Lonzo Ball

Southwest Notes: Alexander-Walker, Harden, Porzingis, Jackson

Continued improvement and consistency from Nickeil Alexander-Walker could make it more feasible for the Pelicans to move Lonzo Ball down the road, Scott Kushner of the New Orleans Times-Picayune writes. Alexander-Walker, a first-round pick in 2019, erupted for a career-high 37 points against the Clippers on Wednesday.

“The big measure for young guys is not what happens when everything is rolling your way,” Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy said. “It’s what happens when you’re having a frustrating night.”

We have more from the Southwest Division:

  • The Rockets defeated the Spurs in their first game since the James Harden trade and rookie forward Jae’Sean Tate  said the team was determined to put up a unified front, according to ESPN’s Tim MacMahon. Houston also played without the most prominent player it acquired, Victor Oladipo, as well as injured guards John Wall and Eric Gordon. “There’s a lot of guys — on the team and coaching staff and the GM — everybody has so much to prove,” Tate said.
  • Kristaps Porzingis‘ season debut reinforced the feeling that he may be best suited at power forward, Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News writes. Porzingis often played center last season when Dwight Powell injured his Achilles. The Mavericks are unbeaten this season since Willie Cauley-Stein became the starter at center. The Mavs are likely to keep Porzingis at power forward for the time being, Townsend adds.
  • Grizzlies big man Jaren Jackson Jr. vows that he’ll return to action this season, as he told Marc Spears of The Undefeated. He suffered a meniscus tear in his left knee in August. “I’ll be back this [season]. Who knows when, but it won’t be too long,” he said.

Duncan Robinson First 2021 RFA To Meet Starter Criteria

Heat sharpshooter Duncan Robinson became the first potential restricted free agent in the 2021 class to meet the “starter criteria” earlier this week, increasing the value of his qualifying offer.

As we explain in our glossary entry, a restricted free-agent-to-be is considered to have met the starter criteria if he plays at least 2,000 minutes or starts 41 games in the season before he reaches free agency, or if he averages 2,000 minutes or 41 starts per season in the two years before his free agency. If a non-lottery pick reaches the starter criteria, the value of his qualifying offer increases; if a lottery pick fails to meet it, the value of his QO decreases.

Because the NBA was unable to play a full season in 2019/20 and only has a 72-game schedule on tap for ’20/21, the thresholds for the starter criteria have been prorated downward. According to ESPN’s Bobby Marks, the criteria will vary from player to player, since it’s now based on games played by his team prior to the hiatus in ’19/20, as well as the 72-game schedule for this season.

For instance, the Heat played 65 games before the coronavirus stoppage last season and will play 72 games this season, for a total of 137 contests. Robinson needed to start at least half of those games (68.5) to meet the starter criteria.

Having started the first nine games of this season, Robinson is technically up to 77 starts over the last two years, but eight of those came in Miami’s summer seeding games and don’t count toward the starter criteria. As such, his 69th start of the last two seasons – which pushed him above the starter criteria threshold – came on Tuesday vs. Philadelphia.

Having met the starter criteria, Robinson – who came into the league as an undrafted free agent – will now be in line for a qualifying offer worth $4,736,102 (equivalent to what the 21st pick would receive if he signed for 100% of his rookie scale amount) instead of $2,122,822.

That bump likely won’t be all that important for Robinson, who figures to sign a lucrative multiyear deal that far exceeds that amount. However, the difference between a standard QO and the starter criteria QO could have a major impact on certain players.

Last season, for example, Kris Dunn met the starter criteria, ensuring that his qualifying offer remained at $7.09MM instead of falling to $4.64MM. The Bulls subsequently opted not to extend him that QO, making him an unrestricted free agent, and he left for the Hawks, signing a new contract with a per-year value ($5MM) in between those two figures. If Dunn hadn’t met the starter criteria, the Bulls may have been more comfortable issuing that QO and his free agency could have played out a whole lot differently.

While Robinson is the first player to reach the starter criteria this season, he won’t be the last. RFAs-to-be like Devonte’ Graham, Jarrett Allen, Lonzo Ball, Lauri Markkanen, and John Collins are in position to get there soon if they stay healthy and remain in their teams’ respective starting lineups. Kendrick Nunn isn’t far off either, having started 62 games for Miami before last season’s hiatus, but he isn’t currently a starter for the Heat.

Southwest Notes: Pelicans, White, Silas, Doncic

With the starting Pelicans backcourt tandem of Eric Bledsoe and Lonzo Ball struggling to score, William Guillory of The Athletic suggests that swapping in sharpshooter J.J. Redick for Bledsoe could help unlock the club’s offense.

Redick could benefit by playing alongside new starting center Steven Adams, the best screener on the New Orleans roster. With Redick starting, All-Star small forward Brandon Ingram could become the club’s primary ball handler.

There’s more out of the NBA’s Southwest Division:

  • Newly-extended Spurs guard Derrick White has been activated by San Antonio, and thus will be available for the first time since his August surgery on the second toe of his left foot, per Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News. The Spurs host the Lakers tomorrow night.
  • New Rockets head coach Stephen Silas is continuing to work Houston’s newly-available players into his game planning as they come back from COVID-19 health protocols, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.
  • Mavericks All-Star guard Luka Doncic is hoping to get out of a bumpy offensive start to his third NBA season, according to Callie Caplan of the Dallas Morning News. He had one of worst scoring performances as a pro on Wednesday, scoring just 12 points against the Hornets in a 118-99 loss. “Obviously I’ve got to do way better,” Doncic said. “I can still prove so much, so I’ve got to work on those shots every day and if you work on it, they’re going to fall in eventually, so that’s my point of view.” Doncic has gone cold from long distance this season, connecting on just 9.5% of his 5.3 three-point attempts a night.

No Rookie Scale Extension For Lonzo Ball, Pelicans

The Pelicans and guard Lonzo Ball won’t reach an agreement on a rookie scale extension before today’s deadline, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports tells Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (Twitter link).

Ball will play out the final year of his rookie contract in 2020/21 and then will become eligible for restricted free agency during the ’21 offseason. Paul tells Wojnarowski that the two sides remain positive about their ability to move forward together despite not reaching a new contract agreement at this time.

Ball, 23, was one of several players sent from the Lakers to the Pelicans in last year’s Anthony Davis blockbuster. He enjoyed his best season as a pro in New Orleans, averaging 11.8 PPG, 7.0 APG, and 6.1 RPG on .403/.375/.566 shooting in 63 games (32.1 MPG).

The former No. 2 overall pick will share point guard duties in New Orleans this season with Eric Bledsoe, who was acquired in an offseason deal involving Jrue Holiday.

Pelicans Notes: Ball, Bledsoe, Adams, Holiday, Ingram, Williamson

The Pelicans won’t be choosing between Lonzo Ball and recently-acquired Eric Bledsoe as their starting point guard, according to executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin. New Orleans’ top executive envisions that they’ll form the starting backcourt, Andrew Lopez of ESPN tweets. The Pelicans had a similar setup last season, when Ball and Jrue Holiday shared ballhandling duties. The Pelicans acquired Bledsoe from the Bucks and center Steven Adams from the Thunder, along with draft picks, in a four-team deal that sent Holiday to Milwaukee.

New head coach Stan Van Gundy said that Griffin has prioritized toughness and competitiveness at a very high level, and Bledsoe and Adams fit that mold, Scott Kushner of the New Orleans Times Picayune tweets.

Griffin and Van Gundy dropped some interesting tidbits during their Monday press conference:

  • Griffin had pursued Adams for a very long time, according to Kushner (Twitter link). Griffin was impressed with Adams since meeting him prior to the 2013 draft. Adams, who was selected with the No. 12 pick that year, received a two-year, $35MM extension as part of the four-team deal.
  • The front office wanted to do right by Holiday by trading him to a title contender, Lopez notes (Twitter link). Griffin said Holiday’s career timeline to compete for a championship differed somewhat from the Pelicans’ timeline.
  • Brandon Ingram‘s five-year contract doesn’t include a player option, Lopez adds in another tweet, but there is a trade bonus. Ingram officially signed the $158.25MM contract on Monday.
  • Zion Williamson will not have any restrictions heading into training camp, according to Van Gundy. The coach anticipates the early days of camp will look different because they haven’t played as much pickup due to COVID-19 restrictions and a short offseason (Twitter link).
  • The team’s disappointing showing in the Orlando restart convinced Griffin the team needed more “elite competitors” and didn’t have “enough of a work ethic identity,” Kushner relays (Twitter link).

And-Ones: G League, Mitchell, Magnay, GM Moves, Jones

The G League plans to have its elite Ignite team, which includes top 2021 draft prospects Jalen Green, Jonathan Kuminga and Isaiah Todd, face G League alumni in closed-door scrimmages in Walnut Creek, California this week, Shams Charania of The Athletic tweets. They will also hold two streamed scrimmages next month, Charania adds. The Ignite team, which is based in Walnut Creek, was formed as a part of the league’s development program for top prospects.

We have more from around the basketball world:

  • Donovan Mitchell, Lonzo Ball and John Collins are some of the high-profile rookie scale extension candidates who might not be worth a full max, according to The Athletic’s John Hollinger. Hollinger anticipates Mitchell will get a max extension but the Jazz might be wise to go four years rather than five. Hollinger takes a closer look at the value of all extension-eligible candidates from the class of 2017.
  • Australian big man Will Magnay is drawing interest from NBA clubs, ESPN’s Olgun Uluc tweets. His current club, the Brisbane Bullets, is preparing to play without him this season, Uluc adds. Magnay, 22, was named the NBL’s Most Improved Player last season.
  • What are the best and worst moves that top NBA executives have made with their current teams? ESPN’s Bobby Marks takes a closer look at all the GMs who haven’t been recently hired by their current organizations.
  • Former NBA player Jalen Jones may have suffered a torn Achilles playing in Italy, Emiliano Carchia of Sportando tweets. Jones was playing his first game this season for Pallacanestro Varese. The prognosis was first reported by La Prealpina. He last appeared in the NBA during the 2018/19 season during a 16-game stint with Cleveland.

Pelicans Notes: Young Talent, Redick, SVG, Free Agents

In his first press conference with his new team on Tuesday, Pelicans head coach Stan Van Gundy had high praise for forward Zion Williamson, the top pick in the 2019 draft, per Andrew Lopez of ESPN.

“He’s a multi-talented guy,” Van Gundy said. “I don’t look at him in any way as far as is he a four or a five. I’m not sure those labels matter when it comes to him.”

Van Gundy spoke highly of point guard Lonzo Ball, the No. 2 pick in the 2017 draft, as well.

“So I think as good as Lonzo is now, and he’s very good, I think that we can expect a good arc of improvement for him over the next few years,” Van Gundy opined.

The Pelicans’ new head coach also stressed emphasizing defense improvement for the club.

There’s more out of the Big Easy:

  • Veteran Pelicans guard J.J. Redick, who had played under Van Gundy while with the Magic, recommended the hire to Pelicans executive VP of basketball operations David Griffin. “I had mentioned to Griff back in August that I thought he’d be great for the job,” Redick said on his podcast The Old Man and the Three, as Andrew Lopez of ESPN relays (Twitter link).
  • With the hire of an experienced coach at the level of Van Gundy, the Pelicans are hopeful that their new head coach can optimize the potential of the team’s young talent, according to Scott Kushner of NOLA.com.
  • William Guillory of The Athletic assessed some ideal free agent candidates for the Pelicans in a new mailbag. With center Derrick Favors an unrestricted free agent this offseason, free agent veterans like Marc Gasol, Tristan Thompson, Meyers Leonard, and Aron Baynes could all be effective replacements should New Orleans opt to move on from Favors. Defensive-oriented Heat forward Jae Crowder is mentioned as another solid fit for the team to generally shore up its frontcourt depth.

Western Notes: Lakers, Looney, Ball, Nuggets

Lakers head coach Frank Vogel told reporters on Wednesday that Alex Caruso and Danny Green are listed as probable for Thursday’s Western Conference Finals Game 4 against the Nuggets, per Tania Ganguli of The Los Angeles Times (Twitter link).

According to Vogel, Caruso is dealing with soreness in his right wrist and is getting a precautionary MRI. Green has an injured left ring finger. The 26-year-old Caruso only scored two points in 25 minutes off the bench in the Lakers’ Game 3 loss, while Green had four points in 20 minutes.

If Caruso or Green cannot play on Thursday, the Lakers may need to increase point guard Rajon Rondo‘s minutes.

Here’s more from across the Western Conference:

  • According to John Dickinson of 95.7 The Game (Twitter link), Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said Wednesday that center Kevon Looney is healthy and was a full participant at the team’s practice. Kerr added that Klay Thompson and Eric Paschall didn’t practice, as they were going through the NBA’s COVID testing protocol.
  • William Guillory of The Athletic takes a look at the pros and cons of the Pelicans keeping Lonzo Ball. Earlier this week, Ball announced that he signed with Rich Paul of Klutch Sports. The 22-year-old point guard had a solid first season with New Orleans, averaging 11.8 PPG, 7.0 APG, and 6.1 RPG. Furthermore, Guillory explores what a potential extension could like for Ball after next season.
  • Ethan Strauss of The Athletic writes about the similarities between the 2013 Warriors and this season’s Nuggets team. For starters, Strauss points out how current Denver head coach Mike Malone was under then-head coach Mark Jackson in Golden State. He also explores how both teams built their rosters in the age of free agency and feature an unlikely superstar player.

Lonzo Ball Changes Agents Again, Signs With Klutch

As he prepares to enter his fourth season as an NBA player, Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball will be represented by a fourth different agent since entering the league. Ball has signed with Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, he tells Malika Andrews of ESPN.

The second overall pick in the 2017 draft, Ball was initially represented by family friend Harrison Gaines. After deciding to part ways with Gaines in April 2019, the former UCLA star joined CAA, then signed with Roc Nation in June 2020. Roc Nation announced on June 15 that Lonzo and brothers LaMelo Ball and LiAngelo Ball had joined the agency, so Lonzo’s stint at Roc Nation apparently lasted less than three months.

Ball’s latest change in representation comes ahead of a crucial offseason, as he’ll become eligible for a rookie scale extension for the first time once the 2020/21 league year begins. If Ball and the Pelicans don’t reach an agreement before next season starts, he’ll become a restricted free agent during the 2021 offseason.

Paul often opts to take top clients to free agency rather than agreeing to early extensions, so the Pelicans probably shouldn’t expect to sign Ball to a team-friendly contract in the coming months. The 22-year-old also sounds motivated to boost his stock during the 2020/21 season, suggesting to Andrews that he hopes to follow in the footsteps of teammate Brandon Ingram.

“For myself, I think Most Improved Player is definitely something I can get next year,” Ball told ESPN.

Pelicans Rumors: Gentry, Ingram, Ball, Zion

With the Pelicans‘ 2019/20 season set to come to an end following Thursday’s seeding game against the Magic, the next big question the team must answer revolves around Alvin Gentry‘s future. The veteran head coach has now made the postseason just once in five years since arriving in New Orleans.

While the Pelicans have had to deal with some injuries over the course of those five years, the team had loftier expectations, especially considering Anthony Davis was on the roster for those first four years. Additionally, New Orleans appeared to be in prime position to compete for the final playoff spot in the West this summer, but has played underwhelming basketball during the restart, losing five of its seven games, including two to Sacramento.

Within a discussion about the Pelicans’ offseason, Sam Amick of The Athletic says he’d be “very surprised” if Gentry is back for the 2020/21 season, suggesting there are strong signs that head of basketball operations David Griffin would like to make a change. In Amick’s view, Tyronn Lue and even Mike D’Antoni could be candidates worth keeping an eye on if New Orleans decides to move on from Gentry.

Still, Amick and fellow Athletic reporter David Aldridge caution that finances could play a part in the Pelicans’ decision. Gentry is owed more than $5MM for the 2020/21 season, the final year of his current deal. Team ownership may be reluctant to pay off that contract and pay a new head coach next season, given the financial impact the coronavirus pandemic has had.

Here’s more on Gentry and the Pelicans:

  • In an opinion column for NOLA.com, Scott Kushner makes the case for why the Pelicans should move on from Gentry, writing that the team’s “lethargic, uninspired” play during the restart served as “irrefutable evidence” that a new voice is needed.
  • Checking in on the Brandon Ingram situation in New Orleans, Shams Charania of The Athletic says that re-signing the young forward remains the plan for the Pelicans, who have remained in touch with agent Jeff Schwartz all season. Ingram is viewed as a likely maximum-salary player, Charania adds.
  • David Aldridge of The Athletic has heard from sources at the NBA’s campus in Orlando that they expect “significant roster adjustments” for the Pelicans this offseason. Aldridge also hears that Lonzo Ball “looked like he’d checked out” during the restart.
  • Asked today about his offseason plans, Zion Williamson said he intends to work on his game and to “get his body where it needs to be,” tweets Andrew Lopez of ESPN. Williamson didn’t offer additional specifics on where his body needs to be, indicating he needs to talk to the team about that.