Duncan Robinson

Mavericks star Luka Doncic and Hornets guard Devonte' Graham
Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

2020 PBT Awards: Most Improved Player

Leave a comment

The NBA regular season might be finished. Heck, the entire NBA season might be finished. Even if play resumes with regular-season games, there’d likely be an abridged finish before the playoffs (which will also likely be shortened).

So, we’re making our 2019-20 award picks now. If the regular season somehow lasts long enough to reconsider our choices, we’ll do that. But here are our selections on the assumption the regular season is over.

Kurt Helin

1. Luka Doncic, Mavericks

2. Brandon Ingram, Pelicans

3. Devonte' Graham, Hornets

I was slow to come around to the idea of Luka Doncic going from Rookie of the Year to MIP. For this award, I tend to lean towards guys who have not reached their potential then make a leap to All-Star status (Brandon Ingram) or guys who come out of nowhere to play a big role (Devonte’ Graham). However, when you break this down, not only did Doncic make just a big a leap as them statistically, he made the hardest leap in the league, from good to franchise-cornerstone, elite player. It was very difficult to leave Bam Adebayo and Pascal Siakam off this list, this was a deep and deserving MIP class.

Dan Feldman

1. Luka Doncic, Mavericks

2. Devonte’ Graham, Hornets

3. Brandon Ingram, Pelicans

I don’t care he’s in his second year. I don’t care he was drafted highly. I don’t care some believe this was “supposed to” happen. Luka Doncic went from good for a rookie to great for anyone – an amazing jump duplicated by only LeBron James.

That narrowly outpaced Devonte’ Graham, who came out of nowhere for the Hornets. He was out of the rotation last season. This season, he was on the outskirts of the All-Star discussion.

Brandon Ingram made huge strides as a shooter and in his all-around game – just in time to get paid.

This was an absurdly deep year for Most Improved Player. Trae Young followed Doncic’s arc, though hitting lower levels last season and this season with the Hawks. Duncan Robinson spent last of most season in the minor league then became a helpful starter on a good Heat team. Donte DiVincenzo went from bad to good, giving the Bucks a much-needed boost at shooting guard. A Young-Robinson-DiVincenzo ballot would be completely reasonable in many seasons.

Special shoutout to Raptors forward Pascal Siakam, who doesn’t deserve this annual award but keeps making year-over-year improvements that – in aggregate – are incredible.

I haven’t even gotten to Heat big Bam Adebayo, who didn’t make Rising Stars his first two seasons then became an All-Star his third season. He suffers from being solid the previous two years, even though he became more impactful as a versatile defender and broke out as a passing weapon.

Again, the depth of this field is preposterous.

Keith Smith

1. Devonte’ Graham, Hornets

2. Brandon Ingram, Pelicans

3. Bam Adebayo, Heat

It’s usually considered bad form to give Most Improved Player to a second-year player. NBA players are expected to make a major jump from their first to second years. However, Devonte’ Graham came out of nowhere. As a part-time rotation player as a rookie, Graham averaged 4.7 points on 28.1 percent 3-point shooting and 2.6 assists per game. As a surprising starter in his sophomore campaign, Graham shot 37.3 percent from behind the arc and averaged 18.2 points and 7.5 assists per game. The Hornets weren’t good, but they were better than most thought, as they were on a 29-win pace. Graham was a big part of that.

Brandon Ingram was the centerpiece of the Anthony Davis’ trade for the Pelicans and he showed why. Ingram made the All-Star team for the first time and upped his scoring output to 24.3 points per game. He hit 38.7 percent from downtown on a career-high 6.3 three-point attempts per game. Ingram also improved his rebounding up to 6.3 boards per night, while also dishing out a career-best 4.3 assists per game.

Bam Adebayo was a first-time All-Star in 2020, as he flashed an improved all-around game. Adebayo was mostly a defender and rebounder in his first two NBA seasons. As a third-year player, he became a full-time starter and showed his box score stuffing chops. Adebayo averaged career-highs across the board with 16.2 points, 10.5 rebound, 5.1 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. He also shot 56.7 percent from the field and played in all 65 of Miami’s games.

Mock NBA expansion draft: Hawks, Hornets, Heat, Magic, Wizards

Mock NBA expansion draft
(AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
Leave a comment

The NBA season is on hiatus. NBC Sports is not – even if we have to venture into fantasy.

We’re holding a mock NBA expansion draft. Keith Smith is setting protected lists for existing teams. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman will run two new teams as this project culminates in an expansion draft.

Current teams can protect up to eight players. Each team must make at least one player available. If selected, restricted free agents become unrestricted free agents. Pending options can be decided before or after the expansion draft at the discretion of the option-holder. Anyone selected in the expansion draft can’t return to his prior team for one year. Players entering unrestricted free agency and players on two-way contracts are essentially ignored.

We’re unveiling protected/unprotected lists by division (here is the Atlantic Division, Central Division, Pacific Division and Northwest Division). Players are listed with their 2020-21 salary. Up now, the Southeast:

Atlanta Hawks

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: The Hawks protections are very straightforward. Every player they are protecting is either a rotation player, under team control for a while or both. No hard decisions here.

That means that Atlanta is leaving their restricted free agents and Brandon Goodwin unprotected. No major concerns over losing any of the four.

Charlotte Hornets

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: Charlotte’s decisions were fairly easy. Terry Rozier, Devonte’ Graham, Miles Bridges and P.J. Washington are all core pieces. Despite his suspension, Malik Monk still has upside. And the three young forwards (Cody Martin, Caleb Martin and Jalen McDaniels) are locked in on low salaries for a while.

Keeping the three minimum salary forwards meant leaving Dwayne Bacon unprotected. Bacon had been out of the rotation and sent to the G-League, so he’s out of the plans for now. As for Nic Batum or Cody Zeller, the Hornets would welcome getting either big salary off the books.

Miami Heat

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 1

Ineligible – 6

Analysis: Miami was really helped by having six players ineligible because they are unrestricted free agents this summer. That left just this decision point: Andre Iguodala vs KZ Okpala vs Kelly Olynyk.

Okpala is a minimum salary player, so that means he stays. Iguodala was just added and given an extension. He stays. That means Olynyk and his $13 million salary are left exposed.

Orlando Magic

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: Orlando had seven fairly easy protections. Their five starters, sixth man, and their promising young big man in Mo Bamba.

That left Khem Birch vs Al-Farouq Aminu vs Wesley Iwundu. Aminu was left unprotected due to salary and coming off a knee injury. It’s unlikely he’ll be selected and the Magic will be happy to have him back. That means it came down to Birch vs Iwundu. It’s more likely Birch will be selected, given his low salary and skill as a big man, so Iwundu was left unprotected.

Washington Wizards

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

  • John Wall – $41,254,920
  • Isaac Bonga – $1,663,861 (Non-Guaranteed)
  • Anzejs Pasecnicks – $1,517,981 ($250,000 Guaranteed)

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: The Wizards are taking a gamble. Most of the protections were pretty easy. Bradley Beal and Thomas Bryant are key players. Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown, Mo Wagner and Jerome Robinson are all on their rookie scale deals.

Then things get interesting. Leaving John Wall unprotected may seem crazy, given he’s a former All-Star. But Wall is coming off two lost seasons due to injury and will be 30 years old at the start of next season. He’s also owed $133 million over the next three seasons. Ish Smith and Admiral Schofield stay and the Wizards throw caution to the wind. It’s unlikely Wall will be selected, but just the chance of clearing that salary off the books is a gamble worth taking for Washington.

Heat forward Duncan Robinson: I don’t have hickey

Heat forward Duncan Robinson
Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Duncan Robinson made seven 3-pointers in the first half and finished with 27 points in the Heat’s win over the Magic last night.

He also went viral for this photo:

But Robinson clarified that gritty Bucks shooting guard Wesley Matthews caused the mark in Miami’s win over the Bucks on Monday.

Five Reasons Sports Network:

Thank you Duncan for this very important update.

Former John Beilein-coached Michigan player in NBA: Cavaliers players don’t value winning

Former Cavaliers coach John Beilein
Jason Miller/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Cavaliers tuned out John Beilein then tuned their music to songs about thugs.

Beilein lasted less than a season as Cleveland’s coach.

But one of his former players at Michigan is sticking up for him.

Sam Amico of Sports Illustrated:

Even under the cloak of anonymity, that’s a harsh way for an NBA player to talk about fellow NBA players.

Who said it? There are nine suspects:

Whoever he is, that player lacks full context.

None of those players were on a clear NBA track when arriving in Ann Arbor. They all developed under Beilein’s tutelage. Beilein’s message lands differently when you’re already in the NBA – especially when you’re a proven player like Kevin Love or Tristan Thompson. As I said when Beilein was hired, there was going to be a race between Beilein convincing his players he could help them and them believing they could walk all over him. He lost the race. In Ann Arbor, in part because of his power over his less-heralded players, Beilein repeatedly earned buy-in first.

None of those players were on Beilein’s first Michigan team, which went 10-22. Beilein has typically come into a new job preaching fundamentals. That sets a foundation for future winning. But in the short term, the lack of focus on games can lead to plenty of losing. Beilein’s first season with the Wolverines was exhausting, and the end was a welcome respite. Everyone returned for year two better prepared, and Michigan took off. But the NBA season is far longer. The Cavs already endured 54 games under Beilein’s first-year approach. Another 28 was asking a lot.

Maybe Cavaliers players would have been better off in the long run if they accepted Beilein’s teaching. But it’s on Beilein to earn their trust, and he never did.

Buddy Hield wins 3-point contest on final shot (video)

Leave a comment

CHICAGO – Buddy Hield certainly has a flair for the dramatic.

The Kings guard won the 3-point contest Saturday, hitting the last shot to edge Devin Booker in the final round, 27-26.

The night after Valentine’s Day, Hield came into his post-event press conference, set his trophy on the table and gave it a big smooch.

“As a shooter, this on your bucket list,” Hield said.

Hield has hit a game-winning 3-pointer. But this wasn’t a typical gameday.

“I had no routine this morning,” Hield said. “I went out last night.

“It was All-Star Weekend. You got to have fun too.”

Round 1

Devin Booker 27

Buddy Hield 27

Davis Bertans 26

Zach LaVine 23

Joe Harris 22

Duncan Robinson 19

Devonte' Graham 18

Trae Young 15

Round 2

Buddy Hield 27

Devin Booker 26

Davis Bertans 22