Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Here’s what you missed while raiding your kids Halloween candy bag (not that I would do that, no, never… just ignore that bag of Skittles).
1) Thunder starting to look elite, figure out their defense in win over Bucks. Nobody is going to stop Giannis Antetokounmpo, he’s going to get his. The Greek Freak did that on Halloween night with 28 points on 14 shots, although he was held in relative check by foul trouble that limited him to less than 28 minutes.
What the Thunder did with their aggressive, swarming defense on Tuesday was shut down the other Bucks — Milwaukee players who do not play for the Greek national team shot just 37.1 percent on the night. As a team the Bucks shot 9-of-30 from three. That’s not good enough against Oklahoma City — the Thunder starters put together a 16-0 run in the first and the team never looked back, cruising to a 110-91 win. Paul George had 20 points and Carmelo Anthony 17 in the win, and the big three combined for 49 points and 21 assists.
There were a lot of good signs for the Thunder out of this game. The first half they were flat-out dominant against a pretty good Bucks team, and during that time ball moved and it led to a lot of open looks (more midrange shots than some would like, but they were clean, open looks). Westbrook controlled the flow of the offense without just scoring a lot. Maybe the best sign, OKC owned the defensive glass, an area it has struggled this season up to now.
Going into the season, the questions about the Thunder were “how long will it take them to get it together?” and “is the bench good enough?” The jury is still out on the second question (although Jermi Grant had 17 in this one), however the answer to the first question might be around Halloween.
2) Just a reminder, Eric Bledsoe is still a member of the Phoenix Suns. Bledsoe doesn’t want to be. The Suns are trying to trade him, but they have not found a deal as the reported asking price is turning teams off. Suns GM Ryan McDonough tried to gain a little leverage on Tuesday saying there is no timetable for a trade, but the reality is with Bledsoe sitting at home his trade value is not going up. So we all wait.
The reality is this: The Suns are going to get hosed on this trade. Look at what better players went for in the past year — DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George, Jimmy Butler — and you see the market for Bledsoe is not going to be that strong. Most teams are not looking for a point guard. Those who are — Denver, maybe Milwaukee, a handful of others — are not going to offer genuine quality. Sorry, the Knicks are still not throwing in Frank Ntilikina. Eventually, McDonough and the Suns will settle on a deal where they get a prospect/pick but also take on a bad contract. It’s not going to be a good deal for them, but welcome to reality. The only question is when it goes down.
3) It was tricks, not treats, for Jahlil Okafor, Mario Hezonja, Kevin Looney, and Josh Huestis on Halloween — their teams did not pick up their fourth-year options. NBA teams pick up fourth-year options on rookie deals almost out of habit, even if they don’t think they want the young player long term, they hold on to him in hopes of a trade so they can get some value back for the pick in a trade.
However, with the deadline to pick up options on Halloween, two of the top five picks in the 2015 NBA Draft did not have their fourth years picked up, and they will be unrestricted free agents next summer. They could be on the market even sooner.
In Philadelphia, Okafor is the odd man out in the Sixers young and impressive frontcourt rotation, and after a year of trying to trade him and getting nothing of value they did not pick up his option. The Sixers are still looking for a trade, and he could push for a buyout.
In Orlando, Hezonja has shown flashes of his athleticism and potential — this season he’s knocking down 62 percent of this threes — but his development has stalled out, he has never stood out, and Frank Vogel and company just decided they would move on. He also could potentially still be traded, but Orland tried (talking a lot to Sacramento) and nothing came of it and likely will not now.
The Golden State Warriors did not pick up the option on Kevin Looney, but their reasoning was less about his play (which hasn’t been great) and more straight forward — it’s about saving luxury tax money. In Oklahoma City, in 2014 Huestis was the rare “domestic draft and stash” — the Thunder drafted him with the understanding he would not sign his rookie deal and would play for a season in the D-League, then sign with the Thunder. He’s never developed into the player the Thunder made that bet on (although he has played in all seven games this season), and they have decided to move on.