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The Five Most Interesting NBA Rookie-Extension Cases

Devin Booker got his big payday, but what about the rest of the 2015 draft class? We look at the situations of five fellow former first-rounders.

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The 2015 draft class has officially entered extension season. Devin Booker got his bag in early July; Karl-Anthony Towns is expected to get his own before the start of the 2018–19 season; and while injuries have clouded Kristaps Porzingis’s immediate future, there’s no way the Knicks won’t pay him eventually. But things aren’t as cut-and-dried for the rest of their draft classmates. Teams must weigh whether they want to lock up 2015 first-round picks ahead of an October deadline, or let them test the restricted free-agent market next summer. Here’s a look at five of the most interesting cases, along with a friendly suggestion for how each player’s team should play it.

D’Angelo Russell, Nets

I’m sure that by now you’ve seen the pictures of Russell looking swole and sweating like he’s putting up jumpers in a sauna. But have you seen the video?

Yes, that is indeed a heavily produced workout video with J. Cole’s “Blow Up” as the soundtrack. No coincidence that it begins with, “This is a song for my haters.” It isn’t so much that Russell has “haters” (outside of maybe Nick Young) as he heads into his fourth season as he does have things to prove. After a shaky tenure in Los Angeles, D-Lo’s lone season in Brooklyn was interrupted by knee injuries, which limited him 48 games. Still, Russell showed promise, averaging 15.5 points, 5.2 assists, and 3.9 rebounds per game. Russell fits well on the sixth-fastest team in the league, but he still needs to make the sort of leap expected of a former no. 2 overall pick for the Nets to bet big on him. And part of it just might be whether or not he can stay on the court for 82 games.

Verdict: wait

Justise Winslow, Heat

Miami Heat v Washington Wizards Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The three seasons Winslow has spent in Miami have been a slow burn. After playing 78 games his first season, he tore his right labrum during his second season and played only 18 games. He returned last season with questions surrounding how he’d fit in the Heat offense, but answered a lot of them by making a leap in efficiency.

Winslow went from shooting 27 percent from 3 in his rookie season to shooting 38 percent on nearly two attempts per game in 2017–18. His numbers weren’t gaudy by any means (7.8 points per game), but they indicated progress. Combine that with his stellar defense, which has always been the bedrock of his game, and Winslow is on his way to being an integral part of the Heat’s playoff chances this season. Winslow needs to become more of a two-way player for them to have a chance at something higher than a 7- or 8-seed. And an extension is reportedly “not imminent.” But if he can diversify his offensive game a bit more, he’ll likely earn himself a nice bit of money along the way.

Verdict: wait

Myles Turner, Pacers

Turner has already proved he can be a contributor on a good team. He’s averaged over 10 points a game in every one of his three seasons. He rebounds well, shoots 50 percent from the field, and is using the summer to get stronger and leaner. Oh, and last season, the near 7-footer shot 35.7 percent from 3 on 2.4 attempts per game. And he’s still just 22 years old. But Turner’s development in Indiana is more about fit than just talent. Victor Oladipo has grabbed the reins of the franchise, and the budding star was often at his best in small-ball lineups featuring Domantas Sabonis at center instead of Turner. (Two-man lineups of Oladipo and Sabonis had a net rating 3.6 points better than those with Oladipo and Turner.) But Turner still has the sort of tantalizing talent that the Pacers can’t pass up. If he keeps developing his outside shot, he could become a stretch 5 of his own.

Verdict: extend now

Stanley Johnson, Pistons

The Pistons aren’t exactly known for developing young talent. But even I thought that they’d found a young starter when they drafted Johnson with the eighth pick in the 2015 draft. He was the perfect defense-first wing with the tools to develop into a decent shooter. Three seasons in, that’s looking less and less likely. Johnson shot 37.5 percent from the field last season and 28.6 percent from 3. He hasn’t cracked double-digit scoring averages for a season, and isn’t exactly an assist or rebound hoarder like other nonshooters such as Rajon Rondo. His defense was supposed to be his strength coming into the league, and while he’s shown flashes of that talent in one-on-one situations, it hasn’t been consistent or impactful enough. In an ideal world, Johnson would be traded before the 2019 deadline and get another chance at revamping his shot. Unless he suddenly becomes a consistent scorer and shooter, it might be time for him to get a change of scenery.

Verdict: wait

Larry Nance Jr., Cavaliers

2018 NBA Finals - Game Four Photo by Kyle Terada - Pool/Getty Images

In a flash, Nance went from one of the Lakers kids to sitting courtside at summer league with Koby Altman and Dan Gilbert. He’s a part of the Cavs’ future now, and is reportedly next on the Cavs’ extension list. The question is how much can he help them stay afloat in the Eastern playoff race, and how much will they value his contributions? Nance is an über-athletic forward who can play center but doesn’t yet have the range of a modern big. He has relentless energy, and though that sometimes leads him to play a bit recklessly, it often yields positive results. It’s what happened this postseason when the Cavs needed a spark and Ty Lue called his number.

Now, with no LeBron in wine and gold, Nance becomes one of the young pieces around Kevin Love as Cleveland tries to reload. The 25-year-old Nance averaged 20.8 minutes in his half-season with the Cavs, a number that is bound to go up even with Tristan Thompson still there. Nance has the tools to rack up rebounds and easy points on the boards, and he’s a bouncier athlete than perhaps anyone else on the roster. He’s a proven performer who still has room to grow. It’s hard to see how the Cavs don’t lock him up.

Verdict: extend now