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Three Things to Know: New look Bucks remind Raptors East full of threats

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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) Bucks rain threes, throw down dunks, remind Raptors the top of the East is a Battle Royale. Here’s my primary takeaway from Milwaukee’s 104-99 win in Toronto Sunday:

I can’t wait for the second round and beyond of the Eastern Conference playoffs next May.

Any combination of the big four teams — Toronto, Milwaukee, Boston, and Philadelphia — is going to be a compelling combination of slugfest and chess match. All those teams are deep with talent, have versatility, can knock down threes, can defend, and any one of them can win the East’s King of the Mountain battle next May (although the Sixers have a little work to do).

The Bucks reminded the Raptors on Sunday not to count them out.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was the focus of the army of long, athletic wing defenders the Raptors can roll out — Pascal Siakam, Kawhi Leonard, OG Anunoby, Danny Green — and, thanks to smart help (at different times and angles) they did as much as anyone can do to make Antetokounmpo look human, he finished with “just” 19 points on 15 shots. Of course, he also had 19 rebounds, 6 assists, but he didn’t take over the game. Toronto had clearly focused on making it difficult for the Greek Freak to beat them, although he still was doing this (even if it didn’t count).

What the Bucks had was other guys to step up. Brook Lopez was every bit of Splash Mountain scoring 19 points and going 5-of-8 from three, including a beautiful step back at one point. Then, with the game on the line, Malcolm Brogdon was doing this.

These are not the Jason Kidd Bucks anymore, this is a modern NBA team now — they took 39 threes and only 12 of their 87 shots came between 8 feet of the rim and the three-point arc (13.8 percent of their shots from that midrange). Credit the Raptors defense, that’s more midrangers than the Bucks usually take. However, under Mike Budenholzer these Bucks are committed to their style of play.

So is Toronto under Nick Nurse, and they took 44 threes, hitting 15 (34.1 percent). The Raptors just were not as efficient: Serge Ibaka had 22 points but needed 21 shots, Leonard had 20 points on 18 shots.

That is where Toronto needs Kyle Lowry to step up, but he is in the middle of a terrible shooting slump and was scoreless in this one (he did have seven assists, he’s more of a playmaker now, but he still needs to be a threat to score for it all to come together). Lowry was 0-of-5 Sunday, making him 5-of-32 in his last five games.

This was a highly entertaining, up-and-down game that for a few minutes became the Brogdon vs. Fred VanVleet shootout we all expected (VanVleet had 19 off the bench). Actually, it speaks to the depth of these rosters that this game could become that and never lose its energy.

Milwaukee got the win Sunday, but next May if these teams meet in the playoffs we’re all going to win.

2) In the wake of a 56-point blowout loss, Bulls players call for meetings, everybody vents. When Fred Hoiberg was fired, Bulls management didn’t give Jim Boylen the interim tag as the new coach, they gave him the job for the rest of this season and noted he’s under contract for next season and they want to bring him back.

The reason for this was to give him leverage to come in hard and shake things up — Boylen has called it “shock and awe” to borrow the military term. He said the team was out of shape, he’s running long, hard practices and benching starters when they struggle. He did that for the final 21 minutes Saturday 56-point blowout loss to the Celtics.

Sunday, players pushed back against the tactics. It almost led to a player mutiny where they didn’t show up to practice, but then Lauri Markkanen and Robin Lopez talked everyone into showing up and meeting — first a players’ only meeting, followed by one with coaches and the front office. There was a lot of venting to do.

Boylen has come in trying to change the culture of a Bulls team that needs it. Remember, he comes out of the Spurs organization, where Tim Duncan was open to Gregg Popovich coaching him hard and calling him out in front of the team as an example. Thing is, there is no Duncan on this Bulls team (on or off the court). When Hoiberg was the head coach Boylen could be the bad cop, hold guys accountable, and there was a balance, even if it didn’t work all that well. However, as the head coach, you can’t just be the bad cop or you lose guys. There has to be positives, there has to be rest for guys. More importantly, there must be explanations of why things are happening, trust needs to be built up. Do that and this generation of players will still run through walls for a coach — but if the coach just says “run through that wall” it doesn’t work anymore.

Everyone is adjusting to the new realities in Chicago. With Markkanen back and the team getting healthy, they should be good enough to move out of the East cellar. However, that’s going to take some work, from the players and coaches. And some open communication. That, at least, seems to be happening.

3) Julius Randle is beasting as a starter. When Nikola Mirotic went out with an injury, Julius Randle slid into the starting lineup and has played in a way that is going to make it very difficult to take him out of it. Randle has dropped at least 26 points in his last four games — all starts — and that includes 28 points, six rebounds, and five assists Sunday as the Pelicans knocked off the Pistons 116-108.

In his last four games as a starter, Randle is averaging 29.5 points and 11.3 rebounds. It might be time for coach Alvin Gentry to take Randle out of the Sixth Man of the Year running — a race he has been in the conversation for early this season — because he will start to many games. It’s hard to argue with production.

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. 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:

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.