This season, there are several former Vanderbilt standouts who will be playing in the NBA. Let’s take a look at how they have done in their careers thus far, and what to watch for this season. Go Dores!
Damian Jones - C - Golden State Warriors
Jones started the season opener, and also throughout the preseason, and looks like he will be a part of the Warriors big man rotation this year. He had one big dunk last night, and scored 12 points.
Jones only played 25 games, all off the bench, across his first two regular seasons, spending most of his time in the G League, but he did produce there. Last season he averaged 15.0 PPG and 8.0 RPG, while shooting 68% from the field in 45 games. A lot of young players have used the G League for development recently, and Jones did look raw coming out of college. Hopefully he has used that time to good effect.
Jones is big and athletic, and should be perfect at running down the lane, catching passes from the Warriors playmakers, and finishing at the rim. There are a ton of easy baskets available in Golden State when defenses swarm to Steph Curry and Kevin Durant. Jones should be able to score them. He has struggled with positional savvy on defense, and fouls a lot, as he did at Vanderbilt. He will need to work on his defense to stay on the court.
The Warriors tend to carry a lot of centers, and this year is no different. In addition to Jones, they have DeMarcus Cousins, Kevon Looney, and Jordan Bell. Obviously Cousins will get the bulk of the playing time when he is healthy, but that might not be for a while. They have not given a definite timeline for his return, and there is no rush for him to return early, as this team will definitely make the playoffs without him. So for much of the season, the healthy centers will be Jones, Looney, and Bell.
Looney and Bell both played more than Jones last season, but have not shown a ton in their time in the league. Bell is a smaller player, at 6.9’’, but can still block a lot of shots. He is better at hanging with perimeter players than either Jones or Looney, and is better at running the floor. Looney is also listed at 6’9", but plays bigger than Bell and is more comfortable inside. Jones is the biggest of the three at 7’0’’ and is likely to get the most time when the Warriors play a big center who likes to play inside, like Steven Adams in the opener.
Jones was more productive in the season opener, in more playing time, than he had been throughout his NBA career to-date. He should get plenty of time this season on the court. Hopefully it is the start of a career-best season for him.
Wade Baldwin - G - Portland Trail Blazers
Baldwin will play the season as a backup guard on the Trail Blazers. Playing time could be limited, but he will be in a role where he seems comfortable, and other players have succeeded before.
Baldwin was cut by the Grizzlies before last season, only one season after they chose him in the first round of the draft. It seemed like he might wash out of the league, but he caught on in the G League with the affiliate of the Blazers. He was very productive in his time there, averaging 18,2 PPG and 5.1 APG, though he did only manage to shoot 23.6% from 3. He did not get much playing time in the NBA, playing in only 7 games.
He is a very long player, and his perimeter defense should get him on the court. To stay there, he needs to be efficient on offense. He needs to improve his 3 point shooting and avoid turnovers to do so. He has not been a good shooter in his career, and there really isn’t a spot in an NBA offense for a guard who can’t shoot, unless that guard can do other things phenomenally well.
The Blazers still have the backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, and they will get the lion’s share of the minutes as long as they are on the team. Last year’s primary backup guards, Shabazz Napier and Pat Connaughton, are gone. To replace them, the Blazers brought in Seth Curry and Nik Stauskas in free agency, and they drafted Anfernee Simons. Simons is very raw and will play mostly in the G League, and Stauskas has disappointed throughout his career, so there should be minutes available for Baldwin this year. Curry has been more successful than Baldwin in his career, and will serve as the primary backup point guard, but Baldwin should be next in line after him.
Baldwin will have the opportunity to play as a 4th guard for the Blazers this season. It will be tough to find playing time as a secondary backup behind McCollum and Lillard, but he will have some opportunities on the floor with one of them, and should be able to provide value as a defender in those situations. If he can be more efficient as a scorer as well, he will have a very successful season as a backup, and set himself up to find an opportunity for more playing time in the offseason.
Luke Kornet - C - New York Knicks
The Knicks are going to be rebuilding, possibly tanking, this year, and that should help Kornet get more playing time. After impressing on a two-way deal last year, where he split time between the G League and NBA, he has gotten a guaranteed NBA deal for this season. Get that paper, Luke!
Kornet had a double-double and 4 blocks in his NBA debut last year, leading him to be picked up in a ton of fantasy leagues around the country. He did not play as well the rest of the season, but was still respectable for an undrafted rookie, averaging 6.7 PPG, 3.2 RPG and 0.8 BPG, while shooting 35.4% from 3. He also lit the G League on fire during his time there, averaging 16.0 PPG, 6.1 RPG and 1.7 BPG while shooting 44% from 3. 44%!
Kornet is a smart player, a good shooter, a good shot-blocker, and a willing passer. He provides a lot of what NBA teams are looking for in a big man today. He needs to bulk up so he doesn’t get overpowered down low, and, even with his block numbers, has not really been a good defender in his time in the NBA. He is also not quick, so becoming a good defender is going to be a struggle. But if he is in the right position, he can use his height to alter shots.
The Knicks’ starting center, Kristaps Porzingis, is hurt, and likely won’t be back anytime soon. That opens up a lot of playing time for the other centers, and is, in fact, the reason Kornet was called up to the NBA in the first place. The other centers are Enes Kanter (who sat out a year at Kentucky in an odd situation a couple years ago) and Mitchell Robinson.
Kanter is a good player who will start. Robinson is a rookie who sat out last year after committing to Western Kentucky, and is accordingly very raw. He is also a phenomenal athlete who impressed in summer league, and is a part of the future for the Knicks. I anticipate they will make every effort to give Robinson NBA minutes, both to help his development and to help them tank. But even with all that, there should be minutes for Kornet. Especially since his shooting ability allows him to play next to another center.
There will be opportunities on this young and rebuilding team for Kornet to prove himself. There is not a ton of competition for spots if Porzingis is out, and Kornet is a good fit for today’s NBA. If he really impresses, he could even show himself to be a key part of the Knicks’ future and get a big deal in the offseason.
DeMarre Carroll - F - Brooklyn Nets
Even though he transferred away, I will still cover DeMarre Carroll, who is hurt right now. He just underwent ankle surgery, and is out indefinitely. He will probably be able to get some playing time when he returns, though the Nets will probably look to trade him or buy him out.
Carroll was traded from the Raptors to the Nets in a clear salary dump before last season. He had not been successful in Toronto after signing a big deal in free agency, and they wanted to clear cap space. But then he set a career-high with 13.5 PPG in Brooklyn, and also started 73 games.
Throughout his time in the NBA, Carroll has been known for his ferocious defense. He gets in your face as a defender, and has a relentless motor. He also developed his 3-point shot and became somewhat efficient on offense afterwards. He was overpaid in the notorious 2015 offseason when everyone went crazy, but he is a solid player.
Carroll is a solid player on the wing, but the Nets do have a lot of young wing options that they are trying to develop behind him. Caris LeVert, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Allen Crabbe, Rodions Kurucs, Joe Harris, and Dzanan Musa are all younger than Carroll, and more likely to still be around when the Nets become relevant. So if one of them grabs the job while he is out, it will be tough for him to get it back. Carroll is a good veteran leader so will help the team out even if not playing.
The Nets are rebuilding, and will probably not be that competitive this year. If they aren’t in the playoff race at the deadline, they will probably look to move Carroll, as he is in the last year of his contract. He was valuable to them last year, so they may be able to get a 2nd round pick from a contender for him. He could provide good bench minutes to a contender. If a trade doesn’t materialize, I would expect a buy out.