Month: November 2021

And-Ones: Training Camp Questions, Vaccination Rate, Rule Change, Austin

Bobby Marks of ESPN recently broke down the biggest training camp questions facing all 30 NBA teams. Marks also provides camp rosters and projected depth charts for every team. He’s keeping a close eye on the rookie-scale extension deadline (Oct. 18) for several players and teams, including Kevin Huerter of the Hawks, Jaren Jackson Jr. of the Grizzlies, Collin Sexton of the Cavs, and Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges of the Suns. The article is worth checking out in full for all ESPN+ subscribers.

Here’s more from around the NBA:

  • The COVID-19 vaccination rate for NBA players has risen to 95%, writes Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. The figure includes players that have received one dose, sources tell Wojnarowski, and thus are not yet considered fully vaccinated.
  • The NBA Board of Governors formally approved a change to automatic late-game out-of-bounds reviews, the league tweets. Those plays will now only be reviewable by coach’s challenge, as we previously detailed. The change is an effort to improve the flow of end of games, which had become onerous and disruptive.
  • Shams Charania of The Athletic interviewed former Baylor Bears star Isaiah Austin, a projected first round pick of the 2014 draft, who was ruled ineligible to compete as a player after being diagnosed with Marfan syndrome. Austin will finally achieve his dream of making it to the NBA — in a front office role.

Pacers Notes: Jackson, Carlisle, Brogdon, Sabonis

The Pacers traded up in the draft to take rookie big man Isaiah Jackson, viewing him as an elite athlete and rim protector, writes Akeem Glaspie of the Indianapolis Star. Jackson, 19, has a 7’5″ wingspan and head coach Rick Carlisle believes he will eventually be able to guard every position on the court.

His defensive versatility is absolutely breathtaking,” Carlisle said. “I just have not seen a guy, move, block shots, change shots, be able to guard in any position the way I’ve seen him be able to do it.”

President of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard was effusive in his praise as well, noting that although Jackson had no practice time for Summer League, he had an outsized impact, tying a Summer League record with seven blocks in his final game.

I’m not trying to compare him to Paul George right now but as a pure athlete he does some things that I’ve not seen in the gym in a long time,” Pritchard said. “He is a fast-twitch athlete. He’s at the rim all the time and I don’t know if it was fair the way we looked at him. I thought he played great this summer, but when you look at how it came to play, I mean it was like no practice — in the games — and I don’t know if we saw the full Isaiah Jackson, but we have really high hopes for him. I think he’s got super talent, he’s a good worker, and I think sky’s the limit for him. We got a diamond in the rough there.

Here’s more on the Pacers:

  • Guard Malcolm Brogdon is focused on developing as a leader entering his third season with the team, writes Brendan Rourke of Pacers.com. Brogdon says that the team’s leadership void was obvious last season, and he’s taking it upon himself to step up. He hosted a team-bonding trip in Los Angeles in August, playing pick-up games and holding team dinners, in order to build team chemistry.
  • Back-to-back All-Star Domantas Sabonis is hoping to improve his three-point shot, writes Wheat Hotchkiss of Pacers.com. Hotchkiss notes that Carlisle has implemented more five-out sets in training camp, which were effective in his time in Dallas, and believes that having big men space the floor helps everyone offensively.
  • Be sure to check out our Pacers team page for more updates out of Indiana.

Pelicans Notes: Ingram, Zion, Murphy, Succession Plan

As he prepares to play for his third head coach in the past three seasons, Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram is looking for more stability under Willie Green, writes Christian Clark of NOLA.com. Ingram has added some muscle mass to his lean frame, and he thinks it will help him be more efficient around the rim.

I thought it would help my game out a lot, just the way I’m playing,” Ingram said. “Driving to the basket. Taking a lot of contact. I wanted to be able to deliver the blows. Being able to finish. Being in good, low positions. And being able to finish. It was something I just wanted to work on this summer.

Ingram has also taken on a leadership role for the Pelicans, Clark notes, helping to organize voluntary workouts in Phoenix over the summer. Green believes the key to Ingram’s new role as a team leader is to be himself.

I’m looking forward to seeing him lead in his way. I think that’s the key for Brandon. Not to try to do something that is not him. I can see that early with who he is and what his personality is. He’s been great all summer.

Here’s more on the Pelicans:

  • William Guillory of The Athletic recently spoke to Jeff Stotts, a certified athletic trainer who runs a website tracking injuries and how they affect NBA players, about whether Zion Williamson‘s injury might be a cause for long-term concern. Stotts says that Williamson’s fractured fifth metatarsal on his right foot has a relatively high re-injury rate, and can be especially problematic for larger players, noting that Kevin Durant, Brook Lopez, and Glen Davis all suffered setbacks with similar injuries. Guillory adds that this is the third injury to Zion’s right leg since 2019, which is certainly worrisome. However, Stotts says that Pelicans head athletic trainer Aaron Nelson is elite, as his teams have consistently been in the top tier for fewest games missed due to injury or illness, and Robin Lopez had a successful recovery from the same injury while under Nelson’s care in Phoenix.
  • Rookie Trey Murphy is “one of many” players in the running for a starting roster spot, Clark writes for NOLA.com. Clark thinks Murphy’s ability to space the floor and make quick reads could be a nice complement for stars Ingram and Williamson.
  • Pelicans owner Gayle Benson recently revealed the franchise’s long-term succession plan, per Jeff Duncan of NOLA.com, with the primary goal to keep the team in New Orleans.

Sixers Sign, Waive Haywood Highsmith

In a procedural move, the Sixers signed and then waived Haywood Highsmith, tweets Derek Bodner of The Athletic. Bodner notes that Highsmith is expected to join the Sixers’ G League affiliate, the Delaware Blue Coats.

Highsmith, 24, is a 6’7″ wing who has seen action in five NBA games for the Sixers, playing a total of 40 minutes. He spent the 2018/19 and 2019/20 seasons with the Blue Coats, playing in 89 games with averages of 11.3 PPG, 6.8 RPG, and 2.6 APG in 29.5 MPG with a .423/.338/.679 shooting line. In a follow-up tweet, Bodner adds that Highsmith played in Germany last season for the Crailsheim Merlins.

As reported last month, Highsmith received an Exhibit 10 contract, which gives players a chance to earn up to a $50K bonus if they’re waived before the start of the regular season and spend at least 60 days with the team’s G League affiliate.

Sixers Notes: Embiid, Simmons, Niang, Milton

Asked on Thursday about recent reports that stated Ben Simmons wants an offense built around him and doesn’t want to play with Joel Embiid anymore, the Sixers‘ star center was anything but evasive. Embiid provided reporters with a four-minute response, pushing back against the idea that the team has built its offense around him and neglected Simmons’ needs.

“I feel like our teams have been built, whether it’s the shooting needed or stretch five and all that stuff, I feel like he’s always had it here,” Embiid said, according to Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice.com. “And we still have it. Seth (Curry), one of the best three point shooters ever. Danny Green, Tobias (Harris) is a 40 percent three point shooter. Furkan (Korkmaz) coming off of the bench. At times Shake (Milton), I think he can be a better shooter, but you know, he can get hot. We just added Georges (Niang). So I feel like, our teams have always been built around his needs.

It was kind of surprising to see. We’ll say that, even going back to, I mean, the reason we signed Al (Horford). We got rid of Jimmy (Butler), which I still think it was a mistake, just to make sure he needed the ball in his hands, and that’s the decision they made. Like I said, it is surprising.”

Embiid went on to say the situation was “disappointing” and “borderline disrespectful” to the players on the 76ers’ roster whose spots aren’t as secure as Embiid’s or Simmons’.

Some guys rely on the team being successful to stay in the league and make money somehow,” Embiid said. “Because if you’re on a winning team, you’re always going to have a spot in the league, just because you’re on a winning team and you contributed.”

Embiid did stress that the Sixers are a much better team with Simmons than without him, adding that he hopes his All-Star teammate chooses to end his holdout and report to the club. However, if Simmons was unmoved by Embiid’s more conciliatory comments on Media Day, it’s unlikely that he’ll be swayed by the big man’s more combative response today.

Here’s more out of Philadelphia:

  • ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Insider link) took a deep dive into the Simmons situation to try to identify the teams that could use the three-time All-Star and have the right combination of players, contracts, and draft assets to make a viable offer for him. Marks names the Trail Blazers, Cavaliers, Pacers, Timberwolves, Spurs, and Raptors as the six clubs that check all the boxes.
  • Without Simmons in their starting lineup, the Sixers will likely sacrifice some size and will be without their top perimeter defender. Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer explores the ripple effect of Simmons’ absence, noting that the team is considering experimenting with a big starting lineup that includes Georges Niang. “There’s options there,” head coach Doc Rivers said. “We don’t know if any of them work yet.”
  • Since Tyrese Maxey is expected to be part of the Sixers’ regular starting lineup, Shake Milton will be tasked with leading the second unit, writes Derek Bodner of The Athletic. Rivers is pleased with what he’s seen from Milton so far in that role. “You can tell he’s put a lot of work in at that position,” the head coach said. “Last year, honestly, he came into the year and had no idea that he’d be a point guard.”

Warriors Notes: Green, Centers, Front Office, Mulder

Draymond Green missed the Warriors‘ Media Day on Monday and the first two days of the club’s training camp for personal reasons, but he returned on Thursday from his excused absence, tweets Anthony Slater of The Athletic.

As Slater details in an Athletic story, it’ll be Kevon Looney who starts at center for the Warriors this season, but the expectation is that Green will play plenty of minutes at the five. Golden State didn’t prioritize adding more traditional big men this offseason and doesn’t play to use them regularly, according to Slater, who predicts we’ll see a ton of small lineups from the club in 2021/22.

“The league feels different to me than five, six years ago,” Kerr said. “There are more and more small lineups out there. Every team has more shooting, so you have to cover more ground, which is something Draymond is really good at. Then when we’re on offense, we want to have more shooting, so putting him at five, having him run pick-and-roll with Steph and shooters around them, that’s tough to guard.”

As Slater points out, the equation will change a little for the Warriors when James Wiseman gets healthy and is ready to return to the lineup, but the club is planning to be cautious and patient with the youngster’s recovery process. Wiseman could get some rehab work in at the G League level before he plays in the NBA and is unlikely to have a huge role when he returns to action, Slater adds.

Here’s more on the Dubs:

  • The Warriors announced a wide range of front office promotions and additions today, including naming Mike Dunleavy Jr. as their vice president, basketball operations and Zaza Pachulia as a liaison, basketball and business. The full list of updates to the basketball operations department can be found in the team’s press release.
  • Battling against several other players for the 15th spot on the Warriors’ roster, Mychal Mulder faces an uphill climb to make the team after appearing in 60 games for Golden State last season, writes Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area.
  • Tim Kawakami of The Athletic believes Golden State is confident that Andrew Wiggins will ultimately get vaccinated, noting that the Warriors aren’t acting with the sort of urgency you’d expect if they were preparing to be without a starting forward for 41 games.

Rockets Notes: Porter, Silas, Theis, Wood, Tate, Gordon

Third-year guard Kevin Porter Jr., who dealt with off-court issues early in his NBA career, said earlier this week that the Rockets “saved my life” and “picked me up when I was down.” Head coach Stephen Silas isn’t taking those words lightly, telling reporters on Tuesday that it means a lot to him to develop such important relationships with players, according to Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle.

“It means everything,” Silas said. “That’s why you coach. For the stories, for the guys who maybe aren’t given a shot or feel like they are not able to have the opportunity they deserve. Hopefully, I can put … him in a position where he can be as successful as he can possibly be, whatever it is.”

Silas only has one year of experience as a head coach under his belt, but showed during his years as an assistant coach that he was capable of making those connections with his players, according to Rockets guard D.J. Augustin.

“Steve’s always been like that,” Augustin said, per Feigen. “I was with Steve in Charlotte when he was an assistant. He’s always been a great people person. Some coaches, they’re not good with communicating with players off the court. Steve is that guy who has the ability to kind of connect with players, especially with younger guys.”

Here’s more on the Rockets:

Mavs Notes: Chandler, Powell, Burke, Ntilikina

Former Mavericks center Tyson Chandler doesn’t officially have a role on his old team’s coaching staff, but he’s present at training camp and is sharing his knowledge with Dallas’ players, writes Dwain Price of Mavs.com.

“For me, I just want to help in any way I can,” Chandler said. “(Head coach) Jason (Kidd) called me and said, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘Nothing much. Working out.’ And he’s like, ‘Well, come by.’ So I came by and I’m just trying to lend my knowledge and help any way I can.”

Chandler isn’t sure whether he wants his unofficial role with the Mavericks to lead to something more formal down the road. For now though, Kidd is happy to have his former teammate around working with the club’s big men.

“He started helping out, and he wanted to see if he loved it,” Kidd said. “We’re lucky to have someone like that who can help our bigs. It was great to hear players mention him yesterday. That’s a sign of Tyson is doing the right thing.”

Let’s round up a few more Mavs notes…

  • Dallas’ plan to open the season is to have Dwight Powell starting at center alongside power forward Kristaps Porzingis, Kidd said on Wednesday (link via Eddie Sefko at Mavs.com). Kidd added that he wants to experiment a little with different lineups early in the year “to see what combinations work.”
  • The Mavericks said earlier this week they’re hoping to get 100% of their roster vaccinated against COVID-19, but guard Trey Burke said on Wednesday that he’s “not trying to rush into a decision,” per Tim MacMahon of ESPN (Twitter link). Burke said he wants to learn more about possible long-term effects of the vaccine.
  • Kidd had a hand in the Mavericks’ decision to sign Frank Ntilikina, having pushed for the move, a source tells Marc Berman of The New York Post (Twitter link).

New York Notes: Harden, Irving, Korver, Knicks, Bullock

Speaking to Malika Andrews of ESPN (video link), Nets guard James Harden reiterated a stance he expressed on Media Day, indicating that he’s willing to be patient in his contract extension talks with the team. Even though he has said he has no desire to go anywhere else, Harden hinted that he may end up waiting another year before locking in a long-term deal with Brooklyn.

“Over the course of my career, I’ve never been a free agent before. I’ve always just been loyal, just signing contract extensions, just being there, being there, being there,” Harden said. “I just want to take my time with it. It’d be a very, very difficult thing to leave here, or to leave Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. But I think this season I just want to focus on winning a championship and everything else will work itself out.”

Based on the structure of his contract and the rules surrounding veteran extensions, Harden is eligible to sign a three-year contract extension up until October 18. Once the season begins, he wouldn’t become eligible to sign a new deal until next offseason, when he could either pick up his 2022/23 player option and sign a four-year extension or turn down the option and sign a five-year contract as a free agent. The opportunity to receive a more lucrative deal a year from now will be a factor Harden considers as he weighs his options.

Here’s more on the NBA’s two New York teams:

  • Some team executives around the NBA have wondered if Kyrie Irving might be placed on the trade block if he refuses to be vaccinated and becomes ineligible to play in the Nets‘ home games this season, according to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report. However, Fischer says several sources with knowledge of the situation “strongly” disputed the idea that either the Nets or Irving will seek a trade. “I’m sure (general manager) Sean Marks and (head coach) Steve Nash aren’t thrilled with the situation, but despite all the s–t that goes on, they still treat him really well there,” one source said to Fischer. “They hear him out. They make the effort to try and communicate with him. That’s why Brooklyn is a special place.”
  • Alex Schiffer of The Athletic takes a look at the role Kyle Korver will play as a player development coach for the Nets this season.
  • Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau “lobbied hard” for the team to re-sign Reggie Bullock, a source tells Marc Berman of The New York Post. Bullock and Elfrid Payton were big parts of New York’s top-five defense last season, so Thibodeau will be hoping to avoid a significant drop-off with Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier taking their spots.
  • Following a second consecutive shortened offseason, the Knicks may benefit from their increased depth, especially if their rookies are ready to contribute right away, writes Fred Katz of The Athletic.

Kerr Considered Favorite To Succeed Popovich As Team USA Coach

Warriors head coach Steve Kerr has emerged as the frontrunner to replace Gregg Popovich as the head coach of Team USA, league sources tell Marc Stein of Substack. Popovich, the Spurs‘ head coach, is stepping down from his position with USA Basketball following his team’s gold medal victory at the Tokyo Olympics.

USA Basketball is undergoing some changes this year, with Grant Hill recently succeeding Jerry Colangelo as the managing director of the program. Naming a new head coach is the first major move that Hill will have to make as part of his new role. He said earlier this month that he hopes to finalize the decision before the start of the NBA regular season on October 19.

As Stein writes, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is viewed as another strong candidate for Team USA’s head coaching position, but Kerr has more international experience, having served as an assistant to Popovich during the 2019 FIBA World Cup as well as the Tokyo Olympics. Spoelstra was involved in the lead-up to the Olympics as well, coaching the U.S. Select Team, but he wasn’t part of the group that traveled to Tokyo.

Kerr’s experience coaching several star players in Golden State and competing in five consecutive NBA Finals makes him a natural fit to manage Team USA’s star-studded rosters and to handle the pressure of international competitions. He also recently confirmed that he’d have interest in the job.

“Of course I’d be interested. I mean, who wouldn’t be? I’ll leave it at that,” Kerr told Tim Kawakami of The Athletic in August. “I have no idea how it will all transpire; there are a lot of great candidates out there. And if I were to be considered, that would be an honor.”