3 reasons Bulls must not re-sign Nikola Vucevic in 2023 NBA free agency

The Chicago Bulls made a bad trade back in 2021, sending Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr., and two first-round picks to the Orland Magic for Nikola Vucevic. The big man hasn’t helped the Bulls reach the next level and now enters NBA free agency in the 2023 offseason. While letting him walk makes the most sense, reports are the team is entering Nikola Vucevic contract extension talks, and Bulls fans aren’t happy. Here are three reasons why these fans are right, and a Nikola Vucevic Bulls extension is a terrible idea.

3. Nikola Vucevic isn’t a great rim protector

In the modern NBA, a center needs to be a high-level rim protector in order for a team to succeed, and Nikola Vucevic isn’t that. One look at the center’s stats the last few seasons should make that clear.

Vucevic’s defensive rating per 100 possessions in 2022-23 was 110, which is tied for 34th in the league and for 18th among qualified NBA centers. His 1.0 blocks per 100 possessions were even worse, putting him T-79 in the league and T-45 among qualified centers.

He is a good defensive rebounder, leading the league with 744 boards, but he played all 82 games and 33.5 minutes per game to get that. Per 100 possessions, his 13.2 defensive rebounds put him seventh in the league.

The defensive limitations are one of the reasons a Nikola Vucevic Bulls contract extension doesn’t make sense, but it’s certainly not the only reason.

2. Vucevic isn’t a winning player in the modern NBA

Vucevic was an All-Star in his last three seasons with the Magic and his first year with the Bulls thanks to his offensive prowess. But entering 2023 NBA free agency, it’s clear his offense has fallen off dramatically since those days.

In his All-Star seasons, Vucevic averaged over 20 points per game in each of those seasons. In the last two seasons for the Bulls, his points have dropped to 17.6 per game. The advanced offensive stats have fallen off as well.

As an All-Star, Vucevic had a PER of 21.8 or higher. In the last two seasons that has dropped to 18.2 and 19.1, respectively. His offensive box plus/minus was 3.8-5.5 in his best seasons and down to 1.9 this year.

Overall, the offensive numbers aren’t terrible for Vucevic, but at 32, he’s no longer the efficient scorer he once was. And with the Bulls’ current roster, what he does do well is obviously not adding up to enough wins for the team to be a contender.

At this point in his career, Vucevic could be a valuable second-unit scorer on a contending team. But on the Bulls, he’s one of their best offensive players, and that’s not good enough.

1. A Nikola Vucevic contract extension would kill the Bulls’ flexibility

There is a number where a Nikola Vucevic Bulls contract extension makes sense. However, at $20 million a year or more — like he’s been making on his last contract — it is simply too much for the Bulls to pay in NBA free agency this offseason.

And that’s the biggest problem.

There were plenty of reports that Vucevic was on the trade block at the 2023 NBA trade deadline, and no team took the bait at $22 million, even with an expiring contract. If the Nikola Vucevic Bulls contract extension is anywhere in that neighborhood this offseason, the center will get locked into the Bulls for the life of the contract.

That is exactly what the Bulls don’t need. Even if Lonzo Ball comes back next season — which is a major question mark right now — the Bulls are not a contender.

Chicago needs to keep maximum roster flexibility this offseason in order to start to rebuild. They don’t have their 2023 first-round pick, as it went to the Magic as part of the Vucevic trade, but they do have the assets to start a rebuild as soon as next season.

DeMar DeRozan is an expiring contract that should be easy to move at the trade deadline this coming season, and Zach LaVine is signed long-term, giving him trade value as well. The Bulls also have their own pick and a top-14 protected first from the Portland Trail Blazers in 2024 as well.

All this makes this season a perfect time to start. A tear-down and rebuild, but a Nikola Vucevic Bulls contract extension will hamper that.

It will be a huge blow to Bulls general manager Marc Eversley, who made the initial Vucevic trade, to let him walk away for nothing, and it may even cost him his job. However, it is the right thing to do at this point, as much as it hurts, which is why the Bulls must not re-sign Vucevic this offseason.

The post 3 reasons Bulls must not re-sign Nikola Vucevic in 2023 NBA free agency appeared first on ClutchPoints.

2 biggest adjustments Heat must make for NBA Finals Game 2 vs. Nuggets

Game 1 of the 2023 NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets wasn’t as close of a game as the final score indicated. The Nuggets may have only won on Thursday night by 11 points, but they were in control the entire game and led by 24 points at one point.

Heat star wing Jimmy Butler was unable to match Nikola Jokic’s Game 1 performance. Jokic finished with a 27-point triple-double on just 12 shot attempts, while Butler finished the game with a mere 13 points, his lowest scoring output this postseason.

While not a lot went well for the Heat aside from big scoring nights from Gabe Vincent, Bam Adebayo, and Haywood Highsmith, Heat fans shouldn’t worry just yet. After all, all the Nuggets did was win a game at home. And if Erik Spoelstra and the Heat make just two adjustments, they will be in a prime position to steal Game 2 on the road on Sunday night. With this in mind, let’s look at the two biggest adjustments the Heat must make for Game 2 of the NBA Finals vs. the Nuggets:

2 biggest adjustments Heat must make for Game 2

1. Get Caleb Martin more touches

In the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics, Caleb Martin was arguably Miami’s best player. He averaged 19.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game for the series on shooting splits of 60.2%/48.9%/87.5%. Martin scored the ball incredibly efficiently from all areas of the floor against Boston, and the Heat probably wouldn’t be playing in the NBA Finals right now if it wasn’t for his contributions in the Conference Finals. But Martin flat-out laid an egg in Thursday night’s loss to the Nuggets.

Martin scored just three points on 1-for-7 shooting from the field in Game 1. For reference, Martin averaged 12.6 field-goal attempts in the Celtics series, nearly double the amount he took on Thursday. And if the Heat want to tie this series up at one game apiece on Sunday, they need Martin’s total shot attempts to be closer to that 12.6 number. He’s simply too talented of an offensive player and too invaluable to this Heat team to be taking just seven shots in an entire game.

2. Start Haywood Highsmith over Max Strus

Max Strus is one of the best pure shooters on the Miami Heat roster. And his ability to space the floor and open up driving lanes for the likes of Jimmy Butler and Caleb Martin is very beneficial to the Heat’s offense.

But Strus stunk it up from behind the three-point arc on Thursday. He shot a shockingly poor 0-for-9 from three. It was Strus’ worst shooting performance of the entire postseason, which should be a sign to the Heat coaching staff that they should shake up their starting lineup and take out Strus for Haywood Highsmith.

Highsmith has received inconsistent playing time in these playoffs, but when called upon on Thursday, he made the most of his opportunity by impacting the game on both ends of the floor. In 23 minutes off the bench, he scored 18 points on 2-for-4 shooting from behind the arc and also chipped in two steals and a block. While Highsmith isn’t a better shooter than Strus, he shot the ball better than Strus in Game 1 while also being much more active on defense than him. Hence, Erik Spoelstra and the Heat would be wise to change their starting lineup for Sunday’s game.

The post 2 biggest adjustments Heat must make for NBA Finals Game 2 vs. Nuggets appeared first on ClutchPoints.

3 reasons Heat must not panic after ugly NBA Finals Game 1 loss to Nuggets

The Miami Heat were outclassed by the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of the 2023 NBA Finals, marking the first time Erik Spoelstra’s team dropped a series opener in the 2023 NBA Playoffs.

The Heat looked more like the 8th seed they are. They struggled to find rhythm offensively and even looked fatigued with some shots falling short, which was somewhat expected considering they just came off a grueling seven-game series in the Eastern Conference Finals and were playing at altitude.

Bam Adebayo and Gabe Vincent were Miami’s bright spots. Unlike the rest of the Heat team, Adebayo was comfortable offensively from the opening tip, scoring 25 points on 13-of-25 shooting. Vincent also had a strong outing with 19 points and five three-pointers.

Meanwhile, the Western Conference champions looked every bit like favorites to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Nikola Jokic had a historic triple-double performance even without dominating the scoreboard, while Jamal Murray added 26 points and 10 assists to lead the Nuggets to a 104-93 Game 1 win.

The notable name missing from the Heat party was undoubtedly Jimmy Butler. Butler finished with just 13 points on 6-of-14 shooting and was a team-worst minus-17 in 38 minutes.

While their Game 1 performance was certainly discouraging, the Heat should not hit the panic button just yet. Here are three reasons why.

3. Shots will eventually fall through

The Heat shot just 40.6 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from three as a team in Game 1.

The main culprit behind that dismal shooting clip was Max Strus, who bricked all 10 of his shots from the field—including nine three-point attempts, many of which were quality looks—en route to a scoreless NBA Finals debut. Considering the kind of shots he was able to get, the Heat no doubt expect Strus to be more productive going forward.

Caleb Martin also proved unable to get going going, failing to carry over momentum from his epic Game 7 performance in the Eastern Conference Finals. Martin scored just three points on 1-of-7 shooting, his lone make being a semi-open left wing three late in the third quarter. Most of the time, those shots went down for the 6-foot-5 wing, especially during the previous round.

Nonetheless, those two shouldn’t be singled out for Miami’s shooting struggles. Duncan Robinson also had an off night, going just 1-of-5 from the field. Butler also didn’t channel Playoff Jimmy with an inefficient scoring game.

For the most part, Miami seemed to get the shots they needed to get, especially for their shooters. If that continues, the Heat should be in good shape.

2. Playoff Jimmy Butler is just fashionably late to the party

Jimmy Butler wasn’t Playoff Jimmy at all in Game 1.

His 13 points came on 14 field goal attempts, too low a number for a superstar of Butler’s standards. And it’s not like Butler and the Heat have the luxury that Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets have in terms of scoring depth. As admirable as this postseason run has been, this Miami team is still full of undrafted players who’ve wildly exceeded expectations just to be here.

That is why Butler must set the tone and be aggressive for his team to have a chance to win the Finals—a mindset he must have for a full 48 minutes. Butler seemed to be on that track after the first quarter, when he already had seven shot attempts. He only took seven more over the next three quarters.

Sure, the Nuggets defense deserves credit for forcing the ball out of Butler’s hands. But his lack of aggression, especially attacking the basket, was one of the main reasons Miami lost Game 1. Butler shot zero free throws in this game, which is inexcusable. Prior to entering the Finals, the six-time All-Star was averaging over nine free throw attempts per game. That is a clear indication he wasn’t getting to the rim enough, settling for too many jumpers or low-advantage passes to teammates.

Butler knows that he needs to be better. If and when he gets his mind right, the Heat should be in good shape to compete with the heavily-favored Nuggets.

1. Tyler Herro may be nearing a return

The Heat received some good news ahead of the opener with Tyler Herro aiming for a return in Game 3 of the NBA Finals. Herro broke his hand in the very first game of the playoffs and has been out throughout this magical run by the Heat.

Herro’s return would inject Miami with a much-needed boost offensively. He was Miami’s third-leading scorer during the regular season and his return could help the team in terms of having another shot creator and playmaker.

Still, it would be interesting how Herro’s return could impact someone like Martin, who has been a revelation in his absence. Paul Pierce believes Herro’s injury was a “blessing in disguise” as it revealed Martin as the better player among the two.

Butler, however, doesn’t believe that.

“I just think the guys that Coach [Erik Spoelstra] and Coach Pat [Riley] put together,” Butler said following their Game 7 win over the Celtics. “When a guy goes down, the next guy can fill in that gap and do exactly what that guy that went down did and do it at a high level.

“And you know, be humble enough to know that when that guy comes back, you have to step back and get back in your role.” Butler added.

Martin has certainly done enough to earn a significant role on the Heat, especially through this Finals run, even when Tyler Herro comes back.

The post 3 reasons Heat must not panic after ugly NBA Finals Game 1 loss to Nuggets appeared first on ClutchPoints.

3 early NBA free agency targets for Lakers in 2023 offseason

The Los Angeles Lakers can go in countless directions this offseason.

They can prioritize continuity, as Rob Pelinka indicated at exit interviews. They can clear out basically everybody besides LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Austin Reaves to create $35 million in cap space. Or, they can settle somewhere in the middle.

The Lakers will aim to stay under the $162 million luxury tax line to avoid harsh repeater penalties. They are reportedly determined to avoid the “second apron” of $179 million, which would trigger crippling roster-building limitations.

In terms of free agency, let’s start with their current roster. The organization intends to match any offer for Reaves, even up to $100 million, according to The Athletic. By all accounts, they’re hell-bent on re-signing Rui Hachimura, who could demand $16-$20 million annually. (Due to Hachimura’s $18.8 million cap hold vs. Reaves’ $2.2 million cap hold and their Bird rights, the Lakers can take care of Rui first, proceed with other transactions, then formally ink Reaves later). Los Angeles is likely to guarantee Jarred Vanderbilt’s $4.5 million 2023-24 salary.

The Lakers can renounce the rights to D’Angelo Russell and let him walk. Or, ideally, they could include DLo — and Malik Beasley’s $16.5 million team option and Mo Bamba’s $10.3 million contract, both of which they have to decide to pick up by June 30 — in a trade. (Klutch clients Fred VanVleet, Dejounte Murray, and Trae Young have been floated as possibilities.) Russell wanted $25 million from the Minnesota Timberwolves but seemingly damaged his value in the conference finals. If his market is tepid, the Lakers can bring him back at two years, $40 million.

Depending on how things shake out, the Lakers may be unable to retain Lonnie Walker IV and Dennis Schroder and sign quality rotation players. Theoretically, the Lakers could use the $12.2 nontaxpayer mid-level exception on Schroder and the $4.5 million bi-annual exception on Walker IV (or Wenyen Gabriel) — or divvy it up — but those players may see more lucrative offers elsewhere. (Schroder is tight with Darvin Ham and Walker IV is a Klutch client, so perhaps they’ll help the Lakers out.) Alternatively, the Lakers can deploy the $5 million taxpayer MLE. Using more than $5 million of the NTPMLE and/or the BAE would trigger the hard cap, around $169 million. Troy Brown Jr. and Tristan Thompson are free agents, as well.

Between their finances, the middling free agent class, Pelinka labeling their trade deadline approach as “pre-agency” and his emphasis on continuity, I wouldn’t expect the Lakers to be major players on the open market.

Kyrie Irving is the flashiest name available. The mutual interest between him and LeBron to reunite is well-known. However, as Jovan Buha reported in February, that ship has probably “sailed.” The Lakers would have to shed everybody on the roster not named LeBron, Anthony, or Austin, then hope Irving takes $12 million less than his annual max value. (The Dallas Mavericks sending Irving to Los Angeles via sign-and-trade is apparently a “pipedream.”)

The Lakers can theoretically pursue Los Angeles native James Harden should he decline his $35.6 million option from the Philadelphia 76ers. On paper, Harden might thrive alongside LeBron and AD, but he seems to want a long-term max extension and the culture fit is iffy; Harden seeks carte blanche from his employers and isn’t exactly known for delivering in high-stakes playoff games.

VanVleet can turn down his $22.8 million player option, though his path to Los Angeles is smoother via sign-and-trade. LeBron’s good buddy and Klutch client Draymond Green can decline his $27.5 million option, but the Lakers cannot sign either player without blowing up their squad. (VanVleet makes more sense. The Lakers don’t really need Green — their defense is elite with AD and spacing is a weakness.)

Realistically, any external signings will represent marginal upgrades. And that’s totally fine for a team that came within four wins of the Finals. Here are a few names that might make sense for the Los Angeles Lakers with NBA free agency about one month away.

Bruce Brown

Brown may play himself out of the Lakers’ price range, especially if he shines in the Finals. It’s hard to imagine the Denver Nuggets guard settling for anything less than the full mid-level. He’d be a great fit for the Lakers, though — for any team, really. Maybe the Lakers can re-sign Russell and add Brown at the expense of Schroder.

Max Strus may, too, earn a hefty bag thanks to his integral role in a Finals run (0-for-10 Game 1 notwithstanding). The 27-year-old could potentially command upwards of $20 million — and the Miami Heat may overpay to keep him. But the career 37.1% 3-point shooter would be a nice replacement for Beasley and Walker IV if the Lakers let Russell walk, or if his market proves cooler.

Jordan Clarkson would also make sense as a dynamic sixth man, but he’s also looking for $20 million after averaging a career-high 20.8 points per game.

Donte DiVincenzo

DiVincenzo is coming off a fine season with the Golden State Warriors — 12.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.8 assists per 36 minutes, 39.7% from 3 — but he didn’t necessarily increase his value out of the Lakers’ price range. One would expect him to turn down his $4.7 million player option for 2023-24, even though he said Golden State feels like home. If he does, the Warriors — facing a gigantic luxury tax bill and second-apron consequences — may be forced to let him go.

DiVincenzo offers shooting, athleticism, and perimeter defense. His incessant off-ball movement would jell with high-IQ passers like LeBron and Reaves. The 26-year-old is familiar with Ham and his system, thanks to his three-plus seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks.

Naz Reid

Bamba and Gabriel are decent options behind AD, but the Lakers could use more size in the backup center role, as evidenced by Ham’s decision to try Thompson on Nikola Jokic in Game 4 (he did OK!).

Reid, 23, will be a highly-coveted unrestricted free agent after four seasons with the Wolves. The Lakers are reportedly interested, and it’s easy to understand why. Reid averaged 22.5 points and 9.6 rebounds per 36 minutes in 2022-23. He shot 53.7% from the field and 34.6% from 3 on 6.2 attempts per game. Over his last two appearances against Los Angeles, the 6’9, 264-pound center — nicknamed Big Jelly — put up 38 points and 19 rebounds.

Brook Lopez would be the dream signing, but he vastly outperformed the MLE and is expected to stay in Milwaukee. Reid would be a logical option for the Lakers.

The post 3 early NBA free agency targets for Lakers in 2023 offseason appeared first on ClutchPoints.

3 reasons Nuggets’ NBA Finals Game 1 win over Heat shows they’re destined to win first title

The Denver Nuggets NBA Finals Game 1 win over the Miami Heat was a convincing one. The home team took it to the Eastern Conference visitors 104-93, and it never seemed that close. A convincing win in any NBA Finals game is huge, but this one seemed to have even more significance than usual. With the way Denver dominated Miami in Game 1, it now seems that the outcome of Nuggets-Heat is already decided, and Nikola Jokic and company are destined to win the franchise’s first NBA title.

3. Nikola Jokic is the best player in the series

With all due respect to Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, two-time NBA MVP Nikola Jokic is the best player in this series. The big man didn’t have his most dominating stat line of the playoffs. But that proves the point even more, when 27 points, 14 assists, and 10 rebounds are considered a ho-hum performance for “The Joker.”

Jokic is simply on another level right now, and there is nothing the Heat can do about it.

The best way to slow Jokic down is by putting Adebayo on him. That requires a Herculean effort from the Miami center and puts him at risk of getting in foul trouble. Against the Nuggets, the Heat need everything they can get on the offensive end from Bam, and guarding Jokic means that’s not possible.

Adebayo had an excellent offensive night in his NBA Finals Game 1 effort, leading his team with 26 points, but how much longer can he keep this up while battling with Jokic on the other end?

In addition to the talent gap at the top of the rosters, the Nuggets’ advantages in this area continue down the roster. Denver has four of the best six players in this series. The rankings go Jokic, Butler, Jamal Murray, Adebayo, Aaron Gordon, Michael Porter Jr., and everyone else below that.

Miami had an incredible run as an 8-seed making it to the NBA Finals, but Game 1 showed the Nuggets simply have too much top-end talent for the Heat to compete with.

2. Eric Spoelstra has met his match in Michael Malone

Heat coach Eric Spoelstra is one of the best stories in basketball. He went from film room grunt to LeBron James whipping boy to one of the top coaches in the NBA. He is a major reason the Heat beat all comers in the Eastern Conference and became just the second 8-seed ever (with the 1999 New York Knicks) to make the NBA Finals.

However, the coaches Spoelstra bested to reach this point weren’t exactly Phil Jackson, Pat Riley, and Red Auerbach.

Spoelstra outcoached Mike Budenholzer of the Milwaukee Bucks in Round 1, and the team fired the 1-seed coach shortly after. In Round 2, he took out Tom Thibodeau and the Knicks, and most New York fans hoped their coach would suffer the same fate.

In the Eastern Conference Finals, Spoelstra faced Joe Mazzulla, who was a back-bench assistant last season before leaping to the head spot after the Ime Udoka scandal. The Boston Celtics did well to force a Game 7 after going down 3-0, but it still wasn’t enough.

In Nuggets coach Michael Malone, Spoelstra has finally met his match. Malone is the son of a longtime NBA coach and assistant and is every bit the tactician and motivator that Spoelstra is.

Neither coach has a definitive advantage in the Nuggets-Heat series, and that takes away one of Miami’s biggest advantages, which will lead to a Nuggets trophy at the end.

1. The Heat can’t stay out of defensive mismatches with the Nuggets

The intersection of the talent gap and the coaching matchup in the Nuggets’ NBA Finals Game 1 win came when Denver had the ball.

As mentioned above, Bam Adebayo has to be on Nikola Jokic for the Heat to have a chance. And Jimmy Butler must guard Aaron Gordon and Jamal Murray.

What all you basketball (or physics) aficionados may notice about the sentence above is that it is physically impossible for Butler to guard both Gordon and Murray at the same time, which creates a massive problem for the Heat.

Not to mention when there are cross-matchups in transition, Butler is also the best option to battle Jokic on the elbow if Adebayo gets stuck on someone else.

Again, this means either Gordon or Murray isn’t guarded by one of the Heat’s best defenders, to say nothing of the fact that Miami has no one to match up with the unique skill and size of Michael Porter Jr.

Miami hid some of its defensive deficiencies in the East by playing zone. However, against a passing magician like Jokic and a shooter like Murray, this is nearly impossible in the Nuggests-Heat series.

In the end, it’s these defensive matchups that will ultimately doom the Heat and win the Nuggets their first-ever NBA title.

The post 3 reasons Nuggets’ NBA Finals Game 1 win over Heat shows they’re destined to win first title appeared first on ClutchPoints.

Nets 2022-23 player grades: Dorian Finney-Smith

The Brooklyn Nets were not known for their wing depth throughout the Kevin Durant-Kyrie Irving era. However, following the trades of both stars at this year’s deadline, the team was suddenly left with a logjam at the position.

Dorian Finney-Smith was among the wings to join the Nets in the blockbuster deals. The 29-year-old’s stock had steadily risen within league circles in recent seasons due to his hard-nosed defense, three-point shooting and high-level playoff performances. While Finney-Smith appeared to be the 3-and-D wing Brooklyn had been missing in recent years, the team did not see immediate returns.

Dorian Finney-Smith’s 2022-23 season with Nets

In 26 games with the Nets, the Florida product averaged 7.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.6 assists. After shooting 35.5 percent from three with Dallas before the trade, Finney-Smith struggled to find his rhythm with the Nets, converting at a 30.6 percent clip. Some of those struggles may be attributed to a nagging injury to the pinky finger of his shooting hand.

Days after their first-round sweep against Philadelphia, the Nets announced Finney-Smith underwent successful surgery to correct a contracture on the finger and is expected to resume workouts in mid-June. A contracture is defined as a “tightening of the muscles, tendons, skin, and nearby tissues that cause joints to shorten and become very stiff.”

While his shooting struggles were glaring, Finney-Smith did flash his 3-and-D capabilities in spurts following the trade. He drained five threes to go with nine rebounds and two blocks during a 28-point comeback in Boston, tied for the largest in Nets franchise history.

Despite his slow start with the injured finger, Finney-Smith improved in the playoffs, shooting 7-of-17 (41.2 percent) from beyond the arc.

Regardless of his offensive deficiencies amid the change in scenery, the veteran’s defense was as advertised. At 6-f00t-7 with a seven-foot wing span, Finney-Smith effectively guards across positions in Brooklyn’s switch-heavy scheme. The Virginia native uses his length and quick feet to defend on the perimeter while utilizing his 220-pound frame to bang in the post.

With a 41.5-inch max vertical, he also turned in some highlight blocks off weakside rotations:

What does the future hold for Finney-Smith?

Finney-Smith is under contract for $28 million over the next two seasons before a $15 million player option in 2025-26. With a wing rotation that already includes Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Royce O’Neale and Joe Harris, league executives believe the Nets could look to cash in on some of their depth this summer. Finney-Smith or Royce O’Neale are the logical candidates to be moved in that scenario.

Brooklyn turned down two first-round picks for Finney-Smith at the trade deadline and could’ve landed one for O’Neale, according to HoopsHype. During his exit interview, the newly-acquired Net seemed to indicate Brooklyn could be in store for another roster shakeup in the coming months:

“Well, we got to see what’s going to happen this offseason, if we’re being honest,” Finney-Smith replied when asked how the team can gel this summer. “We know the pieces we have and you just never know in this league. So I guess we’re going to see after the draft. See what’s going on and go from there.”

Finney-Smith’s 2022-23 player grade

Overall, Finney-Smith’s shooting struggles were a problematic development for a Nets offense struggling to produce following Durant and Irving’s departures. However, his high-level defense remains a resounding positive. As long as his shooting can return to his career average, Finney-Smith should be a valuable role player to Brooklyn or whatever team decides to enter bidding for his services.

Dorian Finney-Smith’s 2022-23 grade with Nets: C

The post Nets 2022-23 player grades: Dorian Finney-Smith appeared first on ClutchPoints.

Danny Ainge drops shocking Celtics’ Joe Mazzulla-Ime Udoka take after Boston’s playoff exit

Losing in the NBA Finals a year ago and making upgrades to their roster in the offseason, the Boston Celtics looked to be the team to beat in the NBA this season. However, they were unable to get back to the Finals this season, losing in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals to the Miami Heat, which has resulted in many pointing the finger at rookie head coach Joe Mazzulla.

Taking over for Ime Udoka last summer, Mazzulla was thrown into the head coaching role in Boston with really no warning. Udoka’s dismissal from the Celtics due to a violation of team policies came as a shock to many, but Mazzulla handled himself extremely well and even coached in this year’s All-Star game.

The Celtics may have had high title aspirations, but their 34-year-old head coach should not be shouldering all the blame and former president of basketball operations Danny Ainge acknowledged this recently. Talking with Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe recently, Ainge opened up about believing in Mazzulla and that the Celtics may be better off with him over Udoka, who recently became the new head coach of the Houston Rockets.

“I work for another company now, but I’m trying to defend my friends,” Ainge old Shaughnessy. “I know Joe. I hired Joe four or five years ago to work in our G League. I still cheer for my friends. I don’t think the team quit on Joe. There was pretty good evidence they did not quit on the coach. I just think they weren’t playing well. The team’s overall confidence struggled after the comeback wins against Philly, which was really the highlight of the season.”

There has been a lot of discussion about the Celtics potentially moving on from Mazzulla due to the fact that they trailed the Heat 3-0 in the conference finals. Boston has since come out and defended their young head coach, as has Ainge despite the fact he is no longer with the organization.

“I understand something’s got to change, but knowing every one of the players like I do, it’s hard to identify,” Ainge continued. “You see Joe’s toughness and stubbornness. He’s a relentless worker. He has a passion to learn. Joe is a leader, and I think this was a difficult situation with the high expectations the team had coming in. I don’t think there’s anybody there that doesn’t believe that Joe is better than Ime  as a coach.”

In his first season as the head coach of the Celtics during the 2021-22 season, Udoka led Boston to the NBA Finals with a 51-31 record. Under Mazzulla’s leadership this year, the Celtics came up a game short of the Finals, but they posted a 57-25 record, the franchise’s best record since the 2008-09 season.

Ainge’s comments on the Celtics head coach are certainly eye-opening, especially since he currently serves as an executive for the Utah Jazz. He knows exactly what kind of coach Mazzulla is given his time with the Celtics and the Jazz even considered hiring Mazzulla over Will Hardy, both of which were assistant coaches in Boston last offseason.

Being such a young head coach that was thrown into his current situation, there is really not much to worry about in Boston. Mazzulla has paid his dues as an assistant in this league and he would not have been given the head coaching position if the Celtics did not think he was capable of succeeding, especially after the team was just in the NBA Finals.

The support Mazzulla is receiving from Ainge once again proves that the Celtics will not be making a change at their head coaching position any time soon.

The post Danny Ainge drops shocking Celtics’ Joe Mazzulla-Ime Udoka take after Boston’s playoff exit appeared first on ClutchPoints.

The most insane facts from Nuggets star Nikola Jokic’s historic NBA Finals debut

If there’s one thing Nikola Jokic proved in his NBA Finals debut, it was that he belonged on the game’s brightest stage. In classic Joker fashion, the Denver Nuggets superstar notched a triple-double in his first NBA Finals game with 27 points, 14 assists, and 10 rebounds. The Nuggets looked unstoppable in their 104-93 Game 1 win , and that is in large part due to Jokic’s historic performance.

As usual, the Serbian center didn’t even need to dominate in scoring to lift the Nuggets to an easy win. He controlled the game with his playmaking, as seen with his 14 assists, as well as directing the flow of an offense that shot 50.6 percent in the Finals opener. While Jokic and the Nuggets already look to focus on protecting home court in Game 2, let’s check out the most insane facts from The Joker’s historic NBA Finals debut.

1. Most assists ever in an NBA Finals debut 

Nikola Jokic just had to get this record, right? The best passing big man in the history of the NBA secures the Finals record for most assists in a debut. Jokic put on a passing clinic in Game 1. Most of his assists came in the post, finding Aaron Gordon and Jamal Murray on timely cuts for easy shots at the basket. Late Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell previously held the record

2. Joins LeBron James in record-setting half

Nikola Jokic became just the second player in NBA history to notch at least 10 points and 10 assists in any half of an NBA Finals game. The other one? None other than the man Jokic knocked off in the Western Conference Finals to get here: LeBron James.

As noted by ESPN Stats and Info, James did in his 42nd Finals game, whereas Jokic already achieved the feat in his very first half in the NBA Finals.

3. Also joins Michael Jordan in historic milestone

Not to let the other member of the GOAT conversation off the hook, Nikola Jokic also touched a Michael Jordan milestone in his first NBA Finals game. Per ESPN Stats & Info, Jokic became just the second player in NBA history to have both game highs in points and assists in a Finals debut.

This may seem like a random stat, but considering Jokic didn’t even look like he had a dominant scoring game, this is definitely a noteworthy feat. And whenever a player joins His Airness in any record, that must be special.

4. Channels inner Jason Kidd in Finals debut

After already notching a double-double in the first half, Nikola Jokic went on to channel his best Jason Kidd impression by becoming just the second player in NBA history to notch a triple-double in their NBA Finals debut.

Kidd recorded 23 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists for the New Jersey Nets in Game 1 of their 2002 Finals clash against the Los Angeles Lakers. Kidd and his squad, however, wound up getting swept by the mighty Shaq and Kobe Lakers. The Nuggets might just do the reverse in these Finals if The Joker keeps putting up these numbers.

5. Triple-doubles galore

Speaking of numbers, Nikola Jokic has been racking up the numbers throughout this historic Nuggets playoff run. Thursday’s performance marked his seventh triple-double over his last nine playoff games.

After his historic Game 1 performance, Jokic is averaging 29.8 points, 13.1 rebounds, and 10.5 assists through 16 playoff games so far. Only four players have ever averaged a triple-double in an entire postseason run — Russell Westbrook in 2021 and 2017, Jason Kidd in 2007, and Oscar Robertson in 1962. Westbrook did his in five games each, while Robertson only played four games. Kidd averaged a triple-double in 12 games.

And if Jokic keeps this up, he will become the first player to do so through an entire playoff run up to the NBA Finals.

6. How did he score 27?

Another fun, mind-boggling stat in Game 1: Nikola Jokic actually entered the fourth quarter with just five (5!!!) shot attempts. Prior to the final period, Jokic had 15 points, nine rebounds, and 12 assists on 4-of-5 shooting from the field. He finished with 27-10-14 on 8-of-12 shooting from the field. Jokic actually did much of his damage at the foul line, going 10-of-12 from the charity stripe.

But even if he just put up five shots through three quarters, the game already felt like a Jokic domination. As he said, he doesn’t need to shoot a ton of shots for the Nuggets to win. His passing made the ultimate difference on Thursday. The Nuggets play their best with a balanced attack, and a lot of that has to do with the two-time MVP’s control of the game with his passing and playmaking.

This was yet another Nikola Jokic masterclass, making his presence felt on the NBA Finals stage for the first time.

The post The most insane facts from Nuggets star Nikola Jokic’s historic NBA Finals debut appeared first on ClutchPoints.

Draymond Green: 3 best destinations in 2023 NBA free agency

The Golden State Warriors are facing uncertainty this offseason, as the team will likely look different from the 2022 and 2023 iterations when all is said and done. President of Basketball Operations and General Manager Bob Myers has decided to step down from his post. Klay Thompson is extension-eligible, and Draymond Green can become an unrestricted free agent if he does not exercise his $27 million player option.

The flexibility of the Warriors is limited because they have Stephen Curry, Andrew Wiggins, and Jordan Poole signed to long term extensions as well. With the new CBA agreement, the addition of the second apron will limit the chances of the Warriors to retain their main core.

If Green decides he wants to get one last bag in the peak of his NBA career, the demand will be at a high level for an outstanding defender and superb leader.

The suitors for Green will be tremendous, but these are the three best organizations for him to land in the offseason.

Draymond Green NBA free agency landing spots

Draymond Green, Draymond Green free agency, NBA free agency, Draymond Green Lakers, Warriors

Dallas Mavericks

The first team that comes to mind when analyzing an organization that fills-in the vital tasks of Draymond Green is the Dallas Mavericks. Yes, the Mavs have Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving as legendary scorers on their squad, but they lack the sufficient defenders and connectors on their lineup.

The roles are not solidified in Dallas, but that would not be the case if Draymond decides to team up with Doncic and Irving.

The loss of guys like Dorian Finney-Smith and Jalen Brunson were tough to stomach for Mavs fans, but the Green acquisition would boost the performance of their team again.

Similar to the role of Nikola Jokic or Domantas Sabonis, Green will put Doncic and Irving in better position to rack up buckets, which in turn will increase the confidence of their other teammates because defensive schemes will focus on Dallas’ stars.

Phoenix Suns

Following another devastating loss in the Western Conference Semifinals, rumors have been circulating that the Phoenix Suns must alter some of the pieces in their core.

Monty Williams has left the organization, but there are some who feel that Chris Paul and/or Deandre Ayton must be moved in the offseason. If the Suns opt to remodel their roster, Draymond Green would be the perfect complement to Devin Booker and Kevin Durant.

Green does not need the ball on offense to be effective, and he can focus on his responsibilities in the defensive end of the floor. Furthermore, he can be an effective distributor and initiator in the second unit of Phoenix, which was a massive weakness they possessed in the 2023 postseason.

Green and Durant had beef in the past, but their chemistry and relationship has a solid foundation, which is integral for a move to the Suns to be plausible for Green.

Los Angeles Lakers

How can it not be more obvious and evident that the Los Angeles Lakers is the best destination for Draymond Green if he decides to leave the Bay Area? One of his closest friends and business partner LeBron James is the leader of the squad, who will welcome Green with open arms.

Green, James, and Anthony Davis are part of Klutch Sports, which is a sports agency founded by James’ childhood friend Rich Paul.

The personality of Green fits perfectly with the Lakers, along with his incredible relationship with James and Davis. The perimeter shooting can be an issue with three non-shooters on the floor, so Rob Pelinka will need to tweak his roster again.

D’Angelo Russell is an unrestricted free agent, while Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura are restricted free agents, so the Green addition makes sense for the big L.A. splash in the 2023 offseason.

The post Draymond Green: 3 best destinations in 2023 NBA free agency appeared first on ClutchPoints.

Adam Silver’s ‘unusual’ comments on Grizzlies star Ja Morant add mystery on potential suspension

Memphis Grizzlies All-Star Ja Morant is going to be suspended by the NBA to begin the 2023-24 season. The question right now is how long will the former second overall pick be suspended?

Commissioner Adam Silver and the NBA as a whole are always extremely protective of their image and have always set very strict policies for repeat offenders who break league policies. Morant is currently being investigated by the league after his involvement in an incident recently where he was seen flashing a gun on a live stream video for the second time in as many months.

On Thursday ahead of the start of the 2023 NBA Finals, Silver addressed the media in his yearly end-of-season press conference and was asked about the Grizzlies’ young star. While no discipline was announced, Silver did hint at what is to come in regards to a possible suspension for Morant.

“In terms of the timing, we’ve uncovered a fair amount of additional information,” Silver told reporters. “We probably could have brought it to a head now, but we’ve made the decision, and I believe the Players Association agrees with us, that it would be unfair to these players and these teams to announce that decision in the middle of this series.

“My sense now is that is that shortly after the conclusion of the Finals we will announce the outcome of that investigation.”

When asked shortly after if he expects Ja to be available at the beginning of the new season, Silver promptly stated that he was not going to answer that question and that he would wait until the end of the league’s investigation to comment on the situation.

Currently suspended from all team activities by the Grizzlies, it does appear that the NBA is ready to penalize Morant for his actions involving a gun once again.

After his first gun incident at a nightclub in Denver, Morant was suspended eight games without pay due to conduct that was deemed detrimental to the league. Now, the idea of him being suspended for a vast majority of the 2023-24 season is very real, so the Grizzlies could be without their best player for quite some time.

As far as the mindset of those around the league, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst commented on Silver’s remarks recently, stating that it was “very unusual” for Silver to say he knows the outcome of the situation and possible suspension but would not reveal any information.

“I’ve never heard anything like it. It was very unusual for him to basically say I know what I am going to do but not announce it,” Windhorst said. “The second part is that he brought up that he is working alongside the Players Association in this. Typically, the Players Association isn’t there when the discipline is being decided on. This is a situation that is wide-ranging and, quite frankly, the indication here is that this is going to be a significant suspension.”

The fact that Adam Silver does not want the Morant news taking away from the NBA Finals is very noteworthy, because that means the decision the league has come to with the Players Association is substantial. What happens with Morant will dominate headlines throughout the league, which is why the NBA is waiting to announce their decision on the matter until after a champion is crowned.

Focusing on the Finals and making this championship series the best it can be is the league’s main focus right now. As for Ja Morant, he awaits the league’s decision on his wrongdoings, a matter the league is taking very seriously.

The post Adam Silver’s ‘unusual’ comments on Grizzlies star Ja Morant add mystery on potential suspension appeared first on ClutchPoints.