Saturday, July 31, 2021

2021 NBA Draft Grades: Atlanta Ga Hawks Acquire A 'B' For Gathering Up A Moving Jalen Johnson At No. 20

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The Atlanta Hawks started the 2020-21 season with a 14-20 record, leading Tony Ressler and Travis Schlenk to part ways with incumbent head coach Lloyd Pierce. From there, interim head coach Nate McMillan captured lightning in a bottle, leading the Hawks to a 180-degree turn that ended in a run to the Eastern Conference Finals. Atlanta fell just short against the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks, but Trae Young continued his superstar turn, and the Hawks showcased their emerging talent and depth.

As such, the future is undoubtedly encouraging for the Hawks, but this is an interesting summer. The team’s biggest decision comes in restricted free agency, with John Collins hitting the market and expected to command a lofty deal. That negotiation could have a trickle-down effect but, elsewhere, the Hawks have quality depth up and down the roster, with the No. 20 overall pick also in the mix to provide another future-facing prospect.

Roster Need: Backup point guard, health, clarity on John Collins

Jalen Johnson (No. 20 Overall), Grade: B+

This is simply a bet on talent. Johnson was a consensus top-10 high school prospect and, despite a weird (and short) journey at Duke, he still brings considerable ability to the table. He has a 7’0 wingspan with defensive potential, sees the floor as a high-level passer and doesn’t need to be thrust into duty quickly in Atlanta. No player selected at No. 20 was going to be a huge part of the Hawks’ rotation as a rookie, and this is a quality value through that lens.

2021-22 Roster Danilo Gallinari Bogdan Bogdanovic Clint Capela Trae Young De’Andre Hunter Onyeka Okongwu Cam Reddish Jalen Johnson Kevin Huerter Bruno Fernando

2021 Free Agents John Collins (RFA) Kris Dunn (Player Option) Brandon Goodwin (RFA) Solomon Hill (UFA) Nathan Knight (RFA) Skylar Mays (RFA) Tony Snell (UFA) Lou Williams (UFA)

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2021 NBA Draft Grades: Houston Firecrackers Get A 'B' For Choosing Jalen Veggie No. 2 Overall

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2021 has been an odd year for the Houston Rockets. The year began with a reasonably encouraging 11-10 start on the floor but, off the court, James Harden was moved to Brooklyn after a wild period of trade rumors and buzz. Houston did hold it together for a few weeks after the deal but, in short order, the bottom fell out of the team’s performance, with injuries and roster weaknesses leading to a final record of 17-55.

On the encouraging side, however, the Rockets found gold in securing the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. That leads to a shining opportunity to add talent to the organization and, while much of the team’s current roster is aging, Houston also has strong, youthful pieces in Christian Wood, Kevin Porter Jr. and Jae’Sean Tate. The rebuild is on with the Rockets, but they aren’t starting in the worst possible position, particularly when accounting for the draft assets acquired within the last 12 months.

Roster Needs: Young talent across the board; Overall depth

Jalen Green (No. 2 Overall), Grade: B

Jalen Green is certainly a worthwhile pick at No. 2 overall. Evan Mobley was the other potential option, but Green brings dynamism as a scorer and shot creator. He is also a high-end athlete that can get where he wants on the floor, using his burst responsibly and effectively, and Green impressed with his efficiency and effectiveness against professionals in the G League as an 18-year-old. He immediately gives Houston a player to build around as they continue a rebuild.

2021-22 Roster John Wall Eric Gordon Christian Wood Jalen Green DJ Augustin Danuel House Kevin Porter Jr. Khyri Thomas (non-guaranteed) Kenyon Martin Jr. (non-guaranteed) Jae’Sean Tate (non-guaranteed)

2021 Free Agents Avery Bradley (Team Option) Armoni Brooks (RFA) Sterling Brown (UFA) Dante Exum (UFA) Anthony Lamb (RFA) David Nwaba (UFA) Kelly Olynyk (UFA) DJ Wilson (RFA)

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2021 NBA Draft Grades: Memphis Grizzlies Acquire A 'C' For Ziaire Williams At No. 10 Total

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When accounting for injuries that kept both Jaren Jackson Jr. and Justise Winslow sidelined for the majority of the season, the 2020-21 campaign was fairly kind to the Memphis Grizzlies. They were defeated in tidy fashion by the top-seeded Utah Jazz in the first round of the playoffs, but Memphis turned in an encouraging 38-34 season behind Ja Morant, with plenty of hope for the future.

Memphis has drafted quite well in the recent past, unearthing gems in Desmond Bane, Xavier Tillman, Brandon Clarke and Dillon Brooks. The Grizzlies are clearly building the ship around that but, beyond the clear need for more perimeter shooting and creation around Morant, this is a roster that doesn’t have screaming issues and that opens things up for the team’s brain trust to focus on value. They made a big move in trading Jonas Valanciunas to New Orleans to move up to the 10th pick from 17, taking on Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams’ salaries in the process, seeming to indicate they had their eyes on someone in particular.

Roster Needs: Shooting (and health for Jaren Jackson Jr.), another big wing

Ziaire Williams (No. 10 Overall), Grade: C+

Williams is a fascinating prospect. He endured a brutal season in myriad ways and, if you simply scouted Williams from his time at Stanford, this pick would seem quite aggressive. At the same time, he has the length and shooting potential to return value here. If anything, I’m probably higher on Williams than some, but the knock on this pick would be that players like Moses Moody were still available.

2021-22 Roster Steven Adams Eric Bledsoe (expected to be bought out or traded) Dillon Brooks Kyle Anderson Ja Morant Jaren Jackson Jr. Ziaire Williams De’Anthony Melton Tyus Jones Grayson Allen Brandon Clarke John Konchar Desmond Bane Jontay Porter (non-guaranteed) Xavier Tillman

Free Agents Tim Frazier (UFA) Killian Tillie (RFA) Justise Winslow (Team Option)

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2021 NBA Draft Grades: New Orleans Pelicans Obtain A 'B' Taking Trey Murphy 17th After Trading Back

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Zion Williamson is a superstar. While the New Orleans Pelicans scuffled to a 31-41 record in 2020-21, the biggest story for the franchise was Williamson’s performance, lifting the team’s offense with “Point Zion” and showcasing his sky-high ceiling. Still, the Pelicans do have considerable uncertainty, including a new head coach, and New Orleans has roster decisions to make from free agency to a mid-first round pick.

Williamson and Brandon Ingram are the team’s top players, and they moved to add Jonas Valanciunas prior to the draft to anchor from the center position. Beyond that, the Pelicans have tremendous uncertainty in the backcourt with Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart hitting free agency and young, unproven players behind them. New Orleans has a (very) wide range of outcomes, both for 2021-22 and beyond, but the Pelicans can also add to their talent base with another lottery pick to flank Williamson through a long-term lens.

Roster Needs: Guard clarity, defensive talent, shooting

Trey Murphy (No. 17 Overall), Grade: B

The Pelicans are clearly setting up for some win-now maneuvering after their pre-draft trade with the Grizzlies. Murphy aligns with that while also providing New Orleans with shooting and defense they need for the future. The former Virginia forward is limited in terms of upside, but the shooting is very real and the Pels want to surround Zion with spacing and players who don’t need the ball to operate successfully. Value-wise, it’s perfectly fine in this range, and that makes this a solid “B” move.

2021-22 Roster Brandon Ingram Jonas Valanciunas Zion Williamson Trey Murphy Jaxson Hayes Kira Lewis Jr. Nickeil Alexander-Walker Wesley Iwundu Wenyen Gabriel (non-guaranteed) Naji Marshall

2021 Free Agents Lonzo Ball (RFA) Josh Hart (RFA) Willy Hernangomez (UFA) James Johnson (UFA) Didi Louzada (UFA) James Nunnally (RFA)

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Friday, July 30, 2021

2021 NBA Draft Grades: Detroit Pistons Get An 'A' For Taking Cade Cunningham No. 1

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Over the last two seasons, the Detroit Pistons struggled to only 40 combined victories. With that in mind, it isn’t controversial to suggest that the franchise is in the midst of a rebuilding process, prioritizing the future over the present with their roster construction and overall focus. Detroit’s on-court struggles in 2020-21 may have masked an overall success, though, as the Pistons seemingly nailed a pair of mid-first round picks in Isaiah Stewart and Saddiq Bey, laying the groundwork to help their rebuilding effort.

Fast-forward to the 2021 NBA Draft, and the Pistons garnered possession of the keys to the entire board after winning the lottery. With that premium chip in play to go along with Stewart, Bey, Jerami Grant and 2020 lottery pick Killian Hayes, the world is Troy Weaver’s oyster as Detroit’s lead decision maker.

Roster Needs: No. 1 option, Starting-level guard play

Cade Cunningham (No. 1 Overall), Grade: A

The Pistons took the best player in the draft at No. 1 overall, and that is how it is supposed to work. Some wavered on whether Cunningham was clearly superior to Jalen Green, Evan Mobley and/or Jalen Suggs, but he is a tremendous prospect. Cunningham faced a relatively difficult situation at Oklahoma State, playing with very little spacing and suboptimal supporting talent, and he displayed high-end scoring chops and answered a significant pre-college question with his shooting. He has size, feel and an off-the-charts skill level, and Cunningham projects as a franchise-changing piece for the Pistons.

2021-22 Roster

Jerami Grant Cory Joseph (non-guaranteed) Cade Cunningham Killian Hayes Josh Jackson Rodney McGruder (non-guaranteed) Sekou Doumbouya Isaiah Stewart Saddiq Bey Jahlil Okafor Tyler Cook (non-guaranteed) Deividas Sirvydis

2021 Free Agents Dennis Smith Jr (RFA) Hamidou Diallo (RFA) Frank Jackson (RFA) Saben Lee (RFA) Hamidou Diallo (UFA)

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2021 NBA Draft Grades: Sacramento Kings Get A 'D' For Taking Davion Mitchell At No. 9 General

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There was a lot to like about the 2020-21 Sacramento Kings, but there were also a lot of questions. On the positive side, the Kings finished the season with an above-average offense, riding the production of De’Aaron Fox and Harrison Barnes to go along with a rookie breakout from Tyrese Haliburton. On the other end of the floor, though, the Kings struggled mightily, underachieving even when compared to relatively unimpressive defensive talent.

Fast-forward to the summer of 2021 and the Kings have some interesting decisions. The team’s core including Fox and Haliburton, if nothing else, but they also have high-priced veterans in Barnes and Buddy Hield. From there, Sacramento’s best center (Richaun Holmes) is entering unrestricted free agency and there is the never-ending question of Marvin Bagley’s future. The Kings do have a lottery pick to bolster their reserves, but a pivot point could be approaching for the organization.

Roster Needs: A starting center, wing help, a resolution for Marvin Bagley

Davion Mitchell (No. 9 Overall), Grade: D

I promise this isn’t an instance of bashing Davion Mitchell. He is a real prospect that was tremendous in leading Baylor to a national title, and Mitchell should have a long, fruitful career. With that said, I don’t understand this pick. Sacramento’s best player (De’Aaron Fox) and best prospect (Tyrese Haliburton) are both guards, and Mitchell would fall behind each of them. Haliburton does have some size, but it’s hard to see all three playing together with regularity, as Mitchell is point guard-sized and an unproven shooter outside of a breakout junior season. Mitchell can help them defensively, to be sure, but this is a lofty price to pay for the role Mitchell projects to have on this team.

2021-22 Roster De’Aaron Fox Buddy Hield Harrison Barnes Marvin Bagley III Davion Mitchell Delon Wright Tyrese Haliburton Damian Jones (non-guaranteed) Justin James (non-guaranteed) Chimezie Metu (non-guaranteed) Jahmi’us Ramsey Robert Woodard II

2021 Free Agents Nemanja Bjelica (UFA) Terence Davis (RFA) Kyle Guy (RFA) Maurice Harkless (UFA) Richaun Holmes (UFA) Hassan Whiteside (UFA)

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Drake, LeBron James, And More Partner For A Film That Observes The Quest Of Black Hockey Players

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Drake will join forces with LeBron James, Maverick Carter, and Adel “Future” Nur to executive produce a new documentary about the experiences of Black hockey players in both Canada and The United States. Titled Black Ice, it will also be directed by Oscar nominee Hubert Davis and it will explore, as per a press release, “the history, influence and racialized journey of Black hockey players” in addition to their dealings with systemic racism.

A number of Black players who participated in the sport’s Colored Hockey League — from Canada’s Maritimes all the way to today’s NHL — will be highlighted in the documentary. In a statement about Black Ice, Davis shared his feelings about the film and what he took away from it.

“I was not only surprised but inspired to learn about the stories of the often overlooked and unheralded Black pioneers of hockey,” Davis said, according to Complex. “I think it is more important than ever before for all generations, particularly young people of colour, to understand and see the diverse faces who have contributed and shaped one the essential fabrics of our country.”

Black Ice is the result of a partnership between Uninterrupted Canada and The SpringHill Company, which was founded by James and Carter. The company is also responsible for Space Jam: A New LegacyMore Than A Game, and The Carter Effect. A release date for Black Ice has not yet been shared.

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Thursday, July 29, 2021

Panthers' Christian McCaffrey still certain after injury-marred 2020

Take a look at this piece by Steve Reed from The Denver Post discussing some important happenings for the week. Steve Reed recently posted the article and I decided it was well worth syndicating on this website.

SPARTANBURG, S.C. — A year ago, Christian McCaffrey said he would choose himself if he had the top pick in a fantasy football draft. That move wouldn’t have worked out too well.

McCaffrey missed 13 games with injuries in 2020, but his confidence level hasn’t changed entering this season.

“I think the same way,” McCaffrey said Wednesday.

The 25-year-old McCaffrey appears to be healthy and back to full speed.

On the team’s first day of training camp at Wofford College, McCaffrey took a pass from new quarterback Sam Darnold over the middle, made a smooth cut and exploded into a full sprint toward the end zone.

It’s the type of explosive play the Panthers missed from the running back position last year.

“We’re anxious to get Christian out there (because) he’s a difference maker,” Panthers coach Matt Rhule said. “In the National Football League you only get so many difference makers and he’s our difference maker.”

McCaffrey said he feels “awesome” and is eager for the season to arrive.

“I’m just so fired up to play football again,” said McCaffrey, the top-ranked running back in Madden NFL 22 ahead of Derrick Henry, Nick Chubb, Dalvin Cook and Alvin Kamara.

In 2019 McCaffrey earned All-Pro honors — and a four-year, $64 million contract extension — after becoming the third player in history to record 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in the same season.

The Panthers’ investment appeared to pay early dividends as McCaffrey racked up 223 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns in his first seven quarters last season.

But then came the injuries.

A high ankle sprain in the fourth quarter of a Week 2 loss to Tampa Bay landed McCaffrey on injured reserve. He returned on Nov. 8 against the Kansas City Chiefs only to separate his shoulder. McCaffrey was hoping to return for the final few games of the season but developed a thigh problem, essentially ending his season.

McCaffrey made only minor changes to his offseason workout regimen, saying he didn’t want to overreact. He hadn’t missed a game in his first three seasons, during which he had 5,443 yards from scrimmage and 39 touchdowns.

“It’s really just staying true to who I am,” McCaffrey said. “I’ve had success and I felt good with the past plan and training the way I train. … Injuries happen in football and I’m so past that.”

When McCaffrey is on the field, the Panthers are a different team.

His ability to run between the tackles and break off big plays as a receiver — he caught 303 passes in his first three seasons — draws significant attention from defenders, which in turn takes pressure off wide receivers D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson.

“It’s a lot different with him because if he’s not the best back, then one of the best backs in the league,” Anderson said. “You get a lot more coverages that are more pass-friendly for me and D.J. when he’s on the field. He’s another threat as a playmaker.”

Rhule said having McCaffrey in the lineup also means the Panthers don’t have to substitute as much at running back, which keeps defenses from picking up “tips” from the Carolina offense.

“You’re not having to substitute and put this guy in for this play, or put this guy in for that one,” Rhule said. “There’s really nothing that Christian can’t do.”

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