Zion Williamson

And-Ones: Zion, Silver, Chalmers, Bona, Lawson

A panel of 15 NBA evaluators, including four general managers, unanimously agreed that Mavericks star Luka Doncic is the player under 25 whom they would most want to build a franchise around, according to Michael Scotto of HoopsHype. Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, Suns guard Devin Booker, and Grizzlies guard Ja Morant received the next-highest scores in the poll.

As Scotto notes, last year’s No. 1 overall pick, Pelicans big man Zion Williamson, placed just seventh on the evaluators’ list, tied with Nuggets guard Jamal Murray. Among the respondents who spoke to Scotto, the enthusiasm for Williamson’s obvious upside was dampened by long-term weight and injury concerns.

“He’s just a special player inside the arc who’s an elite finisher,” one executive said of the Pelicans’ rising star. “… He’s one of the best finishers behind Giannis (Antetokounmpo) and LeBron (James). He can hit the open man. He’s so physically dominant. His shooting shouldn’t be a problem, but we’ll see. I think he’s always going to be hurt, though.”

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

  • NBA commissioner Adam Silver is expected to be at the league’s Walt Disney World campus this week, sources tell Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated (Twitter link). It’s unclear whether Silver’s visit will be brief or if he plans to stick around through the NBA Finals.
  • Greek club Aris Thessaloniki has announced the signing of former NBA guard Mario Chalmers (hat tip to Sportando). A former two-time champion with Miami, Chalmers spent last season in Athens, but continues to hold out hope of making an NBA comeback.
  • Adem Bona, a 17-year-old Nigerian/Turkish big man, will spend the next two seasons stateside at Prolific Prep in California, according to Jonathan Givony of ESPN, who refers to Bona as one of Europe’s “most promising” prospects (Twitter links). He’ll become draft-eligible in 2023, Givony adds.
  • Agent Chris Patrick and The Sports Law Group have ended their representation of former NBA guard Ty Lawson following his ban from the Chinese Basketball Association, reports Michael Scotto of HoopsHype (Twitter link). Lawson last played in the NBA during the 2018 postseason with Washington.

Ja Morant, Kendrick Nunn Headline All-Rookie Team

Grizzlies guard Ja Morant, who previously won the Rookie of the Year award, was the only player unanimously selected to this year’s All-Rookie First Team, the league announced in a press release.  A panel of 100 sportswriters and broadcasters selected the team.

Heat guard Kendrick Nunn collected the second-most First Team votes (98) and total points (197). Grizzlies forward Brandon Clarke, Pelicans forward and top overall draft pick Zion Williamson, and Warriors forward Eric Paschall rounded out the First Team.

Morant and Clarke became the first Grizzlies duo named to the All-Rookie First Team since the 2001/02 season, when Pau Gasol and Shane Battier earned the honor. Nunn is the first Heat player named to the First Team since Michael Beasley in 2008/09.

Heat guard Tyler Herro, Raptors guard Terence Davis II, Bulls guard Coby White, Hornets forward P.J. Washington, and Wizards forward Rui Hachimura gained All-Rookie Second Team honors.

Knicks wing and third overall pick RJ Barrett finished 13 points behind Hachimura for the final spot on the Second Team, with Sixers forward Matisse Thybulle narrowly missing a spot as well.

The voting was conducted based on regular-season games played prior to the restart.

Ja Morant Named NBA Rookie Of The Year

Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant has been named the NBA’s Rookie of the Year for the 2019/20 season, the league announced today in a press release. Morant was a near-unanimous choice, receiving 99 out of 100 possible first-place votes.

Heat guard Kendrick Nunn finished second in Rookie of the Year voting, receiving 56 second-place votes and 36 third-place votes. Pelicans forward Zion Williamson, who only appeared in 19 games prior to the NBA’s shutdown in March, received the final first-place vote and finished third.

The No. 2 overall pick in the 2019 draft, Morant had an outstanding season in Memphis, averaging 17.8 PPG, 7.3 APG, and 3.9 RPG to go along with a .477/.335/.776 shooting line in 67 games (31.0 MPG).

He was unable to lead the Grizzlies to the final playoff spot in the Western Conference this summer, as Memphis lost the play-in game last month to the Trail Blazers. However, voting was based on games completed as of March 11, and despite the disappointing finish to the season, Morant and the Grizzlies significantly outperformed their expectations for 2019/20.

Nunn, an undrafted free agent, averaged 15.3 PPG and 3.3 APG in 67 games (29.3 MPG) as the Heat’s starting point guard this season.

Williamson would have been the frontrunner to win the Rookie of the Year award if a knee injury hadn’t sidelined him for much of the season — he recorded 22.5 PPG, 6.3 RPG, and 2.1 APG in just 24 games (27.8 MPG). His limited playing time created a dilemma for voters. Despite receiving one first-place vote, last year’s No. 1 overall pick was also left off 38 of 100 total three-man ballots.

Here are the full Rookie of the Year voting results:

  1. Ja Morant, Grizzlies (498 points)
  2. Kendrick Nunn, Heat (204)
  3. Zion Williamson, Pelicans (140)
  4. Brandon Clarke, Grizzlies (50)
  5. Coby White, Bulls (3)
  6. Eric Paschall, Warriors (2)
  7. Terence Davis, Raptors (2)
  8. RJ Barrett, Knicks (1)

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Pelicans Rumors: Gentry, Ingram, Ball, Zion

With the Pelicans‘ 2019/20 season set to come to an end following Thursday’s seeding game against the Magic, the next big question the team must answer revolves around Alvin Gentry‘s future. The veteran head coach has now made the postseason just once in five years since arriving in New Orleans.

While the Pelicans have had to deal with some injuries over the course of those five years, the team had loftier expectations, especially considering Anthony Davis was on the roster for those first four years. Additionally, New Orleans appeared to be in prime position to compete for the final playoff spot in the West this summer, but has played underwhelming basketball during the restart, losing five of its seven games, including two to Sacramento.

Within a discussion about the Pelicans’ offseason, Sam Amick of The Athletic says he’d be “very surprised” if Gentry is back for the 2020/21 season, suggesting there are strong signs that head of basketball operations David Griffin would like to make a change. In Amick’s view, Tyronn Lue and even Mike D’Antoni could be candidates worth keeping an eye on if New Orleans decides to move on from Gentry.

Still, Amick and fellow Athletic reporter David Aldridge caution that finances could play a part in the Pelicans’ decision. Gentry is owed more than $5MM for the 2020/21 season, the final year of his current deal. Team ownership may be reluctant to pay off that contract and pay a new head coach next season, given the financial impact the coronavirus pandemic has had.

Here’s more on Gentry and the Pelicans:

  • In an opinion column for NOLA.com, Scott Kushner makes the case for why the Pelicans should move on from Gentry, writing that the team’s “lethargic, uninspired” play during the restart served as “irrefutable evidence” that a new voice is needed.
  • Checking in on the Brandon Ingram situation in New Orleans, Shams Charania of The Athletic says that re-signing the young forward remains the plan for the Pelicans, who have remained in touch with agent Jeff Schwartz all season. Ingram is viewed as a likely maximum-salary player, Charania adds.
  • David Aldridge of The Athletic has heard from sources at the NBA’s campus in Orlando that they expect “significant roster adjustments” for the Pelicans this offseason. Aldridge also hears that Lonzo Ball “looked like he’d checked out” during the restart.
  • Asked today about his offseason plans, Zion Williamson said he intends to work on his game and to “get his body where it needs to be,” tweets Andrew Lopez of ESPN. Williamson didn’t offer additional specifics on where his body needs to be, indicating he needs to talk to the team about that.

Pelicans Notes: Williamson, Gentry, Favors, Ball

The Pelicans were a huge disappointment during the restart and it raises some long-term questions about the roster, according to William Guillory of The Athletic.

Zion Williamson didn’t show improvement in his ball-handling or defense despite the hiatus to work on those aspects of his game, and his weight and lack of conditioning were also issues. The staff was cautious regarding the rookie’s minutes and even sat him out for a game during a back-to-back.

The offseason could be complicated by decisions regarding the futures of Brandon Ingram, Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball and Derrick Favors with the franchise, Guillory adds.

We have more on the Pelicans:

  • The team’s poor finish has put Alvin Gentry firmly on the hot seat but he’d like to think the front office has faith in him, Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated tweets. Regarding the decision whether to retain him, Gentry replied: “That’s not in my job description. If it was, I wouldn’t fire myself.”
  • Favors said on Monday that he’d like to re-sign with the team, Guillory tweets. The 29-year-old big man heads into unrestricted free agency after averaging 9.0 PPG and 9.8 RPG this season. “Hopefully, they’ll have me back,” he said.
  • Ball was disappointed with his performance in Orlando but he’s generally pleased with how his first year in New Orleans unfolded, Mannix writes. “Overall, I think it was a positive experience,” Ball said. “I’m definitely looking forward to next year. I don’t think the whole season should be put on the bubble. Look at the whole year. We made a lot of growth … I’m proud of that.”
  • As we noted earlier, Williamson, Holiday and Ingram will sit out on Tuesday in what amounts to a meaningless game against Sacramento.

Giannis Antetokounmpo To Miss Monday’s Game

The Bucks and Raptors will face one another on Monday night in a possible Eastern Conference Finals preview, but the MVP frontrunner won’t be taking part in the game. Milwaukee announced in this afternoon’s injury report that Giannis Antetokounmpo won’t play against Toronto due to oral surgery.

It’s probably safe to assume the ailment wouldn’t sideline Antetokounmpo for an important playoff game, but with the Bucks and Raptors locked into the East’s Nos. 1 and 2 seeds, respectively, there’s no real need for the two teams to go all-out tonight.

It’s possible the Raptors will be without some of their key rotation players as well. Kyle Lowry (lower back soreness), Fred VanVleet (hyperextended right knee), and Serge Ibaka (right knee contusion) are all listed as questionable for the second end of a back-to-back set.

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

  • Rockets star James Harden will sit out on Tuesday vs. San Antonio for rest purposes, tweets Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle. However, Houston will get two other guards back this week, per Feigen, who says that Russell Westbrook (quad) will return on Tuesday and Eric Gordon (ankle) will play on Wednesday vs. Indiana. Each player will suit up for one of two games in the back-to-back set.
  • The Pelicans have listed Jrue Holiday (right elbow contusion), Brandon Ingram (right knee soreness), and Zion Williamson (right knee soreness) as out for Tuesday’s game vs. Sacramento. Head coach Alvin Gentry said today that the three players are sitting out for “precautionary” reasons, per ESPN’s Andrew Lopez (Twitter link). New Orleans was eliminated from playoff contention over the weekend.
  • It’s not an injury, but Suns center Deandre Ayton didn’t start this afternoon’s game vs. Oklahoma City because he missed his scheduled COVID-19 test on Sunday, tweets Gina Mizell. According to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter links), Ayton was re-tested on Monday morning and received clearance to rejoin the team, arriving late to the game against the Thunder.

Western Notes: Gasol, Doncic, Kings, Zion

Marc Gasol played the Grizzlies on Sunday for the first time since being traded to Toronto in February of 2019, though this isn’t how the veteran center envisioned his reunion would be, Josh Lewenberg of TSN writes. 

The Raptors and Grizzlies were originally slated to play each other twice late in the 2019/20 season, though COVID-19 naturally put a halt to these plans in March. Gasol didn’t get the chance this season to play in Memphis for the first time since the trade, with the city still holding a special place in his heart.

“I got there when I was 16 years old, it was my first time out of Spain,” Gasol said. “Imagine what it meant for me to go to high school there as a teenager and [then leave] as a father of two kids. My youngest actually is from Memphis. He was born in Memphis. And my daughter, their best friends are from Memphis and so on.”

“My ties to the city and my roots go pretty deep. My love for the people there, and what they mean [to me], and for the franchise, it’s forever.”

Gasol spent the first 10 1/2 seasons of his career with the Grizzlies, making three All-Star teams while leading the franchise to numerous playoff berths. He recorded 10 points and six rebounds in 22 minutes of action during the contest.

There’s more from the Western Conference tonight:

  • Several figures around the league raved about the performance from Mavericks star Luka Doncic on Saturday, Tim Bontemps of ESPN writes. Doncic finished with 36 points, 14 rebounds and 19 assists in a win over the Bucks, as he continues to prove his worth as an offensive superstar. “I clapped,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I applauded. I thought it was phenomenal. The sign of a great player, a truly great player, is the ability to pull off something like that against a team like Milwaukee, that gives up virtually nothing in the paint. We’re seeing more things all the time. Luka is not only a great basketball player, he’s a great performer. I’d pay money to watch him play. I don’t say that about a lot of players, but he’s really special.”
  • Jason Anderson of the Sacramento Bee explores the job security of Kings coach Luke Walton, general manager Vlade Divac, and more in his latest mailbag. Sacramento (29-40) is currently three games behind the No. 8 seed Grizzlies (33-38), losing four of their five games in Orlando. The team will be eliminated from playoff contention if it loses to the Rockets on Sunday.
  • NBA insiders at ESPN explore how Pelicans star Zion Williamson has played in Orlando and what it means for the team’s future. Williamson has seen his minutes reduced throughout the team’s games, even scoring a career-low seven points in just 14 minutes during his second game on the campus. Most of the writers agree that Williamson, despite his impressive athleticism and defensive potential, needs to show more effort on defense to reach the next level of his game and help the Pelicans succeed.

Southwest Notes: Ingram, Popovich, Doncic, Zion

Brandon Ingram had planned to be a Lakers star for a long time, but that changed when Anthony Davis became available last summer. Ingram was part of a package of young talent that was sent to the Pelicans for the star big man, but he has fond memories of his three seasons in Los Angeles, writes Kyle Goon of The Orange County Register.

“I think it’s love from each end, because if it was a bad remark or a negative remark, maybe go back, re-tune something and get better at it,” he said of his relationship with Lakers fans. “If it was a good remark, then I thank them for knowing the game of basketball and the person that I am, and that I was gonna get better. So it’s all love from each side. I still got love for the Laker fans, I still got love for the Duke fans.”

There’s more from the Southwest Division:

  • Gregg Popovich continues to stress player development even though his Spurs are in the middle of the battle for the eighth and ninth seeds in the Western Conference, according to Joe Vardon of The Athletic. Veteran guard Patty Mills sat out Friday’s win over the Jazz to give time to Keldon Johnson, Quinndary Weatherspoon and Drew Eubanks, none of whom have playoff experience. “This is all about development, I’ve said that from the beginning,” Popovich said. “The young guys, they get evaluated, we see them playing together and we get to determine how valuable they are in terms of the guys we want to move forward with.”
  • The Grizzlies used a lineup change Friday to pick up their first win since arriving in Orlando, Vardon adds in the same story. Brandon Clarke had been replacing injured big man Jaren Jackson Jr., but coach Taylor Jenkins opted to go with Anthony Tolliver. Memphis outscored Oklahoma City by 21 points while Tolliver was on the court.
  • Three ESPN writers look at what to expect from Mavericks guard Luka Doncic as he gets ready for his first NBA playoff series.
  • Zion Williamson is expected to be ready to face the Spurs tomorrow in a crucial game in the playoff race, tweets Marc Stein of The New York Times. Williamson missed Friday’s game, but the Pelicans didn’t list anyone on today’s injury report.

NBA Announces Finalists For 2019/20 Awards

The NBA has announced the finalists for several awards as the seeding games on the Orlando campus move forward and the postseason nears. It was announced in July that all awards for the 2019/20 season would be based on games up until March 11, when the coronavirus pandemic shuttered play. Media members made their votes before the seeding games began on July 30.

NBA Most Valuable Player Finalists:

NBA Defensive Player of the Year:

NBA Rookie of the Year:

NBA Most Improved Player:

NBA Sixth Man of the Year:

NBA Coach of the Year:

  • Mike Budenholzer (Bucks)
  • Billy Donovan (Thunder)
  • Nick Nurse (Raptors)

The winners for the awards will be announced during the NBA playoffs after the seeding games period concludes on August 14.

Zion Williamson To Sit Out Friday’s Game

Rookie forward Zion Williamson won’t play for the Pelicans on Friday night against Washington, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link). The team has confirmed the news.

The Pelicans have been exercising caution this summer with Williamson, who left the Walt Disney World campus in July and has been seeing his minutes gradually increase over the last week. Friday’s game is the second half of a back-to-back set, after Zion logged 22 minutes on Thursday vs. Sacramento.

While it’s not a major surprise that New Orleans is playing it safe with its most valuable long-term building block, Friday’s game is essentially a must-win if the Pelicans want to keep pace in the race for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot. They’re currently two games behind Portland for the No. 9 seed and 2.5 games back of the eighth-seeded Grizzlies, with just four to play.

Of course, with or without Williamson in the lineup, the Pelicans will be favored over the Wizards, who are 0-4 during the restart and will be the first of the 22 teams in Orlando eliminated from postseason contention if they lose tonight. And while the sample size is small, it’s worth noting that the Pelicans have been a much better team through the four seeding games with Zion off the court (+5.2 net rating) than on it (-22.8).

After tonight, the Pelicans will have crucial matchups on tap with the Spurs (Sunday) and Kings (Tuesday) before finishing their summer slate next Thursday vs. Orlando. It may take a 4-0 record down the stretch for New Orleans to keep its season alive and qualify for a play-in tournament.