Tyrese Haliburton

Players Likely To Get Rookie Scale Max Extensions In 2023

The 2020 NBA draft was a strange one for a number of reasons. It wasn’t viewed as the strongest class by scouts and analysts, and there was no consensus top overall pick. The COVID-19 pandemic also (understandably) made it much more difficult for teams to scout and interview players due to travel restrictions.

Rookies from the class were also negatively impacted, as they were drafted in November and the 2020/21 season started one month later, with shortened training camps. Normally rookies have up to four months to spend with their new teams, including summer league and full training camps. The truncated offseason put all players behind the curve, but the ones without NBA experience were hit hardest.

It’s fair to say the 2020 class has been relatively disappointing overall to this point, especially some of the players drafted in the top 10.

However, there are still some excellent players who were selected in the first round, and I believe three of them are basically locks to receive maximum-salary rookie scale extensions at the beginning of July (the new contracts will kick in starting in ‘24/25). They all have areas they need to improve on, but the potential and production are there.

The top candidates

Anthony Edwards, G/F, Timberwolves

After spending much of his first two seasons playing small forward, Edwards primarily played shooting guard in 2022/23 and had a career year, averaging 24.6 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.6 steals on .459/.369/.756 shooting in 79 regular season games (36.0 MPG). The top overall pick of 2020 was named an All-Star for the first time this season.

Edwards has been durable, has improved nearly across the board in each of his three seasons, is arguably the best athlete in the class, and is only 21 years old. The fact that the Wolves were able to stay afloat with Karl-Anthony Towns missing most of the season is a testament to Edwards’ growth, and there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

LaMelo Ball, G, Hornets

The 2020/21 Rookie of the Year was an All-Star in year two after averaging 20.1 points, 6.7 rebounds, 7.6 assists and 1.6 steals on .429/.389/.872 shooting in 75 games (32.3 MPG). Ball, the third overall pick in 2020, followed that up by averaging 23.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, 8.4 assists and 1.3 steals on .411/.376/.836 shooting in ’22/23.

The problem was, Ball sustained multiple left ankle sprains and then fractured his right ankle on a non-contact play at the end of February, which limited him to 36 games this season.

I highly doubt those ankle injuries will impact his next contract, though they are a little worrisome. It’s possible the Hornets might push for some type of protections on the deal, but I’d be a little surprised — Ball played 75 games in ‘21/22.

Tyrese Haliburton, G, Pacers

Several draft analysts had Haliburton high on their boards, but he wound up falling to the Kings at No. 12 overall. He played very well in his stint with Sacramento, but his fit with fellow point guard De’Aaron Fox was less than perfect, particularly defensively, and the Kings memorably traded him in February 2022 for a package headlined by big man Domantas Sabonis.

The deal has worked out well for both teams. Haliburton thrived as a full-time point guard for the Pacers to end last season, and he was outstanding in 2022/23, making his first All-Star appearance while averaging 20.7 points, 3.7 rebounds, 10.4 assists and 1.6 steals on a sparkling .490/.400/.871 shooting line in 56 games (33.6 MPG).

Advanced stats nearly universally say Haliburton has been the top player from his class through three seasons. His efficiency and excellent decision-making stand out.

The 23-year-old only averaged 2.5 turnovers per game this season, good for a 4.15-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio – an excellent mark. Indiana went 28-28 with him in the lineup, versus 7-19 without him.

The borderline candidates

Two other first-round picks from 2020 are likely to receive massive extension offers this summer, but I’m not sure if they’ll get the full max – I could see it going either way.

Tyrese Maxey, G, Sixers

Given his relatively modest numbers as a rookie, Maxey’s enormous leap in ‘21/22 was pretty surprising (and impressive). He averaged 17.5 points, 3.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists on .485/.427/.866 shooting in 75 games (35.3 MPG) in his second NBA season. The former 21st overall pick had a strong playoff showing as well, averaging 20.8 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists on .484/.377/.940 shooting in 12 games (40.4 MPG).

Maxey maintained his great outside shooting this season, averaging 20.3 points, 2.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists on .481/.434/.845 shooting in 60 games (33.6 MPG).

Still just 22 years old, Maxey is electric with the ball in his hands and is one of the fastest players in the league, making him a terror in transition. While he rarely turns the ball over, he’s more of a shooting guard than a point guard at this time, frequently looking to score instead of distribute.

However, he’s only 6’2″, so he can realistically only defend point guards, and he doesn’t have great instincts on that end. Most of the players listed here need to work on becoming more consistent defenders, but the other players have size advantages and are better at making plays both on and off the ball defensively.

The new CBA allows players eligible for rookie scale extensions to sign five-year deals – they were previously limited to four-year contracts. With that in mind, I think Maxey is highly likely to receive an offer in the range of $160-170MM over five years, but I’d be mildly surprised if he gets the full projected $200MM+ due to his limitations as a play-maker and defender (whether he accepts less than a max deal is another story).

Desmond Bane, G/F, Grizzlies

A four-year college player out of TCU, Bane was the last pick of the first round in 2020. He had a quality rookie season, mostly off the bench, averaging 9.2 points and 3.1 rebounds on .469/.432/.816 shooting in 68 games (17 starts, 22.3 MPG).

Like Maxey, Bane emerged as one of the most improved players in the league last season, averaging 18.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.2 steals on .461/.436/.903 shooting in 76 games (29.8 MPG). He was even better in ‘22/23, putting up 21.5 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 4.4 APG and 1.0 SPG on .479/.408/.883 shooting in 58 games (31.7 MPG).

From a statistical standpoint, the 24-year-old has a legitimate argument for getting a max deal. He’s an elite shooter and is a solid play-maker and defender.

My only real questions as far as a max deal are: Can Bane be one of the best players on a championship-level team? Is he good enough at creating his own shot? I did view Memphis as a legitimate contender this year until Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke went down with injuries.

Bane is already an excellent player who has shown consistent improvement year over year. Every team in the league would love to have him. I’m just not totally sold on a full max, though I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets it, and it’s hard to say he hasn’t earned it.

Pacific Notes: Westbrook, Durant, Hyland, Plumlee, Ranadive

Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant were teammates with the Thunder for eight seasons. Heading into the Clippers’ first round series against Durant and the Suns, Westbrook addressed the notion that they have a strained relationship, suggesting that’s a false assumption, according to ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk.

“I think people still think like there’s some beef or something. There’s no beef of any [kind], so I think that’s the good narrative for media, for people to talk about,” Westbrook said. “But there’s no beef. I got nothing but respect for him and things he’s done with his career and having to see him back from injury. There’s no beef at all. But he knows I’m going to compete and I know he’s going to compete and that’s all it is.”

We have more from the Pacific Division:

  • On a similar topic, Clippers guard Bones Hyland said he has no issues with teammate Mason Plumlee in the aftermath of their dustup on Sunday, Andrew Greif of the Los Angeles Times writes. “Me and him talked on the plane. It’s nothing. It’s quashed,” Hyland said. “People create their own narratives of what’s going on, but me and Mason know what’s going on, the team knows what’s going on. We deaded it literally in Phoenix. It’s nothing to worry about. We’re focused on Phoenix right now and trying to win the series.”
  • Durant played 41 minutes against Denver last week and says he expects to log a similar workload throughout the playoffs, according to Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic. “Forty is the number I love,” the Suns‘ star said. “I like hovering around that number.”
  • In a wide-ranging interview with Andscape’s Marc Spears, Kings owner Vivek Ranadive said the blockbuster trade with Indiana last season involving Tyrese Haliburton and Domantas Sabonis worked to the benefit of both organizations. “If we didn’t have Tyrese, we couldn’t have gotten Domantas. It ended up being a win-win trade for everybody,” he said. “It’s one of those rare trades where it created three All-Stars. And so, Tyrese was an All-Star. De’Aaron (Fox) an All-Star. Domas an All-Star. So, it took a lot of courage on the part of my front office to pull the trigger and make that trade, but I applauded them for doing that.”

Eastern Notes: Haliburton, Heat, Haslem, White, Champagnie

As good as Tyrese Haliburton was on the court for the Pacers this season, earning his first All-Star berth and averaging a double-double (20.7 PPG, 10.4 APG), president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard was just as impressed by the character the third-year guard showed off the court, writes Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star.

“I’ve never been around a more complete, empathetic, understanding-of-what-the-real-world is, loving, taking-care-of-the-small-people, truly-committed-to-community leader like him,” Pritchard said this week. “I’ve never seen it. I’ve never seen a connector like Tyrese ever. Like ever. He connects with our ball boys. He connects with the CEO of some company. He just has this ability to make people feel comfortable around him. When I talk to him, I learn from him. I really do.”

Already viewed as the cornerstone the Pacers will build around for years to come, Haliburton figures to have a say in personnel moves going forward, according to Dopirak, who notes that a player’s fit alongside the 23-year-old will be considered whenever the team weighs a roster addition.

“The direction that he’s headed, he becomes a partner in the franchise,” Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle said. “When you’re the face of the franchise, you’re a real partner in it. We need to do everything possible to put him in a position to be able to do his job at the highest possible levels and try to remove as much difficulty from his job as possible.”

Here’s more from around the Eastern Conference:

  • What will the Heat have to do differently on Friday after losing Tuesday’s play-in game to Atlanta? Just about everything, according to star forward Jimmy Butler. “Come Friday, we’ve got to play, like, legit the exact opposite that we played tonight,” Butler told reporters after Tuesday’s contest, per Nick Friedell of ESPN.com. Butler singled out rebounding and second-chance points as areas Miami needs to clean up — the team was outrebounded 63-39 by Atlanta.
  • After Udonis Haslem scored 24 points in 25 minutes during the Heat‘s regular season finale on Sunday, head coach Erik Spoelstra spoke about how much he’ll miss having the big man on the sidelines and in the locker room, Friedell writes at ESPN.com. “I’m going to miss his spirit,” Spoelstra said of Haslem, who will retire at season’s end. “I’m going to miss his voice. I’m going to miss his intentions. He has incredible, pure, team intentions. Every single day. He doesn’t have a bad day. He may express himself with anger other times at his teammates or even with me, but his intentions are pure.”
  • Bulls guard Coby White started 54 games in 2020/21 but has otherwise served primarily as a reserve since entering the NBA in 2019. After coming off the bench in all but two of his 74 games in ’22/23, White says he still aspires to claim a full-time starting role, per Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic. “You don’t come (into) the league thinking, ‘I’m cool coming off the bench,'” said White, who will be eligible for restricted free agency this offseason. “Yeah, I’ll play whatever role for whatever team I’m on, for sure. But my goal is to be a starter. That ain’t gonna change.”
  • Justin Champagnie‘s new deal with the Celtics is a two-year, minimum-salary contract that’s non-guaranteed for 2023/24, Hoops Rumors has learned. Champagnie will get a partial guarantee of $50K if he’s not waived by August 1. That partial guarantee would increase to $350K if he remains under contract through the start of the regular season.

Pacers’ Pritchard Won’t Commit To Hield Extension Offer

Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard is noncommittal about offering wing Buddy Hield an extension, according to Dustin Dopirak of the Indianapolis Star.

Hield is entering the final year of his four-year, $94MM contract. The cap hit on his contract for 2023/24 is approximately $19.3MM. The Pacers will have to decide whether to pursue an extension, trade him or allow his free agency to play out next summer.

“He’s under contract for another year, so we don’t have to early extend,” Pritchard said. “We could. … I think we’ve got to define his role next year. If we can get a role where he’s comfortable and we’re comfortable, then I’m not opposed to it. I’m not saying we’re going to do it for sure, but I’m not opposed to it.”

Hield had a solid season, averaging 16.8 points per game while making 42.5% of his 3-pointers and 51.8% of his 2-pointers. He’s also a positive locker room influence and is close with franchise player Tyrese Haliburton, which could increase the possibility of an extension.

“I love Buddy,” Pritchard said. “There’s some things he does that are not on the court. He keeps practice light.”

Pritchard also touched a couple of other major topics regarding offseason plans:

  • Indiana will hold five draft picks in June, including three first-rounders. The Pacers will also have approximately $25MM in cap space. Pritchard said he’ll be open to wheeling and dealing to improve the roster. “I think there’s some opportunities for us to look at our draft picks and cap space and maybe put a bunch together and make big packages and go after some players,” he said. “I can’t say for sure that’s gonna get done. But I want to be really creative with how we go after the right players.”
  • Regarding the team’s three free agents — forwards Oshae Brissett and James Johnson, and guard George Hill — Pritchard’s interest in re-signing them hinges on what happens during the draft and the early days of free agency. “Those are guys we’ll be looking at, but with all these draft picks and cap space, they’re not July 1 deals, they’re July 10,” Pritchard said. “I’m not trying to cop out on the question. I just don’t think we get to that decision tree until later on. I don’t want to hurt or help them or give them false hope or tell them no.”

Central Notes: Wiseman, Green, Donovan, Haliburton, Turner

Pistons center James Wiseman is going to make it a priority this offseason to improve his strength with a weightlifting regimen, per head coach Dwane Casey (Twitter link via Omari Sankofa II of The Detroit Free Press).

First selected with the No. 2 pick out of Memphis in 2020, Wiseman failed to find his footing with the Warriors and was flipped to Detroit at the trade deadline in a four-team transaction. Since being sent to the rebuilding Pistons, the seven-footer has enjoyed a much more active role, averaging 13.4 PPG on 55.2% shooting, along with 8.7 RPG and 0.8 BPG across 26.0 MPG.

There’s more out of the Central Division:

  • Bucks two-way rookie guard A.J. Green has an interesting history with Milwaukee as a city, as Lori Nickel of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes. His father, Kyle Green, served as an assistant coach at Marquette during the 2003/04 NCAA season. Kyle Green left his post to become a head coach at Lewis University in Chicago. The Iowa Barnstormers, A.J. Green’s AAU team, meanwhile, played at a tournament in Milwaukee while he was in high school. “I had an idea of what the city was like,” A.J. said. “Obviously, good basketball, good players, and good people. I knew that Milwaukee liked me, but it was not a sure thing. I’m so glad it was here.”
  • Bulls head coach Billy Donovan has faced some criticism for an underwhelming season, but he’s earning praise from several of his best players, writes Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. “He’s definitely underrated, underappreciated on the outside,’’ All-Star DeMar DeRozan said. ‘‘He’s easy-going, and as much as he’s locked into the game and pays attention to the small things, it’s incredible. His play-calling, his schemes — he puts a lot into the game that too many people don’t see.’’ At 36-40, the Bulls are currently the tenth seed in the East and are on the cusp of a play-in tournament berth.
  • Pacers All-Star point guard Tyrese Haliburton and sharpshooting center Myles Turner could be shut down for the rest of the season, per Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star. “They’ll be listed however they’re listed game-to-game,” head coach Rick Carlisle said following a team practice today. “If you’re asking if it’s possible that they don’t play anymore, yeah, it’s possible. It’s not impossible that one of them would play, but we’re going game to game with it.” Turner has missed the team’s last three games with a sore left ankle and sore lower back, while Haliburton has been absent for the last two due to a right ankle sprain and sore left elbow. Indiana is currently 3.5 games behind the Bulls for the No. 10 seed in the East.

Injury Notes: Morant, Grizzlies, SGA, Markkanen, Cavs, Pacers

Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant missed Tuesday’s game vs. Orlando due to right thigh soreness, but there are no long-term concerns about the injury, writes Damichael Cole of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. It sounds like the team was simply playing it safe with Morant, who recently returned from an eight-game absence and will be available on Wednesday for the second game of a back-to-back set.

While Morant will suit up on Wednesday, the Grizzlies may give a few other regulars the night off when they host the Clippers. According to the team (Twitter link), Desmond Bane (right foot soreness), Jaren Jackson Jr. (left calf soreness), and Tyus Jones (left foot soreness) are all considered doubtful to play.

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

  • Two teams still in the thick of the Western Conference play-in race won’t have their All-Stars available on Wednesday. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (left ankle sprain) will miss a second consecutive game when the Thunder host the Pistons, per Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman (Twitter link), while forward Lauri Markkanen (left hand contusion) won’t play for the Jazz in San Antonio, according to Andy Larsen of The Salt Lake Tribune (Twitter link).
  • Jarrett Allen (right groin strain) and Isaac Okoro (left knee soreness) missed Tuesday’s game for the Cavaliers, but Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com hears their absences were precautionary, with the team having already clinched its playoff spot. “Isaac is extremely disappointed because Isaac wanted to play all 82 games,” head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “But this is something where just big picture we need to make sure we take care of him. We know how important he is and how impactful he can be for us. So, you just have to keep an eye on him. Isaac will keep running through a wall if you don’t pull him back some. We’re trying to do our best to protect him.”
  • Tyrese Haliburton (right ankle sprain; left elbow soreness), Buddy Hield (non-COVID illness), and Chris Duarte (left ankle soreness) will all be unavailable for the Pacers on Wednesday vs. Milwaukee for a second consecutive game, writes Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star. Myles Turner, who has missed the last two games due to left ankle soreness, is listed as questionable.

Injury Notes: Beal, Haliburton, Simmons, Huerter, Hornets

Wizards guard Bradley Beal underwent testing on his sore left knee and it revealed a “mild” knee sprain, head coach Wes Unseld Jr. told reporters, including Josh Robbins of The Athletic (Twitter link).

Beal and Kyle Kuzma (right ankle sprain) were already ruled out of Friday’s game vs. San Antonio, and both players are considered day-to-day, according to Unseld. Friday will mark Beal’s second straight missed game and Kuzma’s third.

The Spurs — who hold the third-worst record in the NBA — might look like an easy target, but the Wizards certainly shouldn’t treat them as such. Washington has gone just 2-9 over its last 11 games — including four straight losses —  to drop to 32-41, the No. 12 seed in the East. The Wizards trail the Bulls by 2.5 games for the final spot in the play-in tournament with nine games left, so they need every win they can get.

Here are some more injury-related notes from around the NBA:

  • Pacers All-Star Tyrese Haliburton will return to action on Friday against Boston, but second-year wing Chris Duarte will miss his fifth straight game with an ankle sprain, tweets Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star. As Dopriak writes in a full story, Haliburton was a full participant in Friday’s shootaround. The third-year guard had missed the previous six games with knee and ankle injuries.
  • After being reevaluated today, Ben Simmons was diagnosed with a nerve impingement in his back, according to the Nets (Twitter link via Michael Scotto of HoopsHype). He will remain out as Brooklyn determines the best treatment for the injury long term. Based on the wording of the statement, it sounds highly unlikely that Simmons will play again in 2022/23. The 26-year-old has been out of action since February 15 due to a combination of knee and back injuries.
  • Kings shooting guard Kevin Huerter was able to practice on Thursday and is questionable for Friday’s game against Phoenix, per Sean Cunningham of Fox 40 KTXL (Twitter link). The sharpshooter has missed the past three games with a mild strain of the popliteus muscle, which is behind the knee.
  • After leaving Thursday’s loss to New Orleans with injuries, Kelly Oubre (right shoulder strain) and Terry Rozier (right foot soreness) are listed as questionable and doubtful, respectively, for Friday’s game in Dallas, the Hornets announced (via Twitter). On a positive note, rookie center Mark Williams, who has missed six straight games with a right thumb sprain, is listed as probable — there’s a good chance he’ll return to action tonight.

Central Notes: G. Hill, McGruder, Pacers, Cavs, Bulls

Pacers guard George Hill was told when he was traded from Milwaukee to Indiana at last month’s deadline that he wouldn’t play much for his new team and that he’d be mostly counted on as a veteran leader, writes Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star. That was fine by Hill, who referred to himself as a “team-first guy” and is happy to be playing for his hometown club.

“(Pacers coach) Rick (Carlisle) has done a great job of being open and honest,” Hill said. “When I first got here, he said, you know, ‘We’re developing right now and we want our young guys to get some meaningful minutes, but it doesn’t mean you’re not going to play at all. I want you to still be a leader on and off the court. Show these guys what hard work and a good teammate is and just stay ready at all times.'”

Hill’s 15 years of NBA experience have made him an ideal mentor for All-Star point guard Tyrese Haliburton, who says the 36-year-old holds him accountable “every day.” Hill describes Haliburton as a “shining star” and has expressed a desire to continue backing him up beyond this season, if possible.

“Like I tell everybody, I don’t want to be here as a rental,” said Hill, who was born and raised in Indianapolis. “I would love to be here for a while and watch this thing grow to what I think it could be. I’m on board with whatever they need me to do and I’m all in.”

Here’s more from around the Central:

  • Like Hill in Indiana, Pistons wing Rodney McGruder is on Detroit’s roster more for his locker-room presence than his production on the court. However, due to injuries, he has started the team’s last eight games and is playing a regular rotation role for the first time this season. James L. Edwards III of The Athletic explores McGruder’s on- and off-court contributions and digs into why he’s so respected by the Pistons’ young players.
  • The Pacers made history on Wednesday when they became the first NBA team to have three Canadian-born players (Bennedict Mathurin, Andrew Nembhard, and Oshae Brissett) in their starting lineup. And they did it in Canada, in a road game vs. the Raptors, as Dopirak writes for The Indianapolis Star. “Historic night for Canada basketball,” Carlisle said. “… For it to happen in Toronto, it’s pretty cool.”
  • Jamal Collier of ESPN explores the lessons the Cavaliers learned from last season’s second-half collapse and why the club is more confident in its chances of making some noise in the postseason this spring.
  • Darnell Mayberry of The Athletic identifies the seven members of the Bulls most impacted by Lonzo Ball‘s uncertain future. Mayberry’s picks range from center Nikola Vucevic, whose free agency decision this summer could be influenced by Ball’s long-term absence, to president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas, whose questionable roster decisions are increasingly under the microscope.

Central Notes: Haliburton, Wade, Bulls, Pistons, Giannis

After missing games on Saturday and Monday due to a left knee bruise, Pacers star Tyrese Haliburton sat out on Thursday as a result of a right ankle sprain he suffered on Wednesday in practice. According to Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star, head coach Rick Carlisle expects that injury to keep Haliburton on the shelf for at least two more games, if not longer.

“Tyrese’s ankle is, it’s gonna be a while,” Carlisle said prior to Thursday’s contest. “I’m not gonna give a timetable, but he definitely will not play any of the next three games (including Thursday’s). I’m certain of that.”

With just 12 games left in the Pacers’ season and the organization not showing a whole lot of urgency to claim a spot in the play-in tournament, it wouldn’t be a surprise if we don’t see much more of Haliburton the rest of the way. For the time being, we can expect him to be unavailable on Saturday vs. Philadelphia and on Monday in Charlotte, with T.J. McConnell and Andrew Nembhard running the point in his absence.

Here’s more from around the Central:

  • Cavaliers forward Dean Wade has struggled since returning from a shoulder injury in January, averaging just 3.3 PPG on .353/.283/.600 shooting in 21 games (17.3 MPG). Although he’s healthy enough to play, Wade’s shoulder is still bothering him, sources tell Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com, who wonders if Wade also may be feeling some added pressure following Kevin Love‘s buyout last month.
  • While the Bulls remain on the outside of the play-in picture in the East, they’ve found success with a starting lineup featuring new addition Patrick Beverley, Alex Caruso, and their three stars (Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic). As Rob Schaefer of Bulls.com observes, no five-man unit that has played at least 150 minutes this season has a better net rating than Chicago’s group (plus-23.6).
  • Pistons centers Jalen Duren and James Wiseman displayed some surprising chemistry when they played together on Thursday, but having them both on the court did create some spacing issues, writes Omari Sankofa II of The Detroit Free Press (subscription required). The Pistons, who would like to use both young big men going forward, are hopeful that Wiseman’s jump shot will continue to develop, helping to ease those spacing concerns, Sankofa notes.
  • In a conversation with Sam Amick of The Athletic, Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo discussed the MVP criteria, his desire to win another title, and his belief that the team’s NBA-best record would be even better if Khris Middleton had been healthy all season. “If we played with Khris (all season)… I think we have 55 (wins) now,” Antetokounmpo said when Milwaukee’s record was 48-19. “I really do believe that.”

Central Notes: Mathurin, G. Allen, J. Allen, Caruso

The Pacers have yet to supply a concrete timeline for rookie guard Bennedict Mathurin‘s return from his right ankle, per Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star. Indiana head coach Rick Carlisle did reveal that Mathurin will not suit up for the team in Thursday’s game against the mighty Bucks.

“He may travel, but he’s not going to play in the next game,” Carlisle said on Wednesday. “I’m not going to give you a timetable, but he’s not going to play in Milwaukee. He is doing better.”

Dopirak adds in another tweet that both Mathurin and second-year swingman Chris Duarte will be sidelined for today’s game. Starters Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield and Myles Turner, plus reserve point guard T.J. McConnell, are all questionable to suit up. Haliburton is dealing with a right ankle sprain.

There’s more out of the Central Division:

  • Bucks wing Grayson Allen will also miss Thursday’s bout against the Pacers, his second straight absence, due to right plantar fascia soreness, per Jim Owczarski of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Twitter link).
  • Cavaliers center Jarrett Allen will remain out the team’s next game, Friday against the Wizards, due to a right eye contusion, per Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com (Twitter link).
  • Bulls wing Alex Caruso was held out of a recent team practice due to an unspecified illness, but is currently somewhat on the mend, per K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago (Twitter link). That said, he is questionable to play on Friday for Chicago, when they will square off against the Timberwolves. Should Caruso sit, it is likely that reserve forward Patrick Williams would returning to the club’s starting five.