August 9, 2018, 1:05 pm
Just over a month before Jayson Tatum scored 24 points in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, hardly backing down from a typically dominant and determined LeBron James at a mere 20 years old, Jaylen Brown was staking his own claim as their team’s best young player. He poured in 34 points, a career-best, and grabbed eight rebounds in a hard-fought 104-102 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on April 22, helping the depleted Boston Celtics erase a 16-point halftime deficit by scoring 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting after intermission. Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s all-arms tip-in broke a tie score with five seconds left in the fourth quarter, giving the Bucks a crucial series-evening victory, but it was Tatum’s heroics seconds earlier that gave the Celtics their first lead of the second half – and added a signature moment to his burgeoning legend.
The rookie’s pull-up 17-footer over the outstretched arms of Khris Middleton further cemented what the basketball world had come to realize during the previous several months. The question wasn’t whether or not Tatum would grow into stardom, but how quickly he’d do so on a team loaded with individual talent that nevertheless prefers to play an egalitarian style. But with Tatum confirming his precocious brilliance and old-school flair for one-on-one drama to a national audience in real time, it became easy to forget why he had the chance to take advantage of that opportunity in the first place.
After a pair of free throws by Antetokounmpo pushed Milwaukee’s lead to four with under two minutes remaining, Brown made the last of his five triples on the night, a filthy between-the-legs step-back from the right wing that put Thon Maker on skates.
The surprising prevalence of such eye-popping moves with the ball in his hands warrants a closer look at Brown’s breakout sophomore campaign, especially as Boston, finally fully healthy, establishes a new offensive hierarchy leading up to 2018-19. Conventional wisdom says that among the many players who stepped up during the Celtics’ thrilling playoff run last spring, Brown is the one poised to see his role changed most due to the re-integration of Kyrie Irving and addition of Gordon Hayward. The realities informing that notion aren’t necessarily critiques of Brown’s blossoming skill set, either, as much as they are an acknowledgement of his ability to affect the game in multiple ways.
At 6-foot-7 and an ever-sturdy 225 pounds with long arms, Brown has the rare physical tools necessary to check quick lead guards, score-first wings and do-it-all forwards. He received five votes for First Team All-Defense at the age of 21, and considering the correlation between experience and defensive effectiveness combined with his notorious work ethic, is primed to emerge as one of the league’s most switch-proof perimeter defenders – the type it takes to make life hard on an offensive juggernaut in the modern NBA.
But earmarking Brown as a contending team’s designated stopper sells his offensive potential well short. Andre Iguodala didn’t fall back into that role until his tenth season of service, at the crest of his thirties, after a decade of being stretched past his limits as a first or second option. But following last season, when he managed the difficult feat of increasing his usage, true shooting percentage and assist rate while simultaneously lowering his turnover rate, Boston would be remiss to put an artificial ceiling on Brown, no matter the extent of Tatum’s promise, nor the expected amount of touches and shots for anyone else on Brad Stevens’ roster.
Preseason concerns about the Celtics, up to that point gritty underdogs coalescing into a whole more than the sum of their parts, adding a ball-dominant superstar to the fold in 2017-18 were unfounded. Irving’s average touch time of 4.82 seconds, his lowest since tracking data became available in 2013-14, was actually .8 seconds less than Isaiah Thomas‘ number from the previous season, but Boston still held the ball far longer than any other in the Stevens era. Irving being shut down for good on March 11 also didn’t change anything in that regard. The Celtics averaged 3.01 seconds per touch on the whole last season, 11th-most in basketball, and one-hundredth of a second more than they did after Irving went down.
The offensive principals Stevens preaches have been mostly immune to perceived threats of ball-hoggery so far, basically, but that doesn’t mean the same will prove true going forward. No team in the NBA, including the Golden State Warriors, has more hungry mouths to feed than Boston. Even role players like Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier and Marcus Morris are gifted and confident enough to expect a certain number of shots. Al Horford‘s real influence is never accurately portrayed by points or field goal attempts, thankfully, and it stands to reason Hayward, still not cleared for full basketball activities, will need some time re-acclimating to the speed of the game before assuming an offensive role like the one he had with the Utah Jazz – if he’s ready to do so at all.
Regardless, it goes without saying some Celtics will have to sacrifice more than others for the greater good, and Brown’s inherent versatility makes it seem like he could be chief among them. Knocking down open jumpers, attacking close-outs, bullying overmatched defenders on the block after switches and running the floor in transition would let Brown play to his natural and nurtured strengths without taking the ball away from teammates, whose more limited ability to impact the action on both sides of the floor means their energy is best expended on offense. It’s not like standing behind Irving and Tatum, shot-making maestros, or even Hayward and Horford in the offensive pecking order suggests any lack of confidence in Brown’s developmental track on behalf of the team itself. Kawhi Leonard, remember, would probably be wearing green and gold had Danny Ainge relented on his steadfast refusal to include Brown (and Tatum) in any trade package offered to the San Antonio Spurs.
Clearly, Boston likes the player Brown is right now and has even higher hopes for the one he’ll become. As near-consensus Eastern Conference frontrunners, though, the Celtics might feel tempted to give into temptations of playing for the present instead of the future, robbing Brown of the growing pains needed to reach his full potential. Evolving into a player of Iguodala’s ilk and caliber would be a fantastic outcome for his career, but not the one that keeps Boston’s championship window open widest and longest. The Warriors aren’t going anywhere this season anyway; why wouldn’t the Celtics try and strike the delicate balance between fostering the development of a guy like Brown and winning as many games as possible?
Doing so will be far easier said than done, of course, but represents a problem every team in the league wishes it had. How Stevens tries to solve it won’t just loom large for Brown’s future, but Boston’s at large, too.
September 21, 2018, 10:29 pmGorgui Dieng - C - Minnesota Timberwolves
ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported that league sources indicate that the Timberwolves prefer to package Jimmy Butler with Gorgui Dieng and the $48 million he’s owed over the next three years.
Dieng was routinely pulling in top-60 value in 9-cat before Taj Gibson vame to town so a trade to a better situation might do him some good. We’re sure there will be a lot more updates on the Jimmy Butler situation so stay tuned.
September 21, 2018, 9:12 pmTyler Ulis - G - Golden State Warriors
The Golden State Warriors have signed Tyler Ulis to an Exhibit 10 deal according to Anthony Slater at The Althletic.
ESPN’s Marc J. Spears also reported that Ulis chose the Warriors over the Rockets and the Kings. Ulis will get to join the team for training camp and the Exhibit 10 deal offers a little more protection from the Warriors’ end, but it’s hard to see how Ulis will fit in their plans. If he sticks, he won’t have any fantasy value barring an injury, and if he ends up getting waived we’ll have to see if he signs with the Dubbs’ G-League squad or pursues other opportunities.
Source: Anthony Slater on Twitter
September 21, 2018, 8:39 pmEmeka Okafor - C - Philadelphia Sixers
The Philadelphia Sixers have signed Emeka Okafor to a training camp deal one day before the start of camp.
Even if the ancient Okafor manages to stick on the roster, he shouldn’t be anything more than a veteran presence.
September 21, 2018, 7:38 pmBogdan Bogdanovic - G - Sacramento Kings
The Sacramento Kings have announced that Bogdan Bogdanovic will have an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee on Monday.
There was no time-table given but these usually have a recovery of 4-to-6 weeks. There should be an update after the surgery on Monday but it looks like Bogi will miss the beginning of the season. As we previously reported, this is the same left knee that he had surgery on earlier this summer to repair a slight medial meniscus tear. Two surgeries in the span of a few months doesn't sound good and this'll be a big red flag come draft time. It's good news for Buddy Hield however.
Source: Marc J Spears on Twitter
September 21, 2018, 7:27 pmJimmy Butler - G - Minnesota Timberwolves
Woj is reporting that despite rebuffs from Minnesota’s front office regarding Jimmy Butler, owner Glen Taylor informed participants of the NBA’s Board of Governors meeting that Butler is indeed available and that they should contact him personally if necessary.
Wow. It looks like things are escalating behind the scenes with Taylor and Thibodeau issuing opposing directives regarding disgruntled Jimmy Butler. It seems like Butler is close to being moved and Thibs could be next to follow him out the door.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter
September 21, 2018, 5:36 pmDeAnthony Melton - G - Phoenix Suns
The Phoenix Suns have signed newly obtained De’Anthony Melton to a two-year, $2.3 million rookie deal.
The Suns obtained Melton from the Rockets for Ryan Anderson and Brandon Knight earlier this summer so this signing was always going to happen at some point. With Devin Booker (hand) probably out to start the season and not a whole lot of options to start at point guard, Melton could be a nice surprise. We’ll have to see what the preseason brings.
Source: Shams Charania on Twitter
September 21, 2018, 5:28 pmAdam Silver - Commissioner - Invalid Team
The NBA’s Board of Governors has approved three changes to the rule book for this season dealing with resetting the shot-clock on an offensive rebound, simplifying the clear path rules and expanding the definition of a “hostile act.”
The first tweak is that the shot-clock will reset reset to 14 seconds after an offensive rebound instead of the usual 24 seconds. The second change is to the clear-path rule- now, it is defined as a personal foul against any offensive player during his team’s transition scoring opportunity so refs won’t have to determine if the defender was in front of the ball or not, or if the defender beat the offensive player to the frontcourt. The last chance will be expanding the definition of a “hostile act” to allow for additional replay for off-ball or other altercations.
Source: NBC Sports
September 21, 2018, 4:54 pmMarkelle Fultz - G - Philadelphia Sixers
Markelle Fultz denied having the “yips” last season and said his struggles shooting the ball were due to his shoulder injury.
This is the opposite of what shooting guru Drew Hanlen said over the summer when he asserted that Fultz had the “yips” and “completely forgot how to shoot.” We’re thinking as a young player, Fultz probably wants to protect his ego and maybe his image- despite recent headway made in the NBA dealing with mental health issues, nobody wants to admit to being psychologically ‘soft.’ At this stage it’s rather irrelevant as to why; we just want to see if Fultz can shoot it or not. Preseason games start soon and we’ll have the popcorn ready.
September 21, 2018, 4:42 pmJimmy Butler - G - Minnesota Timberwolves
According to Jon Krawczynski at The Athletic, Jimmy Butler might not show up to training camp if he isn't traded.
We previously relayed Woj's report that the Wolves were not planning to trade Butler so it looks like both parties are ratcheting up their rhetoric before the season starts. Butler is a notoriously stubborn guy as is coach Thibs so we'll see who wins this head-butting battle. The writing's on the wall for Butler's time in Minnesota, so it's only a matter of when. Tom Thibodeau could be following him out the door as owner Glenn Taylor has been dissatisfied with his old-school tactics.
Source: The Athletic
September 21, 2018, 4:36 pmCarmelo Anthony - F - Houston Rockets
Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said he wants wants Carmelo Anthony on the floor when P.J. Tucker is off, and vice versa because he sees them both as power forwards.
It was widely assumed that Melo and Tucker would start together but now it appear to not be the case so maybe James Ennis is the starter at the 3. We’ll have to see how his rotation shakes out and if Melo’s staggered minutes coincide with Chris Paul’s. Either way, Melo looks to have a decreased role on offense as James Harden and Chris Paul control the offense.
Source: Kelly Iko on Twitter