Jonas Valanciunas

Atlantic Notes: Valanciunas, Harris, Sixers, Knicks, Raptors Pick

There’s a sense that Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas won’t return to the team this offseason, and the Sixers could be an option for him in free agency. According to PHLY Sports’ Kyle Neubeck (Twitter link), Philadelphia “kicked the tires” on a trade for the big man earlier this season. Equipped with spending power this offseason, circling back to Valanciunas might make sense for the 76ers.

The 32-year-old big man would be arguably the best backup center that Joel Embiid has had in Philly. In his last three seasons with New Orleans, Valanciunas averaged 14.6 points and 10.1 rebounds per game while making 54.9% of his shots from the field.

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • In a mailbag previewing Philadelphia’s offseason, Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer writes that it would be shocking if Tobias Harris returned to the team, adding that he “strongly” believes Harris’ tenure in Philly is over. Pompey also sees the Sixers undergoing a complete roster overhaul this summer.
  • Bringing on Leon Rose and Tom Thibodeau — as well as acquiring players like Jalen Brunson and OG Anunoby — are obvious reasons for the Knicks‘ success this season. However, as detailed in a piece by ESPN’s Chris Herring, some of the moves they didn’t make also helped the Knicks achieve their best record in over a decade. While the Knicks were panned for missing out on the likes of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Donovan Mitchell over the past few years, it allowed them to maintain their assets and develop from within.
  • The Raptors are in a no-win situation at this week’s draft lottery, TSN’s Josh Lewenberg writes. The Raptors have the sixth-best odds at the top overall pick but in the likely event it falls out of the top six (54.2% chance), Toronto owes its pick to San Antonio as per the Jakob Poeltl trade in 2023. Keeping the pick and landing in the top six sounds good in theory, but in that event, the Raptors then owe a top-six protected pick in 2025, which would limit their flexibility going forward.

Pelicans Rumors: Zion, Ingram, Hawkins, Murphy, More

After being swept in the first round of the playoffs, head of basketball operations David Griffin said at the end of last month that the Pelicans are going to actively look to improve this summer. Those comments drew plenty of attention from rival executives, Michael Scotto told William Guillory of The Athletic on the latest HoopsHype podcast.

Scotto hears New Orleans plans to build around Zion Williamson and the Pelicans will be looking for “positional upgrades to improve their spacing” around the former No. 1 overall pick. Guillory confirms the team was pleased with Williamson’s progress — both on and off the court — particularly in the second half of the season.

Rival front offices view Brandon Ingram as the “most likely” Pelican to be dealt this offseason, per Scotto. As Scotto notes, Ingram is entering the final year of his contract, which will pay him $36MM in 2024/25.

According to Guillory, if Ingram were to hit unrestricted free agency in 2025, he would likely receive a max or near-max deal, which is what his camp would almost certainly be seeking in a potential extension. Still, trading Ingram after he was hampered by a knee injury and struggled mightily in the postseason isn’t ideal from a value perspective, so it’s challenging to come up with deals that make sense for New Orleans, Guillory observes.

Here’s more on the Pelicans from Scotto and Guillory:

  • Aside from finances, one of the reasons the Pelicans may be open to moving Ingram is they want to get more playing time for a pair of high-volume floor spacers in Jordan Hawkins and Trey Murphy, according to Scotto. Hawkins struggled to crack the rotation in the second half of his rookie campaign due to the team’s backcourt depth and his defensive shortcomings, Guillory notes, but the team remains high on his upside.
  • As for Murphy, he’ll be eligible for a rookie scale extension this summer, and Scotto believes the North Carolina native will be seeking a deal for at least $25MM annually, pointing to the contracts Devin Vassell and Jaden McDaniels signed last offseason as “starting points.” Guillory thinks the team would prefer to extend Murphy before next season begins rather than waiting until restricted free agency in 2025.
  • Scotto expressed skepticism that CJ McCollum will be traded due to his leadership and professionalism, and Guillory has heard similarly, stating that the 32-year-old guard likely has more value to the Pelicans than rival teams. McCollum also set a franchise record for three-pointers made in ’23/24, Guillory notes, so he’s certainly capable of spacing the floor.
  • There’s an expectation that Jonas Valanciunas will likely sign with a new team in free agency, per Scotto. Guillory says he’d be “pretty surprised” if the Lithuanian center returned to New Orleans after he was benched at times down the stretch of the season. While he wasn’t an ideal fit with Williamson, Valanciunas should have some value on the open market, Guillory adds, since he remains productive and has been quite durable throughout his career.
  • Another free agent who could be on the move is Naji Marshall, with Guillory stating the team is “pretty much sold that he’s leaving” due to financial reasons. The 26-year-old wing shot a career-best 38.7% from three, is a solid defender, and is one of the few Pelicans who played well in the postseason, so he’ll be a name to watch in free agency, Guillory notes.
  • While the Pelicans could decline their team option on Jose Alvarado to make him a restricted free agent, Guillory doesn’t think that will happen. Alvarado is “very motivated” to stay with New Orleans, but Guillory suggests the team will likely wait a year before deciding what to do with him.
  • The Pelicans could also make some minor changes to their coaching staff, Scotto reports.

Pelicans Notes: Offseason, Ingram, Center, Point Guard

Entering the final day of the regular season earlier this month, the Pelicans just needed a victory to secure the No. 6 seed in the West. However, they lost that game, lost their first play-in game, and lost star forward Zion Williamson in that contest to a hamstring injury that turned out to be a season-ender. New Orleans ultimately claimed the No. 8 seed in the West, but was quickly dispatched by the Thunder in a four-game sweep.

Speaking on Tuesday to reporters (Twitter video link), head of basketball operations David Griffin said there were “so many positives” to take away from the season, pointing to the Pelicans’ league-best 28-14 road record and their sixth-best net rating (+4.6). But while he acknowledged that the team was once again bitten by the injury bug at an inopportune time, he said the front office can’t just bring back the same group and hope for better health luck next season.

“In the past, we’ve always erred on the side of continuity, and our takeaway has always been, ‘Let’s see this group healthy.’ I think we’ve seen it enough,” Griffin said. “I think we had a really, really good opportunity to see Zion play a career high in games. I think we saw it for segments of time well enough to understand that we’ve got a lot of work to do. Because it is a historically good Western Conference, there are teams that didn’t make the playoffs that are going to get radically better this offseason. We need to do the same. I think you’ll see a real sense of urgency from all of us to do that.

“… I want to be really, really clear,” Griffin added (Twitter video link). “This is not going to be a summer of complacency. It’s time to get better.”

The Pelicans aren’t quite as loaded with draft assets as they once were, but they’re still in good position to make a deal heavy on picks. They control all their own future first-round selections, an unprotected Lakers first-rounder (they can take this year’s No. 17 pick or defer it to 2025), an unprotected Bucks first-rounder (2027), and swap rights with Milwaukee in 2026.

Here’s more on the Pelicans:

  • The Pelicans will face a significant decision this offseason on Brandon Ingram, as the star forward prepares to enter the final year of his maximum-salary contract following an ugly series vs. the Thunder (14.3 PPG on .345/.250/.895 shooting). As Christian Clark of NOLA.com writes, if they don’t want to enter next season with Ingram on an expiring deal, the Pels will have to determine this summer whether to trade or extend him. “That’s not in the front of my mind right now,” Ingram said after Monday’s Game 4 loss. “This is a place where I got my first All-Star (appearance). Where they let me be myself. I have good relationships with everyone. But you never know. I will take a few weeks off and think about what’s best for me, what’s best for my family. Then take it from there.”
  • While sorting out Ingram’s future will likely be their top priority, the Pelicans have plenty of important items on their summer to-do list, according to offseason previews from ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Insider link) and Mark Deeks of HoopsHype. Trey Murphy will be eligible for a rookie scale extension, Naji Marshall will be an unrestricted free agent, and New Orleans would presumably like to find a center who can reliably close games after having to bench both Jonas Valanciunas and Larry Nance in certain matchups. Valanciunas will also be a free agent this offseason.
  • Adding a traditional point guard to their roster may be another item on the Pelicans’ offseason to-do list. Asked today about that possibility, Ingram acknowledged, “It would definitely be helpful” (Twitter link via Clark). CJ McCollum has been New Orleans’ primary point guard since being acquired from Portland, but it’s not his original position.

And-Ones: Media Rights, Awards, Hall Of Fame, Lithuania, More

The NBC is making a strong play for the right to broadcast NBA games beginning in 2025/26, according to Joe Flint, Amol Sharma, and Isabella Simonetti of The Wall Street Journal (subscription required). People familiar with the situation tell the WSJ trio that Comcast’s NBCUniversal is prepared to pay $2.5 billion per year for a package of NBA games.

As we wrote last week, Amazon Prime Video is in strong position to become a broadcast partner for the NBA, with ESPN/ABC (Disney) also making good progress in talks.

After operating with just two partners (ESPN/ABC and TNT) in its current media rights deal, the NBA is looking to expand to at least three partners this time around. If Amazon and NBC were to join the mix with Disney, it could leave TNT (Warner Bros. Discovery) on the outside looking in, though the league reportedly hasn’t ruled out making four separate deals.

As Flint, Sharma, and Simonetti detail, TNT Sports paid about $1.2 billion per year for its NBA rights the previous media rights agreement, which will expire after the 2024/25 season. TNT remains involved in negotiations with the league and will have the right to match NBC’s offer, but would be looking at a substantial increase in cost.

If Comcast is able to reach a deal with the NBA, their package would include both regular season and playoff games on NBC and their streaming service Peacock, according to the WSJ report.

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

  • After revealing its Executive of the Year winner on Tuesday, the NBA has two more minor award announcements on tap this week, per the league (Twitter link) — Teammate of the Year will be announced on Wednesday, with the Hustle Award to follow on Thursday.
  • The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame recently announced that its enshrinement ceremony for 2024 has been postponed from August to October, primarily for Olympic-related logistical reasons. Vince Carter and Chauncey Billups are among the headliners of the ’24 class, which was revealed earlier this month.
  • Eight years after being told by a Pistons doctor that he wouldn’t be able to play basketball again due to a back injury, Lithuanian big man Donatas Motiejunas remains active in the EuroLeague and has played in 123 consecutive games. In a conversation with Donatas Urbonas of BasketNews.com (subscription required), Motiejunas discussed how that incident – which resulted in a voided deadline-day trade – changed the trajectory of his professional career.
  • Speaking of Lithuanian big men, Kings center Domantas Sabonis and Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas are both expected to suit up for Lithuania’s national team in their Olympic qualifying tournament in Puerto Rico this summer, according to head coach Kazys Maksvytis. Eurohoops has the story, via a report from Lithuanian outlet 15min.lt.
  • With LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Stephen Curry combining for a single playoff win, this spring feels like a passing-of-the-torch moment for the NBA, according to John Hollinger of The Athletic.

Pelicans Notes: Ingram, Turnovers, Nance Jr., Series Deficit, Williamson

Brandon Ingram missed 12 games with a bone bruise in his left knee late in the regular season. With the Pelicans trailing the Thunder 3-0 in their first-round series, Ingram admits he’s not playing at 100%, William Guillory of The Athletic writes.

“I feel like I’ve had spurts where I feel good, but not completely. I’m not happy with none of my performances from the playoffs,” Ingram said. “I don’t think I’m myself completely. I’ll continue to push forward and try to find mine. But I can’t just worry about myself. I’ve got to worry about my teammates … making sure they’re in rhythm. If they’re in rhythm, they’ll find me in rhythm, too.”

We have more on the Pelicans:

  • In the same story, Guillory notes that the team is averaging more turnovers per game (17.7) than every other playoff team and its total turnovers (53) are only three fewer than its total number of assists (56). The Pelicans committed 21 turnovers in their 106-85 Game 3 loss. “The turnovers and the lack of confidence shooting the ball when we have open looks, that’s difficult (to overcome),” coach Willie Green said. “It’s been difficult to generate points. … We can’t kill ourselves with the turnovers, and that’s what we did (in Game 3).”
  • Larry Nance Jr. started the second half at center in place of Jonas Valanciunas. The latter wound up playing just 12 minutes, Sports Illustrated’s Kade Kimble notes. The league’s new Coach of the Year forced Green to make an adjustment. “It’s just a matter of forcing the opponent to pivot. They’ve forced us to pivot at different times this series. There’s a push-pull with that,” Thunder coach Mark Daigneault said. “Whatever they choose to do, we gotta be able to attack it and adapt to it.”
  • The Pelicans have been swept only once in franchise history, falling to Golden State in the 2014/15 playoffs. Even if New Orleans manages to extend the series by winning Game 4 on Monday night, there’s no miraculous comeback in the cards for this year’s group, Rod Walker of the New Orleans Times Picayune opines.
  • Zion Williamson won’t come to the Pelicans’ rescue, at least not on Monday. He’s listed as out for Game 4 due to his left hamstring strain, according to a team press release.

Atlantic Notes: DiVincenzo, Embiid, Melton, Nets, Bridges

Knicks swingman Donte DiVincenzo is one of several notable players who will be ineligible for end-of-season awards this season despite playing in far more than 65 games, as James Herbert of CBS Sports observes. DiVincenzo appeared in 81 games this season, but technically didn’t meet the NBA’s 65-game criteria.

As we outlined in our glossary entry on the NBA’s new 65-game rule, a game only counts toward the 65-game minimum if the player logged at least 20 minutes. A player is also permitted to play 20+ minutes in just 63 games as long as there were at least two additional games in which he played 15+ minutes.

DiVincenzo played 20+ minutes in 62 games and logged at least 19 minutes in seven more, including one in which he played 19:51. If he had reached the 20-minute threshold in one of those games, he would’ve been award-eligible, but he just missed out. The Knicks wing would have been included on Most Improved Player ballots from multiple voters, including JJ Redick, who took to Twitter to express displeasure with the rule.

As Herbert points out, DiVincenzo’s teammate Isaiah Hartenstein is another player who might have received award consideration but is considered ineligible despite appearing in 75 games, since he played 20+ minutes in just 50 of those contests. Warriors forward Jonathan Kuminga, another Most Improved candidate, played in 74 games but had 20+ minutes in just 61 of them, so he’s also ineligible.

Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas (82 starts), Mavericks wing Derrick Jones (76 games, including 66 starts), and Clippers swingman Terance Mann (71 starts) likely wouldn’t have been serious candidates for any awards, but they’re a few of the other players who paradoxically failed to meet the 65-game criteria due to the nature of the rule. For what it’s worth, Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News (Twitter link) says he would have put Jones on his All-Defensive Second Team if he could have.

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • As Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer writes, the Sixers are once again entering the postseason with questions about the health of Joel Embiid, who sat out Sunday’s regular season finale and has played just five games since returning from knee surgery. However, Embiid is on track to play in Wednesday’s play-in game. He practiced on both Monday and Tuesday, per head coach Nick Nurse; 76ers guard De’Anthony Melton (back) did not (Twitter links via Kyle Neubeck and Derek Bodner of PHLY Sports).
  • After a disappointing season in Brooklyn, the Nets‘ roster figures to undergo an overhaul this summer, and the players who finished this season with the team are bracing for that possibility, writes Brian Lewis of The New York Post. “I don’t think (any) of my years in the league I had the same team two years in a row,” Dorian Finney-Smith said. “Even if you win, teams still make moves, so I can only imagine how this summer’s gonna be.”
  • Nets forward Mikal Bridges admitted that it was a challenge to maintain a positive outlook during a “really tough” season and said that working on “being better mentally” will be one of his goals for this offseason, Lewis writes for The New York Post. He pointed to a December 27 loss to Milwaukee in which the Nets rested most of their regulars and the disappointing road trip that followed as low points. “The Milwaukee game and losing on that road trip, that was tough. I think that was a part of it. That didn’t help. For the players, I know that I was pretty hurt from that, I was pretty pissed off about that situation,” Bridges said. “That’s just part of it. I think I’ve failed at that part mentally. I was doing pretty good mentally, but I didn’t do a pretty good job of that this year. I let my emotions get to me.”

Southwest Notes: Sengun, Wemby, J. Green, Pelicans

Rockets center Alperen Sengun, who has been sidelined since March 10 due to knee and ankle injuries, had hoped to get back on the court in the season’s final week, but it doesn’t look like it’ll happen, writes Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (subscription required).

“I would say (it’s) unlikely,” head coach Ime Udoka said. “Alperen still has swelling. A lot was going to be based on our results and how we finished the season. No need to really rush him back.”

Sengun enjoyed a breakout year for the Rockets this season, averaging 21.1 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 5.0 assists in 32.5 minutes per game across 63 starts. He’ll be eligible for a rookie scale extension as of this July.

Here’s more from around the Southwest:

  • The Spurs will hold Victor Wembanyama out of action on Wednesday at Oklahoma City in the second end of a back-to-back set due to right ankle management, writes Andrew Lopez of ESPN. San Antonio appears to just be playing it safe with its franchise player as the season winds down, but it means Wembanyama won’t get one more matchup with fellow rookie standout Chet Holmgren. The two big men are virtual locks to be the top two vote-getters for this season’s Rookie of the Year award.
  • Mavericks wing Josh Green has missed the club’s past 12 games due to a sprained right ankle, but he appears to be on the verge of a return. As Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News tweets, Green’s status for Wednesday’s game in Miami has been upgraded to questionable.
  • The Pelicans are getting more comfortable playing small-ball, according to Christian Clark of NOLA.com, who notes that Jonas Valanciunas‘ playing time has declined in recent weeks — the veteran center played a season-low four minutes in Sunday’s win over Phoenix. “It’s something I have been watching and studying and feeling for a long time,” head coach Willie Green said. “We are getting more and more comfortable playing a small unit. We got to continue to rebound. We outrebounded them (on Sunday). When we go small, play fast and open up the floor, it’s harder for teams to load up the paint on us.”

Southwest Notes: Green, Ivey, Wemby, Popovich, Pelicans

Early-morning workouts and late-night phone calls with assistant coach Royal Ivey have been a factor in Jalen Green breakout this season, according to the Rockets guard, but Ivey is happy to give all the credit to Green, per Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (subscription required).

“It’s all kudos to Jalen,” Ivey said. “I’m just empowering him and encouraging him. He’s doing the work. At the end of the day, that’s a credit to his resiliency, his determination. And not being in that situation before, facing adversity, sitting down at the end of games, not being in (the game) in defensive possessions, he took that personally. This is the result of that.”

Green’s play earlier in the season was up and down, but he has been one of the league’s top scorers in recent weeks, averaging 28.0 points and 3.9 assists on .479/.394/.798 shooting in his past 17 games. Ivey said the former No. 2 overall pick has had the ball in his hands more lately and has looked more comfortable reading defenses and being aggressive.

“I can say his decision-making is A-1, making the right reads,” Ivey said. “And the finishing, it’s been (about) concentration, not looking for fouls. He’s so athletic, if he gets to his launchpad, good things happen. He’s working with his finishing every day. He’s been more assertive to get to that rim. I just think it’s confidence. It goes back to his mindset. That’s everything.”

Here’s more from around the Southwest:

  • Spurs star rookie Victor Wembanyama admitted he was a bit surprised to be hit with a $25K fine for throwing the game ball into the stands at the end of last Friday’s win over New York, calling it “funny,” according to Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News. “When I threw the ball, I thought, ‘Yeah, I remember players being fined for this,'” Wembanyama said. “But they always threw it in a bad way. I threw it to please somebody. It’s not like I was trying to hurt anybody.”
  • Warriors head coach Steve Kerr doesn’t expect long-tenured Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to call it a career anytime soon, as Orsborn relays. “He was supposed to have retired five years ago, so why would we predict he is going to retire any time soon?” Kerr said when asked if he expects Popovich to fulfill the five-year contract he signed in 2023. “He is still going strong and still doing a great job and loving his work, so I can see it.”
  • Pelicans head coach Willie Green is still figuring out how to distribute minutes at center as the postseason nears, writes Christian Clark of NOLA.com. The team has gone back and forth between Jonas Valanciunas and Larry Nance Jr. at the five for much of the season, depending on the matchup. However, Green has also experimented with other options, including using Zion Williamson in that role for the last five minutes of Monday’s game vs. Phoenix, Clark notes.
  • Green was critical of his defense after it allowed Devin Booker to score 52 points in New Orleans for a second time this season on Monday. “Quite frankly, we were soft guarding him,” the Pelicans‘ head coach said after the game, per William Guillory of The Athletic. “We just had a soft mentality.”

Pelicans Notes: Murray, McCollum, Valanciunas, Zion, Ingram, Marshall

The Pelicans didn’t make a move at Thursday’s trade deadline, but it wasn’t for lack of trying, according to head of basketball operations David Griffin, who told reporters that the team had been “in what felt like ‘deal’ mode for a long time,” per Christian Clark of NOLA.com. Ultimately though, there was nothing out there that the front office thought made sense for the club.

“One of the things we find — and this goes back to times in Phoenix and Cleveland — you always try to talk about improving on the margins,” Griffin said. “You have to be really good to be better than the players we have on the margins; to be better than the guys we play rotational minutes. There just wasn’t the right opportunity for us to go after.”

The Pelicans were the subject of an intriguing trade rumor during the final 24 hours before the deadline, when they were linked to Hawks guard Dejounte Murray, but Sam Amick of The Athletic hears from a team source that those talks never got serious. According to Amick, the Pelicans felt they were being used as leverage for the Hawks in their talks with the Lakers.

Asked about New Orleans’ reported discussions with the Hawks, Griffin didn’t deny that they took place and said his team was trying to be “opportunistic,” according to Clark.

“A player of a caliber that you mentioned and the team you mentioned, you listen to those types of things,” Griffin said. “You try to get as much information as you can. At the same time, you don’t have to force a square peg into a round hole when you’re in the situation we are in. I think we wanted to listen and be willing to strike if it was the right opportunity. And we were mindful of the fact that we like our group if it wasn’t.

“… I think we decided overall, the cost was much too high. We weren’t a team that felt like we had to do anything.”

Here’s more out of New Orleans:

  • In his comments to the media on Friday, Griffin praised veterans CJ McCollum and Jonas Valanciunas for the sacrifices they’ve made for the sake of the team. “I think CJ McCollum should get a hell of a lot more credit. He’s completely changed his shot profile,” Griffin said, per Clark. “… (And) Jonas has embraced this entire season in a way you almost never see from a veteran starting center who doesn’t have a contract for next year. He understands what he needs to do, and he’s joyful doing it here. He’s willing to make whatever sacrifice he needs to do. … He’s having an incredible defensive year.”
  • Asked about what kind of center would be an ideal fit next to Zion Williamson, Griffin said the Pelicans think more about which players would best complement their big three of Williamson, Brandon Ingram, and McCollum. Griffin went on to say that New Orleans would ideally have more shooting and rim protection but that it’s not easy to find well-rounded players who can provide one or both of those traits.
  • Here’s more from Griffin, via Clark, on the Pelicans’ ideal center: “I think what goes along with the three of them is sort of TBD to some degree. They are going to have to be pretty good to be better than Jonas. People say, ‘They need this kind of center.’ Well, that kind of center might not be a radically better basketball player or even as good of a basketball player. I think we sometimes lose sight of how incredibly good (Valanciunas) is because we spend so much time as a fan base talking about what he’s not. The ideal fit around those three guys is what advances us to win playoff games. We don’t know we don’t have that right now.”
  • The Pelicans don’t control a second-round pick until 2030 and could have replenished their second-round assets to some extent by trading Naji Marshall on Thursday, according to Clark, who hears from sources that the wing drew interest from multiple teams. However, New Orleans opted to hang onto Marshall, who is on track to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
  • Will Guillory of The Athletic takes a look at the recent reemergence of “Point Zion” and examines what it means for the Pelicans if Williamson continues to embrace his adjusted role, which involves much of the club’s half-court offense running through him. The former No. 1 overall pick has handed out 10 or more assists in a game twice since January 23 after never recording more than nine assists in any of his first 149 NBA contests.
  • Within a wide-ranging conversation with Mark Medina of Sportskeeda, Ingram said he doesn’t “plan on missing” any more All-Star games and joked that the coaches who didn’t vote for him as an All-Star reserve constantly double-team him when they face the Pelicans.

Southwest Notes: Valanciunas, Zion, Popovich, Grizzlies

In an interview with Mark Medina of Sportskeeda, Pelicans center Jonas Valanciunas says he’s seen a change in Zion Williamson this season. Williamson’s NBA career so far has been marked by tantalizing talent and an inability to stay on the court. He played just 114 combined games in four years, including 29 last season.

Williamson has pledged to take better care of himself and condition his body to handle the rigors of an NBA season. Valanciunas is convinced that Williamson is fully committed to keeping that promise, and he’s been proving it to his teammates.

“He’s been great. He’s been available all of the time,” Valanciunas said. “He’s taking care of his body. He gives a [expletive]. That is a big thing. He’s been a pro this year. He’s growing. He’s getting more experience. Every time that he steps on the court, he does stuff. It’s not going to be overnight. You have to see it all to get the experience, and he does that. He’s willing to learn and willing to give everything. What else can you ask?”

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Williamson is sitting out tonight’s contest in Utah as the Pelicans continue to avoid using him in back-to-backs, tweets Christian Clark of NOLA. Williamson logged 34 minutes Friday night as New Orleans defeated the Clippers in a tournament game.
  • Spurs coach Gregg Popovich doesn’t regret grabbing a microphone Wednesday and imploring fans to stop booing Kawhi Leonard, per Janie McCauley of The Associated Press. “It’s pretty easy to understand,” Popovich told reporters Friday. “I listened to it for a while and it just got louder and louder and uglier and uglier, and I felt sorry for him, and I was embarrassed for our city, for our organization.” The crowd’s defiance of Popovich’s request shows there are limits to his influence, contends Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News, who suggests the response stems from the Spurs’ poor record and Popovich’s outspoken political statements.
  • The Grizzlies believe their struggles go beyond Ja Morant‘s suspension and injuries to several key players, according to Damichael Cole of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. After Friday’s loss at Phoenix, Derrick Rose called for the team to increase its focus on defense, while Desmond Bane sought a return to basketball fundamentals. “It’s just a commitment that we’re going to have to make 1 through 15,” Bane said. “Everybody on the floor has an obligation to get out and run, share the ball and whenever opportunities are there, be aggressive. If they’re not there, swing it to the open teammate. It’s a pretty simple game.”