The Extra Pass: Quiet Jazz and Tuesday’s recaps

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For the most part, the Utah Jazz typically fly under the radar. Occasionally they’ll pop up after unexpectedly beating a contender, like they did last night with a victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. But other than that? You won’t hear much out of Utah. No real trade rumors, no murmurs of unhappiness, no headline grabbing material.

Perhaps no team keeps their plans better under wraps than the Jazz. When Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap were let go in free agency this offseason, there didn’t appear to be a clear objective. It just looked like a small market , fringe playoff team losing two very good players and hoping the young guys behind them would replace their production.

But then, out of nowhere, Utah turned that cap space into two unprotected first-round picks from the Golden State Warriors, and things began to make a lot more sense.

For all intents and purposes, the Jazz have provided the blueprint for how to properly execute a rebuild. There’s a young promising player at every position, and they’re all growing together. There are no draft picks owed, there are multiple picks coming in, and there’s plenty of cap space available to be used in creative ways, as we’ve seen.

Utah is also set up as a top landing spot for available coaches, as Tyrone Corbin is likely doing nothing more than keeping the seat warm at this point.

Right now, Utah’s roster is cheap, young and bad. At least one of those things will change soon, though.

You may not associate the term “Max Player” with Gordon Hayward, but it would be a surprise at this point if he didn’t demand that in restricted free agency. Young wings with great size that can initiate offense, play in the pick-and-roll and shoot the three don’t seem to come around all that often anymore, and Hayward reportedly had teams drooling during his time with the USA national team this offseason.

Hayward will get paid. Derrick Favors already did. The schedule for the Jazz being competitive may be a little quicker than most think, particularly if an impact player like Jabari Parker lands there on draft night.

But let’s make one thing clear. Any future evaluation of the Western Conference landscape needs to heavily account for the Jazz. This is a well-managed team that understands their direction and is fully invested in rebuilding. There were no half-measures here, and for that reason, it’s hard to imagine the Jazz will be quiet for much longer.

D.J. Foster

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Cavaliers 111, Sixers 93: The Sixers looked great in winning four straight on the road, but have now gotten blown out in consecutive contests. Two inexplicable things happened in this one: C.J. Miles setting a Cleveland franchise record for three-pointers made with 10, and reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week Thaddeus Young finishing 0-7 from the field with zero points in 22 minutes of action. Michael Carter-Williams finished with a career-high 33 points, many of which came in garbage time. — Brett Pollakoff

Pacers 86, Raptors 79: Toronto got its second straight moral victory, hanging with the Pacers down the stretch after keeping things close with the Heat just two nights earlier. But while the Raptors have recently emerged as the third best team in a dismal Eastern Conference, there’s still a long way to go to earn a basic level of respectability. Awful performances from Amir Johnson (zero points in 21 minutes), Terence Ross (three points, 1-8 shooting) and Greivis Vasquez (two points, 1-7 shooting) can’t happen if Toronto is to be taken seriously. — BP

Wizards 97, Bobcats 83: A balanced effort from an up-and-down Wizards team is one the club will take, especially on the road and coming against one of the league’s better defenses. A 17-0 run in the third quarter did the trick for Washington in this one, and the Wizards led by as many as 19 points before the final buzzer sounded. Marcin Gortat turned in an above average effort against the Charlotte frontcourt, finishing with 18 points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots. — BP

Heat 107, Pelicans 88: New Orleans actually led this one at the break, before LeBron James made sure that his team wouldn’t needlessly drop a home contest. James scored 16 of his 32 points in the third, which helped turn an 11-point deficit into a five-point advantage heading into the final period. Miami outscored its opponent in the second half 64-39 to ultimately cruise to the double-digit victory. — BP

Knicks 89, Pistons 85: Both teams played their final possessions as if they were trying to lose, but in the end New York avoided yet another embarrassing and devastating loss to add its third win in four games to its recent portfolio. The Knicks led by 14 points with under nine minutes to play, yet saw that lead cut to just one with 46 seconds left. Josh Smith missed an unconscionable long two with under 10 seconds remaining that would have given Detroit the lead, and Carmelo Anthony’s game-high 34 points ended up being enough to give the Knicks the victory. — BPP

Bulls 92, Suns 87: Phoenix is without Eric Bledsoe for a week or so, which means defensive-minded teams like Chicago can slow the pace and win the rebounding battle in order to secure a victory. Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson combined for 26 of the Bulls’ 50 boards, and the Suns struggled to hit shots, finishing just 6-of-23 from three-point distance. — BP

Warriors 101, Bucks 80: Golden State won its 10th straight, which we dove into in a little more detail here. — BP

Spurs 110, Grizzlies 108 (OT): San Antonio had this one — they were up 16 midway through the fourth quarter and 12 with two minutes to go. But a late 12-0 run by the Grizzlies led by 9 points in those last couple minutes by Mike Conley including the killer crossover move and layup that sent the game to OT (he finished the night with 30). In OT it remained close and it took a vintage Manu Ginobili drive and bucket to get the Spurs the win (see the video of the day above). Tim Duncan finished with 24 points and 17 rebounds and carried the Spurs for stretches of this game. — Kurt Helin

Mavericks 110, Lakers 97: Dallas has weapons — starting with that Dirk Nowitzki guy, who had 27 points in this game — and the Lakers simply don’t have the defense to stop good teams no the offense to overwhelm them. Pau Gasol (he’s still there) is clearly Lakers offensive option No. 1, but Dallas wisely doubled him when he got the rock and nobody else made Dallas pay (Nick Young 1-of-7, Jodie Meeks 6-of-16, Ryan Kelly 1-of-5). Kendall Marshall had another strong outing (18 points on 7-of-10 shooting) but this was Dallas’ night. Vince Carter had 19 off the bench for them. — KH

Nuggets 129, Celtics 98: Denver opened the game on a 20-9 run, had extended that to a 23-point lead at the half and the second 24 minutes felt a lot like garbage time. You know things are going your way when Kenneth Faried has 21 points. Ty Lawson had 19 points and 13 assists, he remains very good at this basketball thing. Jeff Green had 11 points in the first quarter and finished with 17 for Boston. Denver has won three in a row and while it hadn’t been against the best competition you need to beat the teams worse than you and Denver is doing that. — KH

Jazz 112, Thunder 101: No Russell Westbrook, no Serge Ibaka, and really no defense from the Thunder on Tuesday night. Credit the Jazz for hitting their shots — 71 percent in the first quarter and 58.8 percent for the game — but Oklahoma City played like a team that thought they could show up and win. Utah took control in the second quarter and led by 24 in the third, but you knew a Thunder run was coming and it did in the fourth behind Kevin Durant, who had 48 points on the night. The problem was OKC couldn’t stop Gordon Hayward, who had 17-consecutuve Jazz points in the fourth to stave off the Thunder and finished with 37 points on the night. — KH

Kings 123, Trail Blazers 119: I hate to say we’ve been warning you at PBT that Portland’s lack of defense would eventually catch up with them but… DeMarcus Cousins had 35 points and 13 rebounds, and Rudy Gay continues to be efficient in Sacramento with 32 points on 16 shots as the Kings pulled away in the third quarter then held on late for the win. Damian Lillard was a beast — 26 points in the fourth quarter trying to spark the comeback and 41 on the night — but if you can’t get stops (the Kings shot 55 percent in the fourth quarter) you can’t win consistently in close games and the Trail Blazers have dropped 4-of-6. LaMarcus Aldridge added 24 points for Portland, Isaiah Thomas 22 for Sacramento. — KH

2019 NBA Draft Prospect Profile: Is Jarrett Culver’s upside worth being a top five pick?

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Over the course of the next two weeks, as the 2019 NBA Draft draws closer and closer, we at Pro Basketball Talk will be taking deep dives into some of the best and most intriguing prospects that will be making their way to the NBA.

Today, we are looking at Jarrett Culver.

Previous draft profiles:

Jarrett Culver is the second member of Chris Beard’s first real recruiting class at Texas Tech to go from totally under-the-radar to a guaranteed first round pick.

It started last year with Zhaire Smith, a sensational athlete and developing shooter that found his way into Tech’s starting lineup before eventually finding his way into being the No. 16 pick in the first round of last year’s draft. Most expected that Culver, who averaged 11.2 points and just 1.8 assists while shooting 38.2 percent from three, to soak up the role that Smith played for the Red Raiders, but that isn’t what happened.

Instead, Culver became what Keenan Evans — the 2018 Big 12 Player of the Year turned two-way player for the Detroit Pistons — was for the Red Raiders. He didn’t just become a better scorer and a talented wing prospect, he became their point guard.

And that is where the intrigue lies for Culver when it comes to his potential at the next level.

He has the size you want out of an off-guard and, at 6-foot-7 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, is big enough to be able to guard small forwards in the NBA, but he doesn’t have the game of a typical 3-and-D player. As a sophomore, he averaged a team-high 3.7 assists for Texas Tech, but he wasn’t exactly what you would call a point guard. In fact, he was often essentially playing the four, with a trio of smaller guards on the floor around him. What Beard did was build an offense that was heavy with motion principles early in a possession, but as the shot clock wound down, the ball would end up in Culver’s hands, where he would be put into an isolation or a ball-screen action and allowed to create.

That is what he does best.

Shot creation.

Culver is excellent in triple-threat situations. His ability to shoot off the dribble consistently improved throughout his college career, and he’s generally at his best when he is allowed to get into a rhythm jumper off the bounce. He needs to quicken up his release in the NBA, but he has some wiggle room given the way that he gets his shot off. He’s not the most explosive athlete, but he can dunk on defenders when he gets a lane to the basket and his long strides and improving frame allowed him to be able to get to where he wanted to get to in the lane despite the fact that his first step is not all that quick.

But where Culver improved the most during the offseason was with his ability to operate ball-screens. He obsessively studied tape during the summer to learn the proper reads and proper passes to make when running a ball-screen, and the improvement showed. He forced teams to have to stop going under the screen against him because of his ability to step-back and make off-the-dribble threes. He can throw one-handed, live-dribble passes to shooters in either corner. He turned Tariq Owens into a serious threat on the offensive end of the floor with his ability to hit him on lobs while also knowing how to create the space and passing lane for a dump-off.

He’s grown into being a high-level, well-rounded offensive weapon, and there is quite a bit of value in a player that can be a secondary shot-creator without having to play as a point or off-guard.

Now, there are some limitations as well.

Culver has averaged more than four threes per game in his two-year career, and he’s shooting just 34.1 percent from beyond the arc. He’s better as an off-the-dribble shooter, which actually is not exactly ideal for a player that is going to be spending quite a few possessions playing off the ball. He’s added some muscle since last season — and a growth spurt in the last year makes it seem possible that his body is not done developing — but he is still pretty slender and is not great at dealing with physicality on either end of the floor. There are some real concerns offensively about how he will handle the athleticism NBA defenders have, and the 5-for-22 shooting performance he put together in the national title game against De'Andre Hunter doesn’t assuage those concerns.

There are also some question marks about his defense. Personally, I think he’ll be fine. He’s never going to be a total lockdown defender, but I don’t think that he will be a liability. He’s not going to be the guy opposing coaches target. He has spent the last two years playing within one of the best defensive systems in college basketball, but one that is built on exceptional game-planning and coaching as much as raw talent. So while it may have left Culver somewhat over-hyped on the defensive end, to me it is also proof that he can execute a game-plan and do a job on that end.

Put it all together, and what you have is a guy that can do a lot of things really well. You have a guy whose combination of skills should allow him to be a valuable piece in an NBA rotation. What you don’t have is a player that is likely to end up being an NBA superstar. These comparisons aren’t perfect — they never are — but I think he’s going to end up being somewhere between Caris LeVert pre-injury and Evan Turner.

He’s a safe-bet to be a rock-solid starter in the NBA, potentially as early as this season.

But I’m not sure just how much upside he has.

Rumor: Al Horford thinks 4-year, $100 million contract awaits him in free agency

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Things have already gone sideways for the Boston Celtics. Kyrie Irving is set to leave, reportedly for the Brooklyn Nets. Al Horford opted out of his contract with the team this week, and reports have it that the integral big man is looking to go elsewhere.

Horford had $30 million left on his contract at age 33, so there had to be some belief that he would get a job elsewhere for more money than the Celtics would be willing to pay. Now, according to a new report, that is exactly the case.

It was floated on Tuesday night that Horford already knew that somebody was looking to sign him to another long-term deal. New York Times writer Marc Stein tweeted as much late Tuesday night, saying that Horford and his camp believe there is a deal around $100 million waiting for him in free agency.

Via Twitter:

It is — and we can’t stress this enough — freaking June. It’s literally and figuratively too early for this.

We all laughed last season about the arbitrary deadlines of free agency creeping forward. Deals were already done well before it was permitted to actually sign free agents in July. But this… is getting ridiculous.

Horford is a leader, the glue that apparently kept the Celtics from breaking apart last season. Reports surfaced this week that Brad Stevens’ dedication to former Butler Bulldog Gordon Hayward was at least one reason for the team chemistry starting to unfurl.

Whichever team grabs Horford will be getting a player who still has much left to give, and who can help guide a team into the playoffs. Whether he’s heading to a contender or an overpaying bottom-feeder, we don’t yet know.

This league just keeps getting weirder and weirder.

Daryl Morey denies that Chris Paul requested trade in James Harden dispute

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Things are not all that great for the Houston Rockets. They were bounced in the second round by the Golden State Warriors, and Chris Paul and James Harden appear to be at each other’s throats.

There been reports that Paul and Harden have each issued ultimatums to team management asking the executive branch to instigate a trade. This of course essentially means that the Rockets need to look for a trade partner for Paul.

The problem is that Paul has a massive $125 million left on his deal. It was an insane sum when Paul signed it, but the thought was that even a declining CP3 would be able to help the Rockets as they went all-out expecting a Warriors decline.

But Rockets GM Daryl Morey has refuted the idea that either player has issued an ultimatum. Morey told Marc Stein of the New York Times as much, and reiterated this stance on ESPN radio on Tuesday.

Morey is a veteran general manager, and openly noting that a player has requested a trade cuts his leverage. It has been widely reported that Morey has been looking for trades for Paul and his gargantuan contract for some time, with no apparent taker as of yet.

Now is the time to jump on things in the West. The Warriors are weak, particularly with injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Who knows what that roster will look like next season (and beyond)?

Houston has been the perennial contender against Golden State in the playoffs, but now they appear to be bursting apart at the seams. Morey is one of the best general managers in the NBA, and he has a history of taking big risks and turning wheat into gold. But until he can offload Paul’s contract, things will be tenuous in Texas.

Report: Brad Stevens’ dedication to Gordon Hayward caused chemistry issues with Celtics

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Things are not all well in Boston. The Celtics are already in a free fall when it comes to free agency, and it’s not yet July. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are reportedly poised not to return to TD Garden next year. Now, a team that was aiming for the NBA Finals next year could be in serious trouble.

Things have quickly fallen apart for Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens, who are left with a team that also has an apparent enemy in one of the biggest agencies in Klutch Sports. Boston reportedly backed out of serious offers in trade negotiations with the New Orleans Pelicans in part because they felt as though Klutch client Anthony Davis would not re-sign after one year.

Basketball is a game of chemistry, and the Celtics seemed to lose theirs over the course of the year. At least externally, it appeared Boston was disintegrating. Now, according to a report from Jackie MacMullan, we have some confirmation of this rift.

Via NBC Sports Boston:

“You hate to pick on Gordon Hayward because he was coming back from injury and he was doing the best he could, but I really think that’s where it started,” she said. “They were force feeding him on his teammates, Brad [Stevens] knew Gordon well, he wanted to get his confidence back.

“I would contend that Brad Stevens would have done that for any player on that roster that had a catastrophic injury, he would want to fill him with that same confidence, but that’s not what happened,” MacMullan continued. “He gave the benefit of the doubt over and over to a player that wasn’t ready, to a guy who had history with him, and it rankled that locker room, and it bothered that locker room.”

The Celtics have a roster on paper that should have been good enough to get them deep into the playoffs. But Hayward returned and never really looked like himself, and Stevens devoting his faith to his former Butler Bulldog was obviously misplaced.

Chemistry issues for Boston we’re not all to blame on Stevens and Hayward. Irving is perennially mercurial. Given a situation where he got his own team (whatever that means) he didn’t lead the way folks were expecting.

Unless something drastic can be done — and don’t put it past Danny Ainge to get wild — Boston could be taking a step back next season.

Their saving grace, ironically, could be a fully healthy Hayward who has more reign to do what he wants and an unrestricted role on offense. We’ll see how that goes.