• Leading up to the Portland Trail Blazers’ season-opener against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers at Moda Center on October 18, HoopBall is profiling the team’s 15 players with guaranteed contracts, in reverse order of price.

    Prior entries: Jake Layman, Gary Trent, Jr.

    Player: Nik Stauskas

    2018-19 salary: $1,512,601

    Position: off-ball guard

    Age, experience: 24, fifth year

    Measureables: 6-foot-6, 205 pounds (6-foot-7 and 3/4 inch wingspan)

    Strengths: spot-up shooting, passing

    Weaknesses: individual defense, ball handling, finishing, overall versatility

    Swing factor: team defense

    Likely role: shooting specialist, spot minutes

    From the forced perspective of a team’s most obvious need and a player’s most reliable skill, the Portland Trail Blazers and Nik Stauskas form a near-perfect union – especially when taking into account salary. Finding a long-range shooter of his caliber, size and price was a coup for Neil Olshey, which is why news’ of Stauskas’ deal was announced shortly after free agency began on July 1.

    The Blazers’ bench shot 8-of-37 from deep while getting swept out of the first round by the New Orleans Pelicans. Evan Turner, Shabazz Napier and Pat Connaughton combined to make just four of the 20 3-pointers they took without a defender within four feet, per NBA.com/stats. The Pelicans suffocated Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum on the ball by pressuring pick-and-rolls, sloughing off role players away from the play, and Portland’s awaiting shooters consistently failed to make them pay.

    Stauskas, under the same level of non-duress, almost certainly would have. He shot an even 40 percent from beyond the arc last season, reaching that telling threshold for the first time in his career after being billed as a true marksman leading up to the 2014 draft. What was supposed to set Stauskas apart from other shooting specialists and made him a lottery pick in the first place, though, was the nascent playmaking ability he flashed between splashing threes en route to winning Big 10 Player of the Year.

    Through three stops in four seasons, Stauskas has been completely unable to translate that skill to the NBA, instead settling in as the one-dimensional shooter pre-draft analysts were confident he would avoid becoming. In 2015-16, he joined the likes of Channing Frye and Quinn Cook as one of 10 players in basketball with a usage rate of 15 or higher who attempted less than 30 free throws, according to basketball-reference. Any hope Stauskas will become something more than a specialist has pretty much evaporated by this point, but that doesn’t explain why Portland was able to sign him for the minimum at a time in the league floor spacing has never loomed larger. At 6-foot-6, he has the height all teams covet from from guards, and still possesses enough natural feel and understanding to keep the offense flowing in ball screens or hand-offs on the second side of the floor.

    Unfortunately, Stauskas’ jumper lacks the versatility necessary to make him an imminently threatening weapon. He’s certainly not J.J. Redick or Wayne Ellington, comfortable sprinting around screens and launching with accuracy no matter how his feet are aligned, and his release isn’t nearly as quick as Kyle Korver‘s. Even if Stauskas mastered the ability to move without the ball, he isn’t a strong enough shooter to be unmoved by defensive pressure. A whopping 96 of his 100 3-point tries last season were open, per NBA.com/stats. Stauskas’ shooting ability doesn’t bend the will of an entire defense; his presence simply ensures the man guarding him won’t be able to abandon his assignment to muck up the action elsewhere.

    To be sure, the addition of a player who provides that element is important for the Blazers, particularly in wake of New Orleans providing the league a blueprint for how to slow down Lillard and McCollum. In a pinch, Terry Stotts can feel confident turning to Stauskas would give Portland a jolt offensively, whether he’s knocking down shots or just standing on the weak side of the floor. The problem is that Stauskas is too big a defensive liability for him to wield that influence as part of a good team’s rotation. He doesn’t have the short-area quickness to keep the ball in front of him or the speed to keep up with opposing guards weaving through screens, and more generally, hasn’t shown the engagement necessary to account for his relative physical deficiencies. Entering his fifth NBA season, Stauskas is still sometimes prone to the simple mistakes that plague rookies.

    The hope is that the Blazers’ staff coaches those lapses out of his game, helping Stauskas emerge as a dependable thread of the defensive string. Stotts and company have worked wonders on that side of the ball with Jusuf Nurkic over the past 18 months, and helped Lillard emerge as something close to an average defender last season. It’s not like Redick and Korver are stoppers; they avoid being routinely exploited by superior athletes through hustle, physicality and understanding.

    Stauskas, with additional time and patience, can perhaps develop a sense of that mental toughness. Unless it comes with continued improvement from beyond the arc, though, he’ll likely be relegated to spot minutes in 2018-19, being called upon for specific situations and possessions that reflect the single strength and many limits of his game.

Fantasy News

  • Trae Young
    PG, Atlanta Hawks

    The eight NBA teams left out of the remainder of the season proposed to play a summer league with televised games to help the development of younger players.

    The teams are concerned that the extended time off from playing organized basketball for their young players. Hawks owner, Tony Ressler told Ramon Shelburne that "Nine months is too long without organized basketball. I think the league has heard that loud and clear. We are pushing to remain competitive. That's what our players want. We were desperate to have something that helps us to stay competitive." It's encouraging that the eight NBA teams seem to be on the same page with playing games before the start of the 2020-2021 season. This would likely only include younger players, so it would be an interesting opportunity to monitor emerging prospects.

    Source: ESPN

  • Zach LaVine
    SG, Chicago Bulls

    Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun Times reported that the Sixers' assistant coach, Ime Udoka, is the front-runner to be hired as the Bulls' new head coach.

    New president Arturas Karnisovas and GM Marc Eversley are looking to part ways with current head coach Jim Boylen. This will likely be a positive for younger players on the Bulls' roster as Boylen seemed to have a disconnect with them. Raptors' assistant coach Adrian Griffin is also in consideration to be the Bulls' coach.

    Source: Chicago Sun Times

  • Meyers Leonard
    C, Miami Heat

    Erik Spoelstra said that Meyers Leonard (sprained left ankle) is "feeling great".

    Leonard has been steadily recovering given the extra time off with the season being suspended. It was reported by Sports Illustrated back in April that he would be ready to return when the NBA season resumes and it appears that is still the case with Spoelstra's latest comment. Leonard will be a role player for the Heat with limited minutes, which makes him unreliable for fantasy.

    Source: Miami Herald

  • Al-Farouq Aminu
    PF, Orlando Magic

    Al-Farouq Aminu (right torn meniscus), "most likely will not be healthy enough to return," when the season resumes according to the Orlando Sentinel.

    Aminu had season-ending surgery in early January and shed his brace in March. There some some speculation he could return due to the extra time off but in an interview this week, Magic president Jeff Weltman didn't give any indication Aminu was close to a return saying, “Not a whole lot of news there. As always, we’re going to wait and see how they respond to rehab." With Jonathan Isaac in the same boat as Aminu, expect Khem Birch and James Ennis to continue splitting the frontcourt minutes opposite Aaron Gordon.

    Source: Orlando Sentinel

  • Kyrie Irving
    PG, Brooklyn Nets

    According to Adrian Wojnarowski, Kyrie Irving (right shoulder) could conceivably join his Nets' teammates in Orlando when they return to play later this summer, albeit as an inactive player.

    There was really never much of a possibility that Irving would return to action in 2019-20 unless the season got pushed back severely. After the arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder in late February, the Nets tentatively said they expected to have him back in time for preseason workouts in the fall (which will now likely take place in November or later). That still seems like the likely scenario, even given the long pause the league was forced to undergo. Caris LeVert had shown flashes of brilliance again this season after he returned from injury, so he and Spencer Dinwiddie will evidently be shouldering the ball-handling duties when the Nets take the floor in Orlando.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowksi on Twitter

  • Kevin Durant
    SF, Brooklyn Nets

    Kevin Durant (right Achilles) confirmed on Friday that he will not take the court for the Nets when they return to play in Orlando in late July and early August when they close out the 2019-20 season.

    Given the extended pause to the current season due to the COVID-19 outbreak, there were many who believed the Nets could plausibly try to bring back both Durant and Kyrie Irving from their respective injuries in order to make a push for a championship later this summer. Evidently, Durant will remain out of the equation for the Nets as they look to close out the season on a high note. "My season is over," Durant said. The Nets currently sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference and will have to maintain that position in order to avoid the planned play-in bracket to decide the eighth seed after the initial eight final "regular season" games. Durant has never seemed likely to play, even with the pandemic disrupting the season, and it seems as though he won't be playing for the Nets in Orlando. Much crazier things have happened, though.

    Source: The Undefeated

  • Kelly Oubre Jr.
    SF, Phoenix Suns

    Kelly Oubre Jr. (torn right meniscus) will be able to take the floor for the Suns when the NBA returns to play in Orlando on July 31, the team's owner Robert Sarver said on Friday.

    This is phenomenal news for the Suns, as Oubre had really been having a breakout season for the Suns (18.7 PTS, 6.4 REB, 1.5 AST, 1.3 STL, 0.7 BLK and 1.9 threes per game in 34.5 minutes) prior to going down with a torn meniscus in late February. He was originally expected to miss the rest of the 2019-20 season, but due to the pandemic he has recovered and will evidently be fully functional for a team that currently sits in 13th place in the Western Conference. They will have quite the uphill battle to force their way into the playoff field in August, as there will only be eight regular season games played before the playoffs are set.

    Source: Arizona Sports

  • Jonathan Isaac
    PF, Orlando Magic

    The President of Basketball Operations for the Magic, Jeff Weltman, said Friday that the team does not expect Jonathan Isaac (left knee) to return when league play resumes, but that they will also be letting his rehab program dictate his timetable.

    Isaac has been sidelined since the beginning of January after a serious injury to his left knee.
    He was scheduled to be re-evaluated in 8-10 weeks but the impact of the coronavirus has muddled things up with many players, Isaac included. The Magic don't want to risk Isaac's immediate future, as he is under contract for one more season and is eligible for a qualifying offer prior to the 2021-22 season. With the Magic sitting in eighth place in the East and looking a (potential) fight for the right to face Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks in the first round of the playoffs as the eighth seed in August, the Magic brass may opt to keep Isaac out until the beginning of next season. That seems likely, at least.

    Source: 96.9 The Game on Twitter

  • Kawhi Leonard
    SF, Los Angeles Clippers

    Marc Stein is reporting that the NBPA has agreed to continue negotiations with the league for a 22-team restart to the season.

    Stein also noted that not everything is settled at this point, and more items need to be agreed upon before the NBPA is ready to sign and proceed forward with the resumption of games. It sounds like we're still on a path to an agreement, but the NBPA still has a few points to clarify before it is all said and done. Stay tuned.

    Source: Marc Stein on Twitter

  • LeBron James
    SF, Los Angeles Lakers

    Shams Charania is reporting that the NBPA informed players that they will be tested on a nightly basis for COVID-19 and a positive test will result in quarantine for a minimum of seven days.

    The resumption of play will also include 2-3 preseason games and a bubble of 1600 total people. Players will not have tracking devices on them but they are expected to stay in the bubble for the entire period. Everything is gradually coming together and the schedule for the return to play is becoming more and more clear for all parties.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter