Taking issue with Kevin Love calling trade “his decision”

I have a problem with some of the statements that Kevin Love made at his press conference yesterday. I’m trying really hard not to be a self-hating fan, but if I’m being perfectly honest, there are some issues with it. Here’s Love’s statement that set off my antenna.
“LeBron signed to come back, and a few hours later he called me and I said ‘I’m in,’” Love said Tuesday at a news conference. “That had a lot to do with my decision. It means a lot to be a part of this organization. … Everything in my entire life for the last six years had led me up to this opportunity.”
Maybe it’s just semantics, but Kevin Love shouldn’t have had the opportunity to say “I’m in.” Kevin Love shouldn’t have had the opportunity this off-season for his departure to the Cavaliers to be called “my decision.” Just because I live in the Cleveland area and the Cavaliers are the beneficiary doesn’t mean that I don’t find this somewhat problematic.
I know players are allowed to talk and “collusi

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How Do the Philadelphia 76ers Keep Moving the Epic Rebuild Forward?

The Philadelphia 76ers are supposed to be in a rebuilding phase, but so far it’s hard to tell where exactly the tear-down ends and the rebuild begins.

In the one season and (nearly) two offseasons since Sam Hinkie took over as general manager, they have shipped out many of their most notable players—Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes, Thaddeus Young.

In their place, they’ve added Michael Carter-Williams, the most recent Rookie of the Year, and Nerlens Noel, one of the biggest question marks in last year’s draft.

In this most recent draft, they selected the highly rated pair of Joel Embiid and Dario Saric. However, the former is recovering from surgery and the latter is still under contract in Europe, meaning neither is likely to play a minute for the 76ers this season.

They have essentially turned a mediocre roster into one built around a mix of D-League talent and tantalizing question markswith a surfeit of extra draft picks and financial flexibility on the side.

What the 76ers have done is create a wealth of future possibilities for themselves at the expense of their present. However, none of those possibilities have become certainties, and they probably won’t anytime soon.

In the interim, it’s essential that they continue to move things in a positive direction organizationally while they wait and hope for the roster’s smattering of young talent to coalesce.

The 76ers are likely not going to be chasing a playoff berth this year, but they do have real and tangible goals to improve.

 

Continue Building the System

In the three seasons (2010-2013) during which Doug Collins led the 76ers, they were always among the league leaders in the percentage of field-goal attempts coming from mid-range jumpers.

That’s not a problem when Kevin Durant or Dirk Nowitzki are taking them, but when Holiday, Turner and Andre Iguodala are soaking up all those mid-range jumpers, it absolutely is. 

Last season, their first under head coach Brett Brown, the 76ers made some dramatic changes to their shot-distribution patterns. Derek Bodner broke some of these down in a great piece for Liberty Ballers a few weeks ago:

The difference, whether because of Hinkie and Brett Brown drilling in an offensive philosophy to the players, because of the roster change, or both, was drastic.  The Sixers cut their mid-range attempts virtually in half, from it making up 32% of their attempts (most in the league) down to 16.7% of their overall field goal attempts.  That 16.7% would end up being the second fewest in the league.

(Related: It’s probably easy to guess who had the fewest in the league, even without clicking on the link above.  That would be the Houston Rockets, Hinkie‘s former team, at an incredible 9.4%.  Just to display how ridiculous of a number that is, the Sixers were the only team in the league that had less than double the attempts of Houston: the Nuggetscame in 3rd at 18.9%).

Obviously, the shot-distribution patterns of the hypothetical juggernaut 76ers of the future will be highly influenced by the roster at the time.

For now, the organization has been teaching a process to help nudge its players toward the good habits of generalized offensive efficiency.

It also upped the tempo at which the team played, pushing its average pace from 93.3 possessions per game to 101.6the fastest in the league. This allowed the 76ers to leverage their athleticism, getting out in transition and generating easy baskets against a disorganized defense.

At the other end of the floor, they began instilling a different set of defensive principles, applying swarming ball pressure and working hard to generate turnovers.

Although the results were fairly lousy—they allowed 107.5 points per 100 possessions, 27th in the league—many of their key players were increasingly consistent in their implementation of the team’s defensive principles.

In just one season, Hinkie and Brown have laid out a road map for how this organization will play.

Changes will certainly be made as different talents and skill sets join the roster, but their basic tenets are solid: They play with pace, take good shots and play aggressive defense. As the young roster continues to grow, it’s important that these things become ingrained not just as habits, but as instincts.

 

Develop Their Young Talent

This ultra-slow rebuild the Sixers are attempting will only come together if some of the young assets they accumulate pan out. Since they will be waiting on Saric and Embiid this year, the focus must be on Noel and Carter-Williams.

76ers Las Vegas Summer League coach Chad Iske spoke with reporters about the challenges for Noel after a game in July:

He’s active, he’s all over the place. He’s trying to do everything, he’s trying to do too much on both ends. The hard part is do you want to just settle him down or do you want him to play with that aggressiveness? I don’t want to give him too much and cloud him, and then he’s thinking instead of playing. I think we just have to get out there and find the happy balance between him being within our rules and him being himself.

This season is Noel’s introduction to professional basketball, so expecting any sort of specific quality or quantity of impact is probably foolhardy. The goal this season is to get him on the floor, acclimated with speed of the NBA game and to start getting repetitions with the structural team processes we mentioned above.

Carter-Williams, on the other hand, has a year of experience under his belt and is ready to start sanding down some of his rough edges.

Although his per-game statistics—16.7 points, 6.2 rebounds, 6.3 assists—were impressive enough to earn him Rookie of the Year honors, to a certain degree they were the product of playing a lot of minutes, at a fast pace, for a bad team.

He racked up points, rebounds and assists, but also turned the ball over 3.5 times per game, just barely kept his field-goal percentage above 40 percent and shot an abysmal 26.4 percent on three-pointers.

In short, he accumulated a wealth of counted statistics but didn’t fare as well in the efficiency department.

In fact, as the chart below shows, he averaged fewer win shares per 48 minutes than any previous Rookie of the Year winner going back to 1984-1985:

According to mySynergySports (subscription required), Carter-Williams was ranked 138th in the league in points per possession as the ball-handler in pick-and-rolls, turning the ball over on nearly one-fifth of such possessions.

A lot of his problems were simple and correctable things, like leaving his feet to make a pass:

However, he also seemed much more hesitant in the pick-and-roll than in other offensive situations, particularly with regards to attacking the basket.

Carter-Williams drew a shooting foul on just 5.9 percent of his pick-and-roll possessionsremember we’re only counting possessions where took a shot, made a turnover or drew a foulcompared to averages 13.2 percent on isolations or 10.9 percent in transition.

In isolations or transition, the task is simple: attack and keep the pressure on the defense. The various options available in the pick-and-roll, the intricacies of shooting, passing and moving multiple defenders to create the best scoring opportunity, seemed to put the pressure on Carter-Williams.

Here, he misses a wide-open passing lane to his rolling big man, opting for an awkward, one-footed runner instead:

On this possession, he makes the opposite choice, forcing a pass when there is no angle instead of attacking the sagging defense:

We see the same sort of timidity here, where he opts to shoot an awkward fadeaway instead of forcing the issue with Al Jefferson, a relatively poor defender at the rim:

It’s clear that Brown and the 76ers’ coaching staff have encouraged Carter-Williams to be decisive in the pick-and-roll, and that message has clearly gotten through. His problem is not hesitation so much as simply reading the situation wrong.

That is exacerbated by the fact that he doesn’t seem confident in his ability to force the issue in the face of a big defender.

You can see from his shot chart that there is a lot of work to do in building his scoring efficiency:

Although his jump shooting may seem like the most glaring deficiency and an obvious place to start, I think figuring out how to throttle up his pick-and-roll attacks may be more important at this point.

Figuring out how to take advantage of a retreating big maneither drawing a foul or creating a better angle for a shotseems like it would pay more offensive dividends since he spends so much time with the ball in his hands.

The 76ers don’t appear in any rush to return to the league’s upper echelon, preferring to take their time and make sure things are done in a sustainable way. But don’t be fooled into thinking they are just waiting, killing time until luck strikes. They have a plan and they’re putting things together piece by piece.

Just like any other team, they’re hoping for forward motion this season.

However, their successes will be found around the marginsnot in win totals and playoff seeds, but in the steady march of player development and an ever-increasing consistency in their style of play.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistical support for this story from NBA.com/stats.

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Kevin Love to Glen Taylor: Focus on your own team

Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor took some parting shots at Kevin Love on Tuesday, pointing out some shortcomings in the star forward’s game and wondering out loud if he will be a good fit for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Love responded on Wednesday by basically telling Taylor to worry about himself. Love’s message during an appearance […]

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Jamal Crawford’s Wedding Featured Sir Mix-a-Lot Rapping Hit Song ‘Baby Got Back’

Sir Mix-a-Lot’s hit song “Baby Got Back” came out back in 1992, but it’s the type of timeless song that can still get a place moving. 

This past weekend, Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford got married. Crawford and his guests were treated to a live performance of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s hit song.

Among the guests who got to enjoy the live performance were Crawford’s Clippers teammates.

[Instagram, h/t BallisLife]

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Oklahoma City trades C Thabeet to 76ers (Yahoo Sports)

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma City Thunder have traded center Hasheem Thabeet and cash to the Philadelphia 76ers for a protected second-round draft pick in 2015 and a trade exception.

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NBA teams that got most bang for buck

Eddie Johnson shares which teams spent close to nothing and managed to have a progressive season

      
 

 

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Can Cleveland Cavaliers Really Trust Anderson Varejao as Their Starting Center?

Despite an offseason of changes, trades, signings and a plethora of new faces for the Cleveland Cavaliers, one curly-topped veteran remains.

Anderson Varejao will be entering into his 11th season with the Cavs, a journey that began following a 2004 trade to Cleveland as a throw-in with Drew Gooden.

Varejao has witnessed the Cavaliers’ rise to power, played in the NBA Finals, been part of a complete rebuild and now faces serious championship pressure once again.

Now approaching age 32 with a checkered injury past, is Varejao ready for the challenge? Better yet, can the Cavs still rely on him as their starting center, especially with such lofty goals?

As skilled and beloved as Varejao is, unfortunately not.

The Cavs should definitely begin the season with Varejao as their starter, but they better have a solid backup plan for their Brazilian big man, just in case.

 

The Good Andy

The great part about Varejao is he should fit perfectly with the Cavs‘ current group.

With LeBron James, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and company, shots may be hard to come by. That should be just fine for Varejao, who’s never really cared about his own offensive production.

Varejao‘s game has always been built on rebounding, hustle and defense (with some flops thrown in for good measure). The past four seasons, Varejao has averaged at least 9.7 rebounds per game, and was the ninth-best per-minute rebounder in the NBA this year (via ESPN.com).

Although he won’t be relied upon to score, it’s worth noting that Varejao has made nice strides in both his range and efficiency on offense. Last season, he knocked down 47.2 percent of his mid-range jumpers, via NBA.com/Stats. This followed seasons of 41.7 percent in 2012-13 and 35.9 percent in 2011-12.

If the Cavs need him to score 10-15 points on a given night, Varejao is certainly capable. With this roster he shouldn’t have to, and instead he can relax while sticking to his strengths.

Whether it was with James competing for titles or next to Irving simply trying to make the playoffs, Varejao has been just fine doing the dirty work and little things that all add up to wins. His role with the 2014-15 squad will be no different, as Varejao should blend in beautifully with the Cavs‘ core.

 

The Bad Andy

Not to mean he’s a bad guy or anything, but Varejao can’t be trusted anymore to play a complete, healthy season.

The last time Varejao even sniffed 70 games was in 2009-10, before James had even taken off a Cavaliers jersey.

The past four years, Varejao has totaled 146 games, or not even two full NBA seasons. His on-court time has been great, but it’s only lasted an average of 36.5 games since 2010.

As previously mentioned, Varejao will turn 32 next month and can’t handle heavy minutes anymore. Former coach Byron Scott made the foolish decision to run Varejao out for 36 minutes a night in 2012-13. The result: Varejao split a muscle in his leg and Scott was fired the following offseason.

Mike Brown did a better job last year of keeping Varejao‘s minutes at around 27 a night. If the Cavs want to preserve him for a potential long playoff run, new head coach David Blatt may be forced to decrease that total even more.

 

Backup Plan

Right now, it’s unclear if there even is one.

The Cavs traded for Brendan Haywood this summer, a 12-year veteran and former champion with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011. Unfortunately, Haywood is coming off foot surgery that caused him to miss the entire 2013-14 season. His availability for this season is unclear.

After that, Tristan Thompson appears to be next in line. Although a natural power forward at 6’9″, Thompson played a significant amount of center during his rookie year. Love can also play the 5 in smaller lineups when Blatt wants to put James or Shawn Marion at power forward.

This means the Cavs are one injury away from putting Thompson into the starting unit with no reliable reserve whatsoever.

This just can’t be an option.

While there’s no center savior on the free-agent wire, the Cavs can find some decent help if they look hard enough.

Cleveland is reportedly interested in Emeka Okafor, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein. Okafor, like Haywood, also missed last season while recovering from injury. Stein reports that Okafor may not even be ready until around midseason, at which point he’ll be “in high demand.”

Players like Kenyon Martin, Elton Brand and Andray Blatche are still available, and they could possibly sign for the veteran’s minimum for a chance at a ring.

The other option for Cleveland is a trade.

Their current target? Denver Nuggets big man Timofey Mozgov. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on ESPN Cleveland 850′s The Really Big Show that the Cavs have “been trying to trade for him for the last six to eight weeks and they just haven’t been able to get it done.”

Nicki Jhabvala of The Denver Post gives us more insight on Mozgov:

The Nuggets’ 7-foot-1 center, who was acquired from New York in the Carmelo Anthony trade in 2011, had a bit of a breakout season last year with starter JaVale McGee out all year because of a leg injury. Mozgov, 28, had never played more than 45 games in a season his previous three years in the league but played in all 82 last season while starting 30 of them. With the added playing time, he posted career-highs of 9.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game.

Mozgov would be a solid backup who can do something no other Cavs player can: protect the rim. His 1.2 blocks would have been enough to lead Cleveland last season, and they extrapolate to 2.0 per 36 minutes of play.

 

Conclusion

Should the Cavs use Varejao as their starting center? Absolutely.

Should they blindly trust him there without a Plan B? Nada.

Varejao‘s skill set, experience and fit make him an ideal starter for the Cavs at center. Unfortunately, his age, injury history and preferably low minute total also say that Cleveland’s going to need a nice backup behind him.

With so much that’s gone right for the Cavaliers this offseason, failing to provide insurance at one of the game’s most crucial positions would be unacceptable.

Varejao should be the Cavs‘ starting center, but he can no longer be completely trusted.

 

-GS

All stats provided by Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Team USA’s Klay Thompson Breaks Down the Skills That Make Him a Shooting Star

After a spirited practice at the United States Military Academy at West Point last week, Warriors sharp-shooter Klay Thompson had enough energy to break down a player far less crucial to Team USA’s hopes in Spain—mine.   

“I see you,” Thompson said in assessing this writer’s shooting form. “That’s not bad.” Still, the Warriors sharp-shooter suggested I begin my set-up a bit higher for a quicker release. Coming from one of the best shooters on the planet, I gladly listened to his advice.

Last weekend, Thompson received validation of his own game when he became one of only 12 American players in the NBA to be named to Team USA’s official roster for the FIBA World Cup, which starts on Aug. 23. In an international field of play that caters to long-distance marksmen, Thompson should be a hot hand in Spain.  

The 24-year-old guard is the portrait for the modern-day shooter. He owns the record for most three-pointers made over the course of a player’s first three seasons (545). In 2013-14, while averaging 18.4 points per game with an improved mid-range and off-the-dribble game, he shot 41.7 percent from downtown and hit 223 threes—only second to his backcourt sidekick and Team USA teammate Stephen Curry (261).

While at West Point, Thompson spoke with B/R about the tools and tricks needed to get to his level of expertise. Below are 12 shooting keys gleaned from our conversation, presented here in a first-person perspective and edited for clarity and length.

 

1. It all starts with the same pregame routine.

First, I need to make five shots from five different spots in the mid-range area. Then, I need to make three spot-up three-pointers, three transition three-pointers and one three from five spots around the arc. After that, I do a couple of pin-downs from each side and then I’ve got to make three in a row from each baseline corner. I start at the top and run to the corner. I’ve got to make six total.

I created the routine and took some things from the Warriors’ coaching staff. I used to shoot a lot more before the game, and then I went through a shooting slump last season in January. Former assistant coach Lindsey Hunter told me to cut my routine down, saying, “Don’t leave your game on the floor.” So I cut my routine in half and my shooting percentage went up in the following months. It used to be 30, 40 minutes. Now it’s 15, 20 minutes.

I don’t adjust my routine to the opponent. I try to make the defense adjust to me, rather than adjust to them. But some teams are so different defensively, like the Bulls and Grizzlies, that you’re not going to get a lot of easy touches in the paint or off the curl, so you’ve really got to work for everything you get.

I’m still open to new ideas. This Team USA experience has given me a chance to see what everyone does pregame. I saw Derrick Rose closing his eyes and controlling his breathing. He was visualizing the game. It’s been cool to see how he approaches the game and be on the floor with him, because he was once an MVP.

 

2. The key to moving without the ball and using screens is changing speeds.

I watch guys like Steph Curry, Reggie Miller and Kyle Korver. All of them are really good at lulling their guys to sleep and then sprinting off a pin-down. When you do that you either lose your defender or he’s trailing you hard and you can throw a pump fake, and he goes around you.

I’ve learned to stop, walk my defender into a screen and spin off real quick. It’s a lot about changing speeds, keeping your hands ready and staying active. I tried to pick up a lot of stuff from Kyle, who I shot with a lot with Team USA. He’s great at moving without the ball.

 

3. Reading screens is a feel thing with your defender and point guard.

I don’t predetermine whether I’m going to curl off the screen or if I’m going to flare off it. I just feel it. And I don’t really look at my defender’s feet or where he is. That’s a feel thing, too. It’s more about my personal footwork, coming off screens. If my defender is going to cheat and go over the top, I’m going to plant my foot and step back one or two feet. I also try to use my height. I’m 6’7″ and it’s tough to block my shot. It only takes me about a second to get a good look.

You’ve also got to develop chemistry with your point guard, because he’s got to read if you’re flaring off the screen or if you’re curling. Steph and I are getting good at that. We’ve played three years together now. He knows where I like the ball—on the right side of my body, right beneath my shoulder. And because he’s such a great passer, he’ll give it to me there every time.

We both think we have a lot of room to grow. I’ve never played with someone who shoots better than me, so he pushes me. Hopefully we can break some more shooting records if we just stay humble and stay together.

 

4. Sometimes you need to play a little physical with your defender to break free.

I try to get his hands off of me. It might be a foul, but you can always give a defender a little shove just to get one or two feet of space. That’s all you really need. If he’s trailing me and has to run around the screen, he’s not going to be able to get to my shot.

 

5. Long swingmen defenders are typically the toughest matchups for mobile shooters.

It used to be Andre Iguodala, but we’ve been on the same team since last year. He’s good for me in practice because he wants to guard me. Matt Barnes is pretty good at fighting through screens because he’s long. Paul George is good at it, too. Someone who’s not as tall, but is a great defender, is Tony Allen. He’s good at avoiding screens and getting back on defense.

 

6. Many half-court sets are designed for great shooters, especially because their running off screens can put an entire defense on alert.

I can’t give away all the plays, but Coach Steve Kerr has told me he’s going to implement a lot for me and Steph moving off the ball. We have a simple floppy action everyone knows. It’s just a single screen or a double screen on one side. I start under the basket and go out either way.

Sometimes we’ll audible plays. It’s not like football where you have multiple calls. If a team is going to top block me, we have a call for it and I’ll just run off the other side, moving off a screen set by the big man on the other block. Sometimes Andrew Bogut is on the weak-side block and David Lee is on the strong side at the free throw corner. Depending how the defense is playing me, I can either move off D-Lee or Bogut.

They’re both really good at setting screens, which is a bit of a lost art. A lot of times you see offensive calls where the rhythm isn’t right.

To make it work we’ve got to be patient and wait for the screen, like dribbling our guy off the big man. Old point guards like John Stockton or Mark Jackson or Magic Johnson were good at backing their man in, using the big man and then going off the screen.

 

7. Some players can get away with not being in top shape; not shooting guards.

The best shooters are in great shape, whether it’s Steph, Ray Allen or Kyle Korver. Those guys don’t stop moving. In the fourth quarter, especially, the game slows down a lot. You can’t get as many transition looks, so you’ve got to be in amazing shape.

That’s why during the season, I get a lot of reps on the elliptical machine that makes you use your arms. Sometimes late in the game when you’ve got a good rhythm, you do shoot with your arms. But you can make shots like that. It’s a lot of push-ups, a lot of pull-ups, a lot of repetition shooting. During the summer, I probably do like an hour, hour-and-a-half of shooting every day. I don’t necessarily want to get bulkier, but be in great shape.

It’s also important for me to run a couple miles every day in the offseason. And when I do my practice shooting, I try to get a lot of shots on the move because those are what I’m going to get most in the game. I’m always going to be able to stand still and shoot, but the great shooters can sprint into shots and they can back-pedal into shots.

 

 

8. Speaking of back pedaling into shots …

Those are the toughest shots in the NBA—to back pedal, and then set your feet and get your balance, especially in the corner, like the shot Ray Allen hit in Game 6 of the 2013 Finals. People think that’s an easy corner shot, but no—it’s momentum going all the way back, and then you’ve got to collect yourself and go straight up and shoot it. When I shoot, I try to plant my heels because that’s when I get my balance, and then I just explode through my toes.

My college coach Tony Bennett once told me my freshman year that when I shoot, envision water going from my toes to my fingertips in one fluid motion. All the great shooters’ shots are like a reverse waterfall—Steph, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyle Korver. They’ve all got one fluid motion—no real hitches in their shots.

I’ve always had good footwork and balance, and good feet coming off screens. I think that’s from playing multiple spots every year when I was younger, whether it was football or baseball. It all carried over. And I had a gift with the quick release. Once I grew into my body in high school, I was able to come off to an NBA three. That’s a tough shot, curling into an NBA three. Not a lot of guys can do that.

 

9. Certain non-basketball sports are helpful for improving accuracy and conditioning.

I try to do other activities to stay in shape, whether it’s tennis or golf, where I walk 18 holes. It’s exhausting. A lot of shooters are really good at golf, Ping-Pong, pool or sports like that. It helps your mental toughness because you’re going to hit bad shots.

My golf game has improved. I’m breaking 100, so I’ll take it. I play with Steph and he’s the best I’ve played with so far.

My favorite is Ping-Pong; I’ve always loved that. Paintball is fun, too. I also like to swim a lot. I love the ocean and I’ve heard it’s good for your joints. Tim Duncan swims and that guy is still playing at age 38.

 

10. While he wasn’t the most athletic, Chris Mullin is the one player every shooter should study.

Growing up, I watched Ray Allen, Rip Hamilton and Allan Houston, but there was always something special about Chris Mullin. He wasn’t athletic, but he knew how to get to his spot and he never let the defense speed him up. He made the game look so simple.

He wasn’t flashy. He just had his compact, smooth jumper, and he was one of the smartest players in the game. To average 25 a game and be slow and not athletic is an unbelievable testament to his skill and his work ethic. When he was with Golden State, he helped me a lot. He told me to get my center of gravity lower to help me explode on my shot.

 

11. Being off-balance is usually the main reason for missing jumpers.

I can tell right away why I missed. With me, it’s usually my balance, where I’m leaning to one side too much. At the start of the game, I try to get my feet set, get my balance right. But if I’m hot in the game, I’ll make those shots in the flow.

During the game, I try not to think about a miss, but you try to get an easy one, whether it’s curling to the rim or getting to the free throw line. As a shooter, once you see that ball go in once, that’s all you need. You feel like you’ve got your rhythm back.

After the game, I study film. I’ll watch it with an assistant coach, the head coach, a player—it doesn’t matter. I just like someone there to give me feedback. Sometimes you’re going to have a bad night. That’s going to happen in the NBA and you just have to accept it.

For me, shot selection is crucial, too. If I’m taking good shots, I’m shooting a high percentage. If I’m rushing my shot, taking a contested three or mid-range shot, it’s a low-percentage shot. My shot selection has gotten better each year.

 

12. The next phase for me means diversifying my scoring opportunities.

I realize how hard defenses run at me, so I’ve got to master the pump fake to draw more fouls. I saw that with Chandler Parsons on Team USA. He’s got a great pump fake and can get guys off their feet.

Once you get to your spot off the dribble, you can get defenders off balance with a quick pump fake or you can jump into them. I’ve gotten better at that, especially from the three-point line. Guys know most of the time I’m going to shoot, so I just need to give a good pump fake to get in the lane.

I’ve also been working on my floater. Steph shoots floaters and finger rolls that I’ve never seen before, so I try to watch him. His finger-roll game is crazy. I’m also getting better in the post. Coming out of college, I felt like I was ready as far as moving without the ball, and catching and shooting. But when I got to the NBA, it was getting in the lane, shooting little jumpers and finding that little pocket pass. That’s what I really had to develop, and still need to, in my career.

 

Jared Zwerling covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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Can Steve Nash Erase Stigma of Last Two Seasons?

Steve Nash’s basketball world was just fine until he joined the Los Angeles Lakers.

Sure, he was getting older and wasn’t the player he had once been, but he still averaged a double-double during his last season with the Phoenix Suns.

But then came the summer of 2012 and the arrival of Nash and Dwight Howard in L.A., and the two became forever linked and identified by a doomed experiment.

When Mike D’Antoni was hired by the Lakers just five games into the season, it seemed as if some cosmic realignment was about to begin—Nash and his former coach would reunite and usher a post-centric team with stars like Howard, Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol into a new Showtime era.

In a strange quirk of fate, however, Nash had fractured his leg during the second game of the regular season. It happened during a collision with Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers and didn’t seem like such a big thing at the time.

As an upbeat D’Antoni said during his introductory press conference, per Lakers.com:

I can’t wait to get him (Nash) back there. I think he has another two or three years there. He didn’t have a whole lot of speed when he was in Phoenix and he hasn’t lost anything. But he’s smart, he’s smart and he can play. Nobody works harder than him. We just got to get his legs well and I think the people of Los Angeles will come to appreciate an unbelievable player.

But a series of unfortunate events had been set into motion and unbelievable playing did not take place.

The guy who had averaged 12.5 points in 31.6 minutes per game over 62 games the season before in Phoenix wound up averaging 12.7 points in 32.5 minutes over the course of 50 games in Los Angeles.

Hey, wait a minute—that didn’t happen! Actually, yes, it did.

Points and minutes averaged don’t tell the whole story, however. Nash had always succeeded by making those around him better, but in Los Angeles, his assists dropped to 6.7 per game compared to 10.7 the previous season.

The Lakers were clearly not playing in unison, and they were ultimately knocked out in the first round of the playoffs, losing in four straight games to the San Antonio Spurs.

By that point, a team packed with All-Stars was in shambles and the worst of it was Bryant’s ruptured Achilles tendon, suffered during game No. 80 of the regular season. 

Howard ultimately joined the Houston Rockets as a free agent, and the Lakers were left trying to sort through the broken pieces.

As for Nash, his fractured leg had never fully healed and triggered a slowly developing chain reaction of related structural issues. But more than anything, he had become part of a growing malaise that made it easy to associate his frailties with the failure of others—with Howard, with D’Antoni and with a rash of team injuries in general.

And when the following season ushered in an absolute and utter team collapse, it became even easier to point at Nash’s deteriorating body and the fact that he only played 15 games. Plus, what about that $9.7 million salary?

Two seasons became rolled into one giant unforgivable mistake—a future Hall of Famer had become a symbol for all that was wrong in Lakerland, and he even had the audacity to collect a paycheck!

But is it fair to stigmatize one player for the vagaries of age and injuries when the entire roster plus coaches and management share culpability for a 27-55 season? Doesn’t a guy who is arguably one of the best point guards to ever play the game deserve better than that?

At age 40, Nash is entering the final year of his contract and, in all likelihood, his last season of basketball. This isn’t how he wanted it to end. Not with a dark cloud as the closing refrain.

Is there a way to rewrite the ending? Yes, although it may not be an obvious hero moment. Nash—a two-time league MVP, five-time assists leader and eight-time All-Star—probably won’t capture that most important and elusive title—an NBA championship.

But redemption can show itself in different forms.

First, there is the matter of health. Nash is finally back to a state of physical well-being that has eluded him for nearly two years. Per NBA.com and team trainer Gary Vitti:

All my conversations with (Nash) are that he has absolutely no neural issue at this point. He’s playing full-tilt, unrestricted soccer. He’s doing all the corrective injury and performance exercises he’s supposed to be doing, and right now he’s 100 percent healthy.

If the 18-year veteran remains healthy and is able to play meaningful minutes, he’ll be doing so within a more measured, post-centric offense that will cater to Bryant—a member of the same draft class of 1996 and the only Laker to actually miss more games than Nash last season due to injury.

But regardless of playing time, there are other ways to leave an imprint. Like passing on all the tricks of the trade to Jeremy Lin and Jordan Clarkson—two of the newest Lakers and members of a new generation of NBA players.

Lin spoke about learning from Nash during his introductory press conference, per Lakers.com; “Now I have this opportunity. I can’t wait. I still remember him in Phoenix and he was 20 and 10 every night. I look forward to learning quite a few things from him.”

Like playing off the most effective angles, mastering flawless footwork and the art of the perfect pass. The third all-time assists leader behind John Stockton and Jason Kidd, Nash has always had uncanny court vision and the ability to hit the open man, seemingly without even looking.

Nash is also a deadly shooter with a .428 career percentage from behind the arc as well as owner of the best all-time free-throw success rate at .904.

Steve Nash will turn 41 in February and has delivered some of the game’s most memorable moments. The past two seasons won’t determine his ultimate legacy to the game. But he wants to leave more than a question mark behind in Los Angeles.  

Read more NBA news on BleacherReport.com

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Hawks’ Scott earns new deal with scoring surge (Yahoo Sports)

The Atlanta Hawks have re-signed Mike Scott, who improved his 3-point shot in his second season and almost doubled his scoring average. Scott, a second-round pick from Virginia in 2012, averaged 9.6 points last season, up from 4.6 as a rookie. Scott made 62 of 200 3-point attempts last season after missing his only 3 as a rookie.

View full post on Yahoo Sports – NBA News

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