The only consensus about the 2020 NBA Draft is that it’s not a very good class.
Not only is there no Zion Williamson or Ja Morant level player at the top of the board, but there’s also no consensus on who is the best player in the class. James Wiseman has some backers, while others lean LaMelo Ball because he has a high ceiling if his shot and decision making dramatically improve.
According to multiple league sources The Chronicle contacted in the past few days, the Warriors — contrary to what mock drafts might suggest — aren’t believed to be high on two of the three players being mentioned as possibilities at the No. 1 pick: former Memphis center James Wiseman and point guard LaMelo Ball, who last played for the Illawarra Hawks of Australia’s National Basketball League. As one source put it, “I think they’d only take one of those two if they were trading down in the draft and taking them for another team…
If the Warriors land the No. 1 pick in the draft, they’ll be open to trading it. But if Golden State doesn’t receive a worthy offer, it would likely take Edwards with the top selection, according to a league source.
What the Warriors would do with the top pick was a topic on this week’s ProBasketballTalk Podcast. NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster suggested Golden State’s best move is to trade down a few spots then take players who can help more now such as Isaac Okoro or Obi Toppin. However, if they kept the top pick because offers were not good enough, he suggested Edwards was the best call.
Over at ESPN, draft guru Mike Schmitz said if he were the Warriors he would take LaMelo Ball. The logic there is he has the highest ceiling of any player in this draft if his shot comes around and his decision making improves (he shot 37.5 percent overall and 25 percent from three in Australia this season, choosing to jack up a lot of questionable shots). The Warriors would not put up with off-the-court antics from Ball — that’s a strong locker room with Draymond Green and Stephen Curry — but whether Ball can reach his ceiling is an open question.
It’s sort of the same thing with Wiseman. He’s the best positional fit for the Warriors, who would love a rim-running and defensive big, but he seems to be years away from reaching that potential if he does at all (there are questions about his passion for improving and if he would accept the rim-runner role). The Warriors are win now, they aren’t waiting around for a non-elite player to develop (there are no projected elite players in this class).
USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo explained: Though young players would eventually get their turn, the 2020 Olympics would be for players who previously represented the U.S.
Except there will be no 2020 Olympics.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Games have been postponed to 2021. By then, USA Basketball’s plan to build an older roster – already a suspect strategy – will become even less tenable.
The 2019 FIBA World Cup showed the Americans’ vulnerability. They finished seventh – their worst-ever finish in a major tournament. The United States’ advantage is depth of star talent. That has carried Team USA through deficient cohesion and comfort with international rules/style. The 2019 squad lacked the usual star power.
Anything USA Basketball does to lower its talent level – including giving preferential treatment to past-their-peak players based on prior contributions – increases risk of another letdown.
A little backcourt-heavy? Yes. But so is the United States’ top-end talent. Will Stephen Curry play? His father said yes, though that was before Curry was sidelined even longer than he expected. So, there’s plenty of room to quibble with the selections. But it’s at least a reasonable facsimile of the final roster.
The average age* of that group: 29.5.
That’d be the second-oldest Team USA in the Olympics, shy of only the 1996 squad. It’s even older than the original Dream Team, which – as the first Olympic team to include NBA players – definitely prioritized rewarding career accomplishments.
Here’s the average age* of each Team USA since NBA players began competing in the Olympics:
*Age for Team USA’s first game or, in 2020, first originally scheduled game of the tournament
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see taking that same group to Tokyo in 2021 would make it Team USA’s oldest-ever squad, advancing the average age a full year to 30.5.
Plenty will change in the next year. It’s easy to project growth from players like Trae Young, Zion Williamson and Ja Morant. But whether or not those three in particular meet expectations, other young players will rise. Some of these older players will decline further.
Of course, there will still be room for some veterans in 2021. Chris Paul is flourishing with the Thunder and could continue to play at a high level. LeBron James is so dominant, he has plenty of room to decline while remaining elite.
But USA Basketball should be open-minded about emerging young players. That’s the only way to ensure a maximumly talented roster.
In 2020, it was foolish to pretend it’s 2016 or even 2012.
It’d be even more misguided to do so in 2021.
It was already the strangest NBA season before the coronavirus hit
To be sitting on the couch in late March and streaming “The Peanut Butter Falcon” or “Don’t f*** with cats” because there isn’t any basketball to watch feels wrong. No NBA battles for the eighth seed, no late pushes for Defensive Player of the Year or even MVP. No NCAA March Madness. Nothing. And no idea when the NBA is coming back.
It’s been the strangest of NBA seasons. One that feels like a scene out of Space Jam.
The thing is, this was already the strangest of NBA seasons before the novel coronavirus forced the league to suspend games back on March 11.
Just think about all the stuff we saw before the coronavirus changed our lives.
One Daryl Morey Tweet upends NBA’s relationship with China
The NBA season hadn’t even started when things got weird. Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey sent out a Tweet showing support for the protestors in Hong Kong, a Tweet that barely registered a ripple of recognition stateside. NBA players or people from teams getting political barely generates a shrug here because we’re both used to it and had the concepts of free speech baked into us at a young age.
In China, Morey’s Tweet touched the third rail of politics and things blew up. Soon sponsors were pulling out of deals and NBA games were off Chinese television. When the NBA released a statement that read as wanting to appease the league’s business partners in China, plenty of people stateside — Senators and presidential candidates, even the creators of South Park — pounced to make a political point, saying the NBA was putting the almighty dollar over the freedom of speech it says it champions. The league had to come out and set the record straight with a second statement, backing Morey, and then hoping it would all blow over.
Before the coronavirus literally stopped it, the entire NBA world seemed to grind to a halt on Jan. 26, when a helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others crashed into a foggy hillside in Calabasas, California. There were no survivors.
Tributes poured in — not just at Staples Center but from around the NBA and around the world. Kobe’s impact and inspiration were global. His “Mamba Mentality” had influenced a generation of players (and people not in basketball), and he came to be a guru of sorts that countless current players leaned on for advice — Devin Bookereven got a Kobe-related tattoo based on Kobe’s words to him.
Nothing, however, was as moving as the Kobe Celebration of Life that came at Staples Center. Kobe’s wife, Vanessa, gave a powerful speech that brought an arena to tears.
Michael Jordan — the man that helped fuel Kobe and became his friend — spoke from his heart. He also had the funniest line of the day.
At Staples Center (even for Clippers games), the numbers and names of the other legendary Lakers’ players have been covered up, and just Kobe’s 8 and 24 were visible in the rafters. It seemed a fitting tribute this season.
That alone was strange because Westbrook was the guy who stayed and embraced Oklahoma City when Kevin Durant bolted for Golden State a few years prior, then Westbrook went on a historic run of triple-doubles. However, when Paul George forced his way to the Clippers via trade, Westbrook relented and went to join another former Thunder star in James Harden in Houston.
It never really worked, not on a contender level, anyway. Harden and Westbrook played next to, not really with, each other and Houston didn’t look any better than they did the season before (the Rockets were 34-20 at the All-Star break, they won 33 games before the break the season before).
But before the break lame-duck coach Mike D’Antoni found something that worked: real small-ball. Start P.J. Tucker — a 6’5″ corner-three shooting forward — at center, have nobody taller than 6’7″ on the floor. Make sure everybody can shoot the rock, and make other teams adapt to them. It may have been a lineup tried first out of injury desperation, but it worked. The Rockets went so all-in they traded center Clint Capela to Atlanta at the deadline.
For a while, it all came together and the Rockets went on a streak winning 10-of-12 and shot back up the standings. Eventually teams seemed to adapt (there was a four-game losing streak just before the suspension) and there were legitimate questions about how it all would hold up in the playoffs, but in the regular season the Rockets were must-watch television again.
And Harden is going to win another scoring title, averaging 34.4 points per game.
The resurgence of a 35-year-old LeBron James as serious MVP candidate
Nobody questioned that LeBron James could still dominate basketball games, we had seen it in the playoffs for years. When focused, he was still as good as anyone on the planet, a dominant force of nature unlike anyone else the NBA had seen (or, at least seen since MJ or Wilt).
However, for years, LeBron had largely coasted through the regular season, particularly on the defensive end. He was saving energy, not dialing it up every night, and placing a priority on the postseason over the regular season. This had gone back to his second stint in Cleveland — where he won another title — and continued into his first injury-riddled season in Los Angeles.
Not this season. At age 35, LeBron held nothing back. He came out of the gate playing hard on both ends of the floor every night, becoming a disrupting defensive force while scoring 25.7 points per game and leading the league with 10.6 assists a game every night. He was attacking again like we hadn’t seen in years.
It feld weird bcause it was unexpected at this age. We’d need to go back to Karl Malone, or maybe Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to find a player at this age having this kind of impact.
LeBron, driven by the arrival of Anthony Davis and the realization he does not have that many years left in the game to win another title, had played at an MVP level all season. The award may well go to Giannis Antetokounmpo, who had another spectacular season as well and pushed his Bucks squad close to 70 wins, but the impact of LeBron was unquestionable. When he sat, the Lakers’ offense struggled, which is a big part of the “valuable” portion of his MVP case. The season being cut short hurt LeBon’s chances to make that case over the final 20 games.
There was a real rivalry in Los Angeles for once
For many years, the Clippers had been — at best — the cute little brother in Los Angeles. They were not the heart of Los Angeles basketball or a bigger draw, even when the Chris Paul/Blake Griffin “Lob City” Clippers were clearly the better team and a potential contender. The Los Angeles market always has been about the Lakers. There also was no feeling of a rivalry because even the years the Clippers had been better the Lakers were not in the mix for a title. The little brother was not in the way.
This season the LeBron/Davis Lakers were legit title contenders — and the Clippers may be their biggest foe.
The Clippers are no longer the backward-run franchise of the Donald Sterling years, this is one of the best-run franchises in the league now and that word had gotten around to players. The Clippers were a team guys wanted to play for, Steve Ballmer was an owner guys wanted to play for.
That helped the Clippers win the off-season, landing Kawhi Leonard as a free agent and trading for Paul George. Combine those two elite talents with a playoff-level core already — Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Patrick Beverley, and the list goes on — and the Clippers were the deepest team on paper in the NBA. The Clippers were legitimate title threat, once they got healthy and put everyone on the court.
The crash of Golden State from five-straight NBA Finals to worst team in the NBA
Everyone understood this would be a down season — a “gap year” — for the Warriors. Kevin Durant had left for Brooklyn, and after tearing his ACL in last year’s Finals nobody expected Klay Thompson to suit up this season (except maybe Thompson himself).
Then four games into the season, Stephen Curry fractured his hand, followed by four months of missed action.
At that point, the wheels came off, and the Golden State Warriors went from the team that went to five straight NBA Finals to the worst team in the NBA. The Warriors were 15-50 when play was suspended, leaving them with the worst record in the league by 4.5 games. Even with Curry back, and now a healthy Andrew Wiggins on the wing (the book is still out on that trade), the Warriors were going to finish near the bottom of the pack.
It has always been all about next season for the Warriors: A healthy Curry, Thompson, and Draymond Green, with Wiggins, a high draft pick (or whomever they can trade that for), and a solid bench, should put the Warriors back near the top of the NBA. This season, however, was a strange and ugly one for the Warriors.
Carmelo Anthony was outside the NBA looking in. After being waived by the Rockets 10 games into the 2018-19 NBA season, the future Hall of Famer could not find a new home. No team picked him up last season, no team wanted to sign him this summer. The concerns from teams were mainly about Anthony’s defense — never good it had been a disaster in Houston — and whether the production was worth the attention he would bring.
Enter Portland. Already without Jusuf Nurkic for much of the season, and early rash of injuries — including to Zach Collins, sidelining him most of the season — left Portland desperate for frontcourt help. They turned to Anthony in a marriage of desperation.
At age 35, Carmelo Anthony proved he was not washed. He’s going to get to walk away from the NBA on his own terms (probably). Which is amazing and a little weird considering where we were a year ago.
Luka Doncic having Dallas on pace for the greatest offense in NBA history. Statistically.
Last season, the Golden State Warriors put together the greatest team offensive season in NBA history, with an offensive net rating of 115.9 (that’s points scored per 100 possessions). That just bested the 1987 Showtime Lakers and the 2017 version of the Warriors, who had net ratings of 115.6. Then came the 1992 Jordan Bulls and last season’s James Harden/Chris Paul Rockets at 115.5.
This season’s Dallas Mavericks, led by second-year player Luka Doncic, blew them all out of the water.
Dallas had an offensive rating of 116.7 when play was suspended. Through 67 games, Dallas had been the best of them all, with Doncic’s masterful pick-and-roll decision making setting up Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., Seth Curry, and others in a game of marksmanship. Dallas has been entertaining, and Doncic has pushed his way into getting MVP votes (down-ballot, but still top five) with his play.
The high offensive rating may be a product of the times and three-point shooting, but it’s still weird to say this Dallas offense may have been better than any other. Ever.
There was so much more
The strangeness of this NBA season went beyond all that. There was:
• The likely end of San Antonio’s 22-season playoff streak.
• Ja Morant mania.
• Zion Williamson mania surpassing Morant-mania.
• John Beilein’s weird, short tenure as Cavaliers coach.
• Kenny Atkinson getting fired late in a playoff season for his injury-riddled Brooklyn team.
And that list goes on; it was all weird.
Then the coronavirus came and made it all that much stranger.
Pelicans’ David Griffin: ‘The idea of canceling a season is not all on [the NBA’s] minds’
Fox Sports New Orleans, like the local broadcasters for many NBA teams, is reshowing some older games from earlier this season. Something has to fill the airtime with the NBA shutdown.
This weekend, New Orleans streamed a live pregame show for its recorded game and brought in David Griffin, the team’s executive vice president of basketball operations (read: the guy with the hammer), to talk about the team.
“With everything changing so quickly, everything is in a state of flux that I think it would be premature for the NBA to say what it ultimately looks like. I do know unequivocally that the league is very mindful of the idea of getting back to playing. The idea of canceling a season is not all on their minds, and we’re modeling every possible thing we can for how we can deliver a product to the fans. Quite frankly, we’re all going to need a diversion in the future. (But) until we can get to a point where we think we’ve got containment of (the coronavirus), we’re going to continue to stay locked down. Hopefully we’ll get to a point where we can come back sooner rather than later.”
That is the optimistic viewpoint, and primarily what I hear talking to sources around the league — the NBA wants to play games and crown a champion, in whatever form that ultimately takes. There are financial and continuity reasons for this, but nobody wants a 1994 baseball year (although that World Series was lost to a players’ strike). There is a growing pessimism from some in the league, looking at the timelines of a potential coronavirus spread in the U.S., that the league may end up having to cancel. Ultimately, however, nobody knows.
Just don’t underestimate how much the NBA wants to get games played and have a Finals this year.
“A big part of it is the chemistry you see with Lonzo and Zion,” Griffin said. “They have a special connection. I think Nicolo Melli getting more minutes, and him starting to become a key part of the rotation has been essential as well. Those three guys work incredibly well as a unit. The two people who were most damaged by (Williamson’s) absence individually were probably Lonzo – because Zion gives us another player who can create vertical thrust in the offense – and Lonzo can pick defenses apart with his passing…
“Melli, when there is that dive thrust (by Williamson) toward the rim, (Melli) is going to be pulling bigs away from the basket,” Griffin said. “He is absolutely essential when Zion’s on the floor, from a spacing standpoint. When you see the relationship between those three growing, it just exponentially improves our team.”
Mock NBA expansion draft: Mavericks, Rockets, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Spurs
The NBA season is on hiatus. NBC Sports is not – even if we have to venture into fantasy.
We’re holding a mock NBA expansion draft. Keith Smith is setting protected lists for existing teams. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman will run two new teams as this project culminates in an expansion draft.
Current teams can protect up to eight players. Each team must make at least one player available. If selected, restricted free agents become unrestricted free agents. Pending options can be decided before or after the expansion draft at the discretion of the option-holder. Anyone selected in the expansion draft can’t return to his prior team for one year. Players entering unrestricted free agency and players on two-way contracts are essentially ignored.
Analysis: Seven of Dallas’ protections were easy calls. They’re all players locked up long-term. That left deciding between Tim Hardaway Jr, who has been a starter for the Mavericks but has a player option, and several other useful players.
Ultimately, the Mavs can’t afford to lose Hardaway, who has rediscovered his solid offensive play from his Hawks years. That leaves Justin Jackson and three big men in Dwight Powell (coming off a torn Achilles’) and Boban Marjanovic and Willie-Cauley-Stein (both backups for Dallas). The most likely to be selected player is probably Jackson, but that’s a risk Dallas has to take.
Analysis: Just how hard the Grizzlies’ protection decision were is a testament to how well their rebuild has gone. Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks, Brandon Clarke and De’Anthony Melton were all locks. Justise Winslow was just acquired at the trade deadline as the centerpiece of a deal. Tyus Jones is the ideal backup point guard behind Morant, so he stays as well. That left Jonas Valanciunas vs Kyle Anderson for the final protected spot. Valanciunas’ presence allows Jackson to play power forward, so the big man gets the final spot.
Memphis is gambling that Anderson’s slow-mo style of play and $9.5 million salary isn’t what an expansion team is looking for. Jontay Porter is another risk, but he’s got a lengthy injury history of his own. The Grizzlies will hope one of the other three is selected and might be willing to offer a small incentive to make it happen.
Analysis: New Orleans’ protections are cut and dry. Every player protected, minus Brandon Ingram, is signed for at least one more season. This includes several players on rookie scale contracts. Ingram will most assuredly be re-signed this summer, so that decision was easy as well.
The only gamble among the unprotected players is Nicolo Melli. He’s become a rotation player for the Pelicans, but he’s not as valuable as the younger players. The other three players are mostly out of the New Orleans’ rotation and not anyone the team will worry about if they are selected.
Analysis: The Spurs are banking on keeping DeMar DeRozan this summer. He either opts in or re-signs in San Antonio. LaMarcus Aldridge is an easy decision as well. Dejounte Murray will start his extension this coming season. Everyone else is on their rookie scale contract, minus Jakob Poeltl. Poeltl is a restricted free agent that the Spurs hope to retain this offseason.
San Antonio is gambling that the big salaries of Rudy Gay and Patty Mills will keep them from being selected. That exposes Trey Lyles, who has a relatively small guarantee, and young big man Chimezie Metu. The Spurs would like to keep both, but not at the expense of losing a rookie scale player.