Brandon Ingram has taken a step forward this season in New Orleans, a team that has put the ball in his hands a lot and trusted the forward to make plays. Ingram is averaging 25.4 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 4.1 assists a game, shooting 41.5 percent from three, and is playing at a level that will get him All-Star consideration. He just happens to be doing all that in a contract year.
Which is why this was a scary moment: Phoenix’s Dario Saric fell on Ingram’s head.
PHOENIX —Kyle Kuzma was out on the floor in the crucial final minutes on Tuesday night when his teammates made the extra pass and found him at the 3-point line. Both times, he never hesitated to take the shots that splashed through the net and pushed the Lakers to a 123-115 over the Phoenix Suns.
Kyle Kuzma (23 PTS) answers with back-to-back threes to extend the @Lakers lead late! #LakeShow
Davis had 24 points and 12 rebounds and Kuzma added a season-high 23 points on 9 of 16 shooting to push the Lakers (8-2) to their best 10-game start since 2010 and bounce back from a home loss to Toronto on Sunday.
James added 19 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds.
Phoenix (6-4) trailed for a big chunk of the fourth quarter but pushed ahead 113-111 on Devin Booker‘s fastbreak layup with 3:29 left. The Lakers responded with three straight 3-pointers – one from James and two more from Kuzma – to lead 120-113 and put the game out of reach.
Kuzma missed the first four games of the season this year because of an ankle injury he suffered during the summer while playing for USA basketball. He averaged 18.7 points last season but was scoring just over 10 per game until Tuesday’s outburst.
“I’ve just got teammates who believe in me,” Kuzma said. “We all believe in each other. We’re a team and we pick each other up.”
Los Angeles dominated in the paint with 70 points. Dwight Howard came off the bench to score 12 points and grab nine rebounds in 20 minutes. The Lakers had 39 assists on 51 made field goals.
“That is the secret for us,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “If you truly commit to the extra pass offensively and playing for each other, we are going to be near unbeatable. That was a really good team we beat tonight – that’s a really good win.”
Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Phoenix had a plan and it’s working — it’s time to take them seriously. It’s been hard to figure out precisely what the plan was in Phoenix the past couple of years. Sure, they had Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, but what were they putting around those two? Was there a grand design?
Last season the Suns signed Trevor Ariza only to trade him for Kelly Oubre Jr., then also traded Ryan Anderson to Miami for Tyler Johnson. This past summer they flipped the No. 6 pick in the draft — turned out to be Jarrett Culver — to the Timberwolves for the No. 11 pick and Dario Saric, then they used that pick on Cameron Johnson (a guy older than Booker and considered a reach). Phoenix sent their 2020 first-round pick to Boston for Aron Baynes to be a backup center. There were two objectively smart moves, picking up point guard Ricky Rubio as a free agent, and signing Monty Williams to be the coach. Then this season started with a punch to the gut — Ayton got suspended 25 games (pending an appeal) for taking a banned substance, a diuretic.
Turns out, the Suns’ plan was to put a team of competent NBA players around Booker, then simplify the offense and defense but execute it all cleanly.
Phoenix is 5-2 on the young season with the fourth-best net rating in the NBA (third best if you filter out garbage time as Ben Falk does over at Cleaning the Glass). The Suns are legitimate and — while it’s early, we’re not even 1/10th of the way into the season — Phoenix looks like a playoff team.
Devin Booker looks every bit the All-Star guard, getting revenge on those that thought he was simply an empty calorie guy who could get numbers but not help a team win. He certainly helped the Suns win on Monday with maybe his best game — 40 points on 15-of-19 shooting, while picking apart a good defensive team in the Sixers (granted, one without Joel Embiid due to suspension).
Whether the Suns can sustain this level of play is up for debate — right now they are the only team ranked in the top 10 in offensive and defensive net rating. But even if they come back to earth some, GM James Jones deserves some credit for having a plan and pulling it off — a plan that has the Suns looking like a quality team.
Phoenix hasn’t been to the postseason since 2010 when Amar’e Stoudemire and Steve Nash were running the remnants of seven seconds or less for Alvin Gentry. That looks like it will change this season, Phoenix is back. Things are looking bright in the Valley of the Sun.
2) Brandon Ingram dropped 40, but Kyrie Irving had 39 and Nets out-duel Pelicans for the win. This is what the Pelicans have done all season long — play hard, but come up just short. The Pelicans are 1-6 on the young season, but with the net rating of a 3-4 team. They just keep losing close games.
Monday night that happened against Brooklyn. Brandon Ingram continued his hot start for New Orleans (not coincidentally, in a contract year) and scored a career-high 40 on 17-of-24 shooting, but it wasn’t enough against Brooklyn, where Kyrie Irving dropped 39 on the gray floor.
It wasn’t a surprise that the Pelicans didn’t really get serious in contract extension talks with Ingram, he had missed the end of last season with a blood clot issue and that scares teams because it can be career-threatening (Ingram’s was different from, for example, Chris Bosh’s situation, Ingram’s clot was in his arm, but it’s still a concern). Plus, Ingram had been up and down in Los Angeles, and there remain questions about how well he’ll fit next to Zion Williamson.
Ingram, however, has put in the work — his footwork and handles are lightyears ahead of his lanky, awkward rookie season — and it shows. His game is more fluid now. He is averaging 25.9 points a game this season, shooting 48.6 percent on five threes a game, and is grabbing 7.1 boards a night. He is playing like an All-Star. He’s playing like a guy who will get paid next summer, one way or another.
3) Grizzlies and Ja Morant vs. the Knicks RJ Barrett: how much should teams play rookies? There has become an interesting dichotomy this season, a real debate about how to handle a star rookie player:
Should teams be already thinking load management and watching the minutes of a potentially elite young player on a bad team? Or do you throw the guy out there and let him learn by doing as much as he can racking up minutes?
In Memphis, the plan is to bring Ja Morant along slowly. The No. 2 pick out of Murray State — where he played a lot of minutes because they didn’t have a choice if they wanted to win — is averaging 28 minutes a night, and has played more than 30 just once in six games. Morant is starting, being allowed to make mistakes and learn, and in those limited minutes is still averaging 19.5 points and 5.5 assists per game, shooting 50 percent from three (on two attempts per game). He has a PER of 20.3, which is insanely good for a rookie. Morant is everything that was advertised, a freakish young athlete with a great feel for the game. A franchise cornerstone kind of player.
“We want to, for lack of a better phrase, put some money in the bank moving forward with him,” Jenkins said. “I’ve always been a big believer that when you start playing in the mid-30s, you kinda wear down. Our rookies, including him, have never played 82 games in a season.”
That’s a smart, practical, long-term thinking approach.
Then there’s David Fizdale with the Knicks.
RJ Barrett played 41 min in Knicks 113-92 loss after entering weekend leading NBA in minutes.
"He's got the day off tomorrow," David Fizdale said. "We gotta get off this load management crap. Latrell Sprewell averaged 42 minutes for a season. This kid's 19 years old. Drop it."
RJ Barrett is averaging 37.1 minutes a game and is putting up counting stats — 18.3 points per game, 6.1 rebounds, he’s shooting 35.7 percent from three, and he’s also learning in a trial-by-fire kind of way. He’s just in the fire a lot more, which is how things have been done in the past in the NBA — and former players are good with that.
I averaged 40 min as a rookie. He’s 3 yrs younger than I was. Ended up Playing 13 yrs. He’ll be fine. https://t.co/m82XpDSmkK
Hopefully so. But this approach also comes with more risk. The Knicks seem to have a wing in Barrett who can be a central part of whatever is ultimately built in New York — whatever other players come in via the draft and free agency — and they should be thinking about Barrett three years from now. Barrett can grow — he struggled at points in Summer League, but he’s showing he learned from those experiences. That’s a very good sign.
So long as he doesn’t burn out. Or physically wear down (which makes a potential injury more likely).
Different players can handle different workloads, and they learn differently — there is no one-size-fits-all plan. However, David Fizdale seems to be taking an old-school approach in New York, whereas the Grizzlies seem to be more modern in their thinking about the long term.
We’ll see which philosophy pays off in the long run.
Suns wings Kelly Oubre, Mikail Bridges out at least a week with injuries
The Suns have two young wings they like in Kelly Oubre and Mikail Bridges.
Or they will have. Right now both are out injured and are going to miss at least the next week and likely longer, the team has reported.
#Suns injury updates, including some official diagnoses: Nasal fracture for Aron Baynes, wrist tendinitis for Kelly Oubre and a knee bone bruise for Mikal Bridges. Open practice is tomorrow, and preseason opener Tuesday. pic.twitter.com/Z5vihaV6dJ
Oubre has not really participated in training camp, but the good news is this is his non-shooting hand and is not something that has been chronic. Oubre just needs time to heal, but that’s time lost in camp getting used to playing with Ricky Rubio, Dario Saric and the rest.
Bridges bone bruise is also something that will heal with time, but this is a painful injury and can linger if the player rushes back.
These are the guys the Suns are going to lean on this season at the three, the team needs to be patient and get them healthy. It’s just not an ideal situation early in camp.
NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.
The Timberwolves are the only team with two max-salary players under age 29. Heck, they’re the only team with two max-salary players under age 25.
New Timberwolves president Gersson Rosas was likely always bound to limit his impact this summer. Minnesota faced few clear pressing decisions. Any big moves would start the clock toward Rosas getting evaluated on his prestigious job. In one of his main decisions, Rosas retained head coach Ryan Saunders, an ownership favorite.
Yet, in this environment, Rosas still found a simple way to add a potential long-term difference maker.
The Timberwolves entered the draft with the No. 11 pick – right after a near-consensus top 10 would’ve been off the board. They left the draft with No. 6 pick Jarrett Culver.
All it took to trade up with the Suns was Dario Saric, who would’ve helped Minnesota this season but probably not enough to achieve meaningful success. He’ll become a free agent next summer and is in line for a raise the Timberwolves might not wanted to give.
Culver is not a lock to flourish in the NBA. But Minnesota had no business adding a prospect with so much potential. This was a coup.
Otherwise, the Timberwolves remained predictably quiet, tinkering on the fringe of the rotation. They added Jake Layman (three years, $11,283,255) in a sign-and-trade with the Trail Blazers. They took Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham off the hands of the hard-capped Warriors, getting cash for their trouble. They signed Noah Vonleh (one year, $2 million) and Jordan Bell (one year, minimum). They claimed Tyrone Wallace off waivers.
With their own free agents getting bigger offers, Minnesota didn’t match Tyus Jones‘ offer sheet with the Grizzlies (three years, $26,451,429) and watched Derrick Rose walk to the Pistons (two years, $15 million). For where the Timberwolves are, the far-cheaper Napier should handle backup point guard just fine.
Minnesota is methodically gaining flexibility. Teague’s contract expires next summer, Dieng’s the summer after that. The big question is how to handle Wiggins, but that will wait.
With Towns locked in the next five years, Rosas has plenty of runway before he must take off. Nabbing Culver was a heck of a way to accelerate from the gate.