Meet the International Prospects
All anybody has heard about in terms of the draft so far is how excellent the top handful of selections are going to be. Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid and Julius Randle are the cream of this year’s draft crop, with Marcus Smart, Noah Vonleh and Aaron Gordon creeping up right behind them.
Australian guard Dante Exum, however, is a name a lot of casual NBA fans don’t know as much about, but as a likely top-five selection this June he’s definitely someone that’s going to get his fair share of media coverage over the course of the next seven weeks.
Of course, he’s not the only international prospect likely to make a splash in this year’s draft. Every year, people watching the event on television find their team has chosen to select an international player that they’ve never heard of, and that can be frustrating for fans that would rather see a big name like Shabazz Napier or Glenn Robinson III called by Commissioner Silver.
The reality, though, is that Napier and Robinson are late first-round picks at best, and a handful of international prospects will inevitably be selected before them. To keep up your optimism about these unknown European standouts, here’s a quick guide to some of this year’s most notable international draft candidates:
Dante Exum, G, Australia – Far and away this year’s strongest international prospect, Exum will likely play point guard at the NBA level, and at 6’6” that gives him a pretty incredible height advantage at the position. He’s a crafty scorer and incredibly quick, and people that have worked with him rave about his work ethic and coachability. His shot needs some work and he definitely needs to add some muscle, but he’s a potentially franchise-altering talent that will, without question, end up a top five pick in this draft. Top three would even be realistic.
Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia – Just a shade under seven-feet tall, Nurkic is 280 pounds of traditional NBA center already built to bang with the big boys on the next level. He’s got a strong post game with a good hook shot and the ability to draw fouls, all of which are things pro teams want from their big men. He’s also a good free-throw shooter, a good rebounder and a smart player, though he’s not particularly athletic and was very often foul prone while playing in Europe. Nurkic is also relatively new to the sport—he’s only been playing it seriously for five years—so you could look at that as good in terms of his having so much opportunity for growth, or bad in terms of inexperience. A lot of mock drafts have Nurkic going in the middle of the first round right now, and the late lottery isn’t out of the question.
Dario Saric, F, Croatia – This past year there was no bigger star in the Adriatic League, of which Saric was recently named the MVP in the wake of leading his team to its first ever championship. As a 6’10” small forward with a ridiculously diverse set of offensive skills, he’s likely to be pretty in-demand by the time June rolls around, as long as he doesn’t withdraw his name from the draft at the last minute. He actually flirted with the idea of entering the draft last year before ultimately heading back to Europe, but that was for more experience. This year, there are concerns that Saric’s father may encourage him to hold back, since the elder Saric believes the younger Saric is not quite ready for NBA competition. Most scouts disagree with pops and legitimately hope he sticks in this draft. If he does, he’s a potential top-ten pick and definitely one of the most intriguing young players in the class.
Checkout: NBA Playoff Studs & Duds Part 3.
Clint Capela, PF, Switzerland – Capela is the kind of young player a team drafts based on potential, because a kid this athletic, this long and this quick is inevitably going to be on a lot of organization’s radars. That combination boosts his stock as a potential difference-maker on defense, though he’s still very raw and has a reputation for making a lot of silly mistakes. Despite the relatively low basketball IQ, the ceiling is high for this young man, and he’s almost certainly destined to be a mid-to-late first-round pick.
Bogdan Bogdanovic, SG, Serbia – One of the biggest rising stars in Euroleague, Bogdonavic is coming off a huge year in which he broke out in pretty much every way that a young player can. Bogdanovic was awarded the Rising Star award this season, an accolade given to the best young performer in Euroleague, as he finished among the best in the league in both points and steals. He’s a scorer, first and foremost, but is also an affable ball handler that has the wingspan and mental toughness to be a really good NBA defender, as well. He’s still extremely young, but his buyout is reportedly very reasonable as long as he’s interested in coming over to the NBA next season. If he does, he’s likely a late first-rounder. If he makes it known that he’d rather play another year for Partizan, he could slip to the top of the second round. He won’t go much later than that, though.
Other international prospects (Kristaps Porzingis, Walter Tavares, Vasilije Micic and Artem Klimenko) will get looks from first-round teams, but they are more likely the kinds of players teams gamble on in the second round because they can be stashed and eventually brought over if it’s ever financially feasible.
The five listed above, however, have a real shot not only at being drafted in the first round but at being important parts of their new rotations next season. It’s easy to get down on an international pick if you don’t understand the quality of that player’s talent, but there are some guys in this class—including three that could be selected in the lottery—that are much more worthy of excitement than disappointment.
Why Does Tom Thibodeau’s Name Keep Coming Up?
Tom Thibodeau is one of the league’s top three head coaches, which is why the Chicago Bulls awarded him with a four-year contract extension paying him the third-highest annual salary in the league. No coach in the league is responsible for more wins above replacement, as his players always over-perform and Thibodeau always over-prepares.
Chicago has had homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs every year Thibodeau has coached them, and there are three years left on his contract. Joakim Noah is the perfect player to anchor his defense, and the Bulls could not only have a healthy Derrick Rose next year, but perhaps also a splashy free agent like Carmelo Anthony. In other words, he’s got more than enough talent to work with in order to be happy with his situation.
Why, then, are we talking about him as a potential hire for nearly every open coaching job in the league?
It started with the New York Knicks, who as a high-profile team in the NBA’s biggest TV market have no choice to but to explore every possible avenue. Very early in their process, it leaked that they would ask Chicago for permission to speak with Thibodeau, though that interview never ultimately happened.
Must Read: Chicago Can’t Afford to Sell off Thibodeau.
Then it was the L.A. Lakers, who popped up as a landing spot for Thibodeau as soon as Mike D’Antoni resigned, and now it’s the Golden State Warriors, which features an undeniably talented roster of players in need of a new general after Mark Jackson was let go.
Every time an even remotely desirable head coaching opportunity becomes available, Thibodeau is the first name on the list, which is absolutely insane considering he’s still under contract with the Bulls through 2017 and the team has said nothing over the course of the last several months to indicate that they’re even remotely interested in going in a different direction as far as a head coach is concerned.
According to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, the problem is that neither the Bulls nor Thibodeau are likely to come out and publicly state that he isn’t going anywhere. The Bulls don’t comment on rumors as a team policy, and anybody that’s ever interviewed Thibodeau knows that if it’s not a question about X’s and O’s, he typically isn’t one to elaborate.
These rumors could stop immediately with a statement from either party, but that hasn’t happened yet. Combine that ambiguity with league perception that Thibodeau has beef with team president John Paxson and GM Gar Forman, and it’s easy to see why other organizations would think they have a shot at landing the former Coach of the Year.
But Johnson, who’s about as plugged into the inner workings of the Bulls as anybody in the industry, characterizes the loss of Thibodeau as “unlikely,” meaning all these headlines are likely to be read as intriguing rumors and little else. The Bulls aren’t letting go of Thibodeau, willingly, any time soon.
NBA Daily: Defensive Player of the Year Watch
An inside look-in at the early frontrunners for the Defensive Player of the Year Award.
In this fresh edition for Basketball Insiders, there are a few players that should be finalists for the Defensive Player of the Year Award. Of course, this prestigious award is given to the contributor who makes the biggest impact on the floor for their team on the defensive side of the ball. In two out of the last three seasons, the award has gone to Rudy Gobert, the rim-protecting center for the Utah Jazz. This past season, Giannis Antetokounmpo won both the DPotY award, as well as Most Valuable Player for a second straight year. Over the past few years, the trending group of finalists for the award has been consistent no matter what the order ends up being.
Can anyone new break in this year?
Anthony Davis will always be in the conversation for this award as he has shown throughout his career that he is one of the league’s most ferocious game-changers. Despite never winning the award before, he has made four NBA All-Defensive teams as well as being the NBA’s leader in blocks on three occasions. Davis’s block numbers are a little lower than they usually are at 1.9 blocks per game this season – compared to 2.4 for his career, per Basketball-Reference. This could be due to the addition of Marc Gasol to the Lakers’ frontcourt, a move that has boosted the team’s rim protection. If Davis can raise his numbers again, he should be in consideration for the award purely based on his defensive presence on the court – but he should still finish among the top five in voting.
The center for the Indiana Pacers – the former potential centerpiece of a Gordon Hayward trade with the Boston Celtics – has continued to show why the team would not package another one of its top players with him. Turner is the current league leader in blocks with 4.2 blocks per game, elevating his game beyond any doubt in 2020-21. He is one of the more underrated rim protectors in basketball, as he has only one top-five finish in the DPotY voting in his career. Turner has also improved his steals metrics this season by averaging 1.5 per game, thus providing a strong defensive presence alongside All-Star frontcourt mate, Domantas Sabonis. Turner should be the frontrunner for the award as things stand right now, but that could change as the season progresses, especially as his injury impacts proceedings.
The reigning two-time MVP should always be in the conversation for the DPotY award as he revolutionizes the defensive side of the floor at an elite level. Currently, Antetokunmpo is averaging 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks per game to go along with a 106.5 defensive rating, per NBA Advanced Stats. It goes without saying, but Antetokounmpo is a chase-down block artist, always there to contest shots around the rim with his long frame. The 6-foot-11 power forward is one of the league’s top five players due to his exceptional play on both sides of the ball and will always be considered for the DPotY award as long as he in the NBA.
The Los Angeles Clippers’ superstar has been arguably the best defensive small forward in the game over the past few years. He first gained major recognition for his defense during the 2014 NBA Finals against the LeBron James-led Miami HEAT. Since then, Leonard has racked up six All-Defensive team nominations to go along with two Defensive Player of the Year awards. This season, Leonard remains an elite defender for the championship-hopeful Clippers with 1.8 steals and 0.8 blocks per game – but his defensive rating is the highest of his ten-year career at 107.8.
The current league leader in rebounds for the Cleveland Cavaliers is having a monster season thus far. In a contract year, Andre Drummond is currently putting up 19.3 points per game, 15.8 rebounds per game, 1.7 steals per game and 1.6 blocks per game. He also has a very stellar defensive rating of 105.0, a culmination of points allowed per 100 possessions. Drummond is not on a very good team, but that should not take away from the impact he makes when he is on the floor. As a pure rim protector and rebounding machine, he should finish higher up in the voting results than usual, even if his season doesn’t end with Cleveland.
Honorable Mention: Tobias Harris
The Philadelphia 76ers have started the season on a very high note at 9-5, all despite loads of COVID health and safety protocols preventing their full team from taking the floor. Tobias Harris has played a major part in their early-season success leading the NBA in defensive win shares among starters who have played at least 10 games with 0.184, per NBA Advanced Stats. Along with that, Harris is also second in defensive rating among qualified starters at 99.6. The veteran forward has averaged 1.1 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. So if the 76ers want to remain at the top of the Eastern Conference, Harris’ overall play will be a huge reason for that success.
As the old saying goes, defense wins championships – and these players are the type of players that can change the result of a game every night. Keep an eye on these players as the season moves along as they should garner consideration for both All-Defensive team nominations and the DPotY award.
NBA Rookie of the Year Watch – Jan. 21
Basketball Insiders’ Tristan Tucker provides an update on some of the rookies around the league and which are truly in contention for the Rookie of the Year award.
Through the NBA’s first month, the rookie class has continued to show what they can do on the court. While some have faltered or succumbed to injuries as the games have piled up, others have shone bright and even cracked their team’s starting lineups as the race toward the Rookie of the Year award heats up.
With that in mind, let’s take a third look at Basketball Insiders’ Rookie of the Year ladder stands and see where they stand.
1. LaMelo Ball (Previous: 2)
Through the first month of play, Ball has been, undisputedly, the Rookie of the Year. With numbers that could rival some NBA veterans — 11.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game — Ball has found a way to impact winning for the Charlotte Hornets without starting a game thus far.
While much of the hoopla around Ball has come from his offensive, he’s been pretty solid on the defensive end as well; his 1.5 steals per game are good for 13th in the NBA, while his 21 total steals tie him for 10th.
On Jan. 9, Ball also made history as the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double. An eventual move to the starting lineup should only further promote his game.
He could stand to improve his efficiency, as Ball has shot just 40.3% from the field, 33.3% from three and 67.9% from the free throw line. That said, the sky’s the limit for the young rookie. With Ball at the helm, Charlotte and their fans should feel pretty confident about their group going forward.
2. Tyrese Haliburton (Previous: 1)
Haliburton’s late-lottery selection was a surprise, as the point guard that reportedly shot up draft boards late in the process had always played with a hardworking and winning mentality at Iowa State. Still, he hasn’t missed a beat with the Sacramento Kings and paced the Rookie of the Year race from the start.
His 11.1 points, 5.3 assists and 1.2 steals per game, along with his 51.6% mark from the field and 51% clip from three (on over four attempts a contest) are mightily impressive. Meanwhile, lineups that have featured Haliburton with the Kings’ usual starters have fared exceptionally well; when he’s replaced Marvin Bagley, the Kings are a plus-10.6 and play at a torrid pace.
Haliburton and Ball have comparable stats, with Ball being a better rebounder and Haliburton being a better shooter. But Sacramento’s 5-10 record has kept him out of the top spot for now, as leading his team to a positive record — and a potential playoff spot — will almost certainly work in Ball’s favor when voting commences at the end of the season.
3. James Wiseman (Previous: 3)
After taking a year away from competitive basketball, the fact that Wiseman has been able to contribute at such a high-level right away has come as a pleasant surprise for the Golden State Warriors. Wiseman’s 10.7 points per game place him fifth among rookies, while his 6 rebounds per game place him second.
Fresh off a career-high 20 points against the San Antonio Spurs, Wiseman has continued to learn more each day. Draymond Green’s role in Wiseman’s development could also pay some extreme dividends for the Warriors, as the young center might prove unstoppable were he to incorporate Green’s court vision and handle into his own game.
With numbers comparable to Kevin Garnett’s and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s age-19 seasons, Wiseman has helped put the Warriors in prime position to push for a playoff spot despite the loss of Klay Thompson prior to the season.
4. Tyrese Maxey (Previous: Not Ranked)
With a move into the starting lineup, Maxey has rapidly climbed the board as he’s earned more and more praise. He was always going to be an impressive piece for the Philadelphia 76ers — in fact, Maxey was seen as so crucial to Philadelphia’s future success that he was held out of any potential James Harden trade package — but his 39-point outburst against the Denver Nuggets has seemingly sparked more trust from the team in Maxey early on.
For the season, Maxey has averaged an impressive 11.4 points on 47.7% shooting from the field. But his numbers have spiked since he moved into the starting-five: in six starts, Maxey has averaged 16.2 points, 3.7 rebounds and assists and has shot 46.7% from the field.
If he can sustain that kind of productivity as the 76ers’ health improves, Maxey might be a lock for the All-Rookie First Team. Likewise, expect him to hold down a spot on this list for the foreseeable future.
5. Patrick Williams (Previous: 5)
Despite his late rise, many saw Patrick Williams’ selection by the Chicago Bulls as a reach. But, so far, Williams has proven the doubters completely wrong, as he’s started every game in which he’s made an appearance for the 6-8 Bulls.
That isn’t to say Williams hasn’t been perfect, as many of Chicago’s groups that feature the young forward are net negatives by a good margin. But, so far, Williams has already brought the confidence and energy that you want to see out a top pick. He hasn’t shied away from tough matchups, either, as Williams took to the task of guarding both LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard in the Bulls’ recent games against the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers, valuable experience that should only further improve his game.
His 10.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 48.5% field goal and 87% free throw percentages are nothing to slouch at, either. So, while it may be a while before he reaches the height of some of his classmates, Williams has look of a special NBA talent.
6. Anthony Edwards (Previous: 4)
Edwards has put up some incredible scoring numbers off the bench for the Minnesota Timberwolves, as he’s averaged a rookie-leading 12.2 points in 25 minutes per game.
However, Edwards’ shooting splits have disappointed, while he hasn’t been able to do much to turn around the Minnesota Timberwolves 3-10 season in the absence of Karl-Anthony Towns.
Edwards’ placement on this ladder is contingent on how the Timberwolves both fare in Towns’ continued absence and how different they look upon his return; they showed plenty of promise when he was on the court and Edwards’s standing could improve drastically if the team can turn it around and win some games.
Each year, it would seem as if that the next group of young talent is more exciting than the last. And, with so many talented rookies in the fray, almost any of them could crash the Rookie of the Year party. Make sure to check back on our next update to see who might do just that.
NBA Daily: The Memphis Grizzlies’ Young Core Rises
The Memphis Grizzlies have built one of the most exciting young teams in the NBA – and it won’t be long before they’re competing at the top of the Western Conference.
Needless to say, the NBA is flush with some exciting young rosters. Trae Young’s Atlanta Hawks, Luka Doncic’s Dallas Mavericks and Zion Williamson’s New Orleans Pelicans are bursting at the seams with talent and, in short order, have sparked discussions as to which team might be basketball’s next big thing.
While each of those teams excites in their own, unique way, it’s the Memphis Grizzlies that stand out from the rest of the pack.
The Grizzlies are led by Ja Morant, their sophomore star point guard out of Murray State. As a rookie, Morant proved he was one of the NBA’s brightest up-and-comers, but he’s taken it to another level this season. While he missed time with an ankle injury, Morant has averaged 22.6 points and 7.0 assists per game on 53.2 percent shooting. Morant is also first in the NBA in fast-break points per game, averaging 5.8 per game.
The bright hooper hasn’t had the hype that someone like Young did early on in the season, but there’s a case to be made that Morant is just as promising as the Hawks’ star guard. Per 48 minutes, Morant is averaging 37.1 points and 11.5 assists versus Young at 33.6 points and 13.1 assists per game. While not a perfect comparison given the former’s smaller sample size in 2020-21, it does show that Morant is absolutely in the discussion for the best young guard in the league.
The Grizzlies already have their cornerstone of the future, but what separates them from the rest of the NBA’s fascinating teams is the organization’s ability to acquire talented role players. Five of the Grizzlies’ top seven scorers are players the Grizzlies drafted in the last four seasons; better, four of them were players selected in the previous two.
Memphis only has two players older than 30, Gorgui Dieng and Tim Frazier, the latter of which has played just 33 minutes this season. That number jumps to three with players 28-years-and-older by adding Jonas Valanciunas to the list.
Lead amongst those role players is the Grizzlies’ second-leading scorer Dillon Brooks, the 45th overall selection for Memphis in 2017. Brooks is putting up 15.2 points per game in his fourth season in the NBA despite not shooting the ball well, just 36.9 percent from the field and 30.5 percent from three-point range. Brooks has never shot below 35 percent from three or 40 percent from the field in his career, so it stands to reason his percentages will increase by the end of the year and, with it, his entire scoring output.
Elsewhere, Brandon Clarke, a second-year forward out of Gonzaga, is one of Memphis’ five players averaging over 10 points per game this year, putting up 13.2 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. While his scoring numbers are substantial, Clarke’s value comes on the defensive end – much like the two Grizzlies’ rookies, Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman.
Bane and Tillman were picked between 30-35th overall, and through a handful of games, both have well exceeded their draft slots. Bane is averaging 8.6 points per game on crazy efficient shooting percentages of 47.1/48.9/77.8. Beyond that, Tillman has shown his worth on both ends of the ball too, averaging 8.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.3 blocks per game. This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the Grizzlies’ talented young core which includes two ultra-talented youngsters who have yet to play this season.
Jaren Jackson Jr. may be the Grizzlies’ second-best player behind Morant; last year, he averaged 17.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game on 46.9/39.4/74.7 shooting splits. Winslow hasn’t played since early on in the 2019-20 season with the Miami HEAT, before being traded to Memphis at the deadline for Andre Iguodala. During his last full season, Winslow averaged 12.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game on 43.3/37.5/62.8 shooting splits, making him a valuable wing player that the Grizzlies have just waiting on the bench.
Of course, Memphis is one of the youngest teams in the NBA with an average age of 24.3, second-youngest in the league, and have dealt with significant injury problems early on this season. Despite this, the Grizzlies are one of the best defensive units in the league, holding a defensive rating of 106.66, second-best league-wide. The Memphis offense has struggled so far this year, but a major reason why is because of Morant’s injury.
When Morant plays, the Grizzlies’ offensive numbers are much improved. With Morant on the floor, they’ve got an offensive rating of 115.4, which would be the sixth-best mark in the NBA. Without him on the floor, their offensive rating drops to 103.8, good for second-worst. Given that Morant has missed more than half the Grizzlies’ games this year, it’s no wonder their offensive rating is a 105.66 on the season.
Ultimately, this has left the Grizzlies with a record of 7-6, putting them at the eighth seed in the Western Conference and right in the hunt for the playoffs.
The scary thing is that the Grizzlies are only going to get better. Morant and Jackson Jr. are both 21-years-old, Tillman and Bane are 22 and Brooks, Winslow and Clarke are 24. The entirety of the core is young, while their two best players are hardly old enough to buy alcohol. Even though the Grizzlies are young, they’ve already shown themselves to be one of the league’s best defenses and possess the tools to improve their offense in-house.
Come the end of the season, the Grizzlies will be a real playoff contender – and with such a young roster, it’s only a matter of time before Memphis is competing for more than just the backend of the playoffs.