At this time of year playoff teams are cautious with injuries — as much as you might need a player for key games now, you need him more for playoff games.
Which accounts for these two bigs of news:
Dwight Howard will be out for the Rockets for at least 10 days to rest a sore ankle.
Danny Granger of the Los Angeles Clippers will miss the next three games due to a hamstring injury.
That means both will be out Saturday night when Houston and Los Angeles have a big showdown game — the four seed Rockets are one game back of the three seed Clippers (it’s 3.5 games back to five seed Portland).
Earlier this month Howard had a cyst removed from his ankle and missed three games, apparently that did not solve all his problems with that joint. Howard’s ankle was bothering him enough that on Saturday he went to see a doctor, the recommendation was more rest, so Howard is out for Saturday, reports Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.
Then the Clippers broadcaster Ralph Lawler added this:
Just talked to Dwight Howard. Says he will not play next 10 days due to L Ankle. Clippers meet Rockets tonight @ 5 on Prime Ticket.
Omer Asik will start at center for the Rockets. However, not having Patrick Beverley (torn meniscus) or Howard hurts the Rockets depth and more importantly defense against an offensive juggernaut.
Part of that Clippers offense in recent games has been Danny Granger leading the way for the second unit. As he has gotten healthy and gotten his legs under him he has started to show how he could lead the Clippers bench — with Glen Davis — in the postseason. But he needs to be healthy and he is not, so he is getting rest, reports Madelyn Burke, host of Clippers TV.
Danny Granger (hamstring) out for the remaining 3 games of this road trip. Doc Rivers says Granger was sent back to LA. #Clippers
In 2017, Chris Paul opted in to facilitate a trade to the capped-out Rockets. By forgoing free agency and a max salary, Paul sacrificed $10,083,055 that season. With Paul and James Harden, the Rockets became a championship contender and pushed the Warriors in the 2018 Western Conference finals.
The bill came due last summer.
Houston re-signed the aging Paul to a four-year max contract worth $159,730,592. That deal always looked like it could age poorly, and Paul – now 34 – is already slowing.
Fertitta has grumbled about Paul’s contract, expressing regret to Rockets staffers and even in front of rival executives, according to league sources.
Fertitta bought the Rockets after they traded for Paul. Though the sale was completed before they re-signed Paul, it seems the contract terms were at least discussed as far back as the opt-in-and-trade.
So, Fertitta didn’t necessarily sign off on this arrangement.
But it was good for Houston! It made the Rockets the biggest threat to the Kevin Durant-supercharged Warriors to that point. Re-signing Paul helped keep Houston in title contention this year. The Rockets were limited in that pursuit by Fertitta’s spending limitations, not by locking Paul into this contract.
Yes, there’s downside to Paul’s deal. Houston is feeling it now. Paul will be difficult, though not impossible, to trade this summer.
But as much as Fertitta talks about winning, he yet again shows why that’s all bluster.
Kawhi Leonard wears ‘Board Man Gets Paid’ shirt to Raptors’ championship parade (video)
After a couple of impressive seasons in a row, Julius Randle‘s stock is going up. The 24-year-old forward averaged 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game for the Pelicans last season, using his strength and athleticism to bully his way to buckets. That said, he also shot 34.4 percent from three, you have to respect him at the arc. He’s impressed a lot of teams.
Randle had a player option for $9.1 million with the Pelicans next season. On the open market, he likely will get a multi-year deal starting in the low teens ($13 million at least). So what do you think he was going to do?
Pelicans‘ Julius Randle is not picking up his $9M player option for next season and will enter unrestricted free agency, league sources tell @TheAthleticNBA@Stadium. Randle is coming off his best NBA season (21.4 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 34.4 percent from 3-point range on 195 attempts).
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.
The thing that stands out when it comes to Zion Williamson, the biggest reason that he has become an internet sensation with a chance of becoming an international superstar, is his athleticism.
It’s the dunks.
Human beings aren’t supposed to be the size of Zion, and the people that are that big certainly are not supposed to be able to move – or fly – the way that he does. That athleticism plays a major role in the reason why he is, for my money, the best prospect to enter the NBA since Anthony Davis, but it is far from the only reason that he has a chance to be a generational talent at the next level.
In an era of positionless basketball, Zion Williamson has the potential to develop into the NBA’s preeminent small-ball five, or point-center, or whatever term it is you want to use to describe the basketball’s biggest matchup nightmares.
It starts on the defensive side of the ball. Williamson stands just 6-foot-7 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, but between his athleticism, his strength and his anticipation, he plays like a 7-footer. He’s not going to get buried under the rim by even the biggest centers in the league, and he is terrific at coming from the weakside and blocking shots at the rim:
His anticipation is on another level defensively, which is what makes him such a dangerous playmaker on that side of the ball. He jumps passing lanes, he can pick a point guard’s pocket when blitzing a ball-screen, he has an understanding of what an opponent is going to try to do before they do it.
He’s not just a rim protector, however. He can move his feet on the perimeter, staying in front of point guards when he is caught in a switch:
He can do all of the things that bigs are asked to do defensively in the pace-and-space era, and he may be the best that we’ve ever seen when it comes to grab-and-go ability. In transition is where he may end up being the most valuable and the most dangerous. Williamson can lead a break. There is room for him to improve his handle, but he would be able to step onto an NBA floor today and be capable of bringing the ball up the floor. His speed and strength makes him nearly impossible to stop when he gets up a head of steam, but he also has terrific vision and is capable of making pinpoint passes through traffic when defenses throw multiple bodies at him.
That vision was most evident in transition this past season, but he did show flashes of being able to create off the bounce in a halfcourt setting as well.
Part of the reason those chances were limited was due to the way that defenses played Duke this season. The Blue Devils were one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country last year, and the result was that by the the ACC and NCAA tournaments rolled around, the secret was out — other than Cam Reddish, you didn’t really have to worry about guarding anyone else beyond 10-12 feet. Opposing defenses simply packed as many bodies as possible in the paint, and while Williamson was still able to get to the rim just about at will — and shoot 68 percent from the floor in the process — it limited the chances that he had to actually rack up assists. He wasn’t dumping the ball off to the bigs when there were four defenders standing with a foot in the charge circle, and kick-out passes to the likes of Tre Jones, Jordan Goldwire and Jack White were precisely what defenses wanted.
Put another way, I think that Williamson’s assist numbers are going to be what spikes at the next level. Not only will he be playing in a league where there is significantly more spacing, but the reason for that spacing will be the fact that he is surrounded by guys that can actually make threes.
That spacing, by the way, will make Williamson significantly more difficult to guard. There simply are not any traditional fives in the NBA that are going to be able to keep Williamson in front with any kind of consistency, and the players that are quick enough are not going to be strong enough to keep Williamson from getting to his spots. And for all the concerns that have been voiced about Williamson’s shooting ability, he did finish the season hitting 33.8 percent of his three-pointers. If Draymond Green shot 33.8 percent from three, then the Raptors might actually respect him enough to feign guarding him beyond the arc in the Finals.
I bring up Green for a reason, because I think he is the perfect place to start talking about what Williamson can be at the next level. Williamson will be able to do, and has the potential to be better at, all of the things that Green does so well — guarding 1-through-5, protecting the rim, bringing the ball up the floor, leading the break. But what really sets Green apart from the field is the way that he is able to exploit 3-on-2s and 2-on-1s offensively and stop 2-on-1s defensively.
I’m not sure there is a player in the NBA that is as basketball smart as Green. He almost never makes the wrong decision on the offensive end of the floor, and part of what makes Golden State’s offense so lethal is that you’re forced to choose between using an extra defender to keep Steph Curry or Klay Thompson from getting a clean look at a three or letting Green make a play with a numbers advantage. On the defensive end, there is no one that is better at stopping those exact same 2-on-1 situations than Green.
There just isn’t.
And I think that Williamson has the basketball smarts and ability to be able to, potentially, do all of those things just as well one day.
He’s also bigger, more athletic, a better natural defender, a better scorer and a more difficult player to stop 1-on-1.
Imagine if you took Julius Randle‘s scoring ability, gave it to Green and then super-charged that Frankenstein with the kind of strength, speed and athleticism that would make the NFL’s best defensive ends jealous.
Would that be a player you might be interested in?