What Caitlin Clark being WNBA’s top pick means. Plus, previewing West Play-In madness

The Bounce Newsletter  | This is The Athletic’s daily NBA newsletter. Sign up here to receive The Bounce directly in your inbox.

Team USA Men’s Basketball is sooooooo back!

A Big WNBA Night

Only buckets can cure Caitlin Clark’s Fever!

The 2024 WNBA Draft was last night, and you’ll be shocked at who went first. The Indiana Fever took Iowa superstar Caitlin Clark with the top pick to save a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2016 or had a winning season since 2015, when the Fever lost in the Finals to the Lynx. With Clark entering the next phase of her career and the WNBA Draft adding more talent to the league, it’s time to have a quick Q&A with Chantel Jennings, one of our women’s hoops aficionados.

Zach: I’ve had some debates with people that Caitlin Clark will adjust quickly to the physicality of the WNBA. How much of an adjustment period do you think awaits her?

Chantel: At 6-0, Clark has good size for a WNBA point guard, but the physicality she’s going to get from defenders will be different than what she saw at Iowa. The WNBA is full of veteran guards who are going to take the challenge of shutting down Clark very personally, I’d imagine. But passing lanes are passing lanes, and she’ll find those even if her scoring needs to take a step back, at least initially. Defensively, she’s in for a significant adjustment because she’ll be expected to show up big on that side of the floor, too.

Zach: Outside of Clark, who is the player in this draft you believe has the biggest impact at the next level?

Chantel: Long term, it could be Kamilla Cardoso (first round, third overall pick). As a post player, she’s going to be guarded much differently than she was at the college level because there just weren’t enough teams that were stacked enough to defend South Carolina one through five (or match her height). But in the WNBA? That’s a different ball game. Still, though, you can’t teach 6-7 and length. And beyond that, Cardoso’s growth from South Carolina’s season opener last November to her performance in the national championship game was significant. She’s a fast learner. With basketball being her sole focus at the next level, her development could leapfrog season-over-season.

Zach: College basketball lost a lot of star talent with this draft, but the talent pool is still incredible. Who do you think is the biggest star in the college game next season?

Chantel: JuJu Watkins. Even with the Trojans only playing four nationally televised games during the regular season, she was able to break through the noise and make a name for herself as a freshman. Now, with USC in the Big Ten (and the Trojans likely picking up a bunch of those FOX/FS1 broadcast windows formerly occupied by Caitlin Clark and the Hawkeyes), Watkins will be in front of even more eyes. And, when people see her play, they’re going to come away impressed. Her game is just so fluid and dynamic. The Trojans will be a national title competitor next season with Watkins leading the way.

Appreciate Chantel for taking the time on a very busy night. Check out all of the WNBA Draft coverage here!

READ MORE: WNBA Draft grades | Can Angel Reese win in Chicago? | How do Clark and Aliyah Boston fit? | WNBA expansion updates

The Latest From Shams

Catching up with Bobby Portis; Team USA news

Bobby Portis has become something of a cult hero in Milwaukee, a rise in stature that started as the Bucks marched to the 2021 NBA title.

As the Bucks have dealt with coaching changes, injuries and more this season, Portis has been a constant, playing in all 82 regular-season games while putting up 13.8 points and 7.4 rebounds per contest.

I sat down with Portis recently to talk about his status around the city and elsewhere, his role as a sixth man, past trade rumors and more.

Team USA, as Zach alluded to above, has selected 11 of the 12 players to fill out its men’s basketball roster at the Paris Olympics, sources close to the players tell me and Joe Vardon. Those names include future Hall of Famers LeBron James, Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and more. Sources also say Kawhi Leonard is the leading candidate for the 12th spot, with Paul George, Paolo Banchero, Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges also under consideration.

Welcome to the Playoffs!

Meet our Matchup Panic Meter

We know four of the eight series in the 2024 NBA Playoffs, as the other four teams await their matchup. Who has the most reason to panic? Do waiting teams know who they’d like to face? Let’s bust out the matchup panic meter and provide bulletin board material, shall we?

(3) Minnesota Timberwolves v. (6) Phoenix Suns

The Wolves have advanced out of the first round only once in their 35-year history (2004). The Suns have manhandled them all season and also underachieved. There’s lots of pressure here.

Wolves Panic: 🐺🐺🐺🐺🐺 | Suns Panic: ☀️☀️☀️☀️

(4) L.A. Clippers v. (5) Dallas Mavericks

The Clippers have come up short in the most outlandish ways over the years, but they’ve ended the Mavericks’ season twice in the last five postseasons. Tim Cato and Law Murray preview the series.

Clippers Panic:  🚢🚢🚢🚢🚢| Mavs Panic:🐴🐴🐴

(3) Milwaukee Bucks v. (6) Indiana Pacers

Giannis Antetokounmpo is hurt, Damian Lillard hasn’t been great and Doc has been making excuses. Indiana has crushed Milwaukee all season. Also, the Pacers are just happy to be here.

Bucks Panic: 🦌🦌🦌🦌🦌 | Pacers Panic: 🚨🚨

(4) Cleveland Cavaliers V. (5) Orlando Magic

The Cavs got bounced early last year and have Donovan Mitchell’s contract extension decision hanging over their heads. Orlando is way ahead of schedule and has no pressure.

Cavs Panic: ⚔️⚔️⚔️⚔️⚔️ | Magic Panic: 🪄

Ideal first-round matchups for the rest

(1) Oklahoma City Thunder: Warriors. The old Warriors defense would get tested by the Thunder’s constant movement and drives.

(2) Denver Nuggets: Lakers. Denver absolutely does not respect them.

(1) Boston Celtics: 76ers. Joel Embiid never beats them and is still beat up.

(2) New York Knicks: 76ers. This athletic Knicks team is dying to run the Sixers ragged.

Play-In or Play Out

What to expect from the West Play-In

The West Play-In Tournament starts tonight. The loser of Pelicans-Lakers gets one more shot to reach the playoffs. The loser of Kings-Warriors heads to Tulum (Okay, that’s where I’d go for vacation, but hey.) Don’t forget: all game times are Eastern.

Los Angeles Lakers at New Orleans Pelicans, 7:30 p.m. on TNT

Can the Lakers repeat last year’s Play-In success? Can the Pelicans repeat their 2022 Play-In success? Let’s preview!

Best storyline for the game: Anthony Davis still seems to love sticking it to the Pelicans. Davis is 11-3 against the Pelicans since they traded him to LA back in 2019.

How’d the season series go? How relevant was it? The Lakers went 3-1 against the Pelicans, outscoring New Orleans by 57 points in the four games. This feels pretty relevant! The Lakers have mostly dominated the Pelicans over the last couple years, and two of this season’s wins came post-trade deadline.

Key matchup: Davis against Zion Williamson. Will Zion put pressure on Davis and his questionable back?

Key stat: Make 15 or more 3-pointers. The Lakers are 14-4 this season when they hit that mark. They have the third-fewest 3-point attempts in the NBA. New Orleans went 18-3 when in games with at least 15 3s, including their only win over the Lakers (20-point win on Dec. 31).

Crazy theory for this game: Both teams would be better off losing this game and taking the No. 8 seed so they can avoid the Nuggets in the first round – especially the Lakers.

Prediction: Lakers by 11.

Golden State Warriors at Sacramento Kings, 10 p.m. on TNT

In a do-or-go on vacation game, can the Kings reverse their fate from a year ago and beat the Warriors?

Best storyline for the game: For the second straight year, the Kings have a chance to end the Warriors’ season at home, but they’re missing Kevin Huerter and Malik Monk this time.

How’d the season series go? How relevant was it? They tied the season series 2-2. Three of the games were one-point wins. It was a little important? The last time these two teams played was Jan. 25.

Key matchup: Draymond Green versus Domantas Sabonis. Last playoffs, we had Green stomp on Sabonis’ chest. The Kings’ offense runs through Sabonis, and Kevon Looney hasn’t played a ton lately. It’s on Draymond to shut down the All-NBA big man.

Key stat: Thirty assists. The Kings are 27-5 this season when they dish out 30-plus assists. The Warriors are 27-9 when doing so.

Crazy theory for this game: The Kings will use Trey Lyles to try to get Draymond to lose his cool and be ejected.

Prediction: Warriors win by two.

Bounce Passes

Sam Amick has postseason coaching tiers. Is anybody on the hot seat?

The Celtics have been dominant. What do the analytics say about their upcoming postseason?

Trust the Process is out. Wemby trusts the project.

(Top photo: Brad Penner / USA Today )

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top