With only three games on the schedule for Thursday, the focus was expected to be on those matchups with the last three MVPs meeting in Houston and the Clippers taking on the Warriors. But that all changed when it was reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton has been suspended 25 games for violating the league’s anti-drug policy. Per the report Ayton tested positive for a diuretic, which triggered the punishment. The NBPA plans to appeal the ruling with the belief that the positive falls under the “unintentional ingestion” provision of the league’s collective bargaining agreement, and a follow-up test revealed no other banned substances in the second-year center’s system per Wojnarowski.
Obviously Ayton and the Suns will hold out hope that his appeal will be upheld, either shortening or completely nullifying the suspension in the process. But while that process carries on the Suns will need to figure out how to account for the loss of a player who posted a line of 18 points (9-of-14 FGs), 11 rebounds, four blocked shots and one steal in the Suns’ 124-95 beating of the Kings Wednesday night.
Last season Ayton was just outside of the top-30 in nine-category leagues and just outside of the top-40 in eight-category leagues per Basketball Monster. The production that the 6-foot-11, 250-pound center brings to the table as a scorer, rebounder and shot blocker won’t be easy to replace, and due to the lack of true centers on the roster Monty Williams will have to go small at times.
Aron Baynes is one player who stands to see an increase in minutes with Ayton out of the lineup. The veteran center, who was acquired from the Celtics on draft night, played just under ten minutes Wednesday night and accounted for five points, two rebounds, one assist and two turnovers. Baynes’ best season from a minutes standpoint was the 2017-18 season, when he made 67 starts (81 appearances) for the Celtics and averaged 18.3 minutes per game. Given the fact that he’s never averaged 20 minutes per game it’s difficult to envision a scenario in which Baynes fully absorbs the minutes left available due to Ayton’s suspension.
Two other players whose minutes/roles stands to be impacted by Thursday’s news are Dario Saric (seven points, four rebounds, one steal, one blocked shot and one three-pointer vs. Sacramento), who started alongside Ayton Wednesday night, and reserve power forward Frank Kaminsky (nine points, four rebounds). There was no overlap in the minutes that Saric and Baynes played Wednesday night, while Kaminsky played nearly ten of his 19 minutes alongside Baynes. As for a Saric/Kaminsky combination, those two shared the court for just over a minutes Wednesday night.
Due to the circumstances things are going to change when it comes to the Suns’ interior rotation, with Cheick Diallo being another option available to Williams. What will also have to occur while Ayton’s out is Kelly Oubre Jr. rebounding the ball as he did against Sacramento. He finished the win with 21 points (8-of-17 FGs, 4-of-4 FTs), nine rebounds, two blocks, one assist, one steal and one three-pointer in 30 minutes. Obviously he won’t be asked to play center, but one player alone isn’t going to take on the responsibility of reaching double figures in rebounds on a nightly basis. It will have to be by committee, and given Oubre’s capabilities he’s a candidate to chip in on the boards (Ricky Rubio is also a capable rebounder at the point guard position).
Marvin Bagley III (thumb) out 4-6 weeks
Ayton's suspension wasn't the only noteworthy news item from the Pacific Division on Thursday, as it was announced that Kings forward Marvin Bagley III would be out anywhere from four to six weeks after suffering a broken right thumb during Wednesday's loss to the Suns. If there's a positive to be found in this bit of news, it's the fact that Bagley is left-handed.
The 6-foot-10 southpaw played 28 minutes against Phoenix, tallying 14 points (6-of-16 FGs, 2-of-4 FTs), ten rebounds, one steal, one blocked shot and one turnover. Bagley finished last season ranked just inside of the top-150 in both eight- and nine-category leagues, and the expectation entering this season was that he would be even better with a year's experience under his belt.
As for who stands to benefit from Bagley's absence, Nemanja Bjelica is the obvious answer. He played 21 minutes in the opener, finishing with five points (2-of-6 FGs), four rebounds, two assists, two steals and one three-pointer. Not the most impressive line, but with Bagley and Harry Giles (knee) both sidelined he may be Luke Walton's first choice to move into the starting lineup. Veterans Trevor Ariza and Richaun Holmes could also see an uptick in minutes, with the latter being a much better fit at the four given his size.
Bagley and Giles aren't the only injuries that Sacramento is dealing with either, as both De'Aaron Fox (knee) and Buddy Hield (left ankle) suffered injuries Wednesday night. Fox was able to practice Thursday, and the expectation is that he'll be fine for Friday's game against Portland. As for Hield, he's considered to be questionable after spraining his ankle during the fourth quarter. Should he be ruled out, Bogdan Bogdanovic stands to benefit with regards to being with the first unit and playing even more than the 22 minutes he received in the opener.
Hawks 117, Pistons 100
Now we move on to the games, beginning with the “Trae Young Show” in Detroit. The Pistons had no answer for the second-year point guard during the first half, as he scored 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field. Detroit did more face-guarding of Young in the second half, but by game’s end he accounted for 38 points (11-of-21 FGs, 10-of-12 FTs), nine assists, seven rebounds, one steal, six 3-pointers and six turnovers in a team-high 37 minutes.
Young finished last season ranked outside of the top-100 in nine-category leagues due primarily to the turnover count (he was top-60 in eight-cat), but given the way in which he plays that figure is going to be a bit higher than you would want on most nights. But if he’s making shots in an efficient manner, as he did against the Pistons, Young can more than make up for the turnovers fantasy-wise (he shot 41.9% from the field as a rookie). And those 38 points came in handy, helping the Hawks make up for the fact that starters Cam Reddish (seven rebounds, one assist, one steal) and Alex Len (six rebounds, two steals, one assist, one blocked shot and one turnover) combined to score five points on 1-of-11 shooting from the field.
Atlanta’s other two starters had solid nights, as John Collins posted a double-double (18 points, ten rebounds, two steals, one assist, one blocked shot and one three-pointer in 30 minutes) and rookie De'Andre Hunter added 14 points (5-of-8 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs), two rebounds, two 3-pointers and two turnovers. The Hawks went 11 deep, with six reserves playing at least ten minutes led by DeAndre Bembry (eight points, three assists, two rebounds and two steals) with 24 minutes and Jabari Parker (18 points on 8-of-11 FGs, 1-of-1 FTs) with 23.
Kevin Huerter, who’s been bothered by a knee issue, played 14 minutes and while he didn’t score he did account for five assists and four rebounds. As for Evan Turner, who finished with nine points, four assists and one steal, seven of his 17 minutes were played alongside the aforementioned Young. In the other ten he served as the point guard, as Lloyd Pierce said he would during the preseason.
On the Detroit side of things, outside of Andre Drummond the starters struggled. Drummond played 37 minutes, scoring 21 points (8-of-12 FGs, 5-of-6 FTs) with 12 rebounds, four steals, two assists, one blocked shot and four turnovers. Double-doubles are commonplace for the center at this stage in his career, and he’s struggled mightily at the foul line. That wasn’t the case Thursday night, and Drummond even getting his free throw percentage into the high-60s would do wonders for his fantasy value. Through two games he’s made 13 of his 16 attempts from the charity stripe. It’s obviously early, but the big fella is off to a good start there.
Drummond was one of three Pistons to score in double figures, with backup point guard Derrick Rose being one of the others. In 25 minutes he shot 11-of-16 from the field and 5-of-5 from the foul line, scoring a team-high 27 points with three assists, one rebound and three turnovers. Reggie Jackson, the starting point guard, played just 15 minutes due to lingering back issues and he finished with five points (2-of-8 FGs, 1-of-1 FTs), four rebound and three assists. Given the fact that Rose is both healthier and playing better basketball, the former NBA MVP could be in line for a minutes increase as Jackson looks to get back to full strength.
One game after going off for a career-high 30 points in Detroit’s season opener Luke Kennard managed 13 against the Hawks, shooting 3-of-12 from the field and 4-of-4 from the foul line with four rebounds, three assists, one steal and three 3-pointers. Tim Frazier (seven points, one assist, one three-pointer) could see an increase in minutes should Jackson continue to be limited by the back injury, and Tony Snell (nine points, two rebounds, two assists and three 3-pointers) played 35 minutes as Dwane Casey used him as a small-ball four for significant stretches.
Bucks 117, Rockets 111
The last three NBA MVPs were on the same court Thursday night in Houston, with Giannis Antetokounmpo leading the Bucks against the tandem of James Harden and Russell Westbrook. The Greek Freak had the best night of the three statistically speaking, and his team also came back to win by six. Antetokounmpo played just 28 minutes due to foul trouble but he posted a triple-double, scoring 30 points (11-of-17 FGs, 6-of-11 FTs) with 13 rebounds, 11 assists, one steal, one blocked shot and two 3-pointers on five attempts.
Antetokounmpo fouled out with 5:18 remaining and Milwaukee leading by six, with Ersan Ilyasova (13 points, 11 rebounds, one blocked shot and one three-pointer) entering as his replacement. And at that point in the game, Houston went small with P.J. Tucker at the center position. Instead of looking to match Houston from a size standpoint the Bucks played through Brook Lopez, and they managed to hang on for the win as a result.
The 7-footer assisted on an Ilyasova three, and a couple possessions later his pass out of a double-team to George Hill ultimately led to a Wesley Matthews three. For good measure Lopez, who accounted for 11 points (4-of-9 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs), five blocks, three assists, two rebounds and one three-pointer, hit a fadeaway in the game’s final minute. He was one of four starters to score between 11 and 14 points, with Khris Middleton shooting just 4-of-16 from the field but grabbing eight rebounds with three assists, one assist, one steal and three 3-pointers. Eric Bledsoe (16 minutes) also scored 11 with two assists, one rebound and two 3-pointers, and Matthews chipped in with 14 points, four rebounds, two steals, one assist, one blocks and two 3-pointers.
Bledsoe’s minutes being limited as he recently returned from a rib injury meant more time for the aforementioned Hill, who played 31 minutes and tallied eight points, seven assists, two steals and two 3-pointers. Pat Connaughton (ten points, four rebounds, two assists, one blocks and two 3-pointers) played 17 minutes and Kyle Korver (five points, six rebounds, one assist, one steal and one three-pointer) 15, with Sterling Brown (two points, two rebounds) getting six minutes.
As one would expect the tandem of Harden and Westbrook led the way for the Rockets, but neither shot the ball particularly well. The former shot 2-of-13 from the field (1-of-8 3-pointers), scoring 19 points with a 14-of-14 night from the foul line salvaging things to a certain extent. Harden also racked up 14 assists, seven rebounds, one steal, one blocked shot and seven turnovers, finishing with a usage percentage of 28.8%. That last number ranked third among the Rockets players, behind Westbrook (29.8%) and Eric Gordon (28.9%).
Westbrook, playing in his first official game as a Rocket, shot 7-of-17 from the field and tallied 24 points (7-of-11 FTs), 16 rebounds, seven assists, two steals, one blocked shot, three 3-pointers and three turnovers in 33 minutes. Westbrook and Harden shared the court for a little over 21 minutes, with the former accounting for 17 points, 13 rebounds, one assist and two 3-pointers during that time. As for Harden, he tallied 14 points, seven assists, five rebounds and one three-pointer. Which guard distributes more, and which scores more, while they share the court is something that plenty will be tracking throughout the course of this season.
In total four Rockets starters scored in double figures, with Tucker (17 points, seven rebounds, one steal and five 3-pointers) and Clint Capela (13 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks and one steal) being the others. Danuel House started at the other forward spot, scoring eight points with three assists, two rebounds, one block and two 3-pointers in 26 minutes. Six players played at least 26 minutes, with Gordon getting 28 off the bench. Tyson Chandler was also effective as a reserve, scoring ten points and grabbing five rebounds in 11 minutes. Ben McLemore, Austin Rivers and Thabo Sefolosha rounded out the 10-man rotation, with McLemore making two 3-pointers.
Clippers 141, Warriors 122
As bad as this game was for the Warriors with regards to the outcome, as the Clippers won by as much as 31 during the third quarter, it was even worse from a health standpoint. Draymond Green (11 points, four rebounds, three assists, one steal and one three-pointer) left the game in the first quarter with what was declared to be a right elbow contusion. While he was back on the court to begin the second quarter with the area just below the elbow wrapped up, Green did not look like his usual self.
The other starter to suffer an injury was Kevon Looney (three points, nine rebounds and one assist), who played just ten minutes and was ruled out for the remainder of the game at halftime due to right hamstring soreness. The hamstring issue sidelined Looney for the preseason, so this is a concern for a team that currently lacks both size and depth in the post. With Looney out the Warriors turned to Marquese Chriss, Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall in the post, with Paschall (14 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals) playing 31 minutes. Chriss (four rebounds, one assist and one steal) and Spellman (five rebounds, one steal and one three-pointer) played 14 and 11 points respectively, with each scoring eight points on the night.
The Warriors are already without Willie Cauley-Stein, so to lose Looney beyond Thursday night would be a blow that Golden State really isn’t equipped to absorb at this stage.
Of course the biggest question for the Warriors entering the season was how guards Stephen Curry and D’Angelo Russell would work together. They combined to score 43 points but neither had a good night, with Curry (23 points) shooting 8-of-20 from the field and Russell (20) finishing 6-of-16. Curry made just two of his 11 three-point attempts, and in addition to the scoring he accounted for four rebounds, four assists, one steal and eight turnovers. As for Russell, after he kickstarted the Warriors’ offense by scoring the team’s first ten points he went ice cold. At one point his missed seven straight shots, but the positives are that he was 4-of-8 from distance and had eight assists with just one turnover.
Curry and Russell played just over 19 minutes together Thursday night, with the former tallying eight points, four rebounds, three assists and seven turnovers. As for Russell, he put up 16 points, two assists and four 3-pointers. And there was a huge difference in the players’ offensive rating as well. Curry had an offensive rating of 87.0 when paired with Russell and a rating of 133.3 when alone, while Russell’s splits were 87.0 with Curry/126.7 without. Fifth starter Glenn Robinson III played 30 minutes, finishing with 13 points, five rebounds, two assists and one three-pointer.
The Warriors went ten deep (Ky Bowman and Damion Lee played the final four minutes), with guards Jacob Evans (14 points, four rebounds, one assist and four 3-pointers) and Jordan Poole (five points, two rebounds, two assists, one steal and one three-pointer) playing 22 and 21 minutes, respectively. Poole certainly wasn’t bashful, getting up 13 shots, but the problem was that he only made two.
As for the Clippers, Thursday went about as well as Doc Rivers could have hoped. Not only did his team look impressive, but he was able to keep Kawhi Leonard down to just 21 minutes on the night. And Leonard was productive while on the floor, scoring 21 points (9-of-17 FGs, 2-of-4 FTs) with nine assists, five rebounds, one three-pointer and one turnover. For significant stretches of he game Leonard was used in the point guard role, even if he was sharing the court with either Patrick Beverley or Landry Shamet (or both, since they also started).
Ivica Zubac (16 points, ten rebounds, two blocks, one assist and one turnover) was effective in his 18 minutes on the floor, while Patrick Patterson shot 6-of-10 from three and scored 20 points, with three rebounds, one assist and one turnover. As for the tandem of Beverley and Shamet, they scored five and 11 points, respectively, with the former also racking up four rebounds, three assists and five steals. Shamet shot 3-of-4 from three and also dished out three assists in his 34 minutes.
All 13 active players saw action, which isn’t a surprise given the fact that the outcome was essentially decided in the third quarter. But the rotation is essentially nine deep at this point, with Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Moe Harkless and JaMychal Green (nine points, one rebounds, three 3-pointers) being the trusted reserves. Williams scored a team-high 22 points (11-of-11 FTs) with eight assists, three rebounds and one steal, while Harrell (18/6/3 with six turnovers) and Harkless (10/2/3/1/1) also scored in double figures.
The three Clippers power forwards that attempted at least one three-pointer (Patterson, Green and Harkless) combined to shoot 9-of-16 from beyond the arc, thanks to both their good shooting and poor defensive rotations by the Warriors.
Friday’s Schedule (all times Eastern)
Toronto at Boston, 7 PM
Minnesota at Charlotte, 7 PM
New York at Brooklyn, 7:30 PM
Washington at Oklahoma City, 8 PM
Chicago at Memphis, 8 PM
Dallas at New Orleans, 8 PM
Phoenix at Denver, 9 PM
Portland at Sacramento, 10 PM
Utah at LA Lakers, 10:30 PM