Essential The Official ESPN Insider Thread (ESPN+)

Discussion in 'The Coliseum' started by track 1, Oct 9, 2012.

  1. Skooby

    Skooby Alone In My Zone Supporter

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    Bates' decision to switch high school programs made headlines. How has the switch benefited and/or harmed Bates' development?

    You can look at it a few ways, but most industry people think it hurt Bates' development. That's not entirely his fault, as part of the reason Bates is no longer head and shoulders above his peers is that they've caught up with him physically. Granted, there are very few players at his size who can shoot like he does, but he no longer towers over opposing perimeter players. The Kevin Durant comparisons weren't his fault either, but he's still a few inches in both height and wingspan -- and about 20 pounds -- from that sort of physical profile.

    On both the high school and grassroots circuits, Bates isn't surrounded by an overwhelming amount of talent. He already had a target on his back because of who he is, and there are very few players around him to remove some of that pressure. Had Bates gone to an Oak Hill Academy (Virginia) or a Montverde Academy (Florida) or an IMG Academy (Florida), he would likely have at least two or three other five-star caliber prospects on the floor with him. It's really hard to consistently look good when five defenders are focused on you.

    The move has also raised some questions among scouts, simply because they haven't consistently seen Bates against top-tier competition in the last few years. Jonathan mentioned his eye-opening performance at USA Basketball three years ago; since then, he's turned down invites to USA Basketball's training camps. He wasn't great at the Nike Elite 100 a couple years back. Some knock Bates for playing at the 15U level on the EYBL circuit in 2019 instead of playing up, but very few high school freshmen play at the 17U level and his entire team -- created by his father -- was also high school freshmen. It's unlikely Nike would have put them at the 17U level regardless.

    There's nothing inherently wrong with any of those decisions -- plenty of players have skipped USA Basketball or played with their age group or stayed at a high school where they're not surrounded by stars. But it just didn't give Bates the chance to consistently go up against bigger and stronger players, and when he has in the last few months, he's struggled a bit, as Jonathan pointed out earlier.

    Not being a lock generational prospect doesn't mean he's not still an outstanding player, however. As one longtime grassroots scout pointed out, if the comparison is now Brandon Ingram instead of Kevin Durant -- that's still a player averaging 25 points, five boards, five assists and shooting 38% from 3 in the NBA. I think Bates would take that at the next level.

    -- Jeff Borzello

    What will the next year look like for Bates? What events will give him a chance to silence doubters?

    Bates was scheduled to play this past weekend at the Bill Hensley Memorial Run-N-Slam Tournament in Fort Wayne, Indiana, but did not make the trip along with his Bates Fundamentals team. His status for the remainder of the spring and summer is currently unknown.

    Nike has yet to announce its schedule for an expanded Peach Jam tournament, a Nike EYBL "bubble" that will reportedly be held over the span of approximately two weeks in late June and July in Augusta, Georgia, but Bates Fundamentals will be one of the 32 or so 17U teams in attendance. Since he won't be part of USA Basketball's roster at the FIBA U19 World Championship, it would be surprising if Bates didn't play in the EYBL, which would be a major test as well as a significant opportunity to make up any ground he's lost.


    My understanding is that the plan for Bates is to continue competing at the high school level for Ypsi Prep next season, with the program intending to build a stronger and more balanced roster that better complements him than the somewhat disjointed team we saw this past season. That could change at any moment, though, as sources told ESPN most of the top players on Bates' team are currently not slated to return next season, leaving the program's future in doubt.

    We've been hearing for months about a new league that Nike is looking to form this fall/winter involving a dozen or so of the top high school programs in America, and Ypsi Prep would likely have been one of its centerpieces, along with schools like Montverde, Sunrise Christian, Oak Hill, La Lumiere and others. This would have been an outstanding setup for Bates to showcase himself as the No. 1 player in the class in nationally televised games, as well as continuing to develop his game against many of the best players in high school basketball.

    Alas, sources told ESPN that plan is being put on pause by Nike for at least a year, as the NIBC league setup from this past season is likely to return with a focus on traditional brick-and-mortar type academic institutions, and not pop-up basketball-only prep schools like Ypsi Prep. We're told the NIBC will feature eight high school powerhouses, including Montverde, Sunrise Christian, Oak Hill, La Lumiere, IMG, Wasatch, Bishop Walsh and Legacy Early College, and play over the course of four weekends in December and January.

    -- Jonathan Givony
     
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  2. Flight

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  3. Skooby

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    The last communication between Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant

    He still has the final text message saved on his phone.

    Michael Jordan retrieves it from time to time, even though it refreshes his grief, triggers the urge to wonder all over again, as so many others have, "Why?"

    Almost sixteen months after the death of Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and six other companions as well as the pilot in a helicopter crash, it remains agonizing to process. Jordan, who was Kobe's mentor, confidant and friend, has been mulling over how to put Bryant's life into context because he will be inducting him into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday. It is a responsibility that comes with a mix of distinction and dread.

    Jordan still can't speak of Kobe without a little hitch in his voice, a catch of emotion that hasn't subsided since he spoke at Bryant's memorial service last February and openly wept over the loss of his "little brother." As the tears streamed down his face, Jordan joked about creating a new Jordan crying meme for the thirsty social media throngs.

    "I told my wife I wouldn't do this, because I didn't want to see it for the next three or four years," Jordan said on that day. "This is what Kobe Bryant does to me. He knows how to get to you in a way that affects you personally ... even if he is a pain in the ass."

    Time has passed, but the grief lingers, simmering on the surface. Jordan acknowledges that he had some concerns about how he would maintain his composure during the induction ceremony.

    "I was thinking, at first, I might be a little somewhat nervous about it, but then I realized I'm not going to be nervous about showing emotions for someone I absolutely loved," Jordan says. "That's the humanistic side of me -- people tend to forget I do have one."

    It is always heart-wrenching when people die young. The crash claimed the lives of three teenagers and young parents, all of whom left families behind. Bryant, just 41 years old, had settled comfortably into his basketball retirement, Jordan says, focusing on spending time with his wife, Vanessa, his four daughters and a burgeoning portfolio of literary, entertainment, coaching and basketball-related business ventures.

    "He was just so happy," Jordan says. "He was doing so well."

    The final text message, dated Dec. 8, 2019, indicates as much. Kobe sent it to Jordan just after noon, 12:18 p.m. PT.

    "This tequila is awesome," Kobe texted, referring to Jordan's Cincoro Tequila, a bottle of which was sent to Bryant at the launch.

    "Thank you, my brother," Jordan responded.

    "Yes, sir. Family good?" Kobe replied.

    "All good. Yours?"

    "All good."

    Jordan smiled, then decided to have a little fun. "He was really into coaching Gigi," MJ explains, "so I hit him up about that."

    "Happy holidays," Jordan texted back, "and hope to catch up soon. Coach Kobe??!"

    "I added that little crying/laughing emoji," Jordan chuckles.

    "Ah, back at you, man," Kobe wrote. "Hey, coach, I'm sitting on the bench right now, and we're blowing this team out. 45-8."

    Eleven days following that exchange, Bryant learned he had been officially nominated for the Hall of Fame as a first-ballot entry. Forty-nine days later, he was gone.

    "I just love that text," Jordan says, "because it shows Kobe's competitive nature."

    It was one of many qualities the two men shared. Each was relentless in their pursuit of winning, even as teammates occasionally became casualties of that white-hot intensity. They talked about the trappings of fame, the jealousy of others, the insatiable thirst for perfection.

    "His style of play was identical to mine," Jordan says. "He stayed true to his course, and I respect that."

    On Dec. 17, 1997, at the United Center, a 19-year-old Kobe Bryant bounded off the bench for the Lakers and scored 33 points in 29 minutes. Jordan, suitably impressed, sought out the second-year player after the game to compliment him. Bryant immediately began peppering him with questions about shooting release points. The conversation was brief, but warm. "If you ever need anything," Jordan told him, "just call ..."

    Kobe did. Again, and again, and again. Sometimes at 2 o'clock in the morning. Sometimes before the sun came up. Bryant wondered about Jordan's turnaround jump shot, how to create misdirection, the best way to ward off bigger, stronger players in the post. In later years, the questions involved endorsements, the quest for privacy, advice on how to manage their shared need not just to beat someone, but to break them. Kobe made no secret of his goal: It was to be like Mike, or, if possible, to be even better.

    "He was a mentally tough kid, maybe even tougher than I was," Jordan says. "Remember, the people who followed me, my fans, didn't like that he was trying to copy what I had done."

    Bryant's induction into the Hall of Fame, along with a star-studded group of peers that includes Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, became official on April 4, 2020. He never had the opportunity to place a call to Michael Jordan to see if he would present him. "Vanessa asked me once he passed away," Jordan explains. "In all honesty, I knew he probably would. It was either me or Shaq, since they won three championships together."

    Jordan says about six months ago he sent Vanessa a text to check in on her.

    "I told her, 'Look, I know this is a tough time. I'm always here if you need me,'" Jordan says. "She answered back, 'I would love it if you stood up for Kobe at the Hall of Fame.'

    "It's going to be a great honor, to be honest. It's like standing up for a family member. He paid me the highest respect by trying to emulate certain things I did. And I can only repay that by showing my support and admiration for a guy who I felt was one of the greatest to ever play the game."

    Jordan says Bryant's blockbuster career with the Lakers, during which he won five championships, has overshadowed how initially difficult it was for Bryant to integrate himself into a league as a teenager who was not yet physically or mentally mature, and was often isolated from, and even scorned by, his older teammates.

    "In some ways, Kobe was self-made," Jordan says. "People forget that. He was an 18-year-old kid that made himself into one of the best.

    "To me, it was all from hard work and dedication. All the effort he put forth. He should be a great role model for a lot of kids who at 18 may not want to go to college, that may want to play basketball somewhere.

    "He showed them how. And he sat on the bench for a long time before he got his chance. People forget that, too. But when he got his shot, he took advantage of it."

    Jordan will have no shortage of material to illustrate the greatness of his friend. There are the five rings, the two Finals MVPs, the regular-season MVP in 2008, the 15 All-NBA selections, the 12 All-Defense nods and the four All-Star MVP trophies. But it's the father, the friend and the kindred spirit that Jordan misses most. During Kobe's memorial at the Staples Center, Jordan told the assembled crowd, "When Kobe died, a part of me died."

    Maybe that explains why Kobe's number -- along with that final text -- remains on Michael Jordan's phone.

    "I don't know why," he says, "but I just can't delete it."
     
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  4. Thavoiceofthevoiceless

    Thavoiceofthevoiceless Veteran Supporter

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  5. Skooby

    Skooby Alone In My Zone Supporter

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    All-NBA, All-Defense and All-Rookie: Zach Lowe names his 2021 award winners

    This wild 2020-21 regular season is over -- and the play-in games are finally set. It's Russell Westbrook vs. Jayson Tatum on Tuesday, and Stephen Curry vs. LeBron James on Wednesday. Here's Part 2 of my official NBA awards ballot. (Part 1 is here.)

    ALL-NBA


    First team

    G: Stephen Curry

    G: Damian Lillard

    F: Luka Doncic

    F: Giannis Antetokounmpo

    C: Nikola Jokic

    Second team

    G: Chris Paul

    G: Jimmy Butler

    F: LeBron James

    F: Kawhi Leonard

    C: Joel Embiid

    Third team

    G: Kyrie Irving

    G: Bradley Beal

    F: Julius Randle

    F: Paul George

    C: Rudy Gobert

    * There were three first-team locks: Curry, Antetokounmpo, and Jokic. One of Lillard and Doncic was a lock for the second guard spot.

    That left one pesky forward spot. For most of the past two months, I had Leonard there: 25 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 5 assists on almost 50/40/90 shooting -- with borderline All-Defense work on the other end. I'd be fine with him on first-team.

    But Leonard finished with a bit of a whimper: 20-plus points in only two of the Clippers' last 18 games. He ended up about 500 minutes short of Doncic.

    I toyed with Butler, who had the league's most underappreciated great season. I have seen Butler left off a few All-NBA ballots, and I understand how hard these choices are. But every evaluation type -- traditional stats, advanced stats, eye test, importance to team -- suggest Butler has to be here. His advanced numbers are a hair ahead of Leonard's.

    But Butler and Leonard logged almost the same amount of minutes.

    The league made Doncic eligible at forward and guard. He was No. 5 on my MVP ballot, over Lillard. With that huge minutes edge, I decided to shift him to forward and get him on the first team -- so four of my MVP top five were here.

    The one missing, of course, is Embiid, and it is fair to ask why I (and many voters) won't take advantage of the same positional leeway and slot Embiid into that forward spot.


    I have always tried to remain at least semi-realistic with positions as long as the league is using positional designations. Embiid is a pure center. Doncic is more amorphous. He acts as the Mavs' point guard, which is why most voters start by considering him at guard; but by that logic, James -- listed at forward most of his career -- has been a "guard" all along. (The league made James eligible at guard last season, and again this time.)

    Seven of the Mavs' eight most-used lineups featuring Doncic match him with two of Tim Hardaway Jr., Josh Richardson, and Jalen Brunson. What position is Doncic in those groups? On offense, Doncic is at least as much "point forward" as "point guard." He defends both guards and forwards -- whatever is convenient night-to-night.

    It felt more honest slotting Doncic at forward than Embiid. Other voters might feel differently -- I have seen Embiid on several first-team ballots -- and that's fine. I had him No. 2 in MVP, so he's obviously worthy.

    * Having Embiid as first-team forward would have vaulted Gobert to second team, and opened the third-team center spot for someone: Bam Adebayo, Domantas Sabonis, Clint Capela, Nikola Vucevic. That person would have replaced one of the last guards or forwards, and I thought all those guards/forwards were more deserving.

    The league could have solved that issue in any number of ways, including by making Randle eligible at center. That is no more ridiculous -- and maybe less so -- than having Embiid eligible at forward. Randle played 39 minutes alongside Obi Tobbin; who was the "center" there? A lot of opponents have centers defend Randle to neuter his post game. Does that count for anything?


    Oh well. There were a lot of reasonable outcomes. None of them feels awesome. This is where I ended up.

    * Four second-team spots were no-brainers. The fifth went to LeBron. It will be interesting to see whether LeBron makes All-NBA at all. I bet he will.

    He played 45 of 72 games, and 1,504 minutes. James Harden played 44 games and 1,609 minutes. Harden had a majestic half-season in Brooklyn; he was mounting a legit MVP case before suffering hamstring issues, and was one of my last cuts.

    Eight of those 44 games and 290 of those 1609 minutes marked Harden's final moments with the Houston Rockets. Harden put up numbers, but if you watched, you know he wasn't exactly going full throttle or playing in a way that evinced his normal interest level in whether the Rockets won or lost.

    Those games matter. They mark a distinction between the 2020-21 seasons of LeBron and Harden. I also don't think it's unreasonable to give James -- provided he meets some threshold of games -- the "duh, we all know he's the best player, and he might have won MVP" benefit of the doubt.

    That's the main reason he snags this second spot over Randle, despite Randle logging 1,100 (!) more minutes. I almost had Randle here, but deferred in the end to James' obvious and historic greatness. We can probably trust Randle's improved jumper will sustain into next season; we know we can trust James.

    I ordered things this way knowing I would put Randle on the third team; he was not at risk of missing my ballot. I suspect some voters will slot him into that same pesky first-team forward spot I gave Doncic, and that's reasonable too.

    One way or another, Randle should make All-NBA.

    * With Gobert and Randle in, that left three spots for some combination of Irving, Beal, George, Harden, Donovan Mitchell, Devin Booker, Zion Williamson, Ben Simmons and Jayson Tatum. (Several other candidates, including Jrue Holiday, Zach LaVine, Trae Young, Mike Conley, Russell Westbrook, Jaylen Brown, and De'Aaron Fox got hard looks, but fell one mini-tier short of the above short list of "snubs.")

    I had Simmons third-team last season. He was even better on defense this season -- third on my Defensive Player of the Year ballot -- and his inside-out passing is the main source of Philadelphia's catch-and-shoot diet. But he averaged 14 points, and for long stretches looked tentative attacking the rim.

    MORE: Everything you need to know about the 2021 NBA playoffs

    Mitchell was probably on track for one guard spot before his ankle injury. His first dozen games were scattershot, but he played like a superstar for the final 30-plus. I almost had him here; he would be a fine choice.

    Ditto for Booker, who probably would have made my ballot last season (over Simmons) had voters been allowed to factor in bubble games. But his advanced stats are well below these other guys, and most evidence labels Paul the No. 1 engine of Phoenix's incredible season. Booker was among the very last cuts.

    The last one, though, was Williamson, and it was the toughest -- so much so that he was on my ballot up until the last 72 hours. He is undeniable with the ball: averaging 27 points on 61% shooting (!), plus almost four assists -- and more, once the Pelicans handed him the offense. He's a liability on defense, but so are some other candidates.

    I initially had Williamson as one third-team forward, bumping George to guard (he's eligible at both positions) and eliminating one of Irving and Beal. The lottery-bound Pelicans have a worse record than Beal's play-in Wizards, but other measures of team quality -- point differential, whatever -- paint New Orleans as at least Washington's equal.

    But, man, it's hard to ignore 31 points for a team that was often bereft of shooting around Beal. I'm not sure any player other than Curry received more attention -- more bodies around him, more limbs in his line of sight -- than Beal popping off a screen.

    That the Wizards only took off once Russell Westbrook matched Beal's production (and sometimes exceeded it) is not an indictment of Beal's All-NBA case, or evidence that Westbrook is the real driver of Washington's success. It was proof of what this season's Wizards could be once Beal had a peer -- what laid dormant before then. The whole, healthy version of the Wizards has trended toward being a solid, winning team. The Pelicans were never that.

    Westbrook's first 20-plus games just weren't good enough to crack All-NBA. (He was a net-negative in a fair number of those games.) The Wizards still ended with a better point differential in Beal-only minutes than in the Westbrook-only subset, per NBA.com.

    * As for Irving, it felt wrong having zero Nets even if circumstances would have justified it. Irving has been the closest thing to a constant among Brooklyn's three stars, and was unstoppable: 27 points on 50/40/90 shooting. He was efficient in crunch time. On most nights, he competed on defense with active hands.

    The Nets outscored opponents (barely, but still) when Irving played without both Harden and Kevin Durant.

    * George enjoyed another fine two-way season, with career-best passing numbers.

    That left Williamson as the final cut. But really, you can't go wrong with any of George, Beal, Irving, Williamson, Mitchell, Booker, and maybe Tatum for those final few spots.




    ALL-DEFENSE


    First team

    G: Ben Simmons

    G: Jimmy Butler

    F: Draymond Green

    F: Giannis Antetokounmpo

    C: Rudy Gobert

    Second team

    G: Marcus Smart

    G: Jrue Holiday

    F: Matisse Thybulle

    F: Bam Adebayo

    C: Joel Embiid
     
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  6. Skooby

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    * Gobert, Green, and Simmons went 1-2-3 on my Defensive Player of the Year ballot, so they were first-team locks.

    * Antetokounmpo took a slight step back from last season, when he was a deserving Defensive Player of the Year. He didn't always handle switches cleanly as the Bucks diversified their schemes. But he remains one of the league's half-dozen best defenders -- a rim-protector and all-position wrecker who defends every play type well, per Second Spectrum.

    * Butler is as stout as ever. He can defend all three perimeter positions, and hold his own against power forwards when the Heat ask it of him. He seems to love getting switched onto centers, and stonewalls all but the very best. He led the league in steals without gambling out of position. He's a good rebounder. He's rugged, unrelenting, unpleasant to play against.

    * The most painful omissions (among many!) were Mikal Bridges, Capela, Leonard, George, and especially OG Anunoby. (Pascal Siakam had an underrated season flying around in the Toronto Raptors helter-skelter scheme, but Anunoby was better. Luguentz Dort was close behind too. )

    Capela has the disadvantage of being listed only at center. There were games and even weeks when he was at least Embiid's equal. He was probably more consistent. Capela is relentless around the rim and on the glass. He logged about 300 more minutes than Embiid. He would be a fine choice for the second team (over Embiid and Jakob Poeltl).

    But Embiid's peak is higher, and he was around that level for a large chunk of his minutes. A fully engaged Embiid is maybe the most intimidating and impactful defender in the game. Embiid is stronger than Gobert in the post, a little nimbler in space.

    With a full minutes allotment, Embiid would have been right there for Defensive Player of the Year. Myles Turner was building a case before his injury, but I have him a tick below these other bigs -- mostly due to iffy rebounding.

    * Adebayo played almost all his minutes at center, but the league kept him eligible at both center and forward. And, really, he guards everyone anyway. Adebayo is one of the league's 10 best defenders, so I'm taking advantage of that flexibility to reward him.

    He is the league's best big-man switch defender. Adebayo switched on a league-high 511 ball screens this season, per Second Spectrum. Those switches bog down opposing offenses, dragging them into isolation mode. Adebayo defended 220 isolations -- second-most in the league. Opponents scored only 0.94 points per possession on those isos, per Second Spectrum.

    When the Heat don't switch, they often trap -- another look enabled solely by Adebayo's speed and versatility. Imagine being a 6-3 point guard and having this dude flying at you, arms spread, legs churning? Egads.

    Miami finished 9th in points allowed per possession despite blah defensive personnel around Adebayo and Butler. Adebayo is their keystone, just as Gobert is Utah's. Miami's entire scheme and ideology collapses without Adebayo.

    * I can understand Phoenix and Toronto fans being frustrated Anunoby and Bridges came in behind Holiday, Thybulle, and Smart. I struggled with Thybulle.

    He averages only 20 minutes. In some games, he was on the fringes of Philly's rotation. Thybulle doesn't play as much as Bridges and Anunoby because he is way worse on offense. Those guys score well into double digits and play great defense over 30-plus minutes per game. Players with that kind of heavy-minutes, two-way burden should have a leg up here on defensive specialists. The latter group -- Thybulle types -- should face a higher bar.

    Whenever that bar is, Thybulle clears it. He might be the best perimeter defender in the world. He's one of the best perimeter defenders I've ever seen. Thybulle is some sort of phantom. He doesn't move in normal ways. He's in one spot, and then suddenly, without warning, he's somewhere else 15 feet away -- only not enough time has passed for any human to traverse 15 feet. Thybulle doesn't move. He apparates.

    He averaged five combined blocks and steals per 36 minutes, an absolutely absurd rate. He is straight-up destructive to your emotional well-being and physical safety. Having Thybulle on the floor is like playing with 5½ defenders.

    So, yes, the Sixers -- with the league's No. 2 defense -- get three guys. The Lakers, Jazz, and Knicks -- owners of the Nos. 1, 3, 4 defenses, respectively -- end up with only Gobert.

    New York pulled that off with a collection of B-plus defenders moving on a string -- amplifying each other, transforming into more than the sum of their parts. Reggie Bullock and Nerlens Noel probably deserve the most consideration, but they just aren't as good as these guys.

    I'm not sure how the Lakers maintained with their two best defenders -- James and Anthony Davis -- missing huge stretches. LeBron is still incredible defensively. He has a case for one of these second-team spots. Shooters underperformed their expected effective-field goal percentage -- based on the location of each shot and the nearest defender -- by seven percentage points when LeBron was the closest defender to them, per Second Spectrum. That was the third-biggest negative differential of any defender. (Thybulle was No. 2.)

    (Another Laker who ranks near the top of every advanced defensive stat -- and received consideration: Alex Caruso.)

    Holiday fares poorly by that measure, but digging in further, it's mostly because opposing shooters canned an unusual amount of well-contested 3s. A lot of that is luck. Holiday ranks much better by other advanced metrics. He is one of the most fearsome and respected defenders in the league -- the rare guy quick enough to snatch the ball from Irving, and strong enough to withstand Randle in the post.

    I thought Smart was a tick worse than in his best seasons, but he still belongs.

    Bridges' advanced metrics aren't as glowing as I had expected. But he's a menace, and he defends the best opposing perimeter player almost every night regardless of position.

    Anunoby is one of the league's best all-position defenders. He doesn't just switch onto centers; he sometimes starts games defending them. But he missed 29 games, and he's kind of an (unfair) casualty of Toronto's strange season.

    Other honorable mentions include: Dejounte Murray; Derrick White; Dillon Brooks; T.J. McConnell; Tatum; Dorian Finney-Smith; Royce O'Neale; Leonard; George; Robert Covington.




    ALL-ROOKIE


    First team

    LaMelo Ball

    Tyrese Haliburton

    Anthony Edwards

    Desmond Bane

    Immanuel Quickley

    Second team

    Jae'Sean Tate

    Isaiah Stewart

    Saddiq Bey

    Payton Pritchard

    Facundo Campazzo

    * No positions for All-Rookie!

    * There were eight must-haves: the five on the first team, plus Tate, Stewart, and Bey. I wouldn't quibble with any combination of Tate, Stewart, Bey, Bane, and Quickley rounding out the first team after the top three on my Rookie of the Year ballot.

    Bey led them in points. Tate led in many advanced stats. Stewart led in win shares, and was probably the best defender among them -- though Tate was rock-solid switching across almost every position.

    Without much separating them statistically, I went with the two guys who put up their numbers on winning teams -- facing real stakes, real pressure.

    Quickley quieted some over the past month, but he shot 39% from 3 and played crucial reserve minutes. His ultra-long 3s and running floater are two of the defining shots of this rookie class.

    Bane averaged 9.3 points, below Bey and Tate, but Bane's sterling 43% mark on 3s stands out -- and made him a plug-and-play role player for a good team. He's a solid defender, and does enough off the bounce to keep the machine moving. He takes nothing off the table. You are never worried about him being exploited on either end.

    * I had a half-dozen names penciled in for those last two spots at various points. I started out with Chuma Okeke and Jaden McDaniels, but Okeke hasn't played in three weeks, and McDaniels faded as the distant fifth option in the Timberwolves' starting five. He's a good multi-positional defender, and his shooting numbers (36% on 3s, 53% on 2s) are encouraging.

    Tyrese Maxey finished strong, but he spent a lot of the season out of Philly's rotation. Ditto for Kenyon Martin Jr. in Houston. Cole Anthony might have made my ballot had he not missed so much time with injuries.

    Isaac Okoro, Patrick Williams, and Theo Maledon finished second, fourth, and sixth, respectively, in minutes among rookies; Williams was on my midseason second-team.

    Okoro has been more daring on offense lately, flashing off-the-catch aggression that bodes well. Williams is going to be good, and maybe really, really good. He profiles as a major plus defender with a silky jumper. But he and Okoro did so little offensively on a per-minute basis, it's hard to know what to make of their candidacies. I'd be fine with Williams on second-team, but I leaned toward two guys who did a little more heavy lifting for one decent team and one very good one.

    * Campazzo is not a normal rookie, of course. He's an international star! But he's on the ballot, and his fill-in work as a starter down the stretch won him the nod. Campazzo is a pest on defense, an all-world passer, and he hit just enough 3s -- 35.2% -- to keep defenses honest.

    Pritchard's role fluctuated, but he was helpful whenever Brad Stevens called on him. He's a good defender with a knack for steals, and shot 41% on a healthy number of 3s. Pritchard can run some backup point guard, and play alongside one or both of Marcus Smart and Kemba Walker.
     
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  7. OGBobbyJohnson

    OGBobbyJohnson Superstar

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    Need that NBA mock draft
    @Skooby
     
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  9. Skooby

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    @Max.
    2021 NBA mock draft: Projections for all 60 picks after the lottery

    1. Detroit Pistons
    [​IMG]Cade Cunningham
    Oklahoma State
    PG
    Age: 19.6




    The Pistons would surely be thrilled to add Cunningham, who is viewed by most teams as the consensus top prospect in the draft thanks to his outstanding combination of size, shooting prowess, court vision and two-way versatility. He's a strong fit with last year's top-10 pick, Killian Hayes, and will bring the type of national relevance and star power the team has lacked for much of the past decade.





    2. Houston Rockets
    [​IMG]Jalen Green
    G League Ignite
    SG
    Age: 19.2




    The Rockets are still early in their rebuilding process and will likely look to target the most talented prospect regardless of fit. Green is the most explosive player in the draft who also possesses elite scoring instincts, and has the type of superstar upside the franchise lacks, making him an exciting prospect to build around long term.





    3. Cleveland Cavaliers
    [​IMG]Evan Mobley
    USC
    C
    Age: 19.9




    The Cavs are fairly well stocked in the backcourt and will surely be happy to add the most talented big man in the draft to anchor their defense and give them intriguing offensive versatility to build around long term. Mobley's mobility, perimeter skill and defensive versatility give him All-Star potential, and his selfless style of play will make him easy to integrate into many different lineup configurations -- including those with young big man Jarrett Allen -- as his lanky frame fills out.





    4. Toronto Raptors
    [​IMG]Jalen Suggs
    Gonzaga
    PG/SG
    Age: 19.9




    The Raptors would surely be thrilled to see Suggs, a strong candidate for many teams picking in the top three, fall to them. His defensive versatility, competitiveness and transition-scoring prowess would fit in very well with what the team already has in place on the court and give them a potential star to build around in the backcourt as the Kyle Lowry era likely comes to an end.





    5. Orlando Magic
    [​IMG]Jonathan Kuminga
    G League Ignite
    SF/PF
    Age: 18.6




    In what's considered by many to be a five-player draft, the Magic will surely be happy to add Kuminga, a big wing who can defend multiple positions and offer explosive ability and shot creation from the forward positions. Kuminga has one of the highest upsides of any prospect in the draft and is a strong positional fit here playing alongside Jonathan Isaac and Chuma Okeke.





    6. Oklahoma City Thunder
    [​IMG]Scottie Barnes
    Florida State
    SF/PF
    Age: 19.8




    Oklahoma City will likely be disappointed to go from the possibility of having two top-five picks to just the No. 6 pick after the lottery dust settled. Still, the Thunder have plenty of future picks to use in a trade if they want to attempt to move up if they indeed have their heart set on someone in the top three. Barnes is still a solid player at No. 6, offering the type of defensive versatility, playmaking ability, toughness and winning character the franchise is looking for. Barnes will have a long rope to experiment with expanding his offensive abilities on a team with significant player development resources that is seemingly in no rush to win games.





    7. Golden State Warriors (from Minnesota)
    [​IMG]Davion Mitchell
    Baylor
    PG

    Age: 22.6



    The Warriors elected to select James Wiseman over LaMelo Ball last year with the short-term goal of maximizing their championship window, and with Stephen Curry a year closer to free agency, they might feel pressure to again take the player they believe helps them get closer to their glory days. Mitchell is one of the best in the draft on defense, an area in which the Warriors will want to continue to emphasize in protecting Curry from burnout, while also possessing strong playmaking and shot-making instincts that should allow him to operate in a variety of lineup configurations alongside their existing core.





    8. Orlando Magic (from Chicago)
    [​IMG]Keon Johnson
    Tennessee
    SG
    19.1




    The Magic struggled with wing depth all season and can afford to take a home run swing on a high-upside prospect like Johnson, who brings the type of playmaking and two-way versatility that is very hard to find. Johnson is a tenacious defender who showed enough promising glimpses of passing and shot-making to suggest outstanding things to come for a team that is willing to be patient with his development.





    9. Sacramento Kings
    [​IMG]Franz Wagner
    Michigan
    SF
    19.8




    The worst defensive team in the NBA could be attracted to the versatility, intensity and instincts offered by Wagner. He is one of the best off-ball defenders in the draft and also brings promising passing and shooting indicators that suggest a very high floor as the type of two-way, role-playing combo forward every team desires.





    10. New Orleans Pelicans
    [​IMG]Corey Kispert
    Gonzaga
    SF
    22.3




    New Orleans had a disappointing season defensively and hasn't been able to surround Zion Williamson with enough shooting to adequately space the floor. Kispert is one of the best shooters in the draft and looks ready to make an immediate impact with his size, skill and experience.





    11. Charlotte Hornets
    [​IMG]Isaiah Jackson
    Kentucky
    PF/C
    Age: 19.3




    The Hornets will likely be in the market for a starting-caliber center to build around long term, and Jackson could very well pique their interest. Jackson is an elite shot-blocker who dropped strong glimpses of offensive potential, which gives him significant upside.





    12. San Antonio Spurs
    [​IMG]Jalen Johnson
    Duke
    SF/PF
    Age: 19.4




    The Spurs will likely be in the market for frontcourt help, and Johnson is a 6-foot-9 forward with guard skills who brings the type of playmaking and defensive versatility that is very hard to find. He'd be a strong fit alongside Keldon Johnson and Devin Vassell, while also having the potential to see time as a small-ball center, as he did at Duke.





    13. Indiana Pacers
    [​IMG]Josh Giddey
    Adelaide
    PG
    Age: 18.6




    A big, multipositional backcourt player who can play both with and behind starting guards Malcolm Brogdon and Caris LeVert would likely go a long way in shoring up Indiana's depth chart. Giddey is one of the best passers in the draft and offers outstanding versatility as a 6-foot-9 guard who can operate on or off the ball.





    14. Golden State Warriors
    [​IMG]James Bouknight
    Connecticut
    SG

    Age: 20.6



    Every NBA team is looking to add the type of shot-creation and shot-making prowess offered by Bouknight, who has ample versatility to play in a variety of different lineup configurations. Bouknight's scoring instincts, ability to hit difficult shots off the dribble and long-term potential could be very attractive at this stage of the draft.





    15. Washington Wizards
    [​IMG]Usman Garuba
    Real Madrid
    PF
    Age: 19.1




    The fastest-paced team in the NBA, the Wizards made significant progress defensively this season but still could stand to improve on that end of the floor. Garuba is one of the most intense and versatile defenders in this draft class and capable of playing either big man spot, making him a strong fit with Washington.





    16. Oklahoma City Thunder (from Boston)
    [​IMG]Alperen Sengun
    Besiktas
    PF/C

    Age: 18.8



    The Thunder could seek to add some beef to their frontcourt, as they are a little wing heavy at the moment. Sengun is one of the most productive players in the draft, and his old-school style of play could be a strong fit alongside their existing core.





    17. Memphis Grizzlies
    [​IMG]Kai Jones
    Texas
    PF
    Age: 20.3




    One of the deepest teams in the NBA, the Grizzlies are in need of some versatility in the frontcourt to shore up their depth in an attempt to establish themselves as contenders in the Western Conference. Jones is a versatile defender who showed some promise as a floor spacer to complement his rim-running, offensive rebounding and finishing prowess, giving him plenty of upside to grow into long term.





    18. Oklahoma City Thunder (from Miami)
    [​IMG]Moses Moody
    Arkansas
    SG
    Age: 18.9




    The Thunder could look to bolster their wing depth with as many floor-spacing, multipositional defenders as they can find. Moody is an ideal 3-and-D prospect who happens to be one of the youngest players in the draft, having yet to turn 19.





    19. New York Knicks
    [​IMG]Jared Butler
    Baylor
    PG/SG
    Age: 20.7




    One of the deeper teams in the NBA, the Knicks could look to bolster their backcourt with Butler, who can play on or off the ball and whose readiness could be very attractive at this stage of the draft. He is a capable ball handler, shooter and defender and showed he already knows how to play an efficient role alongside other good players en route to winning a national championship while earning Most Outstanding Player honors in the NCAA tournament.
     
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  10. Skooby

    Skooby Alone In My Zone Supporter

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    20. Atlanta Hawks
    [​IMG]Tre Mann
    Florida
    PG
    Age: 20.2




    Finding a combo guard who can play on or off the ball and complement star point guard Trae Young could very well be a priority for the Hawks. Mann is a promising pick-and-roll ball handler whose size and 40% 3-point shooting will allow him to play in a variety of lineup configurations.





    21. New York Knicks (from Dallas)
    [​IMG]Sharife Cooper
    Auburn
    PG
    Age: 19.9






    While it remains to be seen how much of an appetite the Knicks will have for adding two first-round picks to their already crowded rotation, if they do keep the pick, they can afford to take a swing on whichever prospect they deem to have the highest long-term upside regardless of positional fit. There's a strong case to be made for Cooper as the most talented player available at No. 23. He's an elite ball handler and passer who is an absolute wizard operating out of pick-and-roll thanks to his terrific burst, creativity and feel for the game.





    22. Los Angeles Lakers
    [​IMG]Chris Duarte
    Oregon
    SG
    Age: 23.9




    With much of the Lakers' backcourt depth on the verge of entering free agency, it makes sense to look to an experienced player like Duarte. He is one of the oldest players projected to be drafted and looks like a plug-and-play fit thanks to his strong perimeter shooting, passing and defensive playmaking instincts.





    23. Houston Rockets (from Portland)
    [​IMG]Ziaire Williams
    Stanford
    SG/SF
    Age: 19.6




    Williams came into last season projected much higher than this. There's still a strong case to be made that the tall, shot-making small forward has plenty of upside to tap into, making him an interesting option to consider in the 20s.







    24. Houston Rockets (from Milwaukee)
    [​IMG]Cameron Thomas
    LSU
    SG

    Age: 19.5



    The Rockets have plenty of minutes available in the backcourt, where the team rotated through multiple players in a dismal season. Thomas is one of the best scorers in the draft and will likely need very little time to acclimate himself offensively thanks to the instincts he brings on that end of the floor.





    25. LA Clippers
    [​IMG]Trey Murphy III
    Virginia
    SG/SF
    21.0




    Murphy has been steadily rising in the pre-draft process and looks to be firmly in the first round at this point. He can play in a variety of different lineup combinations.





    26. Denver Nuggets
    [​IMG]Ayo Dosunmu
    Illinois
    SG

    Age: 21.3



    Adding quality wing depth should be a priority for the Nuggets, who will likely be without Jamal Murray next season and will see several rotation players enter free agency. Dosunmu was one of the best players in the college game and looks like an easy fit in the NBA game as a versatile 3-and-D guard with strong competitive traits. He can defend multiple positions and has strong role-playing potential operating alongside stars.





    27. Brooklyn Nets
    [​IMG]Charles Bassey
    Western Kentucky
    C

    Age: 20.5



    The Nets might look to add depth at center with a player they can develop into a long-term contributor. Bassey's versatility as a shot-blocking, pick-and-roll finishing, floor-spacing big man is intriguing, and he has the strength and experience to help a team sooner rather than later.





    28. Philadelphia 76ers
    [​IMG]Max Abmas
    Oral Roberts
    PG
    Age: 20.1




    Abmas would represent another step in adding more scoring options to the 76ers' rotation. He ranked as the most efficient half-court scorer in college basketball, largely thanks to his ability to make difficult shots from beyond the arc operating out of pick-and-roll. His range, savvy and speed should also allow him to see time playing off the ball.





    29. Phoenix Suns
    [​IMG]Jaden Springer
    Tennessee
    PG/SG
    Age: 18.6




    With much of the Suns' backcourt depth entering free agency, it could make sense for Phoenix to swing for the fences in selecting Springer. The Tennessee guard is both one of the youngest players in this draft class and one of its best perimeter defenders. He is a strong, instinctual scorer whose ability to get out in transition and into the lane with his powerful first step should help him carve out a role as his perimeter shooting and decision-making continue to evolve.





    30. Utah Jazz
    [​IMG]Miles McBride
    West Virginia
    PG
    20.5




    Coming off a phenomenal regular season, the Jazz might look to add backcourt depth after coming up short in the playoffs due to injuries. McBride is a tough-minded, multipositional defender with good shooting indicators and plenty of upside to grow into long term. He'll fit the Jazz culture and is the type of player who should be comfortable playing off stars.





    Second round
    31. Bucks (from Rockets)

    Day'Ron Sharpe | North Carolina | C | Age: 19.6

    32. Knicks (from Pistons)

    Marcus Bagley | Arizona St | SF/PF | Age: 19.6

    33. Magic

    JT Thor | Auburn | PF | Age: 18.8

    34. Thunder

    Josh Christopher | Arizona St | SG | Age: 19.5

    35. Pelicans (from Cavaliers)

    Josh Primo | Alabama | SG | Age: 18.4

    36. Thunder (from Timberwolves)

    B.J. Boston | Kentucky | SG | Age: 19.5

    37. Pistons (from Raptors)

    Daishen Nix | G-League Ignite | PG/SG | Age: 19.3
     
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    38. Bulls (from Pelicans)

    Roko Prkacin | Cibona Zagreb | PF | Age: 18.5

    39. Kings

    Juhann Begarin | Paris | SG | Age: 18.8

    40. Pelicans (from Bulls)

    Filip Petrusev | Mega Bemax | PF/C | Age: 21.1

    41. Spurs

    Austin Reaves | Oklahoma | PG/SG | Age: 23.0

    42. Pistons (from Hornets)

    Greg Brown | Texas | PF | Age: 19.8

    43. Pelicans (from Wizards)

    Aaron Henry | Michigan St | SG | Age: 21.8

    44. Nets (from Pacers)

    Terrence Shannon | Texas Tech | SG/SF | Age: 20.8

    45. Celtics

    Rokas Jokubaitis | Zalgiris | PG | Age: 20.5

    46. Raptors (from Grizzlies)

    Ariel Hukporti | Nevezis | C | Age: 19.1

    47. Raptors (from Warriors)

    Matthew Hurt | Duke | PF | Age: 21.1

    48. Hawks (from Heat)

    Kessler Edwards | Pepperdine | SF/PF | Age: 20.8

    49. Nets (from Hawks)

    Herbert Jones | Alabama | SF | Age: 22.7

    50. 76ers (from Knicks)

    Jeremiah Robinson-Earl | Villanova | PF | Age: 20.6

    51. Grizzlies (from Trail Blazers)

    Johnny Juzang | UCLA | SF | Age: 20.2

    52. Pistons (from Lakers)

    Isaiah Todd | G League Ignite | PF | Age: 19.6

    53. Pelicans (from Mavericks)

    Luka Garza | Iowa | C | Age: 22.4

    54. Pacers (from Bucks)

    Sandro Mamukelashvili | Seton Hall | PF/C | Age: 22.0

    55. Thunder (from Nuggets)

    DJ Steward | Duke | PG | Age: 19.7

    56. Hornets (from Clippers)

    Joel Ayayi | Gonzaga | PG/SG | Age: 21.2

    57. Hornets (from Nets)

    Isaiah Livers | Michigan | SF/PF | Age: 22.9

    58. Knicks (from 76ers)

    Aaron Wiggins | Maryland | SG/SF | Age: 22.4

    59. Nets (from Suns)

    Ochai Agbaji | Kansas | SG/SF | Age: 21.1

    60. Pacers (from Jazz)

    Raiquan Gray | Florida St | PF | Age: 21.9
     
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  13. Skooby

    Skooby Alone In My Zone Supporter

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    NBA free agency 2022: Superstars, trades and teams to watch

    Now that most of the major moves in 2021 NBA free agency are in the books, what should we expect in 2022?

    A once star-studded free-agent class consisting of Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Jimmy Butler and perhaps Kawhi Leonard, is now led by Zach LaVine and perhaps Bradley Beal.

    "Because next offseason is average at best in talent, I am expecting the trade market to be extremely active during the regular season," a Western Conference general manager told ESPN.

    Other than internal improvement -- young players taking a step in their development, continuity and health -- the lone avenue likely to improve a team's roster will be in trades. The LA Clippers got a jump on that Monday when they acquired Eric Bledsoe from the Memphis Grizzlies.

    Instead of going into next offseason with two expiring contracts (Rajon Rondo and Patrick Beverley) and no money available to sign a replacement, the Clippers took on the $19.4 million owed to Bledsoe in 2022-23 (of which just $3.9 million is guaranteed).

    Let's take a look at the superstars to watch, X-factor teams, potential surprises and big questions in a preview of what could be a league-altering transaction period.





    How does the 2021 free-agent class compare to that of 2020?


    Teams are already calling 2022 free agency "The Offseason of the Rotational Players."

    Out of the 190 projected free agents, only 32 players (12 of whom are restricted) can be considered starter-level or better.

    Three of those 33 players -- James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook -- will likely never see free agency. Harden and Irving are on track to sign long-term contract extensions before the season starts.


    "As it pertains to [Irving] and [Harden], we're having those discussions with them now," Brooklyn Nets GM Sean Marks said. "There's no immediate hurry to get any of these guys done in terms of the first day of free agency. These are opportunities for us to sit down, break bread together, meet with [Nets governor] Joe Tsai, and really all get on the same page.

    "I feel very confident that by the first day of training camp, we'll be looking at those three, in particular, being signed, sealed and delivered and being a part of the Brooklyn Nets for a long time to come."

    Westbrook has a $44.2 million player option, but the reality that his hometown Los Angeles Lakers give him the best shot at winning a championship could see the guard opt in to his contract for 2022-23. He could also do what Chris Paul did in Phoenix and decline the option to re-sign on a long-term contract but at a lower number.

    Beal can sign a four-year $187 million extension with the Wizards starting on Oct. 1. If Beal does not sign an extension it should not be seen as a sign that he wants out of Washington. The All-Star guard is eligible to sign a five-year, $235 million contract with the Wizards next summer.

    If Beal is off the market, that leaves Bulls guard LaVine as the marquee free agent next year. LaVine is also extension eligible but because an extension would be worth $100 million less than what he could earn next July, the All-Star will play out the season on an expiring contract.

    Below is the list of potential free agents ranging from franchise players to starters. Some of the potential restricted free agents could still sign extensions off their rookie-scale contracts before the season begins.

    Given the lack of depth in these lists, the bulk of next year's class will consist of key reserves, rotational players and developmental players.

    Franchise: Harden (player) and Beal (player)

    All-NBA: Irving (player)

    All-Star: LaVine and Westbrook (player)

    Top Starter: Kevin Huerter (restricted), Collin Sexton (restricted), Aaron Gordon, Michael Porter Jr. (restricted), Jaren Jackson Jr. (restricted), Jonas Valanciunas, Mikal Bridges (restricted) and Deandre Ayton (restricted)

    Starter: Josh Richardson, Miles Bridges (restricted), John Wall, T.J. Warren, Ivica Zubac (team), Kyle Anderson, Victor Oladipo, Donte DiVincenzo (restricted), Mitchell Robinson, Luguentz Dort (team), Wendell Carter Jr. (restricted), Andre Drummond, Robert Covington, Jusuf Nurkic, Marvin Bagley III (restricted), Lonnie Walker IV (restricted), Jalen Brunson, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Daniel Gafford (team)





    Should we expect more extensions before the season starts in October?

    The answer is a resounding yes.

    Durant, Butler, Curry, Joel Embiid, Julius Randle, Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier, Luka Doncic, Trae Young and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander all signed long-term extensions this offseason.

    Smart, Rozier and Randle made the smart play to take the guaranteed money now and not risk a potential injury and limited market to test free agency.

    Besides Irving and Harden, other veterans who could sign extensions this season include Richardson, Gordon, Jalen Brunson, Tyus Jones and Robinson (a 2018 second-round pick who isn't subject to the deadline for first-round picks to agree to an extension). Because all of these players are in the last year of their contracts, there is no deadline before the season starts to get a deal done.

    Last year, six former first-round picks signed rookie extensions right before the start of the season.

    With only Doncic, Young, Gilgeous-Alexander and Celtics center Robert Williams III having agreed to extensions so far, expect more deals before the October 18 deadline.




    Is there a position of strength?


    The point guards once again are expected to be the position of strength, despite the lack of headliners like Paul, Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry and Lonzo Ball in the 2021 class.

    Even if Irving and Westbrook are not free agents, the point guard group includes quality players such as Beverley, Brunson, Jones, Dennis Schroder, Patty Mills (if he declines his option), Ricky Rubio, Goran Dragic and Tomas Satoransky.

    If Beal joins LaVine as a free agent and Oladipo can regain his health, the top three available unrestricted free agents would all be at shooting guard.
     
  14. Skooby

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    What theme should we keep an eye on?


    No team signed a restricted free agent to an offer sheet this offseason, but that is likely going to change next year. Although cap growth is projected to be limited (more on that below), expect front offices to take an aggressive approach with restricted free agents.

    We originally had named the 2018 rookie class as the $1.2 billion club, based on the amount of potential money earned in an extension. However, through the first three weeks of free agency, only three players -- Doncic, Young and Gilgeous-Alexander -- have signed extensions.

    While we are still two months away from the Oct. 18 extension deadline, the market next year could be flooded with restricted free agents who were drafted in the first round in 2018. Former second-round picks Terance Mann and Gafford are likely to see their team options declined, which would make them restricted free agents as well.




    How many teams are projected to have cap space?


    Despite a $7 million increase in the salary cap from $112 million to $119 million, ESPN is projecting only four teams to have cap space. The Detroit Pistons, Orlando Magic and San Antonio Spurs are expected to have a minimum of $30 million in room. After trading Jarrett Culver and Juancho Hernangomez, the Minnesota Timberwolves now project to have $20 million in room. For comparison, five teams had cap space this offseason and four in 2020.

    Some more notes on cap space:

    • The recent Smart and Williams extensions have eliminated Boston from having cap space in 2022. The Celtics would have needed to make a series of moves including renouncing Smart, Williams, Richardson and waiving Al Horford to create a max-salary slot.
    • In the scenario that LaVine does not re-sign, Chicago would have $20 million in cap space.
    • The Cavaliers could have $30 million in cap space if a buyout for Kevin Love is reached and Sexton, a restricted free agent, is not re-signed.
    • The Rockets would have cap space but only in the unlikely scenario that John Wall declines his $47.4 million player option.
    • The Grizzlies can keep the free-agent hold of Jackson and still have up to $23 million in cap space. However, Jones and Anderson would need to be renounced, and the team option of Culver declined and Hernangomez waived.
    • The Pelicans could have $20 million in room but at the cost of Valanciunas, the team's projected starting center.
    • New York is right below the salary cap ($110.6 million in guaranteed contracts) and can shed the contracts of Derrick Rose, Alec Burks and Nerlens Noel to create a max slot. The three players have a team option in 2023-24.
    • Oklahoma City has $106 million in salary and could create room if they decline the $3.5 million team option of Mike Muscala.
    • Phoenix has only $96 million in guaranteed contracts but are over the cap because of the free agent holds of Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges.
    • The Trail Blazers have eight free agents but would not have cap space because of the $93 million committed to Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Norman Powell.
    • For the Kings to create $22 million in cap space, they would have to let Bagley, the former No. 2 overall pick, walk.
    The Bulls and Wizards proved this offseason with the sign-and-trade deals for Ball, DeMar DeRozan and Spencer Dinwiddie that there are other resources to improve your team outside of cap space. Since the 2019 offseason, 25 players have been acquired in sign-and-trades.




    Will the luxury tax and hard cap impact how teams spend?


    Yes but in a positive way.

    Despite only three teams projected to have cap space, an increase in the luxury tax ($136.6 to $145 million) and hard cap ($143 million to $151.6 million) should see teams take more of an aggressive approach when it comes to using their $10.1 million non-taxpayer midlevel exception.

    For example, just four teams (Chicago, Dallas, Miami and Toronto) out of 18 teams spent more than $5.9 million of their $9.5 million midlevel exception this season. The Timberwolves had the full amount available, but as a result of the tax threshold increasing only 3%, signing a free agent would have put them in the luxury tax.





    Should we expect the Nets, Warriors, Bucks, Jazz, 76ers, Heat and Lakers to compete for the same free agents?


    That group of seven teams, all of whom consider themselves top contenders, will enter next offseason with more than $1 billion in committed salaries. As a result, each team will be pitching free agents on a chance of winning a championship, but with only the taxpayer midlevel and veterans minimum exceptions available to offer.

    The Lakers have $145 million in committed salaries (including Westbrook's option) and are over the luxury tax even with just five players under contract. Similar to this most recent offseason, when the Lakers' spending options were limited, Los Angeles will have non-Bird rights on its own free agents (a 120% raise off the veteran minimum), and the $6.2 million taxpayer midlevel and veteran minimum exceptions.

    Brooklyn, Utah and Milwaukee have a slight advantage when it comes to retaining their own free agents (Blake Griffin, Bruce Brown, Joe Ingles and Bobby Portis) and paying above each exception. Brown and Ingles have full Bird rights (the ability to exceed the cap), and Griffin and Portis will have established early Bird rights (a starting salary of $10.9 million).

    We could have included the Clippers in this group but because they have 13 players under contract in 2022-23, the focus will be on roster continuity for how they improve.





    Is there an under-the-radar signing this offseason that will impact next July?


    Keep an eye on Oladipo in Miami.

    The Oladipo signing this offseason barely garnered attention because the former All-Star is recovering from surgery to repair his right quadriceps tendon and is not expected to contribute on the court in the early part of the season.

    However, according to Dr. Jonathan Glashow, an Oladipo return could be sooner.

    "I repaired the quad tendon and did it a little differently than [he had] it done before," Glashow told ESPN. "The quad wasn't really hooked up. It was torn, and I reattached it. I was amazed he was playing with what he had. I'm very optimistic that I could clear him in six months, by November. I think he's going to play really well again. ... [The surgery] went extremely well, and it's healing beautifully. I'm confident he'll play next year."

    If Oladipo does return, it will give the Heat a potent lineup that already includes Lowry, Butler and Bam Adebayo.

    More importantly, the Heat retain Bird rights on Oladipo and can exceed the cap to sign him to a new contract next offseason.





    Are there any players who are supermax eligible?


    Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic is eligible to sign a five-year, $254 million supermax extension next offseason even if he does not make an All-NBA team in 2021-22. Jokic met the criteria when he was named MVP and also by garnering All-NBA honors in back-to-back seasons. The extension would be the largest contract in NBA history.

    Three other names to keep an eye on when it comes to the supermax are LaVine, Karl-Anthony Towns and Devin Booker.

    Although LaVine was drafted by Minnesota, he is eligible to sign a five-year, $235 million supermax extension with the Bulls if he were to earn All-NBA this season, because he was traded to Chicago from Minnesota while still on his rookie-scale contract.

    Towns and Booker each have two remaining seasons (2022-23 and 2023-24) on their contracts with the Timberwolves and Suns, respectively. If either player earns All-NBA, he would become eligible to sign a four-year, $206 million extension with his team.

    Beal is eligible to sign a five-year, $235 million contract to remain with the Wizards even if he does not earn All-NBA. By next offseason, Beal will have reached 10 years of service, making him eligible to sign a contract for 35% of the 2022-23 salary cap.





    What about the 2022 rookie-extension candidates?


    Expect to hear plenty about the future of Zion Williamson, especially if the Pelicans fail to reach the playoffs, or at least the play-in tournament. That scenario would see Williamson enter the final year of his rookie-scale contract without having ever appeared in the postseason.

    Despite the doom-and-gloom scenario, no player has ever turned down a five-year rookie max extension. The closest was when Kristaps Porzingis forced his way out of New York to Dallas in January 2018.

    The five-year max for rookies from the 2019 draft class, including Williamson and 2019-20 Rookie of the Year winner Ja Morant, is worth $181 million. The total contract value could increase to $217 million if the player is named to an All-NBA team.

    Other notable extension candidates from the 2019 draft include RJ Barrett, Tyler Herro, Matisse Thybulle, Keldon Johnson, Darius Garland, Cam Reddish and De'Andre Hunter.





    Which team should we keep an eye on?


    The Hawks will not have cap space, but that will not discourage GM Travis Schlenk from adding to their roster in the future.

    "I still think when you look at the depth of our roster and the young talent that we have, we don't have draft assets like we have in the past anymore, but we now have guys under contract that you could match some of the bigger salaries," Schlenk told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "I think last year kind of put us back on the NBA map as far as a destination. Those who want to get traded, they want to go somewhere they think they can win. And I think now that perception of us is out there because we do have a young core that did show success in the playoffs. So the hope would be when a star player does ask to be traded, we'll be one of the destinations he'll be open to coming to."

    The Hawks have committed $300 million in contracts this offseason to Young and John Collins and still have a decision to make on an extension with Huerter before Oct. 18.

    If the Hawks were to make a move for a superstar, it would likely cost them at least one and potentially both of their top-10 picks from the 2019 draft (Hunter and Reddish).
     
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