At age 34, Gasol has lost a step, but the man knows how to play the game. Monday night against Embiid, Gasol was in the right position, was physical, and kept Embiid in check — Embiid went scoreless for the first time in his career shooting 0-of-11 from the floor.
With that, Toronto came away with the 101-96 win. Just like last May, but without the ball bouncing four times on the rim.
It wasn’t all Gasol. Embiid was 0-of-3 at the free-throw line, for example. Also, this was the Sixers’ fourth game in six nights, and it showed, it wasn’t just Embiid’s legs that looked a little tired.
Just don’t underestimate how the Spaniard forced Embiid into more midrange shots, where he was 0-of-6. Gasol can keep Embiid from getting to where he wants on the floor, and the Toronto center also doesn’t foul much.
Philly wanted some revenge for last season’s playoff exit. Plus, on paper, this was a game they thought they could get — Kawhi Leonard obviously isn’t in Raptors colors anymore, and Kyle Lowry was out (fractured left thumb).
Toronto has a new superstar in Pascal Siakam and he dropped 25 on Philly, doing a great job attacking mismatches and passing out of the double-teams when they came. Fred Van Vleet played brilliantly and had 24 points, while O.G. Anunoby played fantastic defense all night. The Raptors are not 12-4 on accident, this is a very good team.
And one that still gives the Sixers, and Joel Embiid, some trouble.
2019 NBA Draft Prospect Profile: De’Andre Hunter is a near-certainty, which may hurt him on draft night
Over the course of the next two weeks, as the 2019 NBA Draft draws closer and closer, we at Pro Basketball Talk will be taking deep dives into some of the best and most intriguing prospects that will be making their way to the NBA.
When you are picking early in the lottery, what, exactly, are you looking for out of that pick?
How much are you willing to change the way that you answer those first two questions based on the crop of players available?
Those are the things that are going to determine where De’Andre Hunter ends up starting his professional basketball career.
Generally speaking, teams that are picking in the top five are bad basketball teams. That’s why they are given those early picks, to try and spread talent and superstars around the league. Competitive balance and all that. The entire philosophy behind tanking is that the only way for certain organizations to attract franchise-changing talents is to draft them, so you lose on purpose to pick earlier and end up with a better chance of landing a future Hall of Famer.
That is where the conundrum of drafting De’Andre Hunter lies.
There may not be a safer pick in this year’s draft outside of Zion Williamson. There may not be a player in the entire draft that is better prepared to immediately impact an NBA game or an NBA playoff series than Hunter. He turns 22 years old in December — remember, he’s a sophomore, but he spent his first year in Charlottesville redshirting — and, at 6-foot-7 and 230 pounds with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, is a ready-made, multi-positional defensive menace right now. He is the perfect blend of big-enough-to-guard-fours and quick-enough-to-switch-onto-guards while also shooting 43.8 percent from three this past season and just under 42 percent from three on 160 attempts in his two-year career with the Wahoos. He’s stiff, and he’s more or less limited to being a straight-line driver, but playing as a small-ball four in a league where the three-point line is pushed back and the space created offensively makes the college game look as muddled as a mojito, he should be able to attack close-outs just fine.
In a worst-case scenario, you’re getting the healthy version of O.G. Anunoby. What’s more likely is that you end up with DeMarre Carroll.
I don’t say this lightly — if you put Hunter on the Warriors last night, their chances of beating the Raptors in Game 3 of the Finals would have increased rather significantly. He’s big enough and dominant enough defensively to get thrown on Kawhi Leonard or Pascal Siakam and do as well as anyone would in slowing them down, and he has good enough feet that can can be switched onto Toronto’s guards — either Kyle Lowry or Fred VanVleet — and do a job on them, too, all while helping keep the floor spaced due to his shooting.
Simply put, I do not think there is a better defensive prospect in this draft, and I would not be surprised if Hunter ends up making NBA All-Defensive teams during his career.
The fact that he can do all of that while, in theory, being able to knockdown threes and attack closeouts makes him a valuable and in-demand player in the modern NBA.
The problem, however, is that Hunter’s ceiling isn’t all that much higher than his floor.
Which is where the question about the value of a draft pick and what a team is looking for when picking in the first half of the lottery comes into play.
Hunter, at this point, is something of a finished product. There are things that he can improve on — his handle can be loose, there are some folks that aren’t fully convinced that his stroke will translate to the NBA three-point line, being more aggressive offensively would make him more dangerous — but whoever ends up drafting him knows exactly what they are getting. He’s going to be an elite defender that has the upside of being one of the more useful 3-and-D role players in the NBA.
Is that enough to pick him in the top five?
If you are the Lakers, it might make some sense. LeBron is not getting any younger, meaning that their window to win now is closing. Hunter fits there, just like he would make some sense on New Orleans if the Pelicans end up getting the No. 4 pick as compensation for a trade involving Anthony Davis.
But how does drafting a guy whose career arc screams “role player for the next decade” help Cleveland? Would John Beilein rather draft a guy that needs good players around him to thrive when he doesn’t actually have those good players yet, or would it make more sense to take a swing on someone like Cam Reddish, a player with inherently more risk but whose ceiling is much, much higher than Hunter’s?
It seems unlikely that either Phoenix or Chicago would draft anything other than a point guard, which means that there is a real chance Hunter could end up dropping all the way to eighth, if not further.
Which is wild, when you think about it.
The top three in this draft is set. We all know that. But things get murky once you get to the fourth pick and murkier once you get to pick No. 8. There is no clear-cut fourth-best prospect in this draft, which puts these organizations into a tough spot.
Do you take Hunter, a guy that will spend the next decade helping you matchup with the very best teams in the NBA while you still need to find the stars that will allow you to compete with those teams, or do you draft Cam Reddish or Darius Garland, betting on the 10 percent chance that they eventually develop into, say, Joe Johnson or C.J. McCollum, respectively?
It’s not an easy question to answer.
Are Raptors viable trade destination for Kawhi Leonard?
Toronto Raptors, I think they’re in the driver’s seat for Kawhi. Because I think the Lakers have given up. The Sixers have given up. And with the Nets, Bulls and Hawks spending their cap space, it makes it harder to assemble a multi-team trade. I think the Raptors are in the driver’s seat.
I’ve seen a lot of snark on Twitter that the Raptors stuff is a joke, that the odds went up because of something I said on my podcast and you said on TV. I’ve seen it being dismissed. It may not happen. Most NBA trades don’t happen. But if you think it’s a joke, you should probably recalibrate your expectations.
Because DeRozan and Lowry earn more than Leonard, the Raptors could also take back a costly contract San Antonio wants to dump.
Such a deal would allow the Spurs to remain competitive now while gaining long-term assets under greater team control than Leonard, who can walk in unrestricted free agency next summer.
It’d also give the the Raptors a championship chance they wouldn’t have next season otherwise. The window might not remain open long considering Leonard’s health and contract status, but there’s something to be said for raising the ceiling when it can reach that level – even if it means lowering the floor. Plus, if Leonard left, Toronto could more easily transition into its next phase than if DeRozan and Lowry remained on the books.
This trade framework makes too much sense for the teams not to discuss it. But whether that’d result in an actual deal is another question.
Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell receive, Jayson Tatum one vote shy of, unanimous All-Rookie first-team selections
Dennis Smith Jr. and Josh Jackson are the only selections I’d quibble with. Those two were just so destructive with shooting efficiency and defense. To be fair, they were pressed into larger roles than they were ready for on bad teams. But if the goal is picking the rookies who had the best seasons (what I aim to do), Smith and Jackson didn’t cut it.
However, some voters give more credence to long-term potential, and Smith and Jackson both have plenty of that. Other voters are drawn by bigger per-game numbers, which Smith and Jackson produced in their larger roles. So, it’s minimally surprising they made it.
That one first-team vote for Jackson, though? That’s odd – and it was enough to get him on the second team by one voting point over Heat center Bam Adebayo.
Marcus Morris on Pacers and Raptors defending LeBron James: ‘Them dudes can’t guard’
But Morris’ self-praise came with humbler context. He called LeBron the best player in the NBA. He noted Kawhi Leonard was better at defending LeBron. He emphasized that slowing LeBron wouldn’t be a one-man job.
Morris waited next in the long line of LeBron defenders, and so he studied the tendencies of the ones who came before. He watched plays on Synergy. He downloaded clips on YouTube. He projected games on his flat screen, pressing the rewind button once, twice, then three times just to figure out what, if anything, he could take from the previous two playoff teams that had been vanquished by the King.
Morris sought inspiration, but he stumbled upon a harsh truth.
“Them dudes can’t guard. That’s what I did pick up,” Morris said, bluntly.