Paul George

And-Ones: Ayton, Thunder Trades, Wagering, Ball

Arizona freshman center DeAndre Ayton could be the No. 1 overall pick in June, according to Joel Brigham of Basketball Insiders. The 7’1” Ayton has proven to be a highly productive for the otherwise disappointing Wildcats, averaging 20.4 PPG, 11.4 RPG and 1.4 BPG in his first eight college games. He has a 7-foot-5 wingspan and has shown a high basketball IQ, Brigham continues. At worst, Ayton should be a top-three lock, Brigham adds.

In other news involving the league:

  • The trade packages the Knicks and Pacers received from the Thunder in blockbuster deals this offseason have proven to be far better than expected, as ESPN’s Kevin Pelton notes. Center Enes Kanter, the best player the Knicks got back in the Carmelo Anthony trade, is a good fit as Kristaps Porzingis frontcourt partner, while Porzingis has thrived as a No. 1 option in Pelton’s analysis. Victor Oladipo has actually outperformed Paul George in his expanded role with Indiana, according to Pelton’s metrics. The other player the Pacers received in the deal, center Domantas Sabonis, has improved sharply while playing more often in the post than he did in Oklahoma City, Pelton adds.
  • The league and several owners have positioned themselves to cash in on expanded betting on its games, as ESPN’s Brian Windhorst examines in an in-depth piece. The league would prefer changes in current federal laws and the creation of a unified commission to oversee the expanded betting operations, Windhorst continues. The Hornets’ Michael Jordan, the Wizards’ Ted Leonsis and the Mavs’ Mark Cuban have recently invested in a company focused on real-time data distribution, which would facilitate in-game wagering, Windhorst adds.
  • Lonzo Ball‘s younger brother LiAngelo Ball has no chance of being selected if he declares for next June’s draft, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. LiAngelo Ball would have trouble finding a spot in any professional league, including the G-League, Wojnarowski adds (Twitter links). UCLA announced on Monday that the younger Ball intends to leave the program, Sam Vecenie of The Athletic tweets. The freshman was arrested along with two teammates in China on shoplifting charges and suspended by the school after being allowed to return to the United States.

Thunder Notes: Donovan, Westbrook, Roberson, George

The bumpy start continues in Oklahoma City as coach Billy Donovan tries to mesh Paul George and Carmelo Anthony into a cohesive unit with Russell Westbrook, writes Erik Horne of The Oklahoman. Although they are all exceptional scorers, there are concerns that they don’t fit well together, and so far Westbrook [.400] and Anthony [.422] are posting their worst field goal percentages since they were rookies. Donovan continues to experiment with different combinations off the bench as the Thunder have stumbled to a 9-12 start.

“He has a style that he knows works, and we’re all in with Billy on it,” George said. “But again, he’s good with wanting what’s best for us and wanting what’s gonna make us comfortable out there.”

There’s more out of Oklahoma City:

  • Horne offers grades for all the Thunder players through the first quarter of the season in a separate story, and the reigning MVP only gets a B-minus. Westbrook has adjusted his game to accommodate George and Anthony and is still searching for the right balance between taking over games and setting up his teammates, Horne says. Anthony also gets a B-minus, while George receives an A.
  • A change in the starting lineup might be the answer to OKC’s early-season slump, suggests Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman. He proposes replacing defensive specialist Andre Roberson with a better shooter such as Alex Abrines or Terrance Ferguson to create more spacing for the first unit. Donovan increased Ferguson’s minutes this week and gave Dakari Johnson a shot in Wednesday’s loss to Orlando, but he doesn’t seem ready to change the pairing of Westbrook, George, Anthony, Roberson and Steven Adams that has started every game this season. “I think that what happens in these situations is sometimes people look for the change for the sake of change because it looks like you’re doing something,” Donovan said. “I’ve always been a big believer of pinpointing what the issues and the challenges are that we’ve got to overcome.”
  • Magic coach Frank Vogel, who coached George in Indiana, described his former star as “selfless” in trying to make the union with Westbrook and Anthony successful, relays John Denton of NBA.com. He said the Thunder will benefit from George’s defensive abilities, which he described as “Allen Iverson’s instincts in Scottie Pippen’s body.’’

Community Shootaround: Paul George And The Thunder

Paul George had his coming out party for the Thunder in Friday’s 120-111 victory over the Clippers. The former longtime Pacers standout dropped 42 points to go along with 9 rebounds and 7 assists. After being largely absent from Oklahoma City’s late game plans during the team’s recent rough patch, George showed the scoring prowess that has made him one of the league’s premiere players.

George, 27, is set to hit the free agent market next year and it is no guarantee that he will re-sign with the Thunder. However, the team invested heavily into fielding a productive team this offseason, trading for George and Carmelo Anthony. With reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Russell Westbrook in the fold, the expecation was that OKC would be a competitive threat to the defending champion Warriors.

Despite Friday’s win, the Thunder are still in 12th place in the Western Conference with an uninspiring 5-7 record. To his credit, George has not sounded the alarms about his new team’s slow start, telling Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post that OKC’s plan is to gradually acclimate as a unit.

“We have a whole year to figure it out,” George said. “We can’t really try to rush this. It’s something that’s step-by-step, day-by-day [and], at this point, game-by-game. We’ve got to slowly get on the same page.”

What do you think? Does George have a point? Are the Thunder still capable of developing stronger team chemistry and ultimately play like one of the Western Conference’s top teams? Or, do the Thunder have too many dominating personalities that will make it harder to form a cohesive unit?

Sound off in the comments below!

Northwest Notes: Thunder, Barton, Jazz

The new-look Thunder were expected to be one of this season’s prime challengers to the Warriors’ crown, but things aren’t off to a great start in Oklahoma City. The Thunder dropped their fourth straight game on Thursday night in Denver, and are now 4-7 on the season, including 0-6 against Western Conference teams. The latest loss prompted a closed-door meeting for the club, as Brett Dawson of The Oklahoman writes.

“It was just good to get everything out on the table,” Paul George said. “Especially where we’re at right now, it’s no good if we’re bottling it up, because then we could carry it over to the next game and the next game. Just leave everything out in the open.”

As Oklahoma City looks to turn things around after the team’s slow start, let’s round up a few more items from out of the Northwest…

  • George, Russell Westbrook, and Thunder head coach Billy Donovan were fined $15K apiece earlier this week for critical comments aimed at referees, notes Royce Young of ESPN.com. The trio took exception with a flagrant foul call against Carmelo Anthony in Sunday’s game against Portland.
  • Will Barton has been taking on some point guard duties for the Nuggets this season in the wake of Jameer Nelson‘s release, per Christopher Dempsey of Nuggets.com. The timing is right for Barton to take on more responsibilities and a larger role, since he’s in a contract year — showing off an expanded skill-set should only increase his value on the open market next July.
  • New Jazz point guard Ricky Rubio is still working to develop chemistry with incumbent star Rudy Gobert, as Eric Woodyard of The Deseret News details. “I’ve got to learn his game, he’s got to learn mine,” Rubio said. “It’s just a process. We’re trying but we don’t want to overdo it. It’s going to come with time.” Added Gobert: “I think it might be overthinking. We’ve just got to play basketball.”

Northwest Notes: Nuggets, Beasley, Thunder

The new Nuggets frontcourt has gotten off to a slow start this season but that doesn’t mean Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap won’t figure it out eventually. As Buddy Grizzard of Basketball Insiders writes in a feature exploring the duo’s production thus far, the club is committed to building something special.

It initially seemed inevitable that Jokic’s passing abilities would make Millsap’s life easier scoring in the post. A boost in efficiency down low, however, hasn’t yet materialized.

Over the course of his first 10 games with the Nuggets, Millsap has averaged 15.2 points and 6.7 rebounds per contest. That’s down from his last year averages of 17.1 and 7.7, respectively, with the Hawks.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • The Trail Blazers will host the Thunder in a Sunday tilt, the first appearance either Carmelo Anthony and Paul George will make in Portland this season. As Mike Richman of The Oregonian writes, the franchise actively pursued both over the course of the summer, to no avail.
  • The Nuggets are starting to incorporate sophomore Malik Beasley into their rotation. Dennis Chambers of Basketball Insiders spoke with the 20-year-old about vying for a consistent role.
  • The Thunder have struggled in the clutch, Erik Horne of The Oklahoman writes, thanks in no small part to the 6.3 rebounds per game the club allows its opponents to pull down in the final five minutes. That mark sits dead last in the league and the club is 29th in opponent’s field-goal percentage during that stretch, too.

Central Notes: George, Pistons, Oladipo

While Pacers fans didn’t get a revenge win over Paul George‘s Thunder, they did gain some insight into the All-Star’s decision to force his way out of Indiana. Scott Horner of The Indianapolis Star curated a handful of interviews that George has given since his departure.

In one media scrum, George mentions that he felt that the team’s window to contend had closed and that a rebuild was forthcoming. That may not exactly qualify as a hot take but it narrows down the swingman’s motivations for seeking an opportunity elsewhere. That said, the Lakers – the team George was initially said to be interested in – haven’t won more than 30 games since 2012/13.

In other interviews, George seems to question the promotional strategy the Pacers’ have used regarding his pending return to Indiana in December, while also throwing shade at the team for how they traded Danny Granger to the Sixers back in 2014.

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • The Cavaliers are going to need plenty more out of their shooting guards, Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com writes. So far this season, free agent acquisition Dwyane Wade has struggled to find a rhythm while J.R. Smith has gone ice cold from the field.
  • Not married to any particular rotation, Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy intends to use the two-day period between Detroit’s victory over the Timberwolves and their contest with the Clippers on Saturday to re-evaluate the club’s lineups. Keith Langlois of the team’s official site writes that a number of players could be utilized differently in the frontcourt.
  • The Pacers have been more than satisfied with what they’ve gotten out of Victor Oladipo so far this season, Clifton Brown of The Indianapolis Star writes. “I like his pace,” head coach Nate McMillan said after the team’s loss to Paul George‘s Thunder. “He’s doing a good job of not forcing the issue. His shot selection has been better. He’s knocking down shots and in a pretty good rhythm, and we try to go to him as much as possible, because he was the one guy with the hot hand. He’s just playing with a nice pace.”

Northwest Notes: Blazers, Westbrook, Hood, Nelson

In a conversation with The New York Times’ Marc Stein, Carmelo Anthony explained that his decision not to waive his no-trade clause for the Trail Blazers was rooted in logistics, not basketball, reports John Canzano of The The Oregonian/OregonLive.

“We had a fair bit of discussion about Portland…,” Stein said of his talk with Anthony. “… He did say that it meant a lot to him how badly those guys wanted him. I think it really was the distance (that caused him to not be interested). I don’t think it was about Portland, the place… I don’t think it was about Portland, I think it was about family… presumably his wife and son are going to stay in New York for the bulk of the year. He was in constant contact with (Damian) Lillard and (C.J.) McCollum.”

Here’s more news from the Northwest:

  • The Thunder’s Russell Westbrook scored only six points on 2-of-11 shooting to go along with seven turnovers in Saturday night’s 96-87 loss to the Utah Jazz.  As reported by ESPN’s Royce Young, Westbrook appears to still be adjusting and adapting to the acquisitions of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony; however, Westbrook insists that this season is no different than any other. “It’s the same thing [as last season],” Westbrook said. “Basketball’s been the same for years. It’s still the same game. Obviously different players, but the game still tells you what to do. If you need to score, you score, if not, you don’t. It’s very simple.”
  • Despite not playing Saturday night against Oklahoma City as the result of a calf injury, Rodney Hood of the Jazz is primed to make his return to the court sooner than originally feared, as reported by Jody Genessy of The Deseret News.  Despite the initial concern after Hood had to be helped off the court by teammates, Jazz coach Quin Snyder was apparently never too worried. “I’ve kind of conditioned myself to not jump to conclusions about those things one way or the other,” Snyder said when asked about being relieved the injury wasn’t worse. “Sometimes when they don’t look as bad, you kind of feel like, ‘Oh, it’s not that bad,’ and then it ends up to be worse.”
  • Jameer Nelson tweeted out a thank you to the City of Denver and the Nuggets early Friday morning after being released by the team on Wednesday. The Nuggets would have been on the hook for the entirety of Nelson’s $4.74MM salary if he had remained on the free agent market. However, as noted by Bobby Marks of ESPN, Denver will have the right to set-off approximately $470K at season’s end as a result of Nelson signing a pro-rated minimum salary contract with the Pelicans on Saturday.

Northwest Notes: Baldwin, Exum, Bolomboy, George

The Timberwolves‘ G League affiliate has expressed interest in point guard Wade Baldwin, who cleared waivers earlier today, tweets Darren Wolfson of Eyewitness 5 News. Baldwin would obviously prefer to land another NBA opportunity, but he may have to consider the G League if that doesn’t happen.

The 17th pick in the 2016 draft, Baldwin was waived Monday after just one year in Memphis. The Rockets, Knicks and Pelicans have reportedly expressed interest in the 21-year-old guard, but of those three teams only Houston has an open roster spot. The Wolves have both a roster opening and a two-way slot available if they decide to make an offer to Baldwin.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Jazz guard Dante Exum explained his decision to have surgery on his separated left shoulder in a video tweeted by the team. Exum had been exploring non-surgical options, but after consulting with team doctors, he opted to have the operation, which is scheduled for Tuesday. “They were saying when I was getting back there could be some strength issues, even still pain as I was returning to play,” Exum said. “I’m only 22 at the moment, and I think whether it be now or later, I think it’d be something I’d want to get fixed.”
  • Former Jazz power forward Joel Bolomboy became an unrestricted free agent after clearing waivers today, according to the RealGM transactions page. The 52nd pick in the 2016 draft, Bolomboy spent most of last season in the G League and played just 12 games for Utah.
  • Thunder forward Paul George said he felt “nauseous” watching the injury to the Celtics’ Gordon Hayward Tuesday night, relays Royce Young of ESPN. George went through a similar experience in 2014, fracturing the tibia and fibula in his right leg while playing for Team USA in an exhibition game. “It just brought me back to Vegas and when it happened to me, my incident,” George said. “Immediately I felt devastated. I was like nauseous watching it, just going back to that place. Immediately after it happened I texted Gordon. We talked last night. I just tried to give him words of encouragement, just tried to be there for him.” George missed almost an entire season after his injury, returning for the final six games.

Northwest Notes: Thunder, Harris, Dudley

The Thunder have three players who’ve grown used to getting the final shot over the course of long, impressive careers. Now, Royce Young of ESPN writes, they’ll have to figure out who gets the ball when the game is on the line.

While Russell Westbrook was the painfully obvious choice last season, he’s joined on the Thunder by Carmelo Anthony and Paul George. Both Anthony and George have traditionally been the focal point of their teams’ offenses and were often the go-to options down the stretch, the latter even going so far as to lambaste former teammate C.J. Miles for taking a last-second shot in the playoffs last spring.

Carmelo’s been a closeout guy the places he’s been, the same thing with Paul. But any time you have a team you have to do it by finding the open man,” Thunder head coach Billy Donovan said. “Clearly for us last year, somebody creating and generating a shot for himself or someone else, it was Russell. But obviously now with Carmelo and Paul being here, I think it’s about making the right play and right decision.

One knock on the Thunder in the past has been their reliance on isolation basketball when the game is on the long. Considering the roster balance last season, that style of play was more or less expected. With a number of legitimate offensive threats in 2017/18, however, the expectations for ball movement – and making sound decisions – should rise.

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • Details on Gary Harris‘ contract have emerged, Bobby Marks of ESPN writes. The cap hit for the Nuggets guard in 2018/19 will be $16.5MM and that mark will rise annually until the deal terminates at $20.5MM in 2021/22. There are also $2.5MM of additional, unlikely, bonuses each year.
  • There’s no clear frontrunner to fill the primary backup power forward role for the Nuggets this offseason. Chris Dempsey of Altitude Sports writes about how the changing NBA could impact Denver’s frontcourt depth chart in 2017/18.
  • A prediction that the Timberwolves could send Cole Aldrich and a second-round pick to the Suns for Jared Dudley has legs, Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News tweets. Minnesota has been particularly interested in Dudley’s recovery from offseason toe surgery.

Northwest Notes: George, Nurkic, Nuggets, Wolves

Paul George loves the excitement in Oklahoma City, especially with the reigning Most Valuable Player, Russell Westbrook, and 10-time All-Star Carmelo Anthony on the same team. Chris Mannix of The Vertical writes that George is optimistic and has found a comfort zone with the Thunder. Yet, the ex-Pacer simultaneously wants head coach Billy Donovan to put him in uncomfortable situations as a challenge.

A Los Angeles native, George has been rumored to join his hometown Lakers for a while. There were rumblings all offseason that George’s goal is to end up home in California — whether it was this season or when he hits free agency next summer. However, George tells Mannix that L.A. isn’t on his mind as he focuses on succeeding with the Thunder.

“I’m committed here, we’re all committed,” George said. “We want this to happen and we want this to work really well. Once we get on the court, it’s been like magic. We understand one another, we have a feel for one another, we know each other’s games so well. We want to make the most out of it, to be in the best position to succeed.”

George and the Thunder may be in a position where they have a one-year window before he departs for his home team. But he has made it clear he wants to win before he makes any long-term decisions.

Below you can check out other news around the Northwest Division:

  • Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic will miss the team’s Wednesday game against Phoenix due to a concussion, and may end up sitting out the rest of the preseason, writes Mike Richman of The Oregonian. Nurkic is eligible for an extension up until October 16, so by the time he takes the floor next for Portland, he may have a new deal in hand or be preparing to play out a contract year.
  • ESPN’s Micah Adams writes that the Nuggets‘ blueprint to build a championship contending team is eerily similar to how the Warriors went from Western Conference contender to budding dynasty.
  • Veteran Jameer Nelson is back in the competition for the Nuggets‘ starting point guard job after battling a toe injury, Gina Mizell of The Denver Post writes.
  • Timberwolves‘ head coach Tom Thibodeau has a roster with several players he coached in Chicago with the Bulls, which has made for a comfortable environment, Jerry Zgoda of The Star Tribune writes.
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