And just like that, the regular season is over. Just about 5 months after it began. That means the playoffs are coming up for a number of your favorite former Huskies while the season is over for others. If you haven’t been following along with the NBA we’ll go through all of them in order of how their team ended up finishing. Which means first up is a certain player on the Eastern Conference #1 seed...
SG Matisse Thybulle, Philadelphia 76ers
2020-21 Stats: 65 games, 3.9 pts, 1.9 rbs, 1.6 stl, 42.0% FG, 30.1% 3pt, 44.4% FT
It has been a very up an down season for Matisse. And by that I mean it’s been up whenever he’s on defense and down when he’s on offense. Thybulle is only averaging 20 minutes per game but still is among the NBA leaders in most defensive categories. He’s 6th in steals per game and 21st in blocks per game despite playing almost half as much as many starters. Go by per 36 minutes instead and Thybulle leads the NBA in steals and is 14th in blocks. The next player on the list in blocks who isn’t a center or forward ranks 40th.
Suffice to say that Thybulle was hands down the best defensive player in college basketball and within 2 years in the NBA is already one of the 3 best perimeter defenders in the league if not the best. He should easily make 1st team all-NBA defense which would be basically unheard of for a 2nd year guard playing just 20 minutes per game.
After shooting 35.8% on 3-pt attempts and 78.2% on FTs at Washington for his career he is so far in the NBA shooting 33% and 55.9% on those attempts respectively. And in both regards he was better than a rookie than he is this season. If Thybulle can get anywhere close to league average in both regards it leaves no excuses for him to not play 30+ minutes per game. If Thybulle plays that often then expect to see some NBA record get broken. If you want to see a Husky win the NBA title this season then I recommend adopting the 76ers for the rest of the playoffs.
PG Dejounte Murray, San Antonio Spurs
2020-21 Stats: 66 games, 15.8 pts, 7.1 rbs, 5.4 ast, 45.4% FG, 32.0% 3pt, 79.1% FT
The Spurs still have a shot at making the playoffs although it’s a slim one. They end the regular season as the 10th seed in the West which under the new play-in game rules leaves the door slightly ajar. They’ll have to win consecutive games against Memphis and then the loser of Warriors/Lakers for the right to be the #8 seed but at least it’s still a chance.
Murray though has been one of the reasons the Spurs didn’t completely fall off the map. Greg Popovich has finally taken the training wheels off of Dejounte and given him complete control of the offense. Murray has responded by raising his assists from 4.1 to 5.4 per game while actually seeing his turnovers per game go down slightly. He’s taking a career high 3 3’s per game without hitting a great percentage but it’s at least enough to keep defenses honest.
Every time Murray takes the court he has a decent chance at ending up with a triple double. He ended up with 4 this season in addition to a 9 point, 9 rebound, 11 assist game. And while Murray isn’t quite Thybulle on the defensive end he is still one of the best point guard defenders in the NBA and finished 11th in the NBA in steals per game.
Finally, if you haven’t done so I highly recommend reading the recent profile on Murray in SI about the difficulties in his childhood and what he had to overcome to get to where he is now. It’s incredibly easy to root for Dejounte and he continues to make Husky fans proud.
SG Justin Holiday, Indiana Pacers
2020-21 Stats: 71 games, 10.5 pts, 3.6 rbs, 1.7 ast, 41.6% FG, 38.5% 3pt, 79.3% FT
It was a disappointing season for the Pacers who at one point looked like they would challenge for a top-4 seed in the East but cratered to wind up clinging to a spot in the Eastern Conference play-in game as the #9 seed. New head coach Nate Bjorkgren has by all accounts been a disaster, quickly losing the locker room, and is likely to be let go this offseason. Holiday though has continued on in his role as an extremely underrated glue guy.
He is okay either starting or coming off the bench, guarding the opponent’s best wing, and hitting open 3-pointers. Holiday is the consummate 3 and D guy that the NBA covets. At age 31 Holiday is likely on the downside of his career but looks to have several more years left in him and continues to make it look ridiculous that he wasn’t drafted coming out Washington.
PF Jaden McDaniels, Minnesota Timberwolves
2020-21 Stats: 62 games, 6.6 pts, 3.7 rbs, 1.0 blk, 44.1% FG, 36.1% 3pt, 60.0% FT
I’ll admit that McDaniels had a better rookie season in the NBA than I was expecting. He ended up being a vital piece for the Wolves albeit for a very bad team. McDaniels ended up starting 26 games and over the last few months of the season regularly played 30+ minutes. His 3-pt percentage is up several percent over what it was at Washington even though his free throw percentage is down. He also finished 2nd among NBA rookies in blocked shots only behind another Dawg still to come.
Minnesota continues to be in a perpetual rebuild but provided the current group sticks together it appears that there’s at least a glimmer of hope building around a core of Karl Anthony-Towns, Anthony Edwards, and Jaden. Regardless, it looks like some of the inability to control emotions that hurt Jaden while at Washington didn’t carry over to the NBA which should help his long-term growth.
SG Jaylen Nowell, Minnesota Timberwolves
2020-21 Stats: 42 games, 9.0 pts, 2.3 rbs, 1.5 ast, 42.4% FG, 33.3% 3pt, 81.8% FT
After recovering from an injury, Nowell had a blazing hot start to his 2nd NBA season. In January/February he had 8 straight games scoring double figure points and made the most of the time when DeAngelo Russell was out of the lineup. It looked like Nowell had at the very least secured a job as the 2nd team combo guard. As the season wore on though, Nowell’s playing time diminished and his numbers started to tail off. He only played in 6 of Minnesota’s final 21 games and finished just 3/17 from 3-pt range in those 6 games. He still has a chance to secure a rotation spot next season as he’s only 21 years old but Nowell needs to take his game up another level to make sure he sticks long-term in the NBA.
SG Terrence Ross, Orlando Magic
2020-21 Stats: 46 games, 15.6 pts, 3.4 rbs, 2.3 ast, 41.2% FG, 33.7% 3pt, 87.0% FT
It was definitely an interesting year for Terrence Ross in that probably the 2 most impactful moments of his season were memes. Orlando at the trade deadline decided to tank and traded away just about every veteran player on the roster except for Ross prompting the following:
Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise given that context that Ross had a 3-year low in 3-pt percentage and a 3-year high in turnovers per game. He’s still one of the best flamethrower bench scorers in the NBA, capable of getting either 3 or 30 points depending on how he’s shooting on a given night. On a team that appears fully committed to a down to the studs rebuild it’s unclear how valuable that kind of player is going to be and it wouldn’t be a shock to see Ross get dealt in the offseason for a younger asset from a playoff team looking to fortify their bench scoring. He also got to tell this lovely story about Kelsey Plum and Nigel Williams-Goss.
"She was busting this dude's ass in warm-ups."— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 13, 2021
Terrence Ross tells a story about how @KelseyPlum10 was giving a former University of Washington men's player so many buckets in open gym he transferred schools right after
Isaiah Stewart, Detroit Pistons
2020-21 Stats: 68 games, 7.9 pts, 6.7 rbs, 1.3 blk, 55.3% FG, 33.3% 3pt, 69.6% FT
At the beginning of the year the Pistons appeared to be trying to compete right away and Stewart began as the 3rd team center, hardly receiving minutes. Eventually they realized that focusing on the development of their 3 1st round picks was in the best interest of the franchise and they threaded the needle getting valuable reps and also tanking. Stewart showed that he clearly has the potential to be a starting center sooner than later.
He led all rookies in both blocks and rebounds per game. He took fewer than one attempt per game but by shooting 33.3% from deep in his first year it clearly shows that Stewart has the potential to be a stretch 5 down the road. If you translate Stewart’s numbers to per 36 minutes he put up 13.3 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game. That ranked 25th in the NBA in rebounds and 11th per blocks. If the Pistons get the #1 pick (they have the 2nd worst record) and draft Cade Cunningham to add to their young core of Stewart, PG Killian Hayes, and SG/SF Saddiq Bey then Stewart has the chance to be a starter for a very good team in the coming years.
PG Markelle Fultz, Orlando Magic
2020-21 Stats: 8 games, 12.9 pts, 3.1 rbs, 5.4 ast, 39.4% FG, 25.0% 3pt, 89.5% FT
It was brutal when Fultz tore his ACL a few weeks ago after having a very solid start to the season for Orlando. He only played 8 minutes in that game before the injury which throw off the per game averages displayed above a bit. On a per 36 minute basis he was on pace for 17 points and 7 assists. If there’s any good news it’s that Fultz signed a contract extension before the season started so he will continue to be well-compensated. But this looked like the year he was finally returning to form after a chaotic first few seasons in the league and it’s a shame it was cut short and he’s back to doing rehab.
PF Marquese Chriss, Golden State Warriors
It had really looked like the light turned on for Chriss but he broke his fibula in the second game of the year and missed the rest of the season. Hopefully he’s able to come back at the same level athletically and earn back a place in the rotation for the Warriors.
PG Isaiah Thomas, New Orleans Pelicans
Thomas signed a 10-day contract with the Pelicans but only ended up playing 3 games and the contract wasn’t renewed at the end of that time. It was only 16 total minutes so it’s tough to make much of a statement about how it went but Thomas shot just 40% on 2’s and 25% on 3’s in that time which wasn’t incredibly encouraging. Hopefully Thomas after a full offseason of workouts will be able to find his way onto a roster next fall.