The beginning of the NBA season brings plenty of intrigue as rookies, superstars and journeymen alike aim to prove or maintain their worth. The league has already seen its fair share of drama in the first week with the Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo scoring a career-high 44 points and the Phoenix Suns firing head coach Earl Watson. However, it’s too early to judge players based on their week-one performances alone. Although only two former MU basketball players are currently in the NBA, both will play important roles in their teams’ trajectories. Not to mention, Missouri has produced other high-caliber NBA talent. With that in mind, here are three players with Missouri ties to watch this season.
Los Angeles Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson
For good reason, most of the excitement coming out of the Los Angeles Lakers has been due to rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who was an assist away from being the youngest player to record a triple-double in NBA history this past Friday. However, Jordan Clarkson, now four years removed from his time at MU, will also factor into how the Lakers perform. Although he did enough to earn a new contract in the summer of 2016, Clarkson’s defense has yet to improve enough to justify him as a key part of the Lakers’ future. This past season, his defensive rating — a statistic that measures an individual player's efficiency at preventing opponents from scoring — was 112, which ranks among the worst in the league, according to NBA.com. The Lakers head coach Luke Walton praised Clarkson’s defensive effort earlier this month, but the former MU guard will need to develop his defense throughout the season if he hopes to be included in the Lakers’ long-term plans. If he can bring some defensive consistency, he could find himself playing alongside LeBron James and Paul George next season.
Brooklyn Nets forward DeMarre Carroll
Although Brooklyn Nets fans might be resigned to another wayward season and missing the playoffs, it’s actually Cleveland Cavaliers fans who should keep an eye on DeMarre Carroll’s play this year. The Cavs received the Nets' 2018 first-round pick when they traded Kyrie Irving to Boston this summer, which means the worse Brooklyn’s record is, the better Cleveland’s odds of getting a top draft pick will be. Carroll, who is now on his seventh team since being drafted in 2009, will have a huge impact on just how good that pick will be. With playoff experience from his stints in Toronto and Atlanta, he will provide some much-needed maturity to a team that is starting notorious Snapchatter D’Angelo Russell and other youngsters such as Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Carroll admitted himself that the Nets’ system would be a better fit for him than Toronto's was last season. If he’s right, the Nets could return to looking like a competent professional basketball team. While that’s important for Brooklyn, the subsequent effect on Cleveland will decide whether they draft an elite prospect such as MU’s own Michael Porter Jr. or someone with less potential.
Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum
No, Jayson Tatum didn’t attend MU, but he still has love for the Show-Me State. The Missouri native visited the Herbert Hoover Boys and Girls Club in St. Louis earlier this month to celebrate a successful supply drive to help hurricane-stricken clubs in Texas and Florida. Since then, there’s been an unexpected turn of events for the 19-year-old rookie. In the first game of the season, the Boston Celtics' newly acquired star forward Gordon Hayward suffered a gruesome leg injury, which quickly diminished the Celtics’ chances of making the NBA Finals and thrusted Tatum into the spotlight. Instead of easing into a small role on a playoff contender, he’s started all three games so far and averaged 35.3 minutes of playing time. With a stockpile of young talent and draft picks, the Celtics are undoubtedly in a good position, but Tatum will have to speed through his growing pains and step up in Hayward’s absence if Boston has any hope of winning the Eastern Conference.