Zeke Nnaji

Nuggets Sign Zeke Nnaji, RJ Hampton To Rookie Deals

The Nuggets have officially signed No. 22 overall draft pick Zeke Nnaji and No. 24 overall pick R.J. Hampton to their rookie contracts, the club announced today in a press release. Hampton’s signing was previously reported.

Nnaji was named the 2019/20 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year on the back of a strong collegiate campaign for Arizona. The 6’11” forward averaged 16.1 PPG, 8.6 RPG and 0.9 BPG across 32 games. Nnaji also converted 57% of his field goal attempts.

Nnaji’s old Arizona teammates Josh Green and Nico Mannion were also selected during the 2020 draft on November 18.

In lieu of a college career, Hampton went pro overseas for the 2019/20 season, averaging 8.8 PPG, 3.8 RPG and 2.4 APG in 15 games for the New Zealand Breakers of Australia’s NBL. The Nuggets acquired the rights to draft the 6’5″ guard as part of the Jrue HolidaySteven Adams four-team trade with the Bucks, Pelicans and Thunder.

Assuming they agree to deals for 120% of the standard rookie scale amounts, which almost every first-round pick does, Nnaji will net $2,379,840 this year and Hampton will make $2,193,480. If their third- and fourth-year options are picked up by Denver, Nnaji will earn $11.8MM in total, while Hampton will receive $11.1MM over the lifetime of his rookie deal.

Northwest Notes: Favors, Thunder, KAT, Nnaji

Jazz reserve center Derrick Favors didn’t need much convincing around before deciding to return to Utah, per Eric Walden of the Salt Lake City Tribune.

“I just came to the decision: ‘You know what, man? It feels better going back to Utah,’” Favors said in a Wednesday afternoon Zoom conversation. “Utah is like a second home to me — I’ve been there since I was 19, [since] around 2010. It just felt right. So once they came with the opportunity, I jumped on it.” 

Favors inked a three-year, $27MM contract with the Jazz to back up All-Star center Rudy Gobert at the start of free agency. Favors previously spent 8.5 seasons with Utah before being dealt to the Pelicans last season. He averaged 9.0 PPG, 9.8 RPG, and 0.9 BPG in 24.4 MPG during the 2019/20 season.

There’s more out of the Northwest Division:

  • Besides Maurice Cheeks, who already left for a job with the Bulls, Brian Keefe and Vin Bhavnani are the only Thunder assistants not returning to be part of Mark Daigneault‘s new coaching staff, notes Joe Mussatto of the Oklahoman. The Thunder previously announced Daigneault’s group, which will include former Knicks interim coach Mike Miller.
  • The Timberwolves are playing a delicate balancing act, as they strive to keep star center Karl-Anthony Towns happy while taking pains to improve the team’s roster long-term, as Jim Souhan of the Minnesota Star Tribune details.
  • New Nuggets rookie forward Zeke Nnaji hopes to become a lockdown defender in Denver, Sean Keeler of the Denver Post reports. “My ultimate goal is to be able to guard one through five consistently,” the 19-year-old out of Arizona said. “I want to be a lockdown defender no matter who I’m guarding. But the biggest thing right now is working on that three through five and just being versatile, no matter what role I’m playing.”

Nuggets Rumors: Grant, Bates-Diop, Bol, Craig, Nnaji

Jerami Grant‘s decision to join the Pistons had a lot to do with his role with the Nuggets, according to Mike Singer of the Denver Post.

Grant received similar offers of three years and $60MM from Detroit and Denver and decided to take an expanded offensive role with the rebuilding Pistons. Grant wasn’t thrilled with being the fourth option on a prime championship contender. He served on the second unit a majority of last season behind Paul Millsap and Grant viewed that as a sacrifice.

Singer offers more info on the Nuggets

  • They filled one of their two remaining roster spots by agreeing to a contract with Millsap on Saturday afternoon. But they don’t intend to keep forward Keita Bates-Diop, so that will open up another roster spot. It will likely be filled by second-year center Bol Bol. The team plans to convert his two-way contract into a standard deal.
  • With Millsap coming back, the next priority is restricted free agent Torrey Craig. His perimeter defense increases his value due to Grant’s departure.
  • If Craig signs elsewhere, they’ll look to add a mobile big man to replace Mason Plumlee, who is also headed to Detroit. If that plan falls through, the role may be filled by first-round selection Zeke Nnaji.

O’Connor’s Latest: Hornets, Knicks, Toppin, Spurs, Harris, More

League sources have long said that the Hornets‘ preference on draft night would be adding a big man, either by trading up for James Wiseman or by picking Onyeka Okongwu, writes Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer. However, according to O’Connor, there are some people in Charlotte’s front office who like the idea of drafting LaMelo Ball if he’s available.

As O’Connor notes, one potential avenue for the Hornets if Wiseman is off the board at No. 3 and Ball is available would be to trade down with a team like Chicago or Detroit that might be eyeing Ball. In that scenario, Charlotte could theoretically pick up an extra asset or two while still having the opportunity to select Okongwu.

Here are a few more of the most interesting tidbits from O’Connor’s latest mock draft at The Ringer:

  • O’Connor’s sources believe the Knicks will select Obi Toppin if he’s available at No. 8. If the Dayton forward makes it past Cleveland at No. 5, there’s a chance he’ll still be on the board for New York.
  • The Spurs “love” Villanova forward Saddiq Bey, according to O’Connor, who says San Antonio is also one of multiple teams with interest in trading up for Florida State’s Patrick Williams.
  • “Everyone around the league” thinks that the Thunder will look to trade up to land seven-footer Aleksej Pokusevski, who has been frequently linked to Oklahoma City in large part due to his agent’s connection to general manager Sam Presti. Agent Jason Ranne used to work in the Thunder’s front office.
  • Within his note on the Nets‘ potential pick at No. 19, O’Connor cites sources who say that Brooklyn is likely to re-sign free agent sharpshooter Joe Harris.
  • The Nuggets are thought to be targeting a frontcourt player at No. 22, league sources tell O’Connor, who identifies Isaiah Stewart and Zeke Nnaji as a couple possibilities.

Western Notes: Suns, Hardaway, WCS, Lakers, Thunder

The Suns are expected to finalize their trade for Chris Paul before the new league year begins on Friday, according to Kevin Pelton of ESPN.com. If that’s the case, the expectation is that Phoenix won’t use cap room this fall, opting to remain an over-the-cap team instead.

While that may prevent the Suns from making one bigger splash on the free agent market, it means the club will retain the flexibility to bring back one or more of Dario Saric, Aron Baynes, and Frank Kaminsky. Phoenix will also have the full mid-level ($9.3MM) and bi-annual ($3.6MM) exceptions available to make additional upgrades to its roster.

Here’s more from around the West:

  • A Mavericks source who spoke to Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News (Twitter link) says the team thinks swingman Tim Hardaway Jr. will likely exercise his player option, while big man Willie Cauley-Stein may not.
  • In addition to his previously reported workouts with Utah, Denver, Miami, and the Clippers, Arizona’s Zeke Nnaji has also auditioned for the Lakers, he said today (Twitter link via Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune). However, Nnaji projects to be a late first-round selection, so he may no longer be an option for the Lakers now that they’ve traded the No. 28 pick.
  • Former Thunder big men Nazr Mohammed and Nick Collison were involved in the team’s head coaching search process, according to Royce Young of ESPN, who tweets that Mohammed and Collison met with candidates to represent the player perspective.
  • In a piece for ESPN.com, Royce Young takes a deep dive into the Timberwolves‘ draft preparations as they get ready to use – or trade – this year’s No. 1 overall pick.

Draft Updates: Ball, Nesmith, Green, Nnaji, Hornets, More

With one week to go until the 2020 NBA draft, we’re continuing to get conflicting information on LaMelo Ball‘s outlook. Earlier this week, ESPN’s Jonathan Givony said that most front office are operating under the assumption that Ball will be the No. 1 pick. Today, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic writes that league sources have begun speculating that the Timberwolves have decided to draft Ball, assuming they keep the top selection.

However, there’s still plenty of chatter pointing in another direction. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said this week during an appearance on The Jump (video link) that many of the executives he has spoken to think Ball could slide a little on draft night. Jeremy Woo of SI.com has heard similar whispers, writing that there’s an increasing belief that Ball could fall into the 4-6 range of the draft.

As we wait to see which reports pan out, here are several more draft-related updates:

  • Vanderbilt sharpshooter Aaron Nesmith told reporters today that he has worked out for the Pelicans, Suns, Spurs, Heat, and Pistons so far, and has a workout lined up with the Celtics (Twitter link via Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington). Nesmith is considered likely to be drafted in the back half of the lottery.
  • Arizona guard Josh Green has worked out for the Nuggets, while his college teammate Zeke Nnaji has had workouts for the Nuggets, Clippers, and Jazz, according to Duane Rankin of The Arizona Republic. Green’s workout with Utah and Nnaji’s workout with Miami – both mentioned by Rankin – were previously reported.
  • Count K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago (Twitter link) among those hearing more and more talk around the NBA linking the Hornets to Onyeka Okongwu. Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer previously reported that Charlotte is eyeing Okongwu, but ESPN said the team hasn’t seriously considered picking any prospects outside the top tier of Ball, James Wiseman, and Anthony Edwards.
  • ESPN draft experts Jonathan Givony, Mike Schmitz, and Kevin Pelton share their mock draft detailing which player each team in the first round should pick.

Draft Rumors: Ball, Bulls, Avdija, Hornets, Okongwu, Nnaji

Earlier this morning, we passed along a report from Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer about the Celtics, Magic, and Wizards showing interest in trading up from their current spots in the first round of the 2020 NBA draft. O’Connor’s latest mock draft at The Ringer includes several more intriguing tidbits about the draft — we’ll round up a few of the highlights here:

  • Echoing a report from Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer, O’Connor says LaMelo Ball has struggled in meetings with teams and could conceivably fall out of the top three. If Ball is still available at No. 4, the Bulls‘ phone will likely be “buzzing,” O’Connor adds.
  • Speaking of the Bulls, multiple sources have told O’Connor recently that they’ve heard Deni Avdija may be the play-maker Chicago wants at No. 4. Avdija would be a nice fit alongside the Bulls’ current pieces, and new head of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas has a history of identifying international talent.
  • Although James Wiseman has been most frequently been linked to the Hornets, the team is also heavily considering Onyeka Okongwu, multiple league sources tell The Ringer. According to O’Connor, there are “many” front offices around the NBA that have Okongwu ranked ahead of Wiseman, so if both players are on the board at No. 3, it’s not necessarily a lock that Charlotte will opt for Wiseman.
  • Former Arizona forward Zeke Nnaji is receiving interest from teams in the late teens and the 20s, O’Connor reports. Nnaji comes off the board at No. 22 to Denver in The Ringer’s mock.

Heat Notes: Riley, Untouchables, Herro, Nnaji

In speaking to reporters last Friday about the Heat‘s NBA Finals loss to the Lakers, team president Pat Riley said “there’s always going to be an asterisk, that caveat” from the Heat’s perspective due to the fact that neither Bam Adebayo nor Goran Dragic was fully healthy for the series. However, Riley made it clear in his follow-up comments on Sunday that he wasn’t saying that an “asterisk” should be placed next to Lakers’ championship itself.

The asterisk is next to the Heat’s name, not the Lakers,” Riley said, per Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press (Twitter link). “Their title is legitimate. Our loss has an asterisk (next) to it. The Lakers were the better team. Period.”

While Riley’s initial wording left some room for interpretation, reading it as a dig aimed at the Lakers would’ve meant ignoring the surrounding context, according to Ira Winderman of The South Florida Sun Sentinel, who noted that when Riley wants to make a point, he’s rarely subtle about it.

Here’s more on the Heat:

  • In a separate article for The Sun Sentinel, Winderman considered which Heat players could be had in hypothetical trades and which would be off the table, identifying the team’s “untouchables” as Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and – for entirely different reasons – Udonis Haslem.
  • After a surprise run to the NBA Finals, the Heat will have to decide how aggressive they want to be with their current roster, writes Zach Harper of The Athletic. Within the story, Harper says league sources believe that if the Heat were to explore a trade for Victor Oladipo, they wouldn’t consider including Tyler Herro in any offer.
  • Former Arizona forward Zeke Nnaji worked out for the Heat on Sunday, according to Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated (Twitter link). The reigning Pac-12 Rookie of the Year, Nnaji is the No. 35 prospect on ESPN’s big board but could be an option for Miami at No. 20 in next month’s draft.

Rockets Notes: Nnaji, Oturu, Silas, Unseld

The Rockets are currently the only team that doesn’t hold a pick in the 2020 NBA draft, but the club has been doing its homework on prospects from this year’s draft class. According to Darren Wolfson of 5 Eyewitness News (Twitter link), Zeke Nnaji and Daniel Oturu are among the prospects that Houston has either interviewed already or plans to interview.

Nnaji and Oturu are the 35th and 36th overall prospects on ESPN’s 2020 big board, so it’s possible that the Rockets are exploring the idea of trading into the second round — Wolfson suggests he wouldn’t be surprised if Daryl Morey contacts old friend Gersson Rosas, whose Timberwolves hold the No. 33 overall pick.

Still, the Rockets may very well just be doing their due diligence on the players entering the league this year so that there are no gaps in their scouting reports. Even if they don’t acquire a pick in this year’s draft, the Rockets will likely have an opportunity at some point down the road to trade for or sign players from the 2020 class, so it makes sense for the club to take advantage of its present opportunity to get to know some of those prospects.

Here’s more on the Rockets:

  • Within his latest mailbag, Kelly Iko of The Athletic explores which Rockets players might be trade candidates this offseason and which free agents the club could realistically target.
  • In a separate article for The Athletic, as part of his ongoing look at several of the candidates for the Rockets’ head coaching job, Kelly Iko evaluates the merits of a pair of assistants, Stephen Silas and Wes Unseld Jr. According to Mark Berman of FOX 26 Houston (via Twitter), Unseld’s previously-reported interview with the team has now taken place. Silas has reportedly met with the Rockets as well.
  • In case you missed it, we also relayed earlier today that former Brooklyn coach Kenny Atkinson and Timberwolves assistant David Vanterpool have interviewed for the Rockets’ head coaching position.

Pacific Notes: Howard, Nnaji, Bjelica, Hield

Veteran center Dwight Howard, who will be back on the free agent market after the Finals, is thankful the Lakers took a chance on him, Michael Scotto of HoopsHype tweets. Howard was moved into the starting lineup during the conference finals. “It’s been the hardest road to get back here. I’m very grateful,” he said. “I’ve never given up on myself.”

We have more from the Pacific Division:

  • Power forward prospects Zeke Nnaji and Jalen Smith have interviewed the Suns, according to Duane Rankin of the Arizona Republic. Nnaji, who played at Arizona, is ranked No. 35 overall by ESPN, while Maryland’s Smith is considered first-round material at No. 20. The Suns currently own just one pick in the draft, the No. 10 overall selection.
  • The Kings’ decision on whether to retain forward Nemanja Bjelica could hinge on how much new GM Monte McNair values Marvin Bagley III, as well as the team’s financial constraints, Jason Jones of The Athletic writes. The Kings hold a $7.15MM option on Bjelica’s contract next season but re-signing Bogdan Bogdanovic is an even bigger priority, Jones continues. If Sacramento drafts another power forward, the team may find Bjelica expendable, Jones adds.
  • The Knicks, Sixers, Grizzlies and Hornets are some of the teams that might be willing to absorb Buddy Hield‘s four-year, $106MM extension and make a deal for the Kings‘ shooting guard, Frank Urbina of HoopsHype speculates. All four of those teams could benefit from the outside shooting of Hield, who had a somewhat disappointing season after signing his extension, which kicks in next season.