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No MRI needed for Trae Young, out Thursday but could return next week

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This is as good of news as Atlanta could have hoped for on Trae Young.

Young got treatment today at the Hawks’ facility in Atlanta, but no MRI is scheduled — the right ankle sprain isn’t severe enough to warrant one. Young has been ruled out for the Hawks game Thursday night against Miami, but after that the team is off until next Tuesday and Young could return for that game or later next week. While the Hawks are going to be cautious with their young star, he’s not going to miss extended time.

Last night, Young had put this message out on Instagram.

This means Atlanta can exhale — as can fans everywhere because Young has been must watch this season. When the injury happened at the start of the second quarter Wednesday night, it looked much worse.

Atlanta needs him back, the Hawks are 22.5 points per 100 possessions better this season when Young is on the court. Young has torn up the league to start the season, averaging 26.8 points per game, shooting 50 percent from three, and dishing out 7.3 assists per night.

Behind him there is a steep drop off. Evan Turner is supposed to be the backup point guard but has been out with left Achilles pain, which leaves just-claimed-off-waiver Tyrone Wallace as the only pure point guard on the roster. Then there is second-year man Kevin Huerter, plus rookies Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter, to handle the other guard spot.

Three Things to Know: Trae Young’s ‘painful’ ankle sprain will hurt Hawks

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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) It’s going to be a painful for the Hawks without Trae Young. After the game, Trae Young described his sprained ankle as “painful.”

We all knew that when it happened — it made you a little queasy to watch it.

Young’s ankle is going to be painful for the Hawks until he gets back.

The Hawks have been 22.5 points per 100 possessions better this season when Young is on the court. Or, put in raw numbers, Atlanta is +28 when Young has been on the court this season and -24 when he has sat.

If you need more proof of just how critical Young is to Atlanta, just watch what happened against Miami, where it was basically an even game when Young was in, but not too long after he went down the Heat went on an 11-0 run and never looked back, winning 112-97.

Miami got Jimmy Butler back and he had 21 points on 5-of-11 shooting, attacking the rim and getting to the line 15 times. It opened up the Heat offense. Butler thanked Heat fans — and Bam Adebayo is already joking around with Butler on Twitter.

Miami also had a big night from its rookies, Tyler Herro had 29 points and Kendrick Nunn added 17 as the starter in the backcourt with Butler. More on them later.

For Atlanta, they await the MRI of young’s ankle that will come on Wednesday.

The Hawks are without backup point guard Evan Turner (left Achilles pain), which means it’s a combination of just-claimed-off-waiver Tyrone Wallace, second-year man Kevin Huerter, and rookies Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter, to handle the guard spots for the Hawks.

We all hope Young is back soon, the game is just more fun when he plays.

2) Anthony Davis put up 40 points and 20 rebounds — in three quarters. Other players have put up 40/20 lines before — Shaq was the last Laker to do it, back in 2003 — but Davis set a record when he did it against Memphis Tuesday:

He’s the first player to score 40 points and grab 20 rebounds in three quarters.

Davis was attacking and aggressive, which drew a lot of fouls — he was 26-of-27 from the free-throw line on the night. Consider this: Davis had 20 third-quarter points and was 1-of-1 from the field. It was all at the stripe.

Memphis hung around in this one for a half, behind impressive rookie Ja Morant who had 16 points on the night. Memphis even led in the third quarter until Davis fueled a 29-2 Lakers run that essentially ended the game.

The Lakers did what good teams should do the last couple of games and feast on weaker opponents (Charlotte and Memphis will be near the bottom of the league this season). Now they head out on the road for three and that will be a better test.

3) Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro are not your average rookies in Miami. Pat Riley and the Miami Heat don’t lean on rookies. This is an organization that trusts veterans, stockpiling them through free agency or via trades, and when the Heat do land in the lottery or get a rookie they like they bring the guy along slowly.

Until this season.

The combination of undrafted Kendrick Nunn and first-round sharpshooter Tyler Herro not only started the first three games but also have been crucial to what Miami is able to do — they are combining for 37.3 points per night through four games. Nunn and Herro are key reasons the Heat are 3-1 to start the season.

Both started the first three games of the season — the first time the Heat started two rookies in a game since Michael Beasley and Mario Chalmers in 2008 — until Jimmy Butler returned on Tuesday. Herro went to the bench, yet still led the team with 29 points.

Herro was a player fans knew, a star at Kentucky who was drafted No. 13 overall last June. He impressed at Summer League and going into training camp it was easy to envision a role for him next to Butler and Goran Dragic as a floor spacer.

Nunn was the surprise. He went undrafted in 2018 and paid his dues for a season in the G-League before the Heat signed him on the final day of the regular season. Nunn impressed at Summer League, in workouts around the team, and at age 24 is now starting in front of Goran Dragic for the Heat.

Both rookies are playing with confidence. And when you combine Herro and Nunn with 22-year-old Bam Adebayo and 23-year-old Justise Winslow, suddenly the future in Miami looks bright. That’s a lot of quality young players.

Ones that could well lift the Heat back to the playoffs this season (thanks to a little help from that Butler guy, too).

Trae Young ready to lead Hawks, next generation of point guards

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DETROIT – Trae Young ran to his right, cut hard back to his left and took his defender directly into a screen while receiving a near-handoff. Young curled around the pick and launched a 3-pointer as the defender came over his back. The contact knocked down Young, who watched from his belly as the ball splashed through the net.

Before getting up to complete the four-point play, Young did a few pushups.

“I fell hard,” Young said. “Got to get back up and get strong.”

That attitude is why Young is poised to big things.

Maybe very soon.

Young opened his second season with 38 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in the Hawks’ 117-110 win over the Pistons last night. He hit deep 3-pointers, including one with both feet inside the logo and another with a foot touching the logo. He got Atlanta out in transition. He controlled the half-court offense, getting into the paint with his head up to score or feed a teammate.

Simply, Young showed his superstar promise.

Just less than a year ago, he seemed so far from this level. He got thrown into the fire as a starting NBA point guard and appeared overwhelmed. Through the middle of last December, Young was shooting 38% from the field and 24% on 3-pointers and averaging nearly four turnovers per game. His defense was even worse than his offense.

By the end of the season, he was mounting a serious challenge to Luka Doncic for Rookie of the Year. After another offseason of work, Young could be hitting another gear.

That’d be huge for the Hawks. There are always multiple ways to build a winner, but having a premier lead guard is such a great starting point. This is the NBA’s golden age of point guards.

For this era to continue, youngsters like Young (and Ben Simmons, De'Aaron Fox, Jamaal Murray and Ja Morant) must continue to rise.

No point guard drafted after 2012 has made an All-NBA team. The current group of elite point guards – Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving, Russell Westbrook and James Harden if you count him – has run the league for so long.

“Until those guys leave, it’s going to be tough,” Young said. “Because those guys are great players.

“Of course, you want to make it happen as quick as possible”

That also goes for Atlanta, which is launching an intriguing rebuild.

The Hawks have Young (No. 10 on our list of top 50 players in 5 years) and John Collins (No. 24 on our list of top 50 players in 5 years). Atlanta also just added No. 4 pick De'Andre Hunter and No. 10 pick Cameron Reddish in the draft. Kevin Huerter, an All-Rookie second-teamer last season, is no slouch, either.

Already, outside expectations are growing.

“None of it comes from us,” Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce said. “None of those things comes from us, as a staff, as an organization. We don’t put that pressure on players. But we know it’s out there.”

It’d be silly to overreact to one game against the Blake Griffinless Pistons, who played in Indiana the night before. Young committed six turnovers. His size (6-foot-1, 180 pounds) will always limit him defensively.

But Young’s 38 points could portend something special. Nobody so young had ever scored so much in a season opener.

Atlanta’s next four games – vs. Magic, vs. 76ers, at Heat, vs. Heat – are against teams expected to make the Eastern Conference playoffs. Suddenly, there’s more reason to tune in. Will Young and the Hawks sustain their initial success?

This is just a step, though. Atlanta is climbing toward much greater heights, and Young is leading the charge.

Evan Turner, who joined the Hawks from the Trail Blazers this summer, has seen a top point guard up close and personal. Ask him about about Lillard, and Turner just raves – about how Lillard leads, remains consistently focused, keeps everything team-oriented, rises to the occasion, shows accountability, steps up amid adversity and just finds ways to win.

“Trae, talent-wise, he has it,” Turner said. “It’s the little stuff in regards to outside yourself that makes you really special. I think it’s what makes people that play with you speak about you how I speak about Dame.”

Young is just 21. There’s plenty of time for him to cultivate those finer points.

But Young’s time is coming.

It might have already begun.

Are the Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls the future of the Eastern Conference?

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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.

This season, the Eastern Conference shapes up to be a showdown between Milwaukee and Philadelphia. Giannis Antetokounmpo vs. Joel Embiid. Two long and athletic teams that know how to defend. Both have questions — how will the losses of Jimmy Butler for the Sixers and Malcolm Brogdon for the Bucks impact them? — and there are teams like Boston and Indiana hanging on the fringes trying to get in the conversation, but the East is shaping up as a two-team race at the top.

The other question in the East: Who’s got next?

The Bucks and the Sixers are relatively young, they should be at the top for years, but what young teams are on the rise in the East and look like they could be coming for the Bucks and Sixers in a few years?

Atlanta and Chicago.

There’s a long road still to travel still, and plenty that can derail these teams, but the Hawks and Bulls have the potential to make that elite status. Let’s look at them.

ATLANTA HAWKS

Talent wins in the Association, and for Atlanta it all starts with the potential of Trae Young and John Collins. In our summer rankings series of “The 50 Best Players in Five Years” series, we ranked Collins 24th in the NBA and Young 10th in the summer of 2024. NBC Sports’ Tom Haberstroh put it this way:

“I made the declaration earlier this summer that Collins and Young ould be this generation’s Amar’e Stoudemire and Steve Nash. I stand by that. Collins may not be as strong and polished offensively as Stoudemire, but they play with the same force around the basket. Every time Collins dunks, you wonder what the basket ever did to him to deserve that assault.”

Young plays with a flash and style you just can’t take your eyes off of. He has shooting range out to the parking lot, impressive and improving handles, and the kind of court vision that cannot be taught. He must become a better defender, he’s got to score more efficiently around the rim, and the calls for him to be an All-Star in his second NBA season, at age 21, may be jumping the gun, but Young is poised to be one of the faces of the league.

The chemistry with Young and Collins can be everything for this team, and the foundation of a contender.

Around them they have Kevin Huerter as a potential long-term backcourt mate with Young, they added a solid young center who suddenly could hit threes last season in Alex Len, and on the wing they drafted a couple of guys with potential in DeAndre Hunter and Cam Reddish, hoping at least one of them develops into the No. 3 guy next to Collins and Young. (A lot of teams were not as high on Hunter as the Hawks heading into the draft, but Reddish could be a steal at No. 10.)

Those young players have landed in one of the best player development systems in the NBA — that’s why Lloyd Pierce was brought in as coach last season, and he delivered. He has found a great balance of letting guys learn and accountability, the kind of tough-but-fair teacher everyone respected in school. The Hawks are building something that feels real and lasting.

Is this the year they make the leap? Last year they had 29 wins, and the usual trajectory would have the Hawks mid-30s this season, which in the East likely keeps them on the fringes of the playoff chase most of the season. But a leap is coming, one up above .500. Maybe this season, more likely the following season, but it’s coming. The potential trajectory for this team looks like a rocket to the moon.

CHICAGO BULLS

Let’s be upfront here: I have less faith the Bulls eventually can reach the upper echelons of the NBA than I am the Hawks, and the primary reason is I don’t trust fully GarPax in the front office. Yes, they have built an impressive young team with potential, but if I told you in four years the front office had screwed up the chances, would anyone really be shocked?

But make no mistake, this team has potential.

That starts along the frontline — Lauri Markkanen is very good at basketball. He averaged 18.9 points a game and nine rebounds a game, shooting 36.1 percent from three, all at age 21. He’s entering his third NBA season and we could see a leap in his game. Next to him is second-year man Wendell Carter, who averaged 10.3 points and seven rebounds a game, and more importantly, was the kind of rim protector any good team needs in the modern NBA. Together, that’s a very good frontcourt of the future, one that fits the modern game.

Scoring on the wing comes in bunches from Zach LaVine, who showed he more than a dunk contest guy. He took more than five threes a game and shot 37.4 percent, he is a good passer who keeps the ball moving, and is at least trying on defense. Next to him is a quality wing in Otto Porter, who averaged 13.9 points per game last season, shot 40 percent from three, and could become a free agent next summer (although don’t bet on him opting out of $28.5 million).

The point of the future will be Coby White, who has a world of potential but it’s going to take a few years of work to get there.

This summer the Bulls made two pickups that — in my mind — will vault them into the playoffs this season. One is point guard Tomas Satoransky, who Washington let walk (one of their confusing moves) and will be the guy that knows how to start plays, hit threes, defend, and just go get a bucket now and again when they need it. He played well for stretches with the Wizards when John Wall was out. The other quality pickup is Thaddeus Young, who was critical to the Pacers’ defense last season, plus he just is a glue guy on the offensive end who can be a backup four and give them quality minutes (don’t be shocked if he closes games for Jim Boylen at times).

The Bulls have a young but reasonably well-rounded roster, and while they won 22 games last season they could be in the high 30s this season and pushing for a playoff spot in the East. It’s a big leap.

Bulls fans hope just one of many.

Ranking all 30 NBA teams by pressure entering this season

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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.

Pressure can be external. Pressure can be internal. Pressure can land on players, coaches, general managers and even owners.

Here’s how every team ranks by pressure faced next season:

1. Los Angeles Lakers

Anthony Davis will be a free agent next summer. LeBron James will be a year older. This is the time for the Lakers to capitalize on their championship promise. Consider the internal combustibility of the coaching staff and a massive fan base with high expectations, and pressure comes from every direction.

2. Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks are good enough to win a title this season, and that always carries pressure. Adding to it: Giannis Antetokounmpo will be eligible for a super-max extension next offseason. If Milwaukee doesn’t impress him enough to stay, this contender could fall apart quickly. With a successful season, the Bucks can depend on Antetokounmpo for another half decade. The stakes are incredibly high.

3. Houston Rockets

The Rockets are openly acknowledging their situation: Their championship window is open but will close soon. Houston pushed further in for the present by trading lightly protected distant future first-rounders for Russell Westbrook. The Rockets better quickly optimize the remaining primes of James Harden and Westbrook – two stars who don’t simply mesh. Oh, and Mike D’Antoni’s lame-duck status could add stress on the whole team.

4. Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers remade their starting lineup after winning 51 games and pushing the eventual-champion Raptors to seven games in the second round. Philadelphia is not content with merely good accomplishments. The 76ers are going for great. And with young stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, why not? Still, plenty of potential pitfalls loom – luxury tax, Embiid’s health, Al Horford‘s aging and Brett Brown’s job security. A strong season could go a long way toward fending off storms.

5. L.A. Clippers

The Clippers opened a two-year window by signing Kawhi Leonard and trading for Paul George. But pressure always comes with championship expectations, and no teams has better title odds than the Clippers.

6. Golden State Warriors

The Warriors open a new arena this year, and they’ve bragged about how much revenue it will produce. But will those dollars still come if Golden State falls too far from its dynastic status and fun style? With Kevin Durant gone, Klay Thompson injured and D'Angelo Russell causing fit concerns, expectations have dropped for next season. Still, the Warriors must maintain a certain level of entertainment (of which winning is the most important component) to appease their deep-pocketed fans.

7. Portland Trail Blazers

The Trail Blazers are only on the fringe of the championship discussion, but they’re still in it. After getting swept the previous two first rounds, Portland redeemed itself with a run to the Western Conference finals last season. Damian Lillard (four years, super max) and C.J. McCollum (three years, $100 million) were rewarded with large contract extensions. It’s important to maintain the good feelings.

8. Miami Heat

In the five years since LeBron James left, the Heat have made the playoffs only twice and won a series only once. So, they paid substantial costs to get Jimmy Butler. The only way to maintain a winning culture is to win, and Butler can help with that. But for how long? He’s on the wrong side of 30 and has heavy mileage. Still, if he helps enough, Miami could make a splash in 2021 free agency.

9. Orlando Magic

A middling Eastern Conference playoff team doesn’t generate national buzz. But the Magic were so proud of their last season – their best in seven years – they spent big to keep their core intact. That pays off only if the winning continues.

10. Utah Jazz

By trading for Mike Conley and signing Bojan Bogdanovic, the Jazz showed they’re serious about winning now. Those veterans could have a limited shelf life. Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert offer a longer window, but again, there’s more pressure on good teams.

11. Boston Celtics

The Celtics’ championship hopes likely left with Kyrie Irving. But next season is a great opportunity to pin their problems on him. If young players like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown suddenly get right back on track, that’d reflect poorly on Irving (perhaps somewhat unfairly). With Kemba Walker, Boston could be quite good – just probably with a lower ceiling.

12. Phoenix Suns

Few outsiders expect much from the Suns, but that’s rarely the case inside Phoenix. Owner Robert Sarver is notoriously impatient. The Suns messed around in the draft, but credible point guard Ricky Rubio fills a massive hole, and other veterans are also incoming. Expect Phoenix to improve. Enough to satisfy everyone there? Who knows?

13. Washington Wizards

The Wizards kept Bradley Beal despite a ton of outside trade interest. He sounds happy in Washington for now, but his 2021 unrestricted free agency is rapidly approaching. The Wizards appear headed toward a lousy season. Will they do enough to keep Beal happy? This year could define the next era of Washington basketball.

14. Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets are the best team this low on the list. But they’re so young, and their core is locked in. It’s always important for good teams to win, but next season is far from make-or-break for Denver.

15. Brooklyn Nets

The Nets’ window opens next year, when Kevin Durant returns from his Achilles injury. In the meantime, Brooklyn would like to celebrate its coup in free agency with improvement next season. That especially shines the spotlight on Kyrie Irving, who gets another crack at leading a young supporting cast. If he fails again, that could expose the Nets to real cultural concerns before they even get rolling.

16. Indiana Pacers

The Pacers got younger and probably slightly worse this summer. That’s an acceptable tradeoff, one that comes with reduced expectations for next season. However, if Indiana falls further than expected, that could create real problems for the people responsible for the disapointment.

17. Detroit Pistons

Ho hum. They’ll likely be mediocre – maybe good enough to make the playoffs, maybe not. Same as always. A looming potential shakeup adds some pressure.

18. Sacramento Kings

The Kings’ breakthrough season prompted them to fill holes with savvy veterans. The hope is everyone coalesces into a winner. But even if Sacramento regresses, most of those new contracts look reasonable. More importantly, the young core still provides long-term hope.

19. Dallas Mavericks

Dallas has its top tandem in Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. But both are young, and Porzingis is just coming off injury. There will be patience. The deep Mavericks could play well enough for pressure to build throughout the season.

20. New York Knicks

After striking out in free agency this summer, the Knicks left themselves the ability to open major cap space in 2020 or 2021. For now, the roster is full of spare parts unlikely to win much. The large New York fan base won’t quietly accept yet another losing season. Knicks owner James Dolan, who has frequently shifted between plans, is the big wildcard in the franchise’s overall patience level.

21. Charlotte Hornets

They stink. Their future looks dim. Everyone knows this. Still, losing stresses everyone involved.

22. New Orleans Pelicans

After Anthony Davis’ trade request, the Pelicans got a new lease on life with No. 1 pick Zion Williamson. New lead executive David Griffin adds credibility, and he has already added significant talent around Williamson. If this year goes well, great. If not, that’d be disappointing, but New Orleans still has time to establish a winning identity.

23. Chicago Bulls

Maybe the Bulls are good now. Maybe they’ll be better later. Maybe neither. But there enough avenues for Chicago to show progress that this season doesn’t present much stress. The Bulls could make the playoffs, have their young players show progress and/or tank to add another blue-chipper. It’s unlikely they miss on all three.

24. Cleveland Cavaliers

Near rock bottom, the Cavaliers just want to boost the value of a few key players. Cleveland’s top two young prospects – Collin Sexton and Darius Garland – are both point guards, and that could create complications. Kevin Love is on an expensive contract, and more injuries/aging could sink him as a trade chip. As far as winning, that’s barely a consideration.

25. San Antonio Spurs

The Tim Duncan era was so long and the handover to Kawhi Leonard so seamless, the Spurs still feel like they’re in the honeymoon of their five championships in 16 years (1999-2014). It’d be nice to break the consecutive-playoff-season record. But it’s just hard to get too worked up about this late-stage Gregg Popovich season that holds only modest expectations.

26. Minnesota Timberwolves

New team president Gersson Rosas inherited an inflexible, losing – but talented – team and did little with it. That means little expectation of a quick breakthrough, but a path toward overachieving exists. Well-liked Ryan Saunders getting his interim tag removed is just another reason to view this as a reset year.

27. Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies are in the thick of rebuilding. It’s too soon to expect much from Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.

28. Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks have such a deep young base – Trae Young, John Collins, Kevin Huerter, De'Andre Hunter, Cameron Reddish plus a couple extra future first-round picks. Atlanta can patiently let this group grow together without even moderate expectations yet.

29. Oklahoma City Thunder

Oklahoma City willingly entered rebuilding by trading Paul George and Russell Westbrook for a whole bunch of other teams’ picks. Though tanking themselves could help their long-term outlook, the Thunder can do whatever they want and let those picks roll in from the Clippers (including potentially lucrative ones originally belonging to the Heat) and Rockets. Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams even give Oklahoma City a chance to overachieve.

30. Toronto Raptors

Toronto can happily enjoy its championship – no matter what happens this season. Kawhi Leonard’s exit ended any expectations of a repeat. The Raptors should still be solid, but even if they’re not, that banner will hang forever.