Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

Three Things to Know: Giannis Antetokounmpo must be in your MVP discussion

3 Comments

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) Giannis Antetokounmpo must be in your MVP discussion. Just ask Utah. LeBron James is playing his best regular-season basketball since his Miami days. James Harden is putting up historic numbers. Luka Doncic has exploded on the scene in his second year and is racking up numbers we haven’t seen in a 20-year-old since LeBron.

Those guys have dominated the early MVP buzz.

Do not leave Giannis Antetokounmpo out of that talk. Just ask the Utah Jazz and Mike Conley.

“He got to the free throw line. When he started making the long-range shot, that really makes it tough,” Conley said postgame (via the Associated Press).

The Greek Freak and reigning MVP hit 3-of-8 from three Monday night. More importantly, he got to the rim at will — finishing 12-of-16 shots there — on his way to dropping 50 on the Rudy Gobert-less Jazz in a 122-118 Bucks win.

While other guys are making headlines, Antetokounmpo has been making history, too.

Last season Antetokounmpo earned MVP honors, edging out Harden (it was Antetokounmpo’s defense that put him over the top on most voter’s ballots).

This season the Greek Freak is scoring 31.1 points, pulling down 13.9 rebounds and dishing out 6.4 assists a game — all numbers that are up from his MVP season. He remains an elite defensive player on one end and an efficient scorer on the other with a 61.5 true shooting percentage.

And he’s led the Bucks to a 14-3 record that has them on top of the East.

Somehow this all feels expected in a way, which is why the surprise of LeBron’s renaissance or Doncic’s emergence grabs more attention. It shouldn’t. Antetokounmpo is as good or better than anyone. He’s the guy who can best challenge LeBron for the “best player on the planet” title. He remains a force of nature who keeps getting better, seemingly nightly

Just remember to give Antetokounmpo some of that MVP-talk shine, too.

2) Joel Embiid goes scoreless in return to Toronto, where Raptors beat the Sixers. Again. Toronto coach Nick Nurse clearly learned a crucial lesson during last year’s Eastern Conference Finals:

Match Marc Gasol’s minutes up to Joel Embiid’s.

Much like he did in the playoffs last year, Gasol was in the right position, was physical, and kept Embiid in check — Embiid went scoreless for the first time in his career Monday. Zero points. Embiid was 0-of-11 from the floor, opening up room for the door for a 101-96 Toronto win.

That wasn’t all Gasol, Embiid was 0-of-3 at the free throw line, but the Spaniard forced Embiid into more midrange shots, where he was 0-of-6.

This was the Sixers’ fourth game in six nights and it showed, it wasn’t just Embiid’s legs that looked a little tired. Still, the Sixers wanted some revenge for last playoff exit, Kawhi Leonard obviously isn’t in Raptors colors anymore, and Kyle Lowry was out (fractured left thumb). Still, the outcome was the same as last May.

Pascal Siakam continued his impressive play this season and had 25 to lead Toronto.

3) Carmelo Anthony looks more comfortable, especially facing the Bulls “defense,” scores 25 in Portland win. Carmelo Anthony just looked more like his vintage self on the court. He’s more comfortable four games in. The entire Portland team just looked more comfortable Monday night with Damian Lillard back in the lineup and running the show.

The result was a comfortable 117-94 road win in Chicago that snapped Portland’s four-game losing streak.

“It’s starting to get my feel and my flow back,” Anthony told reporters on Monday.

Anthony has given the Blazers a boost in terms of shooting — 16 points a game and hitting 39.1 percent of his threes (which is impressive after starting 0-of-8 from deep) — which has started to open up driving lanes for Lillard and CJ McCollum. More than just that, Anthony has provided Portland with a player the rest of the team can rally around. As was the case in Oklahoma City and Houston, the other players love and respect Anthony. He’s popular, and guys are rooting for him. That emotional boost matters.

Let’s not pretend this is a fairy tale with a happily ever ending. Anthony is still a liability on defense, and he’s got a dreadful 47.7 true shooting percentage overall. Anthony is getting buckets and hitting threes, but he has not been efficient overall.

He has been, however, what Portland needed along their depleted front line.

Atlanta G League affiliate promotes Tori Miller, first female GM in league

Tori Miller
Photo courtesy College Park Skyhawks
Leave a comment

The Atlanta Hawks aren’t just talking about progress and giving Black women a chance. They are acting.

The College Park Skyhawks, Atlanta’s G-League affiliate, has promoted Tori Miller to general manager. She is the first female GM in the G-League.

Miller, who grew up in Decatur (a city next to Atlanta), had worked for the team in Erie (when they were the Bayhawks) and followed the team with its move closer to its parent franchise. Miller served as an assistant GM last season before being promoted.

G League front office positions can be a stepping stone into an NBA front office.

The Hawks progressive move comes just as the team’s WNBA franchise, the Dream, has players trying to oust co-owner Kelly Loeffler, a Republican Georgia U.S. Senator, because she advocated against the league supporting Black Lives Matter. Loeffler has said she will not sell. It’s a problem not going away anytime soon.

Missouri U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley calls for NBA to put more politics into sports

Missouri U.S. Senator Josh Hawley
IM LO SCALZO/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Americans are increasingly inviting progressive politics into sports. Football players kneeling the national anthem are no longer an easy target. Even President Donald Trump has softened his tone on Colin Kaepernick.

So, some Republicans are pushing for MORE politics – their politics – in sports (sometimes under the guise of less politics in sports).

Missouri U.S. Senator Josh Hawley, like Tennessee U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn, has criticized the NBA for its relationship with China. It’s grandstanding while the United States itself has a trade deal with China.

Now, Hawley is objecting to the NBA’s pre-approved list of social-justice messages players can wear on their jerseys.

Hawley press release:

Today Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) is sending a letter to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver blasting the league’s apparent decision to strictly limit messages players can wear on their jerseys to a few pre-approved, social justice slogans while censoring support for law enforcement officers or the military and any criticism of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Senator Hawley writes that, as the NBA is now sanctioning political messages, they must stand up for American values and make clear where they stand on China’s human rights abuses.

Senator Hawley writes, “The truth is that your decisions about which messages to allow and which to censor – much like the censorship decisions of the CCP – are themselves statements about your association’s values. If I am right – if the NBA is more committed to promoting the CCP’s interests than to celebrating its home nation – your fans deserve to know that is your view. If not, prove me wrong. Let your players stand up for the Uighurs and the people of Hong Kong. Let them stand up for American law enforcement if they so choose. Give them the choice to write ‘Back the Blue’ on their jerseys. Or ‘Support our Troops.’ Maybe ‘God Bless America.’ What could be more American than that?”

OF COURSE the NBA was going to limit jersey messages to a pre-approved list. The league doesn’t want the pressure of censoring players’ individual choices. Nor does the league want to condone messages that would offend offend customers and jeopardize revenue. Support for Hong Kong protesters would definitely qualify as financially perilous.

The NBA – a business trying to make money – wants to support its employees and appeal to its audience. These relatively benign phrases accomplish those goals.

That doesn’t prevent NBA players from criticizing China. I take NBA commissioner Adam Silver at his word (especially after the Daryl Morey controversy) that the NBA endorses its employees right to speak out.

The NBA just isn’t going to allow players to give just any message through their jerseys.

Some players are understandably bothered by that limitation. But the biggest pushes for change aren’t going to come through multi-billion-dollar corporations. That’s just reality.

Likewise, though Hawley raises legitimate concerns about China’s treatment of Uighurs and Hong Kongers, scolding an American company for legally acting in its best financial interest is… um… certainly a choice for a U.S. Senator.

Also, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski sent a profane two-word response in response to Hawley’s press release.

Wojnarowski:

NBA executive predicts every team will lose money next season

Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Leave a comment

The NBA is launching an unprecedented and ambitious operation – hosting the rest of its season in a centralized location with frequent testing – because that’s what’s necessary to play amid the coronavirus pandemic.

What about next season?

Coronavirus will likely remain a danger on Dec. 1, when the league hopes to begin. That threatens fan attendance. Heck, that could undermine teams playing at all in their home markets. All 30 teams, rather than just 22, adds complications.

Even if the season gets off the ground, there will be financial issues.

Brian Windhorst and Tim Bontemps of ESPN:

“The truth is, things are changing so fast that, when it comes to next season, the best we can do is put a stake in the ground and make a guess,” an Eastern Conference team president said. “The reality is nobody is probably going to operate in the black next season.

“The only question is how much each of us are going to lose.”

NBA owners love to cry poor. The actual math often reveals a different picture. There are complexities that teams can hide.

Some teams have already cut employees salaries. But some teams are also doing extravagant things like shipping their courts to Disney World for practice:

Still, NBA commissioner Adam Silver estimated 40% of league revenue comes from ticket sales and other game-day sources. If teams are ever believable about losing money, it’d be now. Coronavirus has wrecked so many sectors of the economy.

Revenue falling significantly would be felt by players, who – per the Collective Bargaining Agreement – receive about half of Basketball Related Income. (That 50-50 agreement supersedes players’ stated salaries in their contracts.)

It’s undecided how and when players would suffer those losses.

The 2020-21 salary cap could be reduced. But that would put the burden on players – free agents, draft picks – signing new contracts next offseason.

That’s why the salary cap is reportedly expected to remain roughly flat. There are a couple options within that scenario.

Players could have a larger share of their salaries withheld (as they’re doing this season). Then, at the end of the season, owners would return whatever money is necessary to reach the 50-50 split. However, that would reduce players’ spending power during the season.

Or players could collect their usual salaries with an artificially high salary cap. However, that would likely mean they get more than their entitled 50% share and the salary cap would be reduce in future seasons to offset. Current players – some of whom won’t be in the league in future years – would probably love that. Owners likely wouldn’t accept paying players more sooner.

Increased withholding from player salaries is probably the best option. But there’s plenty to decide about the exact withholding amount and how long the money is held. To ensure enough money is withheld, the percentage should initially be fairly high. Then, as the revenue picture becomes clearer, the withholding amount could decrease in future paychecks.

Of course, that assumes the league finds a safe way to play. Which is the biggest challenge.

Report: Wizards’ Thomas Bryant and Gary Payton II test positive for coronavirus

Wizards players Thomas Bryant and Gary Payton II
Ron Turenne/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Bradley Beal not playing sunk the Wizards’ for the NBA’s resumption, anyway.

If that and Davis Bertans sitting out weren’t enough, Washington is also without Thomas Bryant, Gary Payton II and Garrison Mathews.

Ava Wallace of The Washington Post:

The NBA announced 25 players tested positive from June 23-29. It’s unclear whether Bryant and Payton were among that group or additional positive cases.

It’s also unclear whether Bryant, Payton and Mathews will join the team at Disney World.

Bryant would be a particularly significant loss. His optimism and energy in tough situations are exactly what the Wizards need right now.

With the Nets severely shorthanded and the Magic looking uninspiring, Washington still has a path to the playoffs.