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Three Things to Know: Tyson Chandler was exactly what Lakers needed

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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) Tyson Chandler was exactly what Lakers needed. At least for a night. Magic Johnson’s hypocritical wake-up call meeting with Luke Walton came the day after a loss last week in Minnesota. It was a game where the Lakers defense was a mess that let the Timberwolves have clean looks from three, nor did they have an answer for Jimmy Butler (32 points) or Karl-Anthony Towns (25).

Wednesday night in Los Angeles the Timberwolves set a franchise record for threes (20-of-40) led by Derrick Rose (31 points, 7-of-9 from three) and Jimmy Butler (5-of-8 on his way to 24 points). This time, however, the Lakers were the team that made the plays down the stretch and came out on top, 114-110.

The difference? Tyson Chandler.

Karl-Anthony Towns had a rough night (5-of-16 shooting) and while there are multiple big-picture reasons for that — Tom Thibodeau does not draw up plays that highlight Towns’ immense gifts, nor does Towns just demand the ball and take over games — part of it was Chandler. Towns was 1-of-7 when Chandler was the primary defender, according to the NBA’s Second Spectrum tracking stats.

Chandler was playing so well Walton went to the veteran — in his first game as a Laker, having just driven six-hours from Phoenix to Los Angeles — to close the game. After a couple of Rose threes made it a one-point game in the final minute, Chandler got two of his five offensive rebounds in the next sequence for the Lakers, extending the play until Kyle Kuzma could draw a foul and pad the lead. That proved to be enough (although Rose got a clean look at a game-winning three and just could not knock it down).

For Minnesota, this loss continued to expose the team’s identity crisis — a year ago this team knew who it was, and while it was a bit old-school to pound teams inside and with two-pointers (a system exposed in the playoffs) it worked to give them an efficient offense. This season the Timberwolves have no idea who they are or what they want to do on that end, they try to run and shoot threes, they still don’t get Towns enough touches in places he can do damage, at least Rose has (capably) filled in the gaps. But it’s not enough. Jimmy Butler has thrived in the chaos created by his trade demand, but the team as a whole seems off-balance, especially when he asserts himself. It’s a hot mess.

Meanwhile, Lakers have won 3-of-4 since Magic’s sit down with Walton. Part of what came of that meeting was the crystallization that this flawed roster needed another defensive big man. The Lakers got one in Tyson Chandler — thanks to LeBron James‘ friend and former teammate James Jones, now the Suns’ GM, who bought out Chandler far earlier than he had to. We’ll see if the 36-year-old Chandler can sustain this, but for a night he was exactly what the Lakers needed. And unlike the Timberwolves, the Lakers seem to be settling into their identity.

2) Dunks. Dunks. And more Dunks. Wednesday night was the night of the huge dunk around the league.

The dunk of the night, and maybe the new early leader for Dunk of the Year, is Domantis Sabonis skying up and throwing it down all over Joel Enbiid.

Sixers fans will tell you that was an offensive foul because Sabonis uses his off-arm to clear Embiid out. Yes. So what? Doesn’t change the fact it was an amazing dunk (and Sixers fans really don’t want the refs calling every offensive foul on Embiid when he goes to the rim).

Sabonis was not alone with the massive throwdowns Wednesday, however. Donovan Mitchell was reminding us why he won the Slam Dunk Contest last year.

And again for Mitchell.

Then Orlando’s Aaron Gordon went Karl Malone with his big dunk.

3) Hassan Whiteside was just one block short of a triple-double. The San Antonio Spurs are the perfect matchup for Hassan Whiteside: They don’t play at a fast pace, they would rather grind it out; and they don’t space the floor with their bigs like some teams, preferring instead to go inside or shoot from the midrange.

Whiteside took advantage: 29 points, 20 rebounds (the Spurs were a shocking 6-of-30 from the midrange, creating plenty of rebound opportunities) and nine blocks.

Whiteside and his backers will use this to say “this is why Whiteside needs more minutes, Eric Spoelstra just doesn’t use him right.” However, until Whiteside can perform like he did Wednesday against a team that always pushes the pace and has bigs who launch threes (which is a growing number of teams) Spoelstra will continue to lean on Kelly Olynyk and Bam Adebayo. As he should.

 

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

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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

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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

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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 Athletic 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): De’Andre Hunter, 6’8” wing, Virginia. This pick was traded twice, and while the Lakers are making it is ultimately being done for the Hawks so we will list it that way. One of the best defensive players in this draft, he’s got good athleticism, he’s physical and long at 6’8” with a 7’2” wingspan. He’s not going to be a future superstar, but what he can be is a quality starter/rotation player who is a defensive stopper and can knock down threes (better than 45 percent from deep this season). He is a willing role player who can help a team as a rookie.

 
Cavaliers small icon No. 5. Cleveland Cavaliers: Darius Garland, 6’3” point guard, Vanderbilt. He only played in five games in college due to a knee injury, still teams love his potential as a shot creator and shooter. He’s got impressive handles, plays at different speeds to create space, has a good pull-up jumper, and has potential to effectively run an offense. He has got to limit the turnovers at the NBA level, and he’s a bit of a project, but there is a lot of potential here. Cleveland likes the idea of Garland and Collin Sexton as a backcourt with two ball handlers (in the Portland mold with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, although that is a lofty goal).

 
No. 6. Minnesota Timberwolves (via Suns): Jarrett Culver, 6’6” wing, Texas Tech. A player that teams fell in love with after working him out. Culver certainly passes the eye test for an NBA wing, he has shown a nice jump shot, he can put the ball on the floor and get inside, and he plays a high IQ game. You’re not going to find a guy with a better feel for the game in this draft. The primary concern has been he’s not an explosive, elite athlete and on the wing in the NBA that’s what he’s going to be up against nightly. But he’s got the skills to make waves in the NBA.

 
Bulls small icon No. 7. Chicago Bulls:

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

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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.