R.J. Barrett

Michelle Farsi/NBAE via Getty Images

Knicks’ Julius Randle’s goals this season: First All-Stars, then playoffs

1 Comment

Two seasons ago, Julius Randle broke out as a scorer with the Lakers when he stopped trying to be what everyone else wanted him to be and started just playing bully ball getting to the rim. Last season he took that to another level in New Orleans, while the Pelicans’ team fell apart around him he averaged 21.4 points and 8.7 rebounds a game.

Now he’s got a three-year, $63 million contract in New York — and the Knicks are counting on him to be a leading scorer for them. While R.J. Barrett develops, the Knicks are banking on Randle and Dennis Smith Jr. to go get buckets.

Randle wants to get them and more — he wants to be an All-Star (the Knicks’ first since Carmelo Anthony), then lead the Knicks to the playoffs. That’s what he told Stephan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

I just feel like situation and opportunity. Everything I’ve been through in the past, all the work I’ve put in in the past has prepared me for this opportunity now, Randle said. So [All-Stars] just a goal of mine. Eventually you feel like you have an opportunity. I feel like I do.

(The playoffs are) extremely important. I’m not going to sit here and talk about every day but it’s extremely important, he said. That’s what you work hard for. You talk about opportunity, this is my opportunity to be a real leader.

So I just want to make sure everybody’s connected and we get better every day. I like our team compared to a lot of other teams. We do what we need to do every day to get better, that mental focus, lock in, stay connected, I like our team.

Making the All-Star team could happen. Randle is going to put up numbers and get plenty of exposure in Madison Square Garden, and there’s space on the roster. Guys such as Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid are All-Star locks, but the second tier of East frontcourt players — Blake Griffin, Khris Middleton, Nikola Vucevic — is one it feels like Randle could crack.

To do that, the Knicks need to find a way to win enough to make Randle look good compared to other guys trying to get in the All-Star club (Lauri Markkanen, for example).

Will that be enough wins to make the playoffs? Well… maybe just focus on the All-Star part first. To be fair, I wouldn’t want a player on my team who went into the season thinking his team had no shot at the postseason. Reality will hit Randle and the Knicks soon enough.

Before it does, at least Randle has set his goals high.

 

Kyle Kuzma signs five-year endorsement deal with PUMA

Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Puma has splashed around money to get back in the basketball shoe game, signing DeMarcus Cousins, Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Rudy Gay, Kevin Knox, Terry Rozier, Danny Green, and recently Knicks rookie R.J. Barrett. It’s not a bad list, but the most popular players on there are bigs, yet it’s attacking wings (and point guards) who sell shoes.

Enter Kyle Kuzma, Puma’s newest signing. The popular Laker forward signed a five-year contract with Puma, something the shoemaker announced on Wednesday. Kuzma is getting paid to be the face of the brand.

Kuzma is a confident, attacking player (when at his best) that the Lakers are counting on to be their No. 3 after LeBron James and Anthony Davis. For Puma, this is a player that matters in the nation’s biggest spotlight, and he’s a good spokesman for the brand.

Kuzma was already rocking Pumas at Lakers’ media day last Friday, even though the deal had yet to be formally announced.

Right now Kuzma is sidelined with a stress reaction in his leg that will have him out through at least training camp with the Lakers. It came up during his time with Team USA — he said he woke up one morning after an off day and his leg hurt, so he knew something was wrong — but is not expected to be chronic (hopefully). The Lakers are wisely being cautious with the one young star who played well with LeBron last season, a guy they are banking on for big things.

So is Puma.

NBCSports.com’s 50 best players in 5 years: Players 45-41

Sean Berry/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

What is the NBA going to look like in five years? Who will be the game’s best players? The All-Stars, the guys on the cover of 2K24, the guys with signature shoe deals?

As a fun summer project, the NBA team at NBCSports.com put our heads together, pulled out our crystal balls, and tried to project forward who would be the 50 best players in the NBA in five years — in the summer of 2024. We took into account a player’s age, his potential ceiling and how likely he is to reach it, injury history, and more. The team working on this included Dan Feldman, Tom Haberstroh, Rob Dauster, Tommy Beer, Steve Alexander, and Kurt Helin (and thanks to Tess Quinlan and Mia Zanzucchi for the design help).

There were plenty of disagreements (and we don’t expect you to agree with all of our list), but here it is.

Here is the link to players 50-46. These are players 45-41 on our list.

45. Brandon Ingram

Brandon Ingram is about to embark on a season that will tell us a lot about his future, about where he and his game will be when he turns 26.

Ingram — all skinny arms and legs, with potential he is trying to figure out — has been the poster child for the phrase “development is not linear.” There are stretches of games he looks like what the Lakers hoped to get in their No. 2 pick, a top-two scoring option for an NBA team. Then there are times you forget he is even on the court. His role kept shifting in Los Angeles — from being the first scoring option to trying to play next to LeBron James (something a lot of players have struggled with over the years) — making it especially hard to figure out who Ingram is, exactly. Maybe a fresh start in New Orleans will help Ingram find his game.

Let’s hope Ingram is healthy and on the court in 2024 — he missed the end of last season with Deep Vein Thrombosis (more commonly called blood clots). If it’s recurring it can end his career (as it did with Chris Bosh among others). Ingram had surgery and the prognosis has been favorable, he’s expected to be able to continue in the NBA, but a lot of teams (the Pelicans included) will want to wait and see what happens this season before offering a long-term contract (Ingram is a restricted free agent next summer).

Those teams also will want to see how Ingram reacts to his new home and team. Will it be another year of a slow start with Ingram coming on in the second half? Last season his second-half surge started when he began to show much better decision making about when to try to finish at the rim vs. when to kick out and find teammates. On a new team, one that wants to get out and run, will that improved decision making — as well as finishing at the rim — continue?

Consistency of doing these things well has been the issue in Ingram’s career. He needs to be more consistent shooting the three, on the boards, and defensively. He’s got the potential to do all of that very well, but it just hasn’t consistently come together for him yet. If he gets it all together this ranking will be too low, but our panel was not convinced he will find that consistency. He hasn’t done it so far.
—Kurt Helin

44. Jarrett Allen

Jarrett Allen is old school — and we’re not just talking the Afro (although that is sweet). It’s his game and persona. Allen is a center who wants to play in the paint on offense and hang back and protect the rim on defense, plus he will crash the glass. He’s not trying to step out to the arc, or get the ball and face-up, instead he’s going to set picks and roll, catch and score around the rim, grab boards, and on defense try to shut down anyone who is looking to attack. Allen also comes with old-school competitiveness and work ethic. He’s a quiet leader and an old soul. A throwback in the best of ways.

All of that has made Allan one of the anchors for the Nets, part of what lifted Brooklyn to the playoffs last season. Allen, in two seasons, became part of the Nets’ foundation that attracted Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.

Just how good can Allen ultimately be?

Very good if you ask anyone with the Nets. Former teammate Ed Davis thought Allen could become a $100 million player. Allen’s game and athleticism put his ceiling incredibly high.

To reach that ceiling, he has to become more physical and maybe stretch out his ability to score a little. One of the biggest knocks on Allen is he gets outmuscled inside, which in a conference with Joel Embiid (who is not going anywhere in the next five years) and even Brook Lopez, can be an issue. Allen looked stronger at Summer League, but that’s Summer League. He has to show it against the men of the NBA. Also, Allen took 68 percent of his shots in the restricted area and 90 percent in the paint last season, and while he is efficient at those if he can stretch it out it would be a boost.

Does Brooklyn believe in Allen? They just gave DeAndre Jordan a four-year, $40 million contract. While a lot of that is political (Jordan is one of Durant’s best friends), it’s a shot across the bow of Allen, who is going to have to prove he deserves to be the starter and the guy getting big minutes. Allen will do that, how soon is the question. This season? In a few? When he can prove it and get close to his ceiling will determine if Allen can get all that money Ed Davis thinks he should get paid.
—Kurt Helin

43. Victor Oladipo

Victor Oladipo – who was widely dismissed as insufficient return for Paul George – flourished early in the 2017-18 season. It was certainly enough to force reconsideration of the Pacers-Thunder deal. But it was still a small sample, not enough to conclude Oladipo had actually become a star and wasn’t on just a blip of a hot streak.

“I think this is who I am,” Oladipo said.

He spent the rest of the season proving it. Oladipo became an All-Star and ran away with Most Improved Player.

He’ll have to prove himself again. This time, he’ll get far more benefit of the doubt.

Oladipo has played like a star just a season and a half. He’s missed half of last season with a quad injury that could cause him to miss a significant chunk of next season, too. There’s no guarantee he reverts to peak form, let alone remains this good at age 32.

But Oladipo’s competitiveness, work ethic and tenacity are inspiring. Of the NBA’s go-to-scorer guards, none defend like him. He developed primary skills like shooting and ball-handling without losing his edge. Oladipo is easy to support, and he’ll have plenty of backers in this next stage of his career.
—Dan Feldman

42. CJ McCollum

CJ McCollum assuaged a lot of the fears Portland Trail Blazers fans had about him this postseason. When teams keyed off on Damian Lillard, McCollum was there to pick up the slack, continuing to pressure opposing defenses until they relented in defeat. The year culminated for McCollum during his Game 7 performance against the Denver Nuggets. He scored 37 points, sealing the game with a step-back jumper from the left elbow with 11.4 seconds left that was very Michael Jordan-esque.

So, now what?

McCollum just signed a new contract with the Trail Blazers that will keep him in Portland through 2023-24. At age 27, it seems likely McCollum will continue to get better on defense. We have already seen improvement this very postseason by running mate Lillard, who was one of the more effective point guard defenders.

Five years from now, Lillard and McCollum might not be paired up together. But the NBA is a place where not every star guard who can score 20 a night deserves his own team. That’s how you end up with a league of Devin Bookers.

McCollum is a worker, and more importantly, has a mentality that he is a top dog. Lillard or not, McCollum will try to get the rest of the league to recognize his undeniability, and the only way to do that is to get better on D. I’d expect big changes in the next 24 months.
—Dane Delgado

41. R.J. Barrett

I said this before the draft. I said this to Knicks fans after the draft. And I’ll say it again right here. In October of 2018, the 2019 NBA Draft was the RJ Barrett draft. He was the consensus projected No. 1 pick. He was the consensus Preseason National Player of the Year in college basketball. He was the guy that we all thought every franchise in the NBA would be tanking for the chance to draft.

And all he did during his one and done season with Duke was average a cool 22 points, seven boards, and four assists, a stat line that we haven’t seen anyone post since Penny Hardaway did is as a junior in 1992. Penny was a 21 year old playing in the GMWC. RJ was an 18 year old playing in the ACC.

That’s impressive.

I’ll add this: I also understand why there are people who question what RJ’s fit will be at the NBA level. There are legitimate concerns about his jumper. He’s left-hand dominant. He has not proven to be a lock-down defender. He’s ball-dominant, and he might not be good enough to play on the ball in the NBA. But after talking with people around the Duke program and that know RJ, I think that it is worth noting that he’s wired the way that Kawhi Leonard is and Kobe Bryant was. He’s uber-competitive. He has that alpha in him. And, most importantly, he is a worker. He may not end up having the potential to be a superstar in the NBA, but I do think he is the kind of person that is going to find a way to maximize every skill and physical tool he has. Put another way, I’m betting on RJ hitting his ceiling because I’m betting on that human being finding a way to figure it out.
—Rob Dauster

Jamal Murray, R.J. Barrett not playing for Team Canada in World Cup

Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images
5 Comments

USA Basketball is struggling to gets its top players to compete in the upcoming World Cup.

The United States isn’t the only country with that issue.

After initially announcing a training-camp roster featuring 17 NBA players, Canada is down to five NBA players in contention for the World Cup roster.

Team Canada’s best player (Nuggets guard Jamal Murray) and most highly touted young player (Knicks guard R.J. Barrett) will both attend training camp. But dealing with injuries, neither will go to China.

Other Canadian NBA players no longer in the roster pool:

Nik Stauskas is both longer in the roster pool and no longer in the NBA.

That leaves the only NBA candidates for Team Canada as:

Other Canadians heading to training camp: Aaron Best,  Melvin Ejim, Brady Heslip, Kaza Kajami-Keane, Andrew Nembhard, Duane Notice, Eugene Omoruyi, Kevin Pangos, Addison Patterson, Phil Scrubb, Thomas Scrubb and Kyle Wiltjer.

That could still be a decent team, but Canada has definitely lost a lot of bite.

David Griffin: ‘Zion’s still growing’

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
5 Comments

There was a lot of idle talk around the Las Vegas Summer League about Zion Williamson‘s weight, conditioning, and ultimate playing weight. While he only suited up for half of one game, it’s safe to say Williamson was not exactly in peak playing condition. Which is irrelevant at what amount to exhibition games in July, but it raised a few eyebrows.

What is Williamson’s ideal playing weight?

The Pelicans don’t know because he is still growing, according to New Orleans head honcho David Griffin, speaking to Jeff Duncan of The Athletic.

“Yeah, I don’t know that we can determine a weight yet. Zion’s still growing. One of the things that’s lost in this whole process is that, like Jaxson Hayes, Zion is still getting taller. We’re not exactly sure what he’ll look like in the end. So a playing weight is not what you look for. What you look for is to be in top condition, to have the kind of core strength and stability that you need to control all of the incredible torque that his athleticism can generate…. That’s really where [VP of player care] Aaron Nelson and his team are going to focus their efforts, because Zion is one of those kids, like LeBron, he’s not going to lift a weight because he’ll add muscle and weight so quickly. So what you have to do with him is do everything you can from a core and stability standpoint to give him more ability to control what he already has in terms of strength and speed.”

Working out is part of it, but you can’t outrun your diet — and living in New Orleans can make eating healthy that much harder.

The Pelicans are on it.

“As you pointed out, New Orleans is not an easy place to live and eat when you’re a 19-year-old kid and can literally eat anything you want. There can be some temptation there, so we’ll certainly try to put him in a position to be surrounded by more of the right decisions (nutritionally). But, for the most part, we don’t know what he’ll end up looking like because he’s still growing. When he entered Duke he was clearly shorter than R.J. Barrett, and I think you saw (at the Vegas Summer League) he was clearly taller than R.J. Barrett. So it’ll be interesting to see where that goes.”

Williamson’s conditioning is not likely a long-term concern, like a lot of young players he will find the jump from college-level conditioning to NBA level a challenge but he will at some point figure it out.

How he develops as a shooter and playmaker (Griffin says he could be a Draymond Green-like playmaker) will be far more interesting to watch over the coming years.