Dario Saric

Coby White astonished by Suns drafting Cameron Johnson No. 11 (video)

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North Carolina point guard Coby White – the Bulls’ No. 7 pick – was doing his NBA draft media session when the Suns chose North Carolina forward Cameron Johnson No. 11.

I recommend the video to see White’s emotions, but the the transcript captured his words:

Q. Cameron Johnson just went 11th. How do you react to that news?

COBY WHITE: Cam went 11th?

Q. Yeah, it’s right on the screen right there.

COBY WHITE: Wow. Wow. Wow, bro! That’s crazy. That’s so low, bro. Y’all know Cam? You don’t know how hard Cam worked. There’s a lot of people that doubt him. But wow, that’s crazy, bro. Wow, that’s so crazy. I’m so happy for him right now. Y’all don’t understand how happy I am for Cam. He proved it night in, night out that he deserves to be in the conversation for a lottery pick, man. He shot the ball like anybody I’ve never seen before in my life or played with. Wow. I’m getting chills up here.

I had a similar reaction – minus the deep happiness for Johnson, whom I’ve never met.

I was stunned.

Johnson ranked No. 27 on my board, and that wasn’t a major outlier. Johnson was a fifth-year senior who does little besides shoot. (At least he shoots very well). There are also long-term health concerns.

Suns general manager James Jones is definitely putting his stamp on the franchise. He traded T.J. Warren and the No. 32 pick to the Pacers, traded the No. 6 pick to the Timberwolves for the No. 11 pick and Dario Saric, traded for No. 24 pick Ty Jerome (another upperclassman) and gave undrafted Jalen Lecque an unusually large guarantee.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Of all those moves yesterday, drafting Johnson so high was the eye-popping one.

It’s very cool White shared his joy for his teammate. That showed their bond and looked like a genuine moment.

But White also displayed a shock many of us were feeling, and that will probably be what gets remembered.

Winners and losers from 2019 NBA Draft

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Let’s just own this up front: Picking the winners and losers from a draft the night it happens is a fool’s errand. If we were doing this right, tonight we’d be picking the winners and losers of the 2016 NBA Draft, because it takes about that long to get a real sense of how teams did. (Denver with Jamal Murray, Toronto with Pascal Siakam, and the Bucks with Malcolm Brogdon nailed it; Philly did fine with Ben Simmons at No. 1, but Phoenix took Dragan Bender at No. 4 and misfired.)

That, however, is not the instant gratification world we live in.

So here are our winners and losers from the 2019 NBA Draft.

Winner:

The New Orleans Pelicans. Thanks, Captain Obvious. The Pelicans won the NBA Draft Lottery, so when the draft itself rolled around all they needed to do was not screw it up. They got it right and took Zion Williamson No. 1. That is a massive win. New Orleans gets the highest rated player in the draft since Anthony Davis, and the most marketable rookie probably since LeBron James. It may have been a no-brainer, it doesn’t make the night any less of a success.

As for the rest of their moves, David Griffin traded out of the No. 4 pick and turned it into the No. 8 pick (Jaxson Hayes), No. 17 pick (Nickeil Alexander-Walker), and the No. 35 pick (Marcos Louzada Silva of Brazil). There are some development projects in there, but we don’t need to see how they pan out to know the Pelicans still win because they drafted Zion Williamson.

Winner:

The Atlanta Hawks. Atlanta moved up in the draft last year to get Trae Young, and a year later that seems a wise call. This year the Hawks moved up again, this time to the No. 4 pick to get De'Andre Hunter — the highest floor player in this draft whose first name doesn’t start with “Z.” Hunter is going to be a quality wing defender who can knock down shots and make plays on the perimeter, having a Trevor Ariza kind of impact. Put that with Young, John Collins, and Kevin Huerter, and you’ve got something to build on in the ATL. The Hawks also snapped up Duke’s Cam Reddish at No. 10, a player with All-Star level upside who should be able to thrive in the NBA with more space on the floor (at least that’s what his supporters say, Reddish needs to prove there’s not some Andrew Wiggins in him).

The Hawks were already League Pass favorites the second half of last season, this season they will be even more show-stopping with these pick ups.

Loser:

The Phoenix Suns. They came into the draft with the No. 6 pick and a glaring need at point guard, plus they could use some more consistent wing play. Jarrett Culver was on the board at six and would have been a good fit next to Devin Booker. Coby White, the third highest rated point guard in this draft, was on the board. Instead, the Suns traded down in a deal with the Timberwolves, picking up Dario Saric — a nice stretch four but one who hits restricted free agency next summer and will be expensive to keep — and the No. 11 pick, which they used on Cameron Johnson, a good shooter out of North Carolina, but one who has hip issues and most teams had in the 20s on their boards. Earlier in the day, the Suns traded in-demand T.J. Warren and the No. 32 pick to the Pacers for cash considerations.

So to recap: The Suns gave up Warren, didn’t take Culver, and surrendered the No. 32 pick for Cam Johnson and Dario Saric. Um… not good.

The Suns aren’t total losers because they got Ty Jerome at No. 24, a quality pickup at that spot, and maybe they get a good, veteran point guard in free agency. Still, their moves remain head scratching.

Winner:

The Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavaliers are a bad, rebuilding team. It’s understandable in the wake of a title run and LeBron leaving, but that is their reality right now. They simply need more talent on the roster. That means they had one goal in this draft: Take the best player, the guy with the highest upside, regardless of position. The Cavaliers did that. At No. 5 they took Darius Garland, a player some teams had as high as third on their draft boards — and they did it despite the fact they had Collin Sexton on the roster. That’s how you draft, take the best players and sort it out later. Then they took high upside guys late in the first round: Dylan Windler out of Belmont at No. 28 (42.9 percent from three) and trading up to get Kevin Porter Jr. at No. 30. Maybe that pans out, maybe it doesn’t, but they were good gambles at that point in the draft on guys who could be steals that late.

Loser:

Bol Bol. He was a winner in this sense: Not everybody can pull off that suit, but he did.

However, a 7’2″ skilled big man who captured the imaginations of fans — and who some teams might have taken late in the first round — fell all the way down the board to No. 44, when the Miami Heat took him. Then immediately traded him to Denver. He’s got a lot of potential, but two things scared teams off. First was the foot injury that required two screws be put in his foot — those kinds of injuries in big men scare teams. Second, and even a more significant factor, were serious concerns about his work ethic and how much he loves the game. Is he going to put in the work? Still, to see him fall and all the players taken ahead of him at the start of the second round — once the contracts are no longer guaranteed — was stunning. And awkward as he sat in the NBA’s Green Room, waiting.

Winner:

R.J. Barrett. He desperately wanted to be a Knick. Now he is, New York took him No. 3. Barrett was leaning into it and the New York crowd all night. Good for him, Barrett has the potential to be an outstanding player in the NBA. He’s got the tools.

But be careful what you wish for… New York has chewed up and spit out a lot of good players.

Report: Minnesota trades up to No. 6 pick, sends Phoenix Dario Saric, No. 11 pick

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New Minnesota president Gersson Rosas has a reputation around the league: He’s aggressive. He learned in Houston to go hard after what he wants.

Rosas wanted to move up in this draft, and he found a partner, the Phoenix Suns. The Timberwolves will draft sixth after a trade with the Suns for the 11th pick and Dario Saric. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news.

This trade can work out for Minnesota, depending upon who they draft and develop.

Who will the Timberwolves pick at six? Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, and R.J. Barrett will be off the board for sure. The Hawks, who just traded for the No. 4 pick, are expected to take De'Andre Hunter out of Virginia. Cleveland at No. 5 now is the breaking point of the draft but reports are they like Darius Garland out of Vanderbilt, unless they trade down from this spot. That makes Jarrett Culver the likely Timberwolves pick at six. Coby White, the North Carolina point guard, is another option.

For Phoenix, Saric can be a good fit at the four if they acquire a good ball-sharing point guard this summer.

Saric gives the Suns a sharpshooter to help space the floor. The Suns starting lineup now has Devin Booker, Kelly Oubre Jr., Saric, Deandre Ayton, and they are expected to chase a veteran point guard in free agency. That has some potential.

 

Loss sends Philadelphia into summer of uncertainty sooner than they expected

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Understandably, nobody on the Sixers wanted to talk about the future Sunday night.

“I’m not worried about that right now, after losing. I’m not going to talk about anything but basketball,” Jimmy Butler said when asked about his impressions of the Sixers.

Soon enough all the talk around the Sixers will be about the future.

GM Elton Brand ended “the process” and turned Philadelphia into a “win now” team with a target of the Conference Finals – at the very least — as the goal by trading a lot of assets this season to land Butler and Tobias Harris. Philadelphia entered the playoffs with the second-best starting five in the NBA: Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Butler, Harris, and Joel Embiid.

Only two of them are under contract for next season.

And this team only reached the second round of the playoffs (although in part because of a Kawhi Leonard shot that was a punch to the gut).

Coach Brett Brown could be the scapegoat, with reports he would be let go if the team faced a second-round exit.

“The club can respond to that,” was how Brown answered a question about his job security after the loss.

The bigger issue this summer in Philly is Butler, Harris, and Redick are unrestricted free agents. Philly owner Joshua Harris said he will pay whatever it takes to keep this starting lineup together — and the Sixers can offer more money than other teams — but each of those players will have multiple teams calling and offering different roles on the court and potential lifestyles off it. If any one of them were not happy or comfortable, they have options.

For the Sixers, they have yet to really see what this roster — thrown together during the season — can do.

“We haven’t been together for a while with this group but there’s a lot of potential,” Simmons said of the Sixers starting five. He said team grew a lot in the last couple of months.

What did the Sixers learn from the loss? “It’s simple, we got to get better,” Simmons said.

Beyond the three free agents, Brand and Philadelphia need to deal with a couple of big questions.

For one, can Simmons and Embiid win at the highest levels together? No doubt both are talented players — both are All-Stars, and someday Simmons will join Embiid on All-NBA teams — but do their games pair well? Simmons does not have a jump shot to speak of and needs the ball in his hands to drive and create, but Embiid should operate more down low, where he is a beast but clogs the lanes for those drives. Simmons is best in transition but Embiid is never going to be a gazelle running the floor. In the playoffs, as Butler became more and more the primary ball handler and shot creator in the half court, Simmons was relegated to the dunker’s spot. He had some quiet games.

That said, the Sixers were +8.1 per 100 possessions this season when Simmons and Embiid shared the court (in 1,431 minutes) and that jumped to +19.8 in the playoffs.

Philadelphia’s other big question this summer is where do they find more depth. Against the Raptors, Embiid was +90 when on the court, but when he sat the Sixers were -109. Brand traded away a lot of “assets” — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Robert Covington, and a couple of first-round picks — to get Butler and Harris, but it sapped Philly of its depth. That was an issue in the playoffs (see Embiid’s +/- number above). The Sixers will have little room to maneuver but need to find quality depth at a fair price.

All that combined is a lot of uncertainty. A lot of decisions need to be made and questions answered.

Nobody was doing that Sunday night, but they will soon.

Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Portland wins ‘weird game’ to tie series with Denver

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The NBA playoffs are in full swing and there can be a lot to unpack in a series of intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) In weird game Denver can’t buy a bucket, Portland escapes with a win to tie series 1-1. Nikola Jokic summed it up well:

“It was a weird game for us. They didn’t even play that good, to be honest. They can play better than that. Weird game, weird day.”

Weird in that Denver just could not buy a bucket. Not just weird in the Nuggets shooting 6-of-29 (20.7 percent) from three and going 0-of-10 in the second quarter. Rather, weird as in Denver grabbing 23 offensive rebounds (38.6 percent of their missed shots) but shooting just 6-of-17 on chip-shot putback attempts. Weird in that Nuggets guards Jamal Murray and Gary Harris were 2-of-13 from three and combined to shoot 33.3 percent overall on the night. Weird in that the Nuggets shot 14-of-45 (31.1 percent) on uncontested shots (via NBA.com). Weird in that Portland had an offensive rating of just 102.1 for the game, but that was enough to have them comfortably ahead most of the night as Denver scored less than a point per possession.

Weird, physical, whatever you want to call it, the Trail Blazers will take it. Portland was the more aggressive team, earned the 97-90 win and evened the series at 1-1 heading back to Portland for Game 3.

The game certainly was physical. Nobody got that worse than Denver’s Torry Craig, who suffered a “nasal contusion” when diving for a loose rebound and his face hit the back of teammate Monte Morris’ leg. Craig returned to play with a mask (something he had fitted back in the preseason), and he ended up on the ground late in the game, which sparked a confrontation (see item two).

It was a weird game in that Portland’s Enes Kanter may have had a better game than Nikola Jokic. At least he did in terms of what their respective teams need out of them. Jokic had 16 points on 7-of-17 shooting, he had seven assists (he assisted on 38.9 percent of his teammate’s buckets when on the court, still an impressive percentage), but would have had a lot more if guys had just made shots. Jokic was still making passes like this.

Kanter had 15 points on 10-of-15 shooting and played solid, physical defense down low with Jokic. Kanter came into these playoffs with the Billy Donovan “can’t play Kanter” reputation because of his pick-and-roll defense and what happened to him in previous playoffs, but give the man credit, he has stepped up and performed well in the absence of Jusuf Nurkic this postseason.

CJ McCollum had 20 points for Portland, even if it took 20 shots to get there.

This game felt like a one-off for the series. There were adjustments, but both teams struggled just to make shots they usually hit that it’s tough to tell what worked and what didn’t. Denver needs to attack earlier when the threes aren’t falling, but aside that this was more about missed opportunities than anything else.

Portland does not care. It’s a win. The series is tied and the Trail Blazers are heading home.

2) Late game scuffle could lead to suspensions for Nuggets, Trail Blazers. With 43.5 seconds remaining in Game 2, Damian Lillard sank a free throw that put Portland up seven. That’s when a weird game had it’s “fight.”

Denver called a time out after the free throw, but before that was really heard players started to move back down to the end of the court. Nikola Jokic shoves Enes Kanter, who is off-balance and collides with the already-injured Torrey Craig and knocks the masked man down. Then Jamal Murray and Gary Harris confront Kanter for knocking down Craig and there is a typical NBA “fight” at mid-court with a lot of pushing and posing but no actual punches.

Portland’s Evan Turner sprinted from the bench area to get in the scuffle. Denver’s Jarred Vanderbilt (who made contact with Kanter) and Trey Lyles also left the bench area (and to a lesser extent Brandon Goodwin, Juan Hernangomez, Isaiah Thomas, and Thomas Welsh did as well), but the incident was closer to the Nugget bench and play had been stopped.

The NBA rule is clear: Leave a bench during a fight and the player gets a one-game suspension.

However, there had been a timeout called, and when that happens players often leave the bench to greet teammates coming off the court. Plus, there was no game action.

Will the league suspend players, or just fine them saying there was a time out in the action? My guess is the latter, nobody misses time, but the league is unpredictable on these matters.

There is more riding on this for Portland because the only player who came off the bench for either team that is in the playoff rotation is Turner. His loss would be felt if he misses a game, especially if Maurice Harkless remains out with the ankle sprain he suffered back in the first quarter.

3) Minnesota finds its man in Gersson Rosas to head up their basketball operations. The Timberwolves did things backwards: owner Glen Taylor wanted to keep coach Ryan Saunders and general manager Scott Layden, but wanted to hire their new boss. Whoever was going to head basketball operations in Minnesota was not going to get to hire his own team under him, he was inheriting one.

That person is Gersson Rosas, the right-hand man to Daryl Morey in Houston, according to multiple reports out of Minnesota.

This is a milestone. Rosas will be the first Latino to lead a basketball operations department in the NBA (Rosas was born in Bogata, Columbia). Rosas has earned his shot.

Rosas technically has been a GM before. He was hired by Dallas back in 2013 for that role, but walked away from it three months later. Rosas thought he would have decision-making power in Dallas, but the hammer still belonged to Mavs president Donnie Nelson (not to mention owner Mark Cuban).

This time Rosas has the hammer… and a lot of work to do.

On the bright side, the Timberwolves have an elite center and franchise cornerstone in Karl-Anthony Towns. That level of player is the hardest to get, and Towns seemed to connect with Saunders as coach (now Saunders just needs to get Towns to play consistent defense.

Building an elite team around Towns will be the challenge. Mostly because of a couple anchor contracts — Andrew Wiggins (four years, $122 million remaining), Gorgui Dieng (two years, $33.5 million remaining). Minnesota also has to pay Jeff Teague $19 million next season after he opted in, although at least he contributes a lot on the court. Those guys, however, make it very difficult to maneuver under the cap and bring in more talent.

There are other assets. Robert Covington was mostly hurt after coming over from Philly in a trade but he can be the kind of wing defender the Timberwolves need. Josh Okogie showed promise as a rookie, and they have Dario Saric, who is a solid rotation player and developing. If Teague plays well and everyone stays healthy this could be a playoff team next season. That would be a start.

But Rosas has a lot of work ahead of him to take advantage of Towns’ prime.