NBA teams have scouting departments that scour the country – the whole world, really – for talent.
And yet, finding that talent is only half of the equation and two players on the court Monday night in Oklahoma City are the proof.
In their own ways, Mavericks’ guard Jalen Brunson and Oklahoma City center Moses Brown both flew under the radar on their journey to the NBA.
Brunson, we are well aware of. He was the college player of the year in 2018, yet was not drafted in the first round that year. Instead, he’s had to carve out a role the hard way as a second-round draftee.
We all know how that has turned out. He’s one of the best backup point guards in the NBA and if it weren’t for Luka Dončić, Brunson might already be a starter. He is in the lineup sometimes even when Luka is healthy.
Makes you wonder what all those teams that passed on Brunson were thinking.
“It’s hard to give you an exact set of reasons why teams passed,” coach Rick Carlisle said Monday. “I really don’t know. We thought he was a first-round pick. When he fell to the second, we were all holding our breath and crossing our fingers hoping he slid to where we were. When he did, our draft room was obviously ecstatic.”
Carlisle likes to tell the story of how Brunson was unimpressive in the 2018 summer league, but took that bump in the road as incentive to work on his game.
“He wasn’t acclimated to the NBA spacing and his game was more midrange oriented,” Carlisle said. “There wasn’t a lot of rim attacks. He didn’t have the long-range three in his game. But when he went home in late July, he went to work on all that stuff and really adjusted. He stretched his range out well beyond three, he inserted the drive game which is going to be more effective when you become a real threat from the 3-point line. And ever since then this has been a trajectory higher, higher and higher.”
Speaking of which, Oklahoma City’s Brown has climbed from the NBA equivalent of nowhere to a nice, spiffy new contract with the Thunder.
A year ago, he was playing with the Texas Legends in Frisco. He had signed a two-way contract with Portland, but spent most of his time in the G-League, where he averaged 14.4 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, he couldn’t get the attention of anybody in the NBA, even though Legends vice president of basketball operations Al Whitley saw oodles of potential in Brown.
That potential started to be tapped this season with the Thunder. The 7-2 Brown quickly earned his way out of a two-way contract and into a four-year contract. He did so by averaging better than 14 points and 16 rebounds in the four games before Monday.
“It’s a great testament to our organizational synergy that we identified a player that kind of fell out of a two-way situation, got him in our environment and he’s making good progress,” said OKC coach Mark Daigneault. “That’s always a good place to be organizationally.”
Anytime teams find big-time contributors like Brunson and Brown without getting them via a first-round draft pick or a major trade, it’s a huge asset for the franchise.
Melli makes first appearance: The Mavericks unveiled their newest player, Nicolo Melli, in the third quarter against the Thunder.
He made his presence quickly felt as he got the ball on a drive to the bucket, then whipped a pass to the perimeter. Tim Hardaway Jr. would end up with the ball and a wide-open 3-point shot, which he made.
At the end of the quarter, he made a pull-up jumper in the paint to put the Mavericks ahead 100-83.
“Melli’s been with us for 2½ days now and we’ve been able to get him acclimated through video, and a little on-court stuff (Monday) morning,” Carlisle said. “He’s an experienced player in both professional leagues, international and here. He picked up things very quickly.”
Meanwhile, Carlisle said there remains no timetable for J.J. Redick to join the team. He is recovering from a right heel procedure.
“I don’t think it’s going to be an issue getting him quickly acclimated,” Carlisle said. “We just got to get him healthy. There’s been no specific timetable for when that’s going to be. But the important thing is that he is fully, 100 percent ready to go. And at that time, we’ll get him into the fold.”
Briefly: It has been 10 days since Willie Cauley-Stein entered the COVID-19 safety protocols. At this point, there remains no target date for his return, Carlisle said . . . Josh Richardson had a 1-for-11 shooting night on Saturday at New Orleans. He was much improved on Monday against the Thunder, hitting 4-of-7 tries. “I watched some film with him (Sunday) night,” Carlisle said. “He’s a guy that’s very important to us. But moreso than the offensive side, his value to us starts as a defender and being that guy out front that’s being disruptive, creating levels of havoc where he can put ball pressure and use his length and experience. We need both from him. But defensively, he’s really important to us.”