Seven players who need to answer doubters, have big years

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It’s time gentlemen.

Step up or be swept to the side.

There are a lot of players in the NBA who need to answer questions we have about them, but maybe none more than the seven below. These are players who either need to show how good they are to get paid next summer; or they just got the big payday and now need to prove they can live up to it.

These are guys who need to answer the doubters and prove their worth. Seven guys with a lot on the line this season.

1) John Wall (Washington Wizards): When the Wizards drafted Wall No. 1 overall they thought they were getting a franchise anchor, a guy you can build a contender around. But it hasn’t been that way — he was solid as a rookie and good in his sophomore campaign — he scored 16.3 points per game and added 8 assists per contest — but his game hasn’t developed like it needed to. The big issue is he has no jump shot you have to respect— he took 4.4 shots a game from 16 feet out to the arc last season and hit 29 percent of them. He’s not a real threat from three. You go under the pick on him.

Next summer Wall can get an extension to his rookie contract and the Wizards will have to decide what to do.

Wall is going to miss the first month of the season (until around Thanksgiving) due to a stress fracture in his patella. That will give the Wizards pause come next summer. When Wall does return he needs to show he can both play fast and under control, show he has a jump shot opponents have to respect, and show that he can lead. The time for excuses is over — the Wizards have cleaned up the locker room culture and brought in veteran professionals like Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza. It’s on Wall now to show what he can do.

2) Al Jefferson (Utah Jazz): How much would you pay to have Al Jefferson to be your center? That’s the question before NBA GMs next summer when Jefferson becomes a free agent — how he plays this season will impact how many zeroes are on future checks. And likely where he plays. Jefferson is solid offensively — you get him the ball on the block and he’s going to score about two thirds of the time, plus he shot 40 percent outside 10 feet last season so you have to respect the shot. He’s not going to draw fouls. He can defend the post pretty well but get him out in the pick-and-roll and he gets destroyed. If he improves that P&R defense his value goes up, and he is just 27. There’s a lot to like and he’s going to get paid. The question is how much? And by whom? Is Utah really going to spend on him?

3) O.J. Mayo (Dallas Mavericks): In Memphis, Mayo could never find a fit with the Grizzlies’ big front line and Rudy Gay. They tried him as a starter, sixth man, lots of roles but nothing clicked. Memphis actually let Mayo walk without getting anything for him (which was a mistake). Mayo’s agent’s phone was not ringing all that often, so Mayo took a contract with a Dallas Mavericks team that needs scoring. Mayo is going to get the chance to work off the ball and show he can catch-and-shoot when Darren Collison has the rock. He’s going to get to run some pick and rolls with Dirk Nowitizki. If he proves he can score and fit in then Mayo can turn down the $4.2 million option he has with Dallas next season and get a bigger payday. But he’s going to have to prove he deserves it.

4) Brook Lopez (Brooklyn Nets): Brook Lopez, max contract. In a summer where a few contracts had you shaking your head, this one was one of the biggies. The Nets got out of the Dwight Howard sweepstakes to keep Lopez and max him out. And on offense he’s worth it — Lopez is a gifted scorer who averaged 20.4 points a game two seasons ago. But he lost last season to a case of mono then a foot injury. But the bigger issue is he is not a good rebounder or defender at all. Fellow front line guy Kris Humphries can cover his rebounding woes, but the Nets need him to be a force in the paint on defense to make any real waves this season. Lopez got the max deal, now can he just make the Nets and their fans not regret it.

5) Eric Gordon (New Orleans Hornets): Here’s a guy who has to redeem himself more to his own fan base than anybody else. All New Orleans fans have heard is how he is arguably the best young two guard in the game and how he and Anthony Davis can form the foundation of a contender down the line.

All they’ve seen is a guy injured all but nine games of last season and then all of this preseason. They’ve seen a guy who signed a max offer sheet from Phoenix last summer then publically begged the Hornets not to it. They did anyway. Gordon needs to get on the court and win over the New Orleans fans, because so far he has not come close to living up to the hype since he went East in the Chris Paul trade.

6) Jeff Green (Boston Celtics): It is great to see Jeff Green back on the court. After missing a year due to heart surgery, I think everyone around the league is all happy to see him back and playing again. That doesn’t mean any of us understand the four-year, $36 million contract the Celtics gave him this summer. That was a huge commitment to a guy who didn’t merit it from his play in Oklahoma City (where his numbers were average and his defense unimpressive). For a guy coming off heart surgery.

But Boston is using Green more at the three (he was an undersized four a lot for OKC) and they are going with smaller lineups. In the preseason it seems to have worked — Green has been very impressive and able to show off his athleticism. But that’s the preseason, where you play against makeshift lineups and usually not the other team’s top talent. Green needs to have big a big year and earn a salary nearly double the average NBA player if Boston is going to be a top three seed in the East and threat to Miami. Green will be key for them this season. And the three after that.

7) Tyreke Evans (Sacramento Kings): There are not enough Jägermeister shots in all of Sacramento to get GM Geoff Petrie drunk enough to offer Evans a contract extension in the next week — Evans is going to be a restricted free agent next summer. And how he plays this season will determine how much he gets paid and where he plays next year.

Evans was a rookie of the year averaging 20.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game, but his game stalled after that. Part of that was injuries, but a bigger part was him never developing a reliable jump shot. As a rookie he slashed to the rim with the best of them, but as his jump shot weakness was game planned for his driving angles disappeared and so did his efficiency. This season Evans must show he can work off the ball, that he has a jump shot and that his game is more than just being a slasher from the wing. Do that and he gets paid (maybe by the Kings, who would still like to pair him with DeMarcus Cousins). Do that and he can start to become the guy we all thought he would be after his rookie season. Don’t and he will not like his options next summer.

2017 NBA Draft pick-by-pick tracker with analysis of each move

Associated Press
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Already the 2017 NBA Draft has been crazy — the No. 1 pick was traded for only the seventh time in NBA history. The No. 2 pick from a couple years ago has already been moved to make way for the next No. 2 pick coming to Los Angeles.

Now it is likely to get even wilder.

This is the best place to follow all of it. Just keep hitting refresh all night.

We will constantly be updating this post throughout the course of the night — it will be live with a quick analysis of every pick and how they fit in with the team that took them. We’ll also be on top of trades and everything else happening around the NBA tonight. About the only thing we know is what’s happening now with the No. 1 pick, so let’s put the Sixers on the clock.

 
Sixers small icon 1. Philadephia 76ers: Markelle Fultz, 6’4” point guard (Washington). The Sixers hope they have their big three rounded out with Fultz. One scout I trust told me this was a one-player draft at the top — Fultz was clear and away the best guy available. What doesn’t he do well offensively? He can score off the pick-and-roll from all three levels: He makes threes, can hit mid-range pull-ups, or attack and finish above the rim. He can make plays in transition, makes good decisions off the pick-and-roll, uses both hands, and had great body control and footwork. The concerns are he can be passive, lets the game come to him a little too much, and can be a lazy defender (despite elite physical tools). Stlll, he was the clear No. 1 for a reason.

 
Lakers small icon 2. Los Angeles Lakers: Lonzo Ball, 6’6” point guard (UCLA). You can’t teach his court vision and passing skills, which remind one of a LeBron/Ricky Rubio level of passer. With those skills, he is amazing in the open court. Yes, his shot is awkward (because of it he can’t pull up going to his right well), but in catch-and-shoots the ball goes in. Concerns about his shot – and his father — are overblown. The real questions are how he defends at the next level (he was disinterested for long stretches in college), and can he create in the halfcourt (he didn’t do a lot of pick-and-rolls, and on them 75 percent of his drives ended with a pass, he has to be more of a scoring threat).

WE HAVE A TRADE: The Chicago Bulls are sending Jimmy Butler to play with his old coach Tom Thibodeau in Minnesota.

Minnesota gets Butler plus the 16th pick in this draft in exchange for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn, and the No. 7 pick in this draft. That is a great deal for Minnesota. They now can start Ricky Rubio, Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, and they look like a playoff team.

 
Celtics small icon 3. Boston Celtics: Jayson Tatum, 6’8” forward (Duke). Maybe the player most ready to contribute offensively immediately in this draft, Tatum is a fantastic isolation scorer. He has a diverse offensive skill set, and he blew by bigger defenders in college with a strong face-up game, but will that translate to the NBA where everyone is more athletic? Can he score against NBA wings? His perimeter shot is improved but needs to get better still. He also was not a consistent defender in college, he needs to be much better now, especially if he wants to play much for Brad Stevens. Still, this guy can help right now, which is good for Boston.

 
Suns small icon4. Phoenix Suns: Josh Jackson, 6’8” forward (Kansas). Physically, and with his explosiveness, he reminds one a little of Andrew Wiggins — and Jackson has the same issue of a very inconsistent shot. Effort is a skill and one Jackson has plenty of, he outworks everyone, and could become and elite wing defender in the NBA. He had success offensively in college overwhelming opponents as a small-ball four, and he works well off the ball with cuts or getting out in transition. While his shot found a groove late in the season he needs more consistent mechanics, that shot needs work. Plenty of scouts think he has one of highest potential ceiling in this class.

 
Kings small icon 5. Sacramento Kings: De’Aaron Fox, 6’4” point guard (Kentucky). Kings’ fans, check out our feature on Fox to learn more about him. He climbed draft boards through the season and more once he got to workouts. Fox is incredibly fast with and without the ball — elite NBA level fast, and that makes him dangerous, particularly in transition. He’s a good (not great) passer, but his shot needs work (reports from workouts are that it is improving). He is a good defender (just ask Lonzo Ball) with the potential to be great. He needs to get stronger, and he needs to polish his offensive game, particularly running the pick-and-roll.

 
Magic small icon 6. Orlando Magic: Jonathan Isaac, 6’11” forward (Florida State). One of the highest ceilings in this draft — if he can be developed. He can hit threes, but is very raw and needs confidence on that end. Maybe of more interest to the Magic, his floor is pretty high thanks to his defense — he had a 25% defensive rebound percentage, a 2.4 percent steal rate, and a 6 percent block percentage, only done by Anthony Davis, Andre Roberson, Dewayne Dedmon, and Aaric Murray since 09-10 (stat via Sam Vecenie). He’s a project but could be a key part of the future new management in Orlando is trying to build.

 
Bulls small icon 7. Chicago Bulls (via Minnesota in Butler trade): Lauri Markkanen, 7’0” power forward/center (Arizona). The Bulls need shooting and they get it here. Markkanen is a stretch 4/5 who shot 42.3 percent from three — and not just spot-ups. He can come off screens, is dangerous in pick-n-pops, and can just generally shoot the rock. He needs to get stronger, and become a much better rebounder and defender. If he doesn’t, he’s kind of a Ryan Anderson type. Is only third player from Finland ever to make NBA.

 
Knicks small icon 8. New York Knicks: Frank Ntilikina, 6’5” point guard (France). He’s a big point guard with length, and in international tournaments he has been a defensive force. That caught scouts’ eyes, but so did his ability to run the team. He has shown development on the offensive end with an improved jumper. His game needs polish, and there are questions about his ceiling, but with his size and defense his floor is higher than some others in this draft range. We’ll see how he fits in the triangle, but he’s a high IQ player.

 
Mavericks small icon 9. Dallas Mavericks: Dennis Smith Jr., 6’3” point guard (North Carolina State). Dallas needed a point guard and they may have the one of the fututre. He had an inconsistent season, but the good news is he didn’t lose any athleticism from the ACL injury a couple of years back. He’s a powerful and explosive scorer, he’s talented in open floor, an impressive playmaker, and on paper has all the skills you want at the point. However, his decision making is very inconsistent — he chooses passes poorly, picks up his dribble at poor times — plus he’s got to be much better defensively.

WE HAVE A TRADE: Sacramento is rebuilding and wants to restock, Portland needs a big who can space the floor behind (and next to maybe) Jusuf Nurkic, so we have a trade.

 
Blazers small icon 10. Portland Trail Blazers (from Sacramento via trade): Zach Collins, 7’0” forward/center (Gonzaga). Few climbed the draft board more in the past month than Collins. Big men who can space the floor are in demand, and he shot 45 percent from three this season. He also was fantastic against elite players in the NCAA Final Four, which helped his cause. He’s got to get stronger to be able to handle NBA players on the defensive end. Also, he’s not athletic or fleet of foot, so if teams can draw him defensively out on the perimeter it’s an issue. Still, big men who can shoot the rock are the way the league is going and he can do it.

 
Hornets small icon 11. Charlotte Hornets: Malik Monk, 6’3” shooting guard (Kentucky). While he can be streaky, he’s an insane scorer and athlete who can fill it up like nobody else in this draft. How he will fit off the ball with Kemba Walker is a question mark (especially defensively, but he can get them buckets. The question is can he do anything other than score? He’s not been much of a defender (and he’s a bit small for an NBA two guard), he’s not a shot creator for others, nor does he rebound much. He’s kind of a scoring, volume-shooting sixth man kind of guy, think Jamal Crawford or Lou Williams.

 
Pistons small icon 12. Detroit Pistons: Luke Kennard, 6’6” shooting guard (Duke). Maybe the best pure shooter in this draft. More than just spot up, he can read screens, he’s got excellent footwork and jab series, and he’s better on the P’n’R than people realize. He’s not a great athlete so there are questions about his ability to create space for his shot. However, the bigger questions are about his defense and ability to hang with two guards at the next level (he’s not a great athlete, nor is he long).

WE HAVE A TRADE: Denver has traded the No. 13 pick the Utah Jazz

 
Jazz small icon 13. Utah Jazz (from Denver via trade): Donovan Mitchell, 6’3” shooting guard (Louisville). He’s a bit time athlete, with a 6’10” wingspan, and with all that he defends very well. That should get him run as a rookie. He has improved as a play maker, but what is his role — he was at his best last season when the Louisville PG was out injured and Mitchell had the ball in his hands. His decision making and shooting need to get far more consistent.

 
Heat small icon 14. Miami Heat: Bam Adebayo, 6’10” center (Kentucky). He’s a little small for an NBA center, but he’s physically strong enough to hold his own in the post. Defensively he’s not much of a rim protector, but if you drag him out into a pick-and-roll he can switch and defend guards well. Very limited offensive game, it’s all dunks that he gets in transition or on offensive rebounds, he’s improved on the glass and is solid there now.

 
Kings small icon 15. Sacramento Kings (via trade with Portland): Justin Jackson, 6’8” small forward (North Carolina). An All-American wing with an all-around game — including drawing some of the toughest defensive assignments for the Tar Heels. He can shoot the three, hits from the midrange, is good on the catch-and-shoot now, and has as impressive a floater as you will see. The concerns at the next level are he needs to get stronger, plus he’s not a great pick-and-roll ball handler.

 
timberwolves small icon 16. Minnesota Timberwolves (via trade with Chicago): Justin Patton, 7’0” center (Creighton). He’s got good tools — he’s a fantastic aathlete for his size and can rim run with the best — but is a project. He put up good offensive numbers but can’t create for himself, so when Creighton lost its point guard his production took a hit. The big questions are about toughness — will he play through contact? Will he be a physical defender? Plenty of potential but plenty of work to do.

 
Bucks small icon 17. Milwaukee Bucks: D.J. Wilson, 6’10” power forward (Michigan). He had flashes last season that make him an intriguing prospect as a stretch-four. He has the size and perimeter skills, was a fantastic finisher around the basket, but was a late bloomer who battled injuries, so it can be hard to read his potential. He’s not physical and with that, not much of a rebounder. He’s going to have to show more toughness to thrive at the next level.

 
Pacers small icon 18. Indiana Pacers:. T.J. Leaf, 6’10” power forward (UCLA). A fluid athlete who excelled in transition (and thrived with Lonzo Ball’s passing), he will thrive with an up-tempo team. He also shot 46.6% from three, but didn’t take many, still he could develop into a stretch four. The questions are will he grow his game to work in a half-court offense, and how he will defend (he’s not quick laterally, nor is he physical)? He’s not a bad rebounder. Could thrive with a running second unit while he develops.

 
Hawks small icon 19. Atlanta Hawks: John Collins, 6’10” power forward (Wake Forest). He is a young sophomore, which is good because it means he can develop — and he needs to. He’s become an extremely efficient offensive weapon — 67% true shooting percentage, highest PER in college — who is fantastic in the post, but can he pass? He pulled down defensive rebounds, but he’s not long and scouts question if he is a defensive playmaker. He didn’t seem to have much feel for the game on that side of the ball (which often led to foul trouble).

 
Kings small icon 20. Sacramento Kings (via trade with Portland): Harry Giles, 6’11’ center (Duke). He was the highest-ranked freshman in his class, then the injuries hit — ACL, MCL and Meniscus tears in his left knee that have required a couple of surgeries, plus another surgery on his right knee. Is he broken now? Or, because of all the missed time did that just set back his skill development, confidence, and understanding of where to be on the court (particularly on defense). Find his old physical self, then restore his confidence, and this could be the steal of the draft. But he may never be the same again.

 
Thunder small icon 21. Oklahoma City Thunder: Terrance Ferguson, 6’7” shooting guard (born in US, played last season in Australia). He’s an athletic wing player who decided to get paid to play overseas rather than play college ball stateside. He was a very good shooter, particularly spot up, in high school, but he struggled a little with that overseas (31.3% from three last year). That said he was handed a big role in a league with men and played well. His ball handling has to improve, and he needs to get stronger, and he needs to be more consistent on defense.

 
Nets small icon 22. Brooklyn Nets:

Report: Jazz trade up for Donovan Mitchell, send Trey Lyles to Nuggets

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
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Excluding the big injury question marks of O.G. Anunoby and Harry Giles, Donovan Mitchell was the top prospect available at No. 13 on my board.

The Jazz traded up with the Nuggets to ensure Mitchell didn’t slip further.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Do the Jazz see Mitchell as a point guard or shooting guard? At point guard: George Hill will be a free agent this summer, but Dante Exum and Raul Neto are under contract. At shooting guard: Utah has Rodney Hood and Alec Burks. If Utah just liked Mitchell’s value and wants to give him a chance to develop and see where it goes, I could get behind that. Perhaps, this is a precursor to another move.

Trey Lyles is a 21-year-old stretch four who still has upside. He joins a group of Denver bigs – Nikola Jokic, Mason Plumlee, Kenneth Faried, Juan Hernangomez – that offer no clear well-meshing tandems.

Blazers draft Zach Collins with No. 10 pick after swapping Nos. 15 and 25 with Kings

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The Portland Trail Blazers had too many picks in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, and they just got rid of a couple of them.

Portland GM Neil Olshey has reportedly swapped the Nos. 15 and 20 picks in Thursday’s draft for the Sacramento Kings’ No. 10 pick. Sacramento selected Zach Collins with that pick on behalf of the Blazers.

Collins, 19, was a crucial part of Gonzaga’s run to the national title game this year. The 7-footer shot 47.6 percent on 3-pointers for the Bulldogs. He also averaged 19.2 rebounds per 100 possessions while posting an impressive net rating.

What this means for fans in Portland isn’t yet clear, although more changes to this roster should be expected. The Blazers, top heavy with the salaries of Evan Turner and Allen Crabbe, needed to add some kind of depth to their roster. It could also signal a move away from some of their current players under contract.

Portland has struggled to find useful minutes outside of Jusuf Nurkic on their front line. Al-Farouq Aminu has been a complete necessity on defense, but his turnovers on drives and dip in 3-point shooting from a season ago hurt Portland’s offense rotationally. Maurice Harkless didn’t make a big jump after an impressive playoffs in 2015-16. Noah Vonleh is still extremely rough around the edges, and Meyers Leonard suffered all season long after having shoulder surgery.

For the Kings, this represents more value for them in the draft. They reportedly didn’t love anyone at No. 10, and after trading DeMarcus Cousins last year to the New Orleans Pelicans, they will be looking to rebuild their roster with young talent.

The story here is really where the Blazers will want to go next. It feels as though Crabbe has been the player most primed for a move, but now we have to think about their front line players as well. Aminu’s contract is still stellar at $7.3 million next season, and Vonleh has been Olshey’s pet project for two years.

That leaves Leonard as the odd man out after gaining significant traction with a non-qualifying 40-50-90 season in 2014-15. What value he has is difficult to gauge — he is a legitimate 7-footer who can shoot the lights out, and his summer workout regiment this offseason has been admirable. But he has struggled with confidence and has taken a step back defensively after Portland fired big man coach Kim Hughes in 2015.

Whether that’s the move, or if Olshey can find a suitor for Turner — who they externally have put faith in for another season — we will have to see.

There’s a logjam in Portland now, both with young big men and in salary. Something tells me Olshey isn’t done dealing yet, either by choice or by necessity.

Lonzo Ball is a Laker, now can he live up to the hype?

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Since the moments the lottery Balls landed and the Lakers had the No. 2 pick, this was the expected outcome. There was plenty of diversions, there was chum in the water as the Lakers tried to see if there was trade interest, but at the end of the day, this was expected.

Lonzo Ball of UCLA is a Los Angeles Laker.

So yes, LaVar Ball was right. His son is a Laker (and now the team will try to push the dad to the sideline, even though the ESPN broadcast certainly didn’t).

Ball brings a great narrative that was always hard for the Lakers to pass on. He’s a local kid who will have to deal with unreal expectations — Lakers fans have heard the comparisons to Jason Kidd, the passing ability and floor vision of Magic Johnson. Those are unfair comparisons for any player, but Ball handled that well after being drafted.

However, Ball brings the kind of court vision and passing skills that can’t be taught, and those skills make him amazing in the open court.

His shot is awkward and there are questions about his ability to get it off in the NBA against longer defenders, but in catch-and-shoot situations he just knocks it down.

Also, can he create for himself in the half court so teams just don’t go under the pick and wait? At UCLA he didn’t do a lot of pick-and-roll, and of the ones he did 75 percent ended with a pass. He has to be more of a scoring threat.

The Lakers are looking to add big time free agents starting in 2018, they have already cleared out cap space. If Ball can distribute like the Lakers hope, that will be a draw — everyone wants to play with a player who runs the court and passes.

It’s now all on Ball to live up to the hype. Fair or not.