NBA draft international scouting notebook: Lottery picks, more intel
Deni Avdija is a top-10 prospect in ESPN's 2020 NBA draft rankings. Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports4:44 AM MTJonathan GivonyESPNFacebookTwitterFacebook MessengerPinterestEmailprintWhat's the latest on the top international prospects in the 2020 NBA draft class?
ESPN draft analyst Jonathan Givony recently spent 10 days in Europe evaluating many of the most intriguing players teams are scouting for this season, as well as some notable young prospects for future drafts.
Here are the highlights of what he learned on his 14-game, nine-country trip across the Atlantic Ocean, including intel on projected lottery picks Deni Avdija and Killian Hayes, potential sleepers and more of the draft's risers and fallers abroad.
SpainThe prestigious L'Hospitalet tournament in Barcelona brought together eight junior teams featuring several prospects for the 2021 and 2022 drafts in a one-day, six-game stop.
The NBA Global Academy team went 5-0 with the deepest, most talented roster in the tournament. We've been following the NBA academy venture closely the past three years, and it's impressive to see how quickly it has been able to recruit and develop talent. Several players put themselves on the draft radar for scouts.
NBA mock draft: What would the likely lottery teams do at No. 1?
NBA draft rankings: The top 100 prospects for 2020Tournament MVP Josh Giddey, a 6-foot-8 guard who operated as the academy's playmaker while often guarding 4s in small-ball lineups, showed his versatility with an impressive line of 19 points, 14 rebounds and 8 assists per 40 minutes. Without great length, size or explosiveness, Giddey relies on feel, creativity and swagger to separate himself. You'll often see him throw an outlet pass the length of the floor with his off-hand off a live dribble and then make an impeccable read operating out of pick-and roll. His lack of traditional athleticism, streaky jumper, upright defensive stance and at-times inability to beat longer players off the dribble mean he'll likely have to win scouts over with productivity at higher levels. But he's improving rapidly, even if it might take him a few years to maximize his draft stock.
A smooth, 6-foot-5 off-guard with a strong frame, good athleticism and versatility, Mojave King proved to be the tournament's best perimeter shooter, knocking down 14 of his 29 3-point attempts in just more than 100 minutes of action. King historically has been happy to defer to others, but his ability to score in the open floor, hit clean jumpers, get teammates involved and make the right play is interesting, considering his youth and physical tools. The next step in his development will be for him to play with more aggressiveness on both ends of the floor and become a more dynamic ball handler.
Other notable players: Canadian wing Olivier-Maxence Prosper, Danish wing Gustav Knudsen, Serbian wings Nikola Radovanovic, Stefan Todorovic and Luka Tarlac, Uruguayan guard Agustin Ubal, Dutch wing Yannick Kraag, Senegalese wing Pape Sow and Spanish wing Miguel Allen Montesdeoca
ItalyNext, I caught 19-year old Cameroonian power forward Paul Eboua, who recently moved into the starting lineup in Italy's first division with some productive games. He has improved significantly after looking lost in the lowly second division last season, putting up maybe the best game of his career with a 20-point, 9-rebound, 3-steal outing in 36 minutes this month.
At 6-foot-8 with a chiseled frame, 7-foot-3 wingspan and explosive athleticism, Eboua has always had phenomenal physical tools. But now he's knocking down 3-pointers, attacking closeouts, operating as a lob threat and making basic passes. The game still moves too quickly for him at times on both ends, his hands aren't reliable enough, and he isn't always able to take advantage of his athleticism. Still, he didn't play basketball until age 14, and he has made impressive strides over the past year, despite not being in an ideal development situation.
Eboua is a legitimate second-round prospect who might be a good fit for a G League affiliate or stash in Europe for another year or two.
IsraelSeveral scouts were in attendance to watch 19-year-old Yam Madar and Hapoel Tel Aviv face Maccabi Ashdod. Madar is having an excellent season in the first division, and he put up an efficient 9 points, 4 assists, 2 steals and 2 rebounds in 19 minutes with defensive energy in a victory.
A late-bloomer physically, Madar has good size, length and athleticism for a PG, but it will likely take several years for his frail frame to fill out before he's ready for the NBA. Nonetheless, he left a strong impression with his feel for the game, competitiveness, budding shooting ability and intangibles. Several executives said they hope he gets an invite to the Nike Hoop Summit in April.
Madar's quick feet and hands made it difficult for the opposing team to get into its sets, and he was subbed into the game late to get defensive stops. He has work to do tightening his ball-handling skills and gaining consistency on offense in the half court, but he is an excellent development situation. He looks like a safe bet to reach his full potential.
BelgiumDespite being only 18 in his first season at the professional level with Oostende, Amar Sylla is playing a significant role in both the first division and the FIBA Champions League, starting every game at power forward and seeing 23 MPG. Those outsized demands seem to be taking a toll on the thin and inexperienced Senegalese big man, as he has hit a bit of a wall after several impressive showings in November and December. He fouled out in just 10 minutes in the game I watched, marking the first time he had done so this season.
Scouts didn't sound particularly discouraged, given that they have long viewed Sylla as a long-term project. He's the second-youngest prospect in ESPN's top 100 draft rankings. A patient team with a strong development infrastructure might be happy to let him develop in the G League until he's ready to contribute in the NBA. He's also being mentioned as a potential candidate for April's Nike Hoop Summit.
HungaryNext up: Carlos Alocen playing in a Champions League game against Falco. Alocen and his team, Zaragoza, are having a dream season in the Spanish ACB, currently in third place in arguably the strongest league in Europe. Alocen had a quiet game by his standards, but he played an important role late in his team's road win in a hostile environment.
At 6-foot-5, the 19-year-old brings excellent height for a point guard, even if he has a narrow frame, short wingspan and average athleticism. His strengths include tremendous basketball IQ, confidence and swagger. He passes with both hands, has tremendous vision in pick-and-rolls and shows terrific creativity with bounce passes. Scouts will want to see him improve his perimeter shot and overall half-court scoring, as he's shooting 28% from beyond the arc and 63% from the foul line. There's technically nothing wrong with his stroke, which instills some confidence that he'll figure out this part of his game in time. That's imperative for his NBA chances, as he struggles at times to finish in the paint and doesn't project as a plus defender.
Alocen isn't oozing with upside, but the fact that he's having such a productive season at his age on a winning team gives him a high floor and a solid chance to be selected (if he stays in the draft).
GermanyDeni Avdija played only 12 minutes against Alba Berlin in a Euroleague game for Maccabi Tel Aviv, but he showed all of his talent and then some, throwing in a pair of 3-pointers, leaking out for a transition finish, blocking two shots emphatically, making the extra pass in the half-court and displaying his defensive versatility. Early foul trouble and a bloody nose cut his night short, but it's easy to see that Avdija is hitting his stride and on an upward trajectory, something he backed up in his next game with a career high 22 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in the Israeli league.
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Avdija has made real strides from a physical standpoint. He improved his body and athleticism so that he isn't overmatched at the highest levels of competition as a 6-foot-9 guard. He's playing almost strictly on the perimeter this season, seeing only a handful of minutes at the small-ball 4 position that -- as he continues to add bulk to his frame -- will likely be attractive to whatever NBA team drafts him. Defensively, Avdija has made a major upgrade to his intensity and consistency.
He is being asked to play a confined role offensively for a talented Maccabi squad in the midst of an outstanding season, rarely being utilized in situations where his ball-handling, court vision and creativity would shine. However, he drops enough glimpses of versatility, skill and feel to remind scouts of what makes him special, and he has shown as much in other settings.
Avdija's recent play and modern NBA fit -- combined with the struggles of the American prospects rated in front of him -- make him a player teams drafting early in the lottery will want to look at closely. He has hovered in the Nos. 5-6 range of our rankings all season and could get looks a little earlier than that, depending on how the lottery shakes out.
FrancePotential lottery pick Theo Maledon is in the midst of an up-and-down season with Euroleague club ASVEL. NBA teams have been frustrated by Maledon's difficult situation from a minutes and opportunity standpoint on one of the slowest and most conservative teams in the league, so it was interesting to see Maledon have one of his most aggressive games of the season, scoring 13 points in 14 minutes while getting to the free throw line a season-high seven times. Scouts historically have criticized Maledon for passivity, making this performance encouraging, though Maledon's coach kept his minutes down.
One reason for Maledon's struggle to carve out a more prominent role is his regression as a shooter, with his percentages dropping from an excellent 38% from beyond the arc and 85% from the free throw line last season to 30% and 67% this season, respectively. Before the game, Maledon went through a long warm-up complete with floaters and a mix of jumpers, and he shot the ball extremely well. His mechanics look clean, and he has been aggressive and confident this season taking open shots. He shows some comfort shooting off a screen and flashes of being able to make step-backs.
On a team that wants to grind out the shot clock, it's understandable that Maledon has seen his production drop off. Considering that he isn't blessed with elite athleticism and has taken a step back this season as a playmaker, it's safe to say that NBA teams will want to see a lot more out of him on both ends before once again projecting him as a lottery pick, like they did before the season.
In Cholet, 6-foot-7 guard Abdoulaye N'Doye has blossomed into a highly versatile player in his draft-eligible season. N'Doye's club started the game down 12-0, at which point his coach, Erman Kunter, made the unconventional decision to bench his starting point guard, Michael Stockton, and put the ball in his young player's hands. That resulted in a simply outstanding first half in which N'Doye scored eight points and dished out six assists, not leaving the court for a second, something I had never seen at this level in my 17 years of international scouting.
After nearly being relegated last season, Cholet is in the midst of an outstanding season, thanks in large part to the integral role N'Doye plays in their switching defensive scheme. With his 7-foot-2 wingspan, N'Doye is tasked with defending opposing point guards, but he will frequently and successfully switch onto bigs in pick-and-roll. N'Doye plays with impressive maturity for his age (21), posting a 65% true shooting percentage and 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He lacks a degree of aggressiveness and could stand to ramp up his intensity a notch, but it was impressive to see his contributions in his team's eventual blowout win.
With physical measurements comparable to those of Robert Covington, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Jerami Grant at the same age, N'Doye looks like a prototype NBA wing, provided he continues to improve his perimeter shooting. Surprisingly, N'Doye hasn't garnered significant attention from NBA teams thus far, as it seems most scouts have moved on to younger prospects after he took longer than expected to blossom. With 16 games plus a likely playoffs appearance left, expect that to change considering how productive he has been. The prospect of him being a first-round pick is certainly in the cards if he finishes the season well.
GermanyKillian Hayes is having an outstanding season in Germany. He appears to be in the best development situation of any of the potential lottery picks in Europe, as the Ulm organization is doing everything it can to help him reach his goal of playing in the NBA.
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According to several Ulm stakeholders, the team is investing $25 million to build an academy that they hope will become one of the premier destinations for elite youth prospects from Germany and abroad. They want Hayes to be the flag bearer for why future NBA players should sign in Ulm over other traditional hotspots. When Ulm started the season 2-11, with Hayes turning the ball over 57 times in his first 292 minutes, the team refused to pull him from the starting lineup. They've been rewarded for that with a much better version of Hayes the past two months, which has coincided with a 6-2 record in the German league -- and a huge increase in NBA decision-makers at each game.
Hayes struggled a bit in the game I attended, failing to make any real impact until the contest was well out of hand. He showed many of the flaws that scouts were already concerned about, regarding his average athleticism, struggles operating with his off-hand, inconsistent 3-point shooting, lack of midrange game and porous defense.
The appeal around Hayes revolves heavily around his excellent combination of size, length and strength for a PG, along with his playmaking ability. He's extremely shifty with the ball, using his strong frame, long strides, agility and polished footwork to get to his spots on the floor and throw in soft floaters off the glass. He sees the court well and gets his teammates involved, tossing an excellent 8.6 assists per 40 minutes. He has been shooting the ball very well off the dribble this season, despite a low release. When his motor is running hot, he can be a force putting pressure on the ball, getting in passing lanes and using his strong tools to crash the glass, though he isn't consistent in this area.
Hayes has clearly hit a great groove the past six-to-eight weeks. The caveat has been that he has mostly struggled against better competition, playing in a league that is fairly watered down after the top handful of teams and lacking athleticism comparable to that of NBA players. Pushing Hayes to his weaker right hand, trapping him in ball screens and forcing him to make decisions against length have made him uncomfortable, so we'll have to see if he's able to maintain his efficiency and productivity as the season moves on.
For now, Hayes has reestablished himself as a potential lottery pick, though the glut of point guards in this draft indicates that there is still a lot left to play for heading into June.
― lag∞n, Thursday, 16 January 2020 18:23 (one year ago) link
he top 125 NBA players: The Athletic’s Player Tiers, Tier 5 — from Aaron Gordon to Tyler Herro
Seth Partnow Oct 19, 2020 127 “What do we have? What do we need? What do we have to do to get there?”—Every NBA Executive, today. Possibly apocryphal.
The NBA playoffs can serve as a great separator. Every year, we relearn the lessons of just how big the difference can be between being effective during the grind of a long season and being able to perform against the higher level opposition in the intense, detail-oriented arena of a postseason series. Twenty-nine teams have been found wanting. Even the champion Lakers, once the champagne dries, know they need to get better if they are going to do it again in however long it is until we do this again. For every one of those teams, the burning question is:
“Just how close are we?”
Everything about a team’s strategic planning flows from the answer to that one question.
This starts with an accurate assessment of one’s roster. This is why having the playoffs fresh in mind is so useful. Rather than the fuzzy optimism of the preseason, when everyone is undefeated, teams have either fallen short of the playoffs totally, while all but one has had shortcomings fully exposed, and on national TV to boot. In most seasons, the champions themselves have been stretched and can thus identify areas where they can shore things up.
Thus, every front office in the NBA exists in a constant state of evaluating every player, frequently by way of direct A/B comparisons. This exercise is done with more formality in some organizations in a process that can take weeks to get through the entire league, while others operate more on spinning a series of hypotheticals. A formal version intended to rate or rank every player in the league will take weeks or a month or more as the group involved dives deep to “beat the list up” as the expression goes.
One common methodology for this evaluation is taking every player on a roster and asking, “Would we trade this player for the 60th pick in the upcoming draft? For the 59th? 58th?” and so on until you get to yes. In practice, very few of these trades are plausible or even possible under the restrictions of the salary cap, but aligning with draft picks does create a sort of universal scale of value with which to measure. Another approach, which we have taken here, is to attempt to stratify players into groupings of similar ability levels in the recognition that precise distinctions when players are of very similar ability is much more a question of taste and context than of objectively evaluated impact or value.
This exercise is further complicated by the degree to which the slightly different questions asked can lead to widely varying answers. Are we most concerned about this year (for a current contender), the next three years (for a team on the rise) or what players will be in three years (a team early in a rebuild)? Do we account for contracts and so are we measuring “asset value” or do we just care about playing ability? Is this an “all-30” rating or “value for our roster and system?”
There are a lot of moving parts here, and the same organization will arrange them in different configurations even within the same season, depending on the opportunity or transaction being considered. To aid in these discussions, most if not every team has some sort of “board,” whether physical (a whiteboard or more likely magnet board) or digital (such as a fancy touchscreen), which contains basic information about every player in the league. Position, age, contract (years and dollars), their agent’s name, perhaps some information on if the player has notable character or injury “flags” and so on.
While we at The Athletic can’t grade the rosters of any one team to the degree of detail as those on the inside can — back in January, John Hollinger and I discussed the ways in which player intel passes around the league — we have a leg up in that we have neither attachment to, nor disgust with, any players since we do not have our own team to be biased toward. From experience, I can attest how hard it can be to avoid having hope for a young player’s improvement transform into expectation that he is already there. Similarly, familiarity can breed, if not contempt, then at least disdain for the things a player can’t do at the expense of appreciating what he brings in other areas.
In an effort to provide the best snapshot in time of where each team is from a top-end talent perspective, this is the first installment of the first annual early edition of The Athletic’s NBA Player Tiers.
I’ll discuss the methodology and some of the research behind it in greater detail below, but for those interested more in the broad strokes and “get to the damn rankings already,” a summary via FAQ of what exactly we’re doing here.
Player production and value are too contextual to feel really good about ordered rankings. When choosing between two players of similar ability, the preference for which player a team would rather have is usually “it depends.” Each tier and sub-tier is meant to reflect the group among which “it depends.” By comparison, players in higher tiers will almost always be preferred to players in lower, with some obvious positional caveats. For example, a team that has Nikola Jokic in place could easily prefer Paul George to Joel Embiid even though (spoiler) Embiid is in a slightly higher tier in this iteration. But that is an edge case rather than the rule.
What time frame are we talking?
The tiers are intended to reflect value towards winning a title next season, with a few temporary health-related exceptions.
Who created these tiers?
Well, me. In consultation with a number of folks here at The Athletic, people in the public analytics community and people working in the league with analytics, coaching and scouting backgrounds all represented.
How was the size of the tiers decided?
Discussion of the research behind the number of players fit into various tiers is below, but the short version is it was based on historical precedent of the number of players to reach certain levels of production on average each season.
How were players assigned tiers?
I started with a few holistic metrics, multi-year versions of Regularized Adjusted Plus/Minus and Player Impact Plus/Minus (more on these below if you’re interested in the details), adjusted up or down based on contextual factors, playoff performances and insights from knowledgeable people in a variety of media, public analytics and team-side roles. But ultimately, it was primarily my best judgment weighing those factors and inputs.
Also, I hate your favorite team/player so that’s why.
What about injuries? Contracts? Age?
I mentioned some of the different factors that can drive the evaluation of players in the intro, and contextualizing the ratings does require that context. In order, players were considered from the standpoint of value to a top 10-ish team looking to contend for a title next season and are contract-agnostic. Thus the tiers are not intended to reflect “asset values” of players, and age is only considered as far as the likelihood of sizable improvement or rapid decline heading into next year.
A few younger players (most notably Zion Williamson and Ja Morant) were bumped up a tier or two to account for the likelihood of “The Leap” next year. Injuries are tricky, as will be discussed along with players such as Blake Griffin, Klay Thompson and, of course, Kevin Durant. The broad assumption is that I assumed availability to play, but took into consideration how a particularly bad injury or series of injuries might have diminished a player’s physical abilities to the point where his effectiveness has been or might be eroded.
Are the players within each tier ranked?
No. The purpose of this project is to rank players by categorizing them into similar tiers. Within those tiers, the players are ranked by category (A, B or C, depending on the size of the tier) and then listed in alphabetical order (by first name) within that category.
With all that out of the way and without further ado, we begin The Athletic’s Player Tiers Project with Tier 5 on Monday. Each ensuing tier will be unveiled as the week continues.
• Tier 1 – Revealed Friday morning• Tier 2 – Revealed Thursday morning• Tier 3 – Revealed Wednesday morning• Tier 4 – Revealed Tuesday morning* Editor’s Note: Scroll to the right for more stats.
Tiers 4 & 5: Players 38 -1254ABrandon IngramNOP8.9$28.62-0.83-0.28-0.55-0.15-0.24-0.59-0.66-1.25NA4ABrook LopezMIL24.9$79.792.540.581.961.632.621.252.844.091.894ACJ McCollumPOR22.6$72.471.381.86-0.480.752.721.77-0.890.88-2.024ADanilo GallinariOKC16.5$52.702.142.92-0.781.114.773.35-0.912.44-2.244ADanny GreenLAL24.4$78.053.832.281.551.774.121.091.842.931.134ADe'Aaron FoxSAC11.3$36.23-0.300.72-1.02-0.421.160.45-1.26-0.82NA4ADeMar DeRozanSAS19.0$60.920.881.98-1.10-0.051.831.44-1.360.08-2.494ADerrick RoseDET4.6$14.88-0.770.94-1.71-0.21-2.000.97-2.39-1.43-0.704ADomantas SabonisIND18.7$59.921.921.000.931.421.880.450.991.44-1.484AFred VanVleetTOR19.1$61.102.861.631.231.034.691.130.801.93-0.914AGoran DragicMIA12.2$38.900.910.95-0.040.352.500.84-0.98-0.140.524AGordon HaywardBOS12.5$39.902.612.240.372.343.861.97-0.511.46-2.334AJoe InglesUTA27.0$86.512.971.131.841.972.500.781.181.961.514AJohn WallWAS6.4$20.500.32-0.380.71NA3.090.710.170.880.804AJusuf NurkicPOR18.5$59.173.000.032.98NA4.530.633.133.77-1.914ALaMarcus AldridgeSAS24.5$78.462.831.201.63-0.053.780.990.581.57-0.304AMalcolm BrogdonIND14.7$46.881.381.050.330.833.821.080.081.16-1.324AMarcus SmartBOS18.1$58.021.59-0.161.761.082.170.481.091.570.984ANikola VucevicORL27.3$87.242.711.481.230.733.222.631.804.43-2.564AP.J. TuckerHOU20.8$66.411.540.770.770.841.22-0.420.710.292.164ARobert CovingtonHOU25.8$82.643.500.3188.8.131.520.043.613.65-0.194AShai Gilgeous-AlexanderOKC9.1$29.17-0.650.27-0.920.40-0.920.55-0.550.00-1.454ATobias HarrisPHI16.4$52.63-0.440.42-0.860.79-0.120.53-0.480.060.814AVictor OladipoIND17.9$57.253.501.082.420.274.861.431.713.142.924BBojan BogdanovicUTA17.5$55.930.851.05-0.201.65-1.180.65-0.620.04-0.984BCaris LeVertBKN7.3$23.30-0.53-0.11-0.420.290.49-0.26-0.71-0.97-2.444BD'Angelo RussellMIN8.6$27.47-1.240.45-1.69-1.54-1.531.63-2.02-0.39-2.214BEric BledsoeMIL27.6$88.452.291.730.561.584.713.211.744.951.624BJ.J. RedickNOP18.1$57.861.502.22-0.730.142.412.33-1.261.060.044BJaren JacksonMEM5.7$18.36-1.08-1.220.14-1.34-1.80-0.810.75-0.06NA4BJoe HarrisBKN16.0$51.221.351.360.011.210.790.97-1.28-0.30-3.034BJohn CollinsATL12.4$39.630.81-0.070.88-0.271.940.74-0.550.19NA4BLou WilliamsLAC15.2$48.771.422.92-1.490.090.352.58-3.40-0.82-1.414BMike ConleyUTA13.1$41.781.281.130.15-0.824.672.03-0.041.991.364BMontrezl HarrellLAC16.0$51.352.141.610.531.783.351.29-0.520.77-3.394BMyles TurnerIND16.2$51.800.63-1.231.860.250.85-0.992.361.37-0.554BOG AnunobyTOR11.4$36.350.630.070.560.710.74-1.130.94-0.19-0.434BOtto PorterCHI20.4$65.414.622.891.730.575.131.681.453.13-0.114BPatrick BeverleyLAC15.0$48.023.382.041.352.435.650.781.462.24-0.014BRicky RubioPHX23.7$75.892.860.652.201.563.470.701.792.491.784BSpencer DinwiddieBKN15.9$50.920.511.57-1.060.161.371.92-1.200.72-1.304BZach LaVineCHI5.9$18.86-1.740.46-2.21-1.59-3.281.11-2.54-1.42NA5AAaron GordonORL19.7$63.081.270.560.71-0.223.440.800.581.38-2.185AAl HorfordPHI26.6$84.983.551.492.051.045.361.411.623.041.095AAndre DrummondCLE23.5$75.220.900.91-0.02-1.212.510.662.052.71-2.315AAndrew WigginsGSW15.3$49.100.031.27-1.24-0.980.510.69-1.04-0.35-2.075AAron BaynesPHX9.8$31.452.07-0.442.51-0.243.98-1.652.330.67-2.845ABlake GriffinDET16.1$51.541.791.280.510.103.601.86-0.511.35-0.435ABogdan BogdanovicSAC9.6$30.64-0.860.29-1.14-0.640.140.16-1.05-0.89NA5ABrandon ClarkeMEM3.5$11.310.640.79-0.160.551.601.060.011.07NA5ABuddy HieldSAC17.9$57.281.281.40-0.12-0.601.121.36-1.230.13NA5AChristian WoodDET4.9$15.711.801.580.232.093.801.28-0.101.18NA5AClint CapelaATL18.8$60.130.96-0.551.51-0.252.231.041.862.901.035ADaniel TheisBOS10.2$32.551.460.680.791.202.89-0.441.561.120.785ADanuel HouseHOU10.0$32.141.721.580.140.762.781.24-0.181.06-1.185ADavis BertansWAS15.0$47.842.342.59-0.250.613.212.45-0.561.89-0.125ADeandre AytonPHX6.8$21.60-0.20-0.880.680.430.94-0.11-0.38-0.49NA5ADejounte MurraySAS8.7$27.750.59-1.321.91-1.021.86-1.662.210.55-0.585ADennis SchroderOKC16.3$52.291.750.850.902.202.250.11-0.65-0.54-0.495ADerrick WhiteSAS11.9$38.081.880.201.680.293.740.910.991.900.605ADevonte' GrahamCHA5.1$16.23-0.441.34-1.78-0.370.101.21-2.14-0.93NA5ADuncan RobinsonMIA9.0$28.672.922.430.493.524.532.320.102.420.785AEric GordonHOU19.5$62.3184.108.40.206-0.602.652.63-1.131.50-3.465AEvan FournierORL15.9$50.840.651.54-0.89-0.430.031.62-1.380.24-5.695AGary HarrisDEN15.8$50.441.110.011.110.461.350.230.510.74-0.635AGeorge HillMIL15.5$49.562.942.240.702.393.860.630.831.460.535AIvica ZubacLAC10.2$32.712.59-0.753.341.441.85-0.412.652.242.565AJae CrowderMIA10.4$33.41-1.250.44-1.70-1.651.070.19-0.47-0.28-2.375AJarrett AllenBKN15.2$48.541.250.430.820.213.680.710.090.79-2.125AJerami GrantDEN11.9$38.18-0.130.21-0.34-1.00-1.18-0.50-0.09-0.59-2.325AJonas ValanciunasMEM15.3$49.101.650.880.781.110.541.150.771.910.995AJonathan IsaacORL8.9$28.490.24-1.201.440.842.58-1.472.370.90-1.015AJosh RichardsonPHI19.3$61.771.65-0.061.700.491.73-0.580.890.31-3.005AKentavious Caldwell-PopeLAL12.3$39.450.571.31-0.740.841.42-0.18-1.06-1.240.685AKevin LoveCLE13.2$42.261.421.60-0.17-0.975.042.47-0.352.12-0.535ALuke KennardDET10.2$32.581.751.170.580.572.340.25-0.37-0.12-1.765AMarc GasolTOR20.5$65.742.520.641.882.164.04-0.832.301.480.105AMaxi KleberDAL12.5$40.101.14-0.201.330.622.09-0.250.860.61-1.825AMikal BridgesPHX12.3$39.281.030.670.361.152.37-0.110.890.77NA5AMitchell RobinsonNYK9.2$29.520.990.590.400.2220.127.116.112.63NA5APaul MillsapDEN18.9$60.324.091.572.521.985.421.421.653.06-0.335ARoyce O'NealeUTA16.9$54.143.021.221.791.803.68-0.391.541.15-2.245ASerge IbakaTOR15.1$48.231.060.980.080.761.360.560.040.600.785ASeth CurryDAL8.0$25.712.352.120.231.062.150.71-1.41-0.70-0.255ASteven AdamsOKC30.0$95.913.962.401.561.005.052.061.083.13-2.475AT.J. WarrenIND9.7$31.01-1.01-0.36-0.618.104.22.168-0.90-0.53-1.505ATim HardawayDAL16.1$51.391.661.85-0.192.103.871.58-1.69-0.11-1.595ATyler HerroMIA1.3$4.08-2.00-1.11-0.90-1.52-4.38-0.59-1.69-2.29-2.29About Tier 5, the above average rotation players: Since we won’t discuss each player in Tier 5 in turn as we will for Tiers 1-4, it’s worth identifying what this level of players includes in broad strokes. While at any given time there are around 250-275 regular rotation players in the NBA, half or more are somewhat fungible. The term “just a guy” has been used at times. Discussing a team’s seventh man in possible trade discussions, an evaluator might say, “I like him as a player, but he’s just a guy.” Meaning he’ll give competent minutes, but won’t move the needle much, especially in a playoff setting. By contrast, Tier 5 is where guys start to matter a little more. They won’t affect every matchup, and will be more useful in some situations than others, but this first group of above average rotation players can be the little something extra that pushes a team over the top in an otherwise close matchup.
In reality, there are probably a few players left off this list that could easily be included. But “the top 137 players” doesn’t have quite the same ring as “Top 125.” So apologies to fans of Kelly Oubre Jr., Harrison Barnes or Kelly Olynyk who just missed the cut.
― Blues Guitar Solo Heatmap (Free Download) (upper mississippi sh@kedown), Tuesday, 20 October 2020 17:51 (eight months ago) link
TIER 4B1.5 Way Bigs
* Editor’s Note: Scroll to the right on charts for more stats.
Jaren Jackson Jr.MEM5.7 wins - $18.36mmDPIPM: +0.75 (99th)ORAPM: -1.22 (328th)John CollinsATL12.4 wins - $39.63mmDRAPM: +0.88 (93rd)DPIPM: -0.55 (230th)Montrezl HarrellLAC16.0 wins - $51.35mm1yr RAPM: +1.78 (31st)PO PIPM: -3.39 (267th)Myles TurnerIND16.2 wins - $51.80mmDPIPM: +2.36 (15th)ORAPM: -1.23 (329th)With the downward positional pressure that seems to occur with regularity in recent postseasons, there are a number of bigs who have been or are likely to be very productive regular season players for whom you worry about working in playoff situations. Obviously, Harrell’s struggles contributing to the Clippers’ earlier-than-expected departure have been discussed at length, but it’s worth noting just how much worse his playoff results have been over the last several years, even as his high energy aggression is a definite asset night-to-night in a regular schedule.
Turner hasn’t been fortunate enough to have an extended playoff run, but he has yet to show the ability to punish size advantages to a sufficient degree to not be a “one-way mismatch” guy in the playoffs, though one suspects that a more progressive offensive scheme might at least make better use of his jump shooting.
Collins and Jackson are still developing, but neither has had much chance to prove himself in high-leverage situations. To this point in his career, Jackson has been more a collection of talent than a productive player, struggling in particular with a sky-high foul rate that has tended to limit both his playing time and defensive effectiveness. Meanwhile, Collins’ increasing offensive versatility — he showcased an improved 3-point touch in the half-season of action he managed this past year — is encouraging, but he has yet to prove the ability to defend and rebound to a sufficient level to be a playoff-quality small-ball 5. Collins is also an interesting case because he is one of the few cases where RAPM and PIPM strongly disagree upon which end of the floor he is more effective. Among minute-qualifying players, he is 211st in ORAPM/93rd in DRAPM compared to 98th in OPIPM/230th in DPIPM.
Bojan BogdanovicUtah17.5 wins - $55.93mm1yr RAPM: +1.65 (34th)5yr RAPM: -1.18 (300th)J.J. RedickNOP18.1 wins - $57.86mmOPIPM +2.33 (32nd)DPIPM: -1.26 (316th)Joe HarrisBKN16.0 wins - $51.22mm1yr RAPM: +1.21 (57th)DPIPM: -1.28 (321st)Otto Porter Jr.CHI20.4 wins $65.41mmRAPM: +4.62 (11th)PO PIPM: -0.11 (105th)Otto Porter Jr. might be a surprising inclusion here, but he is among the more underrated deep shooters in the league, with the versatility to knock down both open spot-ups and more difficult shots off movement. In fact, according to the Second Spectrum data shared with The Athletic by a league source, Porter is the all-time leader (post-2013) in 3-point shooting off of movement, slightly ahead of and in the company of Redick, Kyle Korver, Klay Thompson, Duncan Robinson and Davis Bertans. In fact, the main thing keeping Porter from being much higher on the tiers (he’s 11th in 3-year RAPM and 31st in 3-year PIPM among active players) is his consistent inability to stay on the floor, averaging fewer than 1,500 minutes over the past three seasons as he’s dealt with a variety of injuries.
Redick and Harris are more straightforward bombers, with Redick complementing with his movement, shooting accuracy and high volume. Harris is also a great shooter, but is a better driver, playmaker and defender than he is frequently credited for.
Bogdanovic is an imperfect fit for this group, as he profiles as a more versatile if not quite as good a shooter as the other three in here, but is a strata lower in terms of overall production than the “versatile wings” group in Tier 4A. He is also a relatively late bloomer, as indicated by how poorly he grades in long-term (5-year) RAPM. This largely coincides with the split between his first three seasons in the NBA, mostly with the Nets and half a season in Washington, where he was a decent (36.9 percent) 3-point shooter before becoming an elite, high-volume weapon in Indiana and now Utah (41.3 percent).
Offensive Lead Guards
Caris LeVertBKN7.3 wins - $23.30mm1yr RAPM: +0.29 (152nd)DPIPM: 0.71 (254th)D'Angelo RussellMIN8.6 wins - $27.47mmOPIPM: +1.63 (49th)DPIPM: -2.02 (354th)Lou WilliamsLAC15.2 wins - $48.77mmORAPM: +2.92 (16th)DPIPM: -3.40 (375th)Spencer DinwiddieBKN15.9 wins - $50.92mmOPIPM: +1.92 (41st)DPIPM: -1.20 (309th)Zach LaVineCHI5.9 wins - $18.86mmOPIPM: +1.11 (69th)DRAPM: -2.21 (369th)Decent-but-not elite shot creation is one of the more overrated and overvalued skillsets in the modern game, at least as it relates to championship equity. Players with creation ability who can make a bad team respectable, but perhaps not make an already good team great are sometimes referred to as “floor raisers.” And that’s where this group mostly lands. Combined with the sort of defensive deficiencies that can turn players into targets in a later-round series, and the limitations, the lack of “ceiling raising” starts to show through.
Russell might seem like a strange inclusion here given that he made an All-Star team just last season. However, according to most impact metrics, there is little evidence of him elevating a team’s overall offensive production as much as his individual scoring and playmaking numbers might suggest — he rates 49th in OPIPM over the last three years, but when you back out his boxscore stats and look at ORAPM, he drops to 150th. Further, when he and Dinwiddie were on the Nets, Brooklyn was consistently better on offense with Dinwiddie running the show than Russell.
I’ll note that I am a huge fan of Caris LeVert’s game, but am always surprised at the degree to which production metrics don’t quite see it that way, and I wonder the extent to which he has rarely been the unquestioned lead creator on a team or even lineup grouping plays into that. Sadly, barring further moves, it is unlikely we see him in that role in Brooklyn next season as he goes into the season fourth on the creation pecking order behind Dinwiddie, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.
Defensive Lead Guards
Eric BledsoeMIL27.6 wins - $88.45mmPIPM: +4.95 (11th)DRAPM: +0.56 (129th)Mike ConleyUTA13.1 wins - $41.78mm5yr RAPM: +4.67 (34th)DPIPM: -0.04 (171st)Patrick BeverleyLAC15.0 wins - $48.02mm1yr RAPM: +2.43 (8th)PO PIPM: -0.01 (85th)Ricky RubioPHX23.7 wins - $75.89mmDRAPM: +2.20 (20th)ORAPM: +0.65 (129th)In some ways, this group is the reverse of the above. Players who can hold their own and indeed provide positive value defensively, but can turn into passengers offensively. The shooting struggles of Bledsoe and Rubio are well-documented. Though Beverley is a capable shooter (39.4 percent in his three Clippers’ seasons, 40.4 percent in the playoffs), his issue is the volume of offensive contributions. He doesn’t shoot often enough (around 5 C&S 3FGA/100 with the Clips, compared to around 8.5/100 for players like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Danny Green and the 7.5/100 range of guys like Josh Richardson or Wes Matthews over that span) to make up for his lack of overall offensive involvement, considering his sub 13 percent usage rate. Additional criticisms that separate Beverley from some of the 3&D types higher up the list include his defense being mildly overrated, in no small part due to his incredibly high propensity for fouling (his 4.2 PF/36 was easily the highest among point guards this season, and he is annually among the league “leaders” in most non-shooting fouls committed while the opponent is in the bonus).
Conley is in this subgroup mainly because he fits here slightly better than he would in the “offense first” category, but he is probably closer to in the middle of the two, but at a similar level of production to both groups after a disappointing first season in Utah.
OG AnunobyTOR11.4 wins - $36.35mmDPIPM: +0.94 (82nd)OPIPM: -1.13 (258th)A player who could easily find himself a rung or two up the list after next season, OG is already one of the better on-ball defenders of big wings in the league, which hasn’t quite translated to elite overall defensive contributions. But the eye test and his traditional defensive counting stats (he was one of only 12 players/7 non-bigs to have both steal and block percentages over 2.0 last season) suggest it is only a matter of time for it to do so.
While his offensive game has improved to a degree, to move up the list he probably does have to become a little more active in that regard. Even Robert Covington, the sort of platonic ideal for the bigger 3&D role, sported a 17.0 usage rate compared to Anunoby’s 14.3 percent, and was much more willing to take above-the-break 3s, attempting 9.0/100 compared to only 2.6/100 from Anunoby. OG doesn’t have a big corner-ATB split (40.0 and 38.0 percent respectively) so there are indications he can do so. But for him to move into that sort of “elite role player” territory, he has to actually do it.
TIER 4AStars on the backside of the curve
DeMar DeRozanSAS19.0 wins - $60.92mmORAPM: +1.98 (43rd)DPIPM: -1.36 (328th)Derrick RoseDET4.6 wins - $14.88mmOPIPM: +0.97 (81st)DPIPM: -2.39 (365th)Goran DragicMIA12.2 wins - $38.90mmPO PIPM: +0.54 (54th)DPIPM: -0.98 (288th)John WallWAS6.4 wins - $20.50mmPO PIPM: +0.80 (42nd)ORAPM: -0.38 (255th)LaMarcus AldridgeSAS24.5 wins - $78.46mmRAPM: +2.83 (40th)1yr RAPM: -0.05 (192nd)Father time remains undefeated. Whether through the normal aging process for Aldridge and DeRozan or in large part because of injuries in the case of Rose and Wall, physical declines are real and can be highly impactful. This can result either in an abrupt loss of effectiveness or more gradual diminutions of value, which accumulate over the course of years, taking once All-Stars into the realm of merely nice rotation pieces, as is the case for the Spurs duo.
Before the iniquity of his plantar fascia injury in his first half of Finals play, Dragic was enjoying a renaissance, the driving force behind Miami’s offense for much of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
At least in the last two years, Rose has demonstrated a re-emergence of some of his explosiveness — horizontally if not vertically, I don’t think he’s driving the lane and turning the ball over on defender’s heads much these days. But the wear and tear has turned him into more of a 25 MPG dynamo than someone able to carry starter minutes night-to-night. Obviously, this is useful but also needs to be taken into account when assessing his place in the league’s hierarchy.
Wall, in particular, is one of the more difficult players in the league to assess, as he has missed the better part of two years and suffered several injuries, each of which can sap athleticism. He relied on his incredible burst and end-to-end speed for a lot of his value. At the same time, for reasons I discussed with our Wizards’ beat writer Fred Katz recently, there are reasons to believe he can transition into more of a co-lead alongside Bradley Beal than Rose was able to do in the years immediately following his own injuries.
“Not Quite A Star” Bigs
Brook LopezMIL24.9 wins - $79.79mmDPIPM: +2.84 (8th)ORAPM: +0.58 (139th)Domantas SabonisIND18.7 wins - $59.92mm1yr RAPM: +1.42 (49th)PO PIPM: -1.48 (213th)Jusuf NurkicPOR18.5 wins - $59.17mmDPIPM: + 3.13 (4th)PO PIPM: -1.91 (231st)Nikola VucevicORL27.3 wins - $87.24mmPIPM: +4.43 (15th)PO PIPM: -2.56 (260th)A group of players who have combined very strong regular season contributions with some very notable struggles in the playoffs. No one embodies this quite as much as Vucevic, who has been a highly productive offensive workhorse for Orlando over the course of each season before finding himself, if not getting played off the floor, rendered substantially less effective by playoff defenses. A common thread might be that against the highest levels of competition, the general lack of mobility of the members of this group renders them exploitable on defense themselves. Sample sizes are small, but it might not be a coincidence that three of these four count playoff-only PIPM as the worst of their topline metrics.
Malcolm BrogdonIND14.7 wins - $46.88mm5yr RAPM: +3.82 (50th)PO PIPM: -1.32 (203rd)Victor OladipoIND17.9 wins - $57.25mmPO PIPM: +2.92 (13th)1yr RAPM: +0.27 (158th)While divergent from each other in terms of style — Oladipo the more explosive athlete, Brogdon a better shooter who uses strength and craft to get where he wants to go — Indiana has put two players together in their backcourt who are perhaps best described as “1.5s” halfway between lead and shooting guards. Given Oladipo’s slower-than-expected recovery from the devastating knee injury suffered in January 2019, it should not be too surprising that the pair failed to jell over the time it did spend together. If he can return to the level he showed in his 2017-18 campaign, and especially in that season’s playoffs, Oladipo would likely slide into Tier 3. But after such a long-term injury for a smaller guard somewhat reliant on athleticism, I think we need to see it first before slotting him back into that spot.
Brogdon was decently effective thrust into a lead ballhandling, primary offensive role for the first time, though he could not maintain the level of efficiency, or anything close to it, that he managed during his time as an elite role player in Milwaukee. Just the versatility to be able to take on either role has a great deal of value, but not quite enough to place him in the “Top 40 and up” category.
Danilo GallinariOKC16.5 wins - $52.70mmOPIPM: +3.35 (15th)DPIPM: - 0.91 (280th)Gordon HaywardBOS12.5 wins - $39.90mm1yr RAPM: + 2.34 (11th)DPIPM: -0.51 (222nd)Joe InglesUTA27.0 wins - $86.51mm1yr RAPM: +1.97 (24th5yr RAPM: +2.5 (100th)Tobias HarrisPHI16.4 wins - $52.63mmPO PIPM: +0.81 (41st)DRAPM: -0.86 (286th)This group of bigger wings who can all shoot, facilitate and even slide to the power forward slot at times doesn’t have the kind of elite individual talents needed to push its members into Tier 3, but by virtue of that versatility and range of skills are still highly valuable performers. Prior to his horrific injury six minutes into his Boston career, Hayward was in that group, but he has yet to fully regain the extra bit of pop that allowed him to attain that level. As a quick indicator, in his last year in Utah, he had 68 dunks. This year he managed 27. Even accounting for playing around 800 fewer minutes, that indicates a sizable drop in athleticism. And at this point, it’s doubtful he ever gets that back due to his bad injury luck.
Ingles is one player who could perhaps be in a slightly higher tier. He is 22nd in overall production over the last three seasons and has held up decently well in the playoffs. However, he has largely dodged the sort of dominant high usage wings in the postseason by virtue of Utah’s matchups over the last few seasons. Further, his individual production has likely been something of a function of Utah’s lack of offensive creators over the last few years. Given his shooting and size, he would still be an excellent role player on a team with a little more top-end talent, but the top-line value number would drop simply by virtue of the ball being in his hands less.
Elite Defensive Role Players
Marcus SmartBOS18.1 wins - $58.02mmDRAPM: +1.76 (38th)ORAPM: -0.16 (224th)P.J. TuckerHOU20.8 wins - $66.41mmPO PIPM: +2.16 (18th)OPIPM: -0.42 (194th)Robert CovingtonHOU25.8 wins - $82.64mmDPIPM: +3.61 (3rd)ORAPM: +0.34 (163rd)Danny GreenLAL24.4 wins - $78.05mmRAPM: +3.83 (19th)OPIPM: +1.09 (70th)This group was discussed above in terms of why Patrick Beverley and OG Anunoby aren’t in it.
While being comprised of some of the better defenders in the league, this group also provides enough offensive value, generally via shooting, though Smart is an underrated playmaker who has more shooting gravity than his average-to-slightly-below accuracy numbers over his career might suggest by virtue of his sheer willingness to let it fly.
Covington is another player not at all afraid to let it fly, ranking in the top 10 most aggressive shooters over the tracking data era in terms of the proportion of his attempts that have been contested. He is somewhat unusual in terms of top-level defenders in that he has been much more effective as a help defender than on the ball — an area where he has struggled in his postseason appearances. But as a help defender, he is one of the best in the league at getting his hands on the ball, in the small group of players with both steal and block percentages over 2 percent (12 minutes qualified players hit those marks, including Anunoby).
Tucker is the player for whom this is the most optimistic placement. The specialization of his offensive role in Houston working around Harden’s heliocentrism might not be replicable in another setting, and in that case, his high degree of reliance on the corner 3 (as opposed to above the break) could render him enough of a liability on that end to drop to Tier 4B or even Tier 5.
Green has long been on the shortlist for the title of “best role player in the game” for a number of years, perhaps evidenced by the fact that among the topline metrics I’ve used as the starting point for these tiers, he ranked 78th among qualifying players in his worst category. In this way, he is a perfect illustration of the difficulty in using all-in-one metrics to compare players across roles and contexts. Though we’ve never really seen him try, it is more than fair to surmise that Green would struggle in any sort of lead or even secondary creation role where ballhandling is a necessity. But in a pure 3&D role, RAPM style metrics have frequently rated him among the most highly effective players in the game as indicated by him being 19th in 3-year RAPM. Despite that level of impact, without the former, this is as high as the latter can reasonably take him or Covington for that matter.
Lead Guards on the Rise
De'Aaron FoxSAC11.3 wins - $36.23mmOPIPM: +0.45 (120th)DPIPM: -1.26 (316th)Fred VanVleetTOR19.1 wins - $61.1mm5yr RAPM: +4.69 (32nd)PO PIPM: -0.91 (173rd)Shai Gilgeous-AlexanderOKC9.1 wins* - $29.17mmOPIPM: +0.55 (113th)DRAPM: -0.92 (294th)Of these three, VanVleet is by far the most accomplished, while Gilgeous-Alexander and Fox are in this category more on flashes of potential and expectation of future improvement as they head into their third and fourth seasons respectively after each spending a single season at Kentucky. However, as VanVleet heads towards free agency, I would have some concerns about elevating him into a more prominent role than he has occupied in Toronto’s ensemble. While he has been one of the elite open 3-point shooters in the league over his career, he has been mediocre-to-poor on contested attempts. Given his size, it should not be a shock that he is also one of the least efficient finishers at the rim versus a contest. In a larger role, those two factors could easily tank his efficiency, drastically reducing his value to a championship-seeking team.
If that all seems like I’m tearing him down a little, it is more by way of explanation of why someone whose overall production metrics over his career would seem to indicate a much higher placement. While it is perhaps more obvious why a more primary role would not suit Danny Green, I think these factors suggest something similar would be in store for VanVleet if another team does sign him away this offseason to become its offensive leader.
Brandon IngramNOP8.9 wins - $28.62mm1yr RAPM: -0.15 (200th)RAPM: -0.83 (276th)CJ McCollumPOR22.6 wins - $72.47mmOPIPM: +1.77 (44th)DPIPM: -2.02 (276th)This feels slightly harsh on McCollum, who is a very talented scorer and excellent complement (at least offensively) to Damian Lillard, but the combination between his lackluster playoff showings combined with the fact that his gaudy estimated wins and production value is somewhat a function of his enormous minute load over the last three seasons (only four players who made the top 125 logged more regular-season minutes over that period than did McCollum) make me somewhat skeptical of him as a No. 2 option at the elite levels of play. Mediocre defensive metrics and relatively poor playoff production also point in that direction. As I tended to resolve all “ties” between Tiers by pushing a player down a level rather than up, those doubts led him here.
As for Ingram, I know he was an All-Star this year, and that he showed great improvements as a shooter in his first season in New Orleans, but most of his one-number ratings are extremely mediocre. Now to a degree, his numbers paid the price for the opponent shot luck, which made Zion Williamson look like a defensive stalwart in some measures in his pre-shutdown action (early returns which were not validated by play in the bubble, to put it mildly). But that only goes so far, and Ingram’s best ranking on the baseline metrics for this exercise was 200th. Let me be clear, I think he is better that those numbers suggest but am also going to see more before being willing to count him among the top 40 players in the league, All-Star appearance this past season or no.
Tier 4 in Full* Editor’s Note: Scroll to the right for more stats.
Tier 4: Players 38-794ABrandon IngramNOP8.9$28.62-0.83-0.28-0.55-0.15-0.24-0.59-0.66-1.25NA4ABrook LopezMIL24.9$79.792.540.581.961.632.621.252.844.091.894ACJ McCollumPOR22.6$72.471.381.86-0.480.752.721.77-0.890.88-2.024ADanilo GallinariOKC16.5$52.702.142.92-0.781.114.773.35-0.912.44-2.244ADanny GreenLAL24.4$78.053.832.281.551.774.121.091.842.931.134ADe'Aaron FoxSAC11.3$36.23-0.300.72-1.02-0.421.160.45-1.26-0.82NA4ADeMar DeRozanSAS19.0$60.920.881.98-1.10-0.051.831.44-1.360.08-2.494ADerrick RoseDET4.6$14.88-0.770.94-1.71-0.21-2.000.97-2.39-1.43-0.704ADomantas SabonisIND18.7$59.921.921.000.931.421.880.450.991.44-1.484AFred VanVleetTOR19.1$61.102.861.631.231.034.691.130.801.93-0.914AGoran DragicMIA12.2$38.900.910.95-0.040.352.500.84-0.98-0.140.524AGordon HaywardBOS12.5$39.902.612.240.372.343.861.97-0.511.46-2.334AJoe InglesUTA27.0$86.512.971.131.841.972.500.781.181.961.514AJohn WallWAS6.4$20.500.32-0.380.71NA3.090.710.170.880.804AJusuf NurkicPOR18.5$59.173.000.032.98NA4.530.633.133.77-1.914ALaMarcus AldridgeSAS24.5$78.462.831.201.63-0.053.780.990.581.57-0.304AMalcolm BrogdonIND14.7$46.881.381.050.330.833.821.080.081.16-1.324AMarcus SmartBOS18.1$58.021.59-0.161.761.082.170.481.091.570.984ANikola VucevicORL27.3$87.242.711.481.230.733.222.631.804.43-2.564AP.J. TuckerHOU20.8$66.411.540.770.770.841.22-0.420.710.292.164ARobert CovingtonHOU25.8$82.643.500.322.214.171.1240.043.613.65-0.194AShai Gilgeous-AlexanderOKC9.1$29.17-0.650.27-0.920.40-0.920.55-0.550.00-1.454ATobias HarrisPHI16.4$52.63-0.440.42-0.860.79-0.120.53-0.480.060.814AVictor OladipoIND17.9$57.253.501.082.420.274.861.431.713.142.924BBojan BogdanovicUTA17.5$55.930.851.05-0.201.65-1.180.65-0.620.04-0.984BCaris LeVertBKN7.3$23.30-0.53-0.11-0.420.290.49-0.26-0.71-0.97-2.444BD'Angelo RussellMIN8.6$27.47-1.240.45-1.69-1.54-1.531.63-2.02-0.39-2.214BEric BledsoeMIL27.6$88.452.291.730.561.584.713.211.744.951.624BJ.J. RedickNOP18.1$57.861.52.22-0.730.142.412.33-1.261.060.044BJaren Jackson Jr.MEM5.7$18.36-1.08-1.220.14-1.34-1.8-0.810.75-0.06NA4BJoe HarrisBKN16.0$51.221.351.360.011.210.790.97-1.28-0.3-3.034BJohn CollinsATL12.4$39.630.81-0.070.88-0.271.940.74-0.550.19NA4BLou WilliamsLAC15.2$48.771.422.92-1.490.090.352.58-3.40-0.82-1.414BMike ConleyUTA13.1$41.781.281.130.15-0.824.672.03-0.041.991.364BMontrezl HarrellLAC16.0$51.352.141.610.531.783.351.29-0.520.77-3.394BMyles TurnerIND16.2$51.800.63-1.231.860.250.85-0.992.361.37-0.554BOG AnunobyTOR11.4$36.350.630.070.560.710.74-1.130.94-0.19-0.434BOtto Porter Jr.CHI20.4$65.414.622.891.730.575.131.681.453.13-0.114BPatrick BeverleyLAC15.0$48.023.382.041.352.435.650.781.462.24-0.014BRicky RubioPHX23.7$75.892.860.652.21.563.470.701.792.491.784BSpencer DinwiddieBKN15.9$50.920.511.57-1.060.161.371.92-1.200.72-1.304BZach LaVineCHI5.9$18.86-1.740.46-2.21-1.59-3.281.11-2.54-1.42NA
― Fuck the NRA (ulysses), Tuesday, 20 October 2020 17:58 (eight months ago) link
Bosko Balaban Stats For SeasonName Bosko BalabanTeam Aston VillaTotal Appearances 0Starts 0Substituted 0Total Minutes Played 0Avg Minutes Played Per Start 0Goals 0Avg Goal Mins When Starting 0.0Avg Mins Played/Goal Scored 0Goals Scored As Sub 0Number of Bookings 0Total Booking Minutes 0Avg Bookings Per Start 0Number of Red Cards 0Total Red Card Minutes 0Avg Red Cards Per Start 0
― Piven After Midnight (The Yellow Kid), Tuesday, 20 October 2020 19:58 (eight months ago) link
the design of these athletic pieces is awful. little tiny tables with bad font where you have to endlessly scroll right.
― call all destroyer, Wednesday, 21 October 2020 17:43 (eight months ago) link
they shd just have a single page with a list of players and comments thatre like "fuck you" "who cares" "haha"
― lag∞n, Wednesday, 21 October 2020 17:58 (eight months ago) link
1. james harden "lol why are you reading this eat shit loser"
― lag∞n, Wednesday, 21 October 2020 17:59 (eight months ago) link
column headers for random advanced stats 100 lines above where you’re reading is pretty much “f u, nerd”
― circles, Wednesday, 21 October 2020 18:39 (eight months ago) link
do we have anyone w/ espn+ access?
Final stats-based projections for the 2020 Draft are up today, along with full projections for everyone* in the top 100: https://t.co/UJc9l2zzM2 (ESPN+)*Except for a few international prospects without sufficient high-level playing time— Kevin Pelton (@kpelton) November 12, 2020
― J0rdan S., Thursday, 12 November 2020 22:17 (seven months ago) link
How many top prospects are there in the 2020 NBA draft?
This was an unusual year even before the NCAA tournament and many conference tournaments were canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic because there was so little consensus about the top prospects, so few of whom played college basketball.
That bears out statistically too. Historically, the best prospects have been those who rate in the top 10 of my stats-only projections and go among the top 10 picks. Typically, there's an average of about three such players from the college ranks, but this year only one NCAA player among ESPN's top 10 prospects is also in my stats-only top 10: Iowa State guard Tyrese Haliburton.
How much does an unusually strong crop of prospects playing overseas, highlighted by LaMelo Ball, help fill the void?
Let's take an updated look at my draft projections that combine statistics and scouting projections, including where players rank in our top 100.
My statistical projections start by translating NCAA or international performance to projected NBA rookie performance, also factoring in regression to the mean for outlier performance. I then calculate projected value over the player's first five NBA seasons by combining rookie projections with age. To that stats-only version, I also add each player's top-100 ranking to build the more accurate consensus projections.
One note on this year's projections: While my projections have utilized translated performance in the Nike EYBL thanks to statistics compiled by Neil Johnson of ESPN Stats & Information, issues with the data collection during the 2018 EYBL meant they were no longer predictive of college performance as in past years. So I have not included EYBL stats from that year, when the bulk of this year's one-and-done prospects played AAU, though projections for players who participated in the 2017 EYBL (like James Wiseman) still incorporate that data.
For more details and past projections, check out a more detailed explanation. Otherwise, let's get to my top 30.
1. LaMelo Ball
Illawarra HawksPGTop 100: No. 1Stats: No. 1
Consensus: 4.9 WARP
In a draft that is wide open at the top, Ball's performance in the Australian NBL stands out. While the level of competition was low, Ball rated as the fourth-best player in the league at age 18 -- ahead of NBA veterans Bryce Cotton and Scott Machado, among others.
Ball's inefficient shooting (he made just 25% of his 3-point attempts) is a concern, but his playmaking and rebounding are both preternaturally strong. As a result, the gap between his consensus projection and anyone else's is larger than the difference between No. 2 and No. 9 in the rankings.
2. Tyrese Haliburton
Iowa StatePGTop 100: No. 8Stats: No. 2
Consensus: 3.4 WARP
Haliburton's freshman season stood out statistically, though he had a historically low usage rate for a prospect, finishing just 9% of the Cyclones' plays with a shot, trip to the free throw line or turnover. A strong performance at last summer's FIBA U19 World Cup put Haliburton firmly on the radar, and he backed it up by more than doubling his usage rate to 20% as a sophomore without sacrificing much efficiency.
Haliburton's strong steal and block rates are key indicators of his ability to read plays on defense, and he projects as one of the better shooters in the draft after hitting 43% of his 3s in college.
3. Anthony Edwards
GeorgiaSGTop 100: No. 2Stats: No. 12
Consensus: 2.8 WARP
A decent but not spectacular freshman season marks Edwards as a relatively risky top pick. Other top-3 players with similar stats-only projections include hits (Victor Oladipo, Derrick Rose) but also big misses (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Andrew Wiggins).
Edwards' value as a pro probably will depend on his ability to become a consistent 3-point threat after hitting just 29% of his 7.7 attempts per game in 2019-20.
4. Cole Anthony
North CarolinaPGTop 100: No. 19Stats: No. 3
Consensus: 2.7 WARP
Few top prospects have had such a big disparity between AAU and college performance as Anthony, who rated as the EYBL's best player both in 2017 as a rising junior (which is part of this projection) and again before his senior year of high school in 2018.
Based strictly on his season at North Carolina, where he made a disappointing 40% of his 2-point attempts and was far less effective accumulating assists and steals, Anthony would rate as a late first-round prospect rather than on in the top 5.
5. Devin Vassell
Florida StateWTop 100: No. 11Stats: No. 4
Consensus: 2.6 WARP
The strongest 3-and-D prospect in this year's draft, Vassell made 42% of his 3-point attempts over two seasons at Florida State and boasts a strong combination of steal and block rates that marks him as a plus wing defender.
He compares well to Danny Green coming out of North Carolina. Since we originally ran my projections in June, Vassell has moved up five spots in the top 100, moving him up to fifth in my consensus projections.
6. Deni Avdija
Maccabi Tel AvivFTop 100: No. 4Stats: No. 9
Unlike almost everyone else in this class, Avdija returned to action over the summer, becoming the youngest player ever to win MVP of the Israeli Basketball Premier League. That solidified his projection, which improved slightly, but Avdija already ranked sixth overall.
7. Onyeka Okongwu
USCPFTop 100: No. 5Stats: No. 13
Consensus: 2.3 WARP
The top-rated post player in my projections, Okongwu was productive enough as a freshman to offset the higher replacement level for big men. Okongwu has the fifth-best block projection among players in our top 100, along with an atypically strong steal rate for a post player. Okongwu was efficient offensively thanks to 62% shooting on 2s and 72% from the foul line.
8. R.J. Hampton
New Zealand BreakersGTop 100: No. 15Stats: No. 5
Consensus: 2.2 WARP
Hampton wasn't nearly as effective in the NBL as Ball was, ranking as the league's 45th-best player on a per-minute basis. He was almost equally inefficient without the kind of elite playmaking we saw from Ball, and his strong projection relies more heavily on his stats being regressed to the mean.
As a result, I'd be wary of considering Hampton a top-5 prospect but would defer to those scouts who believe he belongs in the middle of the first round.
9. Killian Hayes
Ratiopharm UlmPGTop 100: No. 10Stats: No. 15
Consensus: 1.8 WARP
Expect growing pains if a team drafts the 18-year-old Hayes in the top 10 and gives him the keys to the offense right away. Only two NBA-bound players in my database (Kendall Marshall and David Stockton) have had higher projected turnover rates.
Yet in time, Hayes' strong finishing for his size and court vision could make him a capable lead ball handler.
10. Aaron Nesmith
VanderbiltWTop 100: No. 13Stats: No. 16
Consensus: 1.7 WARP
Nesmith ranks this high on his potential as a shooter. He shot an incredible 52% on 115 3-point attempts during an abbreviated sophomore season, and while that's obviously not sustainable -- Nesmith shot just 34% from beyond the arc as a freshman -- 83% foul shooting does mark him as likely to show NBA 3-point range.
11. Isaiah Joe
ArkansasSGTop 100: No. 48Stats: No. 6
Consensus: 1.6 WARP
Perhaps the best pure shooter in the draft, Joe made just 34% of his 3s as a sophomore but attempted an incredible 10.6 per game. He hit 41% of his 8.0 attempts as a freshman. While he slumped beyond the arc, Joe did hit 89% of his free throws as a sophomore, an encouraging sign. Joe doesn't do much else besides shoot, which helps explain his low spot in the top 100s, but given solid size and his 3-point volume, he's got a chance to be a Terrence Ross-style threat off the bench.
12. Isaac Okoro
AuburnSFTop 100: No. 7Stats: No. 33
Okoro ranks in the top 15 largely on the strength of his position in the top 100, as he had an underwhelming freshman campaign for a lottery pick. Only Okoro's solid block rate for a wing showcases the athletic potential scouts value, and he must improve on 29% 3-point shooting -- with 67% accuracy at the foul line not encouraging in that regard.
13. Malachi Flynn
San Diego StatePGTop 100: No. 31Stats: No. 8
Consensus: 1.5 WARP
After two solid years at Washington State, Flynn broke through as an elite college point guard after transferring to San Diego State. Size (he's 6-foot-1) could be an issue for Flynn in the NBA, but he's a capable shooter with good markers in terms of reading the game.
14. Cassius Winston
Michigan StatePGTop 100: No. 29Stats: No. 10
In recent years, veteran college point guards considered too small to be NBA starters have been a consistent source of draft value. Like Winston, Monte Morris (pick No. 51 in 2017) and Fred VanVleet (undrafted in 2016) weren't high picks despite top-10 stats-only projections. While it took them a couple of seasons to establish themselves, Morris is now a top-tier backup and VanVleet a valuable starter.
Winston's excellent shooting (43% career from 3, 85% on free throws) should translate well to the NBA.
15. Patrick Williams
Florida StateFTop 100: No. 9Stats: No. 32
Averaging a block and a steal per game in just 22.5 minutes off the bench was impressive for Williams. On the downside, weak defensive rebounding -- worse than that of his teammate Vassell -- might make it difficult for Williams to play as a small-ball 4 in the NBA.
16. James Wiseman
MemphisCTop 100: No. 3Stats: No. 70
Because Wiseman played in only three college games, his unimpressive statistical projection is based almost entirely on the 2017 EYBL. Playing for Team Penny, Wiseman was a dominant shot-blocker but not the kind of interior force you'd expect from one of the nation's top prospects. His steal rate (only five in 17 games) was also a concern.
Wiseman did dominate low-level competition in his first two games at Memphis and was productive, though not a difference-maker, in a loss to Oregon before being ruled ineligible.
17. Saddiq Bey
VillanovaSFTop 100: No. 17Stats: No. 21
Consensus: 1.4 WARP
Unusual for a statistically top-rated player, Bey didn't contribute much in terms of defensive stats, though he projects as a capable individual defender. Instead, his projection owes primarily to 42% 3-point shooting and mistake-free play on offense.
18. Jahmi'us Ramsey
Texas TechGTop 100: No. 35Stats: No. 11
As a freshman, Ramsey played a key role for the Red Raiders; his 26% usage rate ranked sixth among first-year players in the power conferences, per Sports-Reference.com, and of that group only Duke's Vernon Carey Jr. had a better true shooting percentage.
One concern is that Ramsey's 43% accuracy on 141 3-pointers might have been a fluke, as he shot just 64% from the line.
19. Trevelin Queen
New Mexico StateSFTop 100: No. 84Stats: No. 7
Consensus: 1.3 WARP
My top-ranked player not currently projected among the ESPN top 50, junior college product Queen earned some attention from scouts because of his defensive potential. Among players in my college projection database listed at 6-foot-6 or taller, only Michael Carter-Williams had a better projected steal rate than Queen, who is also an above-average shot-blocker for a wing.
Queen's 39% 3-point shooting on 5.3 attempts per game as a senior suggests 3-and-D potential.
20. Tyrese Maxey
KentuckySGTop 100: No. 14Stats: No. 28
Maxey's shot is also projectable based on the disconnect between his 29% 3-point shooting and 83% accuracy at the line. Becoming a perimeter threat will be key given Maxey didn't show particularly strong ability to create for others in his one season at Kentucky.
21. Theo Maledon
ASVELPGTop 100: No. 24Stats: No. 20
Consensus: 1.2 WARP
Like Hayes, Maledon played a key role for a high-level European team at a young age, though he looks a bit further away from contributing in the NBA. Maledon's playmaking numbers haven't been nearly as strong, and his 3-point shooting could suffer from the transition to the longer line.
22. Nico Mannion
ArizonaPGTop 100: No. 25Stats: No. 24
Consensus: 1.1 WARP
Mannion's freshman season was projectable. While he wasn't an efficient scorer at Arizona, Mannion could boost his efficiency by improving on 33% 3-point shooting, something his 80% accuracy at the free throw line suggests he has the potential to do.
23. Xavier Tillman
Michigan StatePFTop 100: No. 32Stats: No. 19
The most surprising result in this year's draft projections is that Tillman finishes as the second-rated post prospect, ahead of likely lottery picks Obi Toppin (0.7 projected WARP) and Precious Achiuwa (0.5) -- both of whom are outside the top 30. Age is a factor: Though Toppin has played only two college seasons to Tillman's three, as a redshirt sophomore Toppin is almost a year older, and one-and-done prospect Achiuwa is just eight months younger than Tillman.
Toppin is the far more skilled scorer and Achiuwa more versatile defensively, but Tillman lacks their weaknesses at either end of the court, making him a more complete prospect. Per Sports-Reference.com, he actually led all NCAA players in box plus-minus during 2019-20, with Toppin third and Achiuwa not cracking the top 200.
24. Kira Lewis Jr.
AlabamaPGTop 100: No. 16Stats: No. 37
Though he is a sophomore, Lewis is younger than most of the one-and-done prospects in this year's draft. He was more productive last season than Mannion and Maxey but doesn't benefit as much from the regression to the mean factor in my projections because he has two years of college data to their one.
25. Tyrell Terry
StanfordPGTop 100: No. 39Stats: No. 20
Relatively unheralded as a prospect entering the season, Terry put himself on the NBA's radar with impressive efficiency for a freshman point guard, knocking down 41% of his 3-point attempts and 89% of his free throws. He's still developing as a playmaker.
26. Josh Green
ArizonaSGTop 100: No. 21Stats: No. 29
Consensus: 1.0 WARP
Another one-and-done prospect with a similar combo of stats and ranking as Mannion, Green, who is from Australia, must improve on 45% 2-point shooting as a freshman, though he posted encouraging defensive numbers.
27. Tre Jones
DukePGTop 100: No. 30Stats: No. 26
Returning for his sophomore season allowed Jones to improve his 3-point shooting from 26% as a freshman to 36%. The adjustment to the longer line could be an issue, but Jones' form doesn't appear broken, as he has made 77% of his career free throws.
28. Desmond Bane
TCUSGTop 100: No. 34Stats: No. 25
Consensus: 0.9 WARP
Atypically young for a four-year prospect -- he'll turn 22 later this week -- Bane is an excellent shooter who converted 43% of his career 3-point attempts and showed solid playmaking chops for a player of his ilk.
29. Nate Hinton
HoustonSGTop 100: No. 56Stats: No. 17
The lone newcomer to my top 30 from June, Hinton replaces Gonzaga guard Joel Ayayi, who opted to return to college. Statistically, Hinton's strength is his rebounding from the perimeter. As a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, he posted the best rebound percentage on his team. His steal rate was also strong, but Hinton must continue the improvement he showed as a shooter during his sophomore season (making 39% of his 3-point attempts, up from 34% as a freshman) to stay on the court.
30. Markus Howard
MarquettePGTop 100: No. 60Stats: No. 14
Because of his small stature (he's listed at 5-foot-11) and shoot-first style, Howard is the rare early developing star who stayed four years in college. He did improve his playmaking as an upperclassmen, but if he's going to stick in the NBA it probably will be as a Patty Mills-style combo guard, having hit 43% of his career 3-point attempts.
― Spottie, Thursday, 12 November 2020 22:41 (seven months ago) link
I could cheer for a guy named Isaiah Joe
― Heez, Friday, 13 November 2020 00:01 (seven months ago) link
@thl3t1c is $12 for a year for the next few hours fwiw
The best journalists in sports all in one place.A new subscription to all The Athletic has to offer is just $1/month: https://t.co/Wya4OWKBCAWant in? Here are some of our staff members’ favorite stories.👇👇👇— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) November 28, 2020
― mookieproof, Monday, 30 November 2020 23:29 (six months ago) link
thanks, that's the right price
― the serious avant-garde universalist right now (forksclovetofu), Tuesday, 1 December 2020 01:07 (six months ago) link
that's definitely better than the intro price i got in january. people trying to sell email newsletters lately has made the athletic (and, like, actual magazines) feel cheap to me.
― circles, Tuesday, 1 December 2020 03:55 (six months ago) link
i signed for the atheltic a bit ago, and im pretty impressed with how much shit they can publish thats actually interesting
― discourse stu (m bison), Tuesday, 1 December 2020 04:38 (six months ago) link
thanks for the heads up, mookie. I am now an Athletic subscriber for the first time. Already appreciating Jared Weiss' explanation of the Gordon Hayward sign n' trade
― Lavator Shemmelpennick, Tuesday, 1 December 2020 05:14 (six months ago) link
10. Nikola Jokic
play0:17Jokic hook shot sends Nuggets to next roundNikola Jokic hits a clutch turn-around hook shot on Rudy Gobert to lift the Nuggets to the Game 7 win vs. the JazzDenver Nuggets | C
Previous rank: 7
2020-21 projected RPM: 4.3*
A sluggish start to the season was a distant memory when Jokic showed up trim for the seeding games and helped lead the Nuggets to their first conference finals since 2009. Along the way, Jokic showed how he helps his team in multiple ways. Against the Utah Jazz, who wanted to make him a scorer, Jokic averaged 26.3 points. That was down to 24.4 against the LA Clippers, but Jokic dominated the glass (13.4 rebounds) and averaged 6.6 assists. Though foul trouble limited Jokic against the eventual champion Lakers, he still made 58% of his 2-point attempts in an efficient series.
*Real plus-minus (RPM) is a player's estimated on-court impact on team performance, measured in net point differential per 100 offensive and defensive possessions.
More: What sets Nikola Jokic apart from other superstars
9. James Harden
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty ImagesHouston Rockets | SG
Previous rank: 4
2020-21 projected RPM: 6.8
Harden tumbled five spots in the rankings after back-to-back top-four finishes, and it's tough to say how much that reflects his uncertain future in Houston after a short training-camp holdout and a trade request. During the regular season, there's no doubt Harden has been far more valuable than ninth in the league, finishing in the top three in MVP voting five of the past six seasons. Clearly, our panel put more weight on Harden's uneven postseason performances. Still, the Rockets will rightly expect a prime package of players and picks if and when they trade Harden.
More: Teams that can make real offers for Harden
8. Stephen Curry
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesGolden State Warriors | PG
Previous rank: 6
2020-21 projected RPM: 6.0
This is the lowest Curry has ranked since breaking out as a star in the 2013 postseason. The issue is availability, as a broken bone in Curry's right hand limited him to five games last season and he missed a combined 44 games the previous two campaigns. If he can stay healthy, we'll find out the floor for a Curry-led offense lacking a second plus scorer after Klay Thompson's Achilles injury ended his season before it began. Without Thompson and Kevin Durant, the Warriors will be more dependent on Curry for shot creation than ever before.
More: Curry relishes opportunity to start "at ground zero again"
7. Damian Lillard
play2:43Lillard goes off for 61 points vs. MavsIn his second straight game scoring more than 50 points, Damian Lillard racks up 61 points and eight assists as he leads the Trail Blazers to a 134-131 victory in a wild game against the Mavericks.Portland Trail Blazers | PG
Previous rank: 9
2020-21 projected RPM: 3.4
Lillard's scoring prowess salvaged what looked like a season lost to injuries for the Blazers. He put together one of the great stretches in NBA history in late January into February, averaging 48.8 points and 8.2 3-pointers per game on 57% shooting as Portland knocked off four playoff teams. Lillard was nearly as good in the bubble, winning Player of the Seeding Games for his 37.6 points and 9.6 assists as the Blazers claimed the eighth seed. With a healthier roster fortified this offseason, Portland hopes not to rely so heavily on Lillard again in 2020-21, but he has proved capable of carrying the load.
More: Lillard named NBA bubble MVP
6. Kevin Durant
Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY SportsBrooklyn Nets | PF
Previous rank: NR (injured)
2020-21 projected RPM: 2.4
Just how good Durant is 18 months after suffering an Achilles rupture during his final game with the Warriors is one of this season's swing questions. Players coming off the same injury have been noticeably less effective than projected upon their return, and KD was already likely to experience some decline in his early 30s. At the same time, when last we saw Durant fully healthy in the first two rounds of the 2019 playoffs, he was making a case as the league's most dominant individual force, and reports from players who have played with him during rehab have been encouraging.
More: Durant "ready for anything" in Nets' new smallball lineups
5. Kawhi Leonard
play0:23One-finger block! Kawhi comes up with clutch denial on Murray's dunk attemptJamal Murray attacks the basket, but Kawhi Leonard rises to the occasion to stuff the dunk using his middle finger.LA Clippers | SF
Previous rank: 2
2020-21 projected RPM: 4.1
Leonard's first season in Los Angeles (and the Orlando bubble) didn't have the same kind of storybook ending as 2019 in Toronto. The Clippers, trendy picks to win the title, were shocked in the second round after holding a 3-1 series lead on the Nuggets. Leonard was complicit, as he shot 6-of-22 in the deciding Game 7. Still, Leonard is primed to outperform his No. 5 ranking. He finished fifth in MVP voting despite his load -- whoops, injury -- management and finished second on a per-game basis in my wins above replacement player (WARP) metric in the playoffs.
More: Leonard ready to "get back after it" following playoff loss
4. Luka Doncic
play0:47Doncic nails game winner as time expires in overtimeLuka Doncic drills a fadeaway 3-pointer as time expires to win the game for the Mavericks and tie the series vs. the Clippers 2-2.Dallas Mavericks | PG
Previous rank: 16
The next great superstar served notice to the league in his second season, becoming the youngest player ever to earn All-NBA First Team honors based on age as of opening night. Doncic impressed in his playoff debut versus the LA Clippers, knocking down a 28-foot, step-back winner in overtime and averaging 31.0 points, 9.8 rebounds and 8.7 assists in the six-game series. Next for Doncic: Leading the Mavs to a series win for the first time since their 2011 championship. Based on what we've seen from Doncic, that's a matter of when, not if.
More: How Luka compares to the all-time NBA greats
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo
play2:18Giannis' rise is a product of David Stern's global NBA visionOn this special episode of The Woj Pod, Adrian Wojnarowski talks about Giannis Antetokounmpo's rise to NBA superstardom.Milwaukee Bucks | PF
Previous rank: 1
2020-21 projected RPM: 7.5
There's a reason much of the league spent this offseason hoarding cap space in preparation for Giannis' possible unrestricted free agency next summer. He has nothing left to prove in the regular season after winning back-to-back MVPs and Defensive Player of the Year before age 26, all while leading the Bucks to the NBA's best record in both seasons. Yet Giannis wasn't having the same impact against the Miami Heat in the playoffs before an ankle reinjury ended his series prematurely. To return to No. 1, Antetokounmpo must improve his scoring against defenses designed to keep him out of the paint.
Listen: "The Giannis Draft" on the Woj Pod
2. Anthony Davis
play2:34The best of Anthony Davis' title run in the playoff bubbleTake a look back at the best highlights from Anthony Davis' title run with the Lakers in the bubble.Los Angeles Lakers | PF
Previous rank: 5
2020-21 projected RPM: 4.0
For the first time in the 10-year history of NBArank, teammates finished 1-2. It's a testament to how well AD played in the Lakers' championship run that he created debate about who should win Finals MVP. It was Davis who hit the biggest shot of the playoffs, a 3-pointer to win Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. And the Lakers played better with Davis alone on the court in the postseason (plus-5.0 points per 100 possessions, via NBA Advanced Stats) than with LeBron James alone (plus-0.5) -- a reversal from the regular season.
More: What it took for Anthony Davis to get to this moment
1. LeBron James
play2:18LeBron's most memorable playoff bubble momentsCheck out the best moments from LeBron James' championship run with the Lakers in the bubble.Los Angeles Lakers | SF
Previous rank: 3
2020-21 projected RPM: 6.1
To quote "The Wire," "The King stay the King." After controversially relinquishing the No. 1 spot to Giannis in the wake of his injury-marred first season in Los Angeles, LeBron reclaimed the NBArank throne he has held nine of the past 10 years by winning his fourth title and Finals MVP at age 35. James continues to evolve, leading the league in assists while ceding some scoring to Davis. With the short turnaround before opening night, it's unlikely James will match last season's 67 (of 71) games played. Come playoff time, however, there's still nobody you'd rather start your team with than LeBron.
― Spottie, Thursday, 10 December 2020 22:56 (six months ago) link
― k3vin k., Thursday, 10 December 2020 23:24 (six months ago) link
I'd quibble with placing Doncic ahead of Lillard, Curry and Harden. That seems based as much on promise as delivery. He's clearly top ten, tho.
― Respectfully Yours, (Aimless), Thursday, 10 December 2020 23:58 (six months ago) link
yah lillard ahead of curry is smh
― Spottie, Friday, 11 December 2020 00:05 (six months ago) link
doncic was top 5 last year, he'll probably be the best player in the league this year. hard to argue with any of the enties in the top 8 really, exact position aside
― k3vin k., Friday, 11 December 2020 02:04 (six months ago) link
sorry forgot the rankings lol, harden clearly better player than lillard imo, put him in the top 8 and lillard/jokic rounding out the top 10 seems right
― k3vin k., Friday, 11 December 2020 02:05 (six months ago) link
not sure about ad being #2, the +/- stats noted above are janky and hes a permanent second option
― micah, Sunday, 13 December 2020 09:02 (six months ago) link
yeah its recency bias+championship glow+LA bias
― discourse stu (m bison), Sunday, 13 December 2020 15:33 (six months ago) link
*praying hands emoji*
I get more mad every day about espn putting lowe behind a paywall in the middle of a pandemic
― k3vin k., Wednesday, 16 December 2020 14:46 (six months ago) link
i let mine lapse dont want to pay the mouse
― lag∞n, Wednesday, 16 December 2020 16:14 (six months ago) link
theres a ton of video clips in here so the formatting will probably be whack
It's time for one NBA preseason tradition: My six most intriguing players of the season, only there are five here. Blame the supercompressed offseason. As always, we steer away from rookies and sophomores.
Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr., Chicago Bulls
Carter and Markkanen felt a connection the first time they took the court together in practice. They linked up on high-lows, and they had an innate sense in screening actions for who should roll and who should pop.
It translated to games right away:
Markkanen's gravity as a pick-and-pop threat unlocked rim runs for Carter.
They reversed rolls, with Markkanen slipping to the rim -- and Carter feeding him:
They looked like a foundational frontcourt for the modern NBA. With Kris Dunn gone, they are now two of three players remaining from the Jimmy Butler trade return -- Markkanen directly, Carter via the high pick the rebuilding Bulls got the following season.
"We clicked before we put in plays or anything," Carter told ESPN. "And then I hit the rookie wall, and we kept getting injured. So there were just glimpses. It was hard to keep the chemistry going."
Carter went out for that 2018-19 season six weeks after Markkanen's return from an early-season injury. He missed 22 games last season; Markkanen missed 15. They have played only about 1,300 minutes together.
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Predictions: Eight biggest NBA questions, including MVP and the future for LeBron and HardenLast season was a disappointment for both. One exception: Carter's defense, which has to be really good to cover for Markkanen and Chicago's perimeter leakage.
Carter is fast and mobile, with a knack for verticality and a hellacious second jump in rebounding scrums. (Markkanen is tall for power forward, and he put up solid rebounding numbers in his first two seasons. Chicago protected the glass at a top-10 level with Markkanen and Carter on the floor.)
Carter did not look out of his depth trapping pick-and-rolls in the idiosyncratic, ultra-aggressive scheme favored by now-former Bulls coach Jim Boylen.
Billy Donovan, Boylen's replacement, said the Bulls will toggle schemes but skew more conservative. Carter is excited to see what he can do as a rim protector setting up shop below the foul line.
"It's going to make me even better," he said.
Carter was already Chicago's best defender. Get him engaged on offense and he could be Chicago's best player.
Carter carries a reputation as a capable midrange shooter, but he went gun-shy as Boylen discouraged midrangers. Carter barely looked at the rim. Opponents stopped guarding him.
For better or worse, that's over. Carter went 1-of-9 from deep in two preseason games. He took 29 3s last season.
"Trust and believe, you are gonna see jump-shooting Wendell," Carter said. "My confidence is through the roof."
And 3-point shooting Wendell? "For sure. You'll see him too," Carter said.
Last season, Carter served mostly as a screen-and-dive option. He can dart behind slower defenders, cram lobs, and toss passes on the move.
That setup -- plus Boylen's aversion to long 2s -- marginalized Markkanen into a role as standstill floor-spacer. Markkanen hopes Donovan resurrects sets in which he works in tandem with Carter.
"When you are involved, that's a good feeling," Markkanen told ESPN. "It's important for us to mix it up."
Good NBA defenses demand variety.
"We have to explore all those things," Donovan said.
During Markkanen's best stretch -- February 2019, when he averaged 26 points on 49% shooting -- Boylen made Markkanen the centerpiece of unpredictable screening actions similar to ones the Cleveland Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves have used for Kevin Love.
Markkanen played with ferocity, pumping-and-driving and hunting dunks:
He flew off pindowns from Carter, and ran some big-big pick-and-rolls with him -- daring lumbering centers to switch onto him.
That February 2019 Markkanen was confident and (briefly) healthy. A left ankle injury hobbled him much of last season; Markkanen played with a brace, and could not push off his left leg with power, he said. He couldn't get past slow centers off the dribble.
Now healthy, it is on Markkanen to prove he deserves more touches. It starts with living up to his billing as a shooter. He has hit 35.6% on 3s -- average. He does not inspire enough frantic closeouts or extra rotations that leave the defense naked elsewhere.
He has been almost unbelievably bad from midrange: 30% last season, never above 39% on long 2s. Among 260 players who attempted at least 300 shots last season, only 28 underperformed their expected effective field-goal percentage -- based on the location of each shot and the nearest defender -- by a larger margin than Markkanen, per Second Spectrum data.
Markkanen can beat defenders off the bounce only if they fear his jumper enough to press him. If they give any cushion, he dribbles into walls.
He has not been able to exploit guards on switches, a must for any screen-setter with his skill set. The Bulls have scored less than 0.85 points per possession in each of the past two seasons when Markkanen shoots out of the post or dishes to a teammate who fires -- bottom-25 numbers leaguewide, per Second Spectrum.
Markkanen sometimes struggles to shove guards backward. His dribble can get high and loose -- prey for swiping defenders:
Carter's presence mucks up the lane, at times. On most switches last season, Markkanen slunk toward the corner.
What makes all this so frustrating is that Markkanen has shown flashes of a mean streak:
He is willing to initiate contact, but not forceful enough to finish through it yet.
He should have the chops to shoot over smaller guards, which would in turn force them to pressure him -- and open up his off-the-dribble game.
Practicing full-contact post-ups was difficult amid a pandemic, but Markkanen spent the offseason honing footwork and ballhandling. "With someone like Dirk [Nowitzki], you couldn't switch on him because he'd punish you," Markkenen said. "That's the goal."
Markkanen worked afternoons with a private skills trainer in a gym so small Markkanen did not have room to shoot corner 3s.
They drilled basic ballhandling, including with two balls. The trainer would toss the ball off the backboard, and have Markkanen rebound and push it up the floor on a one-man fast break.
2020-21 NBA season preview
The new season is fast approaching. Keep it here for all the latest rankings, projections and storylines to watch ahead of 2020-21.
• NBA Power Rankings, training camp edition• What this drastic rest disparity means• Games to watch | Must-see Christmas battles• How will this NBA season actually work?• Win projections for all 30 teams• Every team's biggest camp questionHovering over everything is Chicago's lack of guard playmaking. Like most bigs, Markkanen and Carter need to catch the ball with some small advantage. They rely on guards to provide it by puncturing the defense, and kicking to them on target and on time.
Chicago's lead ball handlers are scattershot, and the Bulls did not address the issue in the draft or free agency. Zach LaVine is a scorer first. So is Coby White, who appears to have snatched the starting point guard job. Opponents duck picks against Tomas Satoransky, allowing defenders to stay home on Markkanen and Carter.
Chemistry on the pick-and-roll has come slowly. Chicago's guards sometimes look off mismatches in the post to chase their own.
"It has been a work in progress getting on the same page with the guards," Markkanen said.
On defense, Markkanen needs more reps chasing stretch power forwards. (Carter might be better at that, but the Bulls want him around the basket.) If Markkanen straggles, he might not have a consistent position on defense -- a problem for him given the Bulls just drafted Patrick Williams, who projects as at least a part-time power forward.
The Bulls have played Markkanen at center, but it's unclear if those alignments can survive on defense. That setup did not work with Thaddeus Young at power forward; smart teams stuck their centers on Young and kept faster power forwards on Markkanen, vaporizing the speed advantage that is the entire point of slotting him at center.
The Bulls will revisit that lineup with Otto Porter Jr. at power forward, Donovan said. "It could be a come-from-behind lineup," the coach indicated.
At this point, Carter and Markkanen are just eager to play together again. And they want to win, to point the Bulls somewhere after half a decade of aimlessness. They have always been team-first guys, even in moments of internal drama. During Boylen's first speech as coach in December 2018, Carter stood and told Boylen -- and by extension, the team -- "Whatever you need, coach, I'll do it," multiple witnesses recalled.
If Markkanen and Carter click, the Bulls have some direction. If they don't, they could wander the wilderness.
"It's a big, big year for us," Markkanen said.
Marvin Bagley III, Sacramento Kings
Bagley knows he will always be tied to Luka Doncic.
"You see it, you hear it, but I pay it no mind," Bagley said. "I'm not here to please anyone outside the team. I'm here to help the team win. I'm here to help this organization get to places it has never been."
The Kings have one cornerstone in De'Aaron Fox, whose presence as lead ball handler contributed to the decision to pick Bagley over Doncic, Vlade Divac, the Kings' former general manager, told ESPN last year. Whether Fox becomes an occasional All-Star or perennial All-NBA candidate will be one determining factor in how far these Kings go.
Bagley is the other. He is still something of a mystery after playing just 13 games last season due to a foot injury.
He was slated as a starter before contracting the coronavirus prior to camp, Luke Walton, the team's coach, told ESPN. Walton would not say whether Bagley would have started at center or power forward. (He started Sacramento's preseason game Tuesday next to Richaun Holmes.)
The hope is that Bagley can play either position depending on matchups and health.
"For now, it's kind of, 'Who cares. Let's get him on the court,'" Walton said.
Bagley has proved he can inflict damage as the center of a spread pick-and-roll attack, with Fox and three shooters around him. Bagley is fast and bouncy, with a nasty streak. He seems to relish dislodging defenders with forearms to the gut, and then dunking them into oblivion:
Bagley can face up and roast centers in open space, and doesn't need a right hand to do it:
He is a terror on the offensive glass. He tosses rivals aside with swim moves like a defensive lineman. He can jump twice in the same time it takes some centers to get up and down once.
The next steps are spraying passes on the move and abusing switches; Bagley has been unsteady in the post, prone to traveling violations.
The larger challenge at center comes in anchoring the defense. Bagley is agile enough to switch onto most guards, but that leaves the Kings vulnerable to mismatches and small around the glass. Drop him back and Bagley becomes responsible for making more reads and quarterbacking the defense.
Walton intends to use both schemes. "We'll keep him back in coverage, but to me, that's more challenging for him than switching," Walton said.
Walton is confident Bagley can defend power forwards of all stripes, and he will have him switch even more at that position. Bagley struggled as a rookie chasing stretchier 4s around the arc, but he hasn't had much game time to adapt.
His role on offense at that position is murkier. Holmes and Hassan Whiteside are paint-bound dive guys. Sacramento tried to have the best of both worlds last season by signing Dewayne Dedmon as a center who could shoot 3s, clearing the lane for Bagley, but the experiment went bust.
Defenses are not worried about Bagley spotting up as a power forward. He is 34-of-118 (28.8%) on 3s. Opponents ignore him. He can fade out of plays:
The Kings are optimistic Bagley's jumper will come with time. He has shot well on long 2s, and went 25-of-31 at the line last season.
Bagley has ambitions on offense beyond rim running and spot shooting. "I feel like I can do more," he said, "but I'll do whatever the team needs."
During his pre-draft workout with the Kings, Dave Joerger, their former coach, tested Bagley's ballhandling by having him dribble up and down the court -- sometimes with two balls -- and execute moves at full speed when Joerger called them out: Through the legs! Crossover!
"It was the weirdest workout I've been a part of, but it was fun," Bagley said. Divac talked about Bagley playing small forward.
Walton will let Bagley stretch himself -- eventually.
"You have to do other things first to help the team," Walton said. "Then we can look at expanding some of the other stuff."
Bagley is going to score a lot. He might sniff 20 points per game this season if he stays healthy and gets enough minutes. He is a prodigious talent. Honing the other parts of his game is the only way he can take Sacramento to new places, and render Doncic a minor part of his story.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty ImagesKevin Durant, Brooklyn Nets
The league didn't lose a normal superstar when Durant ruptured his Achilles tendon during the 2019 NBA Finals.
Durant is a historic giant. He was just 30 years old during those Finals, and had already amassed almost 23,000 regular-season points (31st in NBA history). He was one basket away from tying Tony Parker for 10th in postseason points. With good health, Durant appeared likely to pass Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant on the all-time scoring list -- leaving him at No. 4, behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, and LeBron James. With pristine health and unusual longevity -- not an unreasonable expectation for a 7-foot sniper -- Durant might have challenged Abdul-Jabbar's record.
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All Times EasternBy the end of this season, he could become the seventh player to compile 22,000 points, 6,500 rebounds, 3,000 assists, and 1,000 each of steals and blocks. (The other six, per Basketball-Reference: Abdul-Jabbar, Malone, Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, and Hakeem Olajuwon.)
Unlike five of those six, Durant is an annual threat to crack the 50-40-90 shooting club. He made it once, and barely missed several times. (His career shooting line: 49-38-88, which is just ridiculous.)
He was on track to finish as one of the 10 greatest players ever, with a possibility of breaching even loftier territory.
If Durant is back and the Nets avoid chemistry landmines, they can contend for the title. Durant is that powerful a two-way force.
The Nets have not found that third star to flank Kyrie Irving and Durant, but the upside is the sort of depth that should be unusually valuable during a perilous season. Lineups with Durant at center -- a look coach Steve Nash has vowed to use -- will test that depth and Brooklyn's culture.
Joe Harris should be a regular third wheel alongside Brooklyn's two stars. He is a solid, multipositional defender, and one of the best shooters alive. There are at least seven reasonable candidates for two remaining Durant-at-center spots: Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Landry Shamet, Taurean Prince, Jeff Green, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, and Bruce Brown.
Dinwiddie and LeVert are the best pure talents, but the group featuring both would be small and might bleed points and offensive rebounds. (Defense will make or break the Nets as a real contender.)
Irving, Dinwiddie, and LeVert played only 67 minutes together last season, and Nash has talked of LeVert accepting a Manu Ginobili-like sixth man role.
Brooklyn could go bigger with both Prince and Green -- the latter coming off an encouraging stint in precisely this role with the Houston Rockets -- but that might alienate two crafty ball handlers in LeVert and Dinwiddie hungering for larger roles.
Brown looms as a potential wild card, if his 41% mark on corner 3s last season sustains -- and his hideous 26% hit rate on above-the-break 3s improves. Luwawu-Cabarrot jacked from deep with bravado last season.
DeAndre Jordan and Jarrett Allen might do so well rampaging through open space for dunks and barricading the rim that Nash won't need the small-ball card much.
We're up to 12 rotation guys, and have not mentioned Nicolas Claxton, Rodions Kurucs, Tyler Johnson, or Reggie Perry -- the 57th pick in the draft who has drawn positive reviews, and a likely candidate for a two-way spot.
These guys are super deep. Depth is handy, but star power wins on the biggest stages. Peak Durant would tie everything together.
Zach Collins, Portland Trail Blazers
We've seen it before: Intriguing young guy on win-now team suffers injury after injury, and inexorably falls out of the team's planning. It might not be something anyone says out loud. There might be no loss of trust or affection. There is just a general, almost tangible sense of, We can't wait anymore.
It is a testament to Collins' work ethic, likability, and potential that the same plotline has not befallen him after he lost last season to shoulder surgery and then ankle surgery. Other teams have called, assuming Collins is Portland's main trade chip. Portland's veterans are fine waiting longer -- waiting to see if Collins becomes the rare 7-footer who shoots 3s and protects the rim.
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The Blazers have to wait about a month for Collins' return. In the meantime, Portland acquired or re-signed five players capable of taking his minutes at power forward (Robert Covington, Derrick Jones Jr., Carmelo Anthony) or center (Enes Kanter, Harry Giles III). There is a scenario in which those guys thrive, Collins' struggles early, and the season -- Collins' pivotal fourth campaign, sending him into restricted free agency, barring an extension before Monday -- slips away.
The happy flip side: Collins roars upon returning, reclaims the starting power forward spot next to Jusuf Nurkic, and snags a chunk of minutes as a stretch center. Collins played well in both roles in the 2019 Western Conference semifinals against the Denver Nuggets, a seven-game slugfest that served as his coming-out party.
"In the biggest moments, I showed up," Collins told ESPN. "That was huge for my confidence."
That version of Collins raises the present team's ceiling and changes Portland's broader trajectory. A Covington-Collins-Nurkic frontcourt could stabilize Portland's leaky defense, allowing them to play ultra-big without sacrificing skill.
That hinges on Collins doing enough damage from the perimeter on offense. At power forward, he has to spot up around Nurkic pick-and-rolls. Collins is a career 32% shooter from deep on low volume. He has been bricky from the corners. Instead of standing in those corners, Collins sometimes lingers in the dead zone along the baseline -- short of 3-point range, but too far away to catch and dunk.
"He has to be one or the other -- a corner 3-point shooter, or one power dribble from the rim," Stotts said.
Collins believes he can be a 40% 3-point shooter. If he fails, it will not be for a lack of practice. Collins' father, Mike, coached him from a young age, and instilled an intense competitive drive. On visits to Portland's practice facility, he assured Blazers coaches Collins would keep improving, telling them, "I raised a monster" and "I raised a machine," according to Collins and others.
If Collins performs below expectations in shooting drills, he often insists on starting again -- over objections of coaches tasked with monitoring his workload.
The job description of Portland's power forwards goes beyond shooting. They have to make quick drive and pass decisions when Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum kick them the ball. Collins has shown flashes -- an explosive pump-and-go, an occasional floater -- but only flashes. He prefers the more predictable job description of Portland's centers: screen, roll, make plays in the paint.
"I like [center] a little more," Collins said. "You're involved more. It's more clear-cut."
Collins has a nascent post-up game against switches, and has been productive taking guards to the block, per Second Spectrum.
He should be able to defend both power forwards and centers, though true-blue wings sliding to power forward might give him issues -- as they do most bigs. Collins has quick feet and a churning motor. Stotts in the Florida bubble trusted Collins to switch onto Ja Morant, LeVert, and other quick scoring guards. Collins held his own, though he can bite on pump fakes and get handsy when he is worried a guard might scoot by him; Collins fouls a lot.
"I've watched a lot of film on that with our coaches," he said. "They have given me ways to get around it, so that if I touch someone, it's not as obvious."
Switching can take him away from the basket, where Collins has emerged as a fearsome -- if foul-prone -- deterrent. He blocked 15 shots in just 145 minutes in that Denver series, and he has held opposing shooters to a low field goal percentage around the basket, per NBA.com.
Collins might be able to leverage that skill more often at center. He has bulked up enough so that brutes can't bully him as easily. Still: There is a hard ceiling on available center minutes as long as Nurkic -- just 26, and extension-eligible -- remains in Portland.
But the actualized version of Collins is flexible enough to help Portland at multiple positions. If the Blazers get that guy this season, they will be a problem.
― Spottie, Wednesday, 16 December 2020 16:21 (six months ago) link
― k3vin k., Wednesday, 16 December 2020 17:51 (six months ago) link
Bagley said. "I'm not here to please anyone outside the team. I'm here to help the team win. I'm here to help this organization get to places it has never been."
The Kings have been an NBA team since 1945 (as the Rochester Royals) and won an NBA championship that year, so Marvin has a pretty high opinion of himself.
― Respectfully Yours, (Aimless), Wednesday, 16 December 2020 19:27 (six months ago) link
pretty please :)
― k3vin k., Wednesday, 23 December 2020 13:05 (five months ago) link
Seconded. Dear god this thread gonna get busy with the mouse putting every writer worth a damn behind the paywall.
― Lavator Shemmelpennick, Wednesday, 23 December 2020 16:54 (five months ago) link
― micah, Wednesday, 23 December 2020 20:30 (five months ago) link
― lag∞n, Wednesday, 23 December 2020 20:32 (five months ago) link
lol. can you just do that with every article??
― k3vin k., Wednesday, 23 December 2020 21:08 (five months ago) link
― Lavator Shemmelpennick, Wednesday, 23 December 2020 21:25 (five months ago) link
― trans-panda express (m bison), Wednesday, 23 December 2020 21:33 (five months ago) link
that rules thx micah!
― Clay, Wednesday, 23 December 2020 21:42 (five months ago) link
idk if it always works, normally i just read whats posted here
i thought lowes piece was ass btw - its a very difficult season to predict but i still think he did it poorly
― micah, Wednesday, 23 December 2020 23:05 (five months ago) link
really? his tiers basically made sense to me.
― call all destroyer, Wednesday, 23 December 2020 23:08 (five months ago) link
plz sir just a crumb of content https://www.espn.com/nba/insider/story/_/id/30626423/nba-teams-going-need-james-harden-trade-soon
― lag∞n, Sunday, 3 January 2021 18:17 (five months ago) link
1) boston celtics
― k3vin k., Sunday, 3 January 2021 18:56 (five months ago) link
― lag∞n, Sunday, 3 January 2021 18:57 (five months ago) link
soooo you can read all espn insider stories via espn.com.au if you use a vpn pointed at australia
― lag∞n, Friday, 22 January 2021 15:50 (five months ago) link
i have a vpn but u cld prob use a free proxy website too
― lag∞n, Friday, 22 January 2021 15:57 (five months ago) link
Behind the scenes of the failed Lloyd Pierce era, and why the Hawks were eager for a new voice
The Athletic NBA Staff 2h ago 18 — Reported via Chris Kirschner, Sam Amick and David Aldridge
Seven months after the pandemic had brought the Atlanta Hawks’ season to an unwelcome end, it was time for a Southern California reunion to bring them all back together again.
Coach Lloyd Pierce and all the Hawks returnees would meet for team-bonding time, with all sorts of activities planned that he hoped would aid their chemistry heading into a season they all knew would be pressure-packed. There was pick-up basketball against other NBA players, a boxing class where they squared off against one another and group dinners where topics included, among other things, the upcoming election.
But the real headliner event took place when Pierce and Trae Young met privately to discuss their upcoming third year together. At that point, anyone and everyone around the Hawks organization was well aware the relationship between these two key figures was strained.
If the Hawks were going to make the playoffs this season and contend, if they were going to avoid delays to accomplishing their shared goals, they would have to make this pairing work. Sources say they ended the trip on good terms and had a better understanding of how they each could make this work for the long term.
But in the end — after old tensions between Pierce and Young resurfaced, other players grew frustrated with Pierce’s style and owner Tony Ressler’s desperate desire to make the playoffs added so much pressure to the situation — it was not to be. Those plans Pierce and Young had hatched in Southern California officially fell short Monday when the underperforming Hawks (14-20) announced that Pierce had been relieved of his duties.
Hawks president Travis Schlenk, who had worked with Pierce a decade before while they were with the Golden State Warriors, made it clear in the team’s statement that the move was made with the hopes of righting their ship.
“We have high expectations for our team on the court and we believe by making this change now that we can have a strong second half of the season,” Schlenk said.
The 44-year-old coach, who was in the last guaranteed year of his contract and who had spoken so openly just last week in an interview with The Athletic about the likelihood that he would be let go, will be replaced by an interim coach in Nate McMillan who had been serving as Pierce’s lead assistant. And the primary reason for it all, sources say, is that several players — from Young on down — were eager to hear a new voice.
As this season progressed, the goodwill that Pierce and Young had re-established would dissipate, and the friction between them would return. It became apparent that Young and Pierce were not going to be a match that was sustainable for long-term success.
But Young was hardly alone here. Sources say player support beyond Young was dwindling at the end, with several sharing their desire for a change with management recently. Still, the difficult dynamic between Young and Pierce was an undeniable factor in Pierce’s downfall and a tone-setter of sorts for the group at large.
(Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images)Pierce took the tough love approach with Young from Day 1, opting to push him hard as a way of maximizing his celebrated talent. But Young, who had inspired so much hype during his time coming up in (and at) Oklahoma, often pushed back against Pierce’s style. John Collins could relate.
Pierce made a public comment two seasons ago about not running plays for Collins, and it rubbed the Hawks big man the wrong way. Collins went to Pierce about his issue with the statement, but Pierce, sources say, turned around and called Collins’ approach selfish in wanting to have a more defined role on the team. Over time, the residue from these types of situations remained.
Cam Reddish was among those, sources said, who also had an issue with Pierce’s coaching. Sources said Reddish felt like he was being “picked on” behind the scenes when it came to mistakes the second-year player made. There are a few players on the Hawks’ roster who feel like Reddish’s potential is higher than anyone on the roster but that Pierce’s input was stunting his development.
The hope is Reddish, taken 10th overall by Atlanta in 2019, can soar with a new voice. At the least, though, there will be no more excuses for him to improve after his clashes with Pierce. It also couldn’t have helped that two of the players known to be disenfranchised with Pierce — Young and Reddish — were the ones acquired when Atlanta made the controversial trade with Dallas in exchange for Luka Doncic in June 2018.
The lack of trust in Pierce, from numerous players, started in his first season. For The Athletic’s anonymous NBA player poll in April 2019, when one Hawks player was asked which coach in the NBA would you not want to play for, he responded with, “Are we allowed to say the one we play for?”
The lack of faith in Pierce from the players quickly eroded last year, with several on the team feeling like they could not approach him without leaving the conversation feeling like they weren’t being heard. Because of that, players would turn to assistant coach Chris Jent in the hopes that he could be the one to relay any comments or concerns to Pierce on their behalf.
There wasn’t a specific event that led to Pierce losing the locker room but rather a collection of small moments that built up since his first season in Atlanta and finally combusted in the team’s first season with expectations under him.
“There’s no telling when he lost it,” one source close to the team said. “He didn’t have support from many people. It came down to him not being able to manage egos. That’s what did him in, especially these young guys. It’s tough.”
Interestingly, away from the team, Pierce’s comments about Young’s game raised eyebrows around the league.
During a league office Competition Committee call on Dec. 30, Pierce was among a couple of members who spoke out about the way certain players are able to draw fouls and, at times, bait officials into making foul calls. Multiple sources said he spoke about how he “hates” the shots Young takes at times and the fouls he’s able to draw on them. It was perceived as an interesting comment for several people on the call because Pierce’s star player has seemingly taken advantage of drawing fouls and getting to the foul line. But it was made in the broader picture of how players are drawing fouls by manipulating their bodies.
As far as on-court decisions go, players routinely criticized Pierce’s in-game management strategy over the past three seasons. One of the most notable moments of last season came in a December 2019 game in Miami. The Hawks led by six in the final minute when Pierce substituted Young out for DeAndre’ Bembry for defensive purposes. After Miami cut Atlanta’s lead down to three, Pierce failed to call a timeout to reinsert Young on offense. Bembry ended up getting his shot blocked, the Heat tied the game and it eventually went into overtime where the Hawks lost.
Just a few weeks after that Miami game, in Cleveland, Young was frustrated once again with a decision Pierce made in a late-game situation. Pierce had Young inbound the ball with the hope that he’d get it right back to put up a clean shot attempt at the end of the game. Instead, the Cavaliers denied him a good look, and the Hawks lost. After the game, Young was asked if he preferred being the inbounds passer, and he tersely responded with, “It’s not anybody else’s way, but the coach’s way.”
Players routinely felt Pierce didn’t take accountability for mistakes they viewed were his own. Last season as the team went through its final year of a complete rebuild, Pierce would frequently say the team lacked energy and effort, but it would be defiantly rebuffed by the team when asked about his claims afterward.
This season was much of the same, as players felt like Pierce didn’t take any blame for the team blowing 11 games this season where they held a fourth-quarter lead. When some of the players approached Pierce a few weeks ago with the request to have more off-ball movement and free flowing in the offense in late-game situations instead of stagnation, they, once again, felt unheard.
Over the past few weeks, players started to wonder if Pierce had resigned to the inevitability of his situation and was going to go out his way. As the same story played out in end-of-game situations, sources say Hawks owner Ressler grew incensed with his team losing winnable games in the same manner.
The Hawks’ offseason that was widely seen as a success clearly added pressure to Pierce’s situation. In his fourth year as the head of the Hawks’ front office, Schlenk landed Rajon Rondo (two years, $15 million), Danilo Gallinari (three years, $61 million), Bogdan Bogdanovic (four years, $72 million), Kris Dunn (two years, $10 million) and Solomon Hill (one year, $2.17 million). In turn, there was rare hype around the Hawks again — especially when they started the season 4-1 and had the league’s second-best offense early on.
But the harsh truth about Pierce’s dismissal is that he never truly had a chance to coach this group, as the injuries changed everything about the challenge that awaited them.
Rondo has missed 16 games this season with knee, ankle and back injuries. When he has played, the Hawks have been 14.9 points worse with him on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass.Dunn has missed the entire season for the Hawks. He originally was diagnosed with right knee cartilage disruption, and as he worked his way back, Dunn had a setback and needed right ankle surgery to remove loose cartilage.Bogdanovic has missed 25 games with an avulsion fracture in his knee. He has been able to practice lately and should return soon.Gallinari missed 10 games due to an ankle sprain. Since coming back from the injury, he has not looked like himself and has been a consistent target for opposing teams to attack while he’s been on defense.First-round pick Onyeka Okongwu entered his rookie year with a stress fracture causing him to be behind from the outset. Yet amid all of that roster uncertainty, this part of the Hawks’ landscape hadn’t changed: Ressler is known to have made it abundantly clear that he expected meaningful growth from this group, and it appears no amount of unforeseen setbacks was about to change his view on that front.
“As we said at the beginning of the season, our goal was to have progress this year and to move forward,” Schlenk said in a news conference discussing Pierce’s dismissal. “We just felt like it wasn’t happening as quickly as we wanted it to. These are not easy decisions. These are real-life decisions that affect multiple families, and they’re not easy. We felt like, for the organization, it was the best thing to do moving forward.”
Anyone who had been close to the Hawks’ situation these past few seasons and saw the struggles of this campaign could sense this was coming, perhaps no one more than Pierce himself. Just last week, in an interview with The Athletic’s Jeff Schultz, he was uniquely candid in assessing his own situation.
“Travis is going to fire me one day,” Pierce said. “And do you know what I’m going to say? The guy gave me a great opportunity in life. Do you think I’m going to be pissed? He’s damn near my best friend.”
Those personal dynamics were on display at the end of their partnership, when Schlenk struck a somber tone in his Zoom call to discuss the decision with reporters.
“I don’t know if you guys in your jobs ever have to let people go; I’ve been unfortunate (enough) to be in a position to have to fire people in the past, and I can tell you it’s an extremely difficult thing,” said Schlenk, who was hired in May 2017 after spending the previous 12 years with Golden State.
“You’re not talking about one person. You’re talking about their family (as well). And in a situation where you’re talking about coaches, you’re talking about their assistant coaches, their video staff. A decision like this, I certainly don’t take lightly. I’ve been in the NBA for a long time and fortunately have been in a position to be able to do this, and these are decisions I don’t take lightly at all. These decisions affect families and multiple families.”
Pierce leaves Atlanta with a 63-120 record, the 11th-worst record by winning percentage in NBA history with a minimum of 175 games coached. An argument can certainly be made that Pierce wasn’t given enough time to show what he can do as a head coach.
His first season in Atlanta was meant to be all about playing the young players as much as possible, allowing them to play through their mistakes and hoping to end up with a high draft pick in the lottery.
The Hawks entered last season still in rebuild mode, as the talent from his first season didn’t improve. Evan Turner was the team’s backup point guard entering the season, and they had a center rotation of Alex Len, Damian Jones and then-rookie Bruno Fernando.
By the time the Hawks reached the unexpected end of their 2019-20 campaign, with a 20-47 record on March 11 that would stand for good after the NBA decided not to invite the Hawks (or seven other teams) to the Orlando bubble, sources say Pierce’s job security was already extremely tenuous, in large part, because of the locker room’s distrust in him. When Pierce publicly declared last March that the Hawks would be in the playoffs this season, it caught everyone inside the front office by surprise.
Whenever Schlenk was asked about it on multiple occasions over the course of the next few months, he would always be sure to downplay Pierce’s guarantee. If not for a multitude of non-basketball factors, from the pandemic that had forced the premature end to their season to the emergence of the social justice movement in which Pierce was so involved, sources with knowledge of the Hawks’ plans say he may have been fired at that point.
But Pierce had become a vocal leader on the social justice front during a time when the spotlight had turned in that meaningful direction, and it’s clear the bigger-than-basketball element won out when it came to the Hawks’ calculus. Pierce had been lauded for his role on the Coaches Association’s committee on racial justice and reform, with the combination of his voice and the Atlanta backdrop proving powerful. From Ressler on down, there was an understanding that not only did the season being cut short take valuable time away from Pierce and his team, but his work off the court deserved to be part of the equation too.
The Hawks have taken a conscious effort in ingratiating themselves within the fabric of the community in trying to create long-lasting change, and Pierce was at the heart of it. Pierce was the first coach in the league to get his team to use its arena as a polling place, and State Farm Arena turned into the largest polling location in the state of Georgia’s history. According to a Hawks team source, 40,000 people voted at the arena for the November election.
What’s more, it mattered a great deal that Young’s father, Ray, had even supported Pierce publicly on social media by lauding the work he had done in the social justice space.
“Talking to my peers, seeing their leadership off court has been inspiring, (including) Lloyd’s leadership with the NBA coaches committee,” Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder said in July.
Pierce’s reputation among his peers was evident after he was fired, with San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, Dallas’ Rick Carlisle, Philadelphia’s Doc Rivers and New Orleans’ Stan Van Gundy among those voicing their support.
Still, the ground beneath him entering this season had been extremely shaky. The fact that the Hawks had not picked up his team option for the 2021-22 season was evidence enough that he was in trouble.
In an interview with The Athletic before the start of the season, when Ressler was asked what his confidence level was in Pierce and Schlenk as a duo, the team’s owner said he needed to see more out of them before being sure they were the ones who would lead the team to a title one day.
“All I can say is I think Travis and Lloyd are a superb team so far, but please understand let’s win a bit,” Ressler said. “We really do believe that last year’s season was difficult for so many reasons, including the fact that it stopped early just when we started playing good basketball. Please hear me, 20-47 in a 67-game season is not something to write home about. I think we do have a good roster. We’ve done some good things, not just on the court but in coaching and in our front office.
“I feel great about where we are starting the season. I don’t get into the press stuff too much because I would rather let the players, coaches and GM talk about what we’re doing from a basketball perspective because they should know more and are closer to it, but I look forward to talking to you guys whether it’s at the midseason point or end of season. We should be so much better, and it’s going to be painfully obvious. We’ll see.”
Thirty-four games into the season, the improvement hadn’t come. They are currently 11th in the Eastern Conference — unacceptable by the organization’s standards considering only the top 10 teams will take part in the league’s new play-in tournament. As Schlenk pointed out in his news conference, there’s plenty of time to move up in the East standings as well (they’re just 3.5 games back of the fourth seed).
“We have a ton of basketball to play, and we’re still right there,” Schlenk said. “It’s not like we’re 10 games out of the playoffs or anything like that. We’re a couple of games out, so if you have one good week, you’re right back into it.”
There’s optimism that a new voice will make all the difference, that this difficult decision to dismiss Pierce will ultimately prove to be worth it. McMillan is a proven commodity, having been a head coach for a combined 16 seasons in Seattle, Portland and Indiana (661-588; nine playoff appearances; and a 17-36 postseason mark). And last but certainly not least, Young is known to be fond of McMillan’s style.
“My focus is really on the Hawks and trying to assist Coach on what he’s trying to do here and after the season, we’ll see what happens,” McMillan, who went 2-1 while serving as acting head coach while Pierce was away to attend the birth of his second child, said on Feb. 16. “I signed on knowing what I would be coming in to and knowing what I needed to do as far as joining Coach Pierce’s staff as an assistant. This is the role I wanted. We’re going to try to turn this thing around.”
Now he’ll try turning it around as the man in charge and as the voice the Hawks hope can lead them into the playoffs.
— The Athletic’s Shams Charania also contributed to the reporting for this story.
― lag∞n, Tuesday, 2 March 2021 19:31 (three months ago) link
feels like a team with bad vibes they shd trade collins to the spurs
― class project pat (m bison), Wednesday, 3 March 2021 00:27 (three months ago) link
Jemele Hill in the Atlantic:
The night that sports began shutting down was the night that the United States began shutting down. On March 11, 2020, an announcer at the Oklahoma City Thunder’s home arena told fans just before tip-off that the evening’s game had been postponed. Within an hour, the visiting Utah Jazz revealed that a player—soon identified as the center Rudy Gobert—had tested positive for COVID-19, and the NBA also declared that it was indefinitely suspending the season. Suddenly, Americans were forced to accept that the coronavirus pandemic was going to completely disrupt everyday life.Although the NBA eventually resumed its season by creating a playoff bubble, and other professional and college leagues figured out a way to return in some form, the sports world is still struggling for normalcy nearly a year after widespread shutdowns began and fans turned their attention to matters of life and death.As the pandemic dragged on, the leagues, universities, pro franchises, and other entities that profit from a multibillion-dollar sports economy made a push for games to return. But these efforts also reflected a working assumption that the mere presence of sports would provide comfort, and perhaps a welcome distraction, for people who wanted to escape the horrors of the pandemic, at least momentarily.But the ratings for some of the biggest sporting events in the past year show that the public’s emotional connection to sports during a tumultuous time has been grossly overestimated. In practically every sport, the number of television viewers nosedived in 2020, despite the fact that more people than usual were stuck at home. Compared with the previous year, ratings were down 51 percent for the NBA Finals, 61 percent for the NHL finals, and 45 percent for tennis’s U.S. Open. Not even the Kentucky Derby was safe: Ratings dropped 49 percent from the previous year. The 8.3 million viewers represented the derby’s lowest TV audience ever.The NFL has long been immune to ratings pressures, but not this year. The NFL couldn’t have asked for a better story line for the Super Bowl earlier this month. The game pitted Tom Brady, the celebrated Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback seeking his seventh Super Bowl win at age 43, against Patrick Mahomes, the brilliant young Kansas City Chiefs star who has become the new face of pro football. The game should have been a ratings bonanza. Instead, the Super Bowl drew its lowest ratings in 15 years.Not even Brady and Mahomes could overcome some daunting underlying trends. In recent years, sports programming has had to compete harder for fans’ attention. Streaming platforms such as Netflix and Hulu have exploded in popularity as more Americans are severing ties with their cable and satellite companies. That shift has accelerated during the pandemic. In 2020, streaming services saw a 50 percent hike in viewership from the previous year. Even before the pandemic, cord-cutting had become a real challenge to sports-network giants such as ESPN, which currently has 83 million subscribers. Ten years ago, ESPN had just over 100 million subscribers.Plenty of evidence suggests that sports broadcasts aren’t resonating as well with Generation Z—Americans born after 1996—as they did with previous generations. According to a recent poll, only 53 percent of Gen Zers identify as sports fans. And more troubling for networks that have invested heavily in live sports, Gen Zers are half as likely as Millennials to watch live sports regularly, and twice as likely to never watch.Exacerbating those trends, the pandemic has made sports unusually tough to follow. The normal sports calendar was wildly reshuffled. The NBA Finals, which are usually played in June, began in October. Normally in April, pro golf’s storied Masters Tournament was moved to November. In college football, well more than 100 games were canceled or postponed as many colleges and universities struggled to deal with the virus. During some weeks of the NFL season, games were played on Tuesdays or Wednesdays because positive COVID-19 tests by players and staff had delayed games scheduled for the previous weekend. In late November, the Denver Broncos actually had to play their game against the New Orleans Saints without any quarterbacks on the roster because of COVID-19 protocols. (To fill the position, Denver tapped a wide receiver from its practice squad.) The NCAA men’s March Madness tournament will take place this year, but inside a bubble in Indianapolis, and with a limited number of fans.Even though the sports world did provide several moments of reprieve for the nation—for example, ESPN’s highly successful documentary series on Michael Jordan—it ultimately could not make fans forget certain harsh realities. Even if some fans were able to compartmentalize the pandemic’s heavy toll, the sports-viewing experience only reminded fans of just how abnormal things were. The pageantry and traditions in sports largely were missing. The Augusta National Golf Club’s “Amen Corner” had no roaring crowd during the Masters. When Green Bay Packers players scored touchdowns at Lambeau Field, they did the famous “Lambeau leap” into empty stands—if they did it at all. The new normal for fans is watching games with manufactured crowd noise and virtual or cardboard fans in the stands.The overriding lesson from the past year is that too much money was at stake for pro and college sports not to forge ahead—no matter how awkward, hypocritical, and exploitative the attempt might be. On March 7, the NBA will hold its All-Star Game festivities in Atlanta, despite serious objections by players, including the superstar LeBron James. The dynamic showcase event is usually stretched out over the course of a weekend, but this year the All-Star Game, slam-dunk contest, skills competition, and three-point-shooting contest will be shoehorned into one day. The bad optics are difficult to ignore. When the NBA announced plans for the event, Georgia had one of the worst COVID-19 death rates in the nation. And even though the league has instituted strict health and safety protocols for its All-Star events—which include requiring participating players and their guests to travel by private transportation—the league clearly believes that trying to create some version of All-Star Weekend is worth potentially exposing its best players. Not to mention that the presence of this event is complicating the jobs of Atlanta officials. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has already pleaded with basketball fans not to travel to her city for the event and for party promoters not to host All-Star-related events. But considering the state’s lenient COVID-19 restrictions, Bottoms’s pleas may be totally ignored.Since that fateful night in Oklahoma City last March, the sports world hasn’t been the escape that some fans desperately needed it to be. It has simply mirrored the chaos the entire country has experienced. During a deadly pandemic, a lot of people just couldn’t bring themselves to enjoy the distraction that sports traditionally provide.
Although the NBA eventually resumed its season by creating a playoff bubble, and other professional and college leagues figured out a way to return in some form, the sports world is still struggling for normalcy nearly a year after widespread shutdowns began and fans turned their attention to matters of life and death.
As the pandemic dragged on, the leagues, universities, pro franchises, and other entities that profit from a multibillion-dollar sports economy made a push for games to return. But these efforts also reflected a working assumption that the mere presence of sports would provide comfort, and perhaps a welcome distraction, for people who wanted to escape the horrors of the pandemic, at least momentarily.
But the ratings for some of the biggest sporting events in the past year show that the public’s emotional connection to sports during a tumultuous time has been grossly overestimated. In practically every sport, the number of television viewers nosedived in 2020, despite the fact that more people than usual were stuck at home. Compared with the previous year, ratings were down 51 percent for the NBA Finals, 61 percent for the NHL finals, and 45 percent for tennis’s U.S. Open. Not even the Kentucky Derby was safe: Ratings dropped 49 percent from the previous year. The 8.3 million viewers represented the derby’s lowest TV audience ever.
The NFL has long been immune to ratings pressures, but not this year. The NFL couldn’t have asked for a better story line for the Super Bowl earlier this month. The game pitted Tom Brady, the celebrated Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback seeking his seventh Super Bowl win at age 43, against Patrick Mahomes, the brilliant young Kansas City Chiefs star who has become the new face of pro football. The game should have been a ratings bonanza. Instead, the Super Bowl drew its lowest ratings in 15 years.
Not even Brady and Mahomes could overcome some daunting underlying trends. In recent years, sports programming has had to compete harder for fans’ attention. Streaming platforms such as Netflix and Hulu have exploded in popularity as more Americans are severing ties with their cable and satellite companies. That shift has accelerated during the pandemic. In 2020, streaming services saw a 50 percent hike in viewership from the previous year. Even before the pandemic, cord-cutting had become a real challenge to sports-network giants such as ESPN, which currently has 83 million subscribers. Ten years ago, ESPN had just over 100 million subscribers.
Plenty of evidence suggests that sports broadcasts aren’t resonating as well with Generation Z—Americans born after 1996—as they did with previous generations. According to a recent poll, only 53 percent of Gen Zers identify as sports fans. And more troubling for networks that have invested heavily in live sports, Gen Zers are half as likely as Millennials to watch live sports regularly, and twice as likely to never watch.
Exacerbating those trends, the pandemic has made sports unusually tough to follow. The normal sports calendar was wildly reshuffled. The NBA Finals, which are usually played in June, began in October. Normally in April, pro golf’s storied Masters Tournament was moved to November. In college football, well more than 100 games were canceled or postponed as many colleges and universities struggled to deal with the virus. During some weeks of the NFL season, games were played on Tuesdays or Wednesdays because positive COVID-19 tests by players and staff had delayed games scheduled for the previous weekend. In late November, the Denver Broncos actually had to play their game against the New Orleans Saints without any quarterbacks on the roster because of COVID-19 protocols. (To fill the position, Denver tapped a wide receiver from its practice squad.) The NCAA men’s March Madness tournament will take place this year, but inside a bubble in Indianapolis, and with a limited number of fans.
Even though the sports world did provide several moments of reprieve for the nation—for example, ESPN’s highly successful documentary series on Michael Jordan—it ultimately could not make fans forget certain harsh realities. Even if some fans were able to compartmentalize the pandemic’s heavy toll, the sports-viewing experience only reminded fans of just how abnormal things were. The pageantry and traditions in sports largely were missing. The Augusta National Golf Club’s “Amen Corner” had no roaring crowd during the Masters. When Green Bay Packers players scored touchdowns at Lambeau Field, they did the famous “Lambeau leap” into empty stands—if they did it at all. The new normal for fans is watching games with manufactured crowd noise and virtual or cardboard fans in the stands.
The overriding lesson from the past year is that too much money was at stake for pro and college sports not to forge ahead—no matter how awkward, hypocritical, and exploitative the attempt might be. On March 7, the NBA will hold its All-Star Game festivities in Atlanta, despite serious objections by players, including the superstar LeBron James. The dynamic showcase event is usually stretched out over the course of a weekend, but this year the All-Star Game, slam-dunk contest, skills competition, and three-point-shooting contest will be shoehorned into one day. The bad optics are difficult to ignore. When the NBA announced plans for the event, Georgia had one of the worst COVID-19 death rates in the nation. And even though the league has instituted strict health and safety protocols for its All-Star events—which include requiring participating players and their guests to travel by private transportation—the league clearly believes that trying to create some version of All-Star Weekend is worth potentially exposing its best players. Not to mention that the presence of this event is complicating the jobs of Atlanta officials. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has already pleaded with basketball fans not to travel to her city for the event and for party promoters not to host All-Star-related events. But considering the state’s lenient COVID-19 restrictions, Bottoms’s pleas may be totally ignored.
Since that fateful night in Oklahoma City last March, the sports world hasn’t been the escape that some fans desperately needed it to be. It has simply mirrored the chaos the entire country has experienced. During a deadly pandemic, a lot of people just couldn’t bring themselves to enjoy the distraction that sports traditionally provide.
― G.A.G.S. (Gophers Against Getting Stuffed) (forksclovetofu), Wednesday, 3 March 2021 20:17 (three months ago) link
Anthony Mason fought the X-Man, and the Knicks of the ’90s were made: ‘Neither one backed down’
The ’90s Knicks thrived on being badasses. A team of some of the toughest, most physically intimidating players in the NBA. They were the spiritual successors to the Bad Boys Pistons; the team Michael Jordan saw whenever he looked over his shoulder.Patrick Ewing was the future Hall of Famer at the center, but Charles Oakley, Xavier McDaniel and Anthony Mason were more than just the muscle. Together, they brought the Knicks back to relevance and provided their adoring fan base a new golden generation. The Knicks never won a ring — thanks, Michael! — but they won plenty of games and represented the soul of New York City.Pat Riley, another Hall of Famer, was the mastermind. He left behind Los Angeles and his Showtime roots to put together the roster he thought could defeat, and beat up, the rest of the league. Gone was the Hollywood glitz and glamour; now he wanted Schenectady toughness.David Stern was unhappy with it. And he was ignored. While those Knicks starred at Madison Square Garden, they were forged during a brutal week of training camp at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. That’s where Riley laid out his grand plan, and where a fight broke out that no one who was there can forget. Xavier McDaniel. Anthony Mason. Two titans, 460 pounds of man between them, colliding on location, inside a stuffy, small college gym.Twelve players, coaches, executives, doctors and agents from the 1991 Knicks agreed to share their memories of Riley’s first New York camp with The Athletic, and explain how a scrap between two giants set the franchise on its way to a decade of rugged glory. McDaniel: I was thinking more or less like “Showtime” when I was going to be playing for Pat Riley and the Knicks. I was thinking, “Shit, I’m going to be getting on the break, being like Worthy, and Mark Jackson’s going to be kicking it out to me.”Greg Anthony, the Knicks’ No. 1 pick in 1991, now an analyst for Turner Sports and NBA TV: Hell, yeah! That’s literally what they told me when they drafted me.Dave Checketts, who took over as Knicks team president in March 1991: I knew Pat for Showtime and we were not giving him Magic Johnson and Michael Cooper and these guys that could change ends of the floor so quickly. We were giving him a very tough, physical team and he knew it.Ewing, who is now the coach at Georgetown: He already told us from day one he wanted us to be the most physical, the most conditioned, the hardest working team ever. One of the things he talked about is he’s from Schenectady — a blue collar town — and he wanted us to be blue collar Knicks.Carlton McKinney, Mason’s roommate that season: Everything was intense. Practice was intense. He was looking for a specific type of player.McDaniel: Pat Riley showed a video (before camp began) and on the video it had me and Oakley fighting (when McDaniel played for the SuperSonics and Oakley was already a Knick). I’m sitting there like, “Oh shit.”Mark Jackson, an All-Star for the Knicks in 1990, now an analyst for ABC/ESPN: I don’t think it was a better way to end a meeting, than like that. It was a perfect message to the perfect group of folks he was trying to deliver the message to. And we all got up like, “OK, let’s go do this.”McDaniel: After the video, Pat Riley said, “Now we fight together.”Ewing: (Riley) knows what buttons to push to get the most out of you.Anthony: You could hate him for it.Brian Quinnett, who would be traded during the season: All I remember is being so sore I could barely walk from the hotel to the gym. Riley practices were no joke.Jackson: They’d have the windows covered. Nobody in there, in the building. It was just us, practicing, really with no motivation other than to get better and to prepare ourselves.Tim McCormick, whose last pro season was 1991-92: It was all about a culture of accountability. We’re going to play through pain.McKinney: He’d fine you if guys went to the lane and just laid it up.Quinnett: Riley had a rule that we gave up no easy layups. If you could get there, you had to foul — and hard. Intimidation.Dr. Norman Scott, Knicks team physician for 27 years: The papers around New York had built it up too. It was no surprise. Anyone who followed the Knicks closely knew there was going to be combustion at training camp.Anthony: The environment was so tense that it tended to always break out in fights or pushing and shoving matches.McDaniel: It was like putting 10 lions in and there’s a baby gazelle, so only the strong survive.Scott: It was going to be a war in Charleston, and indeed it was just a question which day the explosion between X-Man, Oak and Mase was going to take place.Riley and Checketts traded for McDaniel on Oct. 1, 1991, right before camp. Mason, meanwhile, was from New York and had tiny tastes of the NBA with Denver and New Jersey. The Knicks scouted him in the now-defunct United States Basketball League. Riley: (Mason) had been overlooked in the draft. Simply being from New York and also having an opportunity to work out for the Knicks, I just think this was an opportunity of his lifetime to really make it.Don Cronson, Mason’s former agent: Mason was the new kid on the block and wanted to establish himself and was looking at everybody.Riley: He didn’t care who was in front of him.McDaniel: (Riley) said he “didn’t want the Xavier McDaniel from the Phoenix Suns. He played soft. I want the Xavier McDaniel that played when he was playing for the Seattle Supersonics. I want that guy to play.”Anthony: X had always been like a bully in terms of, he wanted to impose his will on you. And that was a part of his game.Ewing: X was the type of guy who wasn’t going to back down.Jeff Van Gundy, an assistant coach on that team and now an ABC/ESPN analyst: Mason and Xavier McDaniel went at it, in a full-blown fight, like five minutes into the first practice.Scott: It was the second day.Ewing: I think it was right before we had a water break. They just got into it. They were talking so much trash to each other.Riley: I just remember the two of them looking at one another like warriors. They just looked at each other like, “OK, something is going to happen.” Our very first competitive rebounding drill — the block-out drill — about 10 minutes into practice after we warmed them up, and we went right to defense and rebounding. Sure enough, the two of them squared off.McDaniel: I didn’t think he liked the shit I was talking to him. I was like, “Get that shit out of here.” I was blocking his shot. And he sucker-punched me. From then on, it was on.McKinney: Neither one backed down. If we’d let it go they’d still be at it.McDaniel: I was just trying to get at him. And Pat Riley and them was like, “No,” and I was like, “No, fuck that. Nobody’s gonna punch me and get a-fucking-way with it.” You know?Van Gundy: We had the guards, and then (assistant coach) Paul Silas and coach Riley were at the other end with the bigs. Because the guards go through rebounding drills at about 80 percent and everybody’s trying to stay out of harm’s way, our end was pretty just OK, right? But when we were doing our stuff, you could hear the grunts and groans and physical contact at the other end. And you felt it even though you weren’t seeing it.McDaniel: I backed up and started chasing him. I just chased him. He’s trying to get out the way and I’m trying to get at him. They went in the locker room and I was trying to get in the locker room. Patrick was grabbing me, and I’m forearming Patrick. “I’ll see him outside.” He was like, “Calm down.” And I was like, “No, fuck that. I don’t want to hear that shit.”Van Gundy: He did chase him; Mason was backpedaling, but Mason didn’t run to the locker room. Would you if you were Mason?Riley: It was from one bleacher to the next trying to break them apart. It was very hard.McDaniel: I was still mad. They tried to get me to let it go. I said, “No. No.” But then they started like I could possibly be suspended, and I’m like, “OK, motherfucker hits you, none of that matters?” This is in the meeting. I was just like, “No, I’m not letting this go.” They just said, “Hey, we’ve got to let this go, we’ve got to move on from it.” That I couldn’t be disruptive in practice and do I agree to let it go? I said, “Yes.” I let it go, we shook on it and we just went back.Riley: When it was over with, they looked at each other, “OK, we’re done with that.” It’s like, “I marked my territory and you marked yours.”McDaniel: We actually, we became pretty good friends after that.McKinney: There was no tension after (the fight), that’s why I think it was orchestrated. (Riley) was trying to find out where your breaking point was.Scott: Pat was the master of getting the most out of players. He knew probably when the trade was made (for McDaniel) this was going to be an issue. There’s not much that ever escaped him. I would suspect he was just waiting for this, put the right alignment of the teams so they’re head to head. Once it happened it was sort of like, “OK, the volcano erupted” and it was going to settle down.Checketts: When I saw the look on Pat’s face, when I walked up to Pat after practice, he was charged up. He wasn’t the least bit unnerved. He thought we were going to have a team to be reckoned with right from the beginning. He was very happy.Van Gundy: That first rebounding drill and subsequent physical altercation (between McDaniel and Mason), I think, spoke to who we were going to be.But, wait, X-Man, did you ever actually punch Mason back?McDaniel: No. He punched me and that was pretty much the whole basics of the fight, but I was trying to get at him.The Knicks won 51 games in Riley’s first season, a 12-game improvement over the previous season. It would be a decade before New York failed to at least reach the conference semifinals, and twice the Knicks made it to the Finals. Once, in 1994, it was under Riley. But whether it was Riley or Van Gundy coaching the team, the Knicks always played the same way — the way Riley first showed them in that initial training camp.Jackson: The Knicks are still trying to get that back.Scott: One game during the season, pre-game, (Oakley came in and) he said, “Hey, I think I broke my hand.” I looked at it and there was no question it was broken. A first-year medical student would have figured it out. I said, “We’ll get an X-ray, Oak, but you’re out for tonight.” He said, “No, I’m playing. We’ll get an X-ray after the game.” He played the whole time. Bones were moving.McCormick: If you were going to be a part of this team you had to retaliate, you had to show some toughness. Every day Oakley just kept hitting me over and over and over. I was getting very tired of it. One day in practice I got frustrated and I swung my arm around and hit him right in the mouth and split his lip. Guys grabbed him quick and it probably saved me from having a fight that I would not have wanted to be in. As they dragged him off, he had to go to the doctor and get stitches and he gave me a look like, “Tomorrow, you die.”I didn’t sleep well that night. I kept thinking about when I first saw Charles. The next day he walked into the locker room and he saw me and he started walking right over to me. So I stood up like, “OK, here we go.” He said, “Have you seen the new Stallone movie?” I thought this is strange because he’s never talked to me before. That was like the first conversation we ever had. We started talking about it. I realized that until I stood up to him he didn’t respect me.Checketts: I thought it really hurt us on the referee side of things and it put me very much at odds with David Stern. He thought we had changed the game and slowed it down and had this tough, physical confrontation style of defense. David was all about the good of the game. I knew that other owners were giving him a bad time about our team, about the way we played, and saying things like we were going to ruin basketball.Van Gundy: The funny part about the next year, the theme, from a business standpoint, they would draw a lane, like a court, and then have the outline of dead bodies in the lane. That’s how physical we were. Come into the paint and pay the ultimate price. Now it got rejected, but it always stood out to me that there was a source of basketball truth into that.P.S. McDaniel only played one season in New York. He paid $275,000 to buy out the final year of his contract but hoped the Knicks would re-sign him. They didn’t. He played five more NBA seasons. Mason went on to a solid NBA career, playing 10 more seasons (four more in New York), including an All-Star campaign with Miami in 2001. Mason died in February 2015 from a reported heart attack. He and McDaniel had indeed become friends, spending time together while Mason played for the Hornets and McDaniel was retired, living in South Carolina.McDaniel: I was just like, “Wow” — someone that I’ve known for quite a while and just kind of shocking. My ex called me because his ex and my ex are good friends, and so I got a call from her saying that Anthony Mason had passed. And then right after she called me, a couple hours later, it was all over the news. You just feel for the family. You ain’t thinking about the arguments you might have gotten into. You’re just making sure the family is OK.
Patrick Ewing was the future Hall of Famer at the center, but Charles Oakley, Xavier McDaniel and Anthony Mason were more than just the muscle. Together, they brought the Knicks back to relevance and provided their adoring fan base a new golden generation. The Knicks never won a ring — thanks, Michael! — but they won plenty of games and represented the soul of New York City.
Pat Riley, another Hall of Famer, was the mastermind. He left behind Los Angeles and his Showtime roots to put together the roster he thought could defeat, and beat up, the rest of the league. Gone was the Hollywood glitz and glamour; now he wanted Schenectady toughness.
David Stern was unhappy with it. And he was ignored.
While those Knicks starred at Madison Square Garden, they were forged during a brutal week of training camp at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. That’s where Riley laid out his grand plan, and where a fight broke out that no one who was there can forget.
Xavier McDaniel. Anthony Mason. Two titans, 460 pounds of man between them, colliding on location, inside a stuffy, small college gym.
Twelve players, coaches, executives, doctors and agents from the 1991 Knicks agreed to share their memories of Riley’s first New York camp with The Athletic, and explain how a scrap between two giants set the franchise on its way to a decade of rugged glory.
McDaniel: I was thinking more or less like “Showtime” when I was going to be playing for Pat Riley and the Knicks. I was thinking, “Shit, I’m going to be getting on the break, being like Worthy, and Mark Jackson’s going to be kicking it out to me.”
Greg Anthony, the Knicks’ No. 1 pick in 1991, now an analyst for Turner Sports and NBA TV: Hell, yeah! That’s literally what they told me when they drafted me.
Dave Checketts, who took over as Knicks team president in March 1991: I knew Pat for Showtime and we were not giving him Magic Johnson and Michael Cooper and these guys that could change ends of the floor so quickly. We were giving him a very tough, physical team and he knew it.
Ewing, who is now the coach at Georgetown: He already told us from day one he wanted us to be the most physical, the most conditioned, the hardest working team ever. One of the things he talked about is he’s from Schenectady — a blue collar town — and he wanted us to be blue collar Knicks.
Carlton McKinney, Mason’s roommate that season: Everything was intense. Practice was intense. He was looking for a specific type of player.
McDaniel: Pat Riley showed a video (before camp began) and on the video it had me and Oakley fighting (when McDaniel played for the SuperSonics and Oakley was already a Knick). I’m sitting there like, “Oh shit.”
Mark Jackson, an All-Star for the Knicks in 1990, now an analyst for ABC/ESPN: I don’t think it was a better way to end a meeting, than like that. It was a perfect message to the perfect group of folks he was trying to deliver the message to. And we all got up like, “OK, let’s go do this.”
McDaniel: After the video, Pat Riley said, “Now we fight together.”
Ewing: (Riley) knows what buttons to push to get the most out of you.
Anthony: You could hate him for it.
Brian Quinnett, who would be traded during the season: All I remember is being so sore I could barely walk from the hotel to the gym. Riley practices were no joke.
Jackson: They’d have the windows covered. Nobody in there, in the building. It was just us, practicing, really with no motivation other than to get better and to prepare ourselves.
Tim McCormick, whose last pro season was 1991-92: It was all about a culture of accountability. We’re going to play through pain.
McKinney: He’d fine you if guys went to the lane and just laid it up.
Quinnett: Riley had a rule that we gave up no easy layups. If you could get there, you had to foul — and hard. Intimidation.
Dr. Norman Scott, Knicks team physician for 27 years: The papers around New York had built it up too. It was no surprise. Anyone who followed the Knicks closely knew there was going to be combustion at training camp.
Anthony: The environment was so tense that it tended to always break out in fights or pushing and shoving matches.
McDaniel: It was like putting 10 lions in and there’s a baby gazelle, so only the strong survive.
Scott: It was going to be a war in Charleston, and indeed it was just a question which day the explosion between X-Man, Oak and Mase was going to take place.
Riley and Checketts traded for McDaniel on Oct. 1, 1991, right before camp. Mason, meanwhile, was from New York and had tiny tastes of the NBA with Denver and New Jersey. The Knicks scouted him in the now-defunct United States Basketball League.
Riley: (Mason) had been overlooked in the draft. Simply being from New York and also having an opportunity to work out for the Knicks, I just think this was an opportunity of his lifetime to really make it.
Don Cronson, Mason’s former agent: Mason was the new kid on the block and wanted to establish himself and was looking at everybody.
Riley: He didn’t care who was in front of him.
McDaniel: (Riley) said he “didn’t want the Xavier McDaniel from the Phoenix Suns. He played soft. I want the Xavier McDaniel that played when he was playing for the Seattle Supersonics. I want that guy to play.”
Anthony: X had always been like a bully in terms of, he wanted to impose his will on you. And that was a part of his game.
Ewing: X was the type of guy who wasn’t going to back down.
Jeff Van Gundy, an assistant coach on that team and now an ABC/ESPN analyst: Mason and Xavier McDaniel went at it, in a full-blown fight, like five minutes into the first practice.
Scott: It was the second day.
Ewing: I think it was right before we had a water break. They just got into it. They were talking so much trash to each other.
Riley: I just remember the two of them looking at one another like warriors. They just looked at each other like, “OK, something is going to happen.” Our very first competitive rebounding drill — the block-out drill — about 10 minutes into practice after we warmed them up, and we went right to defense and rebounding. Sure enough, the two of them squared off.
McDaniel: I didn’t think he liked the shit I was talking to him. I was like, “Get that shit out of here.” I was blocking his shot. And he sucker-punched me. From then on, it was on.
McKinney: Neither one backed down. If we’d let it go they’d still be at it.
McDaniel: I was just trying to get at him. And Pat Riley and them was like, “No,” and I was like, “No, fuck that. Nobody’s gonna punch me and get a-fucking-way with it.” You know?
Van Gundy: We had the guards, and then (assistant coach) Paul Silas and coach Riley were at the other end with the bigs. Because the guards go through rebounding drills at about 80 percent and everybody’s trying to stay out of harm’s way, our end was pretty just OK, right? But when we were doing our stuff, you could hear the grunts and groans and physical contact at the other end. And you felt it even though you weren’t seeing it.
McDaniel: I backed up and started chasing him. I just chased him. He’s trying to get out the way and I’m trying to get at him. They went in the locker room and I was trying to get in the locker room. Patrick was grabbing me, and I’m forearming Patrick. “I’ll see him outside.” He was like, “Calm down.” And I was like, “No, fuck that. I don’t want to hear that shit.”
Van Gundy: He did chase him; Mason was backpedaling, but Mason didn’t run to the locker room. Would you if you were Mason?
Riley: It was from one bleacher to the next trying to break them apart. It was very hard.
McDaniel: I was still mad. They tried to get me to let it go. I said, “No. No.” But then they started like I could possibly be suspended, and I’m like, “OK, motherfucker hits you, none of that matters?” This is in the meeting. I was just like, “No, I’m not letting this go.” They just said, “Hey, we’ve got to let this go, we’ve got to move on from it.” That I couldn’t be disruptive in practice and do I agree to let it go? I said, “Yes.” I let it go, we shook on it and we just went back.
Riley: When it was over with, they looked at each other, “OK, we’re done with that.” It’s like, “I marked my territory and you marked yours.”
McDaniel: We actually, we became pretty good friends after that.
McKinney: There was no tension after (the fight), that’s why I think it was orchestrated. (Riley) was trying to find out where your breaking point was.
Scott: Pat was the master of getting the most out of players. He knew probably when the trade was made (for McDaniel) this was going to be an issue. There’s not much that ever escaped him. I would suspect he was just waiting for this, put the right alignment of the teams so they’re head to head. Once it happened it was sort of like, “OK, the volcano erupted” and it was going to settle down.
Checketts: When I saw the look on Pat’s face, when I walked up to Pat after practice, he was charged up. He wasn’t the least bit unnerved. He thought we were going to have a team to be reckoned with right from the beginning. He was very happy.
Van Gundy: That first rebounding drill and subsequent physical altercation (between McDaniel and Mason), I think, spoke to who we were going to be.
But, wait, X-Man, did you ever actually punch Mason back?
McDaniel: No. He punched me and that was pretty much the whole basics of the fight, but I was trying to get at him.
The Knicks won 51 games in Riley’s first season, a 12-game improvement over the previous season. It would be a decade before New York failed to at least reach the conference semifinals, and twice the Knicks made it to the Finals. Once, in 1994, it was under Riley. But whether it was Riley or Van Gundy coaching the team, the Knicks always played the same way — the way Riley first showed them in that initial training camp.
Jackson: The Knicks are still trying to get that back.
Scott: One game during the season, pre-game, (Oakley came in and) he said, “Hey, I think I broke my hand.” I looked at it and there was no question it was broken. A first-year medical student would have figured it out. I said, “We’ll get an X-ray, Oak, but you’re out for tonight.” He said, “No, I’m playing. We’ll get an X-ray after the game.” He played the whole time. Bones were moving.
McCormick: If you were going to be a part of this team you had to retaliate, you had to show some toughness. Every day Oakley just kept hitting me over and over and over. I was getting very tired of it. One day in practice I got frustrated and I swung my arm around and hit him right in the mouth and split his lip. Guys grabbed him quick and it probably saved me from having a fight that I would not have wanted to be in. As they dragged him off, he had to go to the doctor and get stitches and he gave me a look like, “Tomorrow, you die.”
I didn’t sleep well that night. I kept thinking about when I first saw Charles. The next day he walked into the locker room and he saw me and he started walking right over to me. So I stood up like, “OK, here we go.” He said, “Have you seen the new Stallone movie?” I thought this is strange because he’s never talked to me before. That was like the first conversation we ever had. We started talking about it. I realized that until I stood up to him he didn’t respect me.
Checketts: I thought it really hurt us on the referee side of things and it put me very much at odds with David Stern. He thought we had changed the game and slowed it down and had this tough, physical confrontation style of defense. David was all about the good of the game. I knew that other owners were giving him a bad time about our team, about the way we played, and saying things like we were going to ruin basketball.
Van Gundy: The funny part about the next year, the theme, from a business standpoint, they would draw a lane, like a court, and then have the outline of dead bodies in the lane. That’s how physical we were. Come into the paint and pay the ultimate price. Now it got rejected, but it always stood out to me that there was a source of basketball truth into that.
P.S. McDaniel only played one season in New York. He paid $275,000 to buy out the final year of his contract but hoped the Knicks would re-sign him. They didn’t. He played five more NBA seasons. Mason went on to a solid NBA career, playing 10 more seasons (four more in New York), including an All-Star campaign with Miami in 2001.
Mason died in February 2015 from a reported heart attack. He and McDaniel had indeed become friends, spending time together while Mason played for the Hornets and McDaniel was retired, living in South Carolina.
McDaniel: I was just like, “Wow” — someone that I’ve known for quite a while and just kind of shocking. My ex called me because his ex and my ex are good friends, and so I got a call from her saying that Anthony Mason had passed. And then right after she called me, a couple hours later, it was all over the news. You just feel for the family. You ain’t thinking about the arguments you might have gotten into. You’re just making sure the family is OK.
― G.A.G.S. (Gophers Against Getting Stuffed) (forksclovetofu), Wednesday, 17 March 2021 17:54 (three months ago) link
SHORTLY AFTER DRAFTING him No. 25 in 2014, Houston Rockets officials took Clint Capela to a Houston Astros baseball game -- their usual initiation for draftees.
Capela had just turned 20, and was sensitive about his ability to communicate in English. He grew up in foster care in Switzerland before moving to France as a teenager to pursue basketball.
He had no idea what was going on in the game. Houston staffers explained balls and strikes. Just as Capela was getting it, one pitcher whipped the ball to first base -- a pick-off move. Why suddenly throw to a new place?
"It was boring," Capela says. "How long is the game? You don't even see a time."
The Rockets drafted Capela with the idea of stashing him overseas, sources say. They were conserving cap space to pursue Chris Bosh in the event LeBron James left the Miami Heat. Houston was hot on Bruno Caboclo, selected five spots before Capela, and even considered -- very briefly -- drafting Shabazz Napier to appeal to James after he had tweeted his affection for Napier, sources say.
Capela wanted the NBA right away. He spent almost his entire rookie season with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in what is now the G League. The Vipers were a laboratory for Houston's analytics experiments. They played fast and launched record numbers of 3s -- potentially awkward for a paint-bound big man. In brief call-ups, Capela missed his first 19 NBA shots -- field goals and free throws.
"It was hard," he says. "Just to live by myself and try to get better at English. I was always looking for someone to speak French with, but in Houston there is not much of that."
Capela carried a notebook everywhere. Coaches spotted him writing in it: English phrases, basketball terminology, life advice. "You could see him learning every day," says Nevada Smith, then the Vipers' coach. Capela still has that notebook.
Capela understood the Rockets, with James Harden and Dwight Howard, were in win-now mode. "How can I be valuable now?" he wondered. He found the simplest answer: "I like to run."
And so it was that some 340 miles southeast of Houston, playing for the Vipers, Capela tried to beat his man down the floor every possession. He would screen and roll, screen and roll. He never demanded the ball, or any play calls.
Houston promoted him late in the season. Capela appeared in every playoff game as the Rockets fell to the Golden State Warriors in the 2015 conference finals. "It was a lot to take in," Capela says.
Capela started 35 games next season, sometimes next to Howard, and tried to serve as peacemaker between Howard and Harden as their relationship deteriorated. Some within the Rockets wondered if Howard was intentionally whiffing on picks for Harden or not setting as many as Harden wanted, sources say. Harden at one point asked the coaching staff if he could come off the bench to play more with Capela, sources said. (Those sources assumed Harden was being facetious, and really prodding the Rockets to start Capela alone.)
"I could kind of get them together," Capela says. "We were able to speak and laugh together. When I was around both of them, there were no issues with us talking."
But at 21, he had limited locker room heft. Capela often found himself the target of scoldings from veterans. One coach suggested Capela playfully defend himself by declaring he would not rebound until everyone relented.
With the Atlanta Hawks, he is suddenly an old head. Nate McMillan, Atlanta's coach, leans on Capela for scheduling advice -- when the team might need an off day, or a light film session.
Once shy in English, Capela is now a communicator -- in part to make sure the kind of animosity that festered in Houston never enters the Hawks' bloodstream. There have long been rumblings about tension between star guard Trae Young and big man John Collins, but the team and both principals insist they are exaggerated.
"In Houston, communication was a problem," Capela says. "They either didn't want to say something, or didn't know how. What I take from that is just go and say it. If you express yourself the right way and you are polite, it should work every time. Let's try to enjoy the grind."
Capela now shouts orders as the anchor of Atlanta's defense. "The communication has surprised me," Bogdan Bogdanovic says. "You really hear him." He has even started a regular Monopoly game at hotels with Danilo Gallinari, Solomon Hill, and members of the training staff -- physical board and everything.
Capela is producing at career-best levels: 15 points on almost 60% shooting, and a league-best 14.5 rebounds. He is No. 1 in both offensive and defensive rebounding rate, and a bulwark defending the basket. Capela ranks fourth in blocks, and keeps his rejections inbounds so the Hawks can retrieve them. Amid injuries, Capela has been Atlanta's constant.
"I don't think anyone expected [the Hawks] to be where we are, and Clint is probably the No. 1 reason," McMillan says.
Teammates say Capela should factor more into Defensive Player of the Year chatter. "Other guys talk about winning it, and even if they are deserving, I don't think that's the best way to do it," Bogdanovic says. "Clint doesn't talk, so he doesn't get enough credit."
The Hawks have allowed six fewer points per 100 possessions with Capela on the floor. Opponents have shot just 52% at the rim with Capela nearby -- a tick stingier than Joel Embiid, and only a little behind Rudy Gobert. Capela ranks second -- trailing Gobert -- in ESPN's defensive adjusted plus-minus.
Gaudy numbers are landing Capela on the national radar. To him, nothing has changed. He still runs, and runs, and demands none of the trappings.
"It's like, 'I've always been good and you all are just noticing,'" he says.
In just 30.3 minutes per game, Capela is averaging 15.3 points and career highs in rebounds (14.4) and blocks (2.1). "I don't think anyone expected [the Hawks] to be where we are," says head coach Nate McMillan. "And Clint is probably the No. 1 reason." AP Photo/Matt SlocumBACK-TO-BACK postseason losses to the Warriors left the Rockets worried Capela would always struggle against lineups with Draymond Green at center, sources say. The Rockets lost confidence in Capela's ability to switch onto Golden State's guards, though Capela's self-belief in that facet never wavered.
Capela hadn't shown the post game to punish switching defenses that often prevail in the playoffs. He'd averaged less than an assist per game. Rim-running centers were going out of style; how much of Capela's production could Houston find for cheap?
By 2019, Harden had shifted away from the pick-and-roll and toward isolations. That left Capela hanging around the rim, waiting for lobs.
It spoke to Harden's methodological nature. He prefers to survey the floor with a clear view, and shift the chess pieces around as he likes. A pick-and-roll invited unpredictability. A big man could trap, hang back, switch.
The introduction of Russell Westbrook last season cramped Houston's spacing. The Rockets jettisoned Capela, and went all-in on small ball. Capela had been dealing with a plantar fascia injury and a bone bruise in his heel when the Rockets sent the then-six-year vet to Houston. The trade stung.
"I was surprised, but I also felt the team was going downhill," Capela says. "I was scared I would never find a vibe like that again -- a winning team, in the playoffs every year."
The Hawks wanted a center to fortify their defense. They discussed Andre Drummond and Steven Adams, sources say. They thought elements of Capela's pick-and-roll partnership with Harden would translate to Young's game.
That would also mean an adjustment for Collins, Young's main screen-and-dive partner. Collins was on board with the trade, and invited the challenge of rounding out his perimeter game.
"Getting better players means you have to improve your game or take a step back," Collins says. "I didn't want to take a step back."
The injury and pandemic delayed chemistry building. Capela was diligent doing what rehab he could from home, team officials say. When Atlanta's performance staff could see Capela in person again, they put him through arduous drills -- including an exercise in which Capela had to traverse a sandbox using only his toes to grip the sand and drag himself forward. It is a method of rebuilding foot strength. It took Capela 10 minutes to cover a distance that required one or two normal strides.
In lockdown, Young and Capela spoke often. When the Hawks reconvened in September for their own bubble -- and then later for informal workouts -- Young and Capela hit it off. "They have basically become best friends," McMillan says.
"We have a real connection," Young says.
Young often chit-chats with opposing bigs in games, talking trash and dissecting pick-and-roll coverages. Upon hearing about the Capela trade, Young remembered their fun in-game jabs going both ways -- Young bragging about a floater that crested out of Capela's reach, Capela swatting Young's layup and boasting.
They developed a rhythm on the pick-and-roll, Capela feeling out the differences between Harden and Young.
"James is slow, processing," Capela says. "He can take his time. Trae is more of a speed guy with lots of touch."
Harden rarely attempted floaters. Young takes more than anyone.
CAPELA REALIZED THAT the combination of Young's speed and the tendency of defenses to trap him exposed offensive rebounding opportunities. Once Capela's man doubles Young, Capela zips into inside position -- and holds it until the ball hits the rim. Young launches so fast, Capela can root out rebounding territory without worrying about three-second calls.
"Sometimes I shoot the floater just because I know his man will contest," Young says. "If it doesn't go in, it's going to Clint. He's a beast."
Capela has become one of the league's best at one-handed tip-ins -- a skill he says he didn't prioritize until this season. Capela noticed how often he was fighting off defenders with one hand, and figured he might as well use the other for tips. He is uncanny tipping lefty. He has gotten much stronger in recent years -- Capela is part of Atlanta's regular postgame lifting group -- and is unusually mobile and well-balanced for a player his size, coaches say.
He remains a premiere lob-catcher -- a natural fit alongside Young. John Lucas, the longtime Houston Rockets assistant, often had Capela practice alley-ooping tennis balls, Capela says. He has also made great strides on non-dunk finishes in traffic.
Diving to the rim can be thankless; for every alley-oop, there might be dozens of possessions on which you don't touch the ball. The same is true for running the floor, and few bigs run harder than Capela. He has scored 13 baskets within 24 seconds of blocking an opponent's shot -- most in the league, per Elias Sports Bureau research.
But fans may not notice when those rim runs suck in the defense, and unlock open 3s for teammates.
"I am going to outwork you the whole game," Capela says. "Maybe it doesn't look that nice. Maybe it's not on social media. But it's efficient."
Anyone inflicting that much damage around the rim gets hacked, and free throw shooting has been Capela's bugaboo. His contract contains a $500,000 bonus if he hits at least 65% on foul shots, per league sources; he is at 57%, and has cracked 60% just once.
During Capela's first summer league in Las Vegas, they had him arrive at the gym at 6 a.m. and stay until he hit 500 free throws. At first, it took two hours. "Tough mornings," Capela says. He got it down to 45 minutes.
Capela's set shot can list left; the Rockets tried everything to correct it. Houston coaches sometimes sat Capela in a folding chair at the foul line with a hula hoop hanging above his head -- parallel to the floor -- and attached to a pole behind the chair. Capela had to release the ball through the hoop without banging into it. They sometimes had a coach stand behind Capela holding a ruler -- and asked Capela to shoot free throws without hitting it.
The Rockets scrapped shootarounds under Mike D'Antoni, but Capela showed up every game-day morning anyway. Lucas let Capela leave right away if he hit six free straight free throws.
Atlanta will trade some iffy free throw shooting for Capela's ferocious defense, which should earn some All-Defense consideration -- an uphill battle, with Gobert and either Embiid or Bam Adebayo favored for the two center slots.
For a bouncy dunker, it is notable how rarely Capela jumps on defense until it is time to chase a rebound. He crouches in his stance against the pick-and-roll, arms spread so wide he effectively guards two players at once. He locks eyes with the ball-handler, betraying nothing. That ball handler wants Capela to move first -- flinch, jump, lurch. He won't. That uncertainty unnerves all but the very best.
"I'm in your head," Capela says. "'Is he jumping or not?'"
If that ball handler settles for a floater, Capela may not even contest it. That judiciousness leaves him in ideal rebounding position. It makes up for Capela's eschewing textbook boxouts. He prefers to leap and pursue rebounds, but he can't do that if he's already airborne chasing blocks. Atlanta's defensive rebounding rate craters when Capela rests.
"In my first year, I was jumping all over the place," Capela says. "I learned you can't do that. If I jump and miss, [the other team] is ready to put it back in."
That does not mean Capela is a reluctant shot-blocker -- just a choosy one. He has a knack for verticality, and risks posterization to meet dunkers at the apex.
That left Capela on the wrong end of perhaps the dunk of the year -- Miles Bridges' epic throwdown that sent Capela stumbling toward the baseline. When he saw that, Smith, Capela's coach in Rio Grande, thought about something he used to tell Capela: "Guys who play hard will get dunked on. Guys who don't play hard won't, but they won't make it, either."
"I wonder if he remembers that," Smith says.
Capela plays like it. No one noticed, but Bridges' dunk materialized only after Capela erased a Terry Rozier drive at the rim -- leading to a second-chance scramble for the Charlotte Hornets.
"I'm not thinking, 'I want to look nice' or 'I want to make a nice move,'" Capela says. "I'm thinking about dominating the paint."
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