Report: Kawhi Leonard nearing full health

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The Spurs and Kawhi Leonard must repair their broken relationship before they offer him a super-max contract extension.

Danny Green said Leonard is committed to doing that. San Antonio reportedly has its doubts.

Whether the Spurs keep or trade Leonard, a big question for San Antonio and teams interested in him: Will he be healthy for next season?

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

He’ll be ready. He’s already, I think, close to 100 percent. He’ll be fine going into the year.

Leonard’s quad injury has been so confounding. Gregg Popovich said in February that Leonard wouldn’t miss the rest of the season. In early March, Leonard said he’d return “soon” Yet, the Spurs played until late April without him returning.

So, I’m mostly in believe-it-when-I-see-it-mode.

Even once Leonard becomes fully healthy, another, more complex question will still loom: How susceptible is Leonard to future injuries?

San Antonio will evaluate that before offering an extension. So will other teams before making trade offers.

2018 NBA Draft Prospect Profile: Is Jaren Jackson Jr. the future of the center position?

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Jaren Jackson Jr. isn’t going to be the first pick in the draft, and I’m not sure just how many mock drafts are going to have him slotted somewhere in the top two or three picks.

The hype, attention and production that comes with the likes of DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III and Luka Doncic is hard to ignore, particularly in comparison with Jackson, who averaged just 10.9 points in one year at Michigan State and bowed out of the NCAA tournament after playing just 15 minutes in a second round loss to Syracuse.

Put another way, Jackson never really has moved the needle, which makes sense for a guy that was the fifth-option for his team in college.

But it doesn’t take all that much effort to find NBA decision-makers that think Jackson might end up being the most impactful NBA player to come out of this draft class.

The reason why is fairly straight-forward: He will fit seamlessly into the modern NBA given the combination of skills that he has while the other four players projected to go in the top five this year have more question marks. Ayton’s rim-protection, three-point shooting and questionable work ethic are red flags. Bagley cannot guard the position (five) that he is going to have to play offensively. Doncic’s relative lack of athleticism makes it unclear who he can guard at the next level. Mo Bamba’s offensive repertoire and toughness will be questioned.

Jackson?

He’s 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan. He shot 39.6 percent from three after shooting 43.8 percent from three on the EYBL circuit in 2016. He averaged 3.0 blocks despite playing just under 22 minutes a night as a freshman. He is as switchable as any big man in this class defensively because of his ability to move his feet. He won’t turn 19 years old until September 15th, making him 16 months younger than Bamba, 15 months younger than Michael Porter Jr., 14 months younger than Ayton and six months younger than Bagley, who reclassified to enroll at Duke a year early.

He’s everything that NBA teams are looking for as a defensive anchor in the era of small-ball fives switching pick-and-rolls.

Put another way, how much do you think Tristan Thompson (or Clint Capela) would be worth to the Cavs (or Rockets) if he could shoot 40 percent from three and 80 percent from the free throw line? What would Kevin Love‘s value be on the open market if he was a rim-protector and a better defender in space?

Jackson has a long was to go to get to that level, but when you imagine his ceiling, that’s the picture you get.

HEIGHT: 6-foot-11.25
WEIGHT: 236
WINGSPAN: 7-foot-5.25
2017-18 STATS: 10.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 3.0 bpg, 1.1 apg, 51.3/39.6/79.7, 38 3PM
DRAFT RANGE: Top four

STRENGTHS

When we talk about 3-and-D, typically what we’re referring to are wings, players like a Trevor Ariza or a Danny Green, but 3-and-D big men do exist. Jackson, who was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year as a freshman, projects as the quintessential 3-and-D big, a perfect fit as a small-ball five in the modern NBA.

Let’s start with his ability to shoot the ball. Jackson knocked down 39.6 percent of his attempts from three in his one season at Michigan State, getting up nearly three threes per game. While that isn’t a massive sample size, Jackson shot 44 percent (28-for-64) from beyond the arc on Nike’s EYBL circuit prior to his senior season in high school and knocked down nearly 80 percent of his free throws this past season. His shooting stroke is awkward — he shoots a push shot with a low-release point that has a weird, sideways spin on it — but he has shot a high-percentage at every level he’s played at in his career. It’s not really a stretch to think that will continue onto the next level.

He’s also a capable driver — mostly to his left — when it comes to attacking closeouts, showing flashes of handle and the ability to beat bigger, and smaller, defenders off the bounce.

The defensive end of the floor is where the real intrigue lies with Jackson.

Offensively, he has a chance to be effective, a floor-spacer that can create some mismatches and beat a close-out, but I’d be pretty surprised if he ever ended up averaging more than 15-17 points in the NBA.

Where Jackson can really make his mark is on the defensive end of the floor, and I don’t think it’s crazy to say that winning a Defensive Player of the Year award in the NBA is within his range of outcomes.

Let’s start with the shot-blocking. On the season, Jackson averaged 3.0 blocks per night despite playing just under 22 minutes; he averaged 5.8 blocks per-40 minutes. Jackson’s block-rate is even more impressive, coming in fourth-nationally at 14.3. There hasn’t been a player drafted in the first round to post a better block rate in the year they were drafted since at least 2004; both Hasheem Thabeet and Larry Sanders, who were drafted after their junior seasons, bettered that block rate in limited roles as freshmen while Hassan Whiteside, who was a second-round pick, had the best block-rate of the bunch.

In fact, Jackson’s block-rate is better than just about every dominant big man that has been picked at the top of the lottery in recent years, including Anthony Davis, and that was despite the fact that he spent the majority of his minutes this season playing the four:

There’s more.

Since 2009-10, there have been just eight players — including Jackson — that have posted a block rate higher than 14 and a true-shooting percentage above 64. Jackson made 38 threes this past season. The other seven players on that list attempted one three combined.

I say all that to say this: The ability to block shots at the rate that Jackson blocks shots is a unique skill, one that is not often combined with a player that has the ability to shoot from distance that Jackson has.

Jackson, however, is more than just a shot-blocker on the defensive end. He can move his feet. He can defend guards on the perimeter when he’s forced to switch. He spent this past season covering college basketball’s small-ball fours. He got experience defending on an island and moving his feet against quicker ball-handlers.

Switchable rim-protectors that space the floor offensively don’t come around that often, and he still doesn’t turn 19 for another two months.

WEAKNESSES

Much of what ails Jackson has to do with his age.

He checked in at 236 pounds at the NBA Draft Combine, but he could still stand to add some size and muscle to his frame. His lower body strength needs work as well, as he has something of a high center of gravity. He’ll get bullied early on in his career. Jackson could also stand to improve his explosiveness and lateral quickness. At this point, he’s mobile and he’s long but he’s not an above-average athlete, particularly from an NBA perspective. That should improve as he gets into an NBA weight training program and continues to grow into his body. Remember, he was just 6-foot-2 as a freshman in high school.

Jackson needs to get most confidence in his ability to drive right and his awkward shooting stroke means he’ll probably never be a great pull-up jump-shooter, but that’s not likely to be something that he’ll be asked to do all that often.

Maturity and decision-making may be the biggest issue that he’ll face.

Let’s start with the fouls. He committed a LOT of them. Part of the reason that he only averaged 22 minutes was that he also averaged 3.2 fouls per game, or roughly 6.0 fouls per 40 minutes. Some of that is a result of Jackson still learning how to play and where to be positionally — freshman bigs are always going to be foul prone, especially when they’re being asked to defend on the perimeter more. Part of that is he is a little slow to react when defending on the perimeter. Sometimes that’s because he reads the play late, something that should change as he spends more time playing. Sometimes it’s because he’s too upright defensively, which will be helped as he develops his lower-body. Sometimes it’s because he’s over-aggressive, whether that manifests itself as a reach-in foul or getting whistled for over-the-back on a rebound he never really had a chance to get.

In theory, those are things that can be coached out. What’s a little more concerning is that Jackson is somewhat naïve and tends to have a long memory during games. He can get hung up on a referee blowing a call or him missing a shot.

But again, it’s hard to know whether that’s who he is or simply a result of an 18-year old being 18.

NBA COMPARISON

I’m not sure there really is a perfect comparison for Jackson because I’m not sure how many players have the combination of skills that he has. I think his floor is somewhere between a Serge Ibaka and a Robert Covington, depending on just how good of a shooter he develops into and where his development defensively takes him, which is part of the reason that he is steadily climbing draftboards. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where he doesn’t become a useful rotation player on a team that can play the way you need to play to compete with Golden State.

Jackson’s ceiling will be determined by what he becomes on the offensive end of the floor. Let’s say that his three-point shooting doesn’t take a dip when moving back to the NBA line and that he continues to add to his face-up game, I don’t think it’s out of the question that he could turn into Kristaps Porzingis-lite, but even that is far from perfect and probably an unfair expectation to put on an 18-year old.

The best way to think of Jackson’s ceiling: Clint Capela, except he adds Kevin Love’s perimeter repertoire in a role similar to the one Draymond Green plays — more on that in a second. That is an extremely useful and valuable player to have.

OUTLOOK

I have a very hard time seeing Jackson end up as a bust.

It will take some time for him to get there, but his tools defensively combined with his ability to make shots means that there will be a role for him in the NBA for a long time to come.

At the same time, I think Jackson’s upside offensively is limited to a point. Put another way, I don’t see him being the go-to guy on a team that is making runs in the playoff.

Which leads me to Draymond.

Green and Jackson are very, very different players. One is 6-foot-6 and the other is 6-foot-11. One is a terrific playmaker that ran some point in college and the other finished his college career with 39 assists and 62 turnovers. One is certifiably insane and the other is not.

But what Green does for Golden State is a pretty good template for what I think Jackson will be able to provide for an NBA franchise down the road, operating at the piece that brings everything together defensively while doing enough on the offensive end of the floor to keep defenders honest and help create space for his teammates.

Jackson will do it in a different way than Draymond does, but the effect he’ll have on the way a team can play will be similar.

Report: Gregg Popovich wants to sit down with LeBron James, pitch Spurs

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In Cleveland, it feels like LeBron James is out the door. Maybe his family can change his mind, but it’s more likely the Summer of LeBron.

Three teams, besides the Cavaliers, have been linked to  LeBron — the Sixers, the Rockets, and the Lakers. Others, such as Miami, get mentioned at times. Beyond that, there’s a whole lot of teams that would like to get a chance, just get a sit down with LeBron and his team and make a pitch.

One who both wants to and might get that chance is Gregg Popovich of the Spurs, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times

I’ve also been advised that the ever-persuasive San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich is bound to try to force his way into the conversation to sell James on the merits of South Texas.

Is LeBron going to leave Cleveland for a smaller market? Is LeBron going to come to the West where the Warriors and Rockets already are dominant forces? LeBron will consider all his options, but the Spurs seem a longshot. That said, LeBron’s respect for Popovich could lead to a meeting — likely over dinner and a couple excellent bottles of Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.

If LeBron did consider it, there would be massive advantages. And challenges.

A pairing of LeBron with Kawhi Leonard — assuming he stays and signs a super-max contract extension with the Spurs, Popovich is working on it and groundwork is already being laid on that front, according to league sources — would be one of the league’s elite one-two punches on offense. Put the two of them with Dejounte Murray and it would give the Spurs the kind of long, switchable, physical perimeter defenders needed to hang with the Warriors and Rockets.

We also know Murray wants LeBron to come.

In addition, you know the Spurs’ role players would step up, play smart, and give LeBron the kind of support he lacked this past season — San Antonio won 48 games essentially without Leonard last season. Over the final days of the playoffs, LeBron was wistfully talking about playing with high IQ players again — the Spurs can give him that. It’s easy to see guys like Manu Ginobili (he would come back for one more year if LeBron were there), Pau Gasol, and Rudy GayDavis Bertans, and others making it work with LeBron.

For the Spurs to land LeBron would mean some serious salary cap gymnastics in San Antonio. If the Spurs renounce free agent Tony Parker and if Danny Green opts out and the Spurs don’t bring him back, the Spurs still would be floating around the luxury tax line before LeBron comes in (and the Spurs, ideally, would like to have both of them back if LeBron is there). The Spurs would need to trade several big salaries — including LaMarcus Aldridge, who would be an odd fit on the court with LeBron anyway — without taking any money back to get far enough under the cap to sign LeBron to a max contract. The easier way would be for LeBron to pull a Chris Paul move and opt-in to the last year of his deal ($35 million) then force a trade to the Spurs, who would send Aldridge, Patty Mills, and some young players and picks to the Cavaliers. (Good luck convincing Cleveland to take on a $70 million or more luxury tax bill to put out a team with Kevin Love, Aldridge, Mills and the No. 8 pick — there likely would need to be a third team in this trade to make it work.)

Never say never with Popovich, he is respected enough by LeBron to get the meeting. However, it’s hard to see this coming together.

 

Danny Green on Spurs teammates, Kawhi Leonard: ‘We’re not at odds with him’

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Things are getting weird in San Antonio between the Spurs and Kawhi Leonard. That’s no doubt, and reports have confirmed as much.

Yet while the organization might be feeling some distance with Leonard, the actual players on the team apparently don’t feel that way about the former NBA Finals MVP.

Speaking on Chris Broussard’s podcast this week, Spurs guard Danny Green said he didn’t feel as though Leonard and his teammates were at odds. In fact, Green insisted that they still have Leonard’s back throughout everything that’s been said about the rumored rift.

Via In the Zone, transcribed by Uproxx:

“I can say from our team and from their perspective and standpoint, I can speak for most of them, there is no odds,” Green said. “We’re not at odds with him. I don’t know about the front office, I don’t know about family issues or whatever that is. I would like to guess none because he’s in the facility, he’s at the arena, he’s still there, they communicate, they still talk and check up on him, he still works out with our training staff. But from the team’s perspective, there’s nobody on our team that’s at odds with him. We understand, we have his back regardless of what he’s been going through.”

Things have definitely felt strained lately. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said as much, and the idea that teams might have any confidence to come calling with trade offers for Leonard is more real than ever.

Even Gregg Popovich has seemingly had some carefully-worded things to say about Leonard and his recovery from an injury that has taken longer than anyone expected to heal.

Will Leonard end up on another team? Or is this just the first big drama in San Antonio since Doc Rivers told Tim Duncan he couldn’t bring family members on the team plane?

We’ll just have to wait and find out come the summer.

Report: Kawhi Leonard didn’t give Spurs guarantee of return this season

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The Spurs reportedly held a players-only meeting to implore Kawhi Leonard to play. He reportedly defended his missing games due to injury. Even if his teammates believed his extended absence was justified, they surely wanted to know when it would end.

Apparently, they didn’t get an answer.

Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News:

According to sources, Leonard, who was caught off guard by the meeting, stood his ground. He spoke up telling his teammates that a return was still the goal. But Leonard offered no set date or guarantee about a return this season.

Leonard did receive support from some teammates, urging him not to return until he feels healthy enough, sources told the Express-News.
The meeting lasted roughly five to 10 minutes with no clear update on Leonard’s plans.

Leonard previously told teammates he planned to return to play, according to Danny Green (who, incidentally, denied the ESPN report). Later, Leonard said he planned to play soon. But despite reportedly targeting a return a week ago, he remains out.

No matter how hard anyone pushes, nobody can seem to get a straight answer – which only adds frustration.

Some teammates are apparently more understanding than others, though. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN characterized the meeting as “tense and emotional at times” with teammates “expressing frustration and confusion.” Young adds Leonard “did receive support from some teammates, urging him not to return until he feels healthy enough.”

I’m sure everyone wants Leonard back only once he’s healthy enough, but that’s a vague standard. The Spurs have reportedly cleared him. Leonard and his own medical team haven’t. It wouldn’t be surprising if his teammates are also divided on whether or not Leonard should play.

When will he deem himself ready? If this meeting didn’t yield an answer, I don’t know what will.