Kobe Bryant’s Lakers jersey, sneakers from final NBA road game expected to sell for $600,000 combined

Kobe Bryant played his final NBA road game on April 11, 2016, in a loss against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Fans now have the chance to own pieces of memorabilia from that game, but it will cost them. The jersey and sneakers Bryan wore during that game are up for action.

The purple Los Angeles Lakers jersey, as well as the Kobe 11 Elite Lows, that Bryant wore against the Thunder are for sale at SCP Auctions and are expected to sell for a large chunk of change. The jersey is estimated to go for $500,000 while the sneakers are projected to sell for $100,000.

Anyone hoping to land an important piece of Bryant’s prolific NBA career has eight more days to bid on the items with the auction closing on Dec. 2.

The Lakers lost that game, 112-79, and the Thunder held Bryant in check. He scored 13 points while registering one rebound and scoring just 33.3% from the field.

Bryant ended his NBA career for good just a couple of days later when the Lakers hosted the Utah Jazz in their season finale. Bryant put on a show in that one, putting up 60 points to go with four rebounds and four assists and adding an exclamation point to his legacy.

The market for sports memorabilia has exploded in recent years, especially as it pertains to superstars. The jersey that San Antonio Spurs rookie Victor Wembanyama wore in his NBA debut recently sold for a record $762,000.

Why the Warriors are the best bet on the board

The longer the NBA’s In-Season Tournament goes on, the clearer it’s becoming that teams are taking these games more seriously than their typical regular-season counterparts. The Lakers and Magic left key players on the floor late in blowouts in order to pad their point-differentials. Virtually every member of the Lakers has commented on the prize money at this point. The Pacers and Hawks gave us what will likely be the game of the year on Tuesday, and Indiana’s win clinched Group A in the Eastern Conference.

Some teams are closer to Vegas than others. Not everybody is going to treat these as do-or-die games. But the Lakers want that prize money. Tyrese Haliburton has never played on TNT, and that is about to change in the knockout stage. Real stakes have started to present themselves. Whether it’s the cash prize or the opportunity for recognition or simply a young team playing its first playoff-level intensity games, the tournament has thus far been exactly what the league hoped for. So as we dive into tonight’s slate with most of the league still eligible to advance, remember that players and teams are starting to treat these games with some added level of significance. This isn’t an ordinary regular-season night anymore.

Boston Celtics at Orlando Magic
There’s some notable recent history here. Boston beat Orlando 10 times in a row between January 2020 and October 2022, but the Magic turned around and won the last three games against the Celtics last season. They held Boston to an average of 99.7 points in those three games. Boston’s offense relies on spacing and individual shot-creation rather than ball-movement, but Orlando’s defense is so long and so mobile that it poses real problems for Boston. The pick: Magic +5

Phoenix Suns at Memphis Grizzlies
The Suns are scoring a preposterous 132.3 points per 100 possessions with Devin Booker and Kevin Durant on the floor together so far this season, according to Cleaning the Glass. Bradley Beal may still be out, but Booker and Durant are already dominating at a level offensively that this hapless Grizzlies offense can’t hope to match. Memphis just won’t be able to score enough to keep up against the Suns. The pick: Suns -7

Miami Heat at New York Knicks
Injuries are a major question mark here, and I’d probably wait until there’s confirmation on whether Duncan Robinson and Bam Adebayo will play before placing a bet here. But the Heat are now 6-1 since Tyler Herro got hurt. We saw what the Herro-less Heat do to the Knicks in the playoffs last spring. Miami is one of the few teams in basketball that the Knicks can’t bully physically, so if I can get points with the Heat, I’m usually going to take them. The pick: Heat +5.5

Chicago Bulls at Toronto Raptors
The Raptors are an amazingly random team. They’ve beaten the Timberwolves and lost to the Trail Blazers. Few teams are less consistent on a night-to-night basis, but the Bulls are just consistently bad at this point. They’ve won three games in November, but two have come against the tanking Jazz and Pistons. Their 27th-ranked offense, which relies entirely on Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan to create shots, is about to run into one of the NBA’s best group of perimeter defenders. I just can’t reasonably expect the Bulls to score enough to win here. The pick: Raptors -5

Denver Nuggets at Houston Rockets
This one could go either way. The Rockets won the last matchup between these two teams, which was also in Houston. And the Nuggets, always a bit shaky on the road, are 2-4 in their last six. But the last time Nikola Jokic faced Houston, he put up 36 points, 21 rebounds and 11 assists. Alperen Sengun has no chance against Jokic whatsoever. If Denver had gotten more than eight points out of its bench, the Nuggets likely wouldn’t have been handed that 107-104 loss on Nov. 12. Instead, Denver was outscored by 15 points in the 10 minutes Jokic sat out. Denver’s bench is bad, but not that bad, so I’m leaning towards the Nuggets. The pick: Nuggets -3

Washington Wizards at Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks are 12-2 against the Wizards in the past five seasons, but have only covered a 13.5-point spread in two of those wins, one of which was by exactly 14 points. The Bucks are going to be able to score at will against the Wizards, but Washington should do plenty of scoring as well. The last game these teams played had a 142-129 final, so expect plenty of fireworks in this game as well. The pick: Wizards +13.5

Detroit Pistons at Indiana Pacers
Indiana’s league-worst defense couldn’t ask for a better “get right” opponent than the Pistons. Detroit has scored only 108.4 points per 100 possession during this 12-game losing streak, and since the Pistons typically start no consistent 3-point shooters, the Pacers can afford to send more help to the rim, where they allow more shot attempts than any other team in the league. If you have any faith whatsoever in Indiana’s defense crawling out of the basement, this is the game to show it. The pick: Pacers -8.5

Sacramento Kings at Minnesota Timberwolves
If Jaden McDaniels were healthy, Minnesota might be the pick. But he’s out, and while Anthony Edwards is capable of guarding De’Aaron Fox, asking him to do so for most of the game is a bit unreasonable given his offensive responsibilities. Fox averaged just under 29 points per game against Minnesota last season despite shooting just 21.1% on 3s in those four games. His combination of speed and craft in floater range poses real problems for Rudy Gobert, and Fox has been far better this season. The pick: Kings +3.5

San Antonio Spurs at Golden State Warriors
Vegas still hasn’t caught up to just how bad the Spurs are yet. Their minus-13.2 net rating would be the worst figure any team has posted since the 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats went minus-15. Reminder: that Bobcats team finished 7-59. San Antonio is going to keep getting public money because of Victor Wembanyama, but they don’t deserve it. Until lines start reflecting their actual performance, you should feel comfortable going against them. The pick: Warriors -10.5

New Orleans Pelicans at Los Angeles Clippers
Here’s an amazing stat. Right now, neither Paul George nor Kawhi Leonard are listed on the injury report. That would put them in line to play their 14th consecutive game together, which would be a new high for the duo. It’s odd to think that the Clippers are developing some continuity less than a month after a blockbuster trade and less than a week after finding their new backup center, but those two wins over the Spurs helped the Clippers right the ship a little bit. They have a ways to go, but things are already looking far cleaner than they were early in the James Harden era. The pick: Clippers -6

The Lakers’ historically bad corner 3-point shooting is dragging down their offense

The Los Angeles Lakers cannot score. And they cannot score because they cannot shoot. Through the first month of the season, the Lakers are 25th in the league in offensive rating (111.0), 29th in 3-point attempts per game (29.3) and 26th in 3-point percentage (34.3).

After their loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday, in which they battled back from a 20-point deficit in the fourth quarter to briefly take the lead, Anthony Davis appeared to be fed up.

“Our shot-making, we have a lack of shot-making and that kinda affects some of us, especially when the shots are wide-open,” Davis explained. “Guys kinda get down on themselves. That’s when the transition comes into play and the miscues on defense. Regardless of whether we’re making shots or not, we gotta be able to execute on the defensive end.”

The Lakers actually tied a franchise record with 22 3-pointers in their win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Nov. 14, which is inflating their already poor numbers. If you remove that game, they are at 32.0% from downtown, which would be the worst mark in the league.

Here’s a quick rundown of some interesting stats:

The Lakers have made fewer than 10 3s in seven games this season, which is the most such games in the league.
The Lakers have shot over 40% in three games, which is the fifth-fewest such games in the league.
The Lakers are generating 14.6 wide-open — closest defender six-plus feet away — 3s per game, which is the second-fewest in the league. (For comparison’s sake, the Indiana Pacers, who lead the league in this category are making 10.5 wide-open 3s per game.)
The Lakers are generating 11.6 open — closest defender four-to-six feet away — 3s per game, which ranks 19th in the league.
The Lakers are scoring 26.9% of their points via 3-pointers, which ranks last in the league.
“Listen, we’re getting – I don’t know what the numbers are – as far as our ability to create good looks, we’re probably right up there,” James said after the Lakers’ win over the Utah Jazz Nov. 21.

The numbers would disagree. Not only are the Lakers missing shots, they’re failing to generate enough open attempts to have a successful outside attack. While they’re never going to be a high-volume 3-point team with James and Davis as their two best players, they have to start making more 3s at some point.

Where does that begin? The answer may be hidden in the corners. Perhaps the most interesting stat regarding the Lakers’ 3-point shooting this season is that they are making just 25.0% of their attempts from the corner. That is not only last in the league by a significant amount, but a historically bad rate.

Last season, the Charlotte Hornets finished last in the league in corner 3-point shooting and made 35.0% of their looks. To find the last time a team shot under 30% from the corner for a season you have to go all the way back to 2007, when the Utah Jazz shot 28.7%. Tracking data on the NBA’s stats site goes back to 1996, and the closest a team has come in that time to the Lakers’ futility in the corners is the 1998 Detroit Pistons, who finished at 25.2%. That was only on 1.7 attempts per game, though.

While corner 3s are generally regarded as one of the easiest shots in the game, that has not been the case for the Lakers this season.

No one on the Lakers is shooting better than 37.5% from the corner, which makes them the only team in the league without a player shooting 40% or better from that spot. Of the 144 players taking at least one corner 3 per game, the Lakers’ three qualifiers rank 86th (Cam Reddish, 35.7%), 127th (Max Christie, 25.0%) and 135th (Taurean Prince, 12.1%). Of the 25 player taking at least two corner 3s per game, the Lakers’ lone qualifier ranks 25th (Prince).

Prince, obviously, is the big outlier. He’s a 40.3% marksman from the corner for his career, and is shooting nearly 30% below that mark. Just look at some of the attempts he’s missing:

He will improve, however, and the Lakers are confident that others will as well.

“Those guys are going to hit those looks,” head coach Darvin Ham said after their win over the Rockets on Nov. 19. “We wholeheartedly trust those guys to take those shots and I want them to continue to take them. Some nights, the ball just doesn’t go down for whatever reason…I’m comfortable with all the shots we got, the looks we got. Again, it’s early in the season, 14 games in now. The pendulum will swing in our favor in terms of shot-making, for sure.”

It’s reasonable to assume that the Lakers’ percentages will creep up, especially from the corner, and that will help their offense. But given their lack of spacing and high-level 3-point threats, it’s also fair to wonder how much those gains will matter if they cannot reliably create easy looks.

DeMar DeRozan ejected vs. Raptors in apparent dispute over In-Season Tournament point-differential tiebreaker

The NBA’s inaugural In-Season Tournament has introduced a number of wrinkles to the early portion of the regular season, and one of the biggest is a newfound importance on running up the score. Point-differential is the seventh tiebreaker for playoff seeding, so it had rarely been considered much by teams or players in the past. However, it is the second tiebreaker in tournament play, so several teams have taken to leaving their starters on the floor, even in blowouts to try to run up the score in games that have already been decided.

That was seemingly the case on Friday when the Toronto Raptors played against the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls made a late push, but Toronto led by double-digits throughout the last four minutes and was ahead by as many as 15 points in that window. They never took their starters out, and up until their final possession, they continued trying to score. When Jakob Poeltl drew a foul up 120-108 with 1.4 seconds to go, DeMar DeRozan had had enough. He got himself ejected for yelling at the Raptors bench.

Following his ejection at the of the Bulls-Raptors game, DeMar DeRozan stopped to give Masai Ujiri a hug 🫂pic.twitter.com/ufTDZn6SRm

— The Sporting News (@sportingnews) November 25, 2023
After the game, DeRozan confirmed that his anger was because of the Raptors continuing to try to score in a game they’d already effectively won. “I don’t care about no In-Season Tournament points or none of that,” DeRozan told reporters. “Just respect for the game.”

Now, here’s where things get interesting: the Raptors were eliminated from the In-Season Tournament earlier in the day. In Friday’s first contest, the Orlando Magic defeated the Boston Celtics. As a result, both clinched better group play positions than the Raptors, so while the Raptors did want to win the game for regular-season purposes, they had no incentive to run up the score.

Now, it’s possible that they didn’t know that. The Raptors may not have been monitoring a game that tipped hours before theirs did, or they might not have even known that the Magic game affected theirs. They might simply have had it in their heads that it was a tournament game, so they needed to run up the score. It’s also possible that they played to the final whistle for reasons that had little to do with the tournament, and DeRozan was just making an assumption.

Either way, the use of point-differential as a tiebreaker was always going to rub some people the wrong way. Whether or not you agree with DeRozan’s position, the unwritten rule of most sports is that a team should stop trying to score once its victory is assured. The mere presence of a point-differential tiebreaker comes into conflict with that idea. Perhaps when the In-Season Tournament has been around longer, players will get used to this and understand that it is an exception. For now, though? An incident like this almost felt inevitable.

Knicks steal inside track on In-Season Tournament wild card after pulling off stunning comeback over Heat

The New York Knicks stormed back from a 21-point deficit to stun the Miami Heat, 100-98, on Friday, and Jalen Brunson credited a fan’s criticism for lighting a fire under him and the team.

“Honestly, a fan looked at me in my eye over here and said ‘this is embarrassing,’ so i’ll say him,” Brunson said in his on-court interview after being asked what spurred the rally.

Jalen Brunson said a fan told him – “this is embarrassing” – while the Knicks were down by 21.

Brunson took that personally and got the W 😤🔥 pic.twitter.com/VM4l4oHURX

— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 25, 2023
New York’s deficit peaked at 21 late in the third quarter, and it was at 19 early in the fourth. Brunson, who has been red-hot from the past few weeks, did most of his work in the midrange — which is typically his office but where he has actually struggled so far this year — making nine of his 12 two-pointers to finish with a team-high 24 points.

Immanuel Quickley poured in 20 off the bench and RJ Barrett, who has been sensational this season, added 18. Brunson, Quickley and Barrett each had three buckets in the fourth quarter. Miami had three total.

The Knicks trailed by 21 points.

They came back in the 4Q to win a must-win game and keep their East Group B hopes alive.

Watch the final minutes of a wild comeback ⬇️📹 pic.twitter.com/ji5SwqyOZp

— NBA (@NBA) November 25, 2023
“I see ’em every day. They’re great workers. They have belief in each other. They’re fighters. They’re not going to go away easily,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said of his guys. “So sometimes it goes our way, and you never know when it changes. They hit us pretty hard to start the third, but we responded. We hit back. And the result ended up being positive for us.”

Jimmy Butler, who had a look at what would’ve been a game-winning 3-pointer, led the way with 23 for the Heat, who had five guys score in double-figures.

“I guarantee I’ll make the next one.”

  • Jimmy Butler on missing this game winning 3


— NBACentral (@TheDunkCentral) November 25, 2023
“I’m good with that,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Butler’s final shot. “I like that scramble situation. That was what we talked about doing.

“I thought we tried to set up a few too many times in that fourth quarter,” Spoelstra continued. “[We] slowed down and it allowed their defense to like pack and get us into late-clock situations. I wish we would’ve had a few more of those kind of possessions where we got the ball up into Jimmy’s hands in a matter of four, five seconds — or whoever’s hands, way more pace. As soon as we start walking into our offense in the fourth quarter, that’s our kryptonite.”

Oh, by the way, this was an In-Season Tournament matchup. Here are the implications: With the win, the Knicks are in good position to snag the Eastern Conference’s one wild card spot.

As it stands, New York is in second place in Group B with a 2-1 record, trailing the Bucks at 3-0, with one group-stage game remaining against Charlotte on Tuesday. If they win that, they will have the inside track on the wild card spot with the best current point differential among non-group leaders at plus-18.

“It means a lot. Everybody’s fighting for something,” Barrett said of the extra IST incentive. “[The] In-Season Tournament has made especially these games even way more competitive. And I’m happy to come out of here with a win.”

“It felt like we was fighting for the playoffs or something,” said Julius Randle as the Knicks would’ve been eliminated with a loss. “It was cool.”

Miami, also at 2-1 in Group B but loses the head-to-head to New York, hosts Milwaukee on Tuesday. If the Heat lose, they’re done. If they beat the Bucks, depending on the score, things could get interesting as the Heat are currently plus-11 in Group B play.

So let’s say the Knicks beat Charlotte by two, taking their point differential to plus-20, but the Heat beat the Bucks by 10, taking their point differential to 21. Miami would get the wild card … unless Boston, Cleveland or Brooklyn, all of which can still also finish 3-1, were to end up with a better point differential.

You can get all your IST standings, results, dates and scenarios here. Put your reading glasses on. It’s a beautiful November NBA mess. Exactly as Adam Silver planned it.

Victor Wembanyama’s jersey has misspelling of his name in first half vs. Warriors

Victor Wembanyama has a long last name. The entire basketball world is still getting used to the 10-letter word we in the media so frequently shorten to “Wemby” out of convenience, but there are certain people who don’t have that luxury. And they’re expected to get it right every time. Multiple sets of eyes typically ensure that any name is spelled correctly in print media, for example, and any business partners of the league of Wembanyama himself should obviously go to great lengths to ensure proper spelling.

But the one institution you’d assume would always get the name right would be the team that employs him: the Spurs themselves. And yet, somehow, the team managed to misfire when it produced his jersey for Friday night’s game against the Golden State Warriors with the wrong spelling. It is not, in fact, spelled “Wembanyana,” as the jersey he had on in the first half would have us believe.

Wembanyama’s name was misspelled on his jersey 😅

He has now switched to a correct one pic.twitter.com/j7Ge1qiG3L

— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 25, 2023
It was corrected at some point during the second quarter, with Wembanyama wearing a jersey with his name spelled properly. Ultimately, the gaffe is harmless. It’s not as though it disturbed the game, the Spurs’ final In-Season Tournament contest against the Warriors. After the 118-112 loss, Wembanyama said after that he didn’t even realize the misspelling during the game, though he said it was a “real shame.”

If anything, it might even create some valuable memorabilia. Cards featuring the incorrect spelling will likely be treated as collector’s items, and if the Spurs wanted to auction the jersey itself off to fans, they would no-doubt fetch a bundle. Rarity is the name of the game when it comes to memorabilia, and the Spurs will almost certainly never misspell the name of their franchise player ever again.

Russell Westbrook hits a new low with Clippers, and things aren’t likely going to be looking up anytime soon

Russell Westbrook played pretty well to start the season, all things considered. He averaged roughly 15 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in around 34 minutes per game as the starting point guard for the Los Angeles Clippers. They were plus-64 in the minutes he played in those games and started the season with a 3-2 record. He wasn’t quite his All-Star self, but by and large, he was better than the Clippers could have expected out of a 35-year-old making minimum money. And then they traded for James Harden. In five starts alongside Harden, Westbrook’s field goal percentage plummeted roughly 10 percentage points. His scoring, rebounding and assisting all dipped considerably. The Clippers lost his minutes by 27 points. They were even worse in the minutes he specifically shared with Harden. They went 0-5 overall in the games they started the former Oklahoma City and Houston teammates together. And then they pulled the plug. Westbrook returned to the bench role he held with the Lakers, and for the most part, the team got better. They won their first three games with Westbrook as a reserve, even if he was playing considerably fewer minutes. His already declining playing time took a nosedive on Friday. In a 116-106 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, Westbrook played just 14 minutes. It was technically the fourth-lowest figure of his career, according to Ben Golliver, but functionally, it was the least he had ever played in a meaningful game that did not involve injury. Westbrook scored three points on 1-of-8 shooting. Harden wasn’t much better, making just two of his eight shot attempts, but he played 37 minutes. That appears to be the plan moving forward. Harden and Westbrook can’t function together. Their time in Houston proved that before the Clippers even landed the 2018 MVP. Those suspicions have thus far been confirmed. Lineups featuring the two of them have a minus-17.6 net rating in 241 possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass. Harden needs teammates that shoot, cut, screen and defend. Westbrook has rarely done those things willingly (except shooting), let alone well. Westbrook’s success relies on having the ball in his hands as frequently as possible. The Clippers saw what that looked like at the end of last season and the beginning of this one. It went well on paper. The Clippers still decided he wasn’t good enough. That was the fundamental conclusion that drove the Harden trade. Their histories together proved they couldn’t coexist. Adding Harden meant minimizing Westbrook, or excising him entirely. The latter isn’t quite an inevitability yet, but we’re barreling in that direction. Westbrook hasn’t seemed thrilled with his new role on the Clippers. He’s ducked the media recently in games in which he hasn’t played much, even if the Clippers won. When he was a Laker, he blamed a preseason hamstring injury on Darvin Ham’s decision to bring him off the bench. Nothing Westbrook has done thus far in his career suggests he’s willing to accept a minor role even if it means maximizing his chances of winning. So what does that mean for his future, if we assume that the Clippers don’t plan to bench the player they just traded for in order to appease Westbrook? If he were to get waived or traded, it’s hard to imagine he has a significant role waiting for him with any contenders. The Clippers were the one winner last season with the shooting, defense and locker room to theoretically incorporate him. They were the team that supposedly embraced him. If that team doesn’t want him, if the Clippers have decided that building a roster and playing style around Westbrook’s needs is worthwhile, it’s hard to imagine another team ambitious enough to win anything would. That might not be the worst thing. There are teams that probably wouldn’t mind giving him 30 minutes per game to put up stats as they pile up lottery balls. Who’s gonna sell tickets for the Bulls once they trade away their veterans? Westbrook still has basketball left in him. He’s just never proven he has winning basketball left in him. Plenty of teams are satisfied losing in style every year. Maybe that’s his fate as he approaches retirement. This is all speculation at this point. One key Clipper could tweak an ankle tomorrow and suddenly Westbrook’s on-ball talent might become more important to them. But that’s seeming less and less likely with each passing game. The Clippers went all-in on becoming a Harden team. There’s just not a place for Westbrook on such a team.

Devin Booker is using the threat of his scoring to become an elite playmaker for Suns

For some reason, not a lot of people are talking about the Phoenix Suns. My guess is we’re all waiting for Bradley Beal to get healthy so we can see what this team really looks like. In the meantime, however, the Devin Booker-Kevin Durant duo is lighting the league on fire.

Durant, the league’s second leading scorer at over 31 points a game on better than 52% 3-point shooting, missed his first game of the season on Friday. No biggie. Booker went for 40 points as the Suns, now winners of six straight, blew past the Grizzlies to run their in-season tournament record to 3-1 and are leading in the race for the wild card spot.

Booker’s presence is in keeping with a season-long theme: If he’s on the floor, the Suns roll. Even without Durant, they outscore opponents by over 112 points per 100 possessions, per Cleaning the Glass, with what would be the league’s top offensive rating.

There has just been no answer for Booker, who’s averaging just under 30 points on scorching 52/45/93 shooting splits. The Suns are 7-1 when he plays. He’s one of two players who rank top seven in both scoring and assists. The other is Luka Doncic.

The scoring is no surprise. Booker was one of the purest bucket getters in the league even before he just sort of decided to become more of a 3-point shooter, much the same way CJ McCollum, another master mid-ranger, did later in his career. The stroke was always there. The range is no problem. This was a very natural and predictable progression for Booker, who made 15 of his final 18 shots on Friday.

The development is the playmaking, and again, I hesitate to call it a development since to me that word implies some major leap in ability. Booker has always been a natural with the ball. The creation wasn’t missing so much as it just wasn’t a consistent necessity before. Now that Chris Paul is gone, this “development” is mostly about opportunity, and Booker is certainly making the most of it.

This isn’t some new development on a league-wide scale, either. The Paul-type floor generals are almost entirely fazed out. These days the pass-first equation has flipped to score first, and then, once a defense has over-leveraged itself by reacting to the threat of said scorer, the pass opens up.

This generally happens one of three ways: By getting into the paint and collapsing the defense, which leads to kick-out 3s, by dragging multiple defenders away from the basket before swinging to an open shooter or initiating a ball reversal, or by getting downhill with a pick-and-roll partner. Booker, who forces defenses to gravitate to him as the certified bucket he is, has all three covered.

Those last two passes to Jusuf Nurkic is where I see the most development. It’s not to downplay the drive and kicks or the reversals out of double teams, but those passes, on some level, make themselves once the defense has sold out for a scorer of Booker’s caliber.

This is the blueprint that Jayson Tatum, without having to be a Trae Young or Doncic-level passer, has used to become an impactful playmaker. Anthony Edwards is doing the same thing. Those guys are hoping to get to the level Booker is at as score-first playmakers.

The interior passes, on the other hand, tend to reflect a higher degree of difficulty as they come in more traffic, and they also display the poise and patience Booker has shown to let plays develop until the last second, maximizing separation with a subtle stall step or an extra dribble as his recipient fully opens up. Sometimes he goes full Steve Nash in keeping his dribble alive way past the normal time range.

This is not a guy who’s in a rush:

These are the nuances that really start to distinguish a high-level playmaker, and again, Booker has been showing plenty of this in recent years. It’s just happening all the time now. At this point, there isn’t really anything Booker hasn’t mastered, or at least come pretty damn close to mastering, on the offensive end.

He scores efficiently at all three levels, both off the catch and dribble. He gets to the free throw line eight times a game. Factoring both scoring and assists, he ranks north of the 90th percentile as both a pick-and-roll and post-up point generator, per Synergy. You absolutely cannot defend him with one guy, which is a problem with Durant next to him, and Beal eventually to come.

Booker’s 127.9 points per 100 shot attempts, per Cleaning the Glass, is a career-high, as is his 64.9% true shooting and 36.5 usage rate. Booker’s 43.3 assist percentage — which means he assists on 43.3% of the shots his teammates make when he’s on the floor — is the top mark among all combo guards. In just seven games in November he’s had assist tallies of 15, 13, and 10, and his plus-10.4 per-game point differential is the best of any player taking at least five shots per game.

The man is a beast, and he might not even be the best player on his own team. In fact, he probably isn’t. The Suns aren’t perfect, but this Booker-Durant combination is so lethal that they don’t have to be.

Warriors, Knicks avoid elimination

Night 6 of the NBA’s inaugural In-Season Tournament was more about the teams that got bounced from qualifying for the knockout stage more than it was about teams punching their tickets for the quarterfinals. Heading into Friday’s action there were six teams that had already been eliminated. By the end of Friday, that number had doubled to 12. Joining the ranks of the now-departed are the Chicago Bulls, Toronto Raptors, Dallas Mavericks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers and the NBA champion Denver Nuggets.

Sixteen teams still have a mathematical shot at qualifying to for the knockout rounds of the first NBA Cup In Las Vegas next month, but not all squads have an equal shot. In the West, the Phoenix Suns improved to 3-1 and have the inside track on reaching the next stage via the wild card. In fact, all signs are pointing to a quarterfinal matchup against the West A group winners, the Lakers, in Los Angeles. In the East, with only the Pacers having earned a spot, 10 the conference’s 15 teams are still in contention to advance.

On Friday night, the New York Knicks and Golden State Warriors avoided elimination with victories over the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, while the Orlando Magic, Milwaukee Bucks, New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings all moved into first place with wins. The scenarios for the remaining groups can be found here. How it will play out, no one knows, but we do know when. Tuesday night will be the final group stage play. Of the eight games on the schedule, two of them — Bucks at Heat and Kings at Warriors — will have major ramifications.

Here’s a quick refresher on what to expect in the In-Season Tournament. The league has divided each conference into three five-team groups. Those teams will play group stage games on Tuesdays and Fridays in November. The teams are debuting this season’s city edition uniforms and the games will be played on specially-designed courts.