Dwight Powell

Luka Doncic Devin Booker
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Three Things to Know: Luka Doncic, Devin Booker show bubble is for the young

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack — especially with games spread out every day in the bubble — so every weekday during the NBA restart we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) Devin Booker drains game-winner, bubble Suns undefeated

Devin Booker desperately wants to be mentioned among the best guards in the league — and he puts up the raw numbers to be in that club. It has been his defense and the fact his team is still woeful that has kept him from getting membership.

Not in the bubble.

Phoenix is 3-0 at the NBA restart after Booker drained a turnaround game-winner over Paul George — giving Booker 35 points on the night — to beat the Clippers.

The Clippers helped beat themselves. The Suns had the ball with 31 seconds to go and the Clippers — Kawhi Leonard in particular — defended them well, forcing Ricky Rubio into a difficult, high-arcing shot he missed. Ivica Zubac did a good job grabbing the rebound, but then he hurried the outlet pass and Mikal Bridges tipped it, Deandre Ayton grabbed it, and the Suns got to reset and take one more shot. Then, on that shot, Zubac came out high to double, giving a lane to Booker to drive, and the rest is history. The Clippers are 1-2 in the bubble and not impressing anyone.

The Suns and Booker are impressing everyone.

2) Luka Doncic‘s historic triple-double reminder Mavericks are playoff threat

Those stumbling Clippers mentioned above most likely will face the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs — and that has upset potential. In part because the Clippers have yet to find the chemistry and cohesion in the bubble — or have their key players all together — that they had the weeks before the league was shut down.

And in part because Luka Doncic can take over a game — and maybe a series. Doncic put up a ridiculous line of 34 points, 20 rebounds, and 12 assists, leading the Mavericks to an overtime win against the Kings. Doncic, at age 21, became the youngest NBA player ever with a 30-20-10 stat line, beating Oscar Robertson (23).

Doncic will be an All-NBA player this year (first or second team) and will get bottom-of-the-ballot MVP votes — he is an elite, franchise cornerstone player. Dallas is building a dangerous team around him (Kristaps Porzingis as the pick-and-pop partner, Tim Hardaway and Seth Curry as shooters, Dwight Powell doing the dirty work, and more) that seems a year or two away. But if youth is being served in the bubble, maybe not.

3) Jaren Jackson Jr.‘s injury changes feel of race for eighth in West.

The Memphis Grizzlies entered the restart with huge advantages — a 3.5 game lead for the eighth seed in the West, plus only having to win one-of-two games in a play-in series.

However, Memphis has started 0-3 in the bubble, and now this — young star center Jaren Jackson Jr. is out for the rest of the season with a torn meniscus in his left knee. It’s a blow to the Grizzlies, who have been competitive in those losses but now have lost their second-best player.

Memphis suddenly doesn’t feel safe as the eighth seed, not after Carmelo Anthony‘s dagger helped Portland beat Houston Tuesday night.

Portland is now just 1.5 games back of ailing Memphis for the eighth seed, with San Antonio (2 games behind Memphis) and New Orleans (2.5 back) lurking. Portland has three tough games coming up — Nuggets, Clippers, 76ers — while New Orleans has Zion Williamson playing more minutes and a soft schedule ahead. The race for the eighth spot in the West — the only real race in the bubble — feels wide open with five games to play.

And youth may be served.

Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander transcend positional overlap, age gap to lead Thunder

Thunder guards Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Chris Paul
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While the front office looked ahead to free agency, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander spent his rookie season last year helping the scrappy and starless Clippers overachieve. Management’s plan work. Armed with significant cap space and a reputation bolstered by last year’s playoff berth, the Clippers struck gold in the offseason. They signed Kawhi Leonard and traded for Paul George… by sending Gilgeous-Alexander to the Thunder.

Gilgeous-Alexander was shocked. But as he wrapped his head around the deal, he became excited for the opportunity in Oklahoma City. With George gone, Russell Westbrook on his way out and a boatload of draft picks incoming from the George trade, the Thunder appeared ready for a new era. Gilgeous-Alexander could be their point guard of the future, the centerpiece of their rebuild.

And then Oklahoma City traded for Chris Paul.

“I knew it’d be a challenge,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “Obviously, Chris being very, very ball-dominant and that’s what him doing best and being one of the best to ever play that position, that I would have to slide at times and play a little bit out of position.”

Paul didn’t seem thrilled with the arrangement, either. The veteran went from the championship-contending Rockets to a small-market team with much more modest expectations. It appeared he preferred to get re-routed elsewhere, and the Thunder looked ready to flip him.

But no other trade emerged. Paul and Gilgeous-Alexander stayed in Oklahoma City.

Paul’s championship aspirations might be on hold. Gilgeous-Alexander, as predicted, has been relegated to a secondary role. Yet, the guards – at near-opposite points in their careers – have played with pride and led the Thunder to a quite-satisfying season.

Oklahoma City still has all the draft picks acquired for George and Westbrook. The Thunder just haven’t had to suffer the losing that usually comes with rebuilding. Oklahoma City (40-24, fifth in West) extended their era of good feelings past Kevin Durant and Westbrook with their 11th straight winning season – the NBA’s longest-active streak.

Paul returned to the All-Star game after three seasons away. Gilgeous-Alexander continues to improve. They play well together. They appear to enjoy playing together.

Neither ego nor a historically large age gap has derailed this feel-good partnership.

Paul (35) is more than 13 years older than Gilgeous-Alexander (22). That’s the ninth-largest age gap between a team’s top two players* since the NBA-ABA merger.

*As defined by Wins Above Replacement Player, a stat developed by ESPN’s Kevin Pelton, who graciously provided the data.

Here are the teams with the largest age gap between their top two players since the NBA-ABA merger (age based on Feb. 1 of that season):

Thunder guards Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Chris Paul

Team Older Younger Age gap
2003 UTA John Stockton (40) Andrei Kirilenko (21) 18.9
2012 CLE Antawn Jamison (35) Kyrie Irving (19) 15.8
1993 BOS Robert Parish (39) Dee Brown (24) 15.2
2015 SAS Tim Duncan (38) Kawhi Leonard (23) 15.2
2014 SAS Tim Duncan (37) Kawhi Leonard (22) 15.2
2012 SAS Tim Duncan (35) Kawhi Leonard (20) 15.2
2001 HOU Hakeem Olajuwon (38) Steve Francis (23) 15.1
1986 SAS Artis Gilmore (36) Alvin Robertson (23) 13.8
2020 OKC Chris Paul (34) Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (21) 13.2
2001 IND Reggie Miller (35) Jermaine O’Neal (22) 13.1
2018 DAL Dirk Nowitzki (39) Dwight Powell (26) 13.1
2005 IND Reggie Miller (39) Jamaal Tinsley (26) 12.5
1986 LAL Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38) Magic Johnson (26) 12.3
1985 LAL Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (37) Magic Johnson (25) 12.3
1984 LAL Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (36) Magic Johnson (24) 12.3
1983 LAL Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (35) Magic Johnson (23) 12.3
1982 LAL Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (34) Magic Johnson (22) 12.3
1981 LAL Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (33) Magic Johnson (21) 12.3
1980 LAL Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (32) Magic Johnson (20) 12.3
2003 WAS Michael Jordan (39) Jerry Stackhouse (28) 11.7

These pairings can be awkward – especially when both players are accustomed to having the ball. See Jordan and Stackhouse.

Paul and Gilgeous-Alexander have shown no such tension.

“I think it takes a unique and special guy to be able to handle that,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “‘Hey listen, my identity and who I am as a player has been point guard my entire career. And now I’m moving off the ball. The ball is not in my hands as much as maybe it was in the past. And how do I now fit in? How do I become effective?’

“For those guys, it’s all been their approach. It’s been their mindset. And it’s the way they’ve sacrificed for one another.”

Remarkably, Oklahoma City has performed even better with a third point guard on the court – Dennis Schroder.

Paul has ceded more control than he usually does (i.e., some). Gilgeous-Alexander has embraced playing off the ball. Schroder has diversified his game and become better at picking his spots, emerging as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate.

Of course, bigger questions have come on defense. Schroder typically takes the easiest matchup, enabled by Paul and Gilgeous-Alexander stepping up. At 6-foot-5 with a 7-foot wingspan, Gilgeous-Alexander has the length to defend any perimeter player. Though smaller, Paul has the mettle and smarts to battle bigger forwards inside.

That effort earned Paul my All-Defensive second-team vote – and admiration. How many 6-foot-1 guards in their mid-30s want that challenge?

Despite being pressed into a situation he never sought, Paul has shown no signs of sulking. He plays hard and leads.

Just as Gilgeous-Alexander expected. Whatever trepidation he had about Paul joining Oklahoma City, Gilgeous-Alexander was also eager for the experience.

“I knew it would make me better, ultimately,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “And it has. And he’s taught me so many things, and I’m grateful for it.”

Who knows how long the pairing will last, though?

Thunder forward Danilo Gallinari is headed toward unrestricted free agency this offseason, and if he leaves, that’d be a significant impediment to winning next season. Oklahoma City could trade expensive players like Paul and Steven Adams.

Paul might even welcome it. Just because he embraced his role this season, when there were no clear alternatives, doesn’t mean he wants to finish his prime with the Thunder. A star again and with one fewer season on his contract, Paul should be in higher demand this offseason.

Oklahoma City might also be ready to move on. Though they have a boatload of draft picks from other teams, the Thunder can somewhat control only their own picks (through tanking). Tearing down the roster would also get Gilgeous-Alexander into a primary role.

“Shai is, no question, more than capable of playing point guard and running a team,” Donovan said.

That’s evident to anyone who watches him play. Yet, Gilgeous-Alexander hasn’t tried to hijack the offense. Paul hasn’t publicly grumbled about being stuck in a backcourt with a young player still learning how to win.

Everyone knows how uneasy this relationship could have been.

Which makes it special it’s working so well.

Report: Mavericks’ Willie Cauley-Stein sitting out; Dallas signs Trey Burke

Mavericks center Willie Cauley-Stein
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The NBA season typically ends in June. This year, due to coronavirus, players are set to enter a bubble at Disney World in July and stay through as late as October.

That schedule doesn’t work for Mavericks center Willie Cauley-Stein, but does open the door for Trey Burke.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

In some ways, this feels unfair to Cauley-Stein. Sitting out will cost him $188,119 of base salary plus $23,515 for each play-in and playoff game Dallas plays (up to $329,209 in total lost base salary).* But players often miss time to attend birth of children without having their pay docked.

Yet, coronavirus has forced the NBA to take special precautions. It’s unsafe for players to freely enter and exit the campus at Disney World. Cauley-Stein would face a long quarantine. Playing is also much more burdensome than usual, and continuing players are increasing the salary pot for all players.

On the other other hand, if Cauley-Stein were on one of the eight done teams, he could stay outside the bubble AND keep his salary.*

*With league-wide revenue way down, no players will get a full share of their base salary.

Coronavirus has created numerous difficult situations. This is one of them.

The Mavericks traded for Cauley-Stein in January to replace injured center Dwight Powell. Burke won’t help there, but he will add depth in the backcourt with Courtney Lee and Jalen Brunson also injured. Dallas coach Rick Carlisle often uses two-point-guard lineups, and Burke should fit.

Maybe the Mavericks will make another move to address center. Waiving Lee, who’s on an expiring contract, is an option.

Or Dallas could just roll with Kristaps Porzingis, Boban Marjanovic, Maxi Kleber, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Dorian Finney-Smith in creative lineups. Porzingis is very talented and very effective at center, but he’s too slight for some matchups, and he’s not the ideal roll threat to complement Luka Doncic. Marjanovic is too lumbering for many matchups. Kleber, Kidd-Gilchrist and Finney-Smith are small-ball options.

The Mavericks would benefit from having a more-prototypical center (like Powell and Cauley-Stein were). But it’s not paramount.

Reports: Mavericks’ Courtney Lee out after ‘freak accident’ calf injury

Mavericks guard Courtney Lee
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Courtney Lee‘s most prominent roles with the Mavericks have been burdensome salary accepted to get Kristaps Porzingis then tradable expiring contract.

But Lee started Dallas’ last four games before the season got suspended and could have filled a role as play resumes at Disney World.

Unfortunately, the shooting guard apparently suffered a calf injury and underwent surgery.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

Bobby Marks of ESPN:

The Mavericks have a full roster. However, they could open a spot by waiving Lee, who’s on an expiring contract. They’d lose his Bird Rights for the offseason, but those likely won’t matter, anyway. At 35 next offseason, Lee won’t command a high salary if Dallas wants him back.

The Mavericks have plenty of backcourt depth with Luka Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr., Seth Curry, Delon Wright and J.J. Barea. Dallas coach Rick Carlisle likes using two-point guard lineups.

So, the Mavericks should get by. They just lose some optionality, especially with Dwight Powell and Jalen Brunson also injured.

NBA to open ‘transaction window’ for teams to sign players before restart

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NBA GMs want as much roster flexibility as they can get heading into the restart of the league in Orlando.

They’re going to get some — and not just the GMs of the 22 teams headed to Orlando, all 30 teams can make moves in an upcoming “transaction window” reported by Adrian Wojnarowski and Bobby Marks of ESPN.

Starting likely June 22 and lasting about a week (the details are not finalized and sent teams) there will be a one week transaction window where teams can do things such as:

• Convert two-way players to regular contracts
• Sign free agents to contracts (Jamal Crawford is the biggest name available)
• Convert players on 10-day contracts to standard contracts for the remainder of the season (the Clippers signed Joakim Noah to a 10-day just before the shutdown, for example).

Not every team has a roster spot to make a move during the transaction window (for example, Boston is full up), but for teams with players out for the postseason — the Nets with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, Dallas with Dwight Powell, Utah with Bojan Bogdanovic — it gives teams a chance to fill out their roster.

Teams still will only be able to bring 15 players to Orlando, any replacement player brought in later would have to go through a quarantine period.

During the seeding games, if a player tests positive for coronavirus and has to be quarantined, or if a player suffers an injury that will have him out for a considerable time, teams can fill that roster spot from a pool of their two-way players and guys who were on G-League contracts.

ESPN’s Marks had good suggestions for the league; however, these likely do not get put into practice.

In reality, this is not going to matter much. If a starter or quality rotation player tests positive for the coronavirus in the Orlando “bubble,” he will be quarantined seven to 14 days (that exact time frame is not public yet). In that window, the team will have to fly out their two-way replacement player, quarantine him for 10 days, and then is the coach going to put a non-NBA player who has not been practicing with the team into a playoff game? Not a chance. The team will just wait out the rotation player and hope he can return to action before they are eliminated.

That said, at the end of June there will be some roster moves by teams, setting up their postseason run.