Fit matters. Style of play matters. A lot.
For the vast majority of NBA players, being in the right situation for their talents and personalities are crucial. If we’re talking LeBron James/Anthony Davis/James Harden and the other elite players in the league then the rules change, the style of game a team plays doesn’t much matter because they will dominate regardless of the system. But for everyone else, being put in a position that plays to their strengths and hides their weaknesses can be the difference between thriving in a role and ending up watching games from the bench. It also can matter when the checks come twice a month.
That brings us to Marquese Chriss.
The athletic power forward struggled to find his way during his two seasons in Phoenix, then the third-year player was sent to Houston as part of the Ryan Anderson trade. Rockets GM Daryl Morey thinks the change of scenery — and system to Mike D’Antoni’s open style — that could be very good for Chriss.
“Marquese is a guy, in Mike’s offense, who can roll and finish at the rim and very athletic. We feel like he is underrated as well.”
The “as well” part is because Morey thinks point guard Brandon Knight — also acquired from the Suns — is underrated as well. Knight showed that potential before a torn ACL in 2017, if he is fully healthy, he has shown he can live up to that billing.
Chriss has work to do. He doesn’t have much of a shot, scoring a woeful 0.79 points per spot-up shot attempts, plus he took 35 percent of his shot attempts from three but hit just 29 percent of them. He’s athletic, can run the floor and get to the rim, but he shot just 62 percent at the rim (well below the league average) and scored just a point per possession in transition. A hip injury slowed him, and he finished the season on a better note, but can he do it over the course of a season?
Chriss can run the floor, he just has to do it at full speed every time, then finish better. If not, he’ll have great seats for the Rockets’ deep playoff run this season, but little else.
No doubt there are big expectations for the Toronto Raptors this year after trading franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan for disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. Ever an enigma (and coming off of one of the worst-managed exits from a team in recent memory) Leonard has fans in Ontario biting their nails about whether he will return healthy this season, and happy for the next.
According to Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, Leonard is giving them every indication that he is ready to go heading into the 2018-19 NBA season. Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Ujiri said that Leonard is happy.
“He is happy. From what everybody has told me he is healthy. He spends a lot of time with our coaches,” said Ujiri. “He went to L.A. to meet our guys out there. He will be here shortly.”
“He is just quiet … that’s his nature. We can’t all be the same kind of people. But he is as engaging as he would want to be and he’s very interesting. There is no maintenance with him. There’s nothing. It’s remarkable … His (focus) is on basketball which is what you want. He is a basketball junkie … once you just start to talk about basketball his eyes change.”
We have heard rumors that Leonard has purchased a home in Toronto instead of merely renting. We’ve also seen photos of Leonard happy and working out with players like Kobe Bryant, nearly even smiling. And Ujiri is doing his part here, trying to ease any sentiment around Leonard.
The PR machine is in sixth gear in Toronto, but you can’t really blame them. It’s the first good public relations move we’ve seen from Leonard’s enclave in more than a year, and it helps bolster the team if things go south.
Do I believe anything that is reported about Leonard anymore? No. Not after last season. Unfortunately, the issue with Leonard remains the fact that we will have to simply sit to wait and see what he chooses to do next year.
Raptors fans, who are dedicated and passionate, should be hoping that they finally make a Finals run this year. Just in case.
76ers first-rounder Zhaire Smith suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot last month, leaving plenty of uncertainty about when he’d return.
Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:
The 76ers expect injured rookie Zhaire Smith to be available to play in a game around Christmas, league sources say.
A rookie on a team with legitimate aspirations of deep-playoff advancement, Smith was already unlikely to crack Philadelphia’s rotation this season. All this lost developmental time makes it even less likely.
But the sooner Smith returns, the better for him and Philadelphia. The No. 16 pick impresses with his athleticism and motor, but he needs time to develop his perimeter skills.
The NBA is not shying away from the issue of the mental health of its players.
In the wake of All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love coming forward about their mental health challenges, the league and the players’ union combined to tell players to speak out on the issue and take advantage of the services offered.
Kevin Love is doing more than just that, he has formed the Kevin Love Fund to help change the stigma around mental health issues. The fund has partners such as Headspace, with the focus being on prioritizing mental health awareness. He went on the Today Show on NBC to talk about it.
Love has become a leader and spokesman around the issue. Love came forward near the end of last season to talk about his battles with anxiety and depression. That opened the door for others around the NBA to step forward as well, such as Kelly Oubre and Paul Pierce.
Filling the 76ers vacant general manager position dragged out all summer for one main reason:
They liked what they already had in-house. The Sixers were an especially collegial and collaborative group with their decision making, and if they brought in a big name from the outside — former Cavaliers’ GM David Griffin, or the two guys who went deep into the interview process Utah assistant GM Justin Zanik on Rockets VP Gersson Rosas — it would change that dynamic.
Which is why they have decided to keep this in the family, and will promote Elton Brand from vice president of basketball operations to general manager. It’s a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and confirmed by NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Clark.
Brand, a former Philadelphia player, was the general manager of their G-League team, the Delaware Blue Coats, before becoming the VP of basketball operations. He will replace Bryan Colangelo, who was forced out following a Twitter scandal involving his wife.
There were other title changes within the organization as well.
What this means on the ground is don’t expect any significant changes with the Sixers’ plans — nor should there be. They are banking on Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz — now with a functional jump shot, they hope — to be at the core of a contending team, then next summer they will go big game hunting again for an elite free agent. (There is more pressure to get a deal done this summer before the big extensions for those young stars start to really kick in.) That said, this is a team poised on the brink of a great run.
And if things are going well, why make a dramatic change? Brand can help them on the course already set.