What’s popping on Air-Ball.com?
- DON’T LOOK NOW BUT THE UTAH JAZZ ARE REALLY DAMN GOOD
- BUY OR SELL: EMBIID HAS THE SIXERS ROLLING, THE JAZZ ARE POPPING AND THE KINGS AND BLAZERS ARE FLOPPING
- THE BROOKLYN NETS BIG THREE DEBUT
- THE NBA SEASON WON’T BE POSTPONED OR CANCELLED
One of the best parts of the 2020 Draft class so far is they’ve shown an ability to contribute to winning early. In this week’s rookie report I focus on three guys who a month into their NBA career are already winning basketball players.
When I watched Tyrese Haliburton at Iowa State, it was clear very quickly he was one of the smartest players in college basketball. The way he could slide on-ball or off-ball and still impact the game positively while never really ever forcing anything was really impressive for just a sophomore in college. This unique feel for the game has translated seamlessly to the NBA. Haliburton has shown early he’s the kind of guy who can play with pretty much anyone thanks to his flexibility. If you want to run him off-ball, he’s a knockdown catch and shoot three-point shooter, to the tune of 47 per cent (good for 12th in the entire league). However, if you want to run him on-ball in a more traditional point guard role, he’s one of the best passers in the league already, has a slithery skill of getting to the rim and because of his refusal to force things almost always fights for a good shot for either himself or a teammate. Simply put, on a bad basketball team in Sacramento, Haliburton has been one of the few winning pieces. Of the guys who play major minutes, he’s second only to Richaun Holmes on his team in net rating, well ahead of De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield who are both in the negatives. I’m not sure what Haliburton’s ceiling is but the first 14 games have confirmed he’s a winning player, something that Kings fans aren’t particularly used to seeing.
Patrick Williams has to be one of the feel-good stories early on this NBA season. Many fans the moment he got drafted screamed bust before he played a second of NBA basketball. Yet, 16 games into his NBA career and I can safely say Williams is looking like a real NBA player. Some rookies get minutes early on because their team invested a high pick on them and they’re giving them time to develop but really, they aren’t really ready yet to play in the NBA. Patrick Williams is not one of those guys. What’s the best way to show this? Williams’ three highest minute games are all one-possession losses to the Clippers, Lakers and Thunder. If Billy Donovan didn’t trust him yet, Williams wouldn’t be getting those minutes and yet there he was, logging over 34 minutes in each of those games. My other favourite Williams stat is that he’s shooting 44.4 per cent from three this season, quite the improvement from the 32 per cent at Florida State he shot. Seeing a guy improve in such an integral skill so quickly is always a tremendous sign for his future. Much like Haliburton, I don’t know what Williams’ ceiling is. Some have said they see signs of Kawhi Leonard, I try and avoid that kind of pressure on a young guy. What I do see is a winning player from day one in Chicago on the wing, a massive plus for an organization that’s had a black hole of incompetence there since really Jimmy Butler left.
Surprise, surprise, the Memphis Grizzlies got another massive NBA draft steal. Coming into the draft, Desmond Bane was hyped up as the best shooter in the draft. All he’s done has been to lead rookies in three-point percentage and sit fifth in the entire NBA with the 48.9 per cent he’s shot from deep this season. He’s also shooting 71 per cent on long twos (16 feet to the three-point line). Simply put, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more accurate pre-draft scouting report than the one on Bane being a knockdown shooter. How he fell to pick 30 in a league predicated on shooting we’ll never know. What’s craziest to me is he’s done this with Ja Morant missing a bunch of time due to injury. With Morant now back on the court and Bane afforded more space and the ability to play with an elite passer like Morant, I wish NBA teams the best of luck in keeping him from popping off. The beauty of Bane’s landing spot is getting to play with a guy like Morant will maximize his career just because of the gifts Ja brings to the table. There may be no player on the Grizzlies who benefits more from Morant than Bane. Similarly, Bane will give Morant the space many of us have dreamed of seeing him play in. It’s a backcourt match made in heaven that I’d expect to log a ton of minutes together as the Grizzlies push for a play-in spot. Adding a piece like Bane with a skillset as ready as his clearly is could be one of the key differences for the Grizzlies in making it. Turns out, having the best shooter in the draft on your team helps you win games. Maybe someone should’ve informed the other 30 teams about this.