Domantas Sabonis

Simons, Stanley, Toppin To Compete In Dunk Contest

Anfernee Simons of the Trail Blazers, Cassius Stanley of the Pacers, and Obi Toppin of the Knicks will compete for the annual Slam Dunk title at halftime of the All-Star game on Sunday at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, the NBA announced in a press release.

Simons, a 6’3” guard, is averaging 8.2 PPG in his third NBA season. Stanley is a 6’5″ rookie guard on a two-way contract after being selected in the second round last fall. He recorded a maximum vertical leap of 44 inches in the 2020 draft combine. Toppin, a 6’9″ rookie forward and lottery pick, is averaging 4.6 PPG in 25 games off the bench.

The 3-Point Contest, which will be held prior to the game, has a lot more star power. Suns guard Devin Booker and Warriors guard Stephen Curry, former winners of the long-ball contest, head the list of participants. The Celtics’ Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, the Bulls’ Zach LaVine and the Jazz‘s Donovan Mitchell round out the six-man field.

The Skills Challenge, which will also be held prior to the game, also has plenty of All-Star firepower. Mavericks guard Luka Doncic and Suns guard Chris Paul head that six-man listKnicks forward Julius Randle, Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis, Magic center Nikola Vucevic and Trail Blazers forward Robert Covington round out the field.

Durant Sidelined Through All-Star Break; Sabonis Gets All-Star Nod

Nets All-Star forward Kevin Durant will not play prior to the All-Star break, according to a team press release. He’ll be replaced on the All-Star roster by Pacers big man Domantas Sabonis, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN tweets.

The decision on Durant’s status was made after a follow-up MRI on his strained left hamstring. The MRI led the team’s medical staff to the conclusion that Durant required an “additional recovery period.” The club is confident Durant will return to full strength and the “extra recovery time will allow him to perform at the level at which he was playing this season.” He’ll continue to undergo rehab and will be re-assessed after the break.

Earlier this week, coach Steve Nash said that he expected Durant to return before the break. Durant hasn’t played since February 13 but the Nets have won all six games he’s missed due to the injury. He also sat out the previous week due to COVID-19 contact tracing.

Brooklyn plays at home against Dallas on Saturday before embarking on a two-game Texas trip with stops in San Antonio and Houston before the March 7 All-Star Game.

Durant is averaging 29.0 PPG, 7.3 RPG and 5.3 APG after missing last season due to a ruptured Achilles tendon.

Sabonis, meanwhile, is averaging 21.5 PPG, 11.7 RPG and 5.7 APG. He’ll be making his second straight All-Star appearance and will earn a $1.3MM bonus for making the team, even though he was named as a replacement rather than making the initial 12-man squad, Bobby Marks of ESPN notes (via Twitter).

And-Ones: I. Thomas, Hezonja, P. Gasol, All-Star Bonuses

Team USA won two games in convincing fashion over the weekend, defeating the Bahamas and Mexico in the FIBA AmeriCup qualifying tournament, according to an Associated Press story. The team, which advances to the September 2022 tourney, featured familiar names such as Joe Johnson, Brandon Bass and Isaiah Thomas, who was hoping to use the event to boost his chances for an NBA comeback.

Thomas, who hasn’t played competitively since being traded to the Clippers and waived last February, scored 19 points in Friday’s game and nine on Saturday.

“The world knows I’ve got what it takes. So, it’s just about showing that I’m healthy,” he said. “My skill didn’t go anywhere, it was just about getting a hundred percent healthy, which I am right now.”

Here are more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Mario Hezonja, who was in training camp with the Grizzlies, has reached a deal to play for Panathinaikos in Greece, writes Emiliano Carchia of Sportando. The new contract will cover the rest of the season with an option for next year. The fifth overall pick in the 2015 draft, Hezonja played for the Magic, Knicks and Trail Blazers in five NBA seasons. He averaged 4.8 points and 3.5 rebounds in 53 games with Portland last year.
  • Veteran center Pau Gasol denied rumors over the weekend that he’s close to signing with Barcelona, but Spanish national team coach Sergio Scariolo hasn’t given up hopes of seeing him play again, relays Alessandro Maggi of Sportando. “It’s a rumor, obviously we hope to see Pau on a basketball court again,” said Scariolo, an assistant coach for the Raptors. “Our desire is to see him still play at the top level and we will keep our fingers crossed.”
  • With the All-Star reserves set to be announced Tuesday, ESPN’s Bobby Marks takes a look at the five players whose contracts include bonuses for making the team. The largest, at $1.3MM, belongs to Jaylen Brown of the Celtics, who Marks believes is virtually certain to be selected. Jazz center Rudy Gobert, with a $1MM bonus, also seems like a sure thing. The PacersDomantas Sabonis ($1MM bonus) and the KnicksJulius Randle ($945K) face more difficulty because of the competition in the Eastern frontcourt. Raptors guard Kyle Lowry, who has been to six straight All-Star Games, would earn a $500K bonus for making it again, but he appears to have little chance of being chosen.

Central Notes: Sabonis, Nance Jr., Bucks, Bickerstaff

An MRI on Pacers star Domantas Sabonis revealed a bruise on his injured knee with no structural damage, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link).

Sabonis, who suffered the injury by banging knees with a player against Toronto on Monday, is expected to be listed as day-to-day, Wojnarowski reports.

In 17 games this season, Sabonis, a 2020 All-Star, is averaging a career-high 20.4 points, 12.4 rebounds and 5.6 assists per contest. The Pacers also released a positive update on Caris LeVert on Tuesday and recently welcomed back Jeremy Lamb, who suffered a torn ACL roughly one year ago.

There’s more from the Central Division today:

  • Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. missed Monday’s contest against the Lakers due to a right wrist sprain, per a team release. The injury occurred on Sunday against the Celtics. Nance is enjoying a respectable season to date, averaging 10.5 points and 2.3 steals per contest.
  • Despite slightly changing their approach, the Bucks are still one of the league’s top offensive teams — even as Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s numbers have dipped a little, Eric Nehm of The Athletic writes. Milwaukee currently leads the NBA in offensive efficiency with 117.9 points per 100 possessions. “It’s weird, it’s weird, but as I said, I’m figuring it out,” Antetokounmpo said. “I’d love to come out and have 30, 35 and it be easy. Easy layups and dunks and all that. But having somebody in ‘the dunker’ might make it a little bit harder. But at the end of the day, you gotta do other things to impact the game. Find your teammates. Set better screens. Go for handoffs. Roll when you set screens. You just gotta find ways.”
  • Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff believes his team doesn’t receive enough respect, Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com writes. The Cavs fought hard against the defending champion Lakers on Monday, ultimately losing the game 115-108. Bickerstaff didn’t seem too pleased with the officiating, however, giving a blunt assessment after the contest. “I think it was some momentum-changing calls that were made or weren’t made,” he said. “I think our guys showed up and gave the effort to deserve the respect that both teams should garner. Tonight, I don’t think that was the case. The Lakers are a hell of a basketball team, don’t get me wrong. They deserve everything they have coming. But our guys scrap and play hard and deserve the same. Were there plays that we made down the stretch where we could have made better decisions? Sure. But it’s hard to overcome the champs plus.”

Central Notes: Giannis, Bucks, Holiday, Sabonis, Drummond

Asked during an interview on the Greek channel COSMOTE TV about the perception that he wants to win a title without teaming up with any other superstars, Giannis Antetokounmpo clarified that he’d be happy to be part of a roster stacked with star players — if those star players want to come to the Bucks.

“If LeBron (James) and Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis came to Milwaukee, I would have been good with that,” Antetokounmpo said, per Aris Barkas of Eurohoops.net. “I am not (concerned about whether) I am the top, second or third name, OK? Because I want to win.

“… For sure when I was 18 or 19 years old, maybe I didn’t understand what you need to do to win. But right now, I am 25 and I want to win because when I retire, that’s what people will remember. And if I got LeBron, KD, Davis, if all those came, I wouldn’t mind at all. I don’t care if I am the top (player) on the team.”

While Giannis’ comments may fuel speculation about the possibility of him joining the Lakers or another club, it’s worth reiterating that he spoke only about star players coming to Milwaukee to join him. Bucks fans should take some solace in that as Antetokounmpo continues to weigh whether or not to sign a five-year, super-max extension with the franchise.

Here’s more from around the Central:

  • In an episode of The Athletic NBA Show, Sam Amick of The Athletic suggested that the Bucks‘ trade for Jrue Holiday had an impact on the team’s pursuit of Bogdan Bogdanovic, since it reduced the swingman’s projected role and may have affected how much the team could comfortably offer Bogdanovic in free agency. Dan Feldman of NBC Sports has the details.
  • Speaking on Wednesday to reporters, including Brendan Rourke of Pacers.com, newly re-signed Pacers guard Justin Holiday explained why he “hates” free agency. “I feel like I’m one of the guys, for whatever reason, I’m not ever really respected as far as how much you get paid,” Holiday said. However, he added that he likes the Pacers organization and the city of Indianapolis and he’s happy to have signed a multiyear deal to remain in Indiana for the foreseeable future.
  • Pacers big man Domantas Sabonis believes that the left foot injury that sidelined him during the NBA’s restart is behind him, as J. Michael of The Indianapolis Star details.
  • In his first media session of the season this week, Cavaliers center Andre Drummond said his plan “was always to come back to Cleveland,” writes Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com. There was never any real doubt that Drummond would turn down his $28.75MM option for 2020/21, but he said he’s also looking forward to providing guidance to a young roster. “Being here in Cleveland, the opportunities are endless here and I can do great things,” Drummond said.

And-Ones: Sabonis, Valanciunas, N. Robinson, Offseason

Pacers big man Domantas Sabonis and Grizzlies center Jonas Valanciunas are expected to join the Lithuanian National Team for the FIBA EuroBasket 2022 qualifiers next month, according to Donatas Urbonas (Twitter link). Lithuania is scheduled to play qualifying games in Vilnius against Denmark on November 26 and Belgium on November 29, and the country’s basketball federation has confirmed that Sabonis and Valanciunas are part of the team’s preliminary squad.

Unfortunately for Lithuania, it’s not clear yet whether Sabonis and Valanciunas will be available next summer for the all-important Olympic qualifying tournament that begins on June 29. Lithuania will be vying for one of four final spots in the Tokyo Olympics, and typically NBA players would be free to join their national teams by that point. In 2021, however, it’s possible the NBA’s regular season won’t yet have finished by the end of June.

Here are more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Veteran guard Nate Robinson hasn’t played in the NBA since the 2015/16 season and his odds of making a comeback at this point are incredibly long. However, he hasn’t given up on the idea, as Eric Woodyard of ESPN relays (via Twitter). Even at 36, I could still play and still ball out, still be a good spark off the bench,” Robinson said. “But times have changed, the NBA has changed so much. Naw, I will never say I’m retired. They retired me. I didn’t retire.”
  • Several ESPN reporters and analysts discussed a series of NBA offseason issues, including the most intriguing player on the free agent market, the trade candidate most worth watching, and the team worth keeping an eye on. Fred VanVleet, Jrue Holiday, and the Warriors, respectively, received the most votes in those three categories.
  • In the second part of their survey of NBA agents, Ben Standig and Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic solicited opinions on the league’s best player, how many games the NBA will be able to play in 2020/21, and when the season will start, among other topics. We recapped the first part of the agent survey on Wednesday.
  • Several beat writers from The Athletic conducted a new mock draft for the top 10 picks this week. The exercise saw LaMelo Ball go No. 1 to the Timberwolves and included a trade involving the Knicks‘ No. 8 pick and the Suns‘ No. 10 selection, with Phoenix trading up for Tyrese Haliburton.

Pacers Notes: Bjorkgren, Sabonis, Turner, Oladipo

Speaking to reporters during his introductory press conference on Wednesday, new Pacers head coach Nate Bjorkgren said he thinks Indiana will be a “fun team to watch” next season, promising a more dynamic offense and a willingness to be adaptable, as Michael Marot of The Associated Press writes.

“You’re going to see a lot of movement on both sides of the ball, different guys handling the ball, pushing it up the floor,” Bjorkgren said. “We want to utilize the three-point line. My approach to defense is you change and change quite frequently, between quarters, after timeouts, during an 8-0 run, I think that’s the disruptive part.”

Bjorkgren has never been a head coach at the NBA level, but he did serve as the head coach for three separate G League clubs between 2011-15. On Wednesday, he said that he feels as if that experience helped prepare him to be flexible and make adjustments as an NBA coach.

“You have to adapt very early and quite often,” Bjorkgren said, per Marot. “You could be at a shootaround and two guys get called up and another is going overseas so you have to coach on the fly. You have to know the next guy will be there and that’s the part of the coaching, keeping everybody ready at all times.”

Here’s more on the Pacers and their new head coach:

  • President of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard and the Pacers conducted formal interviews via Zoom with approximately a dozen candidates and then brought in six finalists for in-person interviews, writes Wheat Hotchkiss of Pacers.com. By the end of the lengthy process, Pritchard was certain that Bjorkgren was the man for the job. “We felt like this was a no-brainer,” Pritchard said. “When we came to a decision, there were high-fives in our office and we knew that this was the right guy.”
  • Bjorkgren said on Wednesday that he’s “very confident” that Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner can continue to coexist in the Pacers’ lineup, likening the duo to Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka on his old team in Toronto. “When you talk about those two bigs, they’re not just any two bigs,” Bjorkgren said of Indiana’s duo, per Hotchkiss. “They are very dynamic and they complement each other very well.”
  • Asked during Wednesday’s presser about Victor Oladipo, neither Pritchard nor Bjorkgren gave any indication that they expect the All-Star guard to be traded this offseason. “He feels good about the team. He’s talked to me about how he thinks this team can be very good,” Pritchard said, according to Marot. “We hear a lot of things, but until it comes to me, I don’t really worry about that.”
  • Bjorkgren added that Oladipo texted him “immediately” after news of his hiring broke. “We had a great talk,” Bjorkgren said. “We talked about what I thought he could do, what I thought he could bring to this team, how he could make this team better, and how he could make himself better… I like his energy. I feel like our energy fed off each other a little bit there during the phone call.”

Domantas Sabonis Returning To Disney World Campus, Not Expected To Play

All-star forward Domantas Sabonis is scheduled to arrive in Orlando today, tweets Pacers reporter Scott Agness. Coach Nate McMillan confirmed the news this afternoon on the Fox Sports Indiana pre-game show, adding that Sabonis will quarantine “for a few days.”

Sabonis probably hasn’t been involved in any basketball activity over the last six weeks, and sources tell ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski he’s not expected to return to the active roster (Twitter link).

Sabonis traveled to the Disney World complex with the team in July, but left shortly after scrimmages began to get treatment for plantar fasciitis in his left foot. The injury was termed “significant” when it was first reported.

The 24-year-old center/power forward is putting up career-best numbers in his fourth NBA season, averaging 18.5 points and 12.4 rebounds and 5.0 assists in 62 games.

Eastern Notes: Mahinmi, Sabonis, Nunn, Knicks

Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said on Wednesday that center Ian Mahinmi will not play in tomorrow’s regular-season finale against the Celtics, per Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington (Twitter link).

Since the Wizards landed in Orlando for the seeding games, Mahinmi has not played a single minute. This season, the 33-year-old center only played in 38 games, averaging 7.4 PPG and 5.7 RPG.

The Wizards were expecting Mahinmi to be their veteran rim protector when they signed him to a four-year, $64MM contract in the summer of 2016. However, that never came to fruition due to injuries. Over the last two seasons, Mahinmi has only played in 72 games. The veteran center is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

Here’s more from across the Eastern Conference:

Eastern Notes: Wizards, Nunn, Warren, Micic

Wizards point guard John Wall expects to have a different role in the team’s offense once he rejoins Washington, per Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington. Wall has missed the entire 2019/20 season due to a ruptured Achilles tendon.

“My game is going to be totally different than what it was before because now with the way [Bradley Beal] can handle the ball,” Wall said of his Wizards teammate. “I can be off the ball a little bit and score from the wing and score in transition by running the wing.”

There’s more out of the Eastern Conference: