He went on to average over 14 points and nearly five rebounds per game for the Sun Devils in 2020-21. We go inside the talented Houston Rockets first-round pick’s game while playing for Vegas Elite AAU in the 2019 Nike EBYL.
With the NBA Draft in the rear view mirror and the free agency period set to start at 6 p.m. on Sunday, DraftNasty’s Troy Jefferson breaks down some of the compelling storylines and offers his best fits for the scenarios.
Where do the star players of the NBA Finals go next?
Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Klay Thompson are all free agents. Durant was the marquee name of the free agency period before he tore his achilles in the NBA Finals. However, the two-time Finals MVP is still a highly sought-after name and will receive a max contract from whoever signs him. Kawhi Leonard was able to shift the balance of power away from the Western Conference to the East when he joined the Raptors and won a championship this past season. Klay Thompson is a five-time NBA All-Star and just barely missed out on the NBA supermax deal because he was not named to an All-NBA Roster. To make matters worse, he tore his ACL in the NBA Finals and it remains to be seen how much time he will miss next season. Each of these players are probably future Hall of Famers and will make whoever they sign with considerably better. Leonard and Thompson are both LA natives but I expect Thompson to stay in northern California. Thompson plays his best when running off screens and setting picks for backcourt mate, Steph Curry, and their synergy is hard to replicate. Thompson was drafted by the Warriors and his skill-set is perfect for the Warriors free- flowing offensive attack. Leonard could either return to the Raptors, which would put Toronto back in the driver’s seat in the Eastern Conference, or he could return home to play in Los Angeles. Both the Lakers and Clippers could offer him a max deal, so it will come down to a matter of preference for Leonard. Doc Rivers has shown before that he can maximize star talent and the Raptors proved they could put a team together around Leonard. I think the Raptors or the Clippers are the likely landing spots for Leonard. Durant could miss all of next year but he, too, has plenty of suitors. He could return to the Warriors or leave the Western Conference like Leonard did last year and join a weaker Eastern Conference. The Knicks and Nets have been linked to Durant. The Knicks would probably be a playoff team with a fully healthy Durant but does a guy who spent the last three seasons competing in the NBA Finals want to play the waiting game with a young core? The Nets made drastic strides last season as a playoff team, but they still need a star. If they are able to sign Kyrie Irving and pair him with Durant, this would probably make them the team to beat in the East.
Kawhi Leonard- L.A. Clippers
Kevin Durant- Brooklyn Nets
Klay Thompson- Golden State Warriors
Does Brooklyn re-sign Russell or sign Kyrie?
As mentioned above, Kyrie Irving -a New Jersey native- has been linked to the Brooklyn Nets. The Celtics enjoyed some success with Irving but could not make it to the NBA Finals and it seems their time together is over. Brooklyn has the cap space for two max deals and have a need at point guard. They have a point guard in D’Angelo Russell, who made the All Star team this past season and could re-sign him. Irving has had the better career to date though. I think Brooklyn would be better served signing Irving and trying to use that second max slot to sign another star player like Durant. However, Brooklyn could be in the same position as the Celtics if they strike out and can only bring in Irving, who would be the lead star. In his past stints, Irving’s teams have not flourished when he played the role as the “lead dog”, see his early career in Cleveland and the last two years in Boston.
Kyrie Irving- Brooklyn Nets
How do the Lakers fill out their roster?
The Lakers traded away three players including last year’s first round draft pick, Mo Wagner, to the Wizards in order to free up enough space to sign another player to a max deal. Right now, the Lakers are comprised of LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma and Anthony Davis as well as a few unproven youngsters. General manager Rob Pelinka and the Los Angles Lakers could sign a player like Kawhi Leonard to a max contract and then fill out the roster with players on the veteran minimum or sign a second tier star like Tobias Harris and then spread out the money to others that would make more than the veterans minimum. I actually think the best case scenario is for the Lakers to look to their past, they have a need at point guard and could bring back Russell. Russell saw his game rise to the next level last season and showed his ability to break down defenses and get to the rim. Signing Russell would allow James to play less at point guard and give the Lakers someone who could push the pace in transition. The Lakers ranked fourth in transition points per game last season and with what figures to be a roster of newcomers in 2019, Los Angeles needs as many easy buckets as they can muster. With the money they save by not using their max contract slot, the Lakers could also target free agents like J.J. Redick or Trevor Ariza, both sharpshooters and the type of players that have enjoyed success with James in the past.
D’Angelo Russell as well as a few second tier free agents- Los Angeles Lakers
What does Dallas do with their cap space?
Dallas acquired former New York Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis in the middle of this past season and saw Luka Doncic take home the rookie of the year award. The duo will serve as the centerpieces for the Mavericks going forward in the post Dirk Nowitzki era and they have enough money to bring in a max player this offseason. The Mavericks have a clear need at point guard and I look for them to try luring a guy like Kemba Walker. First order of business will be resigning Porzingis, who is a restricted free agent. I don’t see Porzingis leaving the Mavericks at all. However, I don’t see Walker signing with Dallas because it isn’t a great fit to have Doncic/Walker and Porzingis all on the floor together, there would be a natural overlap in the need for each player to have the ball. I do expect however for Dallas to target a true center because we’ve heard at times that Porzingis doesn’t like playing the 5. Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic is the name I expect to see sign with the Mavericks. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Mavericks target a defensive minded point guard like Patrick Beverly as well.
Nikola Vucevic and a starting point guard – Dallas Mavericks
Who will play alongside of Harden in Houston in 2019-2020?
The Rockets have been on the door step of the NBA Finals the past few seasons but this is a crucial offseason for them. Houston could stick with their same roster from last season and try and take advantage of the Western Conference, which is in flux. The Lakers have star power but will need time to gel and the Warriors have stars but Durant is a free agent and so is Thompson and even if they keep both, they won’t be ready by the start of next year. There are benefits in opting for continuity if you’re the Rockets. However, the opposite argument could be made, Houston couldn’t beat the banged up Warriors this season so why would anything change next season? If the Rockets want to bring in another max contract player like Jimmy Butler, they would probably have to trade center Clint Capela and Eric Gordon, to make the financials work. Butler would bring toughness and a defensive presence to the Rockets however I can’t see him coexisting with Harden and Chris Paul, all three need the ball in their hands to be successful. Paul and Harden already have times where they look like they’re taking plays off when the other is dribbling, Butler would only complicate matters. The best case scenario for brining in Butler would be getting rid of Paul and acquiring a spot up shooting point guard in the mold of former Heat point guard, Mario Chalmers.
The Houston Rockets should keep the team as presently constructed
Where will Kemba end up?
If Durant, Thompson and Leonard are in the “first tier” of free agents, Walker is not far behind. The former UCONN point guard is a one man offensive weapon that has only missed six games over the past four seasons. Whoever signs Walker is getting someone that can score (averaged 25.6 points per game last season), lead and possesses rare durability. I think the Celtics, who will probably lose Irving to free agency are the team to watch. Unlike the Mavericks. Walker fits in a lot better from a scheme standpoint with the Celtics, who possess a plethora of wings like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Romeo Langford, who can not only mask his defensive decencies but don’t need to handle the ball every possession.
Tyreke Evans and Mario Chalmers are up for free agency. Evans led the team in points per game and Chalmers averaged 20 minutes per night. The Grizzlies could look to add another guard to complement Mike Conley if one of their free agent guards walks. Evans may command a big contract, which will probably price him out of Memphis. The Grizzlies will probably use the fourth overall pick on a big man but if they decide to use their 32nd pick on a combo guard, Duke’s Trevon Duval is a potential option. Duval is raw but has good size for his position (6’3”), athleticism and the handle to get where he wants while setting others up.
Bagley Jr. has all the tools offensively but the one thing that could shy teams away from is his defense. Coupled with the right lineups, however, Memphis could hide some of his deficiencies.
Cap space: -10 million, 110 million
Free agents: Tyreke Evans, Mario Chalmers
The Rockets have numerous free agents but since they were so close to an NBA Finals appearance, look for them to return its core and make another championship run next season. Houston could use some more depth along the frontcourt after showing a lack of depth and resorting to seven-man rotations against the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. The Rockets have the 46th pick in the draft, but there’s no guarantee someone picked that low will even make the roster. Maryland’s Justin Jackson could be intriguing. Standing 6’7” with a 7’2” wingspan, Jackson has size and positional versatility. More importantly, his three-point shooting (43 percent his freshman season) is a characteristic that Rockets general manager Daryl Morey covets.
Cap space: -19 million, 119 million
Free agents: Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza, Tarik Black, Clint Capela, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
New Orleans Pelicans
Rajon Rondo and Ian Clark logged heavy minutes for the Pelicans during their playoff run. Rondo has jumped from team to team over the past few years and if he does the same this free agency period, New Orleans will be in the market for another guard. New Orleans has the 51st pick overall but if they decide to test the free agency market, Elfrid Payton could be a younger option. Payton came into his own offensively last year in Phoenix and would be a younger and cheaper option than Rondo.
Backup big man
New Orleans won a playoff series without DeMarcus Cousins but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are better without him. Even with Cousins, New Orleans could use a backup big man. The Pelicans signed journeyman Emeka Okafor after Cousins got hurt, but he will be 36 years old by the start of next season. If New Orleans decides to use their 51st overall pick on a big man, USC’s Chimezi Metu could develop alongside Cheick Diallo to possibly provide a low post duo in the future.
Cap space: -19 million, 119 million
Free agents: DeMarcus Cousins, Rajon Rondo, Ian Clark, Jordan Crawford
San Antonio Spurs
Above all else, the Spurs will have to figure out if they will have Kawhi Leonard on the roster after he missed most of this season with a quadriceps injury. Leonard covers so much ground for the Spurs and to lose him would be a major setback for San Antonio. If Leonard stays or leaves, look for San Antonio to still target another athletic wing, who can long minutes at both the shooting guard and small forward position since Kyle Anderson and Bryn Forbes will hit free agency. Boise State’s Chandler Hutchison is a name to watch for at the Spurs’ 18th pick. Hutchison doesn’t shoot the three as well as the Spurs wings that have come before him, but each season he has improved his three-point shot. Hutchison (6’7″) also has good height and can play within the Spurs offense at either the shooting guard or small forward position.
Cap space: -17 million, 117 million
Free agents: Tony Parker, Kyle Anderson, Davis Bertans, Bryn Forbes
The Dallas Mavericks signed Harrison Barnes to a max deal but don’t have much behind him. Doug McDermott averaged seven points and two rebounds in 20 minutes per game last season. Dallas could use another wing player that could play off the ball and defend both shooting guards and small forwards. The Mavericks could go with a big man with their fifth overall pick, but if Luka Doncic from Slovenia is available expect Dallas to take a long look at him. Doncic has a polished game for a 19-year old and has the ability to create for himself or play off the ball.
Doncic could very well be drafted in the top three picks, which means Dallas could fill another one of their needs with pick number 5. Nerlens Noel is a free agent and Dirk Nowitzki will be 40 years old by the start of next season. The Mavericks could use an athletic big ma who has the ability to play both the forward and center positions. Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr. is raw but has all the physical tools, can block shots as good as anyone in the draft and showed an ability to put the ball on the floor and shoot threes during his one season in East Lansing.
It’s been a mixed bag for Jones after becoming the Houston Rockets 18th pick in the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft. While he has averaged 10.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game in six NBA campaigns, he was regulated to just three games with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2017-18 before being released. He was recently acquired by the Santa Cruz Warriors of the NBA’s G League in December 2017.