Three things to know: Zion Williamson, Pelicans making strides, have long way to go

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The NBA season is in full swing, and we will be here each weekday with the NBC Sports daily roundup Three Things to Know — everything you might have missed in the Association, every key moment from the night before in one place.

1) Zion Williamson, Pelicans making strides, have long way to go

The things Zion Williamson does he does as well he does VERY well.

Just ask two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, who had the task of guarding Williams for large chunks of Utah’s win over New Orleans Tuesday. Zion is as strong and explosive as anyone who has ever played the game, and when Gobert would play back daring Zion to shoot from the outside, he would use that on a runway, get rolling downhill, get his body into Gobert and get a bucket. Poor Derrick Favors didn’t stand a chance.

It’s how Zion ended up with 32 points against Gobert and the Jazz.

Zion is efficient at his shots, going 14-of-19 against Utah. The man is putting up historic stats.

Part of what works for Zion is Stan Van Gundy putting him in positions to succeed. For example, Zion as a point forward bringing the ball up, which drags opposing bigs out into space, then Zion blows right by them. Zion also is moving better off the ball this season.

It was not near enough against Utah, who were in control most of the game and won 118-102.

Against the Jazz Tuesday, and in other games this season, Zion and the Pelicans fade and get away from what works. As the game goes on, there is less off-the-ball movement and more isolation.

Van Gundy is also limited in the things he can do with Zion because of his game’s limitations right now.

That starts with shooting — Zion made a jump hook in the third quarter of this game that was his first made basket outside the paint this season, reports Andrew Lopez of ESPN. This season, 71.3% of Zion’s shots come at the rim and 96.6% are within 10 feet of the basket.

David Griffin and Pelicans management put players such as Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe around Zion this year, which does not create a lot of spacing. The bigger issue is Pelicans don’t take threes — third-fewest a game in the league — and don’t make them 32.7% shooting as a team. The result is the Pelicans trade their twos for opponent threes, and that math does not add up. The Jazz made 15 more threes than the Pelicans Tuesday. Good luck making up those 45 points and getting a win.

More than just spacing, on Tuesday New Orleans settling for Brandon Ingram or Zion or other players going at the Jazz in isolation rather than having player movement. The longer the game went on, the more isolation there was.

Then there’s defense — Zion has a long way to go on that end still. He has the athletic gifts to be a good defender, but he’s still figuring out how to use them at the NBA level. Utah exploited Zion for chunks of the game by putting him in motion and making him read and move on defense.

Utah has won six straight, is healthy, and playing well right now. Donovan Mitchell had 28 and some fantastic kick-out assists back to the top of the key, Gobert added 13 points and 18 rebounds, while Jordan Clarkson (18 points) and Joe Ingles (15) provided a spark off the bench.

New Orleans is making strides this season, they are getting better, but Tuesday night showed just how far they and Zion have to go to become one of the better teams in the West.

2) Another night, another impressive Nikola Jokic performance

Al Horford was out for the night for Oklahoma City, which meant they threw their long-and-athletic but young and inexperienced big men such as Isaiah Roby out to defend Nikola Jokic.

That went about as well as you think it did. Jokic finished the night with 27 points on 21 shots, 12 rebounds, and six assists in a 119-101 Denver win.

Jokic is averaging a triple-double this season: 25.1 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 10 assists a game, with a ridiculously efficient 65.8 true shooting percentage. He is in the MVP conversation early this season (although his defense could hold him back in that race). He has been among the best players in the league so far this season.

By the way, there was a Bol Bol sighting in this game, with him going coast-to-coast for the slam.

3) Ray Allen talks about his passion for golf, social justice

Hall of Famer Ray Allen is as detail-oriented, and as process-driven a shooter as the league has ever seen. He practiced everything. We all remember Allen for his step-back three in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA finals, forcing overtime against the Spurs and changing that series. That backpedaling three was no accident — Allen had practiced it.

Now he practices golf.

He talked about it with pro golfers Will Lowery and Doug Smith on the first episode of NBC’s new “Beyond the Fairway” podcast. Allen described the shot, back around 1998, that changed how he perceived golf.

“I was in Mexico, I was standing over — I don’t remember what course I was playing — but I was standing over, I was about 100 yards in, and there was nothing. It was a pretty forgivable fairway, so I couldn’t really hit it in the desert, it was just a matter of how close I was going to get it to the pin,” Allen said.

“I stood over that shot [and thought], I don’t know where this ball is going to go. I had a flash, a moment of brilliance, where I said, ‘this is just like basketball — if I don’t practice, I don’t know where this is going to go.’…

“I said, ‘this is the shot I need to practice all the time.’ After that, I went to the range a lot on worked on every club, every two clubs, so I knew what that club was going to do.”

That’s vintage Ray Allen.

Check out the podcast, where Allen also discusses social justice, his mindset as a player, and much more.

Report: Heat, Celtics, Mavericks, Grizzlies may show interest in Crowder trade

2022 NBA Playoffs - 	Dallas Mavericks v Phoenix Suns
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The Phoenix Suns had media day on Monday, but veteran Jae Crowder was not there, part of a mutual agreement with the team to sit out until a trade could be found. It left players and GM James Jones addressing the issue.

What teams are interested in Crowder? Shams Charania of The Athletic says to watch for the Heat, Celtics, Mavericks and Grizzlies among others.

Miami has been at the front of the line in terms of interest (and Crowder has suggested online he would welcome a return to Miami). The Heat have minutes to fill at the four after P.J. Tucker left for Philly and Crowder — who was on the Heat team that went to the bubble Finals against the Lakers — would be a solid fit. Putting together a trade is a little more tricky. The Heat would likely want Duncan Robinson at the core of the deal, but to make the salaries match the Suns would have to throw in another player — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Cameron Payne, Torey Craig — and that means the Heat have to throw in a pick (a protected first) or a minimum-contract player (Gabe Vincent?) to make the deal work. Not impossible, but not likely.

The Celtics need depth at the four but what they can offer is bench minutes, filling Danilo Gallinari‘s role (he is out for the season with a torn ACL) but putting together a trade is next to impossible financially considering who Boston would be willing to give up (not Robert Williams). Dallas could put together a deal if the Suns are interested in Dwight Powell (probably not, the Suns just paid Deandre Ayton a lot of money to be their center) or Reggie Bullock. Memphis could send out the dead money of the Danny Green contract (out for the season due to injury) and picks, or Ziaire Williamson and some minimum players (probably also with picks). Atlanta, Chicago and other destinations have come out in rumors.

As for why Crowder pushed for a trade, the man himself posted his own hype video on Instagram and Tweeted this.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported the most heard speculation around the league as to the reason — the Suns were going to start Cameron Johnson at the four to have more shooting and Crowder wanted none of that — but the reason now is moot. Crowder will get traded.

The only questions are when and where.

Durant, Irving talk about Nets moving on from ‘very awkward’ summer, but drama continues

Brooklyn Nets Media Day
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Media Day — arguably the most boring and tedious day on the NBA calendar — was anything but in Brooklyn.

After a summer Kyrie Irving admitted was “very awkward” — where both he and Kevin Durant pushed to be traded, and Durant threw down an ultimatum saying it was him or coach Steve Nash and GM Sean Marks — everyone was back under one roof and trying to stay on message about just wanting to win.

But drama will follow this team like a dark cloud until they force the conversation to be about something else. Like how many games they are winning.

Until then, the awkward questions and moments will come. For example, why did Kevin Durant ask for a trade this summer? What did he want to see changed? He talked about the team feeling unstable last season. Which it was (for a variety of reasons).

“My whole thing was, I wanted everybody to be held accountable for their habits as a basketball player. I think a lot of stuff was getting swept under the rug because we’re injured or this guy’s not around or just the circumstances. I thought we could have fought through that a little bit more and focused on the guys that were here a little bit more.

“You know, when I went out with the injury, we lost 10 in a row. And I’m like, we shouldn’t be losing some of these games that we lost, regardless of who’s on the floor. So I was more so worried about how we’re approaching every day as a basketball team. And I felt like we could have fought through a lot of the stuff that I felt that held us back.”

Those are the best, drama-free answers he could give. But Durant still loves to stir the pot on Twitter and did so later in the day.

(That was the question asked boiled way down, but both the question and Durant’s answer had a lot more context, it was not a confrontational answer in the moment.)

Kyrie Irving said there were options for him this summer, although limited ones, because he is unvaccinated. He also talked about the reasons he wanted to return to the Nets.

Marks handled the inevitable “your star wanted you fired” questions as well as he could, saying at one point “that’s pro sports.”

“Everybody’s entitled to their opinions and I think from us, it’s not to hold a grudge against what Kevin said, but it’s a little bit of saying, ‘All right, if that’s the way he feels, what’s going on here?’ Like, what do we need to change?” Marks said.

In the end, everyone talked about moving on and the potential for this roster. Durant is not disappointed to be back.

“I wasn’t disappointed. I still love to play. I knew that wasn’t going to get affected regardless of what happened this summer,” Durant said.

The Nets have the talent on the roster to be title contenders, but have more questions than any other team at that level after the past couple of years: Can Durant stay healthy? Will Irving be focused and committed for an entire season? How does Ben Simmons fit in and what is his role? Can their thin frontcourt hold up? Will they play enough defense? Is Steve Nash up to the task? Does this team have the will and drive to be contenders?

Playing through the drama is the only way to answer all those questions, but if they do this team could be a powerhouse.

PBT Podcast: Golden State Warriors season preview

2022 NBA Finals - Golden State Warriors v Boston Celtics
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The Golden State Warriors will enter the season hanging banner number four from this era and passing out their championship rings, but this is a team with more questions than most returning champs.

Otto Porter and Gary Payton II are gone and their minutes will go to a young core — Jordan Poole, Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga, James Wiseman — who are going to be asked to carry a larger load. Particularly during the regular season.

Dalton Johnson of NBC Sports Bay Area joins Kurt Helin of NBC Sports to break down this coming Warriors season, what to expect, and if the young core can get the older vets to the playoffs rested and ready to defend their title. There’s also talk of what comes next in Golden State, as some hard contract choices are coming in the next few years.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Khris Middleton says he will miss start of season following wrist surgery

Milwaukee Bucks v Boston Celtics - Game Two
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When Khris Middleton first went under the knife this summer to clean up issues with his left wrist, he expected to return in time for the start of the season.

At Bucks media day Sunday, Middleton said he’s not going to make that opening night goal but should be back early in the season, as reported by Jamal Collier of ESPN.

The Bucks open the season on the road Oct. 18 against the Celtics (who have their own set of issues heading into this year).

Middleton’s importance to the Bucks was evident in the playoffs, when not having him as a secondary shot creator was a key aspect of their seven-game loss to the Celtics.

Middleton averaged 20.1 points and 5.4 rebounds a game last season. A healthy Bucks team — with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Middleton, and Jrue Holiday as the core — enter the season as serious title contenders. But they need Middleton, so they will not rush him back.