Marquese Chriss

Report: Suns discussing trade of Eric Bledsoe to Nuggets

4 Comments

The Phoenix Suns are rebuilding and they have one good trade chip in their hands — Eric Bledsoe. He remains a very good point guard who could help a lot of teams, and the Suns want young players and/or picks back in any potential deal.

Enter the Denver Nuggets, reports Chris Haynes of ESPN.

That has potential, depending on what the Suns thing of Emanuel Mudiay. They might prefer Jamal Muray, and also is there someone they like in the 13th pick area.

Of all the wild rumors flying around on draft day, this one makes some of the most sense. For the Suns, they could land a couple of quality young players to go with their No. 4 pick, all of whom can be paired with Devin Booker, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender, Alex Len and the rest. For the Nuggets, they get a veteran point guard that helps them look more like a playoff team next season.

That said, teams are talking to everyone about almost everything right now. Whether this one goes through remains to be seen.

Reports: Timberwolves, Cavaliers, Suns all linked to Jimmy Butler trade talks

4 Comments

The smart money is still on Jimmy Butler starting next season as a Chicago Bull, mostly because Chicago is asking the world for him in a trade.

That doesn’t mean teams will not try.

Tom Thibodeau, who coached and helped develop Butler back in Chicago, has been one knocking on the door, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

Interesting note followed from K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.

Cleveland has been linked to Butler as well, although that may be as a tool to get these other teams to up their offers because both Minnesota and Phoenix have a lot more young players and picks to offer than the Cavaliers. For Cleveland to pull this off, other teams will have to jump in as part of it.

The Celtics are not mentioned here, but you can be sure that call has been made.

The Bulls are doing what they said they would do: listen to offers, but ask for a lot in return. Which gets back to the overall question in Chicago of “what exactly is the long-term plan?” Maybe it’s flexible.

Minnesota has young players such as Zach LeVine, Gorgui Dieng, Tyus Jones and others to put in the mix (only Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins will be completely off limits). They also have picks. The Suns have young players they can throw in such as Marquese Chriss or Tyler Ulis, then they also have veterans who can help the Bulls win more now such as Eric Bledsoe (especially if they draft De'Aaron Fox with the No. 4 pick). The Cavaliers may have to deal Kevin Love, and either way would need to be very creative to pull this off. Something David Griffin has been in the past (whether he has a job in Cleveland after July 1 remains to be seen), but a lot of things need to come together for this to work.

Expect Butler rumors to ramp up around the draft and again as free agency starts, but the ratio of Bulls’ trade rumors to actual Bulls’ trades suggests being patient here. They often talk to everyone, stuff gets leaked, then they choose not to act.

2017 NBA Draft Prospect Profiles: Is Markelle Fultz really worth the No. 1 pick?

16 Comments

Markelle Fultz is the best prospect in the 2017 NBA Draft, which is not exactly something that you would’ve seen coming had you known him as a sophomore in high school.

That was the year that Fultz failed to make the varsity team at DeMatha (Md.), one of the nation’s best high school basketball programs. From there, he developed not only into a point guard, but into one of the nation’s best high school players, eventually landing in the postseason all-star games and on the Team USA U-18 roster that competed in the FIBA Americas event.

Fultz committed to Lorenzo Romar early in the process and maintained that commitment, even as he watched a Washington team that failed to make the NCAA tournament lose Andrew Andrews to graduation and Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray to the NBA Draft. As a result, and in spite of the fact that Fultz was putting up insane numbers, the Huskies couldn’t even crack 10 wins with Fultz at the helm, and it eventually cost Lorenzo Romar his job despite the fact that the favorite for the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Michael Porter Jr., had already signed to play for him.

How will NBA teams weigh that?

Fultz put up ridiculous numbers, but he did it on a team that was the laughing stock of the Pac-12 come February. Is that guy worth the pick?

Height: 6′4″
Weight: 185
Wingspan: 6′10″
2016-17 Stats: 23.2 points, 5.7 boards, 5.9 assists, 41.3% 3PT

STRENGTHS: Fultz is an unbelievably well-rounded offensive player. I’m not sure what there is that he can’t do on that end of the floor. He shot 41.3 percent from beyond the arc last year and better than 50 percent inside the arc. At 6-foot-4, he’s big enough — and physical enough — to take smaller defenders into the post and score in the paint or simply shoot over the top of them off the dribble, and he does so effectively. His 6-foot-10 wingspan, huge hands and explosion on the move means that he can finish in traffic, whether it be with a dunk over a defender — his extension in the lane is reminiscent of Kawhi Leonard — or a finish around the shot-blocker; Fultz has terrific body control, and when combined with his length, allows him to finish contested layups at weird angles.

He’s more than just a scorer, however, as he averaged 5.9 assists last season with a higher assist rate (35.4 vs. 31.4) and lower turnover rate (15.4 vs. 18.9) than Lonzo Ball. That’s startling efficiency considering that he played such a major role on a team with so few options around him. Since 2012, only six guards have bettered his usage rate and offensive rating: Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Nate Wolters, Erick Green, Kay Felder and Jawun Evans.

Fultz is excellent leading the break in transition but may be even better operating in ball-screen actions — according to Synergy, more than 30 percent of his possessions came in the pick and roll last season, and he averaged 1.011 points-per-possession, which was in the 93rd percentile nationally. He is patient, he’s ruthless if you switch a bigger defender onto him and he has terrific vision, whether it’s driving and drawing a help defender, finding the screener rolling to the rim or popping for a jumper or spotting an open shooter on the weak side of the floor.

Ideally, that’s the role that Fultz would play in the NBA, as a ball-dominant lead guard in the mold of a James Harden or Russell Westbrook or John Wall.

But Fultz is also big enough and long enough to share a back court with a smaller guard — Isaiah Thomas? — because he will be able to defend shooting guards. He’s also a good enough shooter that he would be able to play off the ball offensively in that same scenario, meaning that he not only has the ceiling to be a new-age franchise lead guard in the NBA, he has the potential to be a multi-positional defender.

In theory, he’s everything NBA teams are looking for.

WEAKNESSES: The biggest concern with Fultz is on the defensive end of the floor. While he has the tools to be a plus-defender and has shown the ability to be a playmaker on that end — he averaged 1.6 steals and 1.2 blocks, many of which were of the chasedown variety — but it was his half court defense that was a concern.

In a word, he was far too lackadaisical on that end of the floor. Whether it was being late on a rotation, getting beat on a close out because his feet were wrong, getting hung up on a screen, switching when he shouldn’t because he didn’t want to chase a player around a screen, failing to sit down in a defensive stance, etc., it’s not difficult to watch tape and find examples of the mistakes that Fultz made. How much of that was playing on a bad team for a coach that didn’t hold him accountable defensively, and how much of that is who Fultz is as a player?

To be frank, my gut says it was more of the former than the latter, but there also is a concern that Fultz’ approach to the game is too casual. He’s the kind of player that needs to grow into a game as opposed to being a guy that takes games over from the jump, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a guy who projects as a lead guard and a distributor.

The bigger issue with Fultz is that he lacks initial burst off the dribble and there are questions about whether or not he can turn the corner against NBA defenders. His game is awkward when you watch him, but that’s because he has this uncanny ability to get defenders off balance. Hesitation moves, hang-dribble pull-ups, splitting the pick-and-roll, euro-steps in traffic. Some might call it crafty or slippery, but the bottom-line is this: Fultz is able to get by defenders because he has them leaning the wrong direction, and once he gets a step on you, his length — both his strides and his extension — make it impossible to catch up.

But he’s not a Russell Westbrook or a John Wall in the sense that he’ll be able to get by any defender simply due to his explosiveness, and that is where the questions about his jumper come into play. If Fultz is going to consistently be able to get to the rim, that jumper is going to have to be a threat, because Fultz’s arsenal won’t be as effective if defenders can play off of him.

On the season, his shooting numbers were impressive, but those percentages took a dip against better competition and on possessions where he was guarded (1.020 PPP, 57th percentile) vs. unguarded (1.636 PPP, 94th percentile), although that may be a result of being on a team that had no other option for offense.

Put another way, Fultz is a tough-shot maker, and there is reason to wonder if he’ll be able to make those tough shots against NBA defenders.

Markelle Fultz is defended by Lonzo Ball (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

NBA COMPARISON: There really isn’t a perfect comparison for what Fultz could end up being as an NBA player. James Harden is probably the most apt considering that they are roughly the same size with the same physical dimensions, they both are ball-dominant scorers that can see the floor, they both likely needed a smaller guard in the back court with them because, despite their physical tools, they both lack that mean streak defensively.

But comparing any rookie to a guy that could end up being the NBA MVP after a season where he averaged 29.1 points, 11.2 assists and 8.1 boards is probably unfair. Perhaps D'Angelo Russell is more fitting, at least in the sense that it limits some of the expectations.

Whatever the case may be, if Fultz reaches his ceiling, he’ll be a franchise lead guard that has an entire offensive built around him. If he decides that he wants to play on the defensive end of the floor as well, he could one day be a top five player in the league.

OUTLOOK: Fultz has the potential to be the face of a franchise at the lead guard spot. His skill-set — the scoring, the ability to operate in pick-and-rolls, the efficiency — and ability makes it easy to picture him one day ending up playing a role similar to that of Harden or Westbrook or Wall. At the same time, I find it hard to envision a world where Fultz doesn’t one day end up averaging 20 points and six assists. It’s hard not to love a prospect where their floor is a bigger, more athletic D’angelo Russell.

When a player has the least risk and the highest ceiling of anyone in a draft class, it’s no wonder they end up being the consensus pick to go No. 1.

Warriors clinch No. 1 overall seed with win over Suns

AP Photo/Matt York
1 Comment

PHOENIX (AP) — Stephen Curry scored 42 points and the Golden State Warriors held off the Phoenix Suns 120-111 for their season-high 13th straight win, clinching the best record in the NBA for the third straight season.

Curry scored 23 in the first quarter when the Warriors blew open a 41-18 lead, but the Suns rallied with a 34-17 second quarter and made a game of it from there.

With Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala resting and Kevin Durant one game away from returning from injury, the Warriors still won.

Meanwhile, Devin Booker scored 21, Tyler Ulis 20 and Jared Dudley matched his season high with 19 for the Suns, who tied a franchise record with their 13th straight loss.

Alan Williams scored 16 and grabbed a career-best 17 rebounds for Phoenix.

Golden State became the first team have the NBA’s best record for three consecutive seasons since the Boston Celtics did it in 1983-84, ’84-’85 and ’85-’86. The Warriors, Boston – multiple times – and Philadelphia are the only franchises in NBA history to achieve that feat.

The Warriors also are the first team to win at least 65 games in three straight seasons.

Klay Thompson scored 22 for the Warriors, including a critical late 3-pointer.

With the Spurs’ loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Warriors are 65-14, 4 1/2 games ahead of San Antonio. Golden State has three games to play, San Antonio four.

The Warriors raced to that 23-point lead after one quarter, but Phoenix outscored Golden State 34-17 in the second quarter to cut it to 58-52 at the break.

The Suns got it to four twice early in the third quarter and were down just 82-76 after Ronnie Price made two free throws with 1:51 left in the period. But Golden State finished the quarter with a 9-2 run, including five points by Curry, to lead 91-78 entering the fourth.

But the Suns, with the worst record in the West and second-worst in the NBA, didn’t fold.

A 10-0 Phoenix run sliced Golden State’s advantage to 104-101 on Ulis’ 20-footer with 5:01 to play. Curry responded with his eighth and final 3-pointer, but the Suns twice cut it to four again – the last at 109-105 after Ulis made a pair of free throws 2:29 from the finish.

Thompson’s 3, only his second in nine tries, made it 112-107 with 1:46 to play and JaVale McGee‘s rebound dunk put the Warriors ahead 114-107 with 1:34 left. Phoenix twice cut the lead to five before Curry sealed it with a driving layup and two free throws in the final 32.3 seconds.

ALMOST BACK

Kevin Durant is targeting a Saturday night at home against the New Orleans Pelicans for his return from a sprained MCL and bruised thigh.

Durant has missed 19 games since being injured against Washington on Feb. 28.

He will return with three games left in the regular season.

TIP-INS

Warriors: Golden State has beaten Phoenix 10 straight times. … Golden State shot 62 percent (16 of 26) in the first quarter, and 24 percent (5-for-21) in the second.

Suns: Phoenix has not won since deciding to shut down a healthy Eric Bledsoe for the season on March 15. … Rookie Marquese Chriss drew his 10th technical foul. … The 17-point Warriors second quarter tied for the lowest by a Phoenix opponent this season. … With the Lakers’ win, the Suns are 1 1/2 games worse than Los Angeles for the worst record in the West and second-worst in the NBA.

UP NEXT

Warriors: Golden State returns home to face New Orleans on Saturday night, with Durant expected to make his return.

Suns: Phoenix is home Friday night against Oklahoma City, with Russell Westbrook seeking to break the NBA record he shares with Oscar Robertson with a 42nd triple-double this season.

Three Things We Learned Thursday: DeMar DeRozan is getting buckets, leading Raptors

Getty Images
Leave a comment

If you were too busy to catch the NBA Thursday night, what between the NCAA tournament and watching birds get high, it’s alright, we’ve got your back. Here are the three big takeaways from Thursday night around the league. 

1) DeMar DeRozan is developing into more than just a scorer, but he still does that too. With Kyle Lowry out, the Raptors are asking a lot more of DeMar DeRozan. He is delivering. He is leading. He had 14 of the Raptors first 20 points Thursday night, shot 67 percent in the first half, and dropped 40 on Heat in Raptors win. This is the second straight 40-point game for DeRozan.

With Dion Waiters out, the Miami Heat are asking a lot more of Goran Dragic. They are not getting it, the team lacks a leader (Hassan Whiteside did have 16 points and 14 boards). That led Heat to a loss Thursday and going 3-2 on a homestand, now they head out on the road for six of their last 10 and the schedule gets tougher.

Miami still has the eight seed in the East, but they are just one game up on Chicago (which has a much easier schedule the rest of the way) and Detroit. If the Heat are going to make the postseason, they need wins on the road. And leadership. And scoring, because Waiters is still in a walking boot.

Toronto remains just half a game back (one in the loss column) from the Washington Wizards in the battle for the three seed. It matters, whichever team ends up fourth gets Cleveland in the second round. Nobody wants that.

2) Clippers fall to Mavericks, that’s gotta sting. Dallas has been a solid team since getting healthy, they are 9-6 since the All-Star break with a top-10 defense in that stretch. They’ve got some fight in them — especially J.J. Barea, who got tossed for a Flagrant 2 Thursday night for going to the head of Blake Giffin.

Still, if you’re the Clippers and trying to rack up wins and get home court in the first round (and make sure the Thunder don’t pass you in the standings in the final 10 games) this is the kind of game you need to win. That’s not going to happen with a sloppy, turnover-filled performance. Not when Devin Harris is atoning for his mistakes by picking Blake Griffin clean on the penultimate possession of the game, sealing the win.

Dallas played with some fire, the Clippers were not sharp, and the Mavs get a 97-95 win that is a blow to the Clippers.

3) Break up the Nets, they have won two in a row.
The Brooklyn Nets aren’t playing terribly. For them. Since the All-Star break, they are 6-9 with an offense ranked in the middle of the pack in the NBA (which is a big step forward), and with a 126-98 win over the Suns the Nets have won two in a row.

Maybe the most interesting thing in this game is the Suns’ rolled out the youngest starting lineup in NBA history: Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, Derrick Jones Jr., Marquese Chriss, and Alex Len combine to have an average age of 21 years, 14 days (via the Elias Sports Bureau). So for Suns fans looking at a high draft pick this fall, there is that bit of hope.

The Nets were never going to be good this season, but injuries — to Jeremy Lin in particular, but Brook Lopez and others have battled them as well — have robbed them of some wins and dignity. Finally healthy, the Nets are playing decent enough hoops to be respectable. That said, don’t worry Celtics fans, they are still five games worse than the Lakers, Brooklyn will have the most ping-pong balls in the lottery.