Nikola Jokic raced out to a fast start this season — 15.8 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 7.8 assists a night with a 63.7 true shooting percentage the focal point of the Nuggets offense so far. He is playing like an All-Star, if not an All-NBA player, and he Nuggets got off to a 9-1 start.
But in recent games Jokic has been more passive, and that came to a head Wednesday in Miami when he took only one shot — a three-ball attempted game-winner with 2.4 seconds left — and Denver lost scoring just 87 points. Memphis was grinding and they dictated the pace and style, Jokic got sucked into it.
What happened? While the Grizzlies did focus on stopping him, Jokic also passed up open looks, instead passing to less open teammates. There’s no one clear answer, but everyone around the Nuggets knows they can’t have their best player be passive. From Mike Singer of the Denver Post.
“He’s gotta be aggressive, but he’s making plays for others, so it’s just a balance of how much you want him to pass, because he’s a great passer and how much do you want him to shoot,” [Jamal] Murray said of Jokic. “I think it’s just a balance.”
“He’s gotta be aggressive,” [Paul] Millsap said. “I’m not going to tell him … he’s pretty much, he’s an All-Star. He’ll find his shot. He’s still doing other things to help this team. He looks a little tired out there, so we gotta do a better job of helping him.”
“We have stuff, we get him the ball in spots,” forward Mason Plumlee said. “A lot of our offense is through him, so he has to take the initiative to take shots. We support that, we want that, and we don’t want him taking his first shot as the game-winning shot. It’s a great shot, I love the play call, but we gotta get him going earlier. He really sets the table, and the thing is he’s such a good passer, he’s always going to get other guys off. But we gotta get him involved offensively too.”
The concern is this is four consecutive games now with Jokic scoring in single digits and averaging 4.5 shot attempts per game in that stretch. The Memphis game was not a total outlier, more part of a recent trend — one Denver needs to reverse if they are going to win consistently. Jokic has said he does not get set up by teammates much, which is true but as the face of the franchise he needs to be more aggressive in creating and taking good looks. Plus, he’s passing up open looks right now.
Whatever is going on in Jokic’s head, the Nuggets need to shake him out of it soon.
Report: Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta has griped about Chris Paul’s contract in front of rival executives
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?