June 20, 2018, 3:12 pm
Anfernee Simons is the only prospect the Portland Trail Blazers brought in for a second workout ahead of Thursday night’s NBA draft. The 19-year-old guard impressed the Blazers enough in a session on June 4 to be asked back for the team’s sixth and final pre-draft workout, held on Tuesday alongside five other players, including Dzanan Musa, the Bosnian wing many have projected to Portland since the draft order was finalized in mid May.
Both Simons and Musa were born in the spring of 1999. A calendar month separates their births: Simons on June 8, Musa 30 days earlier. In terms of playing experience against legitimate competition, though, the teenagers stand at opposite ends of the draftee spectrum. Musa, playing for Croatia’s Cedevita Zagreb, is the only player his age to average at least 20 points per 40 minutes in EuroCup play, per DraftExpress, and accomplished that feat with an impressive blend of efficiency and versatility.
At 6-foot-9, the ultra-confident forward can knock down open shots, attack aggressive close-outs by making plays off the dribble and, assuming his aggression is reined in, generally keep the offense flowing until a good look materializes. He would not only help fill the Blazers’ deepest and longest-running roster hole, but also allow for the possibility of immediate production with ample room to improve going forward.
Musa, definitely more than Simons, seems to fit the updated team-building blueprint Neil Olshey outlined for the Blazers at the pre-draft combine last month, during a television appearance on ESPN.
“I think this offseason we shift our focus to playoff-caliber guys,” he said, “guys that hit the right benchmarks or the body of work that can really perform come April knowing the rebuild got done quicker than we thought and it’s time to start thinking of playoff success over whether or not we can or can’t make the playoff while retooling.”
Portland isn’t finished rebuilding. The core of this team isn’t good enough to get past an average first-round playoff opponent, let alone challenge legitimate championship teams in May and June. The overall point Olshey is trying to make still stands, however. The Blazers, right in the thick of Damian Lillard‘s prime, no longer have the luxury of patience to facilitate hopes of future title contention. They need to win now, at a higher level than they have since the new millennium, to ensure Lillard’s preferred fate as the increasingly-rare superstar whose entire career is played with one franchise.
The player Portland selects late in the first round almost certainly won’t seal that destiny all by himself. Picks in the twenties are used on potential role players, long-shot starters and total projects. Simons, interestingly enough, is most accurately defined as the latter. He graduated from Orlando’s Edgewater high school in 2016-17 and enrolled at basketball factory IMG Academy last season, where he further solidified his standing as a top-10 recruit in the class of 2018.
In March, the former Louisville commit announced his decision to enter June’s draft, becoming the rare American-born player to bypass both college basketball and professional opportunities overseas before entering the NBA.
Simons’ upside is undeniable. A late-blooming guard who barely got off the bench for prep powerhouse Montverde Academy in 2015-16, he blossomed after transferring to Edgewater and re-classifying backwards, first winning Florida’s Class 7A player of the year, then dominating the summer circuit prior to enrolling at IMG, where he averaged 22.4 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game.
At a skinny 6-foot-4 in shoes with a wingspan over 6-foot-9, Simons, though a bit shorter, is physically comparable to Dejounte Murray and Patrick McCaw, who each forced their way onto the court for contenders as rookies through defense, athleticism and relentless activity. But unlike Murray and McCaw, Simons can shoot; he knocked down 45 percent of his 3-point attempts for IMG last season, showing off deep range and innate comfort shooting off the dribble.
Any team in the league would love to get its hands on a smooth, explosive guard with ready-made shooting ability, natural ball-handling verve and the physical gifts to theoretically check multiple positions. Simons is far more prospect than player at this stage, though, and the Blazers, Olshey continues insisting, are done mining for uncut diamonds in the rough.
“We need to kind of view our future this summer through the lens of, ‘How are we going to be more impactful and play at a higher level come playoff time next year?” he told ESPN’s Cassidy Hubbarth earlier this month.
Taking Simons, and probably even Musa, who could be selected in the teens, with a late first-round pick in a draft marked by its quality depth isn’t the answer to that question. Perhaps Portland is so high on either teenager’s long-term potential that it will veer from big-picture offseason plans with regard to the draft, and double its focus on finding playable bargains in free agency.
Maybe the Blazers are furiously working the phones, hoping to use their first-rounder as a means of shedding unwanted salary while moving down in the draft and stealing Simons with an early second-round pick. Still, both approaches would prioritize the future over the present. Portland is hardly the only team in need of two-way help on the wing, and has less financial flexibility than most of its counterparts during a player-movement in which period cap space is at an all-time low.
The Blazers should have several appealing options at No. 24 who fit Olshey’s revised offseason plan of attack, too. At least one of Georgia Tech’s Josh Okogie, Oregon’s Troy Brown and Creighton’s Khyri Thomas, who have all worked out for Portland, is likely to be on the board late in the first round. While none of those guys possess the theoretical star power of Simons or Musa, each of them could be earmarked for a shot at rotation minutes coming into training camp as the bench “three-and-D” option the Blazers sorely lacked last season.
Boise State senior Chandler Hutchison, rumored as a Portland target early in the pre-draft process, and Duke freshman Gary Trent, Jr. also loosely fit that bill.
Olshey and his basketball underlings in the front office should absolutely perform due diligence on any prospect that piques their interest. Bringing in a player to workout, just once or on multiple occasions, doesn’t necessarily suggest a team is seriously considering drafting him, either. If Simons didn’t shoot the ball well in early June, for instance, it would make sense that Portland’s decision-making brass wanted to watch him again in hopes of matching the in-person eye test with the established assessment of the scouting community.
Some team insiders have submitted the Blazers yearned to see how Simons, just 183 pounds, fared playing against more physical, experienced competition, which is why they worked him out opposite Jaylen Brunford and Jacobi Boykins, a pair of college seniors unlikely to be drafted.
Either way, it’s certainly telling that Portland seems to have done more intel on a high-school prospect – who plays the same position as Lillard and C.J. McCollum, no less – than any other player in the draft, and not just because that development clashes with Olshey’s stated method of upgrading his roster.
The ugly reality is that the Blazers, as constructed, are stuck somewhere between playing the long and short games of team-building. They don’t have enough high-end talent to compete with juggernauts, nor a reasonable means of acquiring it, but clearly need to round off the rough edges of their supporting cast to even get the opportunity to beat the Golden State Warriors or Houston Rockets in the first place.
A fully-realized Simons could go a long way toward making that happen. What Olshey and company must decide is if waiting for him to get there, and sacrificing their best chance at immediately fortifying an obvious roster weakness, is worth the possible payoff.
We’ll find out Thursday night.
June 2, 2020, 8:45 pmJohn WallPG, Washington Wizards
John Wall, who has long been rumored to have absolutely zero chance of returning to the court even if the current season is resumed, said in a conference call last week that he feels "110 percent."
Wall and the Wizards both maintain that he will not return to action this season, regardless of the outcome of the vote on Thursday by the NBA Board of Governors. This is good news, obviously, for the team as they set their sights on next season. As of late, trade rumors have been swirling around the franchise's two top assets: Wall and All Star guard Bradley Beal. Moving forward, there is a high possibility that the Wizards will decide between the two, as Beal's contract will expire after next season. Which player will the Wizards keep? Who will they trade, or will they trade them both? They are hoping to have some time to evaluate how the pair plays in tandem early next season, as Wall has missed significant time with a torn left Achilles he suffered during the 2018-19 season. But it may be too late to negotiate an extension with Beal at that point, so they will have to play their cards with extreme care.
Source: The Athletic
June 2, 2020, 8:27 pmBradley BealSG, Washington Wizards
Wes Unseld, a Hall of Famer and Washington Bullets legend, passed away on Tuesday due to complications with pneumonia and other illnesses. He was 74 years old.
An outstanding rebounder, Unseld is also one of only two players to ever be awarded Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in the same season in 1968-69. He guided the Bullets to the NBA Finals four times, winning once in 1978, a series where Unseld took home MVP honors. Hornets' GM and former teammate Mitch Kupchak said of Unseld, “As a teammate, he was tough, dependable and competitive to no end.” Unseld was a fearless competitor and highly respected across the league during his 13 seasons with the Bullets franchise. Former Knicks center and fellow Hall of Famer Willis Reed recently recalled their battles against one another, "He was most consciously a rebounder — he could shoot, but he didn’t emphasize that part of his game — and felt that if he did his job right, by getting the defensive rebound and making the quick outlet pass, they would score quickly.” Unseld was undoubtedly a pioneer for the game of basketball and means a great deal to the city of Washington D.C.
Source: Rick Bonnell on Twitter
June 2, 2020, 7:58 pmLeBron JamesSF, Los Angeles Lakers
ESPN's Adrian Wojanrowski is reporting that Adam Silver and the NBA Board of Governors, who are planning to vote Thursday on how to continue the season, would like the NBA Finals to conclude no later than October 12.
With July 31 being the widely-reported restart date and the league tentatively planning to start 𝘯𝘦𝘹𝘵 season by Christmas Day of this year, it would make sense to crown a league champion as early as possible. The meeting with the NBA Board of Governors on Thursday will (finally) bring some clarity to the rest of the NBA season, as they will hold a vote to decide how to proceed. NBA fans have been waiting since the middle of March for some resolutions. This week will provide them.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter
June 2, 2020, 12:28 pmStephen CurryPG, Golden State Warriors
The Warriors opened their practice facility on Monday, per Anthony Slater of The Athletic.
Slater adds that five players showed up for voluntary workouts. It's the first time that Golden State's gym has been open in over two months, and there are only three teams who have yet to get players back into team facilities. While it must be nice for the players to get back to some kind of business, the Warriors are not expected to be playing any more games this season given their league-worst record and the likelihood that the NBA trims the fat rather than ask every team to play out the season.
Source: Anthony Slater on Twitter
May 31, 2020, 8:10 pmKz OkpalaF, Miami Heat
Kz Okpala's offensive game has come a long way since January according to Heat Vice President and Assistant GM, Adam Simon.
Okpala is already viewed as an NBA-ready defender, and once his offensive game is up to speed the Heat will have a hard time not getting him into the rotation. He spent 20 games in the G League and five with the Heat before the suspension slowed down his progression in 2020. Okpala got off to a slow start due to injuries, and a trade on draft day took away his chance to play in summer league. While this season is unlikely to amount to anything, Okpala is someone to watch in deeper leagues next year.
Source: Miami Herald
May 31, 2020, 8:03 pmGabe VincentPG, Miami Heat
Heat Vice President and Assistant GM, Adam Simon, stated that Gabe Vincent's knee is "good to go".
It sounds like Vincent would have no problem being NBA ready if the Heat decided to call up the two-way guard when play hopefully resumes July 31. Vincent is a strong 3-point shooter with the ability to attack a closeout, but it is still unlikely the Heat will need to put him on the floor for the remainder of the 2019-20 season.
Source: Miami Herald
May 31, 2020, 7:51 pmShake MiltonSG, Philadelphia Sixers
According to projections by Mike O'Connor and Derek Bodner of The Athletic, Shake Milton will be a starter for the Sixers whenever play relaunches.
Milton was thriving for the Sixers when the season was suspended due to COVID-19, and some risk remains that Ben Simmons will bump him from the rotation when the stoppage in play is lifted. In 16 starts with the Sixers, Milton averaged 14.1 points, 2.2 3-pointers, 3.6 assists, 3 rebounds and 1.1 steals. As a 3-pointer specialist along, Milton has earned a slot in 12-team formats, but things are going to be more difficult when he is forced to play off-ball in a fully healthy lineup in Philadelphia
Source: The Athletic
May 31, 2020, 7:42 pmKevin DurantSF, Brooklyn Nets
On a recent ESPN podcast featuring Adrian Wojnarowski and his colleague Zach Lowe, Wojnarowski stated that Kevin Durant (torn Achilles) would not play for the Nets this year.
Wojnarowski went onto say that he had no source that had relayed that information to him. The Nets have largely been deferring to Durant and the medical staff when it comes to his prospects for playing this year. While the organization may get hopeful that KD will lace it up for a playoff run, all signs are still pointing to him waiting until 2020-21.
Source: Anthony Puccio on Twitter
May 29, 2020, 7:43 pmEric GordonSG, Houston Rockets
Rockets guard Eric Gordon has improved his diet, focused on sprints, and has apparently shed 12 pounds in the process, according to Kelly Iko of The Athletic.
Gordon has battled knee ailments for essentially his whole career and has dealt with his fair share of nagging injuries this season as well. Losing weight to create a lighter frame would seem sensible, especially with the knee issues. The Rockets, remember, fully adopted the "small ball" lineup and move fast so Gordon is smart to keep his endurance and fitness at high levels. He's going to have to play well and make shots for the Rockets when the NBA returns to action, otherwise coach Mike D'Antoni won't be able to justify giving Gordon minutes. We don't anticipate much fantasy value out of him if and when the league starts back up.
Source: The Athletic
May 29, 2020, 6:03 pmLeBron JamesSF, Los Angeles Lakers
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN is reporting that the NBA is planning for a Board of Governors vote on Thursday, during which they are expected to approve Adam Silver's proposal for re-starting the season in Orlando.
The trend lines are all moving in this direction, and this adds another bullet point on the schedule as the league prepares for launching games on July 31. Adam Silver has been able to bridge any divides between ownership and the players, and has been taking into account all his key constituent's views as we approach approval of a plan for moving forward. We still have plenty of items to resolve before we see game action, but the NBA is gaining momentum as these details come into place.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter