The Extra Pass: Three guys that deserve more playing time, plus Monday’s recaps

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With the first half of the season in the books, let’s look at five players who deserve to get a little more burn the rest of the way.

John Henson, F/C, Milwaukee Bucks

Before we get to Henson, let’s travel in the way back machine to the 2009-10 season. If you’ll remember, Kurt Rambis was the head coach of a dreadful Minnesota Timberwolves team, and for some reason, Rambis decided to play his best player, Kevin Love, only 28 minutes a night.

It was criminally stupid. Not surprisingly, the Wolves went 15-67 and Rambis was fired.

This isn’t to compare Henson to Love, but rather to serve as fair warning to Bucks head coach Larry Drew: for your own sake, you should probably play your best player more than 28 minutes a night.

Henson is an incredible shot blocker with arms that go on forever, and he’s a glass eater despite his thin frame. He’s limited offensively, but he has a nice lefty hook that’s impossible to block. He’s the one guy Milwaukee can post up consistently and expect a decent output from.

Plain and simple, Henson deserves starter’s minutes. I’m just going to leave this per 36 minute comparison to Anthony Davis right here, and let you decide if Henson should be playing less than 30 minutes on the league’s worst team.

Kyle O’Quinn, C, Orlando Magic

Typically this is where I’d take up for Andrew Nicholson, another Magic big man who is glued to the bench far too often. At least you can sort of understand why Jacque Vaughn is playing Nicholson only 17 minutes a night, as he’s limited defensively, despite being a great scorer.

It’s hard to make that argument with O’Quinn, though. With Nikola Vucevic sidelined with a concussion, O’Quinn’s minutes haven’t spiked nearly as much as you’d think, as Glen Davis has played an uncomfortable amount of 5 for Orlando.

It makes sense that Orlando would try to showcase Davis in advance of the trade deadline, but something has to give here. O’Quinn is averaging just 12.4 minutes a night despite being one of the most unique talents in the league, and his playing time could decrease to zero once Vucevic gets back.

Honestly, how many 6-foot-10, 240 pound big men with 7-foot-5 wingspans shoot nearly 42 percent from behind 16 feet, average 11.4 rebounds per 36 on their career and block nearly two shots a game? O’Quinn can play, and it’s time for Rob Hennigan to create playing time for him.

Draymond Green, F, Golden State Warriors

Rarely do contenders like Golden State need to make rotational changes, and rarely do players who shoot 35 percent from the field on their career demand more time. Draymond Green bucks conventional wisdom pretty frequently, though.

Green’s biggest asset is his ability to legitimately cover four positions and do it incredibly well. If Green was ever paired with Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut, opponents would have a whale of a time trying to score at all.

Unfortunately, according to NBA.com’s stats site, that three-man lineup has only played 39 minutes together this year. In their short time together, though, they do have a net efficiency rating of +25.2 and have held opponents to a stingy 85.1 points per 100 possessions. It’s a small sample size, but that’s sort of the point.

Despite Green’s limitations as a scorer, he’s a 38.8 percent career three-point shooter, which means he can offer space for Stephen Curry to operate while also playing much, much better defense than a player like David Lee does.

Green currently plays 19 minutes a game, but that number should probably increase. Green is the rare 3 and D guy who can play smallball 4, and Mark Jackson would be wise to try him in more and more lineups as the Warriors prepare for a deep playoff run. He’s the type of specialist that can swing a game if he’s given enough burn.

D.J. Foster

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Raptors 104, Nets 103: This was a brutal loss for Brooklyn, considering they had control of this game in the waning seconds, only to see it all slip away. Brooklyn had erased a nine-point deficit with just under 7:30 remaining, with a 9-0 run to tie the game at the 3:48 mark of the final period. It was close from then on, but it appeared the Nets were in control, leading by one with possession and 12 seconds remaining. A poor decision by Deron Williams to try a pass to the backcourt was intercepted by Patrick Patterson, who calmly drained a pull-up jumper that sealed the win for the Raptors and stole it from the Nets. Kyle Lowry continued to stunt for a spot on the All-Star team with a performance that included 31 points, seven assists, five rebounds and five steals, and Paul Pierce finished with 33 points on 16 shots to lead the Nets in the losing effort. — Brett Pollakoff

Thunder 111, Hawks 109: Kevin Durant scored at least 30 points for the 11th consecutive game, the longest streak by any player in the league over the last 10 seasons. One shot in particular stood out in his 41 point performance against the Hawks, however, and it was the game-winner he hit against what seemed like all five Hawks defenders. As long as Durant keeps essentially dragging his team to victories all by himself (and this was the team’s eighth straight), the MVP will be his despite the fact that LeBron James is still considered to be the game’s best player almost unanimously. — BP

Suns 124, Sixers 113: A 40-point first quarter set the tone for Phoenix in what would become an unstoppable night for them offensively. Gerald Green led everyone with 30 points on just 12 shots, and hit six of his seven three-point attempts to help the Suns to their fourth victory in their last five games. Goran Dragic was similarly efficient with 24 points on 13 shots, to go along with seven assists and three steals. — BP

Timberwolves 95, Bulls 86: In a game defined by who wasn’t playing, the star who did show up was able to dominate. Kevin Love finished with 31 points to lead his team to victory, and while the Bulls had five players end up in double figures scoring, none were important enough to pose a legitimate challenge. Carlos Boozer, for example, finished with 20 points and 14 rebounds, but shot just 9-of-24 from the field. The Bulls were without Joakim Noah due to illness, and Minnesota lost Nikola Pekovic in the first quarter due to a sore right Achilles. — BP

Clippers 114, Bucks 86: Not much to say here other than the Bucks are unquestionably one of the league’s worst teams. Yes, they were without Larry Sanders and O.J. Mayo in this one due to illness, but the season in Milwaukee has been nothing short of an unmitigated disaster, and the presence of even the team’s best players wouldn’t have made that much of a difference. Blake Griffin scored with ease, and finished with 20 points on 13 shots in just 28 minutes of action. Jamal Crawford ld all scorers with 25 points in 24 minutes off the bench, and the Clippers finished their Grammy road trip with a 5-2 record, the best in franchise history. — BP

Jazz 106, Kings 99: And with this, the Kings now have the worst record in the West, not the Jazz. For the second straight night the Kings fought hard without Rudy Gay or DeMarcus Cousins — then after playing 7:41 of the third quarter Isaiah Thomas left with “stomach issues. And for the second straight night all those injuries meant they couldn’t sustain the level they needed for 48 minutes. Utah went on an 11-2 run early in the third quarter sparked by Marvin Williams who had 12 in the frame. Derrick Favors led the Jazz with 17 points. Utah led by 20 in the fourth but the game dragged out, got ugly and got close thanks to a  “hack-a-everyone” strategy by the Kings on a Jazz team that could not knock down free throws in that stretch (10-of-19) nor could they get stops on the other end. But the Jazz hung on. —Kurt Helin

2018 NBA Draft Prospect Profiles: Is Trae Young a super star in the making?

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Trae Young is a perfect example of why, as an elite freshman entering the college ranks, it is so important to pick a school that is the right fit for you.

Young was a borderline five-star prospect entering the college ranks, the kind of point guard that was recruited by everyone from Kansas to Kentucky, but instead of picking one of the bluebloods, Young opted to stay home. He enrolled at Oklahoma, where his supporting case was questionable and he had the opportunity to have the entire offense run through him every single night.

And the results, at first, were sensational.

Young put up massive numbers, at one point averaging 30 points and 10 assists while leading Oklahoma into the top ten of the national rankings, getting himself compared to Steph Curry, talked about by LeBron and the focus of every college basketball broadcast for the first three months of the season.

Then, once Big 12 play started, opponents began to crack the code. Young didn’t have a ton of help on that roster, which, when combined with some of the issues that he has with shot selection and decision-making, turned him from a player with unimaginable efficiency on a never-before-seen level of usage into just another high-volume, low-efficiency gunner. Oklahoma’s season went in the toilet, the Sooners finished 18-14 on the year, losing 12 of their last 16 games and falling out of the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments in the first round.

That has turned Young into one of the more polarizing prospects in recent memory.

He became the first player in Division I history to lead the nation in scoring and assists, but he did it as a player that doesn’t like to play defense on a team that couldn’t figure out how to win late in the year.

Is he the second-coming of Steph Curry?

Or is he Jimmer Fredette?

And what GM is going to have the stones to find out?

HEIGHT: 6-foot-1.75
WEIGHT: 178 lbs
WINGSPAN: 6-foot-3
2017-18 STATS: 27.4 PPG, 8.7 APG, 3.6 RPG, 42.2/36.0/86.1, 5.2 TPG
DRAFT RANGE: 5-10

STRENGTHS

I would make the argument that Trae Young is the single-most skilled player in this year’s NBA draft. He might very well be the best shooter available, and I think that it is inarguable he is the best passer in this draft class. The biggest reason his counting stats are so high is because of the absurd level of volume and freedom that Lon Kruger afforded him, but there’s also a reason he was given that freedom.

Let’s start with his shooting. Young’s range extends will beyond the NBA’s three-point line, but what makes him so dangerous isn’t his ability as a catch-and-shoot threat, it’s how well he is able to get to his shot off of the dribble. Young’s handle is elite, as is his footwork. He’s always on balance and he has a lightening quick release, one that he doesn’t need much space to get off. He also has a variety of different step-backs and pull-backs to create space, and he’s a very good shooter off of hang-dribbles (if there’s a switch) or if a defender goes under a ball-screen.

Young is not the quickest or most explosive guard you’ll find, but he understands how to use his change of pace and some deceptive ball-handling to get a defense off balance and create room for himself to get into the paint. He has an array of shots that he can make in the paint, although he does need to continue to get more consistent with his floaters and mid-range shots.

Part of the reason that Kyrie Irving and Steph are able to thrive as two of the best scorers in the NBA is because they are elite finishers at and around the rim despite the fact that they are smaller and less athletic than the players that will be guarding them. Young will need to get to that level, and it’s certainly doable.

The other side of Young’s game is his ability to pass the ball. His vision is sensational, both in transition and in the halfcourt, and it will only get more effective in the NBA, where the players he is passing to are better and the wider deeper three-point are creates more space. The thing that really stood out to me in watching Young was his ability to read a defense in ball-screen actions. His basketball IQ and his understanding of where the defense is moving and who is going to be open is already at an elite level.

WEAKNESSES

The biggest concern with Young as a prospect is on the defensive side of the ball. Physically, he was not quite ready to defend at the collegiate level last season, let alone at the NBA level. He’s actually a little taller than you may realize — he’s just a shade under 6-foot-2 — but he weighs just 178 pounds with a willowy frame and a wingspan that is just 6-foot-3. He’s not all that strong, he’s not all that physical and he’s not all that tough, and that’s before you question if he has the quickness to guard elite NBA point guards.

And then there is the issue of whether or not he actually wants to play defense. He was a mess guarding ball-screens as a freshman, often showing little-to-no effort to fight through and getting lost when he did. He got beaten off the dribble without providing much in the way of resistance far too many times. He almost looked disinterested on that end of the floor. Context might be important here, however. With the load that Young was carrying on the offensive end, it’s certainly reasonable that he was either A) saving his legs to be able to carrying the Sooners offensively or B) didn’t actually have enough energy to defend.

That doesn’t diminish the concerns with his physical tools, but defending is about want-to, and it will be on the teams that are drafting to figure out whether or not he actually wants to defend. As flawed as Steph is defensively, he tries hard enough that he’s not that much of a liability.

The other issue is how careless and inefficient Young was late in the year. Not only did he lead the nation in scoring and assists, but he led in turnovers as well. He also has a bad habit of taking terrible shots early in the shot clock, settling for 25-footers with a defender in his face, but again, context is important to the discussion here.

The degree of difficulty on the plays that Young tried to make this season was often insanely high, but the truth is that Oklahoma really didn’t have any other options to create offense. Young had to carry the load for this group to be a tournament team, and it worked well enough for long enough that the Sooners were still a tournament team despite a disastrous finish to the season.

Again, NBA GMs are going to have to figure out the answer to this question: Was Young inefficient late in the year because that’s who he is as a player, or was he driving into three defenders or forcing 26-foot shots or trying to make tough passes because that’s what his team needed him to do?

NBA COMPARISON

The obvious comparison that gets made by everyone is Stephen Curry, and in a best-case scenario, I don’t think that’s terrible. That said, I think that, given Young’s ability to pass the ball, Steve Nash makes a little more sense — and that is who Young has idolized — but either way, you know about what his ceiling. I’m not sure he has two-time MVP upside, and comparing him to two players of that caliber is probably unfair, but he has the potential to be very, very good in a league built around ball-screens, the three-ball and pace-and-space.

That said, the floor for Young is very low. If he can’t figure out how to defend and he never ends up being good enough to have an offense built around him, I think there’s a real chance that his second contract is with a team outside of the NBA.

OUTLOOK

As the NBA moves more and more towards small-ball, the skill-set that Young has is going to continue to get more valuable. Elite shooting is something that every team in the league needs, and Young has that ability to shoot. He’s excellent in ball-screens as well, and his ability as a passer when the kind of spacing he’ll see on an NBA court is something that absolutely should translate.

We’ve been over the issues that he has with inefficiency, decision-making and defending. All of those are concerns, but I do think that the situation that Young was in at Oklahoma exacerbated them to a degree.

In my mind, Young’s career is going to be determined by whether or not he ends up being good enough that to have an offense built around him. The way he wants to play is as a James Harden or a Russell Westbrook. Even Steve Nash had the ball in his hands the majority of the time. Being a ball-dominant lead guard that gets run through 20-30 ball-screens a night is not something everyone can do.

And if Young can’t do that, I have a tough time envisioning what his role will be in the NBA.

Rumor: Spurs won’t trade Kawhi Leonard to Western Conference team

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Kawhi Leonard reportedly wants the Spurs to trade him, ideally to the Lakers or Clippers.

Chris Sheridan of Get More Sports:

He is not going to Los Angeles…or any other destination in the Western Conference, sources are telling GetMoreSports.com.

Leonard has some leverage in that he can tell any non-L.A. team that he has no interest in signing an extension after his current deal expires in a year, and that may end up diminishing the value of offers Eastern Conference teams are willing to make.

But if you think that bothers Popovich, you don’t know Popovich. The guy would gladly take 75 cents on the dollar for Kawhi if he could ship him out of the West — even if that upsets Kawhi.

There are two choices here:

The Spurs are a well-run organization that will manage this crisis as effectively as possible.

or

The Spurs will outright refuse to trade Leonard to a Western Conference team.

It can’t be both.

If the Spurs trade Leonard, they should take the best offer they get – no matter who makes it. Teams like the Celtics and 76ers have better assets to dangle. But if the Lakers and Clippers are the only team with assurances Leonard will re-sign next summer, they could offer more, even assembling a package from a shallower pool of assets.

The Spurs shouldn’t worry where Leonard lands. But that doesn’t mean they won’t worry where Leonard lands.

Report: Celtics believe Kyrie Irving happy in Boston

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Chris Mannix reported Kyrie Irving, when he played for the Cavaliers, told teammates of his desire to play for the Knicks. In the same discussion, Mannix speculated on the Celtics’ fear of Irving leaving in 2019 unrestricted free agency. Asked about his future in Boston, Irving gave a cryptic answer.

There’s just no good way to resolve this until summer 2019. As Irving knows, a contract extension is illogical. The largest extension he could sign, beginning July 1, would be four years, $108,053,240 ($27,013,310 annually). If he waits until 2019 free agency, he could re-sign for a projected $188 million over five years (about $38 million annually) – and even more if he makes an All-NBA team next year. In that case, his max would project to be $219 million over five years (about $44 million annually).

So, the Celtics must ride this out – or trade Irving before he gets to free agency. How do they feel about his future with Boston?

Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe:

A league source said Friday that the Celtics believe Irving is happy in Boston and would like to be with the team long-term, but that there are no certainties.

This is probably correct. Irving clearly wanted out of Cleveland, so him longing for a spot on the Knicks made more sense then. Overall, Irving seems happy in Boston. A noncommittal answer from someone whose brand is mysterious ideas doesn’t set off alarms.

That said, also file this under: What else are they supposed to say? The Celtics maximize Irving’s trade value if everyone believes he’s happy and not a flight risk who should be preemptively traded.

The Celtics must closely monitor Irving’s satisfaction with them. If it seems he might leave, they ought to look hard at trading him first.

But it really seems the Celtics aren’t anywhere near that point. If they are, they’ve bluffed well.

J.R. Smith’s Game 1 Finals jersey up for auction

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It was the moment that defined the 2018 NBA Finals.

The score was tied with 4.7 seconds left when George Hill missed his second of two free throws, but J.R. Smith made an impressive play to get the offensive rebound — then tried to dribble out the clock like the Cavaliers were ahead.

Now, you can own Smith’s Game 1 jersey — the one he was wearing when he made a play so thoughtless LeBron James broke his own hand punching a whiteboard in frustration over it. It’s available on the NBA auction site. The bidding goes on for three more days, until June 21.

As of Monday morning, the current bid is $3000.

A Warriors’ fan is going to buy this thing, not a Cavaliers fan. They are still trying to repress this memory.