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Here are 15 thoughts from Zion Williamson’s debut (and the rest of our Three Things to Know)

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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) Here are 15 bullet point thoughts from Zion Williamson’s debut. Zion Williamson impressed in his debut game — 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting, plus seven rebounds, all in just 18:18 of court time. Here are my thoughts from his opening night.

• What were the odds Zion’s first game would feature zero monster dunks but four made threes?

• I can’t watch those four minutes in the fourth quarter enough.

• The four line-drive threes were the story because they were unexpected, but the most impressive play of the night came when Jakob Poeltl blocked his shot, but Zion got the ball back, exploded to the other side of the rim and scored. It was his most athletic bucket of the night.

• Can’t blame the Spurs for letting Zion take those threes, he was 1-of-4 from deep in the preseason and he was not a great three-point shooter in college (33.8 percent on a couple a game). The scouting report was to let him shoot. Future opponents will not let him set his feet and take those shots uncontested (the Spurs were in a zone when his run started, which seemed to be a green light in Zion’s mind, other teams will defend him differently).

• Zion said postgame that when he couldn’t move much during rehab, he worked on his shot. It showed — he looked more comfortable from deep than Ben Simmons has (and maybe even the Greek Freak). Zion has a set shot from three, it’s not a quick release or something he can take in motion pealing off a screen, but it doesn’t have to be. Defenders now will have to close out on Zion when he sets his feet, and when they do he can blow by them and attack the rim.

• Pelicans’ assistant coach Fred Vinson worked with Zion, Lonzo Ball, and Brandon Ingram this past year on their shots, and all three now have vastly improved jumpers. Vinson is not getting enough credit.

• Coach Alvin Gentry taking Zion out was painful to watch… and exactly the right thing to do. This is not about “rest” it’s about injury prevention — major injuries are more likely to occur when fatigued muscles cannot provide the support for ligaments and tendons on explosive moves and things snap. Williamson was obviously not in peak game shape (nor should he be expected to be coming off knee surgery), so a minutes limit was there to prevent him from pushing through tired muscles and re-injuring his just-repaired knee (or some other body part). Yes, it sucked as fans, but the goal is to have him play most of New Orleans remaining 37 games this season (and for seasons beyond this one), not to watch him go down in his first game back.

• Clearly, Zion needs to round into game shape (as to be expected for any player coming off knee surgery), but Mark Jackson’s handled the weight topic poorly on the broadcast, buying into the “Zion can’t play at that weight” trope. Zion is a unique athlete. Unless you’re a member of the Pelicans’ medial team that has done extensive testing on Williamson, you’re not in a position to say what his ideal playing weight will be (up or down). Maybe he should play at a lower weight than what he is at right now, maybe not, but this is an issue that should be handled with some delicacy, and Jackson was a Pamplona Bull on the run.

• Between Zion needing to lose weight and Brandon Ingram needing to add it, the Pelicans are a body shamers dream team.

• Williamson did defer too much through the first three quarters, but he mostly looked like a rookie who had not played much and was trying to fit in. The upside is he didn’t force anything. He wasn’t bad, he just wasn’t aggressive.

• Zion’s passing was surprisingly good. He made smart basketball plays passing out of double teams (picking up one good assist on an Ingram drive) and took what the defense gave him.

• Zion’s defense is going to be a work in progress (as it is with every rookie not named Matisse Thybulle). He has the athleticism and instincts to be a good defender, we saw it in the preseason, but in his first game against NBA players going at NBA speed he struggled and made some bad reads. It’s to be expected with any rookie, it’s just going to take time to see what kind of defender he will be.

• Expect to see a lot more Zion as a small-ball five, that seems the most natural fit. However, he did have the gravity to draw defenders, which helped open things up for Derrick Favors to get some first-quarter buckets.

• How well Ingram and Zion play together is the $168 million question for the Pelicans. That’s how much Ingram’s five-year max contract from New Orleans will be worth next summer — and he’s going to get it. The question becomes will Ingram and that contract ultimately get traded because of fit issues? It’s way too early to make that call.

Ja Morant — the Grizzlies point guard running away with Rookie of the Year — came off a similar knee surgery last summer and it took him some time to get his legs under him and start to find how to use his athleticism in the NBA. Now he’s must-watch League Pass television. I expect the same thing out of Williamson as he rounds into form following his knee surgery.

• Bonus bullet point thought: That’s still a loss for the Pelicans to one of the teams they are battling for the final couple of playoff

2) Houston snaps four-game losing streak against shorthanded Nuggets (and they are fine with that). Houston had lost four games in a row (and 5-of-6), then rolled into Denver Wednesday, only to find a beaten-up Nuggets squad. No Jamal Murray (sprained ankle), Paul Millsap (knee), Mason Plumlee (foot), Gary Harris (aductor), or Michael Porter Jr. (back).

This is the NBA, you catch teams when you catch them — and in this case, the Rockets were happy to catch the break. Houston got 27 points from James Harden on just 13 shots, and Russell Westbrook had 28 points, 16 rebounds, and eight assists, and Houston cruised to a 121-105 win.

The Rockets’ offense has struggled of late, enough that it couldn’t cover up the team’s unimpressive defense. On Wednesday everything clicked. The question is, can the Rockets build off this and get back on track?

Denver, for its part, needs to keep its head above water until they get healthy again.

3) Shorthanded Sixers lose another starter in Josh Richardson, Toronto picks up the win. Philadelphia has gone eight games now without Joel Embiid, and now they will need to go a few games without Josh Richardson, too. The Sixers’ wing pulled up four minutes into the game grabbing his left hamstring. He did not return to the game.

Philadelphia fell to 5-3 without Embiid in a 107-95 loss in Toronto. They have tried to win with defense, starting Matisse Thybulle next to Ben Simmons, but when Thybulle picked up a quick second foul on a Kyle Lowry pump fake and had to leave the game, things started to fall apart for the Sixers.

Toronto got 22 from Fred VanVleet and had a balanced attack with six players scoring at least 16 points.

If the playoffs started today, this would be the first-round matchup and Toronto would have the home court. The Raptors keep on winning, and Nick Nurse’s case for Coach of the Year gets stronger and stronger.

NBA, players union working together to look at rapid testing devices for coronavirus

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If the NBA is going to create a “bubble” to restart the season — in Las Vegas or the Bahamas or wherever — there is a cargoship full of challenges, but they all start here:

How does the league test all the players, coaches, trainers, equipment managers, guys who mop the sweat off the floor, camera operators, hotel custodial staff, chefs, and maybe family members who also are inside this bubble? If one person carrying the coronavirus gets inside the bubble the entire plan comes apart.

The NBA and the NBPA (the players’ union) are working to find and check out new coronavirus tests that would be the first step to building the bubble, reports Baxter Holmes at ESPN.

Multiple league sources close to the situation said the league and players union have been looking at what those familiar with the matter describe as “diabetes-like” blood testing in which someone could, with the prick of a finger, be tested quickly, and results could be gained inside of 15 minutes…

The league sources stressed that this matter is in the exploratory phase and that there is no clear timetable as to when the efficacy of any such device might be proven.

“Rapid-testing results are key to return to work, return to sports, everything,” one NBA general manager told ESPN, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “Whatever job you have and environment you work in, if you’re interacting with people, we’re all going to have to feel safe doing that. Sports isn’t any different.”

Holmes’ story discusses a test by Abbott Laboratories that is being looked at as an option, but others are being developed as well. However, with the desperate shortage of tests nationwide to assess the health of communities where outbreaks are occurring, how long it would be before there would be enough tests to use on a sporting event remains unclear. Right now there are much higher priorities.

The challenge in finding the right test is not just speed but accuracy — some existing tests have a false negative rate of 30 percent (meaning the test says a person does not have the virus when they are infected). It does the league no good to have a fast test that is not highly accurate.

To complete its season, the league would need to not only create a bubble but also maintain the integrity of the bubble for the two months or more it would take to run mini-training camps for about three weeks then play out a condensed version of maybe the regular season and the playoffs. Creating and maintaining the bubble does not involve only the teams and their staffs, it consists of the hotel staff that cleans the rooms, the cooks that prepare the food, security staffs, and others who likely would come in and out of the bubble. Plus, the league would need to make sure no players or staff decide to go outside the bubble in Las Vegas and play some craps or go to a club.

A rapid, accurate test is necessary to have any shot at making a return of the NBA — even just to televisions — possible. The league and players union are studying it. As they should.

But as Adam Silver said on Monday about the league as a whole, it’s just far too early to know if and when this might come together.

 

 

Adam Silver: No better feel for where NBA season stands than when play was suspended

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In a Twitter interview for #NBATogether with Ernie Johnson of TNT, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was asked if he has any better feel for where we are.

Silver answered, “The short answer is no.”

“When we initially shut down, we were calling it a hiatus or a pause. There was no sense our country would be shut down. In some ways, I know less now than I did then,” Silver added…

“I’ve told my folks that we should just accept that for the month of April, we won’t be in a position to make any decisions. That doesn’t mean on May 1st, we will be. It’s just, honestly, too early to project or predict where we will be in the next few weeks.”

Johnson asked if there was a date that it would be too late to finish the season and if the league was trying to finish the regular season.

“We haven’t made any decisions. In a perfect world we would try to finish the regular season in some form,” Silver responded. “In the first two weeks (of the hiatus) we were looking at specific scenarios. What I’ve learned is that it’s just too early to make those sorts of projections.”

“There does come a point in the summer where we would impact next season. Player safety and safety for everyone in the NBA family comes first. We may look at playing without fans. How would those games be televised? Would we go to a single site? We’re in listening mode right now. We’ve been contacted by several of those locations (for a single-site). It’s just too early to know anything right now.”

Johnson said he can live with the 2020 NBA season not having a champion if it’s for the greater good. Silver replied to that by saying, “Of course. Safety for everyone comes first. We’d love to be a part of restarting the economy. But it’s a public health matter. Health and safety have to come before the economic impacts.”

Silver finished up the interview saying he’s spent a lot of his downtime thinking about how to improve the NBA fan experience. He also said what’s been keeping him up at night is “the 55,000 jobs the NBA creates.”

Report: NBA teams given guidelines on pre-draft process

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Shams Charania of The Athletic reports NBA teams have been given parameters around the process leading up to the 2020 NBA Draft:

Per the report, teams can host virtual visits with prospects However, teams can’t ask those prospects to do any sort of live-video workout. Teams are also barred from hosting in-person workouts.

Each team is limited to up to four hours of virtual meetings per prospect. Teams are allowed no more than two hours with a single player in a given week.

The NBA Draft is currently scheduled for Thursday, June 25. Players have until Sunday, April 26 to declare as Early Entry candidates. Nearly 100 players have already declared as Early Entry candidates.

Some Early Entry candidates go through the draft process to find out about their chances of being drafted. This is a regular process, as each year several players will return to school, or overseas, in hopes of improving their draft stock.

Lakers guard Danny Green optimistic NBA season can be saved

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On his podcast “Inside the Green Room,” Los Angeles Lakers guard Danny Green expressed optimism the NBA season would resume. Green recorded his latest episode after NBA players had a call with the National Basketball Players Association.

“I think, by any means necessary, we’re going to try and salvage the season,” Green said. “And right now, we’re fighting. Most guys think that for sure we’re going to have a season. It’s just going to start later than we expected. And just trying to get the next season to be pushed back is not going to be as easy as people think it’s going to be. (Resuming this season) is probably going to start in mid-to-late May maybe, that’s what we’re hoping for at the earliest. Or maybe earlier than that, but that’s the earliest we’re looking at, mid-to-late May, and it’ll probably go through August/as late as September I, guess.”

These thoughts from Green are far more positive than recent thoughts given by several others around the NBA.

Broadcasters and league insiders have remained hopeful, but have said the NBA is approaching things with a sense of “realism” about saving the season.

Multiple NBA coaches, from Green’s own coach Frank Vogel to Milwaukee’s Mike Budenholzer, have said they are continuing to prepare as if the season will resume. The coaches who have spoken recently said they are preparing for both a shortened regular season, as well as going right to the NBA Playoffs. Budenholzer said he’s been spending time scouting both the Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic, who are likely first-round opponents for the Bucks.