The Dončić Dossier Vol 10 — vs. Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade

Image: Pedro Castillo

After a quick return to winning ways was doused by Panathinaikos last time out, it was another narrow defeat for Real Madrid at home against Belgrade on December 1st.

For Luka Doncic, it was a much better outing this time around with 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting, 2-of-5 from three, 4-of-4 from the free throw line, three rebounds, five assists, two turnovers and a PIR rating of 32 in 29 minutes coming off of the bench.


A much better game offensively for Doncic with better shot selection and much better efficiency — 20 points, 7-of-11 shooting and 2-of-5 from three.

Doncic’s three-point shooting was much better in this game: the attempts were reigned in and they  were just better looking/higher quality shots.

In the first quarter, Doncic moves off of the ball to the left-wing, gets free thanks to a screen across the lane, receives the ball and goes right then goes to his left (using the momentum of the trailing defender to Doncic’s advantage) and rises into the three-pointer:



In transition, Doncic trails the play — with Rudy Fernandez handling — and springs into the play as the trailer and hits the three off of the pass from Rudy:



Again, just five three-point attempts — I think that’s a really good thing, and one of those attempts was a heave inside his own half at the end of the first quarter so, really, you could say he shot 2-of-4 from three.

There were some nice variety to Doncic’s scoring in this game.

Here, he makes the run off-ball (his defender completely losing him), goes behind the Felipe Reyes screen and steps in for the easy J:



Off of a miss, Doncic steams in transition and finds himself well down the court before the ball is, having contested a three-point and had began to set off down the court in the event of a miss. As he streaks, the ball is outletted to him and he goes up and dunks it home:


People knock Doncic because they say he’s ‘unathletic’ when that isn’t the case. He’s not explosive by any means but he’s definitely not unathletic. He’s sneakily athletic and because other parts of his game are much more refined than other prospects his age, he doesn’t have to rely on it or go to it the whole time like others have to.

Continuing the trend of offensive variety, Doncic mixes it up on the glass, gets in front of the defender and draws the foul and free throws:


Off of the drive, Doncic pulls up on a dime and hits free throw line J, despite the late contest of the help defender:


Doncic didn’t dip into his post game until the fourth quarter, using it to draw the foul and get to the free throw line here:



Five assists and just two turnovers for Doncic in this game: a much more controlled game (in all aspects really, not just when it came to playmaking).

Unlike Panathinaikos, Belgrade didn’t throw bodies at Doncic at every opportunity, really only doing so once off of the pick-and-roll. When it happened, the pass Doncic threw inside was a little risky but ended up working out for the assist:


Again, a little risky but it got there in the end…

Elsewhere when it comes to playmaking, Doncic, again working the transition game as he often does, finds Chasson Randle on the wing for three:


In the third quarter, Doncic fires (what is effectively…) a half court pass to Fabien Causeur, who finds Edy Tavares for the basket:


That’s a sweet pass, perfectly weighted.

There was one turnover, however, that had a massive bearing on this outcome of this game…

Down one point with 36+ seconds remaining in the game with possession of the ball. Doncic tries to take Pero Antic off of the dribble but Antic does a great job to stick with him. Doncic kills his dribble and — it’s hard to tell — he either loses the ball or the attempted pass is caught… Either way, the result is a turnover and Belgrade go the other way and Pero Antic scores the final and decisive bucket to end any hopes of a Madrid victory:


Again, not sure if it was a pass or not but just a horrible time for a turnover to occur. Big shot by Antic though…

If it was a pass, I really like how Doncic looked to pass in that situation with the game and clock are finely strung as they were. Hard to tell, though…


Some really solid stuff from Doncic defensively. Nothing ground breaking or elite but just solid.

He had some good contests:



In previous insalments, we’ve looked at a number of instances where Doncic just doesn’t contest a shot but there was none of that here.

In the past, Doncic hasn’t always been a willing help defender, often watching as the play develops on the defensive end. Here though, he makes the effort to come over and challenge this dunk at the rim:


Even if his contest/help was late and didn’t ultimately affect the shot, he still saw the danger and went to go do something about it.

And, again, more solid stuff defensively as Doncic does a good job moving his feet and prevents the offensive player from penetrating:


Again, this is nothing groundbreaking but it’s just solid.

In closing vs. Belgrade…

Just a much better game from Doncic, probably in every single facet.

Offensively, he was in control. He selected better shots, rhythm shots, picked his spots a lot wiser… The fact he wasn’t faced with intense defensive pressure every two seconds as he was against Panathinaikos really helped him just flow in this game.

A nice variety in offense: mid-range, perimeter, free throws, transition…the usual that we’ve come to expect of Doncic. Not as much pick-and-roll action in this game compared to previous games. There is still no Gustavo Ayon (Madrid really suffer when he’s not around) and we didn’t see as much of Edy Tavares in this game. We know Doncic likes to operate the pick-and-roll but wasn’t much there this game.

Not a whole lot different when it comes to playmaking: looking for others and putting them in positions where they have a chance to succeed. The end-game turnover was unfortunate, however…

And defensively, look, nothing amazing and world-beating but he was definitely a positive defensively in this game — no one looked to really attack him often and when he was, Doncic was up to the task.

The Dončić Dossier Vol. 6: @ Maccabi Fox Tel Aviv


After a defeat to Khimki Moscow last time out, Maccabi Fox Tel Aviv made it two losses in a row for Real Madrid in Israel as they lost 90-83.

For Luka Dončić, it was another difficult outing shooting 5-of-14 from the field and 2-of-7 from three but did manage to score 19 points, shot 7-of-8 from the free throw line, grabbed six rebounds, dished out six assists, grabbed a steal and posted a PIR of 30 in a season-high 32 minutes.


A bit of a difficult game for Dončić offensively: 19 points but 5-of-14 shooting from the field and 2-of-7 from three — a lot of those three-point attempts coming in the fourth quarter.

Let’s start with the things that Dončić did well but looking at how he struggled.

Again, starting with three-point shooting, this wasn’t a bad way to begin the game: hitting the deep three-pointer:

That is legitimate NBA range, and we’ve seen already that this is in Dončić’s arsenal.

Coming off of a screen, Dončić goes to his right, rises and hits a big three-pointer in the fourth quarter:

Great screen by Felipe Reyes — it really helps when you make proper contact with your man on the screen as Reyes did here, and this freed up Dončić the space he needed to get this shot away.

Going away from the three-point shooting for now, a strong drive from Dončić and the large crowd in the paint doesn’t deter him as he makes this layup near the end of the first half:

Dončić got to the free throw line on eight occasions in this game, here’s how he drew three of them:

One more positive thing to look at was this possession:

Dončić receives the ball after the interior pass by Randolph, leaping over the shorter John DiBartolomeo and catching the ball. Dončić ball-fakes inside to shed the help defender but misses the point-blank layup and can’t get the tip to go:

Very nice fake, and that’s a made layup nine times out of 10… Just not this one…

Alright, now to look at why Dončić was only 5-of-14 shooting from the field…

In the last game I talked about how Dončić comes into these games with a target on his back and this game was probably the best showcase for that: he was swamped in this game by Tel Aviv’s defense.

There were so many examples of Tel Aviv really extending the defensive pressure and throwing bodies at Dončić — and some of them we’ll cover in the next section because it was part of the reason Dončić had six assists — but we’ll look at a few now.

Here, Dončić sees a lot of pressure off of the pick-and-roll and this prevents him turning the corner. With the shotclock winding down, Dončić then puts up a tough shot that doesn’t go down:

Near the end of the first quarter, Dončić again sees a lot of pressure coming off the pick-and-roll and left with not a lot of options or than to pass the ball to a teammate. Anthony Randolph can’t get a shot away and gives up to Dončić, who also can’t find a shot opportunity and passes it off to Campazzo with just over a second remaining on the shotclock, and Campazzo has to heave in desperation:

In the second half, this play takes way too long to develop and it leads to, again, a very aggressive hedge off of the screen and Dončić’s attempted pass inside is deflected. At this stage, the clock is low and Dončić tries to go one-on-one and it’s a very tough shot taken in the end:

You get the general idea (and we’ll look at how Dončić found some looks for his teammates following this type of pressure): it was a very tough going for Dončić. He gets defense’s best shot and their full attention, which is tough for an 18 year old to deal with.  To score 19 points anyways was pretty impressive, all things considered.


A bit more passing/facilitating in this game from Dončić — six assists — and a lot of that had to do with him having to give the ball up because of the defensive pressure he saw/what the defensive pressure opened for others.

Here, Tel Aviv kind of ICE this action with Dončić and Randolph except it’s not executed perfectly as the person who’s supposed to be shading over to Randolph, Pierre Jackson, doesn’t quite fully get to him and comes off of him too quickly and the result is a three-pointer for Randolph:

Off of the screen, Tel Aviv hedge Dončić again and he’s put in a tough predicament. After picking up his dribble, Dončić finds Chasson Randle behind the three-point line, but Randle’s three is too long:

Better execution defensively this time by Tel Aviv: that’s who you want taking shots instead of Luka Dončić.

Again, Tel Aviv throw bodies at Dončić and he’s forced to make a decision. He makes the right pass to Randolph in the paint, but Randolph is quickly swarmed and he gives it up to Jaycee Carroll, who should probably pass it back out to Dončić but instead takes a tough shot:

The right pass to make from Dončić but really good execution defensively by Tel Aviv to prevent a basket here.

Moving on to other ways of facilitating without basically being forced to…

We saw Dončić pass out of the post recently and we saw more of it in this game.

Here, Dončić receives the entry pass on the block, turns and fires a very complicated pass to the weak-side corner to Taylor, who collects the pass and misses the three:

A bit of a tough pass to handle but the vision here is top notch — difficult pass to make and it did ultimately lead to a good opportunity.

Again in the post, Dončić backs down and passes to the weak-side, to Campazzo, who takes a dribble, passes it off and Reyes scores inside:

Moving on, here was a very nice bit of vision from Dončić, knowing exactly what he’s going to do with it as soon as he gets it by making this interior pass to Randolph who scores inside:

Great awareness, seeing the play unfold before he makes the pass.

After a miss, Dončić grabs the rebound, heads up the floor, turns on the jets, whips out a beautiful behind-the-back move before whizzing the ball to Taylor in the corner. Taylor misses the three but Dončić is on hand to grab the offensive rebound and draws the foul, leading to free throws:

Probably the highlight of Dončić’s game, to be fair. Could he have attempted the layup himself? Probably, but he saw what he thought was a better opportunity in the corner in Taylor…

Normally, we see Dončić get his head down in transition to try to make something happen: whether it’s for himself or for others.

Here, we see Dončić take his time to survey the scene before making the right pass to Campazzo for an open three-point opportunity which misses:

Nice, patient play by Dončić here: didn’t rush it and made the right play. Shame Campazzo couldn’t make the shot on this occasion.

Off of a Tel Aviv miss, Dončić quickly outlets to Randolph, who is at the other end of the court. This basket didn’t count as Dončić was barreled into before the basket and shot free throws instead:

Mainly to show off the outlet pass, really…

And lastly, a nice interior bounce-pass after the pick-and-roll to find Reyes, who scores using glass:


Few things to talk about as always here, some good stuff again from Dončić.

On this possession, Dončić does a good job to get back in front of his man after a screen separates him and then gets a contest up on the shot that still falls:

Good defense but just better offense here… Good to see Dončić fight to get back in the play…

Some good vertical defense here from Dončić as he stays in front of DeShaun Thomas off of the dribble and the shot from Thomas is off:

You can also see Dončić’s versatility and ability to switch defensively, and that definitely helps.

Here we see a little more switching and more solid awareness. After a pick-and-roll, Dončić steps into the gap and into the path of the ball-handler before falling back and switching underneath the basket:

A score here for Thomas in the end but it had nothing really to do with Dončić…

And Dončić did something similar again defensively a few possessions later: switches on the pick-and-roll and prevents the penetration inside by Michael Roll, who is forced to pass to the perimeter and that perimeter shot is off:

This has probably been the game we’ve seen the most switching from Dončić defensively.

There were a few concerns from this game, however…

DeShaun Thomas caused a number of issues for Dončić in this game, off of the dribble for one:

In the post:

And beaten to the spot on the right block, where he can catch, spin and score:

Yeaaah… DeShaun Thomas was definitely a problem for Dončić in this game.

And, look, it bears repeating that these are grown ass men Dončić has to face: their bodies are more developed for the professional game at age 25, 26 etc… Dončić is only 18. Now, that doesn’t excuse all of the defensive shortcomings but it’s worth remembering…

In closing vs. Tel Aviv…

A tough offensive game for Dončić and Tel Aviv knew what they wanted to do: throw bodies at him, ensure he doesn’t turn the corner on pick-and-rolls and force him to give it up someone else and make others make shots.

And it was executed very well.

Dončić was able to get to the free throw line often to help make up for his struggles from the field and this wave of defensive pressure allowed him to set up others for opportunities that, really, should’ve been taken advantage of but his teammates couldn’t always get it done (missing Gustavo Ayon in this one did not help).

Despite all of that, Dončić still registered a game-high PIR of 30 which is still hugely impressive.

Defensively, up and down for Luka — had good moments at times and had some meh moments… Some decent awareness stuff though, stuff that wasn’t there to begin the season so that’s encouraging going forward…

The Dončić Dossier Vol. 5: Khimki Moscow Region


Real Madrid’s four game winning streak in EuroLeague 17/18 came to grinding halt as Khimki Moscow upset Madrid by winning 86-80 in their own building.

For top prospect Luka Dončić, it was a bit of a tough game: 12 points on 3-of-10 shooting from the field, 2-of-6 from three, 4-of-4 from the line, seven rebounds, three assists, three turnovers one steal and a PIR of 18 in 25 minutes of action.

Let’s break it down…


It was a tougher game for Dončić when it came to scoring the ball: 12 points on 3-of-10 shooting from the field and 2-of-6 from three, but you can really make that 2-of-4 from three as some shots didn’t really come in the proper flow of the game — a heave from inside in his own half at the end of the first half and a shot at the end of the game when Khimki had already won.

We’ll start as we always do now, I suppose, the three-point shooting…

2-of-6 from (but really 2-of-4) and it all started pretty well, a very simply play where Dončić receives the ball on the left side of the top of the key and steps into a nice rhythm three:

Nice and easy shot here to begin the game for Dončić, not ideal for Khimki to give up a shot like that which is capable of getting Dončić’s confidence going early…

Easy or tough: sometimes it doesn’t matter for Dončić as he hits this tough, contested three:

A little bit behind that three-point line too. Again, showing that extended range…

There was one three-point shot that was absolutely massive in the context of this game:

Game situation: Madrid are trailing by two points with 29 seconds left. If they hit a shot they can tie the game or take the lead with a three, but if they miss they’re chasing the game and in big trouble.

Madrid run a play out of the timeout and it all leads to Facundo Campazzo blowing by Thomas Robinson on a switch. With Dončić calling for the ball behind the three-point line, Campazzo turns down a very easy two underneath the basket with the defense behind him and finds the open Dončić but Luka can’t hit the three and Madrid are forced to foul:

Not the best recognition by Campazzo in that situation — he had a layup right there, not sure why he turned it down — but in saying that it was a great look for Dončić: he has buried many tougher threes than that one and was naturally frustrated with the miss as the game basically slipped away from that point:

This was our first look at Dončić in the clutch with, essentially, the game on the line and he couldn’t pull through on this occasion. Many great players miss shots like this and I’m sure we’ll get another chance to see how Dončić performs in the clutch when the game is on the line — one example is not enough to make a proper judgement of Dončić in the clutch.

It was a shot that, sort of, typified the rest of his evening: tough.

The main reason why Dončić only scored 12 points was because Khimki played great defense, taking away shot opportunities and forcing some tough shots on the ones Dončić did actually take — we’ll, kind of, transition from three-point shooting into Khimki’s defense here with this next clip a blend of the two.

Here, Charles Jenkins does a great job fighting over the screen and sticking with Dončić before contesting his three-point shot which ends in a miss:

No matter what Dončić could do here, he couldn’t shake Jenkins. Great defense.

Some more good defense that limited Dončić… He receives the ball with just over five seconds left on the shotclock — so he’s already being asked to try to salvage a bad situation, so it’s always going to be a tough shot — can’t shed Jenkins, rises to shoot, gets stripped and can’t contest the layup in transition as Jenkins cleverly uses his body as a shield and Dončić can’t do much about this layup:

That three may have gone in if he had got it off, who knows — we’ve seen Dončić hit some wild shots — but he never got the opportunity to find out as he’s stripped. Again, good defense.

Some more good perimeter defense, this time it’s Malcolm Thomas, who doesn’t allow Dončić to penetrate with the dribble. Dončić then picks up his dribble and actually sheds Thomas in the end with a fake and a step-through move but can’t hit the leaner as it rattles in and out:

Nice improvisation by Dončić to turn something out of what seemed like nothing after he picked up his dribble. But the improvisation was forced after Thomas prevented the penetration…

Here was an interesting and nice move to free up some space… Coming off of a screen by Reyes, Dončić gets into the paint with his man trailing him. He backs into him a bit, comes to a stop, jab-steps with his left foot, shows a ball-fake — which everyone in the paint falls for — and rises to take an open shot in the paint:

Here was another good move (we’re transitioning out of the good Khimki D if you couldn’t tell from that last clip where everyone fell for that ball-fake), a move that a veteran NBA player might look to make, particularly a guard: Dončić gets free from his man after the screen from Felipe Reyes, after which he tries to back into his man to create the space, gets inside the paint, shot-fakes to shed his man, rises and draws the foul:

I see this from Dončić and instantly think it’s a less refined version of this move from Ty Lawson (video is timestamped):

(I miss you, Ty Lawson 😦 )

Couple of other tid-bits from this game when it comes to offense ball.

Going back to the transition game, Dončić pushes the ball, gets to the paint, draws the foul on the shot and heads to the free throw line:

Two of four free throws that Dončić earned were earned right here.

Another nice little move that drew a foul: the between the legs dribble to a behind the back dribble to his left:

No free throws here as it was pretty early in the third quarter but a nice move to draw a foul nonetheless. Beautiful.

And one more clip, this time from the post. Dončić went to the post in the fourth quarter, passed out of the first look for a three-point attempt and tried again after the offensive rebound off the miss but couldn’t hit the hook:

Probably would’ve been better off taking the shot in the first post-up but was unselfish in finding a teammate for a good opportunity but didn’t go down. The second post-up wasn’t spectacular, which isn’t what we’ve come to expect from Dončić: he’s pretty decent down there. The first one was the one to try and exploit…


Not as much to talk about here as previous weeks but still a few things to talk about.

Some good Khimki defense forces Dončić to give the ball up. Dončić finds Reyes, who misses the shot just outside the paint but the follow-up is good by Jeffrey Taylor:

A little risky to leave your feet like that when you’re turning around to find a teammate but Dončić found a decent opening for Reyes here — just couldn’t hit the shot.

Again, the transition game is big for Dončić and he got involved with it again vs. Khimki.

Here, he pushes in transition, gets close to the rim and finds a teammate, who gets blocked from behind:

Dončić probably should’ve actually attempted this layup himself but he made the pass and it’s a decent block from behind. Again, Dončić looking to make the pass…

In the third quarter, Dončić grabs the rebound off of the miss, gets his head up early and makes the simple, right play which eventually leads to a basket in transition by Gustavo Ayon:

Just a simple play: getting the head up, making the right play and it leads to something good.

Again, heads up and alert to what’s going on as he rifles a pass to the cutting Causeur, who is blocked inside:

Again, simple, easy: no need for complicated plays, too bad nothing came of it. Though, watching Causeur fly into the paint and get blocked almost immediately was pretty funny…

In the fourth quarter, Dončić gets downhill coming off of the screen from Reyes. He stumbles a bit inside, gets the pass out of traffic to the perimeter for the assist on the made three:

A bit of a weak pass if it wasn’t deflected but it got the job done for the big three-pointer, down seven in the fourth quarter before the three cuts it to four points.

We looked at this clip already, but it’s worth talking about again because it’s something we haven’t really seen yet. Dončić is pretty solid in the post, and most of his shots in the post are pretty good: they either go in or they were the right play/shot to make/take.

Here, Dončić goes to work in the post but chooses to pass out of it rather than attempt a shot himself:

Again, not something we’ve really seen up to this point, so it was interesting to see Dončić do this. It was a good shot in the end he created, just didn’t go down.


Some really solid stuff from Dončić defensively in this game.

Some solid on-ball D from Dončić keeps James Anderson in front of him after the dribble but unfortunately the shot goes in off of the glass:

Sometimes Dončić’s defensive awareness in help situations has been left wanting somewhat, but this game was definitely a step up from what it has been in previous games.

Here, on the left-wing, Vyacheslav Zaytsev gets into a spot of trouble and turns his back on Campazzo. As he dribbles, turns and faces the court again, he goes to make a pass but Dončić has recognised a possibility for a steal and jumps the passing lane, causing a deflection and eventually a steal:

Smart assessment of a developing situation here and it results in a steal.

A pick-and-roll creates an unfavourable switch with Causeur on Marko Todorovic, who dives to the rim and leaves Causeur behind. The entry pass is made but Dončić is alert to the danger, puts himself between the rim and Todorovic, gets a deflection on the pass and the ball eventually ends up out-of-bounds:

I feel as though in the past Dončić would’ve stuck with his man and this may have been an easy basket for Todorovic, but he made the right defensive play here and Madrid can set up defensively again.

After a score by Jeffrey Taylor, Khimki bring the ball up but the ball-handler is quickly trapped just after he crosses halfcourt by Ayon to the left and Dončić up top (he steps into it very quickly) and a turnover is forced, leading to a score:

A well executed trap by Ayon and Dončić…

For things that Dončić could’ve done better defensively…

Would’ve liked to have seen him contest this shot from Jenkins:

We’ve seen this a few times where Dončić doesn’t contest a shot, he got lucky that this shot missed on this occasion.

In closing vs. Khimki

A tough game for Dončić offensively. Khimki did a good job defensively, either by taking away looks from Dončić and forcing him to look elsewhere or contesting the shots he did launch well. Charles Jenkins did a fantastic job defending him.

Again, you have to remember these are professional players, grown ass men, not college students, and I think Dončić does come into games with somewhat of a target on his back because of his reputation and age.

The perimeter shot looked good, but unfortunate he missed the big three that would’ve given his team the lead. It was a good look too…

Solid game handling passing the ball but his teammates couldn’t take full advantage at times when they got the ball from Dončić — good opportunities were sparse in this game because of Khimi’s defense.

Again, some solid stuff defensively — think there’s a real progression you can see, especially in some help situations, something that was lacking a bit previously. Let’s see how it goes from here.

Paul Millsap is a Denver Nugget

The time was 6 a.m. The day was Monday. The date was July 3rd. The year was 2017.

My consciousness is disturbed by a violent vibration as my phone’s alarm sounds at the time I set it to the night before. I had made plans to head to a town near where I live in order to take care of a few personal matters. The bus I would be needing to catch would leave at 8 a.m. and with the bus stop just a minutes walk away, why would I need to wake up so early?

Well, unfortunately for me, my shower here in my home is not a power shower, meaning I have to put on immersion and slumber back to bed while it prepares some hot water that will kickstart my day, rather than just being able to hop into it whenever I want. When I returned to the comforts of my bed, I checked my phone for alerts, to see if any notable free agency news has dropped as I chased my dreams in the depths of the night.

And then I saw the news that I had been dreading: Paul Millsap had agreed to sign a deal with the Denver Nuggets.

I had known that Denver were interested in signing for Millsap (and trading for Millsap when he was under contract prior to the trade deadline) and knew Millsap was more than likely leaving but to see it as official as it gets…it was one of those ‘Oh, that’s it’, kind of moments.

Before leaving home, I sleepily tweeted a few thoughts regarding the news and headed off to meet my brother, who was also taking the same bus as I was.

Once I got to my destination I had time to kill. The bank wasn’t opening until 10, so I checked into a McDonald’s (look, it was the only thing open before 9, which was when I got to where I wanted to get to) and grabbed a cup of tea. It was when I had settled down to drink it did I realise what had actually just happened: Paul Millsap was no longer going to be a Hawks player. And as I watching some Millsap highlights, all I could hear from the McDonald’s radio is “…say you’ll remember me”, the chorus of Taylor Swift’s ‘Wildest Dreams’.

I couldn’t help but laugh, the irony was hilarious. It’s like it knew…

If you didn’t know, I’m an Atlanta Hawks writer. I write at Peachtree Hoops, have been covering the team since 2015 and I have watched almost every single Hawks game in that time period, meaning I have gotten to watch Paul Millsap play on an almost nightly basis. Watching that man play basketball has been the greatest thing about covering the Atlanta Hawks.

Paul Millsap is a wonderful player. He’s so versatile on the offensive end and can score in a variety of ways: can take you off the dribble, in the post, face-up, can shoot the mid-range, shoot the three, can get to the free throw line, he’s an excellent passer etc…I could go on and on — we know Millsap’s body of work too well.

On the defensive end, he was just incredible. He could guard not only his own position but also some centers and — as he often did last season — the opposing teams best player if that player happened to be a forward. Paul George, Carmelo Anthony… And he would do a great job, it was a challenge he loved.

A great teammate, a great professional, a great competitor…I could go on an on. He is just fantastic. I love Paul Millsap’s make-up as an NBA player, and he was the sole reason that I didn’t go absolutely insane watching the 2016-17 Atlanta Hawks, a team I did not enjoy watching at all. For that player to no longer be one that I get to watch on a nightly basis, that saddens me.

The contract that Millsap has reportedly agreed to is astonishing: 3 years, $90 million. The price is not the astonishing part, it’s the fact the third year is a TEAM option. Not a player option or just a regular third year but a TEAM option. That’s quite incredible. As pointed out by Nate Duncan on Twitter, Millsap will earn less guaranteed salary than Timofey Mozgov and Luol Deng.

A lot of people possibly thought the market would be tighter this season but to this extremity when it came to Paul Millsap as to not even warrant a guaranteed third year of salary…that is quite incredible.

It was also very interesting that Millsap, as revealed by Millsap himself to Chris Vivlamore of the AJC, wasn’t even offered a contract by the Hawks. I initially though this was a mistake from the Hawks, but what would’ve been the point of low-balling Millsap (as Schlenk conceded long before free agency that other teams may offer Millsap more than the Hawks were able to [read: willing])?

With teams so limited with their cap space this summer (thanks to many teams’ shopping spree last summer when almost everyone had cap space), cap space is such a precious thing to have this summer — more so now than in recent seasons. The Phoenix Suns have taken the approach of being the team that will have cap space ready so that they will be in a position to take on a young player/draft pick, should a team hope to dump salary in order to sign a player, and I think this will benefit them down the road.

If the Hawks weren’t tied down with the contracts of Kent Bazemore and Miles Plumlee, I wonder if they would’ve made Paul Millsap an offer. If the Hawks would’ve had cap space available after agreeing to a deal with Millsap, I wonder if they would’ve…

But since teams are seemingly not in the market for salary dumps, and Schlenk — at least right now — can’t move either/both of those deals, and he simply needed the cap space but in order to have that cap space, Millsap had to be let go.

But letting Millsap go was, ultimately, the right decision. The Hawks with Millsap (and the players that were currently on the team) had a ceiling, and it was not a very high ceiling at all (as the playoffs showed). It made sense to move in a new direction and now the Hawks have the cap space to chase some free agents that will surely have one eye on the future and — as we’ve seen so far — there’s some proper value to be had on the market if you play your cards right — Ben McLemore comes to mind.

And the Hawks are waiting for that value to emerge, there’s no doubt about it.. It’s June 3rd and players have only left Atlanta, not joined. I think the Hawks are waiting for the notable free agents (like Danilo Gallinari, Gordon Hayward, Otto Porter, Andre Roberson, KCP and Nerlens Noel to name a few) to sign with their respective teams and for those teams to use their cap space and then the real value signings will come to the fore.

Your James Johnson’s, your Jonathan Simmons’, your Willie Reed’s, your K.J. McDaniel’s etc…

It’ll be interesting to see how the Hawks proceed from here, what they do with Tim Hardaway Jr. and who they sign, but Millsap’s decision means that the Hawks’ summer can now begin.

Paul Millsap, I am happy you have gotten the money you deserve, even if you deserve more years on that contract. You’ve made the Denver Nuggets one of my must watch teams next season.

It’s been a joy to watch you. Thank you. And good luck.

The Calm Before the Storm: Free Agency Thoughts

Feature image: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images North America

I love the off-season. The draft is always fun but free agency is another beast entirely, as fans, writers and even league executives await a tweet that reveals a free agent’s destination, a change in fortunes, a change in scenery, a change in direction…it all happens in free agency if it hasn’t happened in the draft.

And this year’s free agents class is chock-full of great players. Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Blake Griffin, Gordon Hayward Kyle Lowry and Paul Millsap to name a few. Sure, not all free agents will necessarily leave their teams but free agency is a wild beast. You just don’t know…

There’s so much talent available this summer, far exceeding last year’s free agency class. From potential franchise changers to role players…it’s all here this summer.

Quite a number of teams are already regretting how much money they spent last season. Teams like Houston already looking to move on from Ryan Anderson, Atlanta possibly from Kent Bazemore… I think you’re going to find that the teams who didn’t spend all of their cap space for the sake of spending (Boston, Denver, Phoenix etc.) are going to be the teams with a huge say in free agency this season.

Because teams might look to move on from the mistakes of years past, I think you could see a lot more trades that relieve salary so that they can become involved in free agency this season, which may cost teams valuable assets. Look at the Lakers, they had to sacrifice D’Angelo Russell just to dump that horrible Timofey Mozgov contract. The Nets are ultimately going to reap the benefits of the Lakers’ mistake, even if they’re left with Mozgov for a few years.

That’s just one story, are there similar ones waiting to be written when July 1st hits?

We’ve already seen superstars under contract on the move via trade. Chris Paul and Jimmy Butler so far but surely there’s more to follow, and you’d imagine Paul George will eventually join this club. What if OKC can’t convince newly crowned MVP Russell Westbrook to sign another extension? That’s an interesting thought.

Chicago are in an interesting spot. They’re clearly heading for a rebuild but their veterans (Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade) will surely seek a way out of Chicago and I think you’ll see them wiggle free. Who knows where they’ll end up.

Boston haven’t looked great recently. With the Timberwolves package that the Bulls ultimately settled for, the Celtics could’ve easily have gotten involved and acquired Jimmy Butler. That’s just a fact. They’ve seemingly been reluctant to overpay but it’s cost them the opportunity at acquiring one star. How will free agency play out?

Restricted free agency should be interesting as always. The Brooklyn Nets are always in play in this market, just waiting to catch playoff teams unawares with big offer sheets that they may not be willing to match. Players like Tim Hardaway Jr., KCP, Andre Roberson and Otto Porter could be pried away with big money offer sheets.

Miami are my team to keep an eye on. Watch out for them, think they’ll be big players in free agency, especially if there’s a resolution to be found with Chris Bosh that will free up a lot of cap space. They’re my favourites to land Gordon Hayward.

Let’s do some predictions. Those are always fun.

Who stays?

Curry and Durant stay, that’s for sure. I think Serge Ibaka stays in Toronto along with Kyle Lowry as will Jrue Holiday in New Orleans — they simply have to keep him.

Who’s leaving? Lots of players.

Griffin, Millsap, Hayward (NOT to Boston…), I think some team will pry Andre Iguodala away from Golden State with an offer he can’t refuse, JJ Redick will leave as will Danilo Gallinari.

It’s going to be a wild summer filled with bad contracts no doubt but, hey, you never know.

NBA Draft 2017 Winners and Losers

NBFeature image: @Sixers

The one thing I forget about draft night is how long it takes. With teams, most of the time, using all of the five minutes given to them to make their selection, the first round takes an eternity to go by. So, unfortunately, I checked out at the conclusion of the first round near 4 a.m.

Anyways, the NBA Draft did eventually finish, and here’s who I thought did really well for themselves on Draft Night.



Fairly easy one here. Philly did what they needed to do and that was add a quality point guard to their cause and they did so in the form of Markelle Fultz. Fultz will come in and, I think straightaway, will contribute and I think that core of Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, Ben Simmons and now Markelle Fultz — if healthy — could make a run at a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Process is sure looking good right now.


The Lakers drafted LaVa… I mean, Lonzo Ball last night with the second pick. Despite all the buzz that comes from LaVar’s mouth, Lonzo can straight up play and the fans will love him. The ‘Showtime’ Lakers are long gone but Lonzo will rekindle some memories of those days when he takes to the court.

The Lakers were also busy working the phones and did a nice little deal with Utah (who apparently really wanted Tony Bradley) to fall from 28 to 30 where they selected Josh Hart, who looks like a great pick at 30. He was a player who I loved straightaway when I watched some clips and analysis of him. The Lakers also selected Kyle Kuzma at 28 and that’s also a nice little pick up for the Lakers, whose future is suddenly looking bright indeed.

The Kings

This has to be a mistake, right? Right? Wrong!

The Kings actually had a great draft, hitting a home run when they selected De’Aaron Fox and did a good deal with Portland to move out of the 10th selection to move down to 15 and 20 where they took Justin Jackson and Harry Giles.

Fox has the potential to be a great point guard in this league, and I love his attitude and character. Jackson is a nice pick since Rudy Gay is about to hit the free agency market and now the Kings aren’t under any pressure to pay him/re-sign him (not that Rudy was going probably going to re-sign there anyways). And with Harry Giles, why not? Why not take a low value risk on the injury stricken Giles? He could turn out to be great value at 20.

The future doesn’t necessarily get much easier for the Kings, at least immediately, but they made good progress thanks to their good work last night.


The clear-cut winners from Thursday and it’s not about who they drafted but who they acquired. Jimmy Butler. Jimmy Butler is headed to Minnesota, who gave up Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and the 7th overall pick to land the three-time All-Star. Added to this, the Wolves received also Chicago’s 16th overall pick!!

What a steal.

Forget that they drafted a center into their logjam (Justin Patton), they netted Jimmy Butler and get to pair him up with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Wow. Surely a first playoff appearance since 2004 beckons…

Honourable mentions

Shout out to the Spurs for selecting Derrick White in a typical Spurs move near the end of the first round, the Mavericks for selecting a solid point guard in Dennis Smith Jr., the Nets for landing Jarret Allen at 22 and the Indiana Pacers for stealing Ike Anigbogu at 47, who was a sure lock for the first round.


A lot of teams generally did a good job, so there’s only one clear-cut loser to mention.

The Bulls

Flip me… Why?? Why??

The Bulls got absolutely hosed in this trade…they didn’t receive any sort of star in return for a top-20 player in the league. It truly was unbelievable.

Zach LaVine was having a great season before he tore his ACL…he tore his ACL. Who knows how he’s going to respond to that? That a serious injury from which some players never properly recover from. Kris Dunn proved very little in his first season that he could be possibly be a starting point guard in this league.

With the Wolves’ 7th pick, the Bulls selected Lauri Markkenen, which was a good pick since it means that you don’t have to pay restricted free agent Nikola Mirotic, but then to throw the 16th pick back to Minnesota??? Why??

Gar Forman and John Paxson might be even more unpopular than Phil Jackson right now… Do you know how hard that is to do?


Draft Day 2017 Thoughts

Feature image Source: Christian Petersen/Getty Images North America)

Probably my favourite NBA day of the year is here: Draft Day.

It’s just an exciting time for nearly everyone involved (except the Brooklyn Nets this time around). Young players seeing their dreams come true and for floundering franchises the chance to start over. It’s a celebration and culmination of years of hard work.

With the draft comes immense excitement: who’s going to be selected where and what trades (TRADES!!!) might arise. Last year, we had a very exciting trade which sent Serge Ibaka to Orlando and Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova and the pick that became Domantas Sabonis. In the build up to this draft we’ve already seen D’Angelo Russell (the 2nd overall pick in 2015) traded to Brooklyn and Dwight Howard traded to Charlotte, with other teams rumoured to be trying to trade in/out of the top 5. It’s been exciting.

Markelle Fultz seems to be an absolute lock for the first overall pick for the Sixers, who I think did the right thing in trading up to number 1 — it’s time to get their point guard. Lonzo Ball is also a lock at number 2 with the Lakers, who all but confirmed their intentions when they traded away Russell. I’m disappointed. My ONE hope for this draft was that Ball wouldn’t fall to the Lakers, that’s not happening now…

The Celtics control this draft from the third spot. There has been talk of them perhaps leaning towards Jayson Tatum over Josh Jackson, perhaps they see Tatum similar to a Paul Pierce-type of player? I’d be surprised to see them draft Tatum over Jackson.

De’Aaron Fox is also an interesting player, but surely he falls past Phoenix at 4? They have so many point guards/guards, they either pass on Fox or make a significant trade involving either Brandon Knight or Eric Bledsoe.

After Fultz, Ball, Jackson, Fox and Tatum, the draft really opens up. Lauri Markkenen, Malik Monk, Dennis Smith Jr., Jonathan Isaac and Zach Collins… It’s going to be fascinating to see where they all end up.

My hope is for an unpredictable and entertaining draft with some juicy trades. That’s all I’m looking for tonight.

Can the Celtics Nab the Number One Seed?

(Feature image)

The most wonderful time of the basketball season is nearly upon us — the playoffs. Once basketball resumes after the All-Star break, everyone sees the light at the end of the tunnel. Those in contention know the playoffs are around the corner and there’s just that extra focus.

For the teams at the top of the Eastern Conference…there’s an extra focus to peak at the right time. Though the Washington Wizards are close, the race for the number one seed is coming down between two teams: the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics.

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Initially, I thought that there wasn’t much of a race here. I thought that period where the Cavs were struggling, one/two weeks ago was Celtics’ chance to take the one seed but they didn’t take full advantage. But upon further inspection, the Celtics could take the one seed yet…

Let’s take a look at Boston’s remaining schedule:


Celtics march


Celtics april

Strength of schedule: .503

Some very nice games here for the C’s. Brooklyn twice, Orlando and Phoenix at home and Philly on the road. But it’s that six game home stand in the later stages of March will have a huge say whether or not the Celtics can take the one seed.

Those are all winnable games but the two big games nestled in that home stand are the Miami Heat and the Washington Wizards.

The Heat, by far, would prove the toughest challenge in a 1-8 or a 2-7 matchup. You could make a strong case that the Heat — if they didn’t have so many injuries earlier in the season — would probably be well in the hunt for home court advantage. This will definitely be a tough game with high stakes for both teams, especially given last season’s regular season finale. I honestly believe that the Heat would beat the Celtics in a playoff series…

That Wizards game could almost decide who gets the number two seed, that’s a huge game in its own right. These two teams have beef.

Then, of course, you had the Wiz players wearing all black for their next meeting — the funeral game — which the Wizards won.

Looking outside of that home stand, the Celtics only have five road games left for the entire season. That’s all. And the ones they do have left should be pretty easy. They’re all against teams with records below .500, bar one in the form of the Atlanta Hawks. And then, of course, there’s the game that could literally decide who takes the top seed in the East: April 5th…a home game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Celtics won at home against the Cavs last time out, so the Celtics’ belief will be there. If the one seed hinges on this game…what an incredible game it will be.

With Avery Bradley also now back in the fold, it sure looks good for the Celtics at the right time of the year.

How about the Cavs? How’s their schedule looking?


Cavs march


Cavs april

Strength of schedule: .494

On the face of it, the Cavs seem to have a much more difficult sled of games than the Celtics. They play a difficult Jazz, embark on a four game road trip, come back home to play one game against a very good team in the form of the Washington Wizards and then head back out on the road to play the Spurs. That’s pretty rough, especially that San Antonio game. Add to that a home game against the Pacers (which could be problematic, you never know with Indy, but Cavs should win), a home-and-away against the Hawks, a road game against the Miami Heat and a home game against the Raptors to finish the regular season.

That’s a lot of teams with a lot to play for. Out of all of their remaining fixtures the Sixers, the Lakers, the Magic and, to an extent, the Hornets haven’t much to play for (Charlotte too far back of the eighth seed at this stage). Everyone else is either jostling for seeding or fighting for the playoffs in general.

There’s a number of factors you have to take into account when it comes to this Cavs team and the number one seed.

Firstly, do they even care?

In this six-year stretch (2011-present) where a LeBron James led team has advanced to the Finals, the Cavs had only had the one seed twice — 2013 and 2016. In 2011 the Heat defeated the top seeded Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Finals. In 2012 the Bulls, again, took the one seed but were undone by the Derrick Rose injury in the first round. In 2014, the Indiana Pacers, to be fair, were basically given the first seed by the Heat. If you remember, the Pacers were awful in the second half of that season, if Miami wanted the first seed they could’ve had it. They met in Eastern Conference Finals and the Heat prevailed in six games. In 2015, the Hawks stormed to the one seed but were banged up considerably by the time they met the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals with LeBron, again, pulling through.

LeBron has shown time and time again that he doesn’t need the one seed to make it to the Finals. I think things would be different if the overall top seed was in play and, as such, home court advantage for the NBA Finals. The first seed in the Western Conference has been the team who has claimed home court advantage for the Finals in recent years. But, once again this season, this is out of the reach of the Cavs.

Secondly, the Cavs want to be healthy  by the time the playoffs arrive. This is the most important thing to them. Kevin Love is close to returning, as is Kyle Korver, and the Cavs have just got J.R. Smith back. The focus will soon switch to LeBron and Kyrie Irving.

Trailing by just .2 of a minute to Kyle Lowry, LeBron totals 37 minutes a night and hasn’t taken a whole lot of time off. Irving, meanwhile, is right up there too, logging 35 minutes a night. Eventually, Cavs head coach Ty Lue will have to bench these guys for some of these stretch games, especially LeBron.

If sacrificing a few games is what it takes to make sure LeBron and Kyrie are ready to rumble for another run to the Finals they should/will do that. But will this allow Boston to pass Cleveland for the one seed?

Another thing to consider is this… If the Heat are looking at the eighth seed and the Cavs are still the one seed…do you try get out of that series and possibly screw the Celtics over with that 1-8 matchup? No team should want any part of the Heat in a playoff series. Their record does not reflect fairly on that team and the Heat have actually beaten the Cavaliers twice in March alone, although one of those games LeBron and Irving were rested but the game Irving and James did play against the Heat — and lost — was in their own building.

None of this is to say that the Heat would beat the Cavs in a round one matchup, but it would be a very challenging matchup for sure, one you’d like to avoid if possible.

For all these reasons, I do think the Celtics will eventually end up with the top seed in the Eastern Conference, but if they face the Miami Heat in round one it may not matter…

Masai Finally got his Power Forward

Feature image: Carlos Osorio/Toronto Star

Patience is a virtue. It’s also a boring virtue, but it’s finally paid off for Toronto Raptors GM Masai Ujiri. On Tuesday, February 15th, it was announced that the Raptors had acquired Magic power forward Serge Ibaka in exchange for Terrence Ross and the less favourable draft pick between L.A. Clippers’ first round pick and the Raptors’ first round pick.

Ujiri has long coveted a power forward, the Raptors’ most glaring weakness. Head coach Dwane Casey has tried a number of different players at that power forward position including rookies Pascal Siakam and Jacob Poeltl, Lucas Nogueira, DeMarre Carroll had started some games at power forward (with Norman Powell slotting into those particular starting lineups), Jared Sullinger and Patrick Patterson. Nearly half of the roster have tried their hand at power forward and none have stuck, Siakam starting the most games out of all of guys — 38.

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Surprises of the Young NBA Season So Far

It has been a fun two weeks of NBA basketball so far. Triple-doubles, multiple 50 point games, buzzer beaters… It’s been a good.

Before the start of the season, we form our own expectations of how the season is going to go. We put teams and players in boxes and some out of them. Naturally we don’t get everything right and surprises are always sprung. With that said, here are some of the things that have come as surprises to me so far in this early 2016-17 season.

The Los Angeles Lakers

Are the Lakers actually decent again?? Wow, it has been a long time… The Lakers sit above .500 with a 4-3 record — rolling behind a 3 game streak after they fought off the Suns. And they’ve beaten some decent teams too. The most notable being the home drumming of the Golden State Warriors, but they’ve also beaten the Hawks on the road as well as the Houston Rockets at home in their season opener — all teams that figure to be pretty decent.

And they haven’t been driven by a single player like the Pelicans are with Anthony Davis, it has been by committee. Five Laker players are averaging double digit scoring and Luol Deng and Brandon Ingram are not among them. It has been their bench has given them such a boost: 50 points per game (the most in the league) led by Jordan Clarkson (14.1 PPG) and Lou Williams (15.3 PPG). Brandon Ingram is also coming off the bench to begin the season and I think that’s the smart thing to do with Ingram. There’s no rush here, let him adjust to NBA second units first and take it from there. It’s a long season and injuries happen (especially to Luol Deng), there’s no rush. Good stuff from Coach Luke Walton.

D’Angelo Russell has been pretty good so far, as has Jordan Clarkson. Other players that have impressed are Larry Nance Jr. and Tarik Black, whose emergence meant that Yi Jianlian wasn’t going to play a whole lot of minutes, and he subsequently asked Laker management to be released.

But perhaps the biggest surprise for me is Nick Young is actually playing and contributing in a significant manner. I thought this guy was absolutely done, at least with the Lakers. So to see him actually start and play well (averaging 13.7 PPG and 33% shooting from deep).

The Los Angeles Lakers and Nick Young… Things I didn’t think I’d be talking about at this early stage of the season in a positive manner. It’s early days but this team might have to be taken a little more seriously this season. The Byron Scott chains have been broken!

Dwyane Wade — three-point specialist?

While the Bulls sit with a 3-3 record, they’ve actually begun the season pretty decently. They started 3-0 before losing their next 3 games, but it has been Dwyane Wade that has shocked the basketball world by shooting 47% from three on 3.5 attempts per game.

Let’s just put this into context: for his 13 season career Wade has shot 28% from behind the arc on 1.6 attempts per game — Josh Smith like. So to see these numbers out of Wade is staggering. I certainly thought his Game 6 three-point heroics vs the Hornets (triggered by Purple Shirt Guy) was a one off, but it may have been just the start.

People made fun of the Bulls’ hilarious lack of spacing with Rondo, Wade, Butler and Lopez, but if Wade can even hit 35% of his threes, they might have the last laugh… As they get KO’d in Round 1/2 of the playoffs.

The Washington Wizards

There’s a lot to be said for continuity in this league and the Washington Wizards have been one of the better examples of this in the recent years. The core of John Wall, Bradley Beal, Marcin Gortat and Otto Porter have been together for years now and they’ve done well to add to that core. The addition of Markieff Morris has helped the Wizards quite a bit (an unbelievable upgrade over Nene, holy crap…) and Ian Mahinmi is a player I like quite a bit, coming off the bench. Add to that bench unit of point guard Trey Burke, second year wing Kelly Oubre, veteran Jason Smith, Marcus Thornton and Andrew Nicholson — decent players to have coming off your bench. This, combined with a very decent starting five, is a team that is definitely better than the 1-4 record that the Wizards currently rock.

Their offense has been shaky (96.6 points per 100 possessions) and their defence isn’t good enough to make up for their lack of offense (104 points conceded per 100 possessions). Bradley Beal has been healthy so far but has shot a very poor — for his standards — 29% from behind the arc and John Wall has been turning the ball over an awful lot: 5.3 per game. This is killing the Wizards, who concede 21 points per game off of turnovers — only the Timberwolves concede more in the league.

They have played some tough teams: Memphis, Atlanta twice and the Raptors. Not the easiest schedule but if the Wizards want to be in the playoff picture they need to be beating some of these playoff calibre teams.

It’s early days but in the competitive — at least for playoff seeding — Eastern Conference, but the Wizards need to enforce themselves as a legit playoff contender. They have no excuses right now, everyone is healthy.

The Minnesota Timberwolves

A lot of people where very quick to hop on this bandwagon before the start if the season and it seems as though it was too much too soon — at least at the start of the season. The Wolves sit at 1-4 and things haven’t come together as people expected.

Towns, Wiggins and even LaVine have been great but the Ricky Rubio injury really hurts this team in the short term because now Kris Dunn is thrown into the frying pan. It’s so hard to be a rookie point guard in the Western Conference, the quality of opponent is unbelievable. Steph Curry, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Mike Conley and technically James Harden. These are all the guys you’re facing 3-4 times a year, and that’s tough for a rookie. There’s going to be a huge adjustment period for the Wolves with Dunn and that’s going to hurt them in the short term while he figures things out.

They’re a young team, and with K.A.T entering Year 2, Wiggins and LaVine entering Year 3, Kris Dunn being an interesting prospect and the addition of Thibs on the sideline, I think people expected too much too soon and they’ve been let down by this team just being themselves: young. They’ll get better as the season progresses as they figure out and grow into Thibs’ system and his ways, but it might be too late for the playoffs by the time they do hit their stride.

I would mention Joel Embiid, but his season is of no surprise to me. You only had to look at his college highlights to know that he was going to be a monster if he did play.

And look, take all of these things with a grain of salt: we’ve played, like, six games. There’s a long way to go yet…