Fred VanVleet

Texas Notes: Spurs, Luka, VanVleet, Thompson

Mavericks All-Star guard Luka Doncic appears to be growing as a leader in Dallas, opines Eddie Sefko of After Dallas survived a poor shooting night from its best player to beat the Spurs 113-107 this past Tuesday, Doncic expressed his gratitude to his teammates.

“One of the biggest things after the game is he thanked his teammates in the locker room for picking him up,” head coach Jason Kidd said. “When a leader says that, those are big words. You come into the locker room and you don’t shoot the ball extremely well, but you rely on being the quarterback and other guys picked him up.”

There’s more out of the Lone Star State:

  • Standout Spurs rookie center Victor Wembanyama is relishing his tenure under five-time title-winning head coach Gregg Popovich, writes Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News. “It’s pretty precious and one of the reasons that make this place the best place,” Wembanyama said.
  • Veteran Spurs point guard Devonte’ Graham has emerged as a locker room leader with the club this season, despite not seeing much time on the hardwood, Orsborn adds. “Obviously, we are not going to be playing much basketball in late April, but Devonte’ Graham on our team has held us together,” Popovich said. “He comes out every day whether at shootaround or practice or whatever we might be doing and is in the middle of everything, upbeat.” 
  • The league has rescinded a technical foul assessed to Rockets point guard Fred VanVleet during the team’s 127-117 victory over the Bulls on Thursday, per Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (Twitter link).
  • Rockets rookie forward Amen Thompson has been frequently tasked with covering opposing centers defensively, with starting Houston five Alperen Sengun now out for the season, writes Feigen in another piece. Head coach Ime Udoka has been able to mitigate the 6’7″ Thompson’s lack of a jumper by exploiting his athleticism in matchups against bigger, less mobile centers. “Him in the roll, him in the pocket with his passing ability is an asset to have,” Udoka said. “We’ve mentioned guys like Ben Simmons, guys like Giannis (Antetokounmpo) who have done similar things at times in their career. He can learn to implement those things.” Across his last five contests, Thompson has averaged 16.4 PPG on 64.2% shooting from the floor, along with 9.4 RPG, 3.0 APG, and 1.2 SPG. “You’ve seen him improve just with the playing time alone, let alone the role we’re asking him to do,” Udoka continued. “A guy that’s had the ball in his hands his whole career, you put him out there with Fred and Jalen (Green) in the starting lineup now, you kind of have to divide those opportunities, the ball-handling duties. He does impact it in other ways.”

Southwest Notes: Rockets, Pelicans, Mavs, Brunson

Rockets head coach Ime Udoka said he was considering making changes to the starting lineup just before the All-Star break, but with the opening night starting five healthy again, he wants to give the group more time to show what it can do, at least for now, according to Danielle Lerner of The Houston Chronicle (subscriber link).

Took a look at some things over the last 27 or so games,” Udoka said. “I think I cut 54 (games) in half and wanted to get a look when we are more whole. Looking at Dillon (Brooks) missing nine games, Fred (VanVleet) missing the last five, Jabari (Smith) missing four, and the ups and downs we had to start those games with different lineups. I felt we played a lot better, obviously, in the first 27 than the last 27. So I want to get back to that consistency, and we’ll take a look at our group going forward as is and see if we get back to the consistency and competitiveness that we had in the first 27.”

As Lerner writes, the Rockets are 18-17 with VanVleet, Jalen Green, Brooks, Smith and Alperen Sengun starting, but just 6-13 with any other lineups. They’ve also gone 1-6 without VanVleet this season. The veteran guard will be active for the back-to-back set Thursday and Friday after missing Houston’s previous five games with a left adductor strain.

I had a little bit of an extended break, so it’s really good for me, obviously, to rehab and get back healthy,” VanVleet said, per Lerner. “I had a good week to train and get some good work in. So feeling good and just excited to be back with the group.”

Rookie wing Cam Whitmore, who missed the last three games heading into the break with a sprained ankle, is expected to return this week, Lerner adds, while second-year forward Tari Eason was being evaluated by a doctor on Wednesday to determine a prognosis for his leg injury, which has kept him out for 32 games in 2023/24.

Here’s more from the Southwest:

  • After competing in the play-in tournament the past two seasons, once advancing to the playoffs and once being immediately eliminated, the Pelicans hope to avoid the tournament altogether by making the playoffs outright in 2023/24, per Christian Clark of “It’s definitely one of our goals,” head coach Willie Green said. “To take another step. That step for us is to not be in the play-in. We can control our own destiny with piling up as many wins as we can.” After winning seven of eight leading into the break, New Orleans is currently 33-22, the No. 5 seed in the West. However, the Pelicans only lead the No. 8 seed Kings by one-and-a-half games.
  • Coach Jason Kidd may be preaching patience but the time for the Mavericks to win is now, Kevin Sherrington of the Dallas Morning News argues. Dallas is sitting in seventh place in the West but possesses the league’s most explosive backcourt, along with frontcourt upgrades made at the trade deadline.
  • Knicks guard Jalen Brunson confirmed that he wanted to stay with the Mavericks, but said they didn’t negotiate with him seriously enough during his walk year in 2021/22. Brunson would have signed for much less than he received from the Knicks if the Mavs hadn’t balked at a four-year extension early in the process. He made those comments during a podcast as relayed by Andrew Battifarano of the New York Post. “I really did want to stay in Dallas,” Brunson said on the “All The Smoke” podcast with Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes. “Before my fourth season in Dallas, my last season in Dallas, we try to extend our contract — whatever we can get. The most we can get is like four years and $55 million. And obviously we wanted to do that, I wanted to stay there and I thought I would be there for a long time. I liked my role there.”

Dana Gauruder contributed to this report.

Injury Notes: VanVleet, Brunson, Middleton, Robinson, GPII

Rockets point guard Fred VanVleet, who missed Tuesday’s loss in Indiana due to a left adductor strain, will be sidelined for at least three more games, according to Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (subscription required). That means VanVleet will be out for Friday’s return to Toronto in addition to games vs. Atlanta on Saturday and New York next Monday.

“Probably around All-Star break,” head coach Ime Udoka said when asked when VanVleet might return. “We’ll see. Who knows if that’ll take into All-Star break or right before the break?”

As Feigen writes, the Rockets’ final game before the All-Star break is next Wednesday in Memphis, then the team isn’t in action until the following Thursday (February 22) in New Orleans. Pushing VanVleet’s return until after the break would give him an extra eight days to recover, but if he’s able to play on Feb. 14, he’d also get those eight days of rest following his first game back.

Here are a few more injury updates from around the league:

  • One current Eastern Conference All-Star and one three-time East All-Star exited their respective games early on Tuesday due to ankle injuries. Knicks guard Jalen Brunson turned his right ankle in the fourth quarter vs. Memphis, but appears to have avoided a severe sprain, per Ian Begley of (Twitter video link). Meanwhile, Bucks forward Khris Middleton left the Footprint Center in Phoenix wearing a walking boot and using crutches after spraining his left ankle in the first quarter, per Jim Owczarski of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Head coach Doc Rivers said X-rays on Middleton’s ankle were negative.
  • Knicks center Mitchell Robinson, who has been out since mid-December after undergoing ankle surgery, will begin on-court shooting shortly after the All-Star break, head coach Tom Thibodeau said on Tuesday, per Stefan Bondy of The New York Post. There’s still hope that Robinson will be able to return before the end of the season.
  • The Warriors announced on Tuesday in a press release that Gary Payton II is making good progress from the left hamstring strain that has sidelined him since January 2 and is now considered day-to-day. However, according to Anthony Slater of The Athletic (Twitter link), Payton is unlikely to return during the team’s current road trip, which concludes with a back-to-back set in Philadelphia on Wednesday and Indiana on Thursday. Andrew Wiggins (left ankle contusion), on the other hand, is probable to play on Wednesday after missing Monday’s contest, says Slater.

Western Notes: Wolves, Graham, Suns, VanVleet, Rockets

The Timberwolves‘ front office has been scouring the trade market in the hopes of addressing a couple areas of concern on the bench and better positioning the team for a deep postseason run, writes Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. According to Krawczynski, Minnesota would like to bolster its second unit by adding another ball-handler and/or a scorer or shooter.

Krawczynski confirms a number of previously reported point guard targets for the Wolves, including Tyus Jones and Monte Morris, while also naming Dennis Schröder and Kyle Lowry as a couple more players of interest. Lowry would have to be a buyout target, since Minnesota isn’t in position to match his $29.7MM salary on the trade market.

If the Wolves focus on a scorer rather than a point guard, Alec Burks and Bones Hyland are among the players who could be fits, Krawczynski writes.

Krawczynski doesn’t expect Minnesota to move Kyle Anderson, referring to him as a key part of the team’s defense and an important voice in the locker room. That’s notable, since hanging onto Anderson and their other five highest-paid players (Rudy Gobert, Karl-Anthony Towns, Mike Conley, Anthony Edwards, and Naz Reid) would leave the Wolves with no trade chips earning more than $5MM, limiting their ability to salary-match for players earning much beyond the mid-level.

Here are a few more notes and rumors from around the Western Conference:

  • Veteran point guard Devonte’ Graham hasn’t griped about not having a role with the Spurs this season and has enjoyed being in San Antonio, but he acknowledged that he wouldn’t be opposed to a trade if it gives him an opportunity to play more, writes Jeff McDonald of The San Antonio Express-News. “I mean, yeah,” Graham said. “Everybody wants to play.”
  • Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic previews the trade deadline for the Suns, noting that a potential package of Nassir Little and second-round picks hasn’t generated a ton of interest among prospective trade partners.
  • The Rockets will be without starting point guard Fred VanVleet on Tuesday in Indiana, according to Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle, who says VanVleet has been ruled out due to a left adductor strain. That injury often requires a multi-game absence, but Houston hasn’t issued an update on the guard’s status beyond Tuesday.
  • Rockets center Jock Landale and forward Jae’Sean Tate are trying to tune out the trade rumors surrounding them as Thursday’s deadline nears, Feigen writes in another story for The Chronicle. “Whether they choose to trade me or keep me is completely up to them. I signed here to play for (head coach) Ime (Udoka),” Landale said. “I signed here to help the Rockets to get back to their winning ways. It’s not a decision that’s in my power or my control. We’ll see what happens.”

Rockets Notes: Whitmore, Thompson, Brooks, Adams, Eason, VanVleet

The Rockets got 83 of their 135 points from players who are 21 or younger in a Friday win against the Raptors, observes Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen. Rookies Cam Whitmore (25 points) and Amen Thompson (19 points) both secured career highs in the victory, putting an exclamation point on impressive recent stretches for both players.

Whitmore has scored 104 points in 109 minutes over the past five games and became the second-youngest player behind Kobe Bryant to score at least 25 points in 25 or fewer minutes, according to Feigen. He wasn’t named to the Rising Stars Event, but since the start of January, Whitmore is averaging 13.8 points per game. This comes after the 19-year-old slipped to No. 20 after draft night after long having been viewed as a probable lottery pick.

The Rising Stars, draft, everything, it goes on,” Whitmore said. “I feel like I’m underrated, to be honest.

The Rockets are currently just outside the play-in picture at 23-25, but they’ve already surpassed last season’s total of 22 wins. Three of their five starters (Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun, Jabari Smith) are 21 or younger.

We know what we have going forward,” head coach Ime Udoka said. “We just, as much as we can, want to expedite the process. I think everyone is showing growth and progress this year. Can’t wait to see what they become. We do have a bunch of guys that we love. They’re taking the next step in front of our eyes.

We have more Rockets notes:

  • Swingman Dillon Brooks is excited to have former Grizzlies teammate Steven Adams on board after the Rockets acquired him this week, according to Feigen. “[Adams] was super excited,” Brooks said. “I told him, Houston is a great place. He’ll love it. He asked me about Ime. Told him, ‘Ime’s a players’ coach. Everything is for the players.’ That’s what he’s really about because he has his own routine, his own stuff to get himself ready. He’s got a lot to teach.” Brooks and Udoka raved about the physicality Adams can bring to the Rockets once he gets healthy.
  • Following a solid start to the season, forward Tari Eason hasn’t played since Jan. 1 due to a leg injury. He could be cleared to play as soon as next week, Feigen writes in another piece, and he reflected on the recovery process. “It’s been difficult, I’d say mentally, probably more than anything, just dealing with being out and having to watch the guys play and stuff like that,” Eason said. “It’s been hard, especially because I’ve never really been in a position like this. But there’s been lessons, so I feel like I’ve grown. I’ll come back stronger.
  • While he’s enjoying his time in Houston, guard Fred VanVleet often reflects on his time in Toronto, writes’s Michael Grange. VanVleet spent seven years with the Raptors, helping deliver a title in 2019. However, he knew there was a chance he wouldn’t be a Raptor forever. “I got to closely monitor Kyle [Lowry] go through the change, closely monitor DeMar [DeRozan]. Obviously those are two of my closest friends. Seeing those guys [move on] you say, ‘OK, it’s possible.’ Like, if we can trade DeMar, who the hell am I?” VanVleet said. “If Kyle got to the point where it was time for him to go — he’s the best Raptor of all time — who the hell am I? You have to be realistic with yourself. It always is a dream of a player to kind of stay with one team his whole career. But it’s getting less and less realistic these days.

Southwest Notes: VanVleet, Whitmore, Jackson, Pelicans

The Rockets paid a huge price to add Fred VanVleet in free agency. He’s given them an unexpected bonus — a shot-blocking specialist from the backcourt, Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle notes.

VanVleet holds the team lead with 41 blocks. He’s fourth among NBA guards in total blocks, though he believes some of those blocks could have been called steals.

“They’re strips, but I’ll take the blocks,” VanVleet said. “I think any deflection is good. I mean, this is probably my lowest activity I’ve had as a defender in a while. Just getting used to Coach’s (Ime Udoka) system. It’s a little bit different than how we played in Toronto. But there’s all different types of defense and rim protection. Whether it’s strips or deflections or making guys uncomfortable, I pride myself in having good hands.”

We have more from the Southwest Division:

  • Rockets rookie forward Cam Whitmore was given an invitation to participate in the dunk contest during All-Star weekend but he declined, Feigen reports. Whitmore is willing to participate in future All-Star dunk contests but needs to come up with some creative dunks in the meantime. “I got asked twice for the dunk contest and I said no. I’m waiting until the time comes,” he said. “I don’t see myself as a dunker. I don’t have anything up my sleeve right now. But in year two, year three, when I establish myself as somebody in this league, yeah I’ll do it.”
  • Did GG Jackson come out too soon to the NBA? One talent evaluator interviewed by Damichael Cole of the Memphis Commercial Appeal feels that way. Jackson was selected with the No. 45 pick by the Grizzlies last June. Rafael Barlowe said Jackson might have cashed in as the top pick in this year’s draft if he had stayed in college. Jackson has scored in double digits in five of his last eight NBA appearances. “If he stayed in this class, he would have had another year of maturity, and the things that he’s doing right now, he’d be doing them on the college level,” Barlowe said. “I don’t think there would be anybody better.”
  • The Pelicans haven’t proven themselves against top-level competition, Christian Clark of the New Orleans Times-Picayune notes. This month, they have faced the Clippers, Nuggets, Suns, Thunder and Bucks and lost those matchups by an average of 18 points. “My biggest feeling about it is that we are capable, but we haven’t given ourselves a chance to win those types of games yet,” coach Willie Green said. “This is good experience for us coming down the stretch. We definitely know we have room for improvement.” New Orleans gave away a 17-point lead to Boston on Monday and lost, 118-112.

Rockets GM Stone Talks Strong Start, VanVleet, Green, Holiday, More

After winning no more than 22 games in a season for three straight years from 2020-23, the Rockets are off to a 13-11 start in 2023/24, and while they’re currently outside of the top eight in the Western Conference, they’re within three games of the No. 3 seed.

General manager Rafael Stone is happy with what he has seen from the team so far, but he’s certainly not celebrating the results of the first two months of the season, as he tells Kelly Iko of The Athletic.

“December is not the right period of time to measure how good any team is,” Stone said. “We feel good about the progress we’ve made to date, but it’s just too early to tell where exactly we are. We’re a quarter of the way through the season, not at the end of the season.

“… I think we’re happy with where the group has been to date. But again, the challenge is to make sure that we’re not complacent and that we keep improving because we do need to improve in all facets of the game.”

Stone praised the progress that young Rockets players like Alperen Sengun, Jabari Smith, and Tari Eason have made so far this fall, especially on the defensive end, and lauded the work the coaching staff has done to maximize the players’ strengths.

Stone’s conversation with Iko also covers many more topics and is worth checking out in full if you’re an Athletic subscriber, but here are a few highlights:

On his early impressions of major offseason addition Fred VanVleet:

“With Fred, we had all heard good things. But again, I take all that with a grain of salt. And so one thing that’s been nice is not only has he lived up to kind of those expectations, but he’s exceeded them. He’s just a great guy off the court. He’s been great for our group. He’s willing to talk and able to talk and communicate, but he’s mostly a quiet guy. What’s awesome about him is that he says everything that absolutely needs to be said. He provides a voice every time we need a voice. A nice guy who’s incredibly tough, tough-minded, physically tough. We’ve been really happy with Fred.”

On the impact of under-the-radar free agent signings Jeff Green and Aaron Holiday:

“Well, both of those guys are guys that we’ve liked for a long time. We were lucky that they were free agents at a time when we could play in free agency. And so yeah, they’ve done well and I’m happy for that. Jeff’s a super veteran player, but Aaron’s been around for a while, too. So they both have come in and done exactly what we thought they would do. And we thought that with our current mix, they fit well. And it’s been nice that through a quarter season that’s been the way it’s played out.”

On whether the Rockets will continue to aggressively pursue roster upgrades leading up to the trade deadline:

“We like our current group. We like the way they are playing on the court, we like the way they’re interacting. We think there’s a lot of room for improvement just in the guys we have playing better and getting better. So by no means, this year at least, are we aggressively hunting a particular deal or series of deals.

“Having said that, it’s kind of my job to talk to everybody and to hear what other teams are trying to do and see if there are things that make sense for both parties. And we’ll make sure we make every phone call and run out every ground ball. At least right now, we need a better sense of exactly where our team is before we start thinking, ‘Oh, we need to add this.’ We’ll have a better sense, honestly, a game from now, right? Like every game gives us critical information.

“I think it’s too early to predict how active we will or will not be at the trade deadline or in the days in between. But we are not feeling any need to do something, per se. We like where this group is and mostly we want there to be internal improvement.”

Southwest Notes: VanVleet, Mavs’ Sale, Pelicans, Williamson

Fred VanVleet is averaging 37.8 minutes per game, the highest mark of any NBA player besides Philadelphia’s Tyrese Maxey. VanVleet, who signed a whopping three-year, $128.5MM contract to join the Rockets this summer, doesn’t mind a heavy workload.

“I’m a gamer, man,” VanVleet told Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. “I never want to come out of the game. I’d play 48 if they would let me.”

VanVleet feels he needs to be on the court most of the time to organize his young teammates.

“Some of the things I bring, it’s hard to replace,” VanVleet said. “With such a young team, obviously, I have to do a little bit more. It’s something I have been accustomed to, and actually, I take a lot of pride in it.”

We have more from the Southwest Division:

  • The Mavericks franchise is even more valuable than previously reported. With Mark Cuban selling the majority share of the franchise to Las Vegas Sands Corp., the valuation is expected to be approximately $4 billion, according to Marc Stein (Twitter link). The valuation was previously said to be in the $3.5 billion range. A Board of Governors vote on the proposed sale is reportedly scheduled to take place on Dec. 2o.
  • The Pelicans entered their game against Minnesota on Monday still smarting from their in-season tournament semifinal loss to the Lakers, according to Christian Clark of the New Orleans Times Picayune. They lost by 44 points in a national-televised pounding. “We addressed the game,” coach Willie Green said. “… It was a letdown. It’s not our standard. It’s not who we’ve been. We wanted to get back to practice as soon as we could.”
  • It’s time for Pelicans forward Zion Williamson to show what he’s truly made of, William Guillory of The Athletic opines. After an embarrassing performance against the Lakers, Williamson took hits in the media, particularly for his weight and conditioning. Williamson needs to channel that criticism constructively and learn how to deal with failure, Guillory writes.

Southwest Notes: Jones, Doncic, Green, Giddey, VanVleet

Herbert Jones made an immediate impact after returning from a three-game absence due to a right fibula contusion. Jones sparked the Pelicans on a defensive end as they avenged a loss to the Mavericks two days earlier. Two days after Luka Doncic dropped 30 points on New Orleans, Jones held the Mavs star to 16 points in the Pelicans’ 131-110 win.

Doncic gave high praise to the Pelicans swingman after the game, Rod Walker of the New Orleans Times-Picayune notes. “He’s just a great defender,” Doncic said. “You could see his impact today when he wasn’t there for the first game (Sunday). I really admire that guy.”

We have more from the Southwest Division:

  • Speaking of Doncic, he wasn’t exactly thrilled with the in-season tournament court at New Orleans’ Smoothie King Center, he told Brad Townsend of the Dallas Morning News. “I mean, outside all of the colors the court today was really bad,” the Mavericks star said. “It was really slippery. And then some places the ball didn’t really bounce. So you know, if we’re going to have these courts we’ve got to make sure that it’s a stable court, so you can play on it. Like in Dallas, you know? It wasn’t stable, so we had to change it.”
  • Veteran forward Jeff Green‘s minutes have fluctuated in his first nine games with the Rockets, but he has been more than just a veteran voice in the locker room, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (subscription required). Head coach Ime Udoka lauded Green for his versatility, noting that he has been a good fit as a small-ball five in certain lineups.
  • The Spurs’ No. 1 goal this offseason should be to bring in a lead ball-hander, Kelly Iko of The Athletic opines. A scout that Iko interviewed indicated that the Thunder’s Josh Giddey could be a future target, though there’s no indication Giddey will be available in the short term. Within the same mailbag, Iko gives the Rockets high praise for their Fred VanVleet addition in free agency. VanVleet has improved the club at both ends of the floor, empowered their young players and displayed his leadership skills, Iko notes.

Rockets Notes: Winning Streak, Udoka, VanVleet, Brooks

Ime Udoka has quickly turned his players into believers, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (subscription required). Winning their fourth consecutive game Wednesday night — and their third straight by 18 points or more — the Rockets looked like the team Udoka envisioned when he agreed to become their head coach. Houston forced the Lakers out of their normal offense, won the rebounding battle by a 57-34 margin and seemed more determined to get to every loose ball.

“They’re buying into what we’re asking them to do,” Udoka said. “You see the effort there and the attention to detail behind it.”

Udoka was brought in to change to culture of the organization after three years of rebuilding. Houston added veteran leadership by signing free agents Dillon Brooks, Fred VanVleet and Jeff Green and has looked like a completely different team, especially on defense.

“Just us being connected,” Jae’Sean Tatesaid. “We literally move as a unit out there and our communication is something that I haven’t experienced in the last few years here and it’s fun. I think that’s the biggest thing — that we are really having fun and we are trusting each other to be in the right spots and cover up for each other.”

There’s more from Houston:

  • Udoka was out of the NBA for an entire season after being suspended in Boston for an improper relationship with a female staff member, but those issues haven’t followed him to his new job, per Steve Bulpett of Heavy. “What happened in Boston is what happened in Boston,” a Rockets source told Bulpett. “It hasn’t come up with anyone.”
  • VanVleet has been a strong on-court leader and a perfect conduit for Udoka’s emphasis on toughness, Bulpett adds. VanVleet grew frustrated trying to deliver the same messages in Toronto, but his new teammates in Houston have been far more receptive. “He’s exactly what that group of guys needed,” another of Bulpett’s sources said. “Young guys all want to establish themselves when they show up in the league, and the way (VanVleet) plays shows them they can still get theirs — and get it easier — if they work through each other. And once a young guy starts to taste a little success, that’s a great motivator in itself.”
  • Before Wednesday’s game, LeBron James said he understands why the Rockets were willing to commit more than $80MM over four years to Brooks, his bitter playoff rival in Memphis, relays Dave McMenamin of ESPN. “I think in his case, he was worthy of the contract he got,” James said. “He’s put in the work since he came out of Oregon, and that’s what Houston found value in and he’s here.”