Welcome back into The ‘Shop for another week of NBA-related banter between our Jabari Davis and Lang Greene. The two of them will get into:
Jabari: Alright Lang, always good to be back in the mix with you. Let’s kick things off with the Cavs and the addition of Kyle Korver. Particularly, because he’s been in your market for these last few years and you’ve seen the best and worst that he has to offer. Korver isn’t quite the player he was a few years ago when he nearly went 50-50-90 (48.7 percent/49.2 percent/89.8 percent) from the floor/three-point line/free-throw line, but he’s still one of the league’s top shooters and will be joining a squad that will undoubtedly get him the type of looks shooters would die for. One, what are you expecting from Korver down the stretch? Two, would you like to reassess your opinion on the best team in the league now that Cleveland has added a piece like Korver?
Lang: My man. As the church folks say “it is good to be in the number” this week. A lot of stuff to get to this week and you’re starting us off with a banger.
My first thought when I heard the news that Kyle was traded to Cleveland was that the old adage of the rich getting richer was true. No, Korver isn’t at All-Star form like he was in 2014 but to paraphrase Reggie Miller – the shot never leaves you. I think Kyle is in the perfect spot as his career winds down. Remember, he entered the league playing with Allen Iverson in Philly. Think about that. In my view, Cleveland gets a steal. Kyle is a solid team defender, total professional and damn near automatic shooter with any type of space. He will get plenty of clean looks with Kyrie Irving and LeBron James slashing into the lane causing havoc.
Personally, going to miss Kyle here in Atlanta. Always good for a nice quote and his work in the community here is also worthy of note. Let me end with this … Cleveland IS the team to beat. Period.
Jabari: Speaking of teams to beat, while I think Golden State is still clearly the best Western Conference team, is it possible that Houston might actually be the best (eventual) threat to dethroning the back-to-back WC Champs? I guess, the better question might be whether this style of play that leans so heavily upon one player as the main, driving force can ultimately be as successful in the postseason?
Lang: I don’t think anyone is capable of knocking out the Warriors in the West. But I also said this about San Antonio last season and look at what Oklahoma City pulled off. I think Houston would be a live dog in a series versus Golden State, but they have injury issues (and/or concerns) that I would like to see resolved. How will Clint Capela come back from his extended absence? Also, guys such as Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson have been known to be brittle in the past. Their style of play also concerns me. The Cavaliers dethroned the Warriors last season with physical defense. The Rockets’ philosophy this season is about outscoring their opposition. No one … and I do mean no one … is beating Golden State in a track meet.
Jabari: I can’t fault you for thinking no one could or would have beaten San Antonio last year, especially once Steph Curry got hurt early in the playoffs. The uncertain nature of sports (injuries, matchups, etc.) is precisely what makes each season so much fun. Plus, as someone that bought in “hook, line and sinker” to what Minnesota was supposed to be bringing to the table this season, I can’t question anyone’s predictions!
That said, I tend to agree with you regarding the most likely way to beat these Warriors. It simply isn’t going to happen by attempting to outscore or outrun them. Speaking of things not (necessarily) working out the way we anticipated, now that we are right around the halfway mark for most teams, what are the biggest surprises and disappointments so far this year for you?
Lang: Like you bought into the Minnesota Timberwolves prematurely, I put all my stock in the Detroit Pistons making a bigger leap this season. So I think that’s one of the disappointments for me. I thought after getting a taste of that postseason nectar, the Pistons would enter the season favored more times than not to leave an arena with their hands raised in victory. I know, Reggie Jackson getting hurt early has played a role so we’ll see how things ultimately play out.
A pleasant surprise has been the play of James Johnson down in Miami. Listen, his numbers aren’t going to blow you away, but his play for a team going through the fire right now has been strong. He’s probably playing himself into a nice multi-year deal somewhere. Salute to him. I definitely was surprised by DeMar DeRozan’s early scoring barrage and defying the statistical crowd by shooting long twos and still giving folks that work. And how can I forget about the Houston Rockets. Who had them balling this hard? Who? Show me! James Harden has brought his can this season and is a legitimate M-V-P frontrunner.
Jabari: What’s funny about it is that you were one of the only ones telling us to pump the brakes on Minnesota and I have never been a believer in Detroit taking that next step. In fact, I’ll be straight up about it… I’m not a believer in the Andre Drummond hype anywhere near the level as (seemingly) most others. I’ll admit that I don’t watch a ton of Pistons basketball, but I tend to check out five-to-10 full games (not including highlights and recaps and such) of most teams per season and never feel like they are as good as others seem to think they are… or want them to be. As a guy who still appreciates big men like Drummond (whether you can win with a team ‘centered’ around them at this point or not), and someone that REALLY appreciates Sir Pepsi Swig as well, it’s absolutely nothing personal against them or the team. I just don’t see them as a true threat of any kind in the Eastern Conference.
Not mad at that James Johnson reference in the slightest. The HEAT aren’t going anywhere but to the top of the lottery (they HOPE), but Johnson and others still compete and play hard. That, and the fact that Johnson recently introduced your boy Steph to his personal poster party:
Play basketball long enough, you’re bound to get dunked on. Some of us just wind up on the wrong side of SportsCenter Top-10 lists.
I agree that Harden has usurped the Westbrook train at this point, but still think Russ has time to make another push after the All-Star break when it comes to the MVP discussion – especially if Houston runs into any additional injury issues with some of those players you mentioned in particular. For me, DeRozan’s continued progression has been great to witness, not just because he is a Southern California native (shameless reference), but the same reason you mentioned. I appreciate outliers and anomalies like that. I also appreciate someone that sticks to what they know and are best at. DeRozan is a mid-range and deep-two phenom and (clearly) isn’t about to change that while he’s playing so effectively and efficiently.
Transitioning to some rookie and young player talk, while I love that “Basketball Twitter” continues to entertain and enlighten (in some cases) on a nightly basis, part of me really hates the fact that we have become so intent upon labeling and determining a player as either a “bust” or the “next great” within 25 games of a guy’s career. I’m not even limiting that to “fans” as it seems like more and more writers and analysts are becoming guilty of this as well. I realize we are watching more basketball and discussing it even more than ever before, but the demand for 19- and 20-year-old players to enter the league as polished and poised products from the moment they walk on the court seems as futile as it is foolish.
Lang: I have one reaction for that James Johnson dunk on Stephen Curry: WhewLawd. My goodness. Steph knows better than that. Got to read the scouting report a bit more. As a player, you have to know who has the springs to deliver. But like I’ve told you before, Chef Curry offensively serves the plates, but defensively, guys put him on the main menu.
Let me go back to DeRozan for a second. A few years back, I remember Damian Lillard and him huddled up for what seemed like an eternity in Las Vegas during summer league. A few months later, I asked DeMar about it and he said they naturally just push each other to be great. In a competitive way. Hold each other accountable for working on their respective games. I thought it was really cool. So while some people don’t like the idea of guys being so cool with each other nowadays, there’s definitely a benefit to those relationships.
Personally, I just try to enjoy the game. I don’t get too high or too low on these guys. Most players in the NBA will produce “stats” if given minutes, but we also don’t know what each team is asking of these guys. Sometimes guys don’t have the green light to pull up from 17 feet. Sometimes guys are told to facilitate and are used as decoys to get other guys off. I learned a long time ago watching the league that just because a guy isn’t doing something doesn’t mean they can’t do it in another system. Guys like DeMarre Carroll and Kent Bazemore come to mind.
I see former No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett was waived the other day. It’s not shaping up too well for him, to get cut on a lottery team devoid of top talent. If you’re judging him as the number one overall pick, then it is okay to call him a bust. But he didn’t get to choose where he was drafted. If he was drafted No. 16 overall, he likely would’ve had the necessary time to get acclimated to the game with less pressure. Blame the Cavaliers for skewing the expectations and (likely) shortening the man’s career span.
Jabari: Great reference with that story about Lillard and DeRozan. That type of kinship and camaraderie is what makes it really fun to be able to peek behind the curtain as we cover the league. I also agree with you on the Bennett situation, as that was more about the Cavs simply making a foolish choice with that top pick. It seemed, essentially, like a “well…why not?” choice based on pre-draft hype rather than making an actual informed decision. I know the draft wasn’t chock full of top-tier talent, but Steven Adams and Rudy Gobert sure would look incredible with this group. So would Giannis, but I’ll leave that alone.
Bennett is now a legitimate candidate for bust status, but “we” are also beyond quick to label guys that are progressing at completely normal pace for young players. Take Brandon Ingram, for instance. The kid turned 19 (NINETEEN) in September, but folks were acting as though he was some sort of disappointment simply because he didn’t hit the court scoring 30 points a night. Not to pick on fans that focus on stats, but he’s a prime example of a player you cannot solely judge based on the box score. Not only does he influence the game in ways that don’t necessarily show up, but you won’t get a true appreciation for how vast his skill set is unless you actually take the time to watch him. To start the year, I said he would be that guy you suddenly look up and say, “WHOA, where the hell did THAT come from?!?” at some point during the second half of the year. He’s already making those types of plays all over the court, and doing it with regularity at this stage. Are there any young players, beyond Ingram, that you expect to see really take a step forward here in the second half?
Lang: I feel you. Fans’ expectations are tough to live up to. For instance, they saw Ingram scoring close to 20 a night in college and the team loses Kobe Bryant to retirement. So they expect a new top-dog type to come in and wreck shop. When they see a guy averaging 7-8 points a game and not putting up highlight reel packages on YouTube, the casual fan is going to gripe. I am a boxing guy, as you know, but not many people appreciated the brilliance of Floyd Mayweather. The technical skill, precision, alluding thunderous shots by centimeters in order to land a counter. People said he was running and would prefer to watch guys like Arturo Gatti (RIP). I mention all of this to say, only a small segment of any population is going to appreciate the subtle things. While you can appreciate the slip screen and the pass-to-assist percentage Ingram may provide, casual observers want something more visible.
Also, it’s tough for some fans to determine how good some of these guys are when they come into the league playing well within a system. Spotting an Allen Iverson or a Karl-Anthony Towns is easy because they destroy guys. I think people are spoiled by some guys coming into the league right out of the cereal box ready to perform. Guys like Shaq, Penny, C-Webb, Zo, AI, Duncan, Admiral, etc. came into the L ballin’ – no assembly required. For the record, Ingram will be fine. He has a high basketball IQ and there is a beauty in his patience in a market that is a pressure cooker. Shows maturity to me.
Jabari: No doubt, but the difference between many of the guys you listed and these new players is those guys went to school three of four years (in many cases), so they were more complete products by the time they made it to the league. So many of these current guys are one-and-done that there’s simply no way for them to be as polished at 19. For the record, you know I appreciate that boxing reference and since we were just talking about one of the thinner players in Ingram (not to mention your reference of AI earlier), let me get your top-five pound-for-pound players right now? For those unfamiliar with the idea, they would specifically be players that play “larger” or make more of an impact than you’d expect. For example, people might look at a player like Larry Nance Jr. at face value and not realize all of the ways he actually impacts the game (on both sides of the court) when he’s healthy and available for the Lakers. Let me get your top “little guys” OR Odom/Battier-type players for right now?
Lang: In boxing, the pound-for-pound designation is a way to compare fighters in varying weight classes. Heavyweights will never fight welterweights, but P4P evaluates fighters as if they were the same size.
At the top of my P4P list is Isaiah Thomas. Smaller guy, enormous heart.
Second is Damian Lillard, he is so Oakland. Tough. Now we just have to work on his defense. Ha. But he’s on my P4P list without a doubt.
Third is Patrick Beverley. Tenacious.
Fourth is Chris Paul – no explanation needed.
Finally, Russell Westbrook. He is eleventh in rebounding. He averages more rebounds than DeMarcus Cousins. Let. That. Sink. In.
Remember, this list is off the top of my head so Hoop Freaks don’t kill me. I’ll add two more though: Andre Roberson and Draymond Green. Those guys get after it.
Jabari: LOVE this list, but would also include Kyle Lowry to that mix with the how he’s playing this season. Folks, if you feel like we are missing anyone that deserves to be in this discussion, then remember to let us know about it in the comment section!
Going to introduce a new segment this week and it will come in the form of a ‘final shot’ of sorts. This will be an opportunity to address any topic (whether NBA related or not) before signing off. So, let me get your final shot of the week.
Lang: Final Shot: Hoops Freaks take the time to appreciate this current era of dominant guards. We hear all the time about the death of the big man. And this may be true from the fact we likely won’t see another Shaq, Hakeem, Admiral or Ewing in the post. But the big man in his new incarnate is on the way. I’m talking seven-footers pulling off crossover pull-ups out at the three-point line. Seven-footers euro-stepping and shooting 20-foot fadeaways. Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns, Greek Freak and Kristaps Porzingis are here and it’s amazing to watch. Throw in guys like Hassan Whiteside and Nikola Jokic out in Denver, and it becomes clear as day to me that the big man is alive and well. LG Out.
Jabari: LOVE this, too! You know I will forever be on #TeamBigMan, so I appreciate that reality check for those claiming the position is “dead” or anything like that. The game continues to progress and change over time, and each position is no different.
My final shot goes to the fellow fans and Hoop Heads who continue to show support and provide feedback for these weekly discussions. I know there were some that didn’t ‘quite’ get it at first, but S/O to those that stuck with us and keep providing topics and questions for us to address.
Beyond the comment section, remember to tag us with the topic of your choice via Twitter: @JabariDavisNBA and @LangGreene.
50 Predictions for the 2019-20 NBA Season
Drew Maresca and the Basketball Insiders team offer their annual 50 predictions for the NBA season.
Thank god, basketball is back. And with it comes Basketball Insiders’ latest attempt to throw down 50 bold predictions. Even better, it’s this writer’s second go-around with predictions. And with that familiarity comes unwarranted confidence. So, as always, get ready for red hot takes – significantly hotter than last years – from everybody, yours truly and the broader team included.
Over the summer, the site added some new members to the team. Thusly, we’re expanding the “Predictions from Insiders” section of the article to accommodate all of our brilliant minds. Unfortunately, that means fewer picks for me — but on a positive note, bonus predictions for you! Spoiler alert: Some of my teammates’ predictions contradict mine. One of us will be right and only time will tell.
As always, we’ll revisit our predictions following the season. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter (@DrewMaresca) about any of the predictions — and do so with all of our staff, as well. The more feedback, the better. And with that, let’s commence with some predictions.
Awards + Other Individual Predictions
1. Stephen Curry leads the league in scoring. This is a pretty popular one. He’ll have so many more opportunities without Klay Thompson (knee surgery) and Kevin Durant. Sure, D’Angelo Russell will take some shots; Draymond Green too. But who else is going to get buckets? Curry might need to average 40.
2. And Curry will also win the 2019-20 NBA MVP. This one’s a little less common. And it hinges on my confidence in the Warriors team as a whole. But let’s be honest, the MVP race will be between Curry, Antetokounmpo, LeBron James and/or Anthony Davis – and maybe Damian Lillard. Russell Westbrook and James Harden probably play themselves out of contention given the inherent stat sharing. Ditto for Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
And that’s literally all of the favorites. I don’t see a world where Nikola Jokic wins MVP even though he will deserve serious consideration. Joel Embiid could get in on the fun, but I expect him to get his share “load management” with the team prioritizing winning over personal glory.
3. Rudy Gobert will repeat as Defensive Player of the Year. It’s just really hard to anticipate anyone outperforming him. I believe that Draymond Green will be asked to do a little too much in terms of guarding bigs this season. And he’s another year older. And he just got paid. Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Patrick Beverly are all very impressive, but they’ll split the burden of defending an opponent’s best wing so it will water down their efforts. Of course, that leaves Gobert as the obvious choice.
4. But Mitchell Robinson will lead the lead in blocks. This isn’t really a hot take when you look at last year’s results, right? Robinson finished fourth last season and he played less than two-thirds as many minutes as any as the three guys ahead of him. He looked more patient in the preseason, which allowed him to remain on the court for longer periods of time. And if he can continue that, he’ll be a defensive force.
5. Spencer Dinwiddie will be named Sixth Man of the Year. It’s not that I don’t love Lou Williams. But the league tires on handing the same guy an award over and over. Williams was the winner for the previous two seasons and in three of the last five. And Williams isn’t getting any younger, either. Ultimately, it may be somebody else’s turn.
6. Jonathan Isaac wins MIP.
7. Luka Doncic is named to a 2019-20 All-NBA team
8. Trae Young will lead the league in assists. The competition will be too tight at point guard for Trae Young to qualify for an All-NBA team like fellow sophomore Doncic, but he’ll have a wildly impressive second season.
And what’s more, Young will average at least 20 points and 10 assists per game. He’ll shoot 36 percent from three-point range — up from 32.3 percent — and he’ll break his own record for made 30-plus foot shots. This feels like multiple predictions tied into one and I got myself in trouble with these types of predictions last year… oh well.
9. Zach LaVine will be an All-Star. Look, I predicted LaVine as MIP last year – and I was wrong. So I’m doubling down. I really like LaVine’s game. He’s dynamic and super athletic, but with just enough polish. And with the Eastern Conference’s lack of All-Star-level guards, LaVine may be a shoo-in.
10. Zion Williamson will play less than 70 games. Williamson’s unique combination of speed and power are among his best attributes. But they’re also going to be his biggest hindrances, too – at least until he’s able to lose a few pounds. Williamson simply puts too much stress on his body, enough that this may become a reoccurring theme. He’ll miss a few games throughout the season – including to kick off the year – as he needs extra rest to recover from the wear and tear of the season.[Sorry, guys, I’m taking credit for this one because it was written at least a week before the injury was announced.]
11. RJ Barrett will win Rookie of the Year. Barrett was primed for an inefficient season following summer league. Well, fast forward a few months and he looks far more prepared for the NBA. He’s proven that he can initiate the offense, while his ability to attack the rim won’t falter as a professional. And, probably just as important, his confidence is through the roof. Already, Barrett looks like a star in the making.
12. Tyler Herro and Nickeil Alexander-Walker will both be named to an All-Rookie team.
Team + Playoff Predictions
13. The Houston Rockets will win fewer games than last season – and the highest they’ll end the year is at the No. 4 overall seed.
It’s not their fault and I’m not blaming the Westbrook-Harden pairing at all. Truthfully, injuries and depth will be the main culprits. Their starting five is actually great: Harden, Westbrook, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker, Clint Capela. I love those five — but it falls off a cliff from there, especially after Gerald Green’s injury. Austin Rivers is a known commodity, but they’re going to struggle to generate much when they go to their bench.
14. The Philadelphia 76ers will nab the No. 1 overall seed in the Eastern Conference.
15. And they win the Eastern Conference.
16. But they’ll lose in the NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Clippers.
17. The 76ers will be joined in the playoffs by the Bucks, Celtics, Nets, HEAT, Pacers, Magic and Pistons, in no particular order.
18. The No. 8 overall seed in the Western Conference playoff race will come down to the Mavericks, Spurs, Pelicans and Kings, decided by 1.5 games or less. And the Mavericks will prevail.
19. The Clippers and Mavs will be joined in the playoffs by the Lakers, Jazz, Nuggets, Rockets, Trail Blazers and Warriors.
20. For the first time in 10 seasons, there will be no 60-win teams in the NBA.
21. And there will be more than 10 teams with 50 or more wins for the first time this decade.
22. All qualifying Western Conference teams win at least 50 games – a slight uptick from last season when the eighth-seeded Clippers won 48 games.
23. All eight Eastern Conference playoff teams win at least 44 games – last season, the eighth-seeded Detroit Pistons finished 41-41.
Trade + Coaching Change Predictions
24. The HEAT will trade either Justise Winslow or Goran Dragic before the deadline. Miami was already star shopping this summer when they expressed interested in Chris Paul. One or both can help them get that other star. Dragic’s contract is very tradable as it is more than $19 million and expires following this season. Winslow’s contract is even more movable at $13 million per year and a team option in 2021-22.
25. Speaking of Paul, he is not traded this season.
26. The Cavaliers finally move on from Kevin Love.
27. Andre Iguodala will be traded – but not to the Lakers or Clippers. The Grizzlies will look to collect as many assets as possible for Iguodala and the two Los Angeles-based franchises have limited draft capital left to include. The Rockets are reportedly out, too, as his salary is highly prohibitive for a team that’s already in luxury tax territory.
28. I predicted Scott Brooks would be fired during last year’s go-through, so we’re doubling down here, too. He’ll be let go before the All-Star break.
29. Despite the eventual whispers about Frank Vogel’s job security, he will end the season as head coach of the Lakers.
30. At least three teams will average more than 40 three-point attempts per game. Last season, only the Rockets surpassed the 40-plus mark at 45.1 per game. But as we’ve seen in recent years, teams have become even more smitten with the three-point shot. Hard to say with certainty who it will be, but…
31. Back to the Rockets, they will lead the league in three-point attempts with more than 50 per game. This would’ve sounded ridiculous just a few years ago; but since Mike D’Antoni joined the club, they’ve hoisted 40, 42 and 45 per game over the last three seasons, respectively. Predicting five more three-pointers per game is aggressive, but they can do it.
32. Moreover, teams continue to crank the pace. Franchises eclipsed 100 possessions per game last year and that trend will continue this season, ultimately ending the 2019-20 season with between 103 and 105 per game.
33. Spencer Dinwiddie’s attempt to securitize his “Athlete Investment Token” *(PAInT) is allowed by the NBA, breaking ground on a new era of investing in professional athletes.
34. And the NBA-China situation does not subside. Thus, the 2020-21 salary cap shrinks by at least 10 percent.
35. Pistons trade Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond
— Matt John (@MattJohnNBA)
36. Matisse Thybulle will break the starting lineup for the 76ers and be in the discussion for All-NBA Defensive Team.
37. The Portland Trail Blazers will be the No. 3 overall seed in the Western Conference and will have a third elite scoring options to end the season.
— David Weissman (@dwize04)
38. Denver is the No. 1 overall seed in the Western Conference.
39. Karl-Anthony Towns becomes the seventh player ever to average at least 25 points per game with a true shooting percentage of 65.0 or better.
— Jack Winter (@ArmstrongWinter)
40. Giannis Antetokounmpo will not be the only player in the upper-Midwest to lead his team in all five major statistical categories this season as Karl-Anthony Towns will, as well.
41. Robert Covington will creep into more trade rumors than just about anybody else in the NBA, but he will not move this season.
— Doug Farmer (@D_Farmer)
42. Lonzo Ball to win Most Improved Player in 2019-20.
43. Caris LeVert is an Eastern Conference All-Star.
— Ben Nadeau (@Ben__Nadeau)
44. The Chicago Bulls win a playoff series.
45. Quin Snyder will win Coach of the Year as the Jazz secure the top seed in the Western Conference; Mike D’Antoni will not finish the season as the Rockets’ head coach.
— Chad Smith (@Chad200)
46. The Denver Nuggets will lead the league in Net Rating.
47. The Hawks will be last in defensive rating.
— Quinn Davis (@Quinn_DavisNBA)
48. Los Angeles Lakers will not be a top-four seed in the Western Conference.
49. Ben Simmons will shoot above 25 percent on three-pointers (but on less than one attempt per game).
— Jordan Hicks (@JordanHicksNBA)
50. The Celtics finish with the No. 3 overall seed in the Eastern Conference and Gordon Hayward is an All-Star.
51. The Hawks and Bulls qualify for the playoffs, but Pacers and Warriors will miss out, despite Curry’s heroics.
52. And the Denver Nuggets finish the season as the No. 1 overall seed out and the New Orleans Pelicans squeeze into the eighth and final spot.
— Shane Rhodes (@Share_Rhodes1)
53. The Raptors start off strong, but fizzle out around midseason and miss the playoffs.
54. And they trade either Serge Ibaka or Marc Gasol.
— Spencer Davies (@SpinDavies)
And there we have it: another year of predictions in the books. Let’s all celebrate by binge-watching basketball for the next eight or so months. Remember, we’ll reference specific tweets in our “50 Predictions: Revisited” piece following the season, so make sure to connect with us on Twitter about how good or bad you think we’ve done.
NBA Daily: Don’t Forget About Dillon Brooks
Dillon Brooks talks to Basketball Insiders about being a rookie starter, guarding Paul George and his special draft class.
Dillon Brooks is not a headline maker — he’s not the reigning Rookie of the Month or averaging anywhere close to a triple-double. But for the Memphis Grizzlies, the front office will feel like they’ve uncovered a hidden gem nonetheless.
Although he had an accomplished three-year career at the University of Oregon, Brooks, 22, dropped into the second round of last year’s draft, falling serendipitously into the lap of the Grizzlies. Two weeks into the season, Brooks cemented his place in the starting lineup and has refused to surrender it since. He’s started in 51 of the Grizzlies’ 59 games — all consecutively, to boot — a feat that is almost unheard of for the No. 45 overall selection.
For Brooks, it’s all about development during this difficult rookie season.
“[Being a starter has] given me a lot of strengths, but I just took the opportunity and ran with it,” Brooks told Basketball Insiders. “It’s given me a lot of experience, time for trial and error and a chance to learn from the older guys.”
Brooks is one of 11 rookies averaging more than 25 minutes per game, accompanied by many his class’ top lottery picks. But for what Brooks lacks in gaudy box score numbers, he has quickly become one of the Grizzlies’ most versatile contributors already. Despite the current basement-dwelling status in Memphis — a path that led to the dismissal of former head coach David Fizdale after starting 7-12 — Brooks has established himself as somebody worth watching.
“You know, I thought I would have to work my way in — by now, maybe I’d be starting,” Brooks said. “But it started with coach Fizdale, he had trust in me. Then J.B. [Bickerstaff] has that same trust, so I just keep playing the way I’m playing and keep starting.”
For his early development and successes, Brooks was chosen for the NBA’s Rising Stars Challenge during February’s All-Star Weekend. Not only did Brooks prove that he belonged alongside some of the league’s biggest and brightest young talents, but he tallied 11 points and five rebounds in Team World’s blowout 155-124 victory. On top of that, Brooks was the only second-rounder selected to participate in this season’s competition and the next-lowest draftee was Kyle Kuzma at No. 27 — something Brooks takes as a great source of pride.
“There were so many great talents there, first-year and second-year guys. I was just glad to be a part of it.” Brooks said. “It meant a lot, especially in the Staples Center in Los Angeles, so it meant a lot. I just want to keep going with that success.”
Not many prospects make the transition from collegiate stud to second-rounder contributor so seamlessly, but Brooks has chalked up his early success to hard work and a do-it-all attitude. But with Brooks, there’s also a chip on his shoulder, pushing him forward game after game.
At Oregon, Brooks was selected to the All-Pac-12 team in back-to-back seasons, where coaches choose a 10-man first-team. In that second appearance, Brooks was flanked by Markelle Fultz (No. 1), Lonzo Ball (No. 2), Lauri Markkanen (No. 7), T.J. Leaf (No. 18) and the aforementioned Kuzma. The 6-foot-6 small forward has nothing but love for the other conference-best draftees, but admitted in Los Angeles that he believes he was taken far too late.
“Forty-five is too low for me and it’s only made me hungrier,” Brooks said over the break. “I just want to play and I knew whoever picked me, after the first round, really loved my game and really wanted me to contribute for their team.
“And that was Memphis and we’re doing some great things right now.”
Of course, that’s not to say that everything has come easily for Brooks in his rookie season either — it’s a process, but he’s still focused on improving with each successive opportunity. When Brooks scores more than 15 points, the Grizzlies are 4-1; but when he tallies less than five, Memphis is just 3-7. For a rookie carrying such a heavy load — he played a career-high 39:55 in a four-point loss to the Indiana Pacers back in January — Brooks knows he has to take the good with the bad (and sometimes ugly) and grow from those experiences.
“Because this season is so long and so grueling, if you just veer off, you might lose focus for a little bit within games, within week-long stretches,” Brooks said. “Another thing I’ve learned is how quickly games come on. You can have a bad game and have zero points, but then have a back-to-back and play another game.
“You need to brush things off and get to the next one.”
Only Marc Gasol and Tyreke Evans have averaged more minutes per game for the Grizzlies than Brooks (28.2) this year and the rookie has made a habit of drawing the some of toughest opposing matchups. In back-to-back games this month, Brooks was asked to guard Paul George, a three-time All-NBA third team superstar. And although it’s akin to being thrown to the wolves — George ended up with 61 points over those two games — Brooks is always hungry for more knowledge and eventual wisdom.
“I feel like I’m just a chameleon, I just adapt to whatever my situation is, whatever my role is,” Brooks said. “I just learn from each player that I guard — what kind of moves they did, how they get fouls and then try to stay away from that. Paul George is one of the best in the league and he’s so shifty. You’ve got to force him to where you want to go, that’s pretty hard.”
A recent 10-game losing streak has left Memphis dead-even with four other teams for the NBA’s worst record. The dismal record is an unfortunate byproduct of losing franchise point guard Mike Conley in November and Chandler Parsons’ absence in all but one game since the new year. The Grizzlies are no strangers to decimating injuries, but Brooks has certainly benefited from the extra minutes in the team’s first forgettable season in nearly a decade.
After seven straight postseason-bound campaigns, Memphis will likely earn their highest first-round selection since they picked Hasheem Thabeet at No. 2 overall back in 2009. With Memphis bottoming out for a chance at the likes of Marvin Bagley III or Luka Doncic, the keys have been, more or less, handed over to the Grizzlies’ youngest players. But even with all the streak-ending lows that this season has brought to Memphis, Brooks has been an undeniable bright spot.
By this point, it’s safe to say that the former collegiate star should’ve likely gone in the first round last June — perhaps even higher if he wasn’t already 21 years old on draft night. Constantly engulfed by the hype surrounding Donovan Mitchell, Ben Simmons, Jayson Tatum and the other phenomenal prospects in this class, it’s been almost too easy to forget about Brooks at times — but he’s proved those doubters wrong time and time again.
Still, Brooks is proud to be part of this class, regardless of where he was chosen.
“I feel like this class is one of the best that ever got put out there. You’ve got stars from the top to the bottom,” Brooks told Basketball Insiders. “There are a lot of guys that are gonna last 12, 15 years in the league. You’re gonna look back — like those little memes of Vince Carter and Dirk Nowitzki — you’re gonna see like five or six, seven people by their 15th year.
“So, this class is special — we got a lot of hard workers.”
But does Brooks believe he’ll be one of those decade-plus starters?
“I do, for sure.”
NBA Daily: The NBA’s One-And-Done Moment
After Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy lit into the NCAA about its latest scandal, the NBA has some soul-searching to do over one-and-done.
On Friday, a massive scandal erupted as Yahoo! Sports published court documents obtained in a federal investigation of NCAA men’s basketball. The documents implicate at least 20 programs and 25 players in potential rules violations regarding improper payments and benefits. Prior to Sunday’s Detroit Pistons game in Charlotte, coach Stan Van Gundy lit into the NCAA when asked about the scandal.
“The NCAA’s one of the worst organizations, maybe the worst organization in sports,” said Van Gundy. “And they certainly don’t care about the athletes.”
Van Gundy gave an in-depth critique of the “one-and-done” rule, whereby the NBA only allows players to become draft-eligible one year after their high school class graduates. The rule forces players with clear NBA talent to either play a single season of college basketball domestically or play a professional season overseas as Knicks point guard Emmanuel Mudiay did in China.
“I don’t understand why, as an industry, basketball or any other professional sport, that we’re able to artificially limit somebody’s ability to make money,” said Van Gundy. “I don’t get it. An 18-year-old, if he’s talented enough, can come into your profession and get a job. We’ve got the stories of some of these great tech guys that have dropped out of college and gone and made big money. They’re allowed to do that but athletes aren’t?”
Van Gundy went on to describe the rationale of certain people in favor of one-and-done as racist.
“The people that were against [high school players] coming out made a lot of excuses but I think a lot of it was racist, quite honestly,” said Van Gundy. “And the reason I’m going to say that is I’ve never heard anybody go up in arms about, oh my God, they’re letting these kids come out and go play minor league baseball, or they’re letting these kids come out and go play minor league hockey.
“They’re not making big money, and they’re white kids primarily, and nobody has a problem. But all of a sudden now, you’ve got a black kid that wants to come out of high school and make millions. That’s a bad decision? But bypassing college to go play for $800 a month in minor league baseball, that’s a fine decision? What the hell is going on?”
Oklahoma City Thunder forward Carmelo Anthony spent much of today’s media availability addressing questions about the NCAA’s latest issues and how it could impact the NBA’s stance on one-and-done.
“Amateur sports has been corrupt for so long,” said Anthony. “It’s going to force the NBA to step up and kind of take that age limit rule out.”
There is a sense in NBA circles that, while all sides agree that change is needed, it could be slow in coming. The G-League is envisioned as a resource to help young players develop and reach the NBA, but some feel it isn’t ready for an influx of players straight out of high school.
“We’re conflicted, to be honest,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver during his All-Star media availability when asked about a potential change to the one-and-done rule. “We’re outside of our cycle of collective bargaining right now, which is when we generally address an issue like that. But [Players Association Director] Michelle Roberts and I also agree that there’s no reason we shouldn’t also be discussing it right now. So we’ve had meetings with the Players Association where we’ve shared data [on] success rates of young players coming into the league.
“I think the question for the league is, in terms of their ultimate success, are we better off intersecting with them a little bit younger. Are we better off bringing them into the league when they’re 18, using our G-League, as it was designed to be, as a development league, and getting them minutes on the court there.”
Although the G-League may not be fully prepared to accommodate an influx of teenage players, Anthony suggested that it could eventually see players even younger than 18.
“You’re going to see a lot more players looking at the opportunity to go play overseas,” said Anthony of what he sees as the reaction to the NCAA’s ongoing problems. “You’re going to start to see guys … maybe before going to their senior year in high school, start trying to get to the G-League. You’re going to start seeing a lot of these different leagues, not just here in the U.S., but throughout the world start becoming more powerful because of what the NCAA is doing.”
Van Gundy’s damning assessment of the racial implications of one-and-done should prompt teams and players to re-assess how the rule impacts young players destined for the league. And it’s players just as much as the NBA itself that need to re-evaluate the situation. Through acceptance of the one-and-done rule, NBA players have helped normalize the transfer of millions of dollars in wealth from 18-year-olds — who would otherwise receive multi-year, guaranteed contracts as first round picks in the NBA Draft — to other NBA players.
Take LeBron James as an example. When James was a senior in high school, almost nobody doubted he could make an immediate impact in the NBA. Because the one-and-done rule wasn’t in effect, James was drafted without waiting a year and immediately proved he belonged. Had the rule been in force, James’ rookie salary of $4 million would have gone to another player while he waited to reach the NBA and the means to provide for his mother, who struggled to raise him alone.
Preventing 18-year-olds from reaching the NBA is a practice that NBA teams and players will have to reconsider as the latest NCAA drama unfolds. But there’s another compelling argument for ending one-and-done. Within 30 days of turning 18, almost all males in the United States are required to register with Selective Service. In the event of war and the institution of a military draft, these 18-year-olds could be conscripted into service and sent overseas to fight and potentially be killed. So, at 18, you’re old enough to fight and die for your country, but you’re not old enough to become a professional athlete and provide for your family?
While Van Gundy pointed out the inconsistency of those who favor one-and-done, the NCAA’s legal battle to avoid paying its players brings race even further into the discussion. On multiple occasions, the NCAA has cited Vanskike v. Peters — a case in which the judge ruled that a prison inmate could not be considered an employee of the prison — in arguing why it shouldn’t have to pay student-athletes. A recent citation has come in Livers v. NCAA, a case in which former Villanova multi-sport athlete Lawrence “Poppy” Livers argues that college athletes are employees and should be paid.
In its motion to dismiss the case, NCAA attorneys cite this passage from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Field Operations Handbook:
“As part of their overall educational program, public or private schools and institutions of higher learning may permit or require students to engage in activities in connection with dramatics, student publications, glee clubs, bands, choirs, debating teams, radio stations, intramural and interscholastic athletics and other similar endeavors. Activities of students in such programs, conducted primarily for the benefit of the participants as part of the educational opportunities provided to the students by the school or institution, are not work of the kind contemplated by [the Fair Labor Standards Act] and do not result in an employer-employee relationship between the student and the school or institution.”
The NCAA’s counsel asserts that “these provisions leave no doubt about the Department’s view that participants in ‘interscholastic athletics’ are not ’employees’ within the meaning of the FLSA.” But the cited passage leaves quite a bit of doubt, actually.
The key phrase is activities “conducted primarily for the benefit of the participants as part of the educational opportunities” provided by the school. The NCAA is equating for-profit athletics with student-run intramural athletics and claiming that college football and basketball national championships are conducted for the educational benefit of student-athletes, not for billions of dollars in revenue.
Livers’ counsel addressed these questions in the original complaint, stating that:
“Student performance outside the classroom is: (i) non-academic in nature; (ii) unrelated/irrelevant to an academic degree program; (iii) not for academic credit; and (iv) supposed to be restricted to 20 hours per week, recorded on timesheets maintained by the supervising staff of the NCAA member school, to limit interference with academic studies.”
The complaint further asserts that “student performance primarily benefits NCAA member schools, and provides no comparable academic or learning benefit to the student.” Rather than have these questions subjected to the rigors of trial, the NCAA instead continues to cite Vanskike v. Peters. In that decision, the judge stated, “the dispute, in this case, is a more fundamental one: Can this prisoner plausibly be said to be ’employed’ in the relevant sense at all?”
You read that correctly. The NCAA cited a case in which the court refused to hear arguments about employment status because the plaintiff was a prisoner, and thus subject to forced labor as “punishment for a crime,” the sole exception to the abolition of slavery under the 13th Amendment. Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins summed up the court’s findings in Berger v. NCAA, another case in which the NCAA used the same precedent:
“The Seventh Circuit’s contorted reasoning bears repeating. College athletes are similar to prisoners economically because the ‘revered tradition of amateurism’ in college spanning more than 100 years ‘defines the economic reality of the relationship between student-athletes and their schools,’ the court wrote. As with inmates, asking any questions about who benefits from their work would ‘fail to capture the true nature of their relationship.’ In other words, amateurism is as confining and defining as jail.”
For the NCAA, the scope of the latest scandal will undoubtedly raise questions about amateur status and compensation for student-athletes. For NBA teams and players, the time has come for some serious soul-searching. Will the NBA and its players continue to deny 18-year-olds, who can be drafted into the military and shipped off to war, the ability to provide for their families? Will they continue to prop up the NCAA through the one-and-done rule while it continues to make dubious legal arguments, such as comparing student-athletes to convicted criminals?