 51 starts, leading the 2019 draft class in both categories. He’s also taken and converted on the highest amount of catch-and-shoot threes among his peers. Despite the team having its fair share of issues in limiting opponent production, his individual defensive prowess has come up huge in key moments.
It’s that kind of impact that allows Hawks’ head coach Lloyd Pierce to count on him with such a heavy workload, one that even some veterans in this league aren’t tasked with.
“Well, his game is all about… I just trust that he’s going to do the right things,” Pierce told Basketball Insiders at a morning shootaround in Cleveland. “I trust that he’s going to be in the right spots. I trust that he’s about the team.
“He doesn’t bring the flash and the pizzazz that a lot of other guys do, or what you’re expecting of a No. 4 pick or whatever you call it. That’s not important to me. What’s important to me is, is he a championship player? Is he a championship-caliber player? Can he grow into being a guy that you can’t afford to have off the court because of all the things he brings? And a lot of those things don’t show up on the stat sheets.”
With Pierce showing his confidence by giving him all that playing time, Hunter says it means a lot.
“He has a lot of trust in me,” Hunter told Basketball Insiders. “He obviously believes in me as a player and the things I can do on the court, so to be in the game as a rookie in those close games against good teams, it’s a good feeling. Just happy to be out there and compete.”
There is plenty of eye-popping young talent around the Association, even right at home in this draft class. From the athletic Zion Williamson, who has finally taken the league by storm after sitting out essentially the first half of the season, to Ja Morant, the human highlight reel that has put the Memphis Grizzlies in surefire playoff positioning in the Western Conference, it’s easy to feel good about the league’s future.
But Hunter goes to a beat of a different drum – his own drum, if you will. He doesn’t have the ball in his hands all that often and, for that matter, he doesn’t need it to be. Hunter, effective beyond his years, has consistently made his mark atop Atlanta’s plus-minus and net rating ranks. While his numbers seem modest from a distance, it really goes further than what the eyes see in a box score.
The 22-year-old believes he’s been able to produce in such a way since he started playing the game.
“I’ve played with good players most of my life, so I wasn’t always going to have the ball. But just being an all-around player, that’s something I pride myself on,” Hunter said. “Not needing the ball, being able to get stops defensively, being a catch-and-shoot guy, being able to get other guys involved and things like that. I just try to be as versatile as possible because I feel like in the NBA today, that’s definitely what you need on the team.”
In the lower half of rookies with a 17.6 usage percentage, Hunter is still averaging 12.2 points per game. The majority of those come from corner triples, a place where — if he can master it — he feels will help him elongate his career. Pierce knew that would be a strength of Hunter’s just by watching the talented swingman at the University of Virginia, specifically, in the NCAA Championship game last April.
Hunter told Basketball Insiders that two assistants — Matt Hill and Chris Jent, once LeBron James’ personal shooting coach with the Cavaliers — have been helping him improve his positioning and mechanics.
“Just keeping my balance, getting both of my feet down, not drifting to the side, then keeping my follow-through,” Hunter said. “I feel like when I do that and when I’m ready to shoot before the ball even gets there, I feel like most of the time it goes in.”
Pierce expanded further upon that element of Hunter’s maturation, going as far as likening the 6-foot-7 forward’s potential to a two-time NBA Finals MVP.
“He’s also learning how to shoot off the move, he’s also learning how to shoot off the dribble, he’s also learning how to play with the basketball in his hands,” Pierce said.
“Learning some nuances, you watch a guy like Kawhi [Leonard] – who you compare [Hunter] to naturally with his size – start learning how to use that shoulder to shield off defenders before you get to your shot as opposed to just… those little things that he’ll learn and pick up will take his game to another level.”
Foreseeing a gradual rise with Hunter’s offensive game, Pierce is giddy over the possibilities if the rookie continues on the path he is on.
“The thing you say about Kawhi all the time is he’s always on balance, and that’s what we’re going to keep working on with ‘Dre,” Pierce told Basketball Insiders. “Just always on balance and get the shot you want because of learning those nuances.”
When asked about how far he’s come since being drafted, Hunter mentioned his playmaking and getting to the basket. However, recently, he’s been most proud of his newfound confidence to create for himself.
Although he was known for it coming out of college, Hunter’s picked up on a lot on defense, too. Better, he’s being more aggressive in getting around screens. In facing guys multiple times and through film study, he’s starting to counter tendencies that opposing teams and their players try to use against him.
“We don’t have to double team when he’s defending because he’s solid, and when things break down and he’s off the basketball, he’s in position to help. You keep him on the floor because of those reasons alone and not the numbers,” Pierce said.
“And he’s going to grow into an even elite team player, both offensively and defensively, high percentage, effective field goal percentage, high defensive ranking when he’s on the floor. That’s who he is, that’s what we’re grooming him to be and that’s what he’s kind of been from start to finish.”
The Hawks welcomed Hunter with open arms when he arrived. He joked that they haven’t made life too hard on him despite his first-year status in the league. Playing with All-Star starter Trae Young has been “a blessing.” But recently acquired veterans such as Clint Capela, Dewayne Dedmon and a highly-regarded Jeff Teague have also been essential from an advising standpoint.
None more important to him than the retirement-bound Vince Carter.
“He has a lot of stories, on and off the court,” Hunter told Basketball Insiders. “He teaches me a lot of small things on the court while I’m working out, before and after practice. Just a lot of experience, a lot of knowledge and they can just pass it on to the guys like me and Cam [Reddish] and Trae and [Kevin Huerter].”
Atlanta has split its last four games down the middle, but the fact of the matter is that the young group has mustered up just 15 wins on the season. Point-blank, Basketball Insiders posed a question to Hunter: Would this team be in a better position had it not been for John Collins’ 25-game suspension?
“I mean, easy answer is yes but, I mean, who knows,” Hunter told Basketball Insiders. “John definitely helps our team a lot. Kevin missed a lot of games, as well, so I mean having both of those guys definitely would’ve helped us.”
It’s hard to disagree with his answer. By the same token, on a positive note, Hunter saw minutes here and there at the four as a result. Ultimately, that experience will only further his progression and versatility as a player.
Just two games ago, Hunter had his welcome-to-the-NBA moment – but it wasn’t a singular instance. Rather, a 47-minute double-overtime thriller against the New York Knicks. He scored 19 points, registered nine rebounds and recorded a career-high five steals during a wild win.
Another testament to the rookie’s will. Another example of his durability. Another reason why Pierce has been so high on the future of De’Andre Hunter from day one.
“When you look at production and numbers, there’s ups and downs. But that’s expected,” Pierce told Basketball Insiders.
“I think he’s been solid from start to finish and I think he’s been solid on both sides of the basketball, so I’m encouraged by where he is. I’m more encouraged by what I think he can become.”