Getty Images

Three Things to Know: Lakers’ Kawhi recruiting pitch unimpressive as Raptors win in rout

1 Comment

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.

1) Lakers’ Kawhi recruiting pitch unimpressive as Raptors rout Lakers without him. Whatever Kawhi Leonard decides to do next summer, it will not be based on the outcome of one game in November.

However, this one game in November was a microcosm of why sources around league front offices believe the Lakers are an increasingly longer shot to land Leonard — way more think the Clippers are a likely destination — and the Raptors have a chance to keep him. One of the teams playing in Staples Center Sunday night was complete and ready to compete for a ring now. And it’s not the one from the land of palm trees.

Leonard sat out Sunday night in Los Angeles after jamming his toe at the end of Friday night’s win in Phoenix — Laker fans did not get to make their “we love you, come here” pitch during the game. Even without him, Toronto raced out to a 41-10 lead in the first quarter, Serge Ibaka made his first 14 shots scoring 20 in the opening frame (and a career-high 34 points for the game), and the Raptors routed the Lakers 121-107 (and it wasn’t that close).

There were two keys to this blowout. One, the 9-1 Raptors are very good. Ibaka couldn’t miss, but Kyle Lowry is what makes the Raptors’ offense work — he had 21 points and 15 assists, continuing his red-hot start to the season. Lowry is averaging a league-best 11.6 assists per game, which is way up from his previous career high of 7.4. With the shift in the Raptors offense — new coach in Nick Nurse, no DeMar DeRozan — Lowry has thrived as a playmaker, one who had nine assists in the first quarter Sunday.

The Raptors raced out to that big first quarter exploiting two things: Brandon Ingram could not keep up with Danny Green as he came off multiple picks, and the Raptors would run a pick-and-pop with JaVale McGee’s man setting the pick because he could/would not come out and contest.

Which brings us to the second part of this blowout: The Lakers’ defense is terrible.

The Lakers have the 23rd ranked defense in the league, allowing 111.6 points per 100 possessions, but when you combine that with their fast pace (106.2 possessions per game, third in the league, via NBA.com) you end up in a situation where the Lakers have given up at least 110 points in every game. (Jack in the Box is safe — they give out two free tacos to Lakers fans if L.A. wins and holds the other team under 100 points, that’s not happening this season.) The Lakers were going to be a work in progress this season, a team that would have to learn to win, but the defense has been the slow part of that process.

Los Angeles’ wins this season have come in shootouts, and while their point differential is better than their record early (the Lakers should be a .500 team by that metric), Los Angeles has a long way to go to reach the NBA’s elite. Luke Walton had a young, scrappy Lakers team playing solid defense last season (12th in the league) but right now, despite athleticism and some length on the roster, the communication, recognition, and flat-out effort are not there.

Unless those things start to show up, the playoffs will not be there for the Lakers, either.

2) Greek on Greek crime: Giannis Antetokounmpo with a dunk of the year candidate. This is just filthy, the Greek Freak dunking on countryman Kosta Kufos.

Antetokounmpo was almost apologetic afterward. Almost.

3) Suns Devin Booker owns the fourth quarter, drains game-winner against Grizzlies. Devin Booker played the entire fourth quarter Sunday with five fouls, but they needed him on the court to spark a 21-7 fourth-quarter run to make it a game again. Booker had 14 points in the final frame.

And they needed him to hit clutch jumpers down the stretch, including a 17 footer with 1.7 seconds left to secure the 102-100 Phoenix win against Memphis.

Booker has bounced back this season. He missed all of the preseason due to a broken hand, then missed the start of the season with a  left hamstring injury. Still, he has found his form averaging 25.7 points per game with an impressive True Shooting Percentage of 60.5. It’s impressive. The Suns and Booker really want him to be an All-Star guard this season, and if he were in the East I’d say “done deal,” but in the West — Stephen Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul, Damian Lillard, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Donovan Mitchell — it’s tough to crack the club.

 

Pelicans draft Zion Williamson with No. 1 overall pick in 2019 NBA Draft

Leave a comment

The 2019 NBA draft started the way we thought it would. On Thursday as the draft got underway, the New Orleans Pelicans selected Duke phenom freshman Zion Williamson with the first overall selection.

Speaking to TV cameras after he was selected, Williamson broke into tears as he gave credit to his mother for helping him get to where he is today.

Williamson will join an ever-changing cast and crew in Louisiana. He will no doubt be the player David Griffin builds around for years to come: Williamson will be surrounded by Jrue Holiday, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Josh Hart… for now.

It’s not clear what position he’ll play at first. Williamson is an athletic body but isn’t very tall; he’s also not an elite dribbler or shooter, so dreams of him being a true point forward might be just that. Plus, the experiment of a giant, non-shooting point forward didn’t go all that well with Ben Simmons for the Philadelphia 76ers this year.

But that’s not to say Williamson won’t be dynamic. It’s defense where Williamson’s greatest intrigue lies, at least to start. There’s hope that he can become an elite defender over time — some have compared his entry to the NBA to that of Draymond Green. But that side of the floor is usually where rookies struggle, even if they have help like the Pelicans will this season. His lack of experience will probably get him left out of some plays in his rookie season, but he won’t get bullied by NBA players out of the gate. That’s a complete misnomer. Williamson’s size and instincts, as we saw during his one year at Duke, will help him disrupt NBA offenses from day one.

 

Williamson was the only choice at No. 1, and now the Pelicans can rebuild in the wake of Anthony Davis. It won’t take them very long.

Meanwhile Griffin has done significant wheeling and dealing leading up to the draft. On Thursday it was announced that he had turned the No. 4 overall pick gained in the Davis trade with the Los Angeles Lakers into Nos. 8, 17, and 35 in a swap with the Atlanta Hawks. With that move, the Hawks became the third team in the Davis extravaganza.

Report: Hawks getting No. 4 pick locks Lakers-Pelicans Anthony Davis trade into July 6 completion

Harry How/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Lakers reportedly didn’t negotiate the Anthony Davis trade date with the Pelicans – an important consideration. That apparently left it in New Orleans’ hands, and the Pelicans flipping the No. 4 pick to the Hawks means the Davis trade will be completed the first allowable day.

Sam Amick of The Athletic:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Lakers now project to have about $24 million in cap room.

Maybe they can get more by including other players in the trade, but that would make the deal even costlier for the Lakers. Davis could also waive his trade kicker, but first, they’d need to ask him. He might refuse.

Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka apparently agreed to put his team into this situation. But it’s hard to believe he fully understood the implications when he did.

2019 NBA Draft pick-by-pick tracker with analysis of selections, trades

Associated Press
1 Comment

Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

The NBA Draft saw the trade of the No. 4 pick — twice — plus the No. 6 and 11 picks before the New Orleans Pelicans were even on the clock for the No. 1 pick. Listening to the buzz around the league, expect a lot more first-round trades, especially when we get into the 20s. It’s going to be a crazy night.

We will be on top of it all night long.

Here is a breakdown of every pick, every trade — complete with analysis of how that player fits (or doesn’t) with his new surroundings.

 
Pelicans small icon No. 1. New Orleans Pelicans: Zion Williamson, 6’7” forward, Duke. The highest rated prospect out of college since Anthony Davis for many scouts, Williamson can be the cornerstone the Pelicans need to rebuild post-Davis. Williamson is a ridiculous athlete, strong, can leap out of the building, but also shows a point guard’s feel for the game and he defends very well. His shot is improved but he’s got to be more consistent and he needs to add range, however, with his work ethic it should come along. What some scouts like best: He plays hard, he doesn’t just coast on all that natural talent.

 
Grizzlies small icon No. 2. Memphis Grizzlies: Ja Morant, 6’3” point guard, Murray State. The Grizzlies are banking on him to be their point guard of the future (especially with Mike Conley traded to Utah). He’s an explosive athlete, has a tremendous handle, impressive court vision and he knows how to make every pass you can think of. He’s got to improve his jump shot to avoid being another athletic point guard that defenders just go under the pick against. He was asked to score a lot in college, he needs to show a more rounded game at the next level.

 
Knicks small icon No. 3. New York Knicks: R.J. Barrett, 6’7” wing, Duke. With all the talent on the Blue Devils roster last season, Barrett was the guy Coach K ran the offense through, which says something. He had an incredibly efficient season: better than 22 points, seven rebounds and four assists in a game, and as Sam Vecenie of the Atlhletic said, the last guy with those numbers in college was Penny Hardaway. How his game fits in the NBA, where he will play more of a role, will be the test, but he has the potential to be a wing in New York for many years.

 
Hawks small icon No. 4. Atlanta Hawks (via Lakers and Pelicans):

Sounds like Cavaliers will draft Darius Garland No. 5 if they don’t trade pick

AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
1 Comment

The top of the draft has become clear:

1. Pelicans: Zion Williamson

2. Grizzlies: Ja Morant

3. Knicks: R.J. Barrett

4. Hawks: De'Andre Hunter

What will the Cavaliers do at No. 5?

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

Those follow-up reports emerged quickly and from multiple reporters. The Cavaliers apparently want to make it very clear they’re open to trading the pick.

For good reason.

My highest-rated prospects available are both point guards: Vanderbilt’s Darius Garland and North Carolina’s Coby White. Cleveland already has Collin Sexton, last year’s lottery pick, at point guard.

I generally favor drafting the best prospect available then figuring it out. Sexton isn’t good enough to justify deviating from that.

But this situation demands the Cavs explore trading the pick – or Sexton. Cleveland shouldn’t just blindly walk into a conundrum.

Still, it seems if the Cavaliers don’t find a trade, they’ll make the smart move and draft Garland.