Northwest Notes: Blazers, Joe, Ingles, McDaniels

As Sean Highkin of Rose Garden Report (subscription required) writes, the Trail Blazers looked ready on Friday to pull the plug on the 2022/23 season.

Having slipped out of the play-in race during a recent six-game losing streak, Portland ruled out Damian Lillard (right calf tightness) and Jusuf Nurkic (right knee soreness) for Friday’s game vs. Chicago and ran out a starting lineup made up of Ryan Arcidiacono, Shaedon Sharpe, Matisse Thybulle, Trendon Watford, and Drew Eubanks. The outcome was predictable, with the Blazers losing to the Bulls by 28 points.

With the Trail Blazers now sitting at 32-41, three-and-a-half games back of the No. 10 seed in the West with nine games to go, there’s little reason to believe the team will resume its push for a play-in spot down the stretch — and it’s possible we won’t see a whole lot more of banged-up vets like Lillard and Nurkic this season. That would be good news for playoff hopefuls like the Thunder and Pelicans, who will visit Portland on Sunday and Monday, respectively.

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Given the team’s lack of impact moves on the free agent market since relocating to Oklahoma City, Isaiah Joe may be the most important free agent addition in Thunder history, declares Zach Lowe of ESPN (Insider link). While Joe won’t become a star and may never even be a starter in OKC, he has enjoyed a breakout season and looks like a potential rotation player for years to come, Lowe writes. Joe has knocked down 42.0% of his three-point attempts this season and the Thunder have a plus-6.6 net rating when he’s on the court, easily the best mark by any player who has spent the entire year with the club.
  • Bucks forward Joe Ingles admits that he took it hard when he was traded by the Jazz at the 2022 trade deadline, but he has since comes to terms with it and now appreciates the fact that he got to spend eight years with the franchise, writes Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune. The roster overhaul that the Jazz have undergone since Ingles’ departure made it easier for him to move on. “We had a hell of a run; at some point, they always come to an end,” he said. “Ours did — not by the players’ choice, but that’s how it works.”
  • In an interview with Shams Charania of Stadium (Twitter video link), Timberwolves forward Jaden McDaniels says he thinks he’s the best defender in the NBA.

Houston’s Jarace Walker Plans To Enter 2023 NBA Draft

After being eliminated by Miami in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, Houston forward Jarace Walker told reporters that he plans to enter the 2023 NBA Draft, per Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports (Twitter link).

Through 35 games with the Cougars, the 6’8″ freshman averaged 11.1 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.0 SPG and 1.2 BPG on .475/.347/.635 shooting. Walker is currently the No. 6 prospect on ESPN’s top-100 list.

While Walker’s individual stats don’t jump off the page, he is considered one of the best defenders in the 2023 class, which is why he’s a potential top-five pick.

ESPN’s Jonathan Givony recently praised Walker for his ability to protect the rim and stand tall against big men in the post while also switching onto perimeter players and drawing charges.

Raptors Notes: Young Talent, Offseason, Barnes, Achiuwa, Trent

The Raptors have been rightfully credited for finding young talent in the past, including a remarkable three-year stretch from 2015-17 where they hit on every draft pick, writes Michael Grange of They found several diamonds in the rough, including Fred VanVleet, who went undrafted, which is how they became one of the league’s best teams for multiple years.

However, aside from Scottie Barnes, Toronto hasn’t found an impact player over the past five drafts, according to Grange. He believes last year’s deadline deal for Thaddeus Young has proven to be a bad decision, as Young hasn’t been contributing and trading down from No. 20 overall to No. 33 cost the Raptors the opportunity to draft players like Jazz center Walker Kessler (No. 22) or Andrew Nembhard (No. 31), who shined for Indiana in Toronto on Wednesday.

Grange acknowledges that it’s easy to say the team should have drafted certain players with the benefit of hindsight, but it’s the Raptors’ job to find and develop talent — they simply haven’t had much success with it in recent years, and the proof is evident in their lack of depth.

Here’s more on the Raptors:

  • Some rival executives think the Raptors’ front office plans to run things back in the offseason with minor tweaks around the edges, but Doug Smith of The Toronto Star argues that would be the worst decision they could make, suggesting that a major move is needed to break the team out of its season-long morass. Smith points to Wednesday’s dispiriting loss to the Pacers as an example of why the front office would be foolish to believe the team is good enough to contend as is, particularly given the importance of the game.
  • The 36-38 Raptors are determined to get Barnes and the team’s other young players more postseason experience, which is why they acquired Jakob Poeltl at the trade deadline. Josh Lewenberg of takes a look at where the Raptors are in the Eastern Conference standings, writing that the No. 8 seed is probably the most realistic target. That would give the team two chances to make the playoffs via the play-in tournament, Lewenberg notes.
  • Barnes (wrist), Precious Achiuwa (hamstring) and Gary Trent Jr. (wrist) were all sidelined again on Friday, tweets Lewenberg, but the Raptors easily rolled past the last-place Pistons. It was the second straight absence for all three players, who had previously been listed as questionable.

L.A. Notes: Russell, SGA, AD, George, Clippers

Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell will miss Friday’s key matchup against the Thunder due to a right hip injury. Dennis Schröder will start in his place.

It’s not too serious, but serious enough where we need to manage him,” Ham said, per ESPN’s Dave McMenamin (Twitter link). Ham added that Russell is considered day-to-day.

The Thunder, meanwhile, will have their best player available, as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is active after previously being listed as questionable with a nagging abdominal strain (Twitter links via Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman).

The Mavericks, Lakers, Thunder and Pelicans are all currently tied at 36-37 in the Nos. 8-11 spots in the West. The Wolves (No. 7) sit at 37-37, while the Jazz (No. 12) are 35-37.

Here’s more from Los Angeles:

  • In a lengthy interview with McMenamin, Lakers star Anthony Davis expressed confidence in the team’s retooled roster, and it sounds as though he would like to see the group stick together beyond this season. “If we actually have a full summer, full training camp, go through an entire season, who knows the position we’ll be in,” Davis said. ” … The team we have now, we feel like not only can we make noise this year, and I like our chance against anybody to be honest. You put anybody against us, I like our chances. … Who knows what we could be, what threat we could be next year and then years to come if they work it out and are able to keep this group together.” As McMenamin notes, beyond Davis, LeBron James and Max Christie, no other player has a fully guaranteed contract for 2023/24, so the Lakers will have a lot of decisions to make this summer.
  • The Clippers were glad that Paul George avoided a major injury when he sprained his knee. He’s expected to be reevaluated in two-to-three weeks, but if the Clippers clinch a top-six seed and a berth in the playoffs, George potentially returning in a first-round series is considered “optimistic,” according to Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN. Eric Gordon will start in George’s stead for the rest of the season, Youngmisuk writes.
  • It’s impossible to replace a player of George’s caliber, so multiple players will have to step up to make up for his lost production on both ends of the court. Law Murray of The Athletic believes Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook, Gordon, Terance Mann and Norman Powell are the top candidates for more responsibilities with George sidelined. Powell has been out with a shoulder injury, but he has been getting on-court work in and is close to a return, per Murray.

Heat Notes: Lowry, Oladipo, Love, Zeller, Haslem

Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra recently raved about Kyle Lowry‘s performance in a new role off the bench after the veteran guard returned from a nagging knee injury that sidelined him for 15 games, according to Ira Winderman of The South Florida Sun Sentinel.

I think that month of really dedicating himself to getting healthy, getting his leg right, has paid a lot of dividends,” Spoelstra said. “In the minutes that we’re playing him right now, he looks fantastic. And then we’ll just continue to monitor him and we’ll see when we can take the next step.”

As Winderman notes, Lowry has averaged 10.0 points, 4.2 assists and 3.4 rebounds on .586/.579/.833 shooting in five games (24.9 minutes per night) since he returned. The Heat have gone 4-1 in those contests. Lowry is officially listed as questionable for Saturday’s important matchup with Brooklyn, Winderman adds.

Here’s more on the Heat:

  • Lowry might not be starting, but he has played the entire fourth quarter in each of the past two games, both victories, writes Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald (subscriber link). “Just getting us in sets, slowing us down, getting us to cohesive triggers and he’s being so vocal right now,” Adebayo said of Lowry’s value. “It’s vital for our team. It’s the end of the year. He had some time off, so I feel like he’s really fresh. It’s good to have a fresh Kyle Lowry out there.”
  • Victor Oladipo has been a healthy scratch in three of the past four games — the one game he played was when Lowry sat out the front end of a back-to-back. He says the role reduction caught him off guard, but he’s trying to stay positive and be ready when called upon, Chiang writes in another story. “I wish I could answer,” Oladipo said of his reduced role. “It’s not something I’m used to. So I’m not really sure how to go about it. Like I said, I’m just focused on improvement and getting better.”
  • The Heat will only have Non-Bird rights on veteran big men Kevin Love and Cody Zeller, but that might be enough to bring them back without using their taxpayer mid-level exception, according to Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald. The Heat could offer up to 120% of their current salaries, which would be about $3.7MM for Love and $3.4MM for Zeller, with the veteran’s minimum for both players projected to be worth $3.1MM, Jackson notes. Miami used its biannual exception to sign Love, so it will not be available in 2023/24.
  • Couper Moorhead of takes an in-depth look at the 20-year career of big man Udonis Haslem, sharing stories from teammates, staff members and coaches. The 42-year-old is retiring at the end of the season.

Injury Notes: Beal, Haliburton, Simmons, Huerter, Hornets

Wizards guard Bradley Beal underwent testing on his sore left knee and it revealed a “mild” knee sprain, head coach Wes Unseld Jr. told reporters, including Josh Robbins of The Athletic (Twitter link).

Beal and Kyle Kuzma (right ankle sprain) were already ruled out of Friday’s game vs. San Antonio, and both players are considered day-to-day, according to Unseld. Friday will mark Beal’s second straight missed game and Kuzma’s third.

The Spurs — who hold the third-worst record in the NBA — might look like an easy target, but the Wizards certainly shouldn’t treat them as such. Washington has gone just 2-9 over its last 11 games — including four straight losses —  to drop to 32-41, the No. 12 seed in the East. The Wizards trail the Bulls by 2.5 games for the final spot in the play-in tournament with nine games left, so they need every win they can get.

Here are some more injury-related notes from around the NBA:

  • Pacers All-Star Tyrese Haliburton will return to action on Friday against Boston, but second-year wing Chris Duarte will miss his fifth straight game with an ankle sprain, tweets Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star. As Dopriak writes in a full story, Haliburton was a full participant in Friday’s shootaround. The third-year guard had missed the previous six games with knee and ankle injuries.
  • After being reevaluated today, Ben Simmons was diagnosed with a nerve impingement in his back, according to the Nets (Twitter link via Michael Scotto of HoopsHype). He will remain out as Brooklyn determines the best treatment for the injury long term. Based on the wording of the statement, it sounds highly unlikely that Simmons will play again in 2022/23. The 26-year-old has been out of action since February 15 due to a combination of knee and back injuries.
  • Kings shooting guard Kevin Huerter was able to practice on Thursday and is questionable for Friday’s game against Phoenix, per Sean Cunningham of Fox 40 KTXL (Twitter link). The sharpshooter has missed the past three games with a mild strain of the popliteus muscle, which is behind the knee.
  • After leaving Thursday’s loss to New Orleans with injuries, Kelly Oubre (right shoulder strain) and Terry Rozier (right foot soreness) are listed as questionable and doubtful, respectively, for Friday’s game in Dallas, the Hornets announced (via Twitter). On a positive note, rookie center Mark Williams, who has missed six straight games with a right thumb sprain, is listed as probable — there’s a good chance he’ll return to action tonight.

Kevin Durant Targeting Wednesday For Potential Return

Suns star Kevin Durant is making progress in his injury recovery and could potentially return to action next Wednesday in a home game vs. Minnesota, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link). Charania suggests that March 29 contest will be the target barring a setback in Durant’s rehab process.

Durant saw his Suns debut delayed while he recovered from an MCL sprain that he suffered as a member of the Nets. He eventually played his first game for Phoenix on March 1 and then suited up for the team’s next two games, all victories. However, prior to his fourth appearance as a Sun, he sprained his left ankle during warmups — he has been sidelined since then.

When they announced Durant’s diagnosis on March 9, the Suns said he would be reevaluated in three weeks, which would be on March 30. That’s a day after the new return target date reported by Charania. Still, March 29 would be three weeks since the day Durant sprained his ankle, and it’s worth noting that Charania’s reporting at the time of the injury suggested the Suns would reevaluate the 34-year-old in two weeks.

Assuming Durant is cleared to return next Wednesday, he would miss the Suns’ next three games but would be back with seven left on their schedule. That would give him more than enough time to get ramped up in advance of the postseason, even if he sits out one half of the club’s back-to-back set on April 6 and 7.

In addition to getting Durant up to speed for the playoffs, the Suns could also use him back in their lineup to secure a favorable postseason seed. Phoenix is currently fourth in the Western Conference at 38-34, but has lost five of seven games since Durant went down and only has a 2.5-game lead on the No. 11 Thunder.

South Carolina’s GG Jackson Among Players Declaring For Draft

South Carolina freshman Gregory “GG” Jackson II announced on Friday that he has decided to forgo his remaining NCAA eligibility and declare for the 2023 NBA draft, per a press release from the school.

A 6’9″ forward, Jackson averaged 15.4 points and 5.9 rebounds on .384/.324/.677 shooting in 32 games (31.9 MPG) for the Gamecocks in his first and only college season. He earned a spot on the SEC’s All-Freshman team, but has proven to be a difficult player for NBA scouts to evaluate, according to ESPN’s Jonathan Givony.

As Givony explains, Jackson was the youngest player in college basketball and wasn’t ready to be a featured option as a freshman, as his shooting percentages show. While he exhibited flashes of brilliance, Givony says NBA evaluators have concerns about his decision-making, his effort on defense, and his body language when things aren’t going well. The 18-year-old also criticized his own coaches in an Instagram Live session last month.

Jackson currently comes in at No. 28 on ESPN’s big board, though Givony had him ranked as a borderline lottery pick earlier in the college season.

Here are a few of the other players who have recently declared for the 2023 NBA draft:

  • Colorado State senior guard Isaiah Stevens announced today on Twitter that he’ll test the draft waters while leaving the door open to return for one more year. Stevens has averaged 15.2 PPG and 5.3 APG with a .390 3PT% in 117 career college games (34.7 MPG).
  • Rutgers junior center Clifford Omoruyi is entering his name in the 2023 draft pool while maintaining his remaining NCAA eligibility, he announced on Instagram. Omoruyi nearly averaged a double-double in 2022/23, with 13.2 PPG, 9.6 RPG, and 2.1 BPG in 34 appearances (30.3 MPG).
  • Notre Dame senior guard Cormac Ryan has entered the transfer portal while also declaring for the 2023 draft, he tells Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports (Twitter link). Ryan could withdraw his name from the draft and play one more college season, but it sounds like it won’t be with the Fighting Irish.
  • Butler forward Manny Bates is testing the draft waters following his senior season, he tells Rothstein (Twitter link). Bates began his college career at NC State before transferring to the Bulldogs last season.
  • Niagara senior guard Noah Thomasson is entering the draft without forgoing his final year of eligibility, according to an announcement from the school. He’s coming off a breakout year in which he averaged a team-leading 19.5 points per game on .481/.386/.667 shooting.
  • Syracuse senior guard Joseph Girard is entering both the draft pool and the transfer portal, he announced on Twitter. Girard put up 16.4 PPG and 3.0 APG with a .381 3PT% for Syracuse in 2022/23.

Luka Doncic Fined $35K By NBA

Mavericks star Luka Doncic has been hit with a $35K fine for “directing an inappropriate and unprofessional gesture” toward a referee during the closing seconds of the team’s loss to Golden State on Wednesday, the NBA announced today in a press release (Twitter link).

Doncic was seen rubbing his fingers together in an apparent money signal aimed at the officiating crew (Twitter video link).

The incident occurred at the conclusion of a game that the Mavericks protested due to a controversial call that occurred in the third quarter. The Warriors, who essentially got a free basket on the play in question, ended up winning the game by two points.

While that third quarter call was the big story after the game, it’s unclear whether Doncic’s gesture was referencing that play or was a culmination of his frustration with the officiating all night. Seconds earlier, he missed a layup attempt and didn’t get the foul call he seemed to be seeking (Twitter video link).

It comes as no surprise that Doncic was fined for his actions, though it’s interesting that he faces a more significant penalty than the one given to Fred VanVleet, who lambasted game officials and singled out one referee in particular (Ben Taylor) during a postgame press conference. VanVleet was fined $30K for his comments.

Free Agent Stock Watch: Southeast Division

For the rest of the regular season and postseason, Hoops Rumors is taking a closer look at players who will be free agents or could become free agents during the 2023 offseason. We consider whether their stock is rising or falling due to their performance and other factors. Today, we’re focusing on a handful of Southeast players.

Kristaps Porzingis, F/C, Wizards

  • 2022/23: $33.8MM
  • 2023/24: $36MM player option
  • Stock: Up

I think Porzingis has been the Wizards’ best player this season. You could interpret that as a backhanded compliment since they aren’t very good, but I don’t mean it to be — he’s having a career year.

Through 62 games (32.6 MPG) in 2022/23, the 27-year-old is averaging 23.0 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 2.6 APG, 0.9 SPG and 1.5 BPG on .492/.375/.849 shooting. The points, assists and steals per game represent career highs, and he’s scoring more efficiently than ever, recording career bests in FG%, 2PT% (.556), free throw attempts (6.5 per game), free throws made (5.5) and true shooting percentage (.621).

Porzingis is also playing solid defense, with opponents shooting just 56% at the rim against him, per‘s data — a strong mark. He has generally been an active deterrent, and it’s tough to shoot over someone 7’3″.

The biggest question mark surrounding Porzingis has always been his health, as he could surpass the 70-game mark for just the second time in his career this season. Maybe something in the three-year, $105MM range could be within reach – I’d be hesitant to go out four or five years.

Kevin Love, F/C, Heat

  • 2022/23: $28.9MM + $3.1MM
  • 2023/24: UFA
  • Stock: Down

Love was the runner-up for Sixth Man of the Year in 2021/22 after putting up 13.6 PPG, 7.2 RPG and 2.2 APG on .430/.392/.838 shooting in 72 games (22.5 MPG) for Cleveland. He had a solid start this season, averaging 11.3 PPG, 7.4 RPG and 2.6 APG on .425/.409/.861 shooting in 15 games (21.3 MPG).

Unfortunately, he sustained a thumb injury that impacted his outside shooting – a huge reason why he had been an effective bench piece. Over the following 26 games (19.3 MP), he averaged just 6.8 PPG, 6.5 RPG and 1.4 APG on .364/.308/.926 shooting. The Cavs subsequently pulled him from the rotation, but he still wanted a chance to play, so the two sides reached a buyout agreement, with Love catching on with the Heat.

In 14 games (21.4 MPG) with Miami, he’s averaging 7.8 PPG, 6.2 RPG and 2.0 APG on .383/.286/.850 shooting. Love has always been a very good defensive rebounder, and he is a terrific outlet passer. However, he is an overall poor defensive player, he’ll be 35 years old before next season begins, and he has a lengthy injury history.

It’s hard to envision him getting more than a one-year contract in the offseason, and I’d be very surprised if it’s for more than the taxpayer mid-level exception (projected to be $7MM).

Max Strus, G/F, Heat

  • 2022/23: Minimum salary
  • 2023/24: UFA
  • Stock: Down

Strus is already a success story as an undrafted free agent who originally caught on with Boston and then Chicago on two-way deals before tearing his ACL in December 2019. He worked his way back through the G League and caught on with Miami before ‘20/21, inking another two-way deal.

He impressed the Heat enough to earn a two-year, minimum-salary contract, and had a terrific season in ‘21/22, averaging 10.6 PPG and 3.0 RPG while shooting 41% from deep on high volume in 68 games (23.3 MPG). Strus was so important that he was starting for the Heat in the playoffs as they came very close to making it back to the Finals.

As with Love, Strus started the season well, averaging 15.1 PPG and 3.8 RPG on .460/.378/.864 shooting 15 games (33 MPG). He has been in a prolonged shooting slump for much of the rest of the season though, averaging 10.9 PPG, 3.2 RPG and 2.3 APG on .387/.328/.892 shooting over the past 57 games (27.9 MPG).

Strus isn’t a great defender, but he’s not a liability. The main reason he plays is to make timely cuts and space the floor. He’s shooting just 34% from three this season.

He’s only 26, so I have no doubt that he will get a multiyear contract and a raise on his minimum salary. But his stock is definitely down compared to last year.

Moritz Wagner, F/C, Magic

  • 2022/23: Minimum salary
  • 2023/24: UFA
  • Stock: Up

Part of the reason Orlando was comfortable trading Mohamed Bamba at the deadline is that he had been supplanted in the rotation by Wagner, a fifth-year big man who played his college ball at Michigan. Wagner missed the first 18 games of the season while recovering from a foot injury, but has played well since he returned.

A talented, energetic and decisive scorer, Wagner is averaging a career-high 11.1 PPG along with 4.7 RPG on .496/.310/.844 shooting in 51 games (20.2 MPG). He has played well as a fill-in starter, averaging 14.0 PPG, 6.9 RPG and 1.1 SPG on .525/.339/.869 shooting in 17 games (26.7 MPG).

At 6’11” and 245 pounds, Wagner has an interesting blend of ball skills and footwork for a center. He’s quite effective at using pump fakes to drive and spin his way to the basket, frequently drawing fouls. He’s converting 62.8% of his twos and 84.4% of his 3.4 free throw attempts per game, which is why his true shooting percentage is well above average (62.8%) even though he’s only shooting 31% from deep.

The 25-year-old has outplayed his minimum-salary deal, and the Magic have his Bird rights if they want to bring him back. Wagner is not a rim protector and he’s just an OK rebounder. Perhaps something in the range of $5-8MM per season could be within reach.

Kelly Oubre, G/F, Hornets

  • 2022/23: $12.6MM
  • 2023/24: UFA
  • Stock: Neutral

Oubre brings prototypical size on the wing at 6’7″ with an enormous 7’2″ wingspan. He’s an excellent athlete and excels in the open court.

Through 48 games (32.2 MPG), the 27-year-old is averaging a career-high 20.3 PPG along with 5.2 RPG and 1.4 SPG. He missed a good chunk of time after undergoing hand surgery in January.

The scoring looks nice, but it’s paired with below average efficiency, as Oubre has posted a .431/.319/.760 slash line for a 53.4 TS%. He has also recorded just 54 assists against 819 field goal attempts in ‘22/23, a remarkably low percentage. That isn’t an aberration – he’s only averaged 1.0 APG in 527 career games (25.8 MPG).

As a free agent in 2021, Oubre signed a two-year, $24.6MM contract with the Hornets, with the second year only guaranteed at $5MM. He has spoken multiple times about wanting to remain in Charlotte. I find it hard to believe he’ll get much more than he’s currently making on a short-term deal, but he hasn’t hurt his value either.