NBA

NBA Heat Check: Clarkson shows his value, Payton's place under threat?

By Sports Desk May 17, 2021

The regular season is over. All teams have made it through 72 games in a campaign played out amid the backdrop of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

For some, the focus now switches quickly to the playoffs. Those who missed out, however, get an early start to their offseason, a time for rest, reflection and perhaps a reset ahead of the NBA Draft in late July.

The contrasting situations for teams at this time in a campaign offers opportunities to those perhaps not used to being in the spotlight. It may be the final act in the show, but it allows some players to step in and take centre stage.

Powered by Stats Perform data, here is a look at some of those who have seized the moment in the latest edition of Heat Check.

RUNNING HOT...

Jordan Clarkson

Clarkson has excelled this season with the Utah Jazz and is the overwhelming favourite to be named Sixth Man of the Year in the NBA Awards. He has averaged 18.4 points across 68 games, of which he has started in just one. His final act in the regular season was a 33-point haul in a win over the Sacramento Kings, including landing half of his 12 attempts from beyond the arc.

Despite being without Mike Conley Jr and Donovan Mitchell down the stretch, the Jazz still finished strongly to end up as the top seeds in the Western Conference. Now they wait to find out who they will face first up in the playoffs, aiming to avoid an opening-round exit for a third successive campaign.

Kelan Martin

Martin is a prime case of a player capitalising on extended game time. Having gone undrafted, he had a spell in Germany before getting an NBA debut with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2019. However, he has looked right at home of late with the Indiana Pacers, including recording a career-high 25 points on May 10. During the past week, the 25-year-old has averaged 14.2 points per game and 2.6 successful three-point attempts.

Indiana have a play-in game to come against the Charlotte Hornets as they aim to keep their campaign alive – do not be surprised to see Martin remain involved in the rotation.

Malachi Flynn

Few teams have had it as tough as the Toronto Raptors. For starters, the Canadian franchise was relocated to Tampa due to travel restrictions in place during the global pandemic. Health and safety protocols have also taken a toll on player (and coach) availability and, with no hope of a top-10 finish in the Eastern Conference, several of their starters have been absent from duty.

That has offered further minutes for Malachi Flynn, though. The rookie guard rounded out his debut year with 26 and 27 points respectively in losses to the Dallas Mavericks and the Pacers. Across the past week, he averaged out at 3.25 successful attempts from three-point range, demonstrating his scoring touch from deep.

GOING COLD...

Elfrid Payton

To say Payton’s numbers are a concern is an understatement. The starting point guard for the playoff-bound New York Knicks has not reached double figures for points in his previous seven outings.

Indeed, across the past week, the former first-round pick by the Philadelphia 76ers has averaged 1.0ppg. One. Point. He made just two of 14 field goal attempts across four games. Considering the Knicks also have Frank Ntilikina and Derrick Rose on the roster, a change to the line-up would not be at all surprising.

Nikola Vucevic

Vucevic did not play on Sunday as the Chicago Bulls wrapped up their campaign with a win over the shorthanded Milwaukee Bucks. The center averaged 12.67 points in the three appearances across May 10-16, comfortably down on his mark of 23.9 entering the week. He struggled against the Brooklyn Nets in particular, landing just four of his 18 shots, including none of the eight attempts launched from three-point range.

Here is an example of how sometimes good intentions do not quite pan out as planned. Vucevic's arrival prior to the trade deadline was a show of intent by the Bulls to make the playoffs. Instead, they are left on the outside in the East, finishing up in 11th place in the standings for a second season in a row.

Related items

  • Bowen: West Ham never know when we are beaten Bowen: West Ham never know when we are beaten

    Jarrod Bowen insists West Ham "never know when we are beaten" after the Hammers came back from behind to earn a shock 3-2 victory over London rivals Chelsea on Saturday. 

    Chelsea twice took the lead in the first half through Thiago Silva and Mason Mount, but Manuel Lanzini and Bowen netted equalisers before Arthur Masuaku's cross caught Edouard Mendy out at his near post and won the game for West Ham.  

    Bowen explained the Hammers pride themselves on their spirit and never-say-die attitude - which has helped them to fourth in the Premier League this season. 

    "That is what we are about as a team, the character, the belief," Bowen said to BT Sport after the game. "We hung in sometimes when it was difficult. 

    "We never know when we are beaten, we went behind twice but showed that reaction and a lot better performance. 

    "We wanted to be on the front foot and press them aggressively and not let them play, which they are good at. We wanted to limit what their game plan was. 

    "We haven't won in a few games and have been disappointed in ourselves, but to come back and beat Chelsea, what a performance." 

    West Ham manager David Moyes was critical of his side's performance despite the positive result, but praised the clinical finishing of his team, who scored three times from just five shots on target. 

    "Truthfully, I didn't think we played that well today," Moyes said. "But we got the goals and in other games I don't think we played any worse or any better but we haven't got the goals. 

    "Today we got the goals to go with it, and to get them against a team that don't concede many is a great credit to the lads. 

    "We were much better [in the second half]. We were too passive and submissive in the first half. 

    "They are quality, that is why they are European champions because of the level they can play at. Whether you press them or stay off them, they are very good at both." 

    Moyes felt Masuaku was attempting to cross the ball and was lucky to see it go in for the first Premier League goal of his career. 

    "I said to [Masuaku] that I thought it was a great cross," Moyes added. "It was very fortunate, the goal, but in football you need a bit of fortune sometimes. In the last few games we have lost it a little bit, but today we got it back." 

  • West Ham 3-2 Chelsea: Hammers fight back to claim thrilling derby win West Ham 3-2 Chelsea: Hammers fight back to claim thrilling derby win

    Arthur Masuaku scored a late winner as West Ham fought back to beat Premier League leaders Chelsea 3-2 in a thrilling London derby.

    Thiago Silva's header put the European champions in front at the London Stadium, but Manuel Lanzini thumped a penalty home in the 40th minute to level following mistakes from Jorginho and Edouard Mendy.

    Mason Mount's magnificent volley at the end of the first half put Chelsea back in the lead, but Jarrod Bowen curled in a superb low strike to pull the Hammers level once again.

    The Blues - bolstered by Romelu Lukaku's presence off the bench at half-time - pressed for a winner, but slumped to their second top-flight defeat of the season after Masuaku's cross caught Mendy out at his near post with three minutes of normal time remaining.

  • 'The stars aligned for me' - Ajaz Patel proud to join elite 10-wicket haul club 'The stars aligned for me' - Ajaz Patel proud to join elite 10-wicket haul club
© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.