Three Things to Know: Who should be All-Star Game starters?

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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) Who should be All-Star Game starters?

The brilliant Tom Ziller (why have you not subscribed to his Good Morning Basketball substack yet?) yesterday touched on a topic I had spent too much of last weekend thinking about:

Who is going to make the All-Star rosters this year?

It’s an odd year with some aging stars not playing up to their expected levels and a growing group of rising stars knocking down the door to take their place, all mixed with COVID forcing players to miss time. That combination makes this the most challenging year in memory to pick who should be on the court in Cleveland come Feb. 20 (that’s where the game is this year, if you didn’t know).

All-Star voting is open now for the starters in each conference (two backcourt players, three frontcourt players). Fan votes — through NBA.com, the NBA app, and Twitter — account for 50% of the ballots, another 25% is from the votes of the players themselves, and another 25% to select media (I am fortunate to be one of those media members, which is what started me thinking about it). Those 10 starters are thrown into a pool and chosen into teams by the two captains (the highest vote-getters from fans). The coaches pick the seven reserves from each conference (those reserves also go into a pool to be selected playground-style by the captains).

Here’s where I stand on starters as of today, but my mind could change over the coming weeks before a ballot is cast. I should add, my philosophy is I want to see the best players in this exhibition game and I weigh that, how this season started, and what happened in last year’s playoffs into the mix. I think the idea of picking the All-Stars based solely on less than three months of the most meaningless part of the regular season would be idiotic.

EAST
Trae Young
DeMar DeRozan
Giannis Antetokounmpo
Kevin Durant
Joel Embiid

That starting frontcourt three is a lock (with all due respect to Jimmy Butler, Jayson Tatum, and whoever else you want to consider). Young is also a lock at guard, but I could go with DeRozan or James Harden in the other backcourt spot. That is still up in the air for me, both of those players are red hot right now (except for Harden on Monday). Zach LaVine should be a lock to make the team and deserves starter consideration. The coaches have the hard cuts, because after those four guards you can only take one or two more backcourt players from Jrue Holiday, Darius Garland, and LaMelo Ball (and Ziller makes a good point that Fred VanVleet deserves to be in consideration as well, and maybe Cole Anthony).

WEST
Stephen Curry
Donovan Mitchell
Draymond Green
LeBron James
Nikola Jokic

Three of these players are locks (and would be on my five-man MVP ballot today): Curry, Jokic and LeBron. After that, it gets much more challenging. For the open frontcourt spot, Rudy Gobert has a legit case to start, while Paul George would have been hard to keep off before his injury. But for my money, Green has been the best of the lot and deserves the spot, his play on both ends being critical to the best team in the NBA right now. Luka Doncic — who absolutely should make the team — can be listed as a frontcourt player on the reserves next to Gobert and maybe Karl-Anthony Towns (he’s on the bubble, as is Brandon Ingram), freeing up a spot on the crowded backcourt.

Between his play this season and the step forward he has taken — not to mention last season’s playoffs — I lean toward Mitchell starting. For now. Chris Paul and Devin Booker are both close behind, I could change my mind, and the Suns’ starting backcourt should/will make the team. That would leave just two guard spots and the coaches will have to choose them from among Ja Morant, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Damian Lillard, Dejounte Murray and CJ McCollum. (I think Morant should be a lock for the reserves, but will the coaches see it that way?)

With a few weeks to go, all this is subject to change. But that’s where I am leaning.

2) Trae Young drops a season-high 56 (and it’s still not enough to win)

Most games, the big headline would be the Trail Blazers’ Anfernee Simons putting up a career-high 43 points, leading the Portland Trail Blazers to a win to snap a four-game losing streak, and then getting understandably emotional after the game.

But even in a loss, Trae Young’s 56 points overshadowed it. That’s the most any NBA player has scored in a game this season.

Young shot 17-of-26 overall and 7-of-12 from 3-point range (plus he got to the line 15 times and didn’t miss). Young added 14 assists. According to the Hawks, Young had the first 50+ point, 14+ assist game since James Harden on the Rockets back on Dec. 31, 2016.

The previous season-high had been Kevin Durant’s 51-point game at Detroit last month.

3) Jimmy Butler had to be helped off court, did not return against Warriors

Hopefully this is nothing serious.

Jimmy Butler went down with what the Heat called a right ankle injury, and he had to be helped off the court against the Warriors Tuesday night. He did not return.

Butler was trying to drive around Juan Toscano-Anderson, his left foot slipped, and as he fell there was an awkward plant of his right foot. Butler, of course, thought it was nothing later but the Heat are going to wait and do something crazy like wait for their medical staff to make the call.

Miami has survived a rash of injuries this season — Bam Adebayo is still out with a thumb injury — and players being sidelined by COVID. Butler missed 15 games this season. That the Heat have kept winning and are fourth in the East is a credit to their culture. Butler is the Heat’s leading scorer at 23.2 points per game,

Golden State came away with the 115-108 victory in this game. And they may get Klay Thompson back on Saturday.

Highlight of the night: Ja Morant coast-to-coast for the slam

Ja Morant is the most entertaining player in the league for my money, and he continues to live up to that reputation. He did it with a coast-to-coast slam against the Nets Monday.

Morant finished with 36, Desmond Bane had 29, and the Grizzlies won their fifth in a row with an upset of the Nets, 118-104.

If you thought Kevin Durant was frustrated after the last Nets loss, how is he now? But the Nets’ stars were not good enough Monday. Durant and Harden combined for 45 points, but on 13-of-38 shooting.

Last night’s scores:

Philadelphia 133, Houston 113
Washington 124, Charlotte 121
Memphis 118, Brooklyn 104
Chicago 102, Orlando 98
Detroit 115, Milwaukee 106
Utah 115, New Orleans 104
Dallas 103, Denver 89
Golden State 115, Miami 108
Portland 136, Atlanta 131
Minnesota 122, LA Clippers 104

Spurs’ Josh Primo out for preseason with left knee MCL sprain

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Josh Primo is going to get his chance this season. The Spurs are rebuilding — even Gregg Popovich says not to bet on them to win the title — and Primo, entering his second season (and still 19), is one of the most promising young players on their roster, someone with the chance to be part of whatever will be built in San Antonio the future. He just needs more experience.

Unfortunately, he’s going to start this season half a step behind after missing most of training camp due to a sprained left MCL, the team announced Thursday. He is expected to return in time for the season opener, according to the team.

Promo, the No. 12 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, got into 50 games for the Spurs last season and averaged 5.8 points a game but wasn’t very efficient with his shot yet. He also spent a lot of time in the G-League (but then had to miss this past Summer League due to COVID).

With Dejounte Murray now in Atlanta, there is not only a starting spot open but also opportunities to run the offense — Primo is going to get a chance to show what he can do with that. It’s just not going to be for a little while due to his knee sprain.

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’

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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.