Clippers Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams and Thunder guard Dennis Schroder
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2020 PBT Awards: Sixth Man of the Year

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The NBA regular season might be finished. Heck, the entire NBA season might be finished. Even if play resumes with regular-season games, there’d likely be an abridged finish before the playoffs (which will also likely be shortened).

So, we’re making our 2019-20 award picks now. If the regular season somehow lasts long enough to reconsider our choices, we’ll do that. But here are our selections on the assumption the regular season is over.

Kurt Helin

1.  Montrezl Harrell, Clippers

2.  Dennis Schroder, Thunder

3.  Derrick Rose, Pistons

A Clipper gets my vote, and for the first time in years, it’s not Lou Williams (who would be fourth on my ballot). Montrezl Harrell improved his game this year defensively and he continues to bring energy and grit off the bench that has made the Clippers’ second unit one of the most feared in the league. Schroder had a fantastic season, mostly when paired in a three-guard lineup with Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Rose faded a little at the end and the Pistons didn’t win much, but he averaged 18.1 points a game and was the team’s best player for chunks of the season.

Dan Feldman

1. Montrezl Harrell, Clippers

2. Dennis Schroder, Thunder

3. Christian Wood, Pistons

After finishing a deserved third for this award last year, Montrezl Harrell improved his scoring skill and played stingier defense while maintaining his energetic style. That moved him past Clippers reserve teammate and reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams. Harrell and Williams work well in tandem, but it seems Harrell has taken a little more ownership of their shared production.

Dennis Schroder scored more effectively than ever. He also diversified his all-around game to fit with the Thunder’s other point guards, Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Schroder absolutely deserves credit for helping make that trio work.

Christian Wood narrowly topped Bucks guards George Hill and Donte DiVincenzo, who both did plenty to help replace Malcolm Brogdon. Wood made so many productive plays inside and out, especially as a starter after the Pistons traded Andre Drummond. That’s part of being a good reserve, stepping up when the starter is unavailable.

Keith Smith

1. Dennis Schroder, Thunder

2. Montrezl Harrell, Clippers

3. Lou Williams, Clippers

It seemed like this might be another year where the two Clippers could have split the award, but Dennis Schroder was just a bit better than both. In his second year coming off the Thunder bench, Schroder has put together the best season of his career. He’s averaging 19 points per game, while shooting 46.8% from the field overall and 38.1% from three, both career highs. And he’s also averaging 4.1 assists per game and 3.7 rebounds per game. To top it off, Schroder is regularly a part of the closing lineup for the surprising Thunder.

L.A.’s two bench stars could be mainstays on this ballot if they stay in reserve roles with the Clippers. Williams has hit Jamal Crawford-territory, where award could be named for him. He had another outstanding scoring season at 18.7 points per game, but what stood out was Williams’ career-best 5.7 assists per game. Harrell also continued to impress with 18.6 points on 58% shooting, to go along with 7.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game.

NBA to name All-Seeding Games Teams, Player of the Seeding Games

Pacers forward T.J. Warren and Suns guard Devin Booker
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The NBA already held voting for its main awards, retroactively ending the regular season March 11 and defining the eight games for each of the 22 teams continuing at Disney World as “seeding games.”

So, the league found a new way to honor standout players from this portion of the season.

NBA release:

The NBA announced today that it will name the … NBA All-Seeding Games Team and the … NBA Player of the Seeding Games to honor top performers for games played July 30 – Aug. 14 during the 2019-20 season restart at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.

A panel of sportswriters and broadcasters who have been on site covering the season restart will select the … NBA All-Seeding Games Team and the … NBA Player of the Seeding Games.  The media panel will vote for five players for the All-Seeding Games First Team and five players for the All-Seeding Games Second Team, choosing a total of 10 players at any position from either conference.

The … NBA All-Seeding Games Team and the …. NBA Player of the Seeding Games will be announced Saturday, Aug. 15 before Game 1 of the Western Conference Play-In, which tips off at 2:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

Is it silly to to give awards for such a small sample of what effectively amount to regular-season games? Yes.

Is it also fun? Heck yes.

My early picks:

Player of the Seeding Games

All-Seeding Games First Team

All-Seeding Games Second Team

Kyle Kuzma: ‘Jesus could be in front of me, and I’d probably still shoot’

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Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma hit a game-winner over the Nuggets’ Bol Bol, who’s 7-foot-2 with a 7-foot-7 wingspan.

Bill Oram of The Athletic:

Kuzma has overcome so much to reach this point. Of course, he’s confident.

Would Kuzma start on some teams that don’t have LeBron James and Anthony Davis at forward? Yes. Most teams? That’s a stretch.

Regardless, Kuzma doesn’t want to find out what his role would be on a lower-profile team. And the Lakers are happy to have him, too.

LeBron, via Oram:

“In order for us to win a championship, he has to be our third-best player,” James said. “And if I’m struggling or A.D.’s struggling, he has to be our second-best player on any given night. We can’t win a championship if Kuz doesn’t play well.”

It’d work well if Danny Green is the Lakers’ third-best player. His perimeter defense and spot-up 3-point shooting complement stars like LeBron and Davis.

Kuzma creates his own shots in a way Green can’t, and Kuzma’s size makes him an effective defender at times. But he doesn’t mesh quite as neatly with stars. Kuzma can better provide a boost when LeBron or Davis is having an off night. There’s value in that. But how often will the Lakers want to have the ball in Kuzma’s hands rather than LeBron’s or Davis’ – even as much as Kuzma believes in himself?

Donald Trump: NBA ‘in big trouble, bigger trouble than they understand’

President Donald Trump
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In an interview on Fox Sports Radio, President Donald Trump played all his greatest hits on the NBA – teams kneeling for the national anthem, the league’s involvement in China.

Trump on NBA teams kneeling for the national anthem:

I think it’s been horrible for basketball. Look at the basketball ratings. They’re down. They’re down to very low numbers – very, very low. People are angry about it. They don’t realize. They don’t want – they have enough politics with guys like me. They don’t need more as they’re driving down, going up for the shot. They don’t need it. And there was a nastiness about the NBA, the way it was done too. So I think that they –   the NBA is in trouble. I think it’s in big trouble, bigger trouble than they understand.

And frankly, ice hockey which is doing very well, they didn’t do that. They respected the mores. They respected what they’re supposed to be doing. And they’re actually doing very well, as I understand it.

You have to stand for your flag, and you have to respect your flag and your country. You’re making millions of dollars a year to be playing a sport you’d be playing anyway if you didn’t make – they’d be playing it on the weekends. And they have to respect their country.

Kneeling during the national anthem is a patriotic gesture that calls attention to serious problems plaguing our country – racism, particularly through police brutality. The United States would become an even better country by addressing those issues.

In a United States that values freedom, the president should not be saying “you have to stand for your flag.” That runs toward authoritarianism.

NBA ratings are down because [insert a reason that fits your agenda here]. It’s a complicated situation with numerous factors.

Are some people turned off by the NBA’s increasingly visible political actions? Yes. Would some people lose interest in the NBA if the league shut down players and coaches who kneeled during the national anthem and spoke about the most important issues confronting the country? Yes.

NHL players did kneel during the national anthem. Not like the mass demonstrations by NBA teams. But some NHL players have kneeled.

Yet, Trump and many of his followers give more credence to some protesters than to others.

Which gets to China.

Trump on NBA players and coaches criticizing him:

I haven’t noticed them sending things back at me but I will say that I wouldn’t be that surprised. Some are very nasty – very, very nasty – and frankly, very dumb. But I haven’t noticed that. But I will say this: The way they cater to China, the way they bow to China, it’s a disgrace frankly. And they make a lot more money here than they do from China. But we have a system that allows you to disrespect your system, and that’s too bad for them. Too bad for them. They don’t appreciate what they have here.

The NBA has been complicit in abuses in China. It is disgraceful. The way otherwise-outspoken NBA people have been silent on China and Hong Kong – given the financial incentives – has been suspect.

But the NBA is far from the only American entity with business interests entangled in China. The league shouldn’t become a punching bag that distracts from a far wider issue.

The next two questions Trump faced in the interview practically begged him to denounce China for reducing freedom in Hong Kong. He did not.

Clippers’ Montrezl Harrell Tweets he’s back inside NBA bubble

Clippers big Montrezl Harrell
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The Clippers, who have coasted to a 3-3 record at the restart, are about to get a burst of energy off the bench.

Montrezl Harrell is back in the bubble. He Tweeted this out Monday:

Harrell was granted leave from the bubble to help take care of his grandmother — who he was very close to — when she fell ill. She eventually died, and Harrell poured out his emotions on social media for fans. The Clippers told Harrell to take as much time as he needed before coming back.

Harrell is back now, and if he tested negative the last seven days outside he bubble he will be in quarantine on the Walt Disney World Resort property for four days, then he can rejoin his team — possibly for Friday’s seeding game against Oklahoma City, but certainly in time for the playoffs.

Harrell is a leading Sixth Man of the Year candidate who averaged 18.6 points and 7.1 rebounds a game for the Clippers this season. More than the numbers, he brought an improved defense and relentless energy off the bench that lifted the Clippers nightly. The Harrell/Lou Williams pick-and-roll remains one of the smoothest and most dangerous in the league.

Harrell also gives Doc Rivers a lot of versatility and options on how to close games — the Clippers can go big, go small, and do either well. It’s that versatility that makes them a dangerous playoff team.

The Clippers needed Harrell back to unleash all of it, and now he is there and ready to go.