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NBA Daily: The Return – 6 Situations – Southwest Division

Ben Nadeau continues the 6 Situations series by checking on those battling it out in the Southwest Division.

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With professional basketball on the horizon, all eyes have turned toward Orlando – but here, we’re trying to peer into the future too.

Frankly, the news of pending basketball seems small in comparison to some other important issues. The planet-wide pandemic and sweeping protests have turned everybody’s day-to-day routines on their head – but, obviously, for one group, it has done so in awful and disproportionate ways.

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Yesterday, Matt John dug into the next steps for the Northwest Division – what will become of this surprisingly successful Oklahoma City roster? Where will Mike Conley Jr. fit moving forward for Utah?  But the Southwest is an awfully crowded collection of franchises, one in which all five teams are involved in July’s restart. Although some of them should certainly fair better than others, stocked by MVP candidates, up-and-comers and veteran-led rosters, there’s plenty to ponder beyond this summer.

Many didn’t know what the NBA would look like if and when it returned – but now that they have, the same question and logic applies to the forthcoming muddied and rapid-fire offseason too. Blow it up or keep it together? Cut costs or go all-in? Although the restart shouldn’t be used to draw any consequential decisions, it may inform front offices of the best way forward — even if it may be a painful direction.

In the spirit of revving up the ol’ crystal ball prediction machine, here comes the Southwest Division.

Houston Rockets: Did the James Harden + Russell Westbrook experiment work?

And what needs to happen to make another season more successful?

As mentioned in the Rockets’ X-Factor piece, the fit of Russell Westbrook has always been a suspect one. Despite all the assumed pitfalls, it was ultimately a plunge worth taking in lieu of Chris Paul’s massive deal – but will anything come of it? In this current iteration, built entirely around James Harden and a system that nearly propelled him to back-to-back MVP awards, the Rockets have hoisted up three-pointers like they’re going out of style for years and years.

However, that becomes a bit dicier as a team-wide mantra when the new point guard has struggled from there for over a decade. Westbrook’s best-ever mark is 34.3 percent (2016-17), which would stand as a career-low for his backcourt partner. Former key shooters like Eric Gordon and Danuel House have regressed from deep, while they’ve missed Gerald Green entirely. Compounded by their decision to deal the up-and-coming Clint Capela for wing defense and more shooting, the Rockets now run with P.J. Tucker as the starting center.

If Houston struggles at all to re-acclimate in Orlando, they could pay a pretty hefty first-round price. And if they flame out quickly during the Golden State Warriors’ now infamous down year – then what is the real ceiling of this redesigned roster? Any potential departure of Westbrook would be marred by the same criteria that brought him to the Rockets in the first place – the price and years left on a big contract. This iteration is one that runs awfully hot-and-cold — they’re part of the NBA elite. But those off-nights, against the more powerful and consistent Western Conference, are seeding killers.
Logical progression might suggest that the best way forward is a structure reset — find a real center, build for more balance, etc – but it might not be possible. Harden, of course, is used to doing the impossible – and he’ll need to in July.

If the Rockets can’t make combination work – both in the short- and long-term – they’ll have more questions than answers with very little influence in changing them. Houston has rolled the dice significantly on this pairing, now it needs to improve… or else.

Dallas Mavericks: Are Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzinigs fully healed and healthy?

Will they need another star to truly compete?

This sentiment assumes that Luka Doncic cannot transcend rosters – hell, he’s already done that in Dallas over a season-plus. But in the Western Conference, it’ll take more than just a perennial MVP candidate to top that massive hierarchy. That’s also why they moved for an injured Kristaps Porzingis last year and re-signed him before the Latvian ever played a game – Batman needed a Robin.

Over 51 games for Dallas, Porzingis has averaged 19.2 points and 8.5 rebounds over 31 minutes – numbers that saw a healthy boost during the contests in which Doncic missed out in early February. Recovering from ACL injuries are no joke, so the Mavericks were rightfully careful not to push Porzingis too quickly, even frequently scheduling rest days in 2020. Alongside Doncic, the international duo could make waves as a lower-seeded opponent down in Orlando. But if they get matched up with the Los Angeles Lakers or Clippers, a year of great growth may end swiftly.

Losing to LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard would be of no immense shame, especially in the midst of the weirdest NBA season ever. But matched at 40 wins with Oklahoma City and Houston, the Mavericks will have work to do in the loss column if they’d like to move up the ladder at all. Assuming that the quarantine has done nothing to negatively change the health of their stars, they’ll have two ready-to-go 20 point scorers — but will that be enough?

After that pair, Dallas’ best scorer is Tim Hardaway Jr. at 15.8 points per game – but as an up-and-down shooter, he’s had plenty of off-nights to go with the explosiveness. With 17 games in 2019-20 with 11 points or less, that probably won’t get it done against a balanced Denver roster, much less an LA-based superteam. In a strange COVID-19 landscape, both on the trade market and in free agency, who knows what upgrades or replacements will even exist in the next modified offseason.

Doncic is an incredible, still-improving superstar – but we’re about to find out just how good he can be.

San Antonio Spurs: Is it time, at long last, to blow it up and start over?

Is there any reason to ponder Gregg Popovich’s future?

The Spurs, although trekking down to Orlando, have a tough mountain to climb to reach the No. 8 seed – again, just to play the Lakers.

It’s a task that became even harder when LaMarcus Aldridge underwent season-ending surgery a few weeks ago. But if we’ve learned anything over the last two decades, it’s wise not to bet against Gregg Popovich. Of course, the legendary coach has led San Antonio to the postseason in every single campaign since 1997-98. At 27-36, the odds aren’t great – but the soon-to-be Hall of Famer has done more with less before.

He’s still got DeMar DeRozan. The Spurs still have Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and a wisened Rudy Gay as well. There’s even the potential to just unleash Lonnie Walker and see what happens – for better or worse. Losing Aldridge hurts, perhaps a bit too much, but Popovich is still Popovich.

Regardless of their slim chances next month, there’s still speculation about the head coach’s future in general. 71 years of age is no spring chicken, a stance only fueled further by recent attempts to elevate responsibilities for assistant coaches like Becky Hammon and Tim Duncan. Naturally, the Spurs are synonymous with Popovich until he decides differently – but once his historic postseason streak is officially struck down, where does a potentially rebuilding team go from there?

Would they try to move on from a near-expiring DeRozan contract? What about an aging Aldridge that only has $7 million guaranteed in 2020-21? If they miss the playoffs and deal with the tough reality of a rebuild, could they – finally, truly, actually – take that path? Even if Orlando goes swimmingly, this is a franchise that might look vastly different the next time basketball begins, whenever that is.

New Orleans Pelicans: How much Zion Williamson is too much?

Which players tested positive for COVID-19 and will their availability change in Orlando?

Look, obviously, most everybody would like to see Zion Williamson against the Lakers in a seven-game series. Undoubtedly, the NBA didn’t want to erase that possibility either.

Beyond Williamson, the Pelicans have the tools and roster to make a real go of it too — Jrue Holiday, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, etc. But the biggest question of all is where the former No. 1 overall pick stands in terms of health and conditioning. Pushing a postseason berth at the risk of another serious injury wouldn’t be worth it – so surely the New Orleans front office has been pondering minute allocations since the stoppage in March.

If Williamson is in better shape than ever, watch out. . . but the Pelicans certainly have a responsibility to protect their franchise cornerstone beyond this odd restart.

On Tuesday, Andrew Lopez of ESPN noted that the Pelicans had three of the 16 recently positive COVID-19 tests. While young athletes can recover from the virus – and David Griffin has said he expects everybody to go to Florida – the pandemic has been anything but predictable.

Both DeAndre Jordan and Spencer Dinwiddie announced that they’d tested positive too. In Jordan’s case, he was immediately opting out of the restart, while Dinwiddie wants to recover in time but has some worrying symptoms to deal with first – including a fever and chest tightness. Without guarantees of perfect health here on out in the Pelicans’ trio of cases, that could have plenty of impact in their play-in chase.

This is an evolving story, undoubtedly, but will it dent the postseason momentum New Orleans has on their side? Only time will tell.

Memphis Grizzlies: Would a veteran star elevate the roster in 2020-21 or should the team keep growing organically?

The Memphis Grizzlies have been the surprise team of the season out westward, led by Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Brandon Clarke, Dillion Brooks and a cast of supporting players, both young and old.

But the franchise is fast approaching a fork in the road – should they push their stack toward the middle of the betting table? Or will they continue to let their budding stars grow? Outside of the newly-re-signed Anthony Tolliver, the bit work of Gorgui Dieng, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill have played key minutes in Memphis’ successes, but none are part of the long-term plan.

The one massively contributing veteran stalwart has been Jonas Valanciunas, who has averaged 14.9 points and 11.2 rebounds in just 26.3 minutes per game – an underrated factor in the squad’s rapid climb. At 27-years-old, the Lithuanian will earn $29 million between 2020-22, so it’ll hardly be a cap killer should the right move arise during the offseason.

Adding a star player in the offseason could push them up over the top as an eventual contender – but who will be available and at what price? The Grizzlies have rebuilt tremendously, so they must be careful about attempting to skip steps in the process. It might be tempting to ship off a player or two for a win-now option – however, we’ve seen that be the dagger in up-and-coming rosters time and time again.

Ultimately, of all the teams in the Southwest Division, the Grizzlies have one of the rosiest outlooks right now. Nobody in the core is aging out, the window is just beginning to open, the current stars are bright already and everybody remains as healthy as one might be during a worldwide pandemic. The Rockets, Mavericks and Spurs own fascinating questions for their stars and roster-wide makeup – but the Pelicans and Grizzlies appear to be next-up contenders, all they must do is wait it out without getting hasty.

Easier said than done.

After the Orlando seeding games conclude in August, we’ll likely have a much better picture of where these five franchises stand, both today and down the road.

Until then, the crystal ball will have to do.

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

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2021 NBA Draft Top 3 Picks & Top 10 First-Round Selection Odds

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The 2021 NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, July 29. The draft will begin at 8:00 p.m. (EST) on ESPN platforms at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, and it is the first time the draft is being televised on both ABC and ESPN. Free agency will also begin on Monday, Aug. 2 at 6:00 p.m. (EST). For NBA Draft betting, there are several available apps for placing bets, like from Bovada, MyBookie, Intertops, BetUS, BetOnline, BetNow, 5Dimes, and Sportsbetting.ag. DraftKings and FanDuel are other feasible options, in addition to the sites listed above.

Anyways, the Detroit Pistons have the first overall pick of the draft, followed by the Houston Rockets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors, Orlando Magic, etc. Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham is the projected first overall pick. Jalen Green, the six-foot-five NBA G League player who forwent college basketball and attended San Joaquin Memorial High School, is expected to get drafted by the Pistons. The Pac-12 Player of the Year (2021) and Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year (2021) winner, Evan Mobley, is projected to get picked by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

However, teams have been negotiating trades with one another, leading up to next week’s draft. Per Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer, the Orlando Magic and Toronto Raptors are expressing interest in trading with the Cleveland Cavaliers in order to move up to the No. 3 spot of the draft. In the second round, the Milwaukee Bucks have the 31st pick of the draft. There is a chance that these are just meaningless internal discussions, existing only to explore the values of specific players and to keep other general managers on their heels.

No. 1 Pick Odds

While Cade Cunningham has the best odds (-8000) of being selected first overall, there are a few other aforementioned players here that are at the top of the list, too. Jalen Green has +1500 odds, Evan Mobley has +2200 odds, and Jalen Suggs possesses +2500 odds. Needless to say, however, Cunningham will be selected first before everyone else. Here’s why. According to 247Sports, the six-foot-eight Big 12 Player of the Year (2021) and Consensus first-team All-American (2021) ranked No. 1 in the final rankings class of 2020. Heading into college, the native Texan was already an established top-ranked, talented recruit.

Green and Mobley were also highly touted stars coming out of high school, but hands down, Cunningham has the best résumé for NBA scouts and general managers. In 27 games played for the Oklahoma State Cowboys’ 2020-21 season, Cunningham averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 3.5 assists, helping to lead his team to the Big 12 Tournament and NCAA Tournament. The Cowboys lost 91-81 against the No. 3 Texas Longhorns in the Big 12 Tournament, and then the team lost 80-70 versus the No. 12 Oregon State Beavers in the NCAA Tournament. The Detroit Pistons need all the help they can get.

  • All table odds were retrieved from Bovada 

No. 2 Pick Odds

Jalen Green has the favored odds (-200) of being selected second overall in the 2021 draft, followed by Evan Mobley (+170), Jalen Suggs (+650), and Jonathan Kuminga (+2200). Regarding Green’s G League performance, in 15 games started, he averaged 17.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and 1.5 steals per game. The 19-year-old also played for an average of 32 minutes per game. Despite oddsmakers projecting the highest possible odds for Cunningham’s No. 1 selection, the No. 2 pick is not as clear.

In 33 games played for the USC Trojans, Evan Mobley averaged 16.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game. Referencing the RSCI Top 100 rankings, the seven-foot tall forward/center was ranked third on the list. Below .500 NBA teams, such as the Magic and Raptors, could trade up to draft the big man. It all depends on the teams’ different needs and priorities.

 

No. 3 Pick Odds

Evan Mobley has the best odds (-200) of getting drafted third overall. In the 2020-21 USC Trojans’ season, they lost 72-70 in the Pac-12 Tournament against the No. 23 Colorado Buffaloes. Then, they proceeded to lose 85-66 in the NCAA tournament versus the No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs. Mobley had a team-high of 19 points and seven rebounds in that Elite Eight loss.

Though, if Jalen Green is still on the board at this point, it would not be out-of-the-blue if he was selected third ahead of Mobley, considering his odds are +150. For the other odds, Jalen Suggs is next (+250), followed by Jonathan Kuminga (+900), Scottie Barnes (+1200), Davion Mitchell (+6600), and Josh Giddey (+6600).

“To Be Drafted in the Top 10” Odds

With all eyes on the top three picks of the 2021 NBA Draft, there might be some folks speculating if players like Kai Jones and Josh Giddey have reasonable odds of at least making the top 10 in the draft. Jones’ odds are +275, whereas Giddey’s odds are +135. UConn shooting guard James Bouknight has -250 odds. Six-foot-nine, 19-year-old German basketball star Franz Wagner has -150 odds of being selected somewhere in the top 10 overall. Moreover, Jonathan Kuminga’s odds are -10000. The 18-year-old G League player is projected to land sixth in the draft.

Plus, according to several mock drafts, Davion Mitchell is expected to be picked by either the Golden States Warriors (seventh) or New Orleans Pelicans (tenth). His odds are -300. Keon Johnson is another one. Per NBA.com’s mock drafts, K. Johnson is projected to be taken No. 8 overall by the Orlando Magic, assuming this team does not pursue any potential trades to move up. Additionally, FSU’s Scottie Barnes has -10000 odds of getting selected in the top 10, and some mock draft beat writers also have Barnes going to the Magic.

 

 

Draft betting is much like player prop bets and NBA Finals betting. There are plenty of uncertainties and variables one must consider before placing bets, such as a specific team trading up or down during the night of the draft. Think about all the possible outcomes and scenarios before placing a bet, even if you choose to play it safe.

It is imperative for gamblers to search for any news articles or videos the same day of the draft, in order to keep up to date on important breaking news. Before placing bets on professional basketball, keep in mind that Bovada is the best betting site for NBA-related content and requested wagers.

 

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Raptors, Magic aim to obtain No. 3 pick from Cavaliers in 2021 NBA Draft

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The 2021 NBA Draft is the 75th edition of the draft, and it is scheduled to take place next Thursday, July 29. According to numerous 2021 NBA mock drafts, the Cleveland Cavaliers are projected to draft Evan Mobley, the seven-foot tall forward/center and Pac-12 Player of the Year (2021) for the USC Trojans, with the third overall pick. Referencing NBA.com’s consensus mock drafts, there were six top players who appeared in all twelve of the mocks they surveyed: Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, Evan Mobley, Jalen Suggs, Scottie Barnes, and Jonathan Kuminga. The Detroit Pistons are expected to take Cunningham with the first overall pick, followed by the Houston Rockets selecting Jalen Green with the second pick of the draft.

While the Toronto Raptors are currently set to pick fourth and the Orlando Magic are expected to pick fifth, per The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, both teams have made trade offers to the Cavs in order to move up to acquire the third spot. O’Connor stated, “League sources say the Cavaliers have received significant trade interest for this selection, and the Raptors and Magic Orlando—the next two teams up to pick—have made offers to move up. But Cleveland might just stay put.” Now, it is unknown what the Raptors and Magic are prepared to give up. Orlando has the advantage over Toronto, considering they also possess the No. 8 pick.

On Mar. 25, the Magic traded All-Star center Nikola Vucevic and forward Al-Farouq Aminu to the Chicago Bulls, in exchange for Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr., and two first-round picks. The two first-round picks were for 2021 and 2023, first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. This is why Orlando has extra leverage over Toronto. Some experts are speculating that Orlando will trade Mohamed Bamba, Gary Harris, and the fifth and eighth picks of the draft. To the fans, that right there sounds like a raw deal.

However, on the flip side, a team like the Raptors are in desperate need of a viable center. Last season, they finished 27-45 (.375), ranking 12th in the Eastern Conference. If not the Magic, the Raptors might be more than willing to give up the same, if not more. Toronto could trade Pascal Siakam and the No. 4 pick. In the previous offseason, a few of the notable departures for the Raptors were Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka.

Both of these aforementioned players played important roles in helping the Raptors to win their first NBA championship in the 2018-19 season. Though, the Raptors would have to make it a top priority to re-sign Kyle Lowry as well. On Oct. 7, 2019, Lowry signed a one-year, $31 million contract with the organization.

Not to mention, the Magic already have Mohamed Bamba, Wendell Carter Jr., and Johnathan Isaac on their roster. Furthermore, after recovering from their injuries, Isaac and Markelle Fultz will be returning to the court this season. Maybe Magic general manager John Hammond is using a trial-and-error approach, hoping to keep the most talented, best center available on the roster. If one throws enough sludge at the wall, eventually something will stick.

Leading up to the draft, basketball enthusiasts can continue to speculate and ask questions, but none of these potential draft moves are carved in stone. The transactions will not occur until the night of the draft, so one person’s educated guess is as good as anyone’s right now. All too often, teams get fleeced every year during the draft because various coaches and general managers either underrate or overestimate a player’s value.

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Injury Update: Hawks’ Onyeka Okongwu out 6 months after shoulder surgery

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After Atlanta Hawks‘ Onyeka Okongwu underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder on Wednesday night, the 20-year-old center will take the next six months off. Okongwu is a 6’8″ two-time California Mr. Basketball (2018, 2019), selected sixth overall in the 2020 NBA Draft. After agreeing to a rookie contract, Atlanta signed him to their roster on November 24, 2020, and he made his NBA debut on January 15, 2021. The signed multi-year contract was worth a guaranteed $11.9 million over the course of two seasons.

According to a report first published by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Dr. Neal ElAttrache operated on Okongwu in Los Angeles, California, and he suffered this shoulder injury earlier in May. He will likely be eligible to play as early as late February 2022. While the typical recovery time for a torn labrum after surgery is between three to six months, labral tears can negatively impact athletes in a sport like basketball, if they are not careful. It will not recover by itself without the proper care.

Yesterday, the Hawks organization released a statement: “Onyeka Okongwu underwent surgery earlier tonight in Los Angeles to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Dr. Neal ElAtrrache of Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic performed the surgery. Okongwu will now enter a period of rest and rehabilitation and is expected to make a full recovery in approximately six months.”

In the 2020-21 NBA season, in 50 games played, he averaged 4.6 points and 3.3 rebounds. Over the course of the 2021 postseason, Okongwu played a total of 166 minutes, averaging 9.2 minutes played per game, in eighteen games for the Hawks. He scored five points in the first round series versus the New York Knicks, 19 points in the conference semifinals versus the Philadelphia 76ers, and 24 points in the Eastern Conference Finals series against the Milwaukee Bucks.

In his junior and senior seasons playing for the University of Southern California Trojans, he earned those aforementioned California Mr. Basketball awards. In 28 games played in college, he averaged 16.2 points, 8.6 total rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game. His average field goal shooting percentage in college was also 61.6 percent. He will be turning 21-years-old this December.

Referencing his current contract negotiations via Basketball-Reference, Okongwu earned $5.8 million in this past 2020-21 season. Furthermore, he will earn $6.1 million in the 2021-22 season, $6.3 million in the 2022-23 season, and $8.1 million in the 2023-24 season. The 2022-23 and 2023-24 add-ons are team options.

Moreover, the upcoming free agency will begin on Aug. 1, 2021 and the regular season is scheduled to start on Oct. 19, 2021. For betting purposes, the 2022 NBA Finals will air throughout June 2022. The NBA has transitioned its schedule back to normal format. The league office anticipates that future playoff series will no longer get pushed back to the months of June and July. Similar to everything else, however, this current schedule is subject to change due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

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