Conley, in part due to health and in part due to unfamiliarity with his new teammates, was underwhelming in the games he played before his injury. Conley averaged 13.6 points per game but shot just 36.5 percent from the floor. While he was out for this last stretch, the Jazz went 11-2 (against a soft schedule), and Utah had the best offense in the NBA over that stretch with Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles taking on more of the offensive playmaking.
Conley said watching the team during this stretch helped him a lot, but he’s also wanted to get back on the court.
Mike Conley said he knows his teammate better now: “Honestly, just from watching games, even when I went on the road trip, I developed more of an understanding of everybody’s tendencies.” And on staying positive: “I have zero concerns. Zero. … I’m ready to go.” pic.twitter.com/pjIHKksC7v
Mike Conley, on the rehab process: “Obviously, it’s been a little bit draining because you want to be a part of success. … For the most part, the last couple weeks I’ve felt fine. It’s hard to tell somebody not to do something when you feel like you can run through a wall.” pic.twitter.com/7PNNnLh8cZ
The Jazz need Conley — an outstanding pick-and-roll point guard — to be in the flow of the offense by the time the playoffs roll around. Utah bet big on him and Bogdan Bogdanovic this summer, counting on the pair to be the secondary (and third) shot creators the team needs to advance in the postseason. While the team has won without him in December and January, Conley will be needed in April and May.
PBT mid-season awards: Defensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and more
The 2019-20 NBA season reached its midpoint by games played last night. So, we’re naming winners for mid-season awards. Yesterday, we picked Most Valuable Player and All-NBA. Now, we’re onto the other major honors.
Even as reigning back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year, Gobert doesn’t have the final award sewn up. Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez and Kawhi Leonard are in the mix. But in a tight race, Gobert gets the benefit of the doubt. Utah’s strong defense is built entirely around Gobert’s rim protection.
This is a runaway award, but not for the guy we expected to run away with it. Zion Williamson makes his debut next week and maybe he could climb to third in this race, but he’s not winning the award. Morant and his fluid athleticism have turned Grizzlies into must-watch television, and he looks every bit the franchise player. Kendrick Nunn is a clear second in this race.
Dan Feldman: Ja Morant (Grizzlies)
Some rookie point guards put up big numbers. Some rookie point guards produce electric highlights. Some rookie point guards show promising flashes of winning basketball. Few rookie point guards are actually good. Morant is actually good. His athleticism, shooting and overall offensive control form an incredible package for his age. Sure, Morant is sometimes too reckless. He doesn’t completely break the mold of a young point guard. But Memphis has a gem.
Last season, Graham was an end-of-the-bench guy in Charlotte. This season, he’s averaging 18.7 points a game, hitting 38.7 percent from three and is the team’s best player. Nobody saw that coming and it’s a radical improvement. Also in the mix for this award are Bam Adebayo and Luka Doncic — yes, the MVP candidate, he as made a massive leap this season.
Dan Feldman: Luka Doncic (Mavericks)
It’s a two-man race between Doncic and Devonte’ Graham. As the reigning Rookie of the Year, Doncic will get overlooked. He’s a second-year player. He was supposed to be this good. BS. The leap into superstardom is generally more difficult than the climb from non-rotation player to good starter, which Graham made. For Doncic to get this good this quickly is unprecedented.
Harrell was in the mix for this award last season and came back this season as a better defender and more efficient on offense. He’s a critical element for a contending Clippers team, and closes games for them at the five. However, this is not a decided race by any means, both Derrick Rose and George Hill deserve serious consideration. Also, Spencer Dinwiddie in Brooklyn could be in the mix, but likely starts too many games to qualify.
Dan Feldman: Montrezl Harrell (Clippers)
I nearly chose Harrell for this award last season. Since, he has improved his offensive skill and defensive effectiveness. His big role in L.A. gives Harrell the edge over another highly productive reserve, the Bucks’ George Hill. Derrick Rose and Harrell’s teammate, Lou Williams, also warrant consideration.
Coach of the Year
Kurt Helin: Erik Spoelstra (Heat)
This is a wide-open race and my spreadsheet goes eight deep with worthy candidates: Nick Nurse has done an impressive job in Toronto, same with Brad Stevens in Boston and Frank Vogel with the Lakers, and the list goes on. Spoelstra, however, leads for me because of a combination of player development — Kendrick Nunn, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, etc. — and smart utilization of the players’ he has. Plus, Spoelstra is getting it all to mesh around Jimmy Butler.
Dan Feldman: Nick Nurse (Raptors)
Nurse kept Toronto humming when Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green left. Nurse kept Toronto humming when key players, including breakout star Pascal Siakam, got hurt. Nurse kept Toronto humming when unproven young players had to join the rotation. Nurse’s defenses are particularly exemplary – both his creativity and ability to get everyone up to speed. The Heat’s Erik Spoelstra and the Pacers’ Nate McMillan aren’t far behind.
Three Things to Know: Brandon Ingram has earned an All-Star nod and max contract
He was coming off a blood clot issue that, if it returned, would threaten his career. He wasn’t a guy who took or made a lot of threes. He had most of his offensive success in isolation or as a pick-and-roll ball handler, how would he fit in coach Alvin Gentry’s offensive system that required ball movement and catch-and-shoot skills? How would he fit next to Zion Williamson?
Ingram made a leap this season and blew all those questions out of the water (except the Zion one, that starts to get answered next week).
Ingram is averaging 25.8 points per game and is shooting 40.6 percent from three on 6.2 attempts from deep per game. He has dramatically improved his jump shot, fit in brilliantly with Gentry’s system, and become the Pelicans’ best — and go-to — player. Exactly the guy the Lakers envisioned when they drafted him No. 2 out of Duke in 2016.
That peaked on Thursday night when Ingram dropped a career-high 49 on the Utah Jazz and led the Pelicans to a win that snapped Utah’s 10-game win streak.
This leap would not have happened if the Lakers had not traded Ingram, he was never going to be a comfortable fit next to LeBron James (even if Ingram has improved off-the-ball in Gentry’s system).
“[The Lakers] have such a rich history of winning, a lot of pressure goes on the shoulders of those young guys,” said the Clippers’ Lou Williams, who spent half a season as a teammate of then-rookie Ingram. “Different organizations have more of a patience to develop more guys. The Lakers want to win right away. So some of the pressure was deserved because [Ingram and Lonzo Ball] was high picks, and they should be good quality basketball players, but at the same time they’re young guys trying to figure it out.”
Ingram figured it out, but things might have been different, he might not have made this leap if Zion had stayed healthy. The Pelicans offense would have been different with the No. 1 pick (also out of Duke).
Forget the “what ifs” however — Brandon Ingram has made the leap and now the rewards should be flowing. NBA coaches should select him as a reserve for the All-Star Game in Chicago. He’s earned it.
Next summer, Ingram will get a max contract — almost certainly from the Pelicans. While New Orleans has not seen Ingram next to Williamson in a meaningful way (the preseason doesn’t count), it can’t afford to lose the restricted free agent and other teams will undoubtedly be lined up with max offers.
Ingram is about to get PAID. That comes with the respect he’s earned.
Ingram was also at the heart of the wild ending in New Orleans Thursday night. The Pelicans thought they had won the game in regulation on Ingram’s off-balance jumper with 0.2 seconds left.
Utah had just 0.2 left to make a play, which by NBA rule means it had to be a tip. The Pelicans packed the paint, but rookie Jaxson Hayes was called for holding Rudy Gobert as the Utah center attempted to free himself for the desperation tip-in (the Last Two Minute report in this game is going to be fascinating, but because there was a little hold — not enough to get called in this situation, but it was there — expect the report to back the refs).
That gave Gobert a chance to win it by making two foul shots, but he split them, tied the game, and sent it to overtime. In the extra frame, Gobert fouled out on an Ingram drive (another very questionable call) and behind a final five points from Ingram — plus seven from Derrick Favors — the Pelicans got the home win.
2) We have a trade Hawks/Timberwolves trade… that sets up other trades. If one were to grade this trade as a stand-alone move, The Timberwolves would fail the test.
For Atlanta, they get a much needed backup point guard behind Trae Young (it’s a short-term fix, but they told a frustrated Young they would get him help). When Young is running the show and bombing deep threes, the Hawks have a respectable offense. However, when Young sits, the Atlanta offense scores far less than a point per possession (90.7 offensive rating) and those stretches end up costing the team games. Teague is a solid point guard who can organize the Hawks offense and keep things from dropping off a cliff while Young rests.
For Minnesota, this trade only makes sense if it’s seen as the precursor to a second trade (maybe involving Crabbe, who makes $18.5 million this season). It clears out a roster spot, something the Timberwolves needed to do to go big game hunting. They are still interested in Golden State’s D’Angelo Russell (to play with his good friend Karl-Anthony Towns) and but lose some flexibility in how to make that trade happen. Whether they should trade for Russell is another question — Wolves GM Gersson Rosas said he wants a playmaking point guard, not a scoring one, except that’s not Russell — but the Timberwolves are moving to try and make that a reality. It’s hard to judge this trade for the Timberwolves until we see what other shoes drop.
3) Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks remind everyone they are beasts of the East with a win against the Celtics. Boston has joined the long list of teams — pretty much 29 of them — that have no good answer to slow Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The Greek Freak scored 32 points and pulled down 17 rebounds, and that plus Khris Middleton’s 23 was enough for Milwaukee to knock off the Celtics 128-123 on Thursday night. The Bucks have now won five in a row and remain on pace for a 70-win season (even if their GM says they will not chase a record number of wins).
Kemba Walker scored 40 points to lead Boston. The bigger concern for the Celtics is Jaylen Brown, who suffered a sprained right thumb against Detroit and sat this game out, plus he could miss more time.
NEW ORLEANS (AP) —Brandon Ingram scored a career-high 49 points, and the New Orleans Pelicans stopped the Utah Jazz’s 10-game win streak with a 138-132 victory Thursday night.
Utah led 132-127 on Bojan Bogdanovic’s 3 with 2:28 to go in overtime, but went scoreless the rest of the way. The Pelicans scored 11 straight on layups by Derrick Favors and E’Twaun Moore and seven free throws.
Favors finished with 21 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks against his former team. Moore had 16 points for New Orleans, which has won 10 of 14 and has two games to play before the NBA’s top overall draft choice, Zion Williamson, is slated to make his Pelicans debut on Wednesday night.
Fellow 2019 first-round picks Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Jaxson Hayes each played prominent roles in New Orleans’ victory. Alexander-Walker had 12 points, and Hayes collected nine points, five rebounds and a blocked shot.
The Pelicans thought they had won the game in regulation on Ingram’s off-balance jumper with .2 seconds left.
But Hayes was called for holding Rudy Gobert as Utah attempted a desperation tip-in on the inbound pass.
But with the crowd heartily booing the officials, Gobert missed the first free throw before hitting the pressure-packed second to tie it at 122 and force overtime.
Utah star Donovan Mitchell tied his career high with 46 points before missing several shots in the final minutes of overtime. Bogdanovic scored 26, and Gobert finished with 17 points, 14 rebounds and three blocks.
Mitchell hit three 3s in the last four minutes of regulation to put Utah on the brink of victory, but missed a mid-range pull-up inside the final 10 seconds. The Pelicans rebounded and called timeout with 6.3 seconds left to set up the tense final sequence of regulation.
The game was tight throughout. There were 23 lead changes and 23 ties. The largest lead by either team was nine after Favors’ block of Gobert led to a transition layup by Ingram to make it 56-47.
Mitchell cut it to 56-49 at halftime when he took a pass from Joe Ingles and in one motion flipped a running floater off the glass as time expired.
Utah opened the third quarter with a 9-2 run, with Bogdanovic scoring five points on a layup and a 3, and the game was tied at 58.
PBT Podcast: Our NBA mid-season award picks for MVP, Rookie of Year, more
Can anyone catch Ja Morant for Rookie of the Year?
We’ve reached the midpoint of the NBA season, meaning it’s time to break down where the NBA’s awards races stand. Dan Feldman of NBC Sports joins me and we get into all of that, plus Coach of the Year, Most Improved Player, and the All-NBA teams.