Zion Williamson

Southwest Notes: Castle, Spurs, Pelicans, T. Allen, Grizzlies

Stephon Castle, a projected lottery pick who is ranked No. 6 on ESPN’s best available prospects list, has been telling NBA teams he wants to play point guard after primarily playing off the ball at UConn, writes Tom Orsborn of The San Antonio Express-News (subscriber link).

I feel my true position is point guard, and I feel the last few months I had to sacrifice for the betterment of the team,” Castle said. “It worked out for us, so it’s not anything to harp on or be bitter about.

As Orborn writes, while Castle struggled with his shot at times in college, converting just 26.7% of his three-pointers, he brings plenty of attributes the Spurs look for in prospects, with plus size (he’s 6’6″ with a 6’9″ wingspan and weighs 210 pounds), all-around versatility, and strong defense. The Spurs also have a noteworthy void at point guard, with Tre Jones the only true floor general on the roster.

San Antonio controls two lottery picks, Nos. 4 and 8, and the team is indeed believed to be interested in Castle, league sources tell Kelly Iko of The Athletic.

I’m more of a two-way point guard,” Castle said, per Orsborn. “I really like to pass the ball. And I like to shoot off the dribble a lot. That’s what my game really consists of, being on the ball, getting my teammates involved, scoring whenever I need to and defending at a high level.”

Here’s more from the Southwest:

  • Should the Spurs draft Kentucky guard Reed Sheppard with one of their two lottery picks? LJ Ellis of SpursTalk.com explores that question, writing that Sheppard has plenty of desirable attributes, including excellent shooting and strong play-making on defense, but his lack of length might be a turn-off for the team. Sheppard is No. 4 on ESPN’s board.
  • The Pelicans have elected to part ways with assistant athletic trainer Jana Austin, who has been with the team since 2020, league sources tell Christian Clark of The Times-Picayune. A former Nets employee, Austin worked closely with star forward Zion Williamson, according to Clark.
  • In an interview with Kelly Iko of The Athletic, former defensive ace Tony Allen says having his No. 9 jersey retired next season is a “dream come true.” “This is every hooper’s dream and I’m very thankful,” Allen said. “Big shout out to the Grizzlies for always holding it down for me. Embracing me. Acknowledging the fact that I struck a match to the organization with my phrase ‘Grit-n-Grind’ and that lives forever.” Memphis originally planned to retire Allen’s number during the 2021/22 season, but the veteran guard asked the team to postpone the ceremony due to his legal issues.

2023/24 All-NBA Teams Announced

The All-NBA teams have been announced for the 2023/24 season (Twitter link).

A total of 99 media members voted on the honors, with players receiving five points for a First Team vote, three points for a Second Team vote and one point for a Third Team vote. This year’s All-NBA teams are as follows:

First Team

Second Team

Third Team

Gilgeous-Alexander and Jokic were the only two unanimous First Team selections, receiving 99 of 99 possible votes. Doncic earned 98 First Team votes but was named to the Second Team on one ballot. Antetokounmpo (88), Tatum (65), Brunson (37), Edwards (3), and Durant (2) were the only other players to receive multiple First Team votes.

Others receiving votes and their point totals are the CelticsJaylen Brown (50), the ClippersPaul George (16), the SixersTyrese Maxey (16), the TimberwolvesRudy Gobert (12), the SpursVictor Wembanyama (11), the PelicansZion Williamson (11), the Magic’s Paolo Banchero (10), the KingsDe’Aaron Fox (9) the Heat’s Bam Adebayo (7) and the BullsDeMar DeRozan (1).

This is the first season that a minimum number of games was required to qualify for most postseason awards under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Among the stars who might have received All-NBA consideration if they had reached the 65-game threshold are Sixers center Joel Embiid, who was the 2023 MVP, along with Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell, Grizzlies guard Ja Morant, Knicks forward Julius Randle and Celtics big man Kristaps Porzingis.

This was also the first season that voting for the All-NBA team was positionless, though that didn’t have a huge impact on the results, as the top two teams still feature two guards, a pair of forwards, and a center. The Third Team is made up a center, three guards, and just one forward.

Wembanyama, who received two votes for the Second Team and five for the Third Team, was the only rookie named on any of the ballots. Earlier this week, he became the first rookie to earn a spot on an All-Defensive First Team.

The Lakers with Davis and James and the Suns with Durant and Booker were the only teams to have multiple players honored. They were both eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

Several players became eligible for salary increases or earned a bonus by achieving All-NBA honors. Read more here.

Pelicans Reportedly Not Willing To Give Ingram Max Extension

The Pelicans are entering a critical offseason, with former All-Star forward Brandon Ingram entering the final year of his contract, which will pay him $36MM in 2024/25.

According to Christian Clark of The Times-Picayune (subscription required), New Orleans tentatively plans to supplement the trio of Ingram, CJ McCollum and Zion Williamson with “better-fitting pieces.”

However, despite having an overall net rating of +4.6 during the regular season, the Pelicans were outscored when their three top scorers shared the court together, Clark writes, and there is a chance at least one of them could be traded.

As of July 1, Ingram will be eligible a four-year, maximum-salary extension projected to be worth $200MM+. While the Pelicans are “open” to the possibility of tacking more years onto his current deal, they are not willing to give him a full max contract, sources tell Clark.

Clark compares Ingram to Zach LaVine, noting that both players have put up strong individual statistics on offense but have missed extended time with injuries throughout their careers. Chicago tried — unsuccessfully — to move LaVine’s max deal during the season, and will reportedly try again this offseason.

According to Clark, if the Pelicans can’t work out an extension with Ingram, they “likely will trade him.” That aligns with previous reporting that Ingram is the “most likely” Pelican to be on the move this summer. Clark points to the Cavaliers and Hawks as teams that might be interested in the 26-year-old.

Clark wonders if New Orleans might be able to acquire Evan Mobley or Jarrett Allen from Cleveland for Ingram. I don’t see any world where the Cavs trade Mobley for Ingram, but Allen isn’t far-fetched. Still, Cleveland has its own upcoming financial squeeze, and adding Ingram would only further complicate that situation — Allen is owed far less money ($40MM) over the next two seasons.

The NBA draft lottery is today, but the Pelicans won’t be impacted by that drawing. They do, however, have until June 1 to decide whether they want to keep the No. 17 overall pick (via the Lakers) or instead acquire the Lakers’ unprotected 2025 first-round pick. As of now, Clark hears that New Orleans is inclined to defer the selection, though that isn’t set in stone.

If the Pels do keep the No. 17 pick, Clark says they would likely flip it in a trade. New Orleans also controls the No. 21 overall pick, and Clark is highly skeptical the team would actually keep two first-rounders on a roster that is trying to win right now.

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.

Southwest Notes: Doncic, T. Allen, Morant, Williamson

Mavericks guard Luka Doncic had three full days off between the end of the team’s first-round series against the Clippers and the start of the second-round matchup with Oklahoma City, but it looked like the right knee sprain he suffered early in the Clippers series was still bothering him on Tuesday.

As Tim MacMahon of ESPN details, Doncic made 1-of-8 three-pointers in Dallas’ Game 1 loss to the Thunder and has now hit just 5-of-35 threes in his past four contests. That’s the worst three-point percentage (14.3%) for any player who has at least 30 attempts over a four-game postseason run in NBA history, says MacMahon.

“It’s just hurting,” Doncic said of his knee, per Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News (subscription required). “Less mobility. Less explosiveness when I’m driving the ball. But it’s about the same. These days gave me a little more time to rest, a little more time to rehab.”

Asked specifically about how big a part his knee issues are playing in his shooting struggles, Doncic declined to speculate, telling reporters that bouncing back from the Mavericks’ fifth consecutive Game 1 loss is his focus.

“Who cares? We lost,” he said. “We’ve just got to move on to the next one. I’ve got to be better. We’ve got to be better. We’re known for Game 1-struggling, but we’ve got to focus.”

Here’s more from around the Southwest:

  • The Grizzlies are expected to retire Tony Allen‘s No. 9 jersey during the 2024/25 season, the former defensive standout tells Damichael Cole of The Memphis Commercial Appeal. Memphis had originally planned to retire Allen’s number during the 2021/22 season, according to Cole, but the veteran guard asked the team to postpone it due to his legal issues. Allen will join former teammates Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph among Grizzlies players with their jerseys retired. “I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “Hopefully, I have a box of tissue with me.”
  • NBA commissioner Adam Silver provided a favorable update on Grizzlies guard Ja Morant on Monday, according to Cole. Silver had “regular check-ins” with Morant over the course of the year, which was one of the conditions attached to his 25-game suspension for multiple off-court incidents. “From everything we have seen, his development has been very positive,” Silver said. “Working with the team and his personal management, having a stronger support team around him seems to be making a difference in his life.”
  • A federal appeals court has upheld a 2021 ruling in favor of Zion Williamson, according to an Associated Press report, determining that the Pelicans forward’s contract with a marketing agent was void because she wasn’t licensed in North Carolina at the time of the agreement. Gina Ford, a Florida-based agent, had been seeking $100MM from Williamson, accusing him of improperly breaking a contract allowing her to represent him for endorsement purposes.

Southwest Notes: Doncic, Exum, Zion, Wembanyama

At this morning’s shootaround, Mavericks star Luka Doncic was still feeling the effects of a right knee sprain he suffered in Game 3, writes Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News. Dallas had two days off after Sunday’s Game 4 loss, but the extra time may not be enough to make a difference for Doncic. Townsend observed that he did limited running at the shootaround, and the knee seemed to stiffen up whenever he tried to do anything more than jog.

“Nothing, honestly,” Doncic said when asked what he did during the session. “Just treatment, a lot of treatments. Fitness. But basketball, I just shot. Nothing explosive.”

Doncic was noticeably slowed by the knee in Sunday’s game, even though he scored 29 points and posted a triple-double. He shot just 10-of-24 from the field and 1-of-9 from three-point range as Kyrie Irving led a comeback after the Mavs fell behind by 31 points.

On top of the knee issue, Doncic is dealing with an upper-respiratory illness. He admitted that he probably wouldn’t try to play tonight if it were a regular season game, but that’s not an option in the playoffs.

“I’ve been in this situation a lot, been playing through injuries a lot, so nothing,” Doncic said. “Just go out there, have fun and do everything you can do for your team to win.” 

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • After resurrecting his NBA career with the Mavericks this season, Dante Exum has struggled in the first four games of the playoffs, notes Mike Curtis of The Dallas Morning News. A 49% shooter from beyond the arc during the regular season, Exum has missed all five of his three-point attempts during the series and is shooting just 1-of-11 overall. His playing time has been cut to 8.5 minutes per game as coach Jason Kidd has tightened his rotation, but Exum is determined to help any way he can. “No matter if it’s one minute, two minutes, it’s trying to provide that energy,” he said. “If I can make an impact in the time I get, that’s the goal. Hopefully it can just grow off that and I continue to get more minutes.”
  • Zion Williamson has made the Pelicans more confident that he can be the cornerstone of their future, multiple team sources tell William Guillory of The Athletic. Injury and conditioning concerns hung over Williamson during his first four NBA seasons, but he was much more durable this year, appearing in 70 games and logging 31.5 minutes per night. In addition to his on-court production, Williamson also became a more vocal leader.
  • Nick Moyle of The San Antonio Express-News examines how the SpursVictor Wembanyama was able to incorporate a step-back jumper into his arsenal during his rookie year.

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.

Zion Williamson: Postseason Return Is “Absolutely Realistic”

Speaking to reporters today for the first time since suffering a left hamstring strain in last Tuesday’s play-in game vs. the Lakers, Pelicans forward Zion Williamson said that he believes he has a chance to return to action this spring, per Christian Clark of NOLA.com. Williamson added that he has to “pass certain tests” in order to ramp up his basketball activity.

“That is definitely realistic,” Williamson said of playing in the postseason. “That is absolutely realistic. Like I said, I have to pass tests. Get back to baseline. Hopefully, I will be out there.”

When the Pelicans first announced Williamson’s injury last Wednesday, they said he would be reevaluated in approximately two weeks.

The Pelicans are already facing a 1-0 hole in their series against the Thunder and will play three more games before that two-week checkpoint arrives. That means Zion will likely have to count on his teammates to win at least a game or two to extend New Orleans’ season in order for him to have a chance to return.

Although Williamson admitted that the hamstring strain was “super demoralizing,” he stressed that it wasn’t nearly as bad as the right hamstring injury he sustained last season. He suffered a setback during the recovery from that injury, which ended up costing him the final 45 games of the 2022/23 campaign.

“I knew something happened,” Williamson said of last Tuesday’s injury. “It didn’t feel nothing (compared) to how it did on the right side last year. The right side was definitely sharper pain. This one didn’t really feel like that. It just felt like, ‘Something is off right now.'”

The former No. 1 overall pick had the healthiest season of his professional career in 2023/24, starting 70 regular season games and averaging 22.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 5.0 assists in 31.5 minutes per night. It was just the second time in five NBA seasons that he had appeared in more than 29 contests.

Pelicans’ Zion Williamson Out At Least Two Weeks With Hamstring Strain

1:30pm: After undergoing an MRI, Williamson has been diagnosed with a left hamstring strain, according to the Pelicans (Twitter link). He’ll be reevaluated in approximately two weeks, meaning that he’ll remain sidelined well beyond Friday’s play-in game if New Orleans advances.

12:51pm: Star forward Zion Williamson will be unavailable for the Pelicans when they host the Kings on Friday in the Western Conference’s final play-in game, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (Twitter link).

Williamson exited Tuesday’s game, a Pelicans loss to the Lakers, with just over three minutes left in the fourth quarter due to an apparent left leg injury. Subsequent reporting suggested Williamson was dealing with a left hamstring ailment, which Wojnarowski confirms.

According to Woj, Williamson will be evaluated again in the “coming weeks.” That wording suggests that the former No. 1 overall pick wouldn’t be available to open round one of the playoffs if New Orleans defeats Sacramento on Friday.

It’s a brutal blow for the Pelicans, who were one win away from securing the No. 6 seed in the West and avoiding the play-in tournament altogether. However, they couldn’t beat the Lakers on Sunday, and that lost forced them to face the Lakers again on Tuesday in the No. 7 vs. 8 play-in game.

Williamson, who was coming off the healthiest season of his five-year NBA career (he started 70 games), had a huge night on Tuesday before injuring his hamstring, racking up 41 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists to keep the Pelicans in the game. It was tied at 95 when he checked out, but Los Angeles pulled out the 110-106 victory.

Tuesday’s game was the first time Williamson had played in the postseason at the NBA level. He missed the team’s two play-in games and first-round series in 2022 and was also on the shelf for its lone play-in game in 2023.

Williamson’s fellow star forward Brandon Ingram returned on Sunday from a left knee bone bruise, but doesn’t appear to be at 100% — he logged just 25 minutes on Tuesday and New Orleans was outscored by 16 points when he was on the court. With Williamson unavailable and Ingram not operating at full strength, the Pelicans are in danger of missing the playoffs entirely for a second straight year.

Zion Williamson Leaves Pelicans’ Play-In Game With Leg Soreness

APRIL 17: Williamson is believed to have suffered a left hamstring injury, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link). The Pelicans star wasn’t walking with a limp when he exited the arena on Tuesday, notes Will Guillory of The Athletic (via Twitter).

APRIL 16: Zion Williamson left the Pelicans’ play-in game against the Lakers during the fourth quarter on Tuesday with what coach Willie Green described as “left leg soreness,” ESPN’s Andrew Lopez tweets. Williamson will undergo an MRI on Wednesday.

The Pelicans lost to the Lakers 110-106 and will need to win on Friday to grab the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

Williamson made a tying basket with 3:19 remaining with a drive into the lane. However, he felt pain in his leg immediately after scoring and had to be removed after that play. The former No. 1 overall pick went to the bench briefly, then slammed a towel onto the floor while retreating to the locker room.

Williamson had played arguably the best game of his career until that point, pouring in 40 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and dishing five assists in 36 minutes.

Williamson, whose career has been marred by injuries, appeared in a career-high 70 games this season. He averaged 22.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists per night.