What is this thing?
Hey gang, so I know that everyone doesn’t spend every waking moment watching/thinking-about/reading-about college basketball, and I also know that everyone doesn’t spend every waking moment watching/thinking-about/reading-about the NBA. Well, I don’t either, but I am testing the boundaries of the possible on both fronts. My NBA rooting interests mostly revolve around our beloved Spartans who are playing in the NBA and around teams that play really awesome basketball on both or either end; fortunately, these days, there is a lot of overlap! So here is a quick update on some Spartans in the NBA after the first month of games.
Zach Randolph (Sacramento Kings)
Z-Bo, the 18-year vet, has not yet played for the Kings this season, but don’t let that fool you: Zach can still play, and hopefully he will get his shot this year either on the Kings or on another team. He was solid for them last year (I live in Sacramento these days and got to go to some Kings games in the Kings beautiful new stadium - seriously it is an awesome stadium - in not-so-fun-and-sexy downtown Sacramento) and still has an uncanny ability to score rebound and defend the ball in the low-post.
Draymond Green (Golden State Warriors)
Now an elder-statesman for the Spartan crew in the NBA, Draymond, playing in his 7th NBA season, is one of the main-men on the Warriors. I watch every Warriors game, and over the last few games Draymond Green has really started to play up to his level (he started the season slow and a bit out of shape after an ankle injury in the preseason). He is averaging 8 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1 block per game. By the end of the year, his advanced stats will be amazing and I expect him to average nearly a triple double for the season. Most importantly, after getting placed on the second team of the NBA All-Defense team last season, Draymond is bringing his full intensity to the defensive end early this season and from his recent quotes it seems that his #1 individual goal this season is to win DPOY again. Watching him the last few games, I think he will get it (if he keeps this up, which I would not be surprised by). The man is simply a marvel on the defensive end of the court. On offense, Draymond’s game has really shifted to primary ball-handler and hub of the Warriors motion-heavy offense. His passing is incredible. Yes, he is passing to the greatest shooter of all time in Steph Curry, and yes, Klay Thompson is probably the second greatest shooter of all time, and yes, Kevin Durant is maybe the greatest scorer of all time (or second to Jordan), but Draymond’s passing is truly incredible: on-time, in the shooting pocket, leading guys into spaces, whipping passes cross-court and past defenders’ ears...the man is truly a great passer and on his way to another awesome season.
Gary Harris (Denver Nuggets)
Gary Harris is the truth. Now in his 5th season in the NBA, Gary will likely be pushing for his first All-Star appearance this season. Averaging 19 points, 4 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1 steal per game (and heck he has started the season in a 3pt shooting slump!), Gary is a joy to watch on both ends. Offensively he has really found his groove working with Nikola Jokic (who is one of the most fun centers to watch in the NBA - a sort of super-sized Draymond, without the defensive chops) and Jamal Murray forming an awesome offensive trio. Add in Will Barton (injured), Paul Millsap (a shell of his former self on offense, but still a solid player on defense and overall) and some great bench players (including Monte Morris - Izzo’s worst straight-up recruiting miss ever) and this Nuggets team, along with the Utah Jazz, are my clear top challengers to the Warriors for supremacy in the West. Gary is really Denver’s closer - he has already hit some clutch shots late in close games this season (a gorgeous drifting two in the final minute helped clinch a win over the Clippers) and his defense down the stretch in a number of games has been staggeringly good. His hands are still quick, his positioning and awareness is still great. He is, simply, one of the best two-way 2-guards in the league. And he is only getting better.
Denzel Valentine (Chicago Bulls)
Unfortunately, for both Denzel and the Bulls, Valentine has been injured all season so far (a bad ankle sprain and bone bruise suffered in training camp will probably keep him out at least another week). That being said, when Valentine and maybe some of the many other injured Bulls get back this team might be less-bad than they are now. Valentine had a very solid season last year, and the Bulls picked up their 4th-year team option on his rookie deal, which means he has one more year to present his case to the Bulls or any other team that he deserves a second contract (ultimately, I think he will get one in along the lines of 3-years and $6-8 million per year). After struggling to adjust to the NBA (and getting no consistent role) as a rookie, Valentine had a very solid second season last year averaging 10 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists per game. He improved all of his shooting numbers, and, assuming he continues to improve his shooting percentages, his offensive game should continue to improve for another couple of seasons before we see his ceiling at about 14 points, 6 rebounds, and 4-5 assists per game (if you want a good comp for NBA career look at Evan Turner and imagine Turner with a 3pt shot). I think Denzel will play for another 8-10 years or so assuming he keeps working hard.
Bryn Forbes (San Antonio Spurs)
In one of the best under-reported story lines of the season, Bryn Forbes, the 3rd year pro, is starting at point guard for the Spurs. Let that sink in. A guy who couldn’t get a high-major offer out of high school, who transferred to MSU, who couldn’t get a sniff in the draft, who worked his way onto the last roster spot on the Spurs team, is now starting for the San Antonio Spurs. Bryn is in this peculiar position because the team’s first-two options at pg are injured. But the fact that Popovitch hasn’t gone out and signed a point guard, or found someone from the G-League, or put Patty Mills in there says a lot about Bryn Forbes. His improvement has been simply amazing. The guy works so hard, and has improved so much as a ball-handler (you see this, especially, in the highlight above), creator, and defender. Obviously, he ain’t gonna win any trophies and is, at best, a stop-gap for the Spurs at the position, but he is holding his own in incredible fashion. Bryn is averaging 13 points, nearly 3 assists (he just had a career high 7 assists in his last game), and 1.5 rebounds per game. His scoring game is typically excellent (although seriously bolstered by his improved ball-handling), and he is doing a great job rotating through the primary ball-handling responsibilities with DeMar DeRozan and Patty Mills (who Pop likes as the 6th man). The Spurs were expected to be more-or-less dead in the water after replacing Kwahi Leonard (one of the top 5 guys in the NBA) with DeRozan (who is a great offensive talent - and, coincidentally, facilitating and passing way better on the Spurs than he ever did with the Raptors - but a poor defender - that has not changed) and losing their top 2 point guards. The fact that the Spurs will likely make the playoffs is not only because Rudy Gay has regained his athleticism (in his second year after his achilles rupture) and really found his touch from 3, not only because Belinelli is back on the Spurs and raining 3’s, not only because Aldridge is playing stellar ball per usual, not only because DeRozan has added creation to his awesome pull-up game, but also because Bryn Forbes is holding his own as the starting point guard for the San Antonio Spurs...
Miles Bridges (Charlotte Hornets)
I hate to say “I told you so” to all those Bridges doubters, but...well... no I don’t. Bridges, obviously a superlative talent and wonderful human, never quite lived up to his promise for Michigan State. He never demonstrated great ball-handling and slashing, he was never a consistent shot-creator, he just couldn’t quite do everything we always seemed to need from him. For the last two years, I have argued that part of the reason for this is the nature of the college game: the 3pt line is tighter and the paint is tighter, which means that defenders can sag in that much more creating congestion for players hoping to drive the ball from the perimeter, the paint is further congested because of the idiotic refusal to impose a defensive 3-in-the-key rule that NBA has, which means that rim-protectors in college can just stand in the paint (adding a built-in second or third defender regardless of scheme). Furthermore, Bridges was quite-literally always the focal point of opposition defensive game-plans. When Miles got the ball there were always two help defenders, and on the rare occasions there weren’t in the half-court he generally made teams pay. In the NBA, playing for the Hornets, with the criminally-underrated Kemba Walker a host of competent guys and now Tony Parker (who has been awesome for the Hornets off the bench; I just hope he stays healthy all season), Miles Bridges has already provided evidence that he is going to have a very long and very successful career in the NBA. As a 3rd, 4th, or 5th option on the court Miles is doing all the things we love to see him do: drain 3pt shots (44%), rebound the ball (3 rebounds per game, though that number belies his impact on the glass so far where he has contested/tipped lots of rebounds and done really well boxing out), and score off of drives and in transition (8 points per game). He has been in and out of the rotation in odd ways so far, but I think he will cement himself as the 8th man in the rotation and average about 20 minutes a game. I would also expect him to average nearly 10 points, 4-5 rebounds, and at least 1 assist per game (which he is already doing). The sky is the limit for Miles, and he may even take a starting spot before the year is out depending on how the season goes. Bridges will have a chance to become an All-star calibre player within 2-3 years, and man does the lane look WIDE-OPEN when he drives it off a secondary action.
Jaren Jackson jr (Memphis Grizzlies)
JJJ has had a solid start to the season, but has been beset recently by foul-trouble (where have we heard that before?). Ideally he would come off the bench for this team, and in the first couple of games that is what he was doing, and was looking very comfortable, but when JaMychal Green got injured, JJJ was forced into a starting role. This is great for his development, but also a tough ask for a guy who is still a teenager, and just needs to be playing minutes (preferably against teams’ second-string guys), rather than getting in foul-trouble. If he can find a way to stay on the floor he will really help this team that is on a razor’s edge in terms of their game-by-game margins and their chances at a playoff-spot. For now, he is averaging 11 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, and 1 block per game. These numbers are great, and will only improve as he gets more comfortable and more experience with the NBA game. Having Gasol, Conley, Temple, and a lot of other great veterans is great for him, and I think he will be in the league for another 15 years, at least. Look for him to really explode next season though when his role will really expand.
[Deyonta Davis, sadly and predictably, is not on an NBA roster - he has simply not put in enough work, or developed his game at all, from what I can tell watching him the last few years/summer-leagues; his motor runs at about 5% when he is on the court, and his foot-speed, energy, and attention to detail never improved from the level they reached at MSU and appear, at times, to have regressed. I am hopeful that he will turn it around, but he has to take the hardest road possible at this point.]
From what I can gather from the inter-webs: Matt Costello is in Italy, Raymar Morgan is in Russia (not sure), Goran Suton is in Spain, Kalin Lucas is still on the fringe of the NBA, Keith Appling is in Mexico, Adreian Payne is in China, Ben Carter in Israel, Branden Dawson in the DR, Eron Harris in Europe, Austin Thornton in Europe, Travis Trice in the G-League, Drew Naymick is in Japan (I think), Durrell Summers is somewhere in Europe, and Gavin Schilling is in Germany. Anyone who can provide links/the best places to check up on our non-America pro Spartans please do so (I just don’t have the energy or bandwidth to keep up with leagues outside of some HS leagues, college ball, some G-league action, and the NBA)!
That’s all for now, I will try to do another one of these every month, but we’ll see how it goes!