Zeke Nnaji

Western Notes: Spurs Trade, Mavs, Kemba, Nnaji, M. Brown

The Spurs received $1.5MM from the Celtics as part of Thursday’s Noah Vonleh trade, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Twitter link). As Marks lays out, the deal resulted in cash savings for both teams.

Because Vonleh’s cap hit is no longer on their books, the Celtics will save about $7.1MM on their projected luxury tax bill, so sending out just $1.5MM to realize those savings was a no-brainer for Boston.

As for the Spurs, they’ll only owe Vonleh about $28K in salary for the two days he spends on waivers, but will have to pay Gorgui Dieng an additional $992K for the rest of the season, since his salary was fully guaranteed. Still, factoring in the $1.5MM in cash that they got from Boston, the Spurs will come out about $480K ahead after waiving both players — on top of that, they have a newly opened roster spot, which they could use to take fliers on 10-day signees.

The draft pick the Spurs sent to the Celtics in the deal is San Antonio’s top-54 protected 2024 second-rounder, tweets Marks.

Here’s more from around the West:

  • Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd didn’t rule out the possibility of the team bringing back Kemba Walker on a 10-day contract after waiving him earlier today, tweets Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News. The team now has an open roster spot to bring in Walker or another player on a 10-day deal.
  • Playing out of position as a center rather than a forward is getting Zeke Nnaji minutes in the Nuggets‘ rotation, but the role may not play to his strengths, writes Mike Singer of The Denver Post (subscription required). After making 61-of-139 threes (43.9%) in his first two seasons, Nnaji is just 3-of-18 this season from beyond the arc. “With the five, it’s a lot less picking-and-popping,” he said. “They want me more rolling and putting pressure on that rim because if I’m popping every time, there’s not as much thrust on the rim, which collapses the defense. Right now I gotta roll more, even though I feel like I’m a capable shooter, I gotta do what’s best for the team.”
  • In an in-depth story for The Athletic, Jason Lloyd explores why Mike Brown was so intrigued by the Kings‘ head coaching opening this past spring and what he learned in his previous head coaching jobs that he brought with him to Sacramento.

Western Notes: Gordon, Nnaji, Brown, Wood

Aaron Gordon is having a career season for the Nuggets, and Mike Singer of The Denver Post (subscriber link) writes that the veteran forward has a compelling case to make his first All-Star appearance.

Gordon’s traditional stats — 17.5 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 2.1 APG, 0.9 SPG and 0.8 BPG through 29 games (30.0 MPG) — are all solid, if unspectacular. However, as Singer details, the 27-year-old’s efficiency (61.1 FG%, 68.0 2PT%, 39.0 3PT%, 66.9 true shooting percentage), defense, and synergy with center Nikola Jokic are what really stand out.

Singer also notes that Gordon is playing for one of the top teams in the league, which might matter to coaches (who select the All-Star reserves) — the Nuggets are currently 22-12, tied for the best record in the West.

Gordon (right shoulder strain) will return to the starting lineup on Friday against Miami following a two-game absence, tweets Singer.

Here’s more from the West:

  • With Nuggets forward Jeff Green sidelined for at least three more weeks due to a left hand fracture and left finger sprain, forward/center Zeke Nnaji has an opportunity to earn increased playing time. The former first-round pick plans to do the “dirty work” to help fill Green’s void, according to Singer (subscriber link). Head coach Michael Malone has a straightforward task for Nnaji. “I just want to feel Zeke’s energy out there,” Malone said.
  • The Kings announced that head coach Mike Brown has cleared the health and safety protocols and will resume his coaching duties on Friday against Utah, tweets James Ham of ESPN 1320 and TheKingsBeat.com. Brown entered the protocols on Tuesday, so his stint was brief. The Kings have been a pleasant surprise thus far, currently holding an 18-15 record, the No. 7 seed in the West.
  • Mavericks big man Christian Wood will be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason. How much will he make on his next contract? Keith Smith explores that topic in an article for Spotrac, ultimately concluding that Wood’s maximum extension number — about $77MM over four years — seems pretty fair. He’d be eligible for more than that if he reaches unrestricted free agency.

Nuggets Notes: Power Forwards, Gordon, Jokic, Braun

Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said on Sunday that the team will take a by-committee approach to replacing Jeff Green‘s minutes with the forward expected to miss at least a month or so due to a finger injury.

As Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports tweets, Malone mentioned Zeke Nnaji as a logical replacement from Green at power forward, but noted that Vlatko Cancar, Michael Porter Jr., and Bruce Brown could all see minutes at the four as well. Nnaji was ineffective vs. Phoenix on Sunday, picking up three fouls and no points or rebounds in nine minutes of action.

Here’s more on the Nuggets:

  • Aaron Gordon had 28 points, 13 rebounds, a highlight-reel dunk, and a key blocked shot in Sunday’s victory and has now been a plus-65 during Denver’s four-game winning streak (the Nuggets have been outscored by 31 points with Gordon off the court during the streak). As Mike Singer of The Denver Post writes, the forward’s ability to contribute all over the court has Malone talking about him as a potential All-Star and Nikola Jokic referring to him as the “soul of this team.”
  • Gordon is questionable to play on Tuesday in Sacramento due to a right shoulder strain, tweets Vinny Benedetto of The Denver Gazette.
  • Voter fatigue will likely work against Jokic as he makes a bid for a third consecutive MVP award, but the Nuggets’ star center is building a strong case for consideration, according to John Hollinger of The Athletic. The 27-year-old is nearly averaging a triple-double for the top team in the Western Conference and has scored more efficiently than ever, with a career-best .616 FG%. Additionally, the Nuggets have a plus-11.3 net rating with Jokic on the floor, compared to an abysmal minus-13.6 mark when he sits, per NBA.com.
  • Within the same Athletic story, Hollinger checks in on Nuggets rookie wing Christian Braun, who has been playing rotation minutes as of late. Hollinger is intrigued by the potential Braun has shown on defense, but acknowledges his role on offense is unlikely to expand beyond “guy who stands in the corner” anytime in the near future.

Nuggets Notes: Murray, Nnaji, Jokic, MPJ

Nuggets point guard Jamal Murray has been dealing with shooting issues, but is trying to find other ways to chip in, writes Mike Singer of The Denver Post. Singer notes that Murray’s left knee, which went under the knife in April 2021 after he tore his ACL, was sore during a 119-115 victory over the Hornets Sunday, but Murray did his best to play through the pain. He did not shoot well, but chipped in 11 dimes while only turning over the ball three times.

“I didn’t want to sit out,” Murray said. “I can not score and (still) have a decent game.”

As Singer observes, Murray made an impact through setting good screens, passing, being a threat from deep, and staying in touch with teammates on defense.

The 6’3″ guard is averaging 17.5 PPG on .437/.338/.765 shooting splits. Those shooting numbers mark a bit of a dip since Murray’s last healthy season in 2020/21. He is also chipping in 5.4 APG, 3.7 RPG and 0.8 SPG.

There’s more out of Denver:

  • Nuggets head coach Michael Malone believes third-year power forward Zeke Nnaji deserves more playing time, per Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports (Twitter link). “When he’s gotten a chance, he’s done a really good job for us,” Malone noted. “We have to find out if Zeke Nnaji can be a part of this team… Now it’s my job to get him out there and play him – not just one game and sit five. No one can do that. It’s almost like Zeke needs an extended chance to show what he can do to help this team. He deserves that opportunity.”
  • Two-time Nuggets MVP center Nikola Jokic is playing at an exceptionally high level for the third straight season, writes Sopan Deb of The New York Times. The big man has emerged as one of the best passers and scorers in the league, and Malone considers him to be a “generational talent.” The 6’11” All-Star is averaging 24.7 PPG, 11 RPG, 9.2 APG, and 1.5 SPG across 27 contests for the 19-11 Nuggets. He also boasts a shooting line of .617/.328/.798 this year.
  • The Nuggets are convinced small forward Michael Porter Jr. can help the team on the defensive end, writes Harrison Wind of DNR Sports. Wind writes that the team’s starting five of Porter, point guard Murray, shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, power forward Aaron Gordon and Jokic is posting a defensive rating of 101.6 in 2022/23. Though smaller fill-in starting small forward Bruce Brown is nominally a superior defender, Wind postulates that the sheer size of Porter (6’10” with a 7-foot wingspan) helps positively impact that starting lineup defensively.

Nuggets Notes: Porter, Brown, Bench

Michael Porter Jr. wasn’t able to practice Sunday because of lingering pain from a left heel contusion and it sounds like he’ll miss Monday’s game against the Rockets, writes Mike Singer of The Denver Post. Porter hasn’t played since Nov. 22, but Nuggets coach Michael Malone said the injury occurred before then and called it “something that’s kind of been building.”

“Right now it’s just real painful for Michael, so he’ll come back and he’ll play when he feels like he’s able to go out there and do his job effectively,” Malone said.

Porter has managed to play in 16 of Denver’s first 19 games after being limited to nine games last season with a back injury. Bruce Brown has filled the opening in the starting lineup over the past week, which has boosted the team’s defense. Singer notes that Jeff Green would have been considered to replace Porter as a starter, but he’s been dealing with a knee contusion and won’t be available for tonight’s game either.

There’s more from Denver:

  • Brown may be playing too well for the Nuggets to be able to re-sign him after the season, Singer states in a mailbag column. If Brown turns down his $6.8MM player option for 2023/24, Denver would only have his Non-Bird rights and would be limited to offering him a 120% raise in the first year of a new contract, which would be about $7.75MM. Singer suggests that Brown might be able to double his current salary of $6.479MM in free agency.
  • The reserve unit has been an issue for the first quarter of the season as the Nuggets’ bench has the third worst plus-minus rating of any group in the league, Singer adds. Brown and Bones Hyland have regular roles and Singer believes Green’s spot is secure because of his veteran status, but Malone has been juggling the other players to try to find an effective combination. Neither Davon Reed or Christian Braun has seized the backup small forward role, and Malone has recently been using Zeke Nnaji and Vlatko Cancar ahead of DeAndre Jordan. Singer speculates that Nnaji or Cancar could eventually be dealt for another guard.
  • Draft-and-stash player Ismael Kamagate is interested in joining the Nuggets next season, as we relayed on Sunday. The 21-year-old center was traded twice after being selected with the 46th pick in this year’s draft, and he said Denver has been sending representatives to watch him play.

Northwest Notes: Murray, Nnaji, Pokusevski, Jazz

Nuggets guard Jamal Murray is the team’s second star player to enter the NBA’s COVID-19 health and safety protocols, reports Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports (Twitter link).

The 6’3″ point guard has been playing solidly since his return from an ACL tear that kept him unavailable throughout the 2021/22 season. Through 13 games, Murray is averaging 16.5 PPG, 4.5 APG, and 3.9 RPG on .429/.355/.767 shooting splits.

Two-time MVP center Nikola Jokic, who entered the league’s coronavirus protocols earlier this week, remains sidelined, and both he and Murray will miss tomorrow’s contest against the Mavericks, Wind adds.

The league’s updated coronavirus policy this season dictates that vaccinated players only need to test for COVID-19 if they exhibit symptoms of the virus. Unvaccinated players are now tested just once a week.

There’s more out of the Northwest Division:

  • Third-year Nuggets power forward Zeke Nnaji would love more rotation minutes for Denver, and expects to make the most of whatever playing time he gets, writes Patrick Saunders of The Denver Post. Given the COVID-19 absence of Jokic, the 6’9″ big man has been able to get a bit more run in the short term. “A lot of the coaches said I had a great camp and made some huge jumps, so I’m just looking to apply that out on the court in an actual game,” Nnaji said. “I have to stay ready. I want to make it hard for them to put me back on the bench… I’m also a relentless rebounder and somebody who plays physical inside as well. I can promise that I will bring energy to the court.” Nnaji is averaging a career-low 6.3 MPG on a deep Denver club this year.
  • Third-year Thunder forward Aleksej Pokusevski seems to be turning a corner in his development this year, writes Ethan Fuller of Basketball News. The 20-year-old is averaging a career-best 9.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and 1.8 BPG. Fuller adds that Pokusevski has also improved as a more efficient scorer and that the seven-footer seems to noticeably more assertive.
  • Jazz forward Rudy Gay continues to rehabilitate from a third finger MCP joint sprain in his left hand, Utah announced in a press release. The Jazz add that the 6’8″ vet will have his injured finger reevaluated in two weeks. In 12 games this season, Gay is averaging 4.5 PPG and 3.4 RPG across 15.8 MPG.

Northwest Notes: Paschall, Nnaji, Simons, Little

The long process of waiting for a phone call in free agency caused Eric Paschall to consider a career change, writes Chris Hine of The Star Tribune. Paschall didn’t receive a qualifying offer after playing for Utah last season and he spent nearly a month as an unrestricted free agent before signing a two-way contract with the Timberwolves in late July.

“It was just a lot, you know what I’m saying?” Paschall said. “I feel like mentally I wasn’t in the greatest place. Just tired. I was like, ‘I might just stop playing basketball.’ … You see the other players getting picked up, you’re not getting a call. You’re calling your agent every day. So I was at a point where I was like I might walk away.”

Paschall credits former teammate Donovan Mitchell and other players with helping him stay focused on the game. Dell Demps, who joined Minnesota’s front office over the summer, was a strong advocate for signing Paschall.

“It wasn’t really the easiest decision. Had to have a lot of tough conversations about it,” Paschall said of accepting the two-way offer. “But I feel like I’m in a pretty good place now. Pretty happy that I’m here.”

There’s more from the Northwest Division:

  • After spending the summer in the weight room, Nuggets power forward Zeke Nnaji has added 10 pounds of muscle and increased his vertical leap by four inches, according to Mike Singer of The Denver Post. Nnaji will be competing with veteran center DeAndre Jordan for backup minutes in the front court. “I’ve really taken a giant leap coming into my third year,” he said. “This is an important year for me.”
  • After running the Trail Blazers’ offense during the second half of last season, Anfernee Simons has to adjust to playing alongside Damian Lillard, notes Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian. Simons has gotten off to a rough start to the preseason, making just six of 25 shots from the field, as he settles into his new role. “It’s a different kind of dynamic from last year because, obviously, I was like the primary ball-handler at all times,” Simons said.
  • Nassir Little is in a battle for the Trail Blazers’ starting small forward spot after injuries wiped out his summer, Fentress adds in a separate story. Little suffered a torn labrum in his left shoulder in January, then had core muscle surgery in May and wasn’t able to play 5-on-5 until last week.

Nuggets Pick Up Zeke Nnaji’s Option

The Nuggets are picking up forward/center Zeke Nnaji’s fourth-year option for the 2023/24 season, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweets.

Nnaji, the 22nd pick of the 2020 draft, has appeared in 83 regular season games during his two seasons, averaging 4.9 points and 2.6 rebounds in 13.2 minutes per game. The option is worth $4,306,281.

The 6’9” big man could see time at both power forward and center this season. He’s fighting veterans Jeff Green and DeAndre Jordan for playing time behind Aaron Gordon and Nikola Jokic. He will make $2,617,800 this season.

Nnaji added 10 pounds of muscle during the offseason and has impressed during the summer and in camp, Mike Singer of the Denver Post tweets.

Northwest Notes: Nuggets, Lillard, Edwards, Holmgren

Veterans Jeff Green, DeAndre Jordan, Ish Smith and Bruce Brown are providing the Nuggets with energy and a level of comfort during training camp, writes Mike Singer of The Denver Post (subscription required). Back-to-back MVP Nikola Jokic is laid back, which allows the more boisterous personalities of Green and Jordan to stand out, Singer notes.

Brown said he feels more at home in Denver than he did during last season’s drama-filled campaign with a big market club in Brooklyn.

I’m more laid back, chill,” Brown said. “I like to be in the house with my dog and my people. Obviously, New York gets a lot of attention, a lot of media attention. That wasn’t for me, but I love my time with those guys.”

According to Harrison Wind of DNVR Sports (Twitter links), Brown has been playing point guard with the second unit, while Zeke Nnaji has been the backup center. That’s a bit of a change for both players — Brown is a swiss army knife type who has played multiple positions, but mostly on the wing, while Nnaji primarily played power forward in the past. Nnaji has performed well in camp thus far, Wind adds.

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Damian Lillard is just 531 points shy of surpassing Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler to become the Trail Blazers‘ all-time leading scorer. Lillard says it’s an accomplishment he doesn’t take lightly. “This feat would mean a lot to me,” Lillard told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. “Just the respect I have for the organization and for Clyde and how great of a player he was. I think it shows just how productive I’ve been throughout my career. It would truly be an honor.”
  • Timberwolves wing Anthony Edwards is hoping to make big strides on the defensive end in 2022/23, saying that because he’ll be guarding top players more often, he’ll be “salty” to not make an All-Defensive team, as Wolves reporter Dane Moore relays (via Twitter). The former No. 1 overall pick will play a huge part in Minnesota’s standing in the West this season.
  • This year’s No. 2 overall pick, Chet Holmgren, will miss the entire season for the Thunder with a foot injury, but he’s still learning about the NBA while recovering, according to Cliff Brunt of The Associated Press. “What I’m trying to do right now is just kind of soak up all the knowledge of how things are done around here, how they’re going to be done going forward,” Holmgren said. “So when I’m ready to get get back in there, I can just kind of seamlessly plug myself in.”

Northwest Notes: Mitchell, Gobert, Nnaji, Gilgeous-Alexander

There are plenty of good reasons why the Jazz need to trade Donovan Mitchell and go into full rebuild mode, Sarah Todd of the Deseret News opines.

Even with the assets acquired in the Rudy Gobert deal with Minnesota, the Jazz still aren’t good enough to be a true contender in the stacked Western Conference, says Todd. And even if they flipped those assets and tried to acquire another star like Kevin Durant, they wouldn’t be good enough to win it all. Wallowing in mediocrity would only serve to frustrate Mitchell and force the organization to deal him at a later date, Todd adds.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • How much will Gobert impact the Timberwolves? The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski picks the brain of colleague Tony Jones, who covered Gobert in Utah. Jones believes Minnesota has more defenders with length and athleticism around Gobert than the Jazz ever had. That will make the Timberwolves a very good team the next couple of years, though there’s some risk of decline near the end of his contract, which runs through the 2025/26 season.
  • Zeke Nnaji has been working with the Nuggets coaches on bulking up so that he can play all three frontcourt positions, Mike Singer of the Denver Post tweets. Nnaji has added 11 pounds of muscle and that could help him carve out a second unit role. The 21-year-old appeared in 41 regular season games last season.
  • Is Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander the best non-All-Star in the league? Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman tackles that subject.