Not medically cleared for the NBA, Isaiah Austin is putting up numbers in China

Associated Press
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Back in 2014, Isaiah Austin was the focus of a story both tragic and touching. After having played at Baylor in college, he entered the NBA draft and was projected as a possible first-round pick, at 7’1″ and mobile he fit the direction the NBA was evolving. However, during pre-draft medical evaluations he was diagnosed with career-ending Marfan syndrome (one symptom of that is it enlarges the aorta near the heart, so when stressed, as in a basketball game, it is more likely to fatally tear). Austin had a $1 million insurance policy that kicked in, then that June the NBA ceremoniously drafted him and he was put into NBA2K15. The league office even offered him a job once he got his degree.

Austin, however, wanted back on the court and eventually was allowed to play by a doctor.

Now Austin is playing in China and putting up numbers, and he spoke with Leo Sepkowitz of Bleacher Report.

“I’m a complete mismatch on the court,” Austin says. “I haven’t come across someone in this league who can check me.”

Austin, 24, is calling from Guangxi, where he is rising to stardom in exile. In his second season there, Austin is averaging 35.1 points per game along with 10.3 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 0.9 steals. On a super-sized team, Austin plays small forward, and opponents marvel at his versatility. He attempts seven free throws and—yes—seven threes per game, while shooting 53 percent from the field. But most amazing for the man who supposedly risks his life with significant physical exertion: He logs huge minutes, sometimes playing all 48 in a given night.

“I’m in really good shape, which is why it’s really hurtful that people won’t give me an opportunity,” he says. In addition to the NBA, many international teams have been wary of signing Austin so far. “Even after playing these strenuous minutes and working out each day, I’ve had no regression in health. I’m just getting healthier.”

He wants a shot at the NBA again.

Can he play at an NBA level? Maybe. China is not a league known for its defense so a lot of guys put up numbers there, but his size and athleticism have always been intriguing. Teams reportedly have some interest if the league cleared him.

However, the NBA has not and is unlikely to let him play.

Austin and his doctors say in the story that his aorta is just slightly enlarged, that he has a mild case of the disease. I’m not a doctor and have no way of knowing if that’s true and how it might impact him on and off the court, but I do know the NBA and its teams to be conservative on these issues. The risks here are not just his heart, but also the possibility of torn ligaments that are weakened and stretched.

The NBA reportedly did a second test on Austin, which confirmed Austin has Marfan Syndrom. The league follows the guidelines of the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology which say people with Marfan Syndrome should not compete in high-intensity sports with contact.

The NBA works hard to promote the image of it finding ways to keep players healthy (and extend their careers), of doing what is best for the person. Austin may be willing to take on the risks, but the league is not. A team in Serbia did before, a team in China is now, but it’s hard to imagine the NBA changing its position.

Austin is getting to play basketball for a living, which is something, although falling short of his childhood NBA dream for something beyond his control cannot be easy to deal with. He’s impressively overcome a lot, but its unlikely he gets to take that final step to the NBA.

 

 

Watch Dinwiddie get ejected for elbow to Poole’s face; Mavs still win behind Doncic 41 points

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Dallas has gotten in trouble this season because of a lack of secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, so when Spencer Dinwiddie got ejected for an elbow to the face of Golden State’s Jordan Poole, it seemed like the Mavericks might be in danger of falling to the Warriors.

Doncic had other plans — and a 41-point triple-double.

The ejection happened early in the fourth quarter, when Dinwiddie drove the lane on Poole and, bringing the ball up, elbowed Poole in the face.

That was reviewed by the referees who ruled it a Flagrant 2. The league has cracked down on blows to the face and head — intentional or not — the past couple of seasons.

Dinwiddie being out just meant more Luka — and that was bad news for the Warriors.

Despite Doncic and his triple-double, the Warriors had a couple of chances in the final seconds. First, Stephen Curry got called for a travel.

The Warriors argued that call but got nowhere with the referees. But they got one more chance on a Klay Thompson 3 to tie, but it was just not their night.

The Mavericks got the 116-113 win. Tim Hardaway Jr. pitched in 25 points, including five 3-pointers for Dallas. Curry led the Warriors with 32.

Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns out 4-6 weeks with calf strain

Minnesota Timberwolves v Washington Wizards
Rob Carr/Getty Images
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It’s not good news, but it looked like it could have been much worse.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced Tuesday following an MRI exam. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports it is likely 4-6 weeks.

The injury occurred midway through the third quarter Monday when Towns started to run back upcourt and went to the ground without contact, grabbing his knee and calf. It looked scary — Achilles scary — and he had to be helped off the court.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

Kevin Durant on chasing MVP: ‘Not really, I’ve been there, done that’

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets
Mike Stobe/Getty Images
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Kevin Durant carried the Nets to another win Monday night, scoring 45 points on 19-of-24 shooting, plus seven rebounds and five assists.

If you’re having an MVP conversation a quarter of the way into the NBA season, Durant has to be part of it: 30 points per game on 54.8% shooting (and a ridiculous 65.9 true shooting percentage), 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a game, plus playing solid defense and being the anchor of the Nets. After his 45-point outing to get Brooklyn a win over Orlando, Durant was asked about MVP chants and the chase for the award and was clearly not interested.

Durant has MVP numbers, but so do Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum and others. If Durant is going to move to the front of the conversation, the first thing that has to happen is Brooklyn has to win a lot more games — 11-11 is not going to cut it when Tatum’s Celtics and Antetokounmpo’s Bucks have the two best records in the NBA. Winning games and finishing on a top-three team in the conference matters to some voters (and traditionally is one measure of an MVP).

Watch Herb Jones inbound off Pokusevski’s back, seal win for Pelicans

Oklahoma City Thunder v New Orleans Pelicans
Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images
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With 2.3 seconds left in the game and the Thunder down 2, they needed to steal the inbounds pass from New Orleans to have a real chance. That’s why when Aleksej Pokusevski walked on the court it looked like he was going to guard the inbounder, Herbert Jones.

Instead, Pokusevski turned his back to Jones, putting himself in position to step in front of anyone cutting to the ball to catch the inbounds. Except, Jones made the clever play to seal the game.

Pokusevski fouled Jones, who sank both free throws and sealed the 105-101 Pelicans win.

The Pelicans got 23-8-8 from Zion Williamson and picked up a win without CJ McCollum or Brandon Ingram in the lineup. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his dominant start to the season and scored 31.