Dark clouds linger over Jonny Flynn

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Jonny Flynn is only 23 years old, and has just two NBA seasons to his name. He has yet to play in a system that suits him, or for a coach with a legitimate ability to elevate the play of his roster. He was drafted into an unfavorable situation, undercut before he even began by his general manager, and thrown on the floor with largely inferior players. His underwhelming production has every caveat in the world, as thus far virtually nothing has gone right in the basketball sphere immediately surrounding the former No. 6 overall pick.

So why is it that, even when armed with rationalizations aplenty, it’s so difficult to shake off the unmistakable gloom that seems to come part and parcel with Flynn’s career trajectory?

The simplest answer I can conjure: Flynn is a player with a good feel for the ball, but not for the game. There’s demonstrable skill in the way Flynn handles and passes, but his play nonetheless seems oddly discordant with the way team basketball functions. It’s not even a matter of being a ball hog; something about the success in Flynn’s game is just slightly out of phase with our reality, as if he were a star in some distant dimension but simply hasn’t translated his game to ours.

And that’s the simplest answer I can conjure.

To watch Flynn is to see talent, but there’s an undeniable peculiarity in his moves and decision making. He has a good handle, but doesn’t really create quality shots. He’s quick, but remains incapable of getting to the rim. He has good form, but shoots below the league average from virtually all of Hoopdata’s preset ranges. Everything he should do well turns in on itself, and though the situation in Minnesota earns Flynn one hell of an asterisk, there remains an unshakable feeling that he may never quite figure things out.

That’s a shame to say, because it’s hard to find a more charismatic player; Flynn is sincere and natural, with a confidence that puts anyone near him at ease. Yet as easy as it should be to find reasons to like Flynn on the court, here we are, contemplating the possibility that even with considerable growth, he may never lock into the role and responsibilities his talent level had always hinted he would be able to take.

Flynn does have time on his side, and he has a clear love of the game and a desire to improve. He’s laced with intangibles, but we have yet to see them make an actual on-court impact. Intangibles are supposed to live in an incalculable space, but Flynn’s supposed best attributes evade even the qualitative. He says all the right things after the game and displays the perfect attitude, but whether his team benefits from his presence on the court is a matter up for debate.

Flynn will nonetheless compete for every second he can get on an NBA court, even though his current situation (Flynn will likely serve as a third point guard for a pretty solid Rockets team) and slight projected playing time seem strangely appropriate. He could grow into a role as a backup, but for now that kind of position should not just be gifted to him. Botched defense (he gives up 0.31 more points per defensive possession than he manages to score per offensive possession used, per Synergy Sports), inefficient scoring (see above; plus, his shooting percentages went from bad to worse in his second season), and unimpressive playmaking (just 5.8 assists per 36 minutes despite playing for the third fastest team in 2009-2010 and the league’s fastest team in 2010-2011) have ensured that much. Flynn has lost whatever built-in capital is to be had for young prospects, and will be forced to earn back everything he’d previously just been given. He’ll no longer benefit from his draft status or repute, but will be required to actually produce in whatever role Houston has for him.

Though he was given considerable playing time, Flynn has yet to show anything at all to coaches and general managers in search of reasons to believe. He hasn’t even found a way to appease NBA fans who, really, don’t ask for all that much. The game’s die-hards will cling to players who offer them even a glimpse of what joys may come, but Flynn toils away without so much as a spark.

It doesn’t have to stay that way, and in the NBA world, things so rarely do. Players evolve constantly, and Flynn would need but a subtle shift to morph into a solid player. Yet for now, his game is filled with shortcomings, to the point that manufacturing any kind of real hope for his career is an actual struggle. Giving up on a player of Flynn’s ilk isn’t even a reasonable option so early in his career; it would be both cruel and unwise to put him in a box so early, as even now his nebulous potential is worth too much to cast off. Some NBA players simply develop later than others, or rely on an the alignment of factors in a specific situation to grant them a rebirth. Both of those outcomes are possible for Flynn…but not predictable.

That’s an important distinction. Maybe Flynn will pan out better than anyone ever expected, but if that’s the case, he gave no indication of it — not with film, not with numbers, and not even with the demonstration of specific in-game skills. We’ve seen Jonny Flynn only as a struggling NBA point guard, and at this point, it’s hard to even imagine him as anything else.

Report: Making 2020 NBA Finals could swing whether Giannis Antetokounmpo signs super-max extension with Bucks

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The honeymoon between Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks is over.

Milwaukee’s superb season ended tonight with a Game 6 loss to the Raptors in the Eastern Conference finals. Already, attention is turning to the 2020 offseason, when Antetokounmpo can sign a five-year super-max extension that projects to be worth $250 million. If he doesn’t, the pressure will turn way up as he approaches unrestricted free agency in 2021.

Antetokounmpo is already applying some.

Malika Andrews of ESPN:

a source close to Antetokounmpo said that getting to the NBA Finals is not just an ambition, it could tip the scales as he weighs his contractual future.

And if they can reach the NBA Finals next season, the Bucks can improve their chances of signing Antetokounmpo to the supermax in the summer of 2020.

Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and Malcolm Brogdon will be free agents this summer. It’s unclear how much luxury tax Milwaukee is willing to pay.

This leak could be Antetokounmpo trying to convince the Bucks to pay to keep this team intact.

Would he actually leave Milwaukee? At every turn, he has praised the city and organization. But the Bucks have also been on an upward trajectory for years. As they get closer to the top, it becomes more difficult to maintain that positive momentum. They’re now entering a crucial season with the clear goal of a conference title. That doesn’t leave much room for error.

The Lakers are rumored to be plotting to get Antetokounmpo. If there are signs he’ll actually become available, many other teams will line up just for a chance to sign him. Antetokounmpo is a special player, a superstar at age 24.

He also needed this loss. Having never advanced past the first round before this year, he didn’t fully grasp the high level of play and intensity this deep into playoffs. He hadn’t felt the heartache of coming so close and falling short, a highly effective motivator. Raptors like Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol had already faced these tests, and that had a lot to do with Toronto winning.

I have no doubt this experience will make Antetokounmpo even better.

Antetokounmpo wants to ensure the Bucks match his desire to win. If they do, he and Milwaukee will remain committed to each other. The honeymoon isn’t the end.

But this is when it gets real.

Raptors’ summer gamble pays off with trip to Finals after Game 6 win over Bucks

Associated Press
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Toronto’s big gambles paid off.

Last summer, after five years of winning at least 48 games and looking impressive in the regular season only to stumble in the playoffs, Toronto’s team president Masai Ujiri went all in. He fired the NBA’s coach of the year in Dwane Casey to hire his assistant Nick Nurse, with the hope of installing a more creative offense.

Then they traded fan favorite and (at least to that point) the greatest Toronto Raptor in franchise history to get Kawhi Leonard, a guy coming off an injury that essentially sidelined him for a season. A guy who would be a free agent after one season. Leonard could bolt — like other stars had done north of the border — and leave the Raptors high and dry.

It was all a massive roll of the dice.

Toronto hit their number with that roll — the Raptors are headed to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.

Toronto stormed from 15 points down in the third behind another monster game from Kawhi Leonard — 27 points, 17 rebounds, 7 assists — and held on to win Game 6 in front of a raucous home crowd, 100-94.

Toronto will host Game 1 of the NBA Finals Thursday night against the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors.

The Raptors may not be familiar with that stage, but Leonard knows both the Finals stage and that opponent (recall that the last time he faced them Zaza Pachulia slid under his foot on a jumper, spraining Leonard’s ankle and ending San Antonio’s playoff hopes that season). Thoughts about July 1 are banished for now in Toronto, the party is on.

“It means a lot,” long-time Raptor Kyle Lowry said about making the Finals. “It’s taken a long time to get here in my career, 13 years, seven years here [in Toronto]….

“But I’m not satisfied.”

This series changed in Game 3 when Nurse changed things up and had Leonard as the primary defender on Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak still got his, but everything became harder, and as the Raptors slowed the pace their halfcourt defense locked in. On the offensive end, Leonard just made plays.

“He’s a great player, he made some very special plays, give him a ton of credit,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said of Leonard.

For the Bucks, who had the best record in the NBA this season and a likely MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo, this was a learning experience about their shortcomings — both his and the Milwaukee roster. He had 21 points and 11 rebounds, but he was not able to dominate the game like Leonard did in crucial moments. That comes with being just 24 and making a deep playoff run.

“In our minds, we feel he’s going to get a lot better,” Budenholzer said of the Greek Freak. “At 24 some guys are… I don’t want to say they are who they are, but at 24 some of the great ones were the same at 30 and 32 and so forth. Giannis we feel has a lot of room to grow.”

So does the roster around the Greek Freak. Antetokounmpo sat just 7:28 in this game, and that proved to be too much — the Bucks were -9 in those minutes. They lost by six.

Eric Bledsoe struggled again, with 8 points on 9 shots. Khris Middleton — who is a free agent this summer — had 14 points on 5-of-13 shooting.

Still, this is a good team on a learning curve. One with some tough decisions ahead for the front office, but a team on the rise.

They showed that early.

Milwaukee came out playing with a sense of desperation – it showed in their energy and second efforts on defense — but they raced out to a 15-point lead early in the second quarter mostly because they just hit shots. In the first half the Bucks did not get the ball inside (only seven shots at the rim) but were 9-of-18 from three and hit 50 percent of their shots from the midrange. Antetokounmpo had 10 points and seven rebounds and Ersan Ilyasova surprised with nine points in the first 24.

That had the Bucks up 50-43 at the half, but it felt precarious. Then in the third, Milwaukee had an 8-0 run and the lead was pushed to 15 at one point. The Raptors were stumbling. Pascal Siakam hesitated on shots, not trusting himself. Danny Green trusted himself but couldn’t hit anything.

The tide turned thanks to Leonard. The Raptors finished third on 10-0 run — with Leonard scoring or assisting on every bucket — and the lead was down to 5 after three.

Early in the fourth was when Antetokounmpo sat again, and the Raptors went on a 7-2 run to tie the game at 78-78. That lead kept growing and then Leonard did this.

Milwaukee would not go away down the stretch, but Leonard kept making plays while Antetokounmpo and company got tight. Milwaukee could never get back in front.

For the Bucks, it’s a lesson.

For the Raptors, it’s the trip to the Finals they bet big on.

Watch Kawhi Leonard dunk all over Giannis Antetokounmpo, highlight of 26-3 Toronto run

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For most of the first three quarters of Game 6, the Milwaukee Bucks were in control of the game and looked to be on the way to forcing a Game 7.

But Kawhi Leonard sparked a 10-0 run for Toronto to end the third, scoring eight and assisting on a Serge Ibaka bucket.

That run carried over into the fourth and became a 26-3 run that was highlighted by this insane dunk by Leonard over Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Insane.

I’d say that’s Leonard’s best shot as a Raptor if not for the series winner against Philadelphia.

The Bucks responded with a 7-0 run and this game is going to go down to the wire.

Bucks play with desperation, lead by as many as 15 in first half

Associated Press
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If you think a 15-point lead is safe, go talk to a Portland Trail Blazers fan and get back to me.

The Bucks will still take it. Milwaukee has come out with a sense of desperation, but more importantly got to play with some pace and couldn’t miss early from three — they started 4-of-6 and were 7-of-13 from three as of this writing — and what we saw were play after play from the Bucks, the kinds of things we haven’t seen the last three games. They led by 13 after one, and the lead got as high as 15.

Can the Bucks sustain this, or will they cool down as the Raptors heat up? It’s going to be a wild rest of the game in Toronto.

The Raptors are up 3-2 in the series and playing for their first ever franchise trip to the Finals. The Bucks are playing to force a Game 7 Monday back in Milwaukee.