On Sunday, the world lost Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash – and everybody, basketball and beyond, began to mourn. Bryant, 41, and his win-at-all-costs mindset changed the course of professional basketball through his five championships, one MVP and over 20 incredible seasons.
In a year, Bryant will undoubtedly become a first-ballot Hall of Famer, forever enshrined in Springfield, MA. But until then, and as we all to struggle to find words for an imperfect man and athlete, everyone has considered their relationship to Bryant over the last few days.
His lasting legacy is complicated, but the impact Bryant had on the game – and the current generation of players and fans – is unquestionable.
Below, the Basketball Insiders team shares their thoughts and feelings on the loss of Kobe Bryant.
Growing up, Kobe Bryant was everywhere – even in my tiny corner of the country. And way up in Portland, Maine, one of my closest classmates throughout grade school idolized Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. As his team grew stronger at every turn, Dillon had plenty of ready-made ammunition to toss in the faces of his friends – who were New Jersey Nets, Houston Rockets and Minnesota Timberwolves supporters, sadly. But that only served as motivation to give it back to him all the same, often teasing with mawkishly-yelled Kobe! calls when our buddy missed an easy bucket or dunked on the Nerf hoop in his purple and yellow-painted bedroom.
Bryant seemed to infiltrate every moment of my young basketball fandom – and not only because I lived deep in Celtics territory.
But beyond that, and despite his objectionable off-the-court issues that linger after all these years, losing Bryant is another sad reminder to love people while you still can.
Not later, not in a few months, not even the next time you make it home – but right now. Make that call, send that text, keep trying to mend once-burned bridges. Build from the bottom-up and be better than you were before. Say I miss you and I love you and talk to you soon as much as possible because tragedies never seem to make an appointment. As you undoubtedly know already, it is never the right time to say goodbye to somebody important – whether that’s an old pal or a former superstar – but Kobe’s sudden departure should come as a warning to everyone.
Hardly anything in this life is permanent but the memories of the ones you love come pretty darn close.
I haven’t stayed in touch with Dillon as much as I would’ve liked since we graduated from high school almost a decade ago – but I think I owe it to myself to try again.
– Ben Nadeau
I’ll never forget how hard I was kicking myself. As I sat there a few cars behind waiting to get into the parking garage, Kobe Bryant’s pregame presser began before his final game in Cleveland as his retirement tour rolled along. I failed to realize how packed Quicken Loans Arena would be at that time to send No. 24 off.
Maybe I should’ve expected it. After all, if I had an emotional connection to this larger-than-life being that kept my eyes on the television, so did others just like me. It’s funny: Kobe was a major favorite of mine growing up, but Tracy McGrady and Ray Allen were my Nos. 1 and 2. That’s no disrespect to the Los Angeles Laker legend, of course, but rather me straying away from the mainstream. In fact, I hardly even used Kobe in video games because I wanted to beat him, whether it was against the computer or a friend.
Looking back at memories, there’s too many to name. Obviously, the Kobe-Shaq dynamic and their unique relationship was always an interest of mine. I actually like to make a game out of naming the teammates he had over his years. The more obscure, the better — Smush Parker, Slava Medvedenko, Andrew Bynum, Shannon Brown, Metta World Peace — or those times in which he played with Gary Payton and Karl Malone. Regardless of who he played alongside and how good of a team the Lakers had, there’s one fluid motion that will always make me think of Kobe.
Backdown on the baseline. Shoulder fake towards the basket. Spin back towards the baseline. Right leg kicks out. Turnaround fadeaway from 15 feet. Bucket.
The basketball world is shell-shocked. I’ll admit I still have no idea how to process this. At 27 years old, I barely remember seeing Michael Jordan growing up. But I watched Kobe Bryant. And I often did it with my eyes wide open and jaw dropped to my chest. This was “the guy.” For me, for so many of us ’90s kids.
That’s why my heart hurts. I’m sick about him. I’m sick about his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna. I’m sick about Gianna’s teammates — Alyssa Altobelli and her parents, John and Karen; Payton Chester and her mother, Sarah. I’m sick about Christina Mauser and Ara Zobayan. It just doesn’t make sense…
I wasn’t able to speak with Kobe at his farewell performance in Northeast Ohio, but I do remember watching him dazzle as he tried to lead one of his infamous comebacks against LeBron James’ eventual championship-winning team. Feb. 6, 2016 ended with him greeting friends and fans in the player garage before he left. Knowing I hadn’t documented any type of memory from the occasion, I snapped a quick photo walking out as best as I could get.
It’s blurry. It’s grainy. It’s low resolution. And I’ll cherish it forever.
– Spencer Davies
Days later, and I remain in disbelief. Kobe Bryant, dead at 41, is not something I ever thought I would have to type. On that tragic Sunday morning, the NBA lost a legend, one woven into the fabric of the Association as much as he was Los Angeles, the city that took him in as an 18-year-old and made him their own.
But, more importantly, the world lost a loving father and a man whose passion for and exuberance in life permeated everything he did and extended to everyone he met.
Of course, my connection to Bryant isn’t exactly unique. I grew up in Massachusetts, a fan of the Boston Celtics – and, for the better part of my life, it was my business to hate him more than anything else. Of course, I respected him; it was hard not to, given his ability and approach to the game. But, in hindsight, he played a far greater role than I ever gave him credit for in the development of my own love for the game.
Yes, Bryant was the enemy. Yet, he embodied everything there is to love about competition and the game of basketball; an insatiable hunger and uncompromising drive to win at the highest level; a zeal for the game unequaled, neither then nor today; the desire to break down his opponent and bend the game to his will. Kobe was the ultimate competitor and made the game that much more enjoyable.
My appreciation for Bryant only grew in his post-NBA career. A man that was once so isolated and cold warmed to the world and tried to further the game in any way he could. Bryant not only served as a friend and mentor to a number of current players, but was a major advocate for the WNBA as well.
It would be disingenuous of me were I not to address the more unsavory aspects of Bryant’s life. To some, the Colorado-based case that culminated in Bryant’s admission of having non-consensual sex with a young woman was just a bump in Bryant’s road to superstardom. To others, it tarnished his character and still does to this day. Either way, it’s made his lasting legacy a complicated one to address.
That said, Bryant’s growth as a person beyond that incident was evident. And, while it may be difficult to parse through, Bryant can and should be celebrated for the good that he did as long as we can acknowledge the bad that preceded it.
Bryant certainly had an impact on me, both in sport and in life. And, for that, I’ll be forever thankful.
– Shane Rhodes
Each morning since the accident, I have woken up hoping it was all a nightmare that has finally ended. Each morning, I have woken up saddened to realize again that it was not. I was born and raised in Los Angeles and grew up with Kobe Bryant as the premiere sports icon in Southern California. Kobe was one of my favorite athletes and I, like many kids, tried to emulate parts of his game when I was young and played on youth basketball teams. As I grew older, I became more critical of issues like his inability to maintain his shaky relationship with Shaquille O’Neal and other, more serious matters, such as his well-documented off-court legal issues.
But I always appreciated Kobe’s drive and unshakable belief in his own abilities. He wasn’t as lethal of a shooter as Ray Allen or as physically gifted as LeBron James but he turned all of his weaknesses into strengths and worked relentlessly to become the most complete player he could be. I have tried to apply that same approach in all aspects of my life, though I have fallen well short of that goal more times than I care to admit. But most importantly, since his retirement, I came to respect the well-rounded family man that Kobe became. He was always with his family, supporting them in their own endeavors. Kobe seemed to be more balanced, at peace and happier than ever. His death, and that of his daughter, Gianna, is a tragedy that has impacted me more than I would have imagined.
I’m saddened that this nightmare won’t end, that we won’t get to see Gianna go to UConn and eventually take over the WNBA with Kobe supporting her every step of the way.
– Jesse Blancarte
Kobe Bryant was the first player I can remember watching when I was younger. He was my generation’s Michael Jordan, of course. I certainly wasn’t a Lakers fan growing up, but I loved watching Bryant compete. As fun as he was to see on the court, the biggest impression Kobe ever left on me was this quote he said after he retired:
“Fast-forward 20 years from now,” Bryant said. “If basketball is the best thing I’ve done in my life, then I’ve failed.”
Basketball was his life. He was a five-time champion, an MVP and an 18-time All-Star. And yet he truly believed he could still achieve more. It’s an absolute tragedy we won’t get to witness what those 20 years would have held.
But if Kobe taught us anything, it’s that hard work and determination – not circumstance – truly define who one can become.
– Jordan Hicks
As a writer, I covered Kobe Bryant constantly while toggling the focus on his flaws. There’s no excusing or sugarcoating the incident that culminated in him admitting to having non-consensual sex with a 19-year-old. His maniacal competitiveness and unrelenting zeal for the spotlight made him a less effective player and teammate than his rings, medals, trophies, game-winners and place in the game’s all-time hierarchy suggest.
But on Sunday, I suddenly remembered how much I used to revere him. How Bryant was once my favorite player growing up or how without him I wouldn’t love basketball quite as I do. Then I almost started crying, and have tried to watch every game since with the same sense of joy I felt as a kid.
– Jack Winter
I never had the privilege of meeting Kobe. I don’t have a unique perspective or a memorable story to tell. I grew up thousands of miles from Los Angeles and never had a desire to visit the city. That is why the last 48 hours have been so bizarre to me. The emotional devastation felt throughout the day and the sleepless nights have had such an impact on me in a way that I would never have imagined.
Growing up during the Michael Jordan era, I viewed Kobe as an imposter. But this was a guy that would just rip your heart out, play after play, after play, after play. Still, his second act after retirement as a father figure and a creative mastermind has always struck me. His passion for life and the inspiration that he offered so many people is something that we will all miss dearly. The stories have been heartwarming, while the sadness has been felt across the globe. We should all aspire to attack each day as Kobe Bryant would because we’ve seen the much-needed positivity and success that it can bring.
– Chad Smith
I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t the biggest Kobe Bryant fan growing up. Michael Jordan was my childhood hero. Worse, Kobe always came across as an imitation. To me, he was never as good and it always irked me how his fans tried to put him on the same pedestal as Jordan. My mindset began to change in recent years, however.
Most people remember their first love and, well, my first love was basketball. It’s the one love that’s never left me, never abandoned me, never walked out on me. It’s always been there for me. I cried when I first read Kobe’s poem, “Dear Basketball.” That was me.
Everything he wrote, all the emotion he put into that poem, that was me. Basketball was Kobe’s love. He ate, slept and breathed the game. How could I not appreciate someone who had a love that burned brighter for the sport than mine did? How could I not respect someone whose passion and dedication for the game was so strong? I was rooting hard for him to win an Oscar for that piece. When he did, I wanted to cry, shout and smile all at once. That poem has become the epitome of a love letter to me.
I penned an actual love letter not too long after his Oscar win. I tried to channel the same energy and emotion that Kobe used. When you love something/someone, the words just flow from the heart. They did for me, as I imagine they once did for Kobe too. I finished it, but I never delivered it as things went south before I had the opportunity.
By now, the age-old cliche of time-is-short has been beaten to death –but there is some truth in that. As I was listening to Shaquille O’Neal and watching him tear up, his words kept echoing in my mind. It had been a while since he’d last spoken with Kobe and he wished he had the opportunity to say something to him one more time.
And as I sit here and finish these words, I think of my undelivered letter, my version of “Dear Basketball.” I owe it to myself, to Shaq and to Kobe to make that attempt to see it delivered. While Kobe certainly loved basketball, his love for his family and the people who meant something to him was even greater. Years from now, I don’t want to be sitting here wishing that I should’ve reached out. I don’t want to be kicking myself for not even attempting to re-light the red flame. And so, I’ll channel my inner Mamba and try to win my own Oscar.
Kobe and Gigi, the basketball world will miss you and we’ll keep you in our hearts forever.
NBA Daily: Gordon Hayward Realizing His Potential in Charlotte
No one envisioned Gordon Hayward joining the Charlotte Hornets in free agency. Not many people believed he could return to being an All-Star caliber player. Chad Smith puts the spotlight on Hayward’s resurgent season in Buzz City.
Many eyebrows were raised when Gordon Hayward decided to join the Charlotte Hornets this offseason. Most figured a return home to play for the Indiana Pacers was where the next chapter of his career would take place. But, when a potential deal with Indiana fell through, the Hornets became a reality. Maybe it was the lure of playing for Michael Jordan or just the opportunity for a fresh start where he could realize his full potential.
Either way, Hayward has proved himself to be the guy once again.
Shortly after Thanksgiving, Hayward signed a four-year deal with Charlotte for $120 million. At the time, it seemed like a heavy price to pay for a player in his 30’s that has endured so many injuries so recently in his career. Hornets fans went through this in 2019 with Terry Rozier’s sign-and-trade deal from the Boston Celtics for $56.7 million. The move for Charlotte almost felt desperate, like some sort of gamble they were willing to take.
But this signing has been different. Even before their deal, Hayward underwent a minor surgical procedure on his left foot to alleviate some discomfort he dealt with last year; the team was aware and still wanted to move forward with the deal, which speaks volumes as to how they felt about him as a player and how he would recover.
While Rozier was younger and seemed to have a high ceiling, Hayward is an established wing that has been an All-Star and the face of a franchise before. And, as we enter the quarter-mark of the 2020-21 season, it appears as though the team’s gamble has paid off quite nicely. Hayward is looked resurgent, averaging career-high numbers across the board after his injury-plagued stint in Boston.
With the Celtics, Hayward averaged 13.9 points per game, shot 36 percent from behind the arc, and got to the free throw line just 2.7 times per game. So far this season he is averaging more than 24 points per game, which is a career-best. His free throw attempts have nearly doubled and he is knocking down 43 percent of his three-pointers.
Hayward’s minutes have also increased significantly this year. And, in addition to his high percentage shooting, his 21.07 Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is a career-best.
The roster crunch at certain positions was a concern heading into the season, but head coach James Borrego has built a solid rotation that has allowed his team to maximize their potential. The Hornets have the ability to play big or go with a smaller lineup should the need arise. In fact, one of the major benefits of having Hayward is the ability to play him at multiple positions; having played alongside Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum in Boston, Hayward is well versed in switching and matching up against both bigger and smaller opponents.
Charlotte’s defense has also been much better this year with Hayward on the floor. They rank in the top ten in terms of opponents scoring and top five in steals. Borrego has used various full-court press coverages, as well as an unusual zone defense in the half-court that eventually turns back into a man-to-man scheme.
Using different lineups, the Hornets have been able to utilize guys like PJ Washington and Miles Bridges who, in turn, have ignited their offense. If LaMelo Ball is not in the game, Charlotte can still play their two smaller guards, Rozier and Devonte’ Graham, with Hayward often serving as the primary ball-handler. With him running the offense, it allows those two to do what they do best: shoot the ball.
As a team, the Hornets aren’t exactly elite offensively. They are strong in certain areas, but they also rank near the bottom of the league in scoring, field goals made, field goal percentage and free throw percentage. In order to win close games, there are times where they need Hayward to just take over — and he’s proven on multiple occasions that he is still more than capable of doing just that. Hayward has actually been on quite a roll lately, scoring the ball at an incredible clip. Two weeks ago he put up 34 points in a blowout of the New York Knicks. Later, he had another 34-point performance against the Chicago Bulls. He also scored 39 points, including the game-winning layup, against the Orlando Magic. His season-high came earlier in the month where he posted 44 points in a victory against the Atlanta Hawks.
The individual scoring by Hayward has been impressive, but it hasn’t hampered their offensive rhythm at all. In fact, the Hornets currently average 28.3 assists per game, which is the best in the league.
It hasn’t all been sunshine and rainbows in Buzz City. The success on the court hasn’t necessarily translated to winning. After 17 games, their 7-10 record has them sitting in 12th place in the Eastern Conference standings. And, looking at their upcoming schedule, there could be some more bumps in the road.
Charlotte’s next two games are against the aforementioned Pacers. Later, the Hornets will host the Milwaukee Bucks and then head south to face the Miami HEAT, who should have their key pieces back on the floor. After that, they will have to face the Philadelphia 76ers, who own the best record in the conference. Following that game is a matchup with the red-hot Utah Jazz, who have won nine games in a row. Withstanding that rough stretch will be pivotal for this team, as they have now lost four of their last five games. These Hornets are a young group, but Hayward’s experience and the return of fellow Indiana-native Cody Zeller should allow them to win some of those games. Their season just might depend on it.
The Hornets are a fun team to watch. The jaw-dropping passes from Ball and the ridiculous highlight dunks by Bridges are must-see television, but their leader is proving he is worth every penny. Sure, Hayward has the massive contract, but he also has earned the opportunity to be a franchise player once again.
He isn’t the same All-Star player that he was in Utah. This version of Hayward is even better.
NBA Standout Player Watch – Jan. 26
Basketball Insiders releases its first standout player watch of the year for the Eastern Conference. Tristan Tucker highlights some of the players that have shown out but are still vastly underrated.
This season, the All-Star game will not be played, though players will still be able to receive the honor and go down in the record books all the same. While players like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant and many more are surefire All-Stars, Basketball Insiders wants to give credit to some of the players that are being overlooked around the league.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at Basketball Insiders’ first edition of its standout player watch from the Eastern Conference, in no particular order.
When the Detroit Pistons signed Grant, someone that averages 9.8 points across his career, to a three year, $60 million deal in the offseason, everyone around the NBA raised their eyebrows. It was then reported that the Denver Nuggets offered the same deal to try and keep Grant, but he took on a role that would see him be the feature offensive piece in Detroit.
That move has completely paid off and Grant is having a year that almost no one, other than himself, could have expected. The 6-foot-8 forward is averaging 24.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists and .9 steals per game, all career highs.
Grant is also having his most efficient season beyond the arc, shooting 38.2 percent from deep on 6.9 attempts per game, a fairly high number.
The Pistons are bad, there’s no way to sugarcoat that, but Grant alongside other pleasant surprises in Josh Jackson, Wayne Ellington and Saddiq Bey have made the team enjoyable to watch. Grant is playing like a legitimate superstar and should be named to the All-Star team this year, in whatever form that may take.
Over the last three seasons, LaVine has continued to improve and this season is no different. Despite averaging 23.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists on 45.3 percent shooting from the floor and 37.4 percent from deep across his Chicago Bulls career, LaVine has yet to make an All-Star team.
Perhaps that will all change this season, as LaVine is averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists and blocks, plus close to a 50/40/90 split. The Bulls are decent this season, currently at 7-9, but for LaVine to be an All-Star lock, they’ll likely need to be in playoff position at the time of All-Star selections.
Brown appeared on Basketball Insiders’ week one MVP ladder, and that was no mistake. There’s a reason Brown was never included in any potential James Harden trade chatter, no matter how much the Houston Rockets may have wanted him – and that’s because he’s the real deal.
This season, Brown is the seventh-leading scorer in the league and is putting up an astounding 27.3 points, 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals, shooting 43 percent from deep on nearly seven attempts per game.
The Boston Celtics haven’t been at full strength for much of the season, without Jayson Tatum as he deals with a case of COVID-19, but Brown has his franchise among the frontrunners in the Eastern Conference nonetheless.
Randle had a season to forget last year after signing with the New York Knicks on a three-year, $62 million contract in the summer of 2019, as he took a dip in scoring and efficiency across the board from his breakout season the year before with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Something changed in the 6-foot-8 power forward over the offseason, as he is having a career year with the Knicks and has the team firmly in the playoff picture with an 8-10 record. The main difference in Randle’s game has been his shift in playstyle, transitioning to a playmaking big instead of someone that’s primarily an undersized low post threat.
Randle is averaging career highs in multiple statistical categories, up to 22.7 points, 11.3 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game.
Vucevic is criminally underrated year after year and this season is more of the same. One of the only reasons the Orlando Magic is able to remain competitive in the face of huge injuries to key players like Markelle Fultz, Jonathan Isaac and Al-Farouq Aminu is the play of Vucevic.
Vucevic has been giving it his all this season, putting up a career-high in points per game with 23.2 and has put in the work necessary to improve his long-range game. He’s shooting 42.6 percent from three on 6.4 attempts per game, by far and away the best deep shooting performance of his career.
While Vucevic has been named to an All-Star team before, his name is rarely mentioned when discussing the best bigs in the league, a narrative that he’s doing his all to change.
Domantas Sabonis/Malcolm Brogdon/Myles Turner
So many players have been playing stellar ball for the Indiana Pacers that it was impossible to narrow this selection down to just one.
Sabonis has downright played his way into the MVP conversation, notching a double-double in every single game he’s appeared in this season. Sabonis was an All-Star last year, and his play has continued to improve as he’s averaging 20.9 points, 12.9 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game.
Brogdon has also played his way into the MVP race, having been included in Basketball Reference’s ladder in the first month alongside Sabonis. It’s not hard to see why as he’s averaging what is by far a career-high 21.9 points with 7.1 assists on 39.5 percent shooting from deep on 7.1 attempts per game. Brogdon has also improved his on-ball defense, averaging 1.6 steals per game, a career-high.
Meanwhile, Turner may just be the most overlooked of them all, as he’s the heart and soul of this Indiana defense. Turner should be firmly in the lead for the Defensive Player of the Year award, as he’s holding opponents to shoot below league average and has averaged a whopping 4.1 blocks per game.
Honorable mentions: De’Andre Hunter, Gordon Hayward
It was hard to narrow this list down in the first place, with so many notable performances coming out of the Eastern Conference on a nightly basis. OG Anunoby and Chris Boucher are showing out for the Toronto Raptors and are helping that team back into the playoff picture, Shake Milton looks like one of the best guards in the conference while Tobias Harris is revitalizing his career under Philadelphia 76ers’ head coach Doc Rivers.
However, our honorable mentions this week are De’Andre Hunter and Gordon Hayward, both of whom are playing at a near All-Star level.
Hunter made the jump into a lead wing for the Atlanta Hawks after a promising first season and is up to 17.4 points per game, upping his efficiency across the board and fresh off a 33-point performance versus the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Charlotte Hornets’ signing of Hayward to a huge deal was widely panned across the league but the Hornets were always going to have to empty their pockets to get a player of his caliber. Hayward is averaging 24.1 points per game and is eerily close to a 50/40/90 shooting split. Hayward, alongside teammate Terry Rozier, have the Hornets in contention for a playoff spot, with both players playing at extremely high levels.
With so many outstanding players in the league, this list will be sure to change on a weekly basis. Be sure to check back at Basketball Insiders to see which players continue to shine!
What We Learned: Eastern Conference Week 4
What did we learn about the Eastern Conference this week? Jonathon Gryniewicz takes a look in the most recent edition of Basketball Insiders’ “What We Learned” series.
It’s not even a month into the NBA season, but the 2020-21 Eastern Conference has already looked super competitive, with 14 teams within six games of each other. There’s bound to be some separation in the coming weeks, don’t expect any team to go down easy.
But which have paced the East? Who’s flopped? Let’s take a look.
The New Look Brooklyn Nets
The Brooklyn Nets big three of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and the newly acquired James Harden recently played their first game together against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The back-and-forth game ended in a double-overtime, 147-135 Nets loss. The three of them had plenty of time on the court together and divvied up the scoring; Durant scored 38 points on 25 shots in 50 minutes; Irving 37 points on 28 shots in 37 minutes; and Harden 21 points on 14 shots in 51 minutes.
But, outside of the box score, what did we learn about this team from their first performance?
You never want to jump to conclusions, but it’s easy to see that their offense could be dominant. When those three were on the court together, Harden served as the de facto point guard while Irving and Durant took their turns in isolation situations. Of course, in such an iso-based offense, there wasn’t much player movement beyond the trio, but they are so good at taking their own man off the dribble they can always get a good shot. What should make them even harder to guard is the fact that they’re all prolific three-point shooters; two can space at the three point line, while the other can use that extra space to either score themselves or collapse the defense and kick it outside.
Of course, there’s some work to be done. Harden and Irving combined for nine of the team’s 16 turnovers, while each of the three took their fair share of shots maybe just a bit too early in the shot clock. Defensively, Brooklyn is a major work-in-progress. Their closing lineup of Harden, Durant, Irving, Jeff Green and Joe Harris would appear to be solid but doesn’t offer much in terms of switchability and consistent rim protection. Beyond that, there isn’t much to be excited about.
Depth could also be an issue. They recently added Norvel Pelle to compete with two-way rookie Reggie Perry for backup center minutes. The team may have to look into an addition on the wing, too; while they currently roster Bruce Brown, Landry Shamet and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, the three are young and, so far this season, have proven inconsistent at best. A veteran that could provide some bench stability should be the priority.
Kendrick Nunn is Emerging for the Miami HEAT
In recent days, Kendrick Nunn has played his best basketball in nearly a year.
The 2020 Rookie of the Year runner-up, Nunn struggled in the Orlando Bubble last season as he saw a continually diminished role in Miami’s run to the NBA Finals. He started this season on a similar note, as he averaged only 5.5 points and played in just six of the HEAT’s first 12 games.
But, with Jimmy Butler and other key players dealing with injury, Nunn has seen a resurgence. In Miami’s last six games, not only has he played heavy minutes, but Nunn has flourished to the tune of 17.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists. He’s also shot 37.8 percent from three and 50 percent from the floor.
Of course, there’s the question of the competition. Nunn’s success has come against the Nets aforementioned suspect defense, as well as the Detroit Pistons and Toronto Raptors, two teams that have struggled mightily to start the year. Still, the spark he’s shown should help him maintain a role going forward, even after Butler and the rest return to the court.
If he can maintain hold down a role, or at least a bit of that spark, Nunn could prove a massive boon for Miami, whose offense has been pretty mediocre in the early going.
The Indiana Pacers Injury Woes
Under new head coach Nate Bjorkgren, the Pacers’ 2020-21 season has seen a terrific start. Through 12 games, Indiana is 8-4 and have played a fun, up-tempo brand of basketball.
That said, they’ve had to deal with a lot on the injury front. After they netted Caris LeVert in the four-team blockbuster that sent Harden to Brooklyn, a mass was found on one of LeVert’s kidneys and he has since been ruled out indefinitely.
Myles Turner, meanwhile, just returned from a two-game absence due to an avulsion fracture in his right hand. In his absence, the Pacers’ defense just didn’t look the same, giving up 129 and 124 points to the Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas Mavericks, respectively. The team started the season without Jeremy Lamb and has since lost T.J. Warren to a foot injury that is expected to hold him out for most of the season as well.
No team can lose two starters and expect to continue playing at the same level. If they can’t get healthy, expect it to play a major role in their standing and playoff position at the end of the season.
It will be interesting to watch the East over the next month to see which teams can separate themselves. Be sure to check back for the next part of our “What We Learned” series as we continue to keep an eye on the NBA all season long.