The Crossover spoke with scouts from around the league in advance of the 2020–2021 season.
Pascal Siakam is probably motivated because of how it went down in the bubble. He really didn't have a great ending to the season. He started the season really well. I think there's definitely another level to him. To start the season, I think we're probably going to see some of his best so far. … They just lost two big pieces of their championship team. Losing Marc and Serge is a big deal. … Kyle Lowry looks like he's getting better. He's become more efficient, more effective. And I think he's getting better. He’s playing the most consistent basketball he's ever played.
Jayson Tatum is going to lead the league in scoring at some point. He can score 25 almost effortlessly and his shooting percentages are just going to get better. He still shoots a lot of midrange jump shots, but he’s getting to the free throw line more and that’s a great sign. I know he's going to be a high level scorer for a long time. … Gordon Hayward is a big loss. He had huge value for them. If you ask them to put their five best players on the floor last year, he was one of the five. He gave them another ballhandler creator, secondary type of player that he has proven to be when he's healthy. They're going to have to be creative in how they kind of manufacture that.
I'm still not buying Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid working. I know the narrative's going to change just because of the front office and the head coach, but I'm still not buying it. They just don’t have great chemistry. They both clog the paint. I will give the front office a lot of credit. I think if it is going to succeed, they took the necessary steps, bringing in shooting. Seth Curry can shoot. Danny Green can shoot. Tobias can shoot. To have any kind of shot with those two, you need to have three shooters around them. … They need to go back to Simmons being the point guard. I wasn’t a fan of him as a four. That was a weird bubble experiment. He’s one of the most dangerous players in the league in the open floor. You don’t do anything to take the ball out of his hands.
It’s going to be the Kevin Durant show in Brooklyn. I think he’s motivated. I think he’s out to prove he’s the best player in the league. I think he’s going to have a monster year … The lineup looks fantastic, but what kind of fit will it be? I think everyone is going to have to fit in with Durant. He is the fit … With Kyrie, you’re starting to forget how good a player he used to be. His play has not matched his talent the last couple of years. This year is as important for him as anyone in the league. … It could be tough early for Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert. These are two guys who need the ball. They are going to have to find a way to play off the ball and off Kevin and Kyrie.
New York Knicks
R.J. Barrett is going to be a very good player for a long time. I just don’t think he ever becomes an All-Star. He just isn’t a good enough shooter. I didn’t see much development there during the season. This is a team with a bunch of guys in prove-it kind of years. Dennis Smith, Julius Randle, Frank Ntilikina. Tom Thibodeau is a great coach, we’ll see what he can bring out of them.
Jrue Holiday is a major upgrade over Eric Bledsoe. He’s a natural fit in Milwaukee. He’s arguably the best guard defender in the league. And he’s played well in the playoffs, which is something Bledsoe just wasn’t doing. He’s probably better playing off the ball, but Giannis has the ball in his hands so much, it almost doesn’t matter. … They would be so much better if the Bogdanović trade had gone through. They got some good guys, but Bogdanović was exactly what they needed, another guy who could handle the ball, shoot it.
Indiana is all about fit. T.J. Warren was a stud in the bubble. But can he do it with a healthy Oladipo for a full season? Is he going to be a consistent three-point shooter? Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis can’t play together. Turner needs to be inside more and he can’t with Sabonis so limited outside the paint. It’s why Indiana has been so willing to trade Turner. I don’t know what Oladipo is. He looked slow coming back from the leg injury, but that’s to be expected. Does he have that same burst he had before? We’ll see how a new coaching staff uses him. Nate ran a lot through him. I don’t know if you can do that anymore.
The Bulls have some good players but no one that can really carry a team. Zach LaVine is a great scorer, but I still don’t know if he can be that guy on a winning team. Lauri Markkanen looks like everything you want in a modern big, but he’s inconsistent and he needs to stay healthy. Coby White was a pleasant surprise. You knew he was a good shooter but he had some huge nights. I think they found a starting point guard there.
I don’t know what Detroit was doing this offseason. Seriously—just write that. They don’t sign Christian Wood but they do pay Mason Plumlee and Jerami Grant. They sign a bunch of big guys. Troy Weaver has a good reputation when it comes to drafting players, so maybe they hit on those guys. But they better because this roster sucks. You can’t count on Blake Griffin anymore. When he’s healthy he’s still a really good player. But he’s never healthy. He’s becoming one of those great what-ifs, like Grant Hill. … The reinvention of Derrick Rose is incredible. You can see flashes of the former MVP. Watching him play, you can see the passion for the game is back. And he’s become a much more reliable three-point shooter.
The jury is still out on whether Collin Sexton and Darius Garland can play together. I like Sexton more. He has weeks where he looks like a great scorer. I just don’t know about his playmaking. Garland, you can see the talent is there. I think one of them needs to separate, so Cleveland can trade the other.
I don’t know what Cleveland does with Kevin Love. In recent years, you heard about teams being interested in him. You didn’t hear much of that this offseason. I still think he can play, but Cleveland needs to find a team to take him. He doesn’t fit the direction of the team.
The question with Danilo Gallinari is which guy are you getting? Are you getting the guy from Oklahoma City who was really consistent? Or are you getting the guy from the Clippers who took all this time off and basically said, “I’ll let you know when I’m ready.” … I really like Bogdanović. He’s is an excellent all-around offensive player. The way this game is going you need playmakers, decision makers and shot makers. Bogdanović and [Rajon] Rondo are playmakers and decision makers. Gallinari is a shot maker. … They improved more than any team this offseason. … I want to see how Trae Young approaches things this season. … I thought the league did him a disservice naming him an All-Star last season. That basically told him how he was playing was how he should play. But he wasn’t a winning player. When he isn’t taking the crazy shots, he is really good. He has to play under control for them to win. … I’ll be interested in how they use Kris Dunn. I would find time for him—he is a terrific defensive player.
Last year [Bradley] Beal stopped defending early in the season. As the year went on, his shot selection got worse and worse. … Davis Bertans helps being able to catch-and-shoot the way he did, from the depth that he shot, you can’t help off of him. … The guy that is interesting there is Troy Brown. He has gotten a lot better.
Gordon Hayward makes Charlotte better. It’s just a question of how much. He can play alongside either [LaMelo] Ball or [Devonte'] Graham, or either of the two forwards, [Miles] Bridges and [P.J.] Washington. Bridges and Washington are the kind of guys you want. They are combo forwards. They are pretty versatile. … Is Hayward healthy? And how much of him leaving Boston is him wanting to shoot more? They have a bunch of guys who can shoot and a bunch of guys who can provide some tough matchups. …. I’m interested to see how they play LaMelo. In draft interviews, he was telling teams that asked how he fit in to "put the ball in my hands and let me go." Will Charlotte do that? Will they give him a bunch of touches and just let him play? Or will they ask him to fit into a system?
I didn’t think Duncan Robinson could play against good teams in the NBA. He’s not a great individual defender, but his team defense is solid. And he is 6’ 7”. He is big enough, he has length. It’s one thing if you are 6’ 3” and suck defensively. He’s more athletic than you think. You can run offense through him. He can pass it. He impacts the game in a ways I didn’t see. You can’t take him out of a game just by running him off the three-point line.
Maurice Harkless can duplicate what Jae Crowder did. He can defend at that level and make wide open threes. Where they might miss Crowder is with Butler. When Butler would go a little sideways, Crowder was known to be the guy who went after him, reigned him in. Maybe that won’t matter as much after how successful they were last season
Orlando needs guys to get better to do anything. Markelle Fultz proved he is a rotation player, which is incredible given where he started. But is he a front line starter? He’s tough defensively, is a good athlete and has good size. But he has to be consistent shooting to have any shot. … They will miss D.J. Augustin off the bench. It’s asking a lot of Cole Anthony to be able to do what Augustin did. … I’m not seeing development in Aaron Gordon. He has not improved his shooting. He has not improved his decision making. He can still guard guys, but he needs to do more, especially with Jonathan Isaac out.
Denver is tricky. They lost some important pieces. Jerami Grant was a big part of their team. He could play three positions. He could shoot it. Mason Plumlee was a reliable backup, good defensively, was a great passer. They didn’t have to change the offense when he came in the game for Jokic. He knew what Mike Malone wanted defensively. They didn’t have Will Barton in the bubble, so his return will help. They don’t have a lot of depth at four and five. Is MPJ playing more four? They will be relying on some younger guys. Porter is talented offensively, but he is so young mentally and emotionally. Jerami had gone through all those things MPJ is about to. He was more dependable. That could cause a lot of consternation for Mike Malone, having to deal with MPJ’s tendency to fall asleep.
Jamal Murray took a step up in the bubble. He’s ultra talented. He still makes some head scratching plays. He can be inconsistent, but you didn’t see that in the bubble. If that foreshadows what he has become, watch out. But can he be consistent? Will Malone give him free rein on his shots? He takes some shots sometimes that can be hard to make. High difficulty shots. Malone is very disciplined.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Will be interesting to see how Oklahoma City plays Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. He has played off the ball for the last year and a half. He was projected to be a point guard when he came in—is he primarily the point guard now? It’s not fair to him, the people around him are not established. Will the guys they brought in want to be there? George Hill and Trevor Ariza won’t want to play on a rebuilding team. Lu Dort stepped it up in the bubble. He’s a Marcus Smart type. He can defend anyone. He’s not afraid. Can he become a reliable shooter? He’s a good guy next to Shai. He has the physicality to guard guys better than Shai, Shai’s length and versatility can make him the guy to guard others. It’s a good mix.
The Jazz may have plateaued. Donovan Mitchell is a great player—but can he get that much better? Maybe defensively. They don’t have great depth. With a healthy Bogdanović, they can probably get back to where they were last year. They need second half of the season Mike Conley. They can’t afford for him to shoot like he did in the first half of last season. It puts way too much pressure on Mitchell. Jordan Clarkson is punch off the bench, [Derrick] Favors is the backup big they didn’t have last year. But I don’t know where the growth comes from.
Portland Trail Blazers
Portland got a lot deeper. And they became more athletic with [Robert] Covington and [Derrick] Jones. Covington will guard three’s and fours. That allows them to play smaller. They can keep Zach Collins away from being a power forward. It’s more suited to way games are being played. I can see Covington being helpful in guarding an Anthony Davis. Zach is just going to get in foul trouble against a guy like that. Jones is flashy. They need someone athletic like him to create a little havoc when he comes in the game. He’s a Swiss army knife kind of player. If Gary Trent can develop into a tough physical defender who can play the 2–3, who can guard physical guys, he can be really good. With Rodney Hood getting healthy, Zach healthy, that’s a pretty deep team. Kanter will help with the rebounding and he’s in a system he’s familiar with.
Minnesota is still in development. It will be interesting to see if Ryan Saunders can keep everyone happy. [Ricky] Rubio is going to have to be the coach on the floor. He has to get guys shots. D’Angelo Russell will probably play off the ball more. Russell and [Malik] Beasley will probably play more on the wings. [Karl-Anthony] Towns is an elite shooter. He’s a 50/40/90 guy, as a big. He’s so efficient. I have to think they are going to play up tempo and try to create more shots. There are a number of guys who are going to want those shots. Jake Layman is a good backup. Jarrett Culver played scared last year. Maybe he’ll play better in a different role. They have the kind of team where they can put five guys out there and really space the floor.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers got better. They needed to add offense to that second unit. It’s a quick turnaround for them. I don’t know how ready that group is going to be. They need a second unit that can put up points. [Dennis] Schröder can. They gave up a guy who wasn’t very good in the playoffs for a guy who is really good. Marc Gasol looks like he is cooked. Montrezl Harrell can be good for them in certain situations. He’s best as a five on offense and a four on defense. He couldn’t do that with the Clippers. With the Lakers, Anthony Davis gives them so much versatility.
LeBron remains a monster. He guarded better last year than previous years. He still had his f--k up and blame teammates plays, like he always has, but he competed more last year. He’s exclusively playing point guard now. He brought transition back into the teams arsenal. The Lakers were a good transition offense. That has come back into play for him. You didn’t see that much in Cleveland. The Lakers win by being non-modern. They are more traditional, old school. They play bigs that run to the rim. They are not a five out team. They are physical. They pound you. They play a style people say you can’t play anymore. Most teams try to fill the floor with a bunch of playmakers. The Lakers, they have 1–2 playmakers and big-time scorer in Davis. They are a true execution team.
Los Angeles Clippers
The bubble exacerbated the Clippers leadership void. They just didn’t have any. They are still a title contender, but they haven’t fixed that. [Serge] Ibaka could be a really good addition. Defensively he is significantly better than Harrell. They are going to have to count on him to play good defense. Zubac is not a great defensive player. When it does come time to switch and do things different defensively, he can do that. He’s a threat on the offensive glass, picking and popping, and he can make spot up three’s.
Luke Kennard is a good addition for them. He can dribble, pass and shoot. He’s a good secondary playmaker. Don’t forget about the four second round picks they got in that deal, either. Those are assets they can use in a trade at midseason.
The chemistry looked average. I’m not a huge Paul George guy. He’s talented and I like his defense. But a lot of times he hijacks your offense with crazy shots. Early, multiple dribble jump shots. They kill you. His passing has improved, but I still would not call him a great passer. Probably why he is best as a No. 2 option.
Sacramento looks like a rebuilding team that doesn’t want to say its rebuilding. De’Aaron Fox is a playmaker. He has great speed. The next step is can he run an offense efficiently? You have to play at a blurring pace to take advantage of his skills. He needs to get better at running an offense. He needs to improve his shot. He needs to show he is a competitor. He needs to be a leader. He got paid. Now he needs to take another step.
Buddy Hield took a step back, and I can’t figure out why? Two years ago I thought he was going to become a phenomenal shooter. He needs to get back to that.
Golden State Warriors
Klay Thompson’s injury takes Golden State from a title contender to a middle of the pack playoff team. James Wiseman could be good for them. He’s a true center. If he can be a good defender, a good rebounder, and he has the massive size and athleticism to be those things, it will open up a lot. Draymond Green can roam defensively and be a spectacular weak side defender. Big question to me is their shooting. Kelly Oubre is streaky. Andrew Wiggins is not a consistent shooter. When they don’t have two guys who can run off of screens it’s a different offense.
Chris Paul is such a competitive bastard. He does not want to lose. What he showed in OKC is that he can play with or without the ball and still have an impact on what the younger guys did. He helped the guys around him improve with his intelligence and desire to win. He’s always talking to everybody. And he is still really good at the end of games..
That backcourt is going to be really tough. Devin Booker really wants to be good, he really wants to win and now he is going to learn how to do that with CP. CP will keep Deandre Ayton engaged. He will get him easy shots and he will hold him accountable. Ayton has never had that from a teammate.
Houston overachieved last season. Christian Wood is O.K. He’s not a normal human being. He’s a weird guy. He’s going to want to get his shots. He excelled on a bad team getting shots. You always wonder if a guy is happier getting 20 points and lose than win. He’ll get some of those Covington shots. If they play five-out style, he’s a threat from the three-point line. He’ll get some easier shots that in Detroit. Will PJ Tucker have the same buy-in level? Stephen Silas is going to have someone in hat locker room that is on his side. That is backing him up. I don’t know who that is going to be. That’s going to be important for a new head coach.
Dallas finally figured out how to play Porzingis. There’s always been the questions about is he a four or a five and how does he gets his shots. Rick Carlisle figured him out. When they played him more at the five, he had an advantage. He creates problems as a five. His shooting kills you. They became better when he was the five. They need him to make shots because they lost some good shooters. They got better depth-wise. Josh Richardson and James Johnson gives them some toughness. Josh needs to be a consistent three-point shooter. Better defensively, tougher. If Trey Burke is the same guy from the bubble he will help. They need to find that third guy. Luka is such a great offensive player. He doesn’t need to be great defensively. Just a neutral defender. He does that, he might be the best player in the game.
New Orleans Pelicans
It will be interesting to see Stan Van Gundy with a young team. That has been his kryptonite at times, trusting young guys. He has never been a creative offensive mind. Zion is unique. He’s not Blake Griffin, but there are some similarities there. They have to figure out ways to get him shots. They have to get Brandon Ingram shots. That was a challenge last year at times. You have to figure out how to generate shots for them. Losing Jrue, he was their guy. He was the leader. He was reliable. He could make plays. Who is going to step in and take those shots? Who is going to be a leader?
Memphis can be a really exciting team. With them, it’s health. Will Justise Winslow be healthy the whole year? He’s a key secondary ball handler and playmaker. He takes pressure off of Ja Morant. Will Jaren Jackson be healthy? Ja Morant is full of flash and really good in transition. He was OK in the halfcourt—can he be better against a set defense? There’s a wild card in Dillon Brooks. He’s the guy who has toughness. He’s not scared. He’s not afraid to take big shots. I expect Jonas Valančiūnas to be a trade piece. Jaren Jackson is better as a five. If he plays against traditional fives, they have to come out and guard him. He can still block shots and rebound. He can spread the floor and give Ja more space.
San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs are a team in flux. I can’t find a lot of guys to like on that team. You have to think Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan will be gone by the trade deadline. But I wouldn’t trade a first round pick for either of them, especially not in next year’s draft. They will play a lot of young guys and those are usually the teams pop does well with. The teams you don’t expect much from. Pop gets fired up about coaching them. Devin Vassell is a Spurs guy. Long, athletic, solid defender, good shooter. He will be a good rookie who will have a chance to be a building block going forward.