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NBA Daily: Blazers’ Early-Season Struggles Cause For Lasting Concern

The Blazers are 4-6, and facing a rash of injuries. As the schedule gets tougher, is Portland at risk of falling way behind in the playoff Western Conference playoff race?

Jack Winter

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The Portland Trail Blazers’ silver lining has little to do with them.

The expectation coming into this season was that as many as 13 teams in the Western Conference could compete for the playoffs, propelling the number of victories needed to advance to the postseason into the high 40s. Three weeks into 2019-20, the number of teams good enough to vie for a playoff berth is smaller than anticipated. The Phoenix Suns have ascended to respectability and perhaps more, but the Golden State Warriors have been left for dead while the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans struggle.

The West is strong, of course, but maybe not so strong that a handful of objectively quality teams will be left on the outside looking in at the postseason come April.

Some expected Portland to stand a tier above that fray coming off a surprising trip to the Western Conference Finals. But any chatter that said this team was more likely to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy at season’s end than hope for lottery luck was always misguided. At the crux, it was optimism reflecting last spring’s matchup-dependent outcome that ignored changes sapping them of both depth and continuity.

Less than a month into the NBA calendar, it’s not quite time to panic. Still, with Portland at 4-6 and narrowly escaping an overtime loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday, it might be time to readjust season-long expectations in the Rose City – especially given the Blazers’ upcoming schedule and rash of injuries.

Seven of Portland’s next eight games come on the road. Half of them are against teams that made the playoffs last season, including a lone home tilt versus the stoic Toronto Raptors. Merely going .500 over that stretch would be a major accomplishment for the Blazers given how they’ve fared against inferior competition thus far.

It took an extra period for them to beat the Hawks, playing without John Collins, at Moda Center, while the anonymous Warriors earned their first victory after Stephen Curry’s injury versus Portland last week. Not even a career-high 60 points from Damian Lillard, who’s reached yet another peak in the early going, saved the Blazers from a home loss to the Brooklyn Nets, who, too, are still trying to find themselves.

All of which begs the question: Just where will Portland sit in the standings when the schedule gets more palatable? Plus, the more important one: If the Blazers continue struggling over the next two weeks, will injuries prevent them from making up the necessary ground for a seventh consecutive playoff berth over the season’s remainder?

Outside of Lillard, there’s an argument to be made that Zach Collins is Portland’s most indispensable player. No roster in basketball with real postseason ambitions is lighter on forwards than the Blazers, while Hassan Whiteside’s overall lethargy and struggles to integrate offensively add to his value as a part-time center.

Collins is sidelined until March after undergoing surgery on his dislocated left shoulder. Jusuf Nurkic should make his season debut around then, too, but there’s no telling how effective he’ll be after spending nearly a full year away from the game. Any hopes he’ll immediately regain the high-impact two-way form that made him Portland’s second-best player last season should be quelled. More likely is that Nurkic will take time to fully re-acclimate to the speed and physicality of the NBA game, serving as not much more than a replacement-level player until next fall.

In the meantime, the Blazers are relying on Whiteside and Skal Labissiere in the middle, waiting for Pau Gasol to get healthy enough to play spot minutes off the bench. Lillard has already chastised Whiteside for his lack of urgency as a roll man, and it’s clear to anyone who watched Portland last season that Whiteside leaves much to be desired as a screener — a deficiency that’s plagued him throughout his career.

The Blazers, per usual, rank toward the top of the league in ball screens, despite Whiteside consistently failing to make contact with the primary defender – let alone swallow them at varied angles like Nurkic.

Whiteside has flashed more comfort as a passer from the high post and elbows in Terry Stotts’ system but is still ill-equipped to make plays in space when teams force the ball from the stars in pick-and-roll play. Labissiere, while better than Whiteside, leaves much to be desired in both regards, too. Gasol would certainly help, especially given his threat as a pick-and-pop shooter. But it’s indicative of just how thin the Blazers find themselves upfront that a 39-year-old who hasn’t played since March could give them a lift offensively.

Portland quietly finished third in offensive rating a year ago, only behind the juggernaut Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors. Stotts’ team currently ranks ninth in offense, scoring just over five fewer points per 100 possessions than last season. While offense is down a bit league-wide, there are signs the Blazers’ relatively slow start on that end will persist.

The franchise talked a big game throughout the preseason about prioritizing pace, a newfound emphasis that’s yet to manifest itself in more transition opportunities, per Cleaning the Glass. But the Blazers rank top-10 in pace regardless, mostly on the strength of taking a higher share of their field goal attempts in the first two seconds of the shot clock than any team in basketball. The problem? Their effective field goal percentage on those shots is 45.8 percent, fourth-worst in the league.

Portland has been just average on the offensive glass after finishing second in offensive rebound rate last season and they’re tallying over 50 fewer passes per game despite replacing Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless in the rotation with superior playmakers. Anfernee Simons has lived up to the hype in his first season playing regular minutes, but Stotts should probably scrap lineups that include neither of his star guards, especially considering his team’s lack of scheme familiarity. The Blazers’ offensive rating without Lillard and CJ McCollum on the floor is 86.2, a putrid number hardly guaranteed to improve even when factoring in the sample size.

The bright side? Three of Portland’s losses were decided in the game’s final moments, and none of them have come by double-digits. The Blazers are a few fortuitous bounces away from weathering an early-season injury storm and emerging from their first 10 games with a winning record.

But context is crucial — especially in a Western Conference playoff field that remains overcrowded — and it renders Portland’s start concerning. Other than an inevitable shot-making improvement from McCollum, who labored throughout last season before coming alive in the playoffs, just how will this team take meaningful strides not just leading up to Thanksgiving, but over the season’s duration?

It would be foolish to count Portland out entirely. Stotts and Lillard deserve every benefit of the doubt, and their teams enjoy a long track record of playing their best basketball during the second half of the season. But dreams of the Blazers being title contenders have faded entirely and faith in their presumed status as a surefire playoff team seems to be eroding in the immediate future – if not longer.

Jack Winter is a Portland-based NBA writer in his first season with Basketball Insiders. He has prior experience with DIME Magazine, ESPN, Bleacher Report, and more.

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Looking At The NBA Draft: The No. 11 Picks

Drew Maresca assesses the 11th picks made in recent NBA Drafts and identifies the hits, misses and everything in-between.

Drew Maresca

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The 2020 NBA Draft was scheduled to take place in approximately one month from today. But then the COVID-19 pandemic happened and resulted in delays for just about every profession worldwide. So instead of preparing for the upcoming draft and/or analyzing the 2020 NBA Playoffs, we are looking back at recent drafts and how the picks fared.

Basketball Insiders began analyzing each pick of the last 10 or so drafts last week. As we make out way toward the end of the lottery, there is clearly less certainty around prospects. This is where guys who are seen as bigger risks go, as well as where guys who NBA personnel might have too little upside are selected. It’s where teams can be too creative for their own good, or where taking risks is paid off in spades.

So let’s turn our attention to the 11th pick in the NBA Draft, as we continue identifying hits, misses, middle-of-the-road guys and role players.

The Hits

Klay Thompson – Golden State Warriors – 2011

Thompson is the clear headliner of the 11th overall picks. He’s a three-time champion with five All-Star selections, two appearances on the All-NBA team and a selection for the All-Defensive team in 2018-19. Granted, Kawhi Leonard (14) and Jimmy Butler (30) were selected after Thompson; but there’s no one else you’d even consider taking over him – and the return on investment that Thompson has provided has been exquisite for an 11th pick. End of story.

Myles Turner – Indiana Pacers – 2015

The 2015 NBA Draft was really good. I mean, look: Turner dropped to 11 – that says it all. Turner was selected before Devin Booker; but otherwise, it’s pretty clear that he was the best available player.

Turner is among the rare seven-footers (technically 6-foot-1) who can shoot from deep – he’s a career 35.4% three-point shooter – and defend the rim – he also rejected 2.2 shots per game this season. Technically, that qualifies his as a unicorn, right?

But the Pacers’ commitment hasn’t been iron-clad. He’s only breached 30 minutes per game once, in 2016-17 – the same year he posted his career-high in scoring (14.5). Turner will struggle to fulfill his full potential unless he’s either given more time or traded. Still, Turner’s unique skillset renders him a “hit.”

Domantas Sabonis – Orlando Magic (and traded to Indiana Pacers)– 2016

Sabonis was an unnecessary pick for the Pacers. They’d selected Turner in the previous year’s draft, and they obviously could’ve used Caris LeVert (20) and Pascal Siakam (27).

Still, Sabonis has been so good that he forced his way into the Pacers lineup and onto this list. Unlike his teammate (Turner), Sabonis has received a serious commitment from the Pacers; he was awarded a new contract in 2019 (4 years/$77 million) before 2019-20, and he also received a career-high 34.8 minutes per game – this season also saw Sabonis secure career-highs in scoring (18.5) and rebounds (12.4). And he received wide-spread recognition throughout the league, too; Sabonis made his first All-Star team in his fourth season.

Ultimately, Sabonis is a bull on the block and he’s still only 24 – a sure thing.

The Misses

Terrance Williams – New Jersey Nets – 2009

Williams entered the league with potential oozing from him. The 6-foot-6 swingman averaged 12.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, 5 assists and 2.3 steals per game in his senior year for head coach Rick Pitino at Lousiville and looked like a great piece for the Nets. And throughout – and especially toward the end – of his rookie year, Williams looked like he might make the leap. He played in 78 games, starting nine of them; and he averaged 14.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game across the final two months of the year (22 games).

But for some reason, then-new coach Avery Johnson was against the idea of playing Williams. He was inactive and/or delegated to the G League for much of his sophomore season with the Nets – and then he was traded to Houston. From there, he never stuck anywhere for more than a season – and his effect was less evident than it was during his rookie campaign. Making matters worse, Williams was selected ahead of Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson, Jeff Teague, Darren Collison and a number of other more productive players who would have been smarter picks than Williams was.

All of the talent was there for Williams; but for whatever reason, it never worked out. Was it his fault? That part is unclear. But either way, this one’s a miss.

Cole Aldrich – New Orleans Hornets (and traded to Oklahoma City Thunder) – 2010

The term “miss” is relative, but Aldrich is a “miss” in just about any draft. He stuck around the NBA for eight seasons, but his effect was minimal. He only started 18 times in his 339 career games – 16 of which were for the 17-win 2014-15 Knicks. And even then, he averaged only 5.5 points and 5.5 rebounds in 16 minutes per game.

2010 didn’t result in a huge influx in talent. From it, we got a few stars (e.g., Paul George and Gordon Hayward), but the draft produced more than its share of underwhelming players. And in Aldrich’s defense, most of the guys taken in the bottom-third of the 2010 lottery disappointed their teams; only Eric Bledsoe (18), Avery Bradley (19), Hassan Whiteside (33) and Lance Stephenson (40) were long-term starters selected after Aldrich — and none of them where under consideration at 11. Still, whoever made the call to draft Aldrich, be it New Orleans or Oklahoma City, should have looked more closely.

Michael Carter-Williams – Philadelphia 76ers – 2013

Carter-Williams was a pretty exciting prospect coming out of Syracuse University. He entered the league after a breakout sophomore campaign in which he led the Orange to the Elite Eight. He followed that up by winning the 2014 NBA Rookie of the Year award.

And all of that makes everything that transpired later even harder to stomach. Carter-Williams was traded to the Bucks in a three-team trade in 2015. His strong play continued in Milwaukee, but he struggled after suffering an ankle injury and was shut down after tearing his labrum. And it got worse from there.

Carter-Williams seems to have re-established himself in the NBA with the Orlando Magic, but he’ll never be the triple-double machine he once was. Add in the fact that Giannis Antetokounmpo was taken just four picks later and that leads to the eventual…that Carter-Williams is a “miss.” But that doesn’t mean he won’t stick in the league for at least the next few seasons – this writer feels that he will.

Malik Monk – Charlotte Hornets – 2017

Monk entered the NBA with a lot of momentum – mostly because he was attached to the New York Knicks, who picked eighth overall in 2017. However, Monk was selected 11th by the Hornets, and he’s struggled to live up to even that hype.

Monk shot an abysmal 28.4% on three-point attempts this season, which is even worse considering he was thought to be someone who could get hot from deep. He also possesses a below-average effective field goal percentage (47.8% in 2019-20) and his assist-to-turnover ratio is underwhelming.

Still, Monk had some impressive moments this year and his confidence remains. He might not be efficient, but he’s young and athletic. Monk will continue to get opportunities to prove himself, but he still has a lot to work on. A change of scenery might help, but Monk has lot to prove if he’s going to go down as anything but a “miss.”

Middle of the Road

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Los Angeles Clippers – 2018

In this particular instance, “middle of the road” is code for “really close to qualifying as a hit” – unfortunately, Gilgeous-Alexander isn’t quite there yet. Gilgeous-Alexander has played really well in his first two seasons. And he took a pretty impressive step forward in 2019-20, averaging 19.3 points per game as a starter alongside Chris Paul in Oklahoma City. Gilgeous-Alexander actually led the team in total minutes and he shot pretty well (35%) on three-point attempts, too.

But Gilgeous-Alexander is a natural point guard, and he was only third on the Thunder in assists. In fact, the Thunder’s two most frequently used lineups feature Chris Paul, or Paul and Dennis Schroder alongside Gilgeous-Alexander. That means that despite being a point guard, Gilgeous-Alexander has had the benefit of playing with at least one other lead guard for the majority of his minutes this seaon.

This is not meant as a knock on Gilgeous-Alexander – in fact, that will probably benefit him down the road. It’s just that a “hit” must be established. And while Gilgeous-Alexander will almost certainly join that club very soon, he’s still ramping up.

Cameron Johnson – Phoenix Suns – 2019

Johnson was a pretty weird pick as of draft night last year. While he posted good numbers in his final collegiate season (16.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists), his age led NBA executives to believe that his ceiling was low relative to his peers. It wasn’t completely unwarranted. Johnson had just wrapped up his fifth NCAA season, thanks to a knee injury and his transferring from Pittsburgh to North Carolina. As a result, the 23-year-old was the NBA’s oldest rookie witjh only three other first-round picks clocking in at 22 –Matisse Thybulle, Brandon Clarke and Dylan Windler.

But Johnson’s rookie year surprised a number of folks around the league. He posted 8.1 points per game on 39.7% shooting from three-point range. And he demonstrated a surprising amount of athleticism and better-than-expected decision making. Johnson still has lots to prove; but he very well may end up having a better career than anyone expected.

Role Players

Meyers Leonard – Portland Trail Blazers – 2012

On the one hand, Leonard hasn’t been shown up by many guys taken after him – only Evan Fournier is definitively better. On the other hand, he hasn’t turned into a world-beater, either. In fact, his stat line isn’t that different than two guys taken later in the 2012 first-round: Tyler Zeller (17) and/or Miles Plumlee (26).

Leonard posted the second-best season of his not-so-young career in 2019-20 – 6.1 points and 5.1 rebounds while shooting 42.9% on 2.4 three-point attempts per game – but what does that really say for an 11th pick? He’s clearly serviceable – but he’s no building block. He’s a great backup, he’s seven-feet tall and he can even shoot a little. Leonard will have a place in someone’s rotation for years to come. But will he ever be much else? Probably not.

Doug McDermott – Chicago Bulls – 2014

McDermott is exactly the player we expected him to be coming out of Creighton. He’s shot the ball well (41.3% career three-point shooter) and he scored it better in 2019-20 (10.4 points per game) than he did in any previous season.

But McDermott was selected just a few picks before Zach LaVine, T.J. Warren and Jusuf Nurkic. Comparatively, he’s just not as good as any of them. And he’s also been a limited defender and rebounder. So, it’s a stretch to think of McDermott as a successful pick.

But he sure can shoot it – McDermott has the fifth-best three-point percentage in the NBA in 2019-20, and that means he’s filling a key role for any playoff team.

The 11th pick has been proven itself a challenging spot for teams to make successful picks. There have been a number of gambles taken with the 11th pick in recent years. It’s hasn’t worked out great for most teams, but it only takes one pick to change a team’s fortunes – and NBA teams will continue to bet on their front office’s abilities to identify prospects. So don’t except teams’ strategies to change anytime soon.

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Looking At The NBA Draft: The No. 10 Picks

Matt John continues Basketball Insiders’ looking back series by examining the last decade’s worth of 10th overall picks.

Matt John

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As Basketball Insiders has continued its “Looking Back” series, it was only a matter of time until we crossed the double digits. Now that time has come. Today we are taking a look at how all of the tenth overall picks since 2009 have fared in the NBA.

As you probably know, as the lottery picks go down further and further, the prospects’ ceilings aren’t nearly as high. At the same time, the 10-14 range is usually reserved for teams that actually had no intention of being in the lottery to begin with. It’s usually around this point in the draft where if you got someone good with this selection, you got a steal. No questions asked.

The tenth overall selections since 2009 have overall done okay for where they were picked. As a group, they’ve done better than some of the other selections that were higher than them

The Hits

Paul George – Indiana Pacers – 2010

This should be a given. It only took three years for George to prove he was a household name. By that time, he had taken Indiana the furthest they had gone since the Reggie Miller/Jermaine O’Neal days and usurped Danny Granger as the team’s best player. Since then, George has routinely made both the All-Star team and an All-NBA team – save the one year he was recovering from one of the most gruesome leg injuries ever – while establishing himself as one of the league’s best two-way wings.

George has been a top-12 player for the duration of his career, which is impressive enough as it is. We knew he was a fantastic player. We just didn’t know he was an elite one until last year. Before a crippling shoulder injury stopped him in his tracks, George was a man possessed, averaging 28.6 points, 8.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists. He maintained his efficiencies even while increasing his usage, which upped him from perennial All-Star to MVP candidate.

Since migrating to his hometown Los Angeles Clippers, we haven’t seen the same production from George. Some of that comes from the shoulder injury among others that he’s endured this season. Some of that comes from playing next to Kawhi Leonard. Even so, George is not to be underestimated as a right-hand man on a title team.

We’re going to see what PG-13 is truly made of when the Clippers go on their playoff run this year. We know that Kawhi will be on his A-Game when the playoffs start. George’s expectations are a little more uncertain. He’s received some flak in recent years for his inability to step up in the clutch as well as his somewhat lackluster playoff performances.

Although going toe-to-toe with LeBron James in the conference finals in back-to-back years would certainly certify him as a playoff performer, here’s a fact that’s fallen under the radar: George hasn’t made it out of the first round since 2014. As far as hits go, George has been a home run, and he could still prove to be a grand slam.

Most hilariously of all, there have only been two tenth overall picks in NBA history who have rivaled the production of Paul George — Paul Pierce and Paul Westphal. If another Paul gets taken No. 10 in the NBA draft, the bar for him should be set at Hall of Fame. At minimum.

CJ McCollum – Portland Trail Blazers – 2013

What McCollum has done should be appreciated more. Without him, Portland may not have been able to steady the boat as well as they did when they were pretty much gutted in the summer of 2015. Without him, Portland definitely would not have made the Western Conference Finals last season. We’re not taking anything away from Damian Lillard here. It’s just that if McCollum hadn’t been there, how far would Dame and the Blazers have gone?

The resume is pretty good for McCollum. He’s been one of the league’s premier scorers for five years now. He is half of one of the league’s top-scoring tandems. He’s been one of the few excellent players from one of the worst drafts of all time. Playing in the jam-packed Western Conference will probably prevent him from making an All-Star team, but he’s never not been in consideration.

There were better players taken after McCollum — Giannis Antetokoumnpo and Rudy Gobert — but Portland still nailed the selection when you consider only one guy that was taken ahead of him has been on his level (Victor Oladipo), and when you factor inconsistency, McCollum has a case over Oladipo.

The Trail Blazers are going to face more questions next season with the Western Conference still remaining a bloodbath and Lillard and McCollum entering the peak of their careers. No matter what happens, McCollum came into this league renowned for getting buckets. He may not have hit the ground running, but once he took off, he lived up to the hype.

The Misses

Jimmer Fredette – Sacramento Kings – 2011

Guys, can you believe “Jimmer Mania” was almost a decade ago? It seems like just yesterday we were all watching him shoot the lights out from just about everywhere on an NCAA basketball court. Yet, somehow, it feels like forever ago since he was last in the NBA.

Jimmer’s ultimately forgettable NBA tenure is really strange when you consider what the league is like now. He came in as an elite shooter above all else. Even if his scoring prowess from BYU wouldn’t have translated to the big leagues, his jumper should have made him a valued commodity. It somehow never was.

You can blame it on him starting his career in Sacramento if you’d like. He only played there for two-and-a half years. He played for organizations that were run much better at that time like the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs. He still never found his footing. His time in the NBA should teach us a lesson. We get plenty of sharpshooting guards who dominate the college game as snipers, but for every Stephen Curry, there’s always a Jimmer Fredette.

Years later, it’s good to see that Jimmer went on to establish himself as a household name. Even if that wasn’t in the NBA.

Thon Maker – Milwaukee Bucks – 2016

On paper, Thon should have been a perfect fit for the modern NBA. A rare combination of length, mobility and shooting would have made him the perfect floor-stretching five in the modern NBA. Early mixtapes of him before he was drafted hyped him up to be such a player. That hype soon died down to the point where once the Bucks took him tenth overall — picking him over Domantas Sabonis will eat at them for years — we were all pretty quick to call it a reach.

Outside of the rare occasional outbursts, which manifested in the playoffs of all places, Maker’s never really found himself in the league. For his size, he’s not a good rebounder and only an okay shot-blocker. For someone who shoots threes, he’s also a subpar three-point shooter. He’s managed to be a rotation player in Detroit, but he plays a tick under 13 minutes a game for one of the worst teams in the league.

His physical makeup will probably make for some interested suitors in a “low-risk/unknown-reward” scenario. It’s not his fault the Bucks swung for the fences when they took him, but because they did, he’s a bust.

Middle of the Road

Brandon Jennings – Milwaukee Bucks – 2009

There may not be a better player that exemplifies “Middle of the Road” better than Brandon Jennings. Talent-wise, he should be a hit. Career-wise, he should be a role player at best overall. He only played in the NBA for nine seasons. When he was at the top of his game, he was an excellent ballplayer.

Jennings at first made us all think he was a cornerstone in the making his first month in the league, which was highlighted by a 55-point rampage he hung on rookie Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors. He fizzled after that, but even so, he was averaging between 15-19 points a game while putting up five to seven assists in that time too.

His prime was cut short by an Achilles tear mid-season in 2015 — which was a shame at the time because he was playing the best basketball of his career at the time — and he was never the same after that. After some brief stints in Orlando, New York, Washington and Milwaukee again, Jennings had been phased out of the league in 2018.

Jennings does not deserve to be labeled as a miss because a cruel twist of fate ruined everything. Unfortunately, his short-lived career prevents him from being labeled a hit.

Justise Winslow – Miami HEAT – 2015

When an executive is willing to trade four first-round picks to take you ninth overall in the draft, that puts a fair amount of spotlight on you when you first enter the league. Justise Winslow already came into the NBA a winner, having won an NCAA championship. He was supposed to be an added bonus of youth and pizzazz to a Miami team that was locked and loaded upon first drafting him.

Five years later, Winslow has been… fine? The injuries have piled on for Winslow since entering the league, but when he’s on the court, he’s proven himself to be a finesse player. That title alone prevents him from being called a role player. At the same time, finesse players aren’t exactly stars. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Winslow has been as good as advertised defensively and has come along quite nicely as a playmaker and a rebounder. His shooting has been inconsistent and he hasn’t evolved into the scorer many thought he could be. A man of his skillset is incredibly useful, but there seems to be this feeling that begs the question, “Wasn’t he supposed to be better than this?”

Even while evolving into a Swiss army knife swingman, it’s a little disconcerting that Miami practically gave him away to Memphis for an aging Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder on an expiring contract. Many would proclaim that a steal for Memphis, but Winslow hasn’t exactly proven he’s good enough to be warranted as a steal both in the draft or in a trade.

Seeing as Memphis suddenly has a very promising future, let’s see how Winslow does now that he’s on a team that fits his timeline.

Zach Collins – Portland Trail Blazers – 2017

A shoulder injury early on interrupted what should have been Collins taking his next step as a pro. Into what is up in the air, but the returns on Collins since he started his career have been promising. He’s got some bounce in his game. He’s shown that he has good awareness on the court. He can stretch the floor, although he hasn’t proven to be entirely reliable. When last season’s playoff run ended, he was on the up-and-up.

Alas, that darn shoulder injury messed everything up. Jusuf Nurkic will be back next season, but he’ll need time to get his game in full swing. Hassan Whiteside will more than likely be gone. Factoring all of that, Collins will get another shot next year to show what he’s got.

As his role expands in Portland, we’re going to see who the real Zach Collins is.

Cam Reddish – Atlanta Hawks – 2019

The third amigo from the 2019 Duke Blue Devils, Reddish’s start in the league was pretty awful. That happens when your efficiencies in 2019 are 32 percent from the field and 26 percent from the three. 2020 has been a different story. His shooting percentage from the field has been 44 percent while his three-point percentage has bumped up to almost 40 percent.

A lot of rookies have uneven seasons during their first go-round. Atlanta as a team stinks as a whole, but as time goes on they should get better. In that time, Reddish should be able to demonstrate what kind of player he is. Let’s hope the 2020 Reddish is more indicative of who he is, because players who average more turnovers than assists definitely need to grow.

Role Players

Austin Rivers – New Orleans Pelicans – 2012

Can we stop giving Austin Rivers grief now? Yes, he was a bust in New Orleans. Yes, he’s Doc’s son. Yes, he rubs some players very much the wrong way. Rivers’ slow start in the league and family ties make him an easy target for critics, and it’s overshadowed that he has rebounded quite nicely after, well, a disastrous first tenure in New Orleans.

Rivers played some of the best basketball of his career under his father in LA. Rivers molded into a respectable scorer in their rotation by putting up some of his career bests, averaging 15 points and 4 assists. Although, one can argue that those were inflated numbers on a strictly average Clippers team.

In Houston, he’s found a more suitable role as a hybrid scorer/three-and-D type guard off their bench. 8.5 points off 42 percent shooting from the field including 36 percent from the field are good numbers for a team that centers its strategy around shooting threes. Rivers definitely deserves criticism after being selected No. 10 — Evan Fournier probably would have been the better guard to pick — but not for what he does these days.

Elfrid Payton – Orlando Magic – 2014

Unlike Rivers, Payton didn’t struggle out of the gate. He just never really took a big leap after a promising rookie season. He’s always proven himself to be a playmaker – he has a 6.6 career assist average in just 29 minutes, but his lack of shooting — a career 29 percent shooter from three — has kept him from making any meaningful progress.

Unless they have some of the most unreal athleticism or craftiness that we’ve ever seen, non-shooting point guards don’t make too big of a difference in the NBA. Payton hasn’t been a bust by any means. He’s been productive everywhere he’s gone. It’s just abundantly clear that where his career is right now is where he’ll be production-wise for the duration.

The shame of it all is, Payton’s never played for a playoff team. Orlando traded him to Phoenix just before they made the playoffs. He then signed with New Orleans just before the Anthony Davis fallout. Now, he’s in New York. Being a rotation a player on a good team is something he still hasn’t proven yet.

Can we please see that someday?

Mikal Bridges – Phoenix Suns – 2018

Over the last couple of years, Phoenix has had a string of failed draft picks over the last couple of years — Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, Josh Jackson — so any fruitful draft pick from the lottery, whether they’re a star or not, would be a welcome change of pace. Enter Mikal Bridges.

Bridges has been a half-decent two-way swingman for the Suns over his first two years. He’s not much of a pure scorer, but that’s not why Phoenix drafted him. He’s been more of the defensive specialist that the Suns have desperately needed since they launched their rebuild back in 2016 as well as an underrated floor-spacer.

His shooting efficiencies thus far in his career — 46/34/82 splits over his first two years — as well as his solid rebounding numbers as a wing (3.6 per game) show that he is already a solid role player on a team that’s been looking for the right supporting cast members.

So does Bridges meet the criteria stated earlier? Honest answer: They could have had Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, but, good enough.

As previously stated, the tenth pick in the draft doesn’t boast a whole lot of star power, but it’s not designed to. Paul George panning out into a full-fledged superstar is more luck than anything else. This group has overall met expectations. Only two guys didn’t live up to being the tenth pick. The others have done, at the very least, what their teams have asked of them.

If you compare them to say, the eighth pick, you’d be even more impressed.

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NBA

Looking At The NBA Draft: The No. 9 Picks

Ben Nadeau discusses a decade of picks at No. 9 overall.

Ben Nadeau

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Although the news appears to be heating up on a finish to the season, basketball is sadly still some considerable amount of time away. In place of actual draft content, which would be ramping up in a major way in late May, Basketball Insiders is looking at every number in the lottery, one-by-one. 

Amazingly, as time continues to melt together ruthlessly, we’re already up to No. 9. And without further ado, here are the hits, misses, middle of the road and role players. Did a player fall out of the league after a few years? Are they a star? Or are they at their ceiling already?

We’ve got a decade’s worth of data, so here’s where all the No. 9 overall picks have landed.

The Hits

Andre Drummond – Detroit Pistons – 2012
Kemba Walker – Charlotte Bobcats – 2011
Gordon Hayward – Utah Jazz – 2010
DeMar DeRozan – Toronto Raptors – 2009

Really, what is there to say about this particular group? All undeniable hits. Franchise stalwarts that ushered in a new era for their teams, a familiar face that would come to climb the leaderboards and reach multiple All-Star games. As the most unnecessary group of the bunch for our No. 9s, we won’t waste too much time here. Here’s a quick primer, however:

Drummond is 2x All-Star (2016, 2018) that ranks second for rebounds (8,199), third in blocks (927) and first in field goal percentage (54.1) in Detroit franchise history, played there for eight full years and finished with a career average of 14.4 points and 13.9 rebounds. Given the shakiness of the Pistons following the departure of that 2003-04 championship-winning team, Drummond certainly helped to re-center the ship. That’s a hit, my friends.

Walker – ahem, deep breath. Before moving onto the Celtics last summer, Walker managed to become the Hornets all-time leader in minutes played (20,607), field goals (4,1,64) and points (12,009). The point guard, who has a decent shot at the Hall of Fame, finished his nine-year stint in Charlotte second in assists (3,308), third in steals (799) and made the All-Star Game three years in a row (2016-19). Hit.

Jazz fans have come to love Hayward in their own unique way over the years, but he was still a staple for seven years. He, unlike the others, is just a one-time All-Star, although making it in the crowded Western Conference is no simple feat. The former Butler man ended at eighth in assists (1,762), ninth in steals (527) and eighth in points (8,077) — an achievement considering Utah’s rich history. Hit.

And perhaps the most underrated of the bunch, the long-time Raptors cornerstone owns a 20-point per game career average, got voted onto four All-Star teams and even made a couple of All-NBA teams to boot. Until he was unceremoniously moved for Kawhi Leonard, DeRozan looked like a Toronto-lifer alongside Kyle Lowry. With the California-born guard in charge, he helped to push the franchise to new heights – including five-straight postseason appearances and a conference finals berth. Hit.

The Misses

Frank Kaminsky – Charlotte Hornets –2015

Following a red-hot run to the NCAA championship, Frank Kaminsky flew up draft boards faster than anyone else. In the newly-born era of unicorns – seven-footers with a three-point range – Kaminsky was tough to ignore. For Wisconsin, he averaged 18.8 points on 41.6 percent from deep – what wasn’t there to like? But Kaminsky’s professional career never got totally airborne, averaging just 11.7 points and 4.5 rebounds during a career-year back in 2016-17. Made worse, Boston wanted Justise Winslow so badly that they offered six draft picks (including four first-rounders) to Charlotte.

Noah Vonleh – Charlotte Hornets – 2014

It’s hard to believe that Vonleh has stuck around for the better part of a decade already – and, hey, he’s still here, after all – but it’s been the path of a journeyman for the forward. In 2018-19, Vonleh had his best-ever season, averaging 8.4 points and 7.8 rebounds for the Knicks. Unfortunately, he bounced around with Minnesota and Denver this year prior to the stoppage, earning just a bit-role. And for a team that badly needed to put pieces around the aforementioned Walker, both Kaminsky and Vonleh were back-to-back misses in the worst way.

The Middle of the Road

Rui Hachimura – Washington Wizards – 2019
Kevin Knox – New York Knicks – 2018

Too early! Hachimura has shown signs of defensive brilliance, but he’s just 41 games into his career. Knox, on the other hand, has struggled at times, although he and Barrett could still form a worthy duo in New York. After starting 57 times for the Knicks last year, he’s lost a third of minutes and his points have been halved — but, remember, he’s dealt with plenty of turmoil and a coaching change already. 

Knox may not be a savior for New York – that appears to be Barrett – but give the 20-year-old some time (and a permanent head coach).

The Role Players

Trey Burke – Utah Jazz – 2013

The career trajectory of Burke has been a fascinating study, from starting as a rookie to slowly getting phased out – his journey actually began on a positive forward-facing foot. At 12.8 points per game, Burke showed promise in back-to-back seasons. Then came the reduced role, the move to Washington and New York – the latter of which he was just happy to prove himself once again – and, more recently, tenuous roles with Dallas and Philadelphia in consecutive campaigns. 

As the backup for Ben Simmons, Burke’s ceiling is currently tapped – but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him pop up in a big way once or twice when the playoffs resume.

Dennis Smith Jr. – New York Knicks – 2017

The path of Smith Jr. has been a much more unpredictable one as the former collegiate standout had high expectations headed into the league. Despite starting 69 games as a rookie in Dallas, he was an important piece of the deal that landed Kristaps Porzingis a year later. Expected to blossom in New York, it’s been a slow, declining ride instead. Smith, for the first time ever, is not averaging more than 10 points per game. Worse, his minutes – much like Knox – were slashed too.

It’s too early to give up on the athletic guard, but the warning signs are blaring loudly.

Jakob Poeltl – Toronto Raptors – 2016

At 24 years old, you might be tempted to toss Poeltl in another category altogether – but there’s no need to be hasty. As a sophomore, Poeltl played all 82 games for the Raptors, averaged 6.9 points and 4.8 rebounds and provided solid minutes behind Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka, a frontcourt pairing that would help bring a championship to Toronto the very next year. And although Poeltl, along with DeRozan, went to San Antonio for Leonard, there’s always room for a defense-first, reliable backcourt rotation member. With the Spurs’ (and perhaps Popovich’s) future up in the air, it’ll be interesting to see how the Austrian’s career evolves from here on out.

In all, the No. 9 picks over the years have maintained a fairly-positive success rate. From franchise leaders to future jersey retirement guarantees, it’s a robust group of players for a near double-digit selection. As we’re all more desperate for basketball by the day, it’s important to remember where the league has been… and which players hold the future in their hands.

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