Emmanuel Mudiay

Emmanuel Mudiay beautifully fakes behind-the-back pass to get open layup (video)

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This is where I reminder you Emmanuel Mudiay is just 23. It’s not too late for Mudiay – now with the Jazz after stints with the Nuggets and the Knicks – to implement enough craft into his game to succeed in the NBA. Point guards tend to develop late.

(Relatedly, Jarrett Culver is just a rookie. Falling for this sweet move doesn’t destine him to poor defense. And at least his Timberwolves beat Utah yesterday.)

Utah has talent, but how far can they go without a superstar?

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This story is part of our NBCSports.com’s 2019-20 NBA season preview coverage. Every day between now and when the season opens Oct. 22 we will have at least one story focused on the upcoming season and the biggest questions heading into it. In addition, there will be podcasts, video and more. Come back every day and get ready for a wide-open NBA season.

Everybody is hot on teams in the Western Conference this year. The Los Angeles Clippers have several superstars. LeBron James finally has Anthony Davis with the Lakers. The Denver Nuggets are back and as deep as ever. The Houston Rockets are trying something new with Russell Westbrook. The Portland Trail Blazers have revamped much of their roster. That’s not left much room for the Utah Jazz, one of the favorites to dominate the regular season this year.

But the Jazz, who are moving forward with Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Ed Davis to go with much of the same team they fielded last year, are a team without a superstar. Depth and cohesiveness will be the weapon that Utah tries to wield against its rivals in West this season, and based on the personalities in play, there is real hope they can do just that.

At the core of this hope is one of the league’s best defenses. According to Cleaning the Glass, Utah was first in the NBA in opponent points per possession, effective field-goal percentage, and offensive rebounding rate. The Jazz were also stingy when giving up shooting fouls, and that perhaps made up for some of their inconsistencies on offense.

In 2018-19, Utah was a decent enough 3-point shooting team and a great squad at attacking the rim in terms of percentage. But the Jazz struggled on corner threes, where they took the second-most shots of any team in the NBA. This was coupled with some of the issues in how the Jazz offense ran. With Ricky Rubio at the helm — and in one of his better years, no less — the team lacked a dynamism at times when they needed it most. Without a team effort, it was often difficult for Utah to get something on the board in critical situations.

That’s the same worry that will present itself this season. Both Conley and Davis are great players, but they aren’t the type that will take over a game consistently in clutch moments. The hope is that Donovan Mitchell will be more comfortable in a role he filled last season, playing off the ball as a combo-guard much in the vein of CJ McCollum.

At age 23, there is lots of room to grow for Mitchell. Hyped as a rookie, opinion has started to turn on the Jazz third-year player. Last season for Utah, Mitchell failed to curb his turnover issues. He also didn’t create offense based off of his usage percentage in a way that was more efficient and it had been as a rookie. Mitchell shot 37 percent from 3-point line last year, which was in the 67th percentile for his position according to Cleaning the Glass. It will be massively helpful if Mitchell can continue to grow his game from beyond the arc this season.

Mitchell is more athletic and explosive than some of the other combo guards we’ve seen come through the NBA as of late, and the real question will be whether he can put aside his first instinct and play smarter next year. Jazz fans are hoping for just that, and perhaps having an older mentor in Conley will help push him in the right direction.

To that end, there are some interesting players on the Jazz roster that clash with the idea that this is a “team only” squad. Emmanuel Mudiay, Dante Exum, and Jeff Green are all players who can attack and play outside of the scheme of normal, boring Quin Snyder offense.

Of course, Utah’s strength will still be its team-oriented style. Joe Ingles is now paired with Bogdanovic in the frontcourt, and that should boost the Jazz 3-point shooting numbers significantly. Last year for the Indiana Pacers, Bogdanovic shot a whopping 52% on all corner threes. He also shot 42% on threes in total, and that should boost the Utah offense as both Conley and Mitchell create opportunities on the drive.

In this same concern is the idea that Conley, a significant upgrade over Rubio, can actually shoot the 3-pointer. The former Memphis Grizzlies star is a 37% career 3-point shooter, far better than Rubio’s mark of 31%. That should stretch the geometry of how opposing defenses try to contain Utah, and give everyone on the floor more opportunities to score efficiently.

The Jazz are a team without a superstar, and that’s cause for concern in today’s NBA. Utah’s defense will once again be great — Rudy Gobert will see to that. But when we talk about lacking stars, we’re really asking questions about a team’s ability to create outside of a team perspective. If the Jazz are going to pick a year to test the team-first theory, this would be the one to do it in the Western Conference. Utah should still be a favorite to make it into the playoffs, but how deep they will go will depend on if their new additions can galvanize in time to withstand attacks from opposing rivals.

Highly touted 2020 NBA Draft prospect R.J. Hampton to play in Australia

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The NBA is working toward lowering its age minimum.

In the meantime, other leagues are recruiting top players out of high school. College basketball is trying to maintain its monolith status. The Australian National Basketball League is offering “Next stars” contracts that guarantee about $78,000 U.S. gross. The NBA’s minor league affiliate is offering Select Contracts with a $125,000 salary.

Score one for Australia.

Top-10 2020 NBA draft prospect R.J. Hampton on ESPN:

Next year, I will be going overseas to play in the Australian basketball league with the New Zealand Breakers.

Players generally don’t publicly disclose under-the-table payments or low grades/test scores. So, we don’t know why players like Brandon Jennings and Emmanuel Mudiay bypassed college basketball. But Hampton is believed to be the first elite American player without college-eligibility issues who still chose to play overseas out of high school.

Will Hampton start a trend? Probably not. The end of the one-and-done rule appears imminent. Players like him will just go straight to the NBA.

But this is definitely an unconventional route for Hampton, and the NBA – teams scouting for the draft, league and union leaders negotiating a future system – will pay attention.

Knicks Frank Ntilikina reportedly wants to be traded, switches agents

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When the Knicks acquired Emmanuel Mudiay last season — a player Denver just released outright — Mudiay instantly jumped past Frank Ntilikina on the point guard depth chart. Then, when the Knicks traded for Dennis Smith Jr. at the deadline (part of the Kristaps Porzingis deal), the future of Ntilikina in New York was thrown into uncertainty.

Ntilikina sees that, wants out, and is getting a new agent as well, reports Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina dropped CAA as his agency last season and planned to sign with French agent Bouna Ndiaye, the Daily News has learned.

Ntilikina, who was drafted eighth overall by Knicks in 2017, is on the trading block and desires a relocation, a source told the News. The Knicks declined offers to move Ntilikina at the trade deadline in February, acquired another point guard in Dennis Smith Jr., and Ntilikina quickly decided to change agents.

Ndiaye represents several French players in the NBA, including Rudy Gobert and Evan Fournier.

The Knicks are expected to try to trade Ntilikina, either at the draft or next summer. Mostly other teams will view him as a way to save money — if teams do not pick up his 2020-21 option by Oct. 31 he comes off the books after this next season — but also Ntilikina played good defense and other teams may try to take a flier on him.

Heat beat Knicks in Wade’s final Madison Square Garden game

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NEW YORK (AP) — Dion Waiters scored 28 points, Dwyane Wade added 16 in his last game at Madison Square Garden, and the Miami Heat beat the New York Knicks 100-92 on Saturday night.

Wade had back-to-back baskets in Miami’s 8-0 run to start the fourth quarter after the game was tied through three. He shot 6 for 16 and added seven rebounds in 27 minutes off the bench.

Hassan Whiteside finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds for the Heat, while Kelly Olynyk chipped in 12 points and 11 rebounds. Goran Dragic had 10 points and 10 assists.

The Heat have won six of their last eight games and hold a half-game lead over Orlando for the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference.

Emmanuel Mudiay scored 24 points for the Knicks, who have lost six straight and 14 of 15.

New York, which has lost eight straight games at home, seemed like it was going to spoil Wade’s last visit to one of his favorite arenas.

But he followed Whiteside’s basket with two of his own before Whiteside made two free throws to make it 87-79 with 9:29 to go.

The three-time NBA champion received a nice hand from the Garden crowd when he walked to the scorer’s table for the first time midway through the first quarter. Wade was then greeted with a standing ovation when he checked into the game with 4:37 left in the period.

New York honored Wade’s 15-year career with a video tribute with 2:47 remaining in the opening period after a Miami timeout.

Wade then drove to the basket for his first points of the night.

Wade’s tribute video included a warm message from coach David Fizdale, who won two NBA titles as a Miami assistant coach from 2008-16.

The Knicks coach recalled a game Wade won while both teams on the court couldn’t get anything “right.”

But Wade found a way to put the Heat over Chicago in double overtime.

“He stole the ball at the end of the game and made a running halfcourt shot to end the game. It was literally a bloodbath. I’ll never forget that night,” Fizdale recalled. “We’re battling like crazy. And somehow he figured out how to get us a win.”