1. The Good: Klay Thompson participates in first full practice
Klay Thompson participated in a full team practice on Tuesday for the first time since suffering a left ACL tear in the 2019 NBA Finals and rupturing his right Achilles in November 2020 during an offseason workout. According to reports, he could potentially debut on Christmas week; but with the Warriors humming like a well-oiled machine, there is no pressure for the team to rush his return.
“We don’t have a target date,” Steve Kerr said. “What we have is a number of weeks ahead of us for certain where we’re going to play it out, keep letting him scrimmage as often as possible so that he’ll build that endurance. And I would think within a few weeks we’ll be able to finally sort of get a target date, but we don’t have one right now.”
Everybody is excited—or scared, if you’re a fan of another contender—with just how much better the Warriors could be once Klay finally hits an NBA court. They’re already beating opponents by 13.5 points per game, so you can just imagine how they’ll be like if Klay returns at an all-star level and they move Jordan Poole to the second unit.
But fans should manage their expectations because this will be a long and gradual process. He will most certainly be under tight minutes restriction upon his return and we can expect Kerr to slowly ease him into the rotation so as not to mess with the chemistry of the current group. Still, with around three-and-a-half months of the regular season left between his target return and the start of the playoffs, Klay could be back to his Game 6 self when it really matters.
2. The Good: Zion Williamson is cleared for full basketball activities
Pelicans forward Zion Williamson has been cleared to participate in full team activities, the team announced Friday. However, there remains no specific timetable on when the 2021 All-Star will play. To recall, GM David Griffin announced in the offseason that they expected Williamson to be ready to play in the Oct. 20 regular-season opener, but that didn’t materialize.
New Orleans is 5-16 this season, so the team could definitely use his presence on the floor. But there are concerns about his basketball shape, with Zion looking like he’s been spending his rehab at a Cajun buffet. His weight has become such a big concern that the Pelicans have reportedly made some changes in the kitchen to try to ensure he would come back healthy and in shape.
3. The Bad: Ja Morant suffers non-contact injury
Ja Morant suffered a non-contact left knee injury in the first quarter of his Memphis Grizzlies’ 132-100 loss to the Atlanta Hawks. He left the game and did not return.
Morant has been playing like an All-Star this season, averaging a career-best 25.3 points, 7.1 assists, and 5.3 rebounds. Non-contact knee injuries are particularly concerning because of the possibility of a torn meniscus, the same injury that Derrick Rose suffered in 2013. Morant’s rim-attacking style has earned him comparisons to pre-injury Rose, so it was a scary moment for basketball fans.
According to ESPN, preliminary imaging revealed that Morant suffered a left knee sprain, which is a good sign. But more testing will be conducted before the Grizzlies will have a clearer sense of the sprain’s severity.
4. The Bad: Michael Porter Jr. may be out for the season
Denver’s Michael Porter Jr. reportedly has a nerve issue in his back that could keep him out for the remainder of the season, per Mike Singer of The Denver Post. Porter hasn’t played since Nov. 6 and has missed the team’s last 10 games.
He has had back issues since college, which was the primary reason why he fell to number 14 in the 2018 draft. He has already undergone two back surgeries—one in college and another one after he was drafted, causing him to miss his entire rookie year. He once again tweaked his back in the Nuggets’ second round series against Phoenix last June and has not looked right since.
This development is bad news for the Nuggets’ championship aspirations. They just signed MPJ to a five-year maximum contract extension this offseason, hoping that he can continue his upward trajectory after he averaged 19 points, 7.3 rebounds and shot 44.5% from three and finished third in Most Improved Player voting last season. But with him potentially missing the rest of the season and Jamal Murray still out for the foreseeable future, reigning MVP Nikola Jokic will have to shoulder everything on offense.
Jokic is no doubt capable of carrying the Nuggets to at least a play-in berth, but he is also dealing with minor injuries and has already missed a couple of games. Besides, a spot in the play-in is not exactly the team’s target coming into this season.
5. The Weird: LeBron becomes LeSnitch
LeBron James earned a new nickname in his first game back from the Isaiah Stewart incident: “LeSnitch.”
In a bizarre series of events during overtime of the Lakers’ 124-116 road victory over the Pacers, James escorted the referee towards two fans sitting courtside and had the ref kick them out. The fans were promptly ejected by the arena security.
We’ve seen fans ejected for shoving and throwing popcorn at players but it’s probably the first time I’ve ever witnessed a player come over to the ref and grab him by the arm while pointing at the hecklers, like an accuser would with a policeman and his assailants.
According to LeBron, the fans used “obscene gestures and language,” and there were reports that the two fans allegedly made morbid Bronny-related insults. Assuming that’s true, then they deserved to be ejected; those types of comments are uncalled for and have no place in sports.
But if it was that bad, then why didn’t the sideline ref, who was presumably within earshot of everything, take action earlier? It’s also worth noting that LeBron busted out a “Jock Cup Dance” (it wasn’t a Sam Cassell “Big Balls Dance” as some media outlets erroneously reported; he got fined regardless) directed towards the courtside fans minutes before the incident, so who knows how long the taunting had been going on.
TL;DR: here’s what went down using two Jim Carrey GIFs—
Now, whether the two fans deserved to be ejected is one thing; but LeBron’s reaction of ratting them out is another. It was a power move that ended up making him look weak—like a bully calling his mommy to the playground when another kid calls him a funny name. That’s not how the true GOAT handles hecklers.
6. The Weird: Durant’s ashy legs
Kevin Durant was trending again early this week after what seemed to be an innocuous photo went viral:
Former NBA player Isaiah Thomas noticed the small patch of skin exposed and lost his mind because it was ashy. (There goes my pitch for Brooklyn to take a flyer on IT while Kyrie Irving is out!) I had no idea what he meant, so I had to Google it. Apparently, it just means dry skin, which indicates that KD doesn’t use lotion. Social media had a field day and even Draymond Green got in on the act:
I’m not sure if Green intended it, but snakes have scales, so bonus points for that.
Durant, who has a reputation for being prickly and flaming Internet trolls, responded:
I think he meant it as a joke, but given his history, I’m not entirely sure. If it was, KD clearly has more work to do to improve his comedic chops. That man doesn’t do self-deprecation and you can’t win over the Internet like that.
7. The Good: Giannis learned how to dunk Oreos
Giannis Antetokounmpo just recently discovered that Oreos and milk make the perfect pair, and this led to one of the best feel-good moments of the season:
Good on you, Giannis. Welcome to the club.
8. The Good: Chet Holmgren vs. Paolo Banchero
The 2022 NBA Draft looks like it’s going to be a two-horse race between Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren and Duke’s Paolo Banchero. The two teams met yesterday, with No. 5 Duke eking out an 84-81 win over top-ranked Gonzaga, and the extra buzz surrounding the game was palpable.
Both Banchero and Holmgren played well but had their share of issues. Banchero erupted for 20 points in the first half but was limited to a single point in the second as he dealt with cramps. Holmgren finished with 16 points on 8-of-13 shooting with 7 boards and 3 blocks for the Zags but sat out a significant portion of the first half after picking up two early fouls.
The early consensus appears to be that Banchero now holds the edge over Holmgren in the race for number 1. ESPN’s Mike Schmitz said after the game, “It was Paolo Banchero and it really wasn’t even close. He looked like the No. 1 pick today. He had 20 first-half points and he did it in a variety of ways. A lot of NBA shots from him, making transition pull-up 3’s, scoring in mid-range spots and he just big-bodied Chet Holmgren. He took him to the woodshed and scored over him in the post.”
Banchero has an NBA-ready body and is already a polished three-level scorer. However, he’s not as athletic as other prospects, which may put a cap on his ceiling. Holmgren is a better defender with his 7-foot-6 wingspan, but his slender frame raises concerns at the pro level, particularly after watching Banchero bully him in the first half. Unlike Banchero, he’s not called to be the number 1 option for the Bulldogs—that would be the guy who looks like Paul Rudd from Mute,Drew Timme—so we haven’t really seen his offensive repertoire on full display at the collegiate level.
At this point, it looks like Banchero is the safer prospect, but Holmgren is more intriguing.
9. Throwback video of the week
The last time a college game generated as much hype due to its NBA draft implications was when Kansas met Duke at the 2013 Champions Classic in another matchup between blue-chip programs featuring the nation’s top 2 recruits. Jabari Parker finished with 27 for Duke, but it was Andrew Wiggins who dominated the second half leading Kansas to victory.
Enjoy the legendary Dick Vitale on commentary, baby!
PS. Joel Embiid also played for Kansas and ultimately went third in the draft. He ended up as the best player from that draft class.