Trae Young ready to lead Hawks, next generation of point guards

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DETROIT – Trae Young ran to his right, cut hard back to his left and took his defender directly into a screen while receiving a near-handoff. Young curled around the pick and launched a 3-pointer as the defender came over his back. The contact knocked down Young, who watched from his belly as the ball splashed through the net.

Before getting up to complete the four-point play, Young did a few pushups.

“I fell hard,” Young said. “Got to get back up and get strong.”

That attitude is why Young is poised to big things.

Maybe very soon.

Young opened his second season with 38 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in the Hawks’ 117-110 win over the Pistons last night. He hit deep 3-pointers, including one with both feet inside the logo and another with a foot touching the logo. He got Atlanta out in transition. He controlled the half-court offense, getting into the paint with his head up to score or feed a teammate.

Simply, Young showed his superstar promise.

Just less than a year ago, he seemed so far from this level. He got thrown into the fire as a starting NBA point guard and appeared overwhelmed. Through the middle of last December, Young was shooting 38% from the field and 24% on 3-pointers and averaging nearly four turnovers per game. His defense was even worse than his offense.

By the end of the season, he was mounting a serious challenge to Luka Doncic for Rookie of the Year. After another offseason of work, Young could be hitting another gear.

That’d be huge for the Hawks. There are always multiple ways to build a winner, but having a premier lead guard is such a great starting point. This is the NBA’s golden age of point guards.

For this era to continue, youngsters like Young (and Ben Simmons, De'Aaron Fox, Jamal Murray and Ja Morant) must continue to rise.

No point guard drafted after 2012 has made an All-NBA team. The current group of elite point guards – Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook and James Harden if you count him – has run the league for so long.

“Until those guys leave, it’s going to be tough,” Young said. “Because those guys are great players.

“Of course, you want to make it happen as quick as possible”

That also goes for Atlanta, which is launching an intriguing rebuild.

The Hawks have Young (No. 10 on our list of top 50 players in 5 years) and John Collins (No. 24 on our list of top 50 players in 5 years). Atlanta also just added No. 4 pick De'Andre Hunter and No. 10 pick Cameron Reddish in the draft. Kevin Huerter, an All-Rookie second-teamer last season, is no slouch, either.

Already, outside expectations are growing.

“None of it comes from us,” Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said. “None of those things comes from us, as a staff, as an organization. We don’t put that pressure on players. But we know it’s out there.”

It’d be silly to overreact to one game against the Blake Griffinless Pistons, who played in Indiana the night before. Young committed six turnovers. His size (6-foot-1, 180 pounds) will always limit him defensively.

But Young’s 38 points could portend something special. Nobody so young had ever scored so much in a season opener.

Atlanta’s next four games – vs. Magic, vs. 76ers, at Heat, vs. Heat – are against teams expected to make the Eastern Conference playoffs. Suddenly, there’s more reason to tune in. Will Young and the Hawks sustain their initial success?

This is just a step, though. Atlanta is climbing toward much greater heights, and Young is leading the charge.

Evan Turner, who joined the Hawks from the Trail Blazers this summer, has seen a top point guard up close and personal. Ask him about about Lillard, and Turner just raves – about how Lillard leads, remains consistently focused, keeps everything team-oriented, rises to the occasion, shows accountability, steps up amid adversity and just finds ways to win.

“Trae, talent-wise, he has it,” Turner said. “It’s the little stuff in regards to outside yourself that makes you really special. I think it’s what makes people that play with you speak about you how I speak about Dame.”

Young is just 21. There’s plenty of time for him to cultivate those finer points.

But Young’s time is coming.

It might have already begun.

Report: NBA Draft Lottery to be conducted virtually this year

NBA Draft lottery
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We’ve all been part of more virtual meetings — and happy hours — than we care to count. Now 14 NBA teams are going to be on another one — one that could help determine their fate.

The 2020 NBA Draft Lottery will be held virtually on Aug. 20. Not a surprise, but Shams Charania of The Athletic reports it will soon be official.

Teams will still “send” representatives to the lottery, but via Zoom rather than with a lucky charm in person.

This is considered a relatively weak draft, but, as always, there are players near the top who could help teams. The odds of landing the top pick for the eight teams in the lottery are:

1. Golden State Warriors (14%)
2. Cleveland Cavaliers (14%)
3. Minnesota Timberwolves (14%)
4. Atlanta Hawks (12.5%)
5. Detroit Pistons (10.5%)
6. New York Knicks (9%)
7. Chicago Bulls (7.5%)
8. Charlotte Hornets (6%)

Washington’s dreadful play in the NBA restart bubble — the Wizards are 0-6 — means it now has a worse record than both Charlotte and Chicago, but the lottery odds for those teams were locked in before the bubble.

 

Break up the Suns! Phoenix remains perfect in bubble defeating OKC

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Devin Booker scored 35 points, and the Phoenix Suns rolled past the short-handed Oklahoma City Thunder 128-101 on Monday to remain perfect and improve to 6-0 in the restart and improve their playoff chances.

The Suns have surged in the Western Conference standings. They entered the day just 1 1/2 games behind eighth-place Memphis and a game behind ninth-place Portland in the race to qualify for a spot in the play-in series.

“We haven’t accomplished anything,” Phoenix coach Monty Williams said. “That may sound like coach-speak, but we dug ourselves a hole with our record. We scrapped all year long and won some games, but it’s been an uphill battle.”

Williams appreciates the position the Suns are in.

“We’ve done a good job of getting to this point,” he said. “No one knew we were going to be here, but we’re here and we’re thankful for that.”

Phoenix center Deandre Ayton sat out the first quarter because he missed his coronavirus test on Sunday. He tested negative on Monday and was cleared. He started the second quarter.

“In an NBA season guys are going to make mistakes,” Williams said. “You have to be able to give people grace. It wasn’t intentional. Thankfully he was able to get tested early enough that he was able to come back and play, and the guys received him with open arms because we all understand we’re human.”

With Ayton out, Oklahoma City led 37-23 at the end of the first quarter. After Ayton entered the game, Phoenix dominated the rest of the way. He finished with 10 points and six rebounds in just over 17 minutes.

Oklahoma City was without four of its top five scorers. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (bruised right calf), Danilo Gallinari (left ankle maintenance), Dennis Schroder (birth of child) and Steven Adams (bruised left leg) sat out. Reserve center Nerlens Noel (sprained right ankle) also did not play.

Rookie Darius Bazley had 22 points and 10 rebounds for the Thunder.

The Suns rallied from 15 points down in the second quarter to take a 65-64 lead at halftime. Phoenix opened the second half on an 11-2 run and controlled the game from there.

“I thought their pressure disrupted us,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “I thought we got a little bit stagnant. We made some pretty decent plays. We were able to get some open looks, but I thought there in the second quarter they turned up their defensive intensity and that probably took us out of some rhythm.”

Rumor: Pelicans will soon fire coach Alvin Gentry

Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry
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Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry works for a lead executive – David Griffin – who inherited, rather than chose, Gentry in the first place. Gentry has had just one winning season in five years in New Orleans, and the Pelicans particularly underwhelmed this season.

Connect the dots.

William Guillory of The Athletic:

The worst-kept secret in the NBA is that Gentry’s time with the Pelicans won’t last much longer.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Executive VP David Griffin and Pelicans ownership have a decision to make with a year left on Gentry’s contract, sources said. Consider two relationships Griffin has back to his front-office days in Cleveland and Phoenix, respectively, if there’s a change in New Orleans: LA Clippers assistant Ty Lue and Los Angeles Lakers assistant Jason Kidd, sources said.

Zion Williamson was transcendent at times this season. Brandon Ingram blossomed. Youngsters Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Jaxson Hayes showed flashes. Veterans Jrue Holiday, J.J. Redick and Derrick Favors provided reliable depth and versatility.

But New Orleans was never quite as good as the sum of its parts.

Some of that falls on Gentry.

The Pelicans’ defense was often scrambled. An offensive-minded coach, Gentry hasn’t shown he can correct that issue. His lineup decisions rarely maximized the offense, either.

Lue and Kidd are unsurprising candidates. Lue had a great record working for Griffin with the Cavaliers (obligatory LeBron James mention), and Kidd is good at getting his name tied to job searches. Are Lue and Kidd the most likely coaches to replace Gentry? Maybe. Or maybe they’re just the first candidates to emerge publicly. This job search isn’t even officially underway.

But it could be soon.

76ers coach Brett Brown says he expects Joel Embiid (ankle injury) back before playoffs

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Joel Embiid injured his ankle in the 76ers’ loss to the Trail Blazers yesterday.

How serious is it?

Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Joel Embiid is out for Tuesday’s game against the Suns with the left ankle injury he sustained in the first quarter Sunday vs. the Blazers. He’ll be undergoing treatment and evaluation at the team’s practice Monday night.

Brett Brown said he expected Embiid to play again before the playoffs, though characterized that view as “just one man’s opinion.”

That sounds like great news for Philadelphia, which is already without Ben Simmons.

Embiid can be dominant. With him, the 76ers still have a chance of advancing in the playoffs. It might even be easier to create space around Embiid – where Embiid can really feast – without Simmons (though the loss of the talented Simmons lowers Philadelphia’s ceiling).

However, the 76ers don’t deserve benefit of the doubt for setting accurate injury timelines, particularly with Embiid. There’s an element of “see it to believe it” here.