Three Things to Know: Ja Morant is NBA’s most entertaining player

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Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks going that make the NBA great.

1) Ja Morant is NBA’s most entertaining player

Ja Morant banked in this acrobatic game-winner a few days ago to beat the Suns.

Last night, Morant used all that athleticism to dominate late, score 41, and help the Grizzlies beat the Lakers.

Right now, Ja Morant is the most entertaining player in the NBA. His fearless and relentless attacks on the rim, his body control in the air, his passing — you simply cannot take your eyes off him. He faced down LeBron James on a night LeBron hit a career-best eight 3-pointers and won (granted, Morant has the better supporting cast). Morant is the man who out-dueled Stephen Curry in a play-in game last season then lit up the Jazz in the first round (in a loss, but he was brilliant). He brings it in the big moments, but Morant brings it every game. You’d have to be a moron to say the Grizzlies were better without him.

Morant is the player I would most pay to see in the league today. Stephen Curry held that title for me, and he can still be jaw-dropping good. Then for years I would have said Damian Lillard held the crown and was the player I could not just flip past on League Pass.

Now it is Morant. There are others I love to watch — Chris Paul as a floor general, Zach LaVine is another attacking scorer that can take your breath away, Nikola Jokic and his passing and skill are mesmerizing — but for pure artistry and entertainment, give me Morant every day of the week.

As for LeBron and the Lakers, this pretty much sums it up right now.

2) Kyrie Irving: “I knew the consequences. I wasn’t prepared for them.”

Kyrie Irving made it clear: He is grateful to be back on the court, practicing with his teammates, and soon playing for the Brooklyn Nets. He’s only playing in road games because he refuses to get vaccinated and the New York City vaccine mandate is not going anywhere. Still, it’s something. Irving made it clear he would take it, talking to reporters for the first time since Media Day to open training camp.

“Not going to lie,” Irving said, via the Associated Press. “It’s been relatively tough to watch from the sideline. … But if I get the opportunity to get on the court and play with some of my teammates, even if it’s just on the road for away games, I’m grateful for that opportunity.”

Irving said sitting out and watching the Nets was tougher than he expected.

“I knew the consequences,” Irving said of his vaccination decision. “I wasn’t prepared for them, by no stretch of imagination coming into the season. I had my thought process on being able to be a full-time teammate and go out and have fun and provide a great brand of basketball out there. But unfortunately, it didn’t happen like that. Things happen for a reason and now we’re here and I’m grateful for this.”

The Nets had decided as an organization they didn’t want Irving to be a part-time player and told him to get vaccinated and be all-in, or he was all-out.

Then two things happened. First, the Nets have been good this season — 23-9 with the best record in the East — but they haven’t looked (or statistically been) as elite as Golden State, Phoenix, or the legit title contenders out of the West. The Nets have the seventh-best net rating in the NBA, and it doesn’t get better if you filter out garbage time or adjust for schedule strength. Kevin Durant has played like an MVP and it hasn’t been enough.

Second, COVID hit and the Nets — like most teams — have been scrambling to keep their roster full. That opened the door and had the Nets’ front office changing their tune and asking Irving to return.

Can the Nets make it work with a part-time player who is only there for road games (except the ones against the Knicks and Raptors)? Maybe. This has the potential to look like a college football team that has two quarterbacks and tries to switch between them (does that ever work?). Two different starting lineups, two somewhat different styles of play home or road, could be awkward. Or, maybe, because Irving is so talented, it just works. Still, it seems like it would be especially difficult come the playoffs, if this experiment lasts that long.

The Nets have just two road games between now and mid-January, but starting on Jan. 17 they have 18-of-25 on the road, and Irving could play a significant role in that stretch.

After that? Who knows. The Nets have not committed to keeping Irving as a part-time player all season, and you can predict what is in Irving’s mind and his next step if you want, but good luck with that.

Whatever happens, it’s going to be interesting to watch play out.

3) Ricky Rubio out for season with torn ACL

The Cleveland Cavaliers — 20-14 with the best net rating of any team in the East — have been the biggest surprise of the NBA season. A lot of things that seem like they shouldn’t work — like starting three 7-footers — do for the Cavaliers, and it’s been fun to watch, and a team the city can get behind.

Then came this punch to the gut:

Ricky Rubio is done for the season with a torn ACL in his left knee, an injury that happened late against the Pelicans on Tuesday. Rubio planted his right foot on the drive, it slipped, and after that his left knee buckled. It looked bad at the time (don’t watch this video if you are at all squeamish).

Rubio and Darius Garland had formed an impressive backcourt and the Cavaliers were +16.6 per 100 when both were on the court this season. With Collin Sexton also lost for the season due to a knee injury, the Cavs backcourt is a little thin.

There was buzz around the league the Cavaliers might be aggressive and be buyers at the trade deadline before this happened. They were thinking about making a push and trying to make a deep run. We’ll see how this injury impacts that thinking.

Highlight of the Night: Chimezie Metu drains game-winner, Kings beat Mavs

Down two with 3.8 seconds left, the Kings got the ball to De'Aaron Fox out near midcourt, he drove the lane and three Mavericks defenders collapsed on him, and Fox kicked it out to wide-open Chimezie Metu in the corner and… ballgame.

Bonus highlight of the Night: LaMelo Ball was a one-man highlight package

LaMelo Ball was just showing off against the Pacers, and poor rookie Chris Duarte got the worst of it.

Ball ended the night with 21 points, 12 rebounds, and nine assists.

Last night’s scores:

New York 94, Detroit 85
Charlotte 116, Indiana 108
LA Clippers 91, Boston 82
Chicago 131, Atlanta 117
Memphis 104, LA Lakers 99
Phoenix 115, Oklahoma City 97
Utah 120, Portland 105
Sacramento 95, Dallas 94

Anthony Davis ‘excited’ to be Lakers’ No.1 offensive option, LeBron pushing him to do it

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Is Anthony Davis a No.1 offensive option on a championship team?

The Lakers made a massive bet in trading for Davis — both in good young players and picks — that he could help them win a title now and be the bridge to the future post-LeBron James. Davis was everything the Lakers hoped in the bubble and did win them banner No. 17. However, he has not stayed healthy or consistently played up to that standard.

New Lakers coach Darvin Ham is betting on Davis again and is going to run more of the offense through him this season. LeBron James reportedly backs Ham up. Can Davis stay healthy, find that form again and look like that bridge to the future? If he can’t, the Lakers have to reconsider their post-LeBron plans. That’s why there is pressure on Davis this season.

Davis is excited to prove he is ready for the role, he told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. He added LeBron is pushing him to do it.

“I’m so excited that I’ve got goosebumps just thinking about this year,” Davis told Yahoo Sports this week. “I’m looking forward to a healthy year and doing what I know we can do.”…

Davis said James, 37, has been in his ear about taking over the reins of the team, while the rest of the roster would follow his lead.

The first step in Davis being that No.1 option: Staying healthy. He played 40 games last season and 36 the season before that. While some of that was due to fluke injuries, the history of Davis missing time is long.

When healthy, Davis is an unquestionably elite player — to use the bubble example, Davis was a defensive force in Orlando who knocked down midrange jumpers after facing up, averaging 27.7 points on a 66.5 true shooting percentage, plus grabbed 9.7 rebounds a game. That is the AD the Lakers need this season.

Which can be a lot of pressure, but Davis said he doesn’t feel that.

“But for me, I’m not putting any pressure on myself at all,” Davis said at media day. “I’m gonna go out there and play basketball, work hard, defend and do what the team needs to win basketball games. I’m not going to overthink and, you know, listen to what everybody else is saying and try to be this ‘whatever’ player they want me to be.”

“Whatever” the Lakers want Davis to be is the Top 10 player in the world he has shown for stretches in Los Angeles. If he can be consistent, that Davis helps the Lakers be more of a threat in the West. If Davis can’t be that guy, it could be another long season for Lakers nation.

 

Proud to be an American: 76ers’ Embiid officially becomes U.S. citizen

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Joel Embiid is an American citizen.

A native of Cameroon, Embiid said he was sworn in as a citizen two weeks ago in Philadelphia. The NBA scoring champion and Philadelphia 76ers All-Star center said his family – Embiid and his Brazilian girlfriend Anne de Paula have a young son – played a pivotal role in his decision.

“I’ve been here for a long time,” Embiid told The Associated Press Thursday at training camp at The Citadel. “My son is American. I felt like, I’m living here and it’s a blessing to be an American. So I said, why not?”

Embiid, who played college basketball for one season at Kansas, also has citizenship in France. He said it is way too early to think about which country he could potentially represent in international basketball.

The 28-year-old Embiid averaged a career-best 30.6 points in 68 games last season. The 7-footer also averaged 11.7 rebounds and 4.2 assists in helping Philadelphia reach the Eastern Conference semifinals for the second straight year. Embiid averaged 23.6 points and 10.7 rebounds in the postseason despite playing with hand and facial injuries.

Embiid had been announced as playing out of Kansas during pregame introductions at 76ers’ home games but switched around midseason last year as being introduced from Cameroon. He might try for a mouthful this season.

“We’re going to say Cameroon, American and French,” he said, laughing.

Tyler Herro says he’s better than players ‘that have gotten paid’

Boston Celtics v Miami Heat - Game Seven
Eric Espada/Getty Images
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RJ Barrett signed a rookie contract extension for four years, $107 million fully guaranteed that could climb to $120 million with incentives. Several others out of the 2019 draft class — Ja Morant, Zion Williamson, Darius Garland — earned max contract extensions with their team.

Tyler Herro is still waiting on his extension with the Miami Heat.

And with that baked in Herro confidence, he said he is better than some players he has seen getting paid, he told Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

“I was active early in the summer,” he told the South Florida Sun Sentinel of the extension window that opened in July. “Then I realized it wasn’t going to get done, if it does get done, until later. So I just told my agent to call me when it’s ready. “So we haven’t really spoken much about the contract. Obviously, I tell him to call me when it’s ready. If it’s not ready, I continue to play my game and figure it out next summer…

“There’s players across the league that have gotten paid who I know I’m better than. So it’s got to be the right number,” he said, with the Heat continuing camp on makeshift courts at the [ Baha Mar resort in the Bahamas].

One reason an extension for Herro has not gotten done — and may not get done before the Oct. 18 deadline — is Herro is the Heat’s best trade asset to go after a big name. Once he signs an extension that is off the table, something Winderman and I have discussed in our weekly video/podcast on the Heat and NBA.

The other question on a Herro extension is what is the “right number?” Did the Knicks’ Barrett set the market with his extension?

Maybe Barrett is one of the players Herro “knows” he is better than, but that would not be the consensus of scouts and free agents around the league. Herro has hardware as the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, he puts up numbers averaging 20.7 points a game while shooting 39.9% from 3 last season, he can do some secondary play creation and has had big playoff games. He has real value.

However, as Winderman has pointed out, Herro has started just 33 games across three years, compared to Barrett’s 197 starts. More importantly, Herro’s defensive limitations limited how Eric Spoelstra could use him in the playoffs. Then there is the matter of load carried. Barrett was the No. 1 option for the Knicks last season (with Julius Randle falling off) and even with the signing of Jalen Brunson, Barrett is option No.1 or 1B for Tom Thibodeau. Herro is down the Heat pecking order behind Bam AdebayoJimmy Butler, and maybe Kyle Lowry depending on how he bounces back from a down year. The Heat don’t need Herro the way the Knicks need Barrett right now, which is one key reason Herro is available via trade.

Would Herro take a four-year, $105 extension? Would the Heat even offer it? If Miami is hoping for a trade at the deadline, it may wait on an offer and let the market set Herro’s price as a restricted free agent next summer. For Herro, that would give him a chance to prove he is a starter and that his defense has improved — that he is worth more than the Heat had been offering.

If the Heat and Herro agree on an extension, look for it to be in a couple of weeks, pushing up against that October deadline.

 

Lonzo Ball undergoes successful knee surgery, out ‘at least a few months’

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Lonzo Ball underwent another arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Wednesday, and the doctors finally had some positive news.

They believe that they’ve “addressed the issue”, and there is “confidence” that he’ll be able to play this season. He’s still expected to miss “at least a few months”, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Charania added that both sides will monitor his progress over

After his first surgery in January, Ball’s knee didn’t respond well at all, and he was eventually ruled out for the season. During media day this week, Ball said that he couldn’t run or jump, so he couldn’t play basketball. Billy Donovan said that they had to think of Ball’s injury as potentially season-ending. So an update that says that he should play this season is considered good news at this point.

Chicago had a 22-13 record with Lonzo last season, but were just 24-23 without him. He averaged 13.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.8 steals, 0.9 blocks, and 3.1 triples per game in his first year with the team.

They have other defenders like Ayo Dosunmu and Alex Caruso, but they don’t have anyone else that can both defend and facilitate the way Lonzo can. They’ll use training camp and the preseason to decide on a starting point guard between Dosunmu, Caruso, and Goran Dragic.

They’re one of the more talented teams in the East, but they may end up playing in the play-in tournament if they’re without Ball for the majority of the season.