Derrick Rose Drives to Rim, Throws Down Two-Handed Dunk vs. Finland

Derrick Rose and the rest of Team USA may not be playing against top-tier talent on Saturday in their game against Finland, but it’s nice to see the Chicago Bulls star show off his explosiveness once again.

During the game, Rose crossed over the Finnish defender on his way to the basket, then threw down the two-handed slam dunk. Rose had seven points, two assists and two steals at halftime with Team USA up 60-18.

[YouTube, h/t CBS Sports]

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Breaking Down San Antonio Spurs’ Point Guard Position for 2014-15 Season

In today’s NBA, there is hardly a limited supply of talented point guards. 

Perhaps more so now than ever before, the league can boast remarkable depth at the position as well as incredible star power at the top. And of course, the San Antonio Spurs can claim both within their roster as well. 

The spotlight certainly falls on Tony Parker, a soon-to-be 14-year veteran who has played various roles within the organization since he was drafted in 2001. He provides the team with the superstar talent necessary to win titles, though the roster boasts plentiful depth behind him—another key given Parker’s age.

As a whole, the point guard rotation has consistently been one of the team’s strongest features, and following a strong 2013-14 campaign, there’s little reason to believe 2014-15 won’t follow suit.

 

Looking Back

As he does every year, Parker headlined the Spurs’ point guard corps with under-the-radar excellence—serving as the team’s alpha dog and primary orchestrator throughout its 2013-14 pursuit of a title.

Despite a significant drop from his 2012-13 MVP-caliber stat line—his scoring and assist averages dipped from 20.3 and 7.6 to 16.7 and 5.7, respectively—digging deeper, the Spurs’ lone 2014 All-Star showed little evidence of a decline.

His playing time took an expected hit, and his changing role within the offense—spurred on by the rapid development of Kawhi Leonard as both a scorer and a playmaker—had a noticeable effect on Parker’s numbers.

Even so, his shooting efficiency remained top-notch, hovering around the 50 percent mark throughout the season. His poise, leadership and overall ability to drive his team to success were unchanged, and his stats remained admirable given the circumstances.

But Parker, though the linchpin of the team’s backcourt, hardly ran a one-man show. In fact, given his preseason expectations, Parker wasn’t even San Antonio’s showstopper at the point guard position. That honor belongs to Patty Mills, the team’s resident towel waver-turned-bench spark, whose contributions proved essential from start to finish.

Though he isn’t quite the player Parker is, he shattered expectations from day one. After serving the previous year as a bench bookend, Mills entered camp slimmer, the first of many improvements that surrounded his 2013-14 campaign. 

He became one of the team’s most reliable three-point shooters and a leader in the second unit from the season’s start to his championship-clinching Game 5 performance, in which he contributed 17 points, including 14 in the third quarter. 

When tasked with a heavier workload midseason due to a Parker injury, Mills responded with the strongest month of his career, establishing himself not only as a capable reserve but also as an individual capable of carrying a team in the near future.

His breakout alone is worthy of endless praise, but given the continued excellence of Parker and the increased development of fourth-year Cory Joseph, the Spurs deserve the highest of honors when it comes to the point guard position throughout their championship season.

2013-14 Point Guard Grade for San Antonio: A

 

Offseason Developments

The 2014 offseason was filled with highs and lows for the San Antonio Spurs, and a fair share of both revolve around Mills.

After his impressive campaign, Mills—an unrestricted free agent—entered the summer with a handful of options. Numerous teams with greater needs for his services had the money available to outbid San Antonio, and there was chatter within NBA circles regarding the young man’s potential as a starter.

Fortunately, Mills ended up re-signing in San Antonio. However, the reunion is due in no small part to a shoulder injury that cost Mills both a few million dollars and the opportunity to explore a future as a starter elsewhere.

The injury will keep him sidelined for a projected six months, heartbreaking news for both Mills and the Spurs, who became reliant on his services off the bench.

Beyond Mills, San Antonio offered a partially guaranteed contract to undrafted point guard Bryce Cotton, who will compete in training camp for a two-year contract after an impressive Summer League outing with the Spurs. 

At 5’11”, Cotton is hardly an imposing threat. However, what he lacks in size, he makes up for in talent. His success in college led to unanimous inclusion on the All-Big East First Team.

A talented scorer, he’ll have the opportunity to translate his collegiate success into a professional setting as he attempts to secure a roster spot for the upcoming season. 

 

Looking Forward

Even with Mills sidelined, the 2014-15 NBA season won’t be too different for the San Antonio point guard crew. Parker will return to lead the team, though he’ll likely see his stats and playing time diminish, as coach Gregg Popovich conserves the health and energy of his veterans.

Additionally, an increased focus on Leonard should take a load off Parker’s shoulders as the small forward looks to build upon his Finals MVP-worthy playoff campaign.

Still, Parker will serve as the team’s offensive catalyst and a likely contender for the All-Star Game.

Backing him up will be Joseph, who will assume the lead reserve duties as Mills recovers. Joseph has manned the main backup role before and has done so well. He’s the team’s best defensive option at the 1, and his confidence running the floor allows for seamless transitions whenever Parker needs to catch a break.

Joseph, though still raw, has been improving annually, and many people, including Bleacher Report’s David Kenyon, are confident that Mills’ absence won’t prove too hard for a Spurs team knee-deep at the point guard position:

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has adapted his schemes to match his team’s collective strengths; he only needs to tweak it for Joseph.

San Antonio should not skip a beat because the efficiency of the backup point guards was so similar, both offensively and defensively. 

After all, Pop captains a plug-and-play operation, inserting the next man up and getting results. Besides, the show must go on, and the franchise will undoubtedly survive an unfortunate injury to a significant piece.

And of course, once Mills returns, look for him to pick up right where he left off. Joseph—who has shined in the past when given the opportunity—may steal a few minutes should he take advantage of his upcoming increased role, though the big picture—as it relates to the Spurs’ collection of point guards—should look similar to 2013-14.

After a season in which it sported one of the greatest cohorts of floor leaders, San Antonio will look for a repeat, relying on a full recovery from Mills, consistent improvements from Joseph and perennial excellence from Parker. 

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Breaking Down Orlando Magic’s Small Forward Position for 2014-15 Season

The Orlando Magic have question marks all over heading into the 2014-15 season, and the small forward position is no exception. The departure of Arron Afflalo is bound to have an impact. Can the additions of Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon make up for it?

Do they actually need to?

Each team adjusts its playing style according to the personnel available. In this case, losing Afflalo and signing Channing Frye implies a paradigm shift. Orlando now has Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic and the aforementioned Frye. All are able—and expected—to play a substantial part on offense, which suggests the small forwards will take a step back.

However, that will be a tiny, even minuscule step.

Players like Maurice Harkless and Tobias Harris possess too much talent to lock them away behind a rigid system focused on two or three players to provide points.

To understand the importance of the Magic’s wing position, it’s probably a good idea to first take a look back at last year.

 

Grading Orlando’s Small Forwards for 2013-14

Obviously, Afflalo was the most efficient offensive player the Orlando Magic had at the 3, where he spent 50 percent of his minutes. Frankly, he was their best weapon regardless of position, period.

The veteran shot an impressive 42.7 percent from downtown and averaged 18.2 points per game in 35 minutes. Not only that, but his 3.4 assists per outing were good enough to place him third on his team in that category.

He was arguably the most important player for Orlando.

Harkless played 24.4 minutes per game and was a more defensive-minded option at small forward. He might not have been a prolific scorer with 7.4 points per game, but that was a direct result of not being used as a main weapon on attack.

In his second year at the pro level, the former No. 15 pick displayed solid shooting, connecting on 38.3 percent of his attempts from beyond the arc. Sadly, his free-throw shooting lacked in quality with a meager 59.4 percent success rate.

Harris, while officially playing as power forward for the majority of his time on court, was also a big contributor from the 3. His aggressive style of play led to 4.7 free-throw attempts per 36 minutes, of which he converted a solid 80.7 percent.

Overall, the Orlando Magic definitely had an above-average rotation at small forward in 2013-14.

 

Changes During the Offseason

The most important change was sending Afflalo to the Denver Nuggets for Fournier and the No. 56 pick, Roy Devyn Marble.

Orlando lost its high-scoring veteran and will now rely on others to step up. Frye’s addition means more firepower from the 4, but who can fill in at the 3?

Harkless and Harris are the first who come to mind.

They are used to head coach Jacque Vaughn’s system and showed a lot of potential last season. Both are still very young and will continue to improve with consistent minutes.

The Magic’s No. 4 pick, Gordon, will likely see some time at small forward, despite having been a power forward during his collegiate career. His 6’9″, 225-pound frame and athleticism place him somewhere between those positions—he will be a 3.5 if you like.

The team also acquired Fournier, who is nominally a small forward but can bring the ball when needed. He is a good shooter and can spread the floor, but his size and athleticism are not up to par with the other three candidates.

 

Orlando’s Small Forward Position 2014-15

Harkless and Harris seem set to fight for the starting spot at the 3. Both can be efficient small forwards, but they play very different roles. With Victor Oladipo and Channing Frye being the main weapons on offense, Vaughn will likely want to start Harkless for his defensive skills.

The 21-year-old can drain the open shot, but his main focus will be on the other end of the floor.

Harris can play as a small forward or a power forward, and he brings explosive offense with his reckless drives to the basket. Last season, this translated into a team-leading 33 and-1 opportunities, of which he converted 25. He would be perfect as a sixth man, providing lots of energy.

This brings us to the rookie.

Gordon will have a hard time adjusting to the NBA. He was able to dominate the paint as a power forward in college but seems more likely to succeed as a small forward at the pro level, unless he puts on more weight. The No. 4 pick certainly has a tough job ahead of him, getting used to a new position, a new system and a much more intense style of play.

The Orlando Magic will be happy if the 18-year-old manages to become an efficient player off the bench over the course of his first campaign.

Fournier, on the other hand, could turn into a valuable player very quickly.

His versatility and lack of size, however, mean that he will spend more time at the 1 and 2. If Elfrid Payton can’t get into a rhythm early on during his rookie season, the Frenchman may well end up bringing the ball up frequently.

Likewise, if Ben Gordon can’t produce, Fournier will be the main backup behind Oladipo. The 6’6″ athlete provides consistent shooting from three-point land (37.6 percent last season), and his tender age of 21 implies he still has room to develop. If he can improve his athleticism, he will eventually become an important factor for the team, regardless of position.

Despite losing Afflalo, the Orlando Magic have good options at small forward.

Effectively, three players will be able to contribute right away, even if Fournier seems somewhat undersized. Gordon will still need time to develop, but the Magic can afford to wait for him to mature.

One of the main advantages Coach Vaughn has at the 3 is the different style of play each of these three athletes can offer. If he wants aggressive defense, he can bring in Harkless. For the same aggression on the offensive end, Harris is the perfect choice. If in need of a good ball-handler who can spread the floor with his shooting, on comes Fournier.

The small forward position may have lost some punch with Afflalo‘s departure, but Orlando’s fans don’t need to be concerned.

The young guns are ready to take over.

 

All stats and info taken from NBA.com or Basketball-Reference.com unless stated otherwise.

You can follow @KurtJonke for more on the NBA in general and the Orlando Magic in particular.

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Breaking Down the Lakers’ Best and Worst Fits in Byron Scott’s System

New Los Angeles Lakers head coach Byron Scott has already made it clear how he will run his team.

First and foremost comes a fundamental defensive identity and toughness.

Defensive philosophy has to be constant”, Scott told Lakers beat reporter Mike Trudell. “Defensively, we’ll start to work from day one, because that’s something we have to get better at right away, and we will.

Scott vows to hold players accountable on the defensive end and enforce a policy that will prioritize locating the ball and getting back on defense to limit transition opportunities.

On offense, Scott will install the same scheme he has taught at previous stops. 

As he told Trudell, “I want a mixture of some of what I’ve done in the past, which is the Princeton offense, along with traditional NBA sets.”

With Scott’s coaching philosophies in mind, let’s take a look at who may derive the greatest—and least—benefit from playing in his system.

 

Best Fit—Wesley Johnson

Wesley Johnson has been frustrating home fans since he entered the league, and his first year with the Lakers was no exception.

Watching him play, it’s clear to see the tremendous upside just waiting to be realized. With his length, athleticism and fluidity moving around the court, it’s not hard to envision Johnson as a two-way force on the wing along the lines of a Paul George.

That idealistic projection is the reason he was drafted fourth overall in 2010—six picks ahead of George.

Coach Scott remains optimistic about Johnson and is excited to work with him this season.

I think the kid is so talented…I’ve always been intrigued with Wesley“, Scott said when asked about Johnson starting on the wing next to Kobe Bryant. “I’m really hoping it can be a break out year for him.”

For what it’s worth, Johnson did have the best season of his career in 2014. He shot the ball more accurately than ever before—including a healthy 37 percent clip from downtown—and posted career bests in PER and win shares.

Johnson’s game fits the Princeton offense well. 

His size and athleticism will allow him to take advantage of easy looks around the basket off of constant motion and cutting. For his career, Johnson has been a strong finisher near the hoop, converting over 66 percent of his attempts within three feet of the rim, per Basketball-Reference.com.

If Johnson’s newfound three-point accuracy is no fluke, he will be a threat from the outside as well as in drive-and-kick scenarios. Johnson shot a respectable 37.8 percent on catch-and-shoot three-point field-goal tries last season, per NBA.com, and finished second on the team in total catch-and-shoot points.

Defensively, Johnson has the potential to shine in Scott’s system.

The biggest reason to be hopeful is that with L.A.’s depth in the frontcourt, Johnson can move back to the wing full time, instead of toiling as a stretch power forward as he did for large chunks of last year under Mike D’Antoni.

According to 82games.com, Johnson held opposing small forwards to a reasonable 14.4 PER, while enemy power forwards tore him apart, racking up a 21.4 PER against him.

Johnson will still draw the toughest perimeter assignment on a nightly basis, but he has the physical tools to get the job done and stand out in Coach Scott’s scheme.

 

Worst Fit—Xavier Henry

Another 2010 lottery-pick reclamation project, Xavier Henry was well on his way to fulfilling his promise last season before injuries derailed his campaign.

Henry is back with the Lakers for the upcoming season and will compete with Johnson for a starting job on the wing beside Bryant.

In his extended Q&A with Trudell, Scott mentioned that he “thought Xavier was excellent until he got hurt last year,” but had nothing else to say about Henry when talking about his group of wing players.

Interestingly, in that same section, Scott talked about the possibility of playing Steve Nash and Jeremy Lin together, meaning that there may be fewer minutes to go around for the swingmen—and Henry may end up drawing the short straw.

The Princeton offense doesn’t play to Henry’s strengths.

Henry loves having the ball in his hands so he can put his head down and attack the rim, but he doesn’t provide much value when playing off the ball, as he will most of the time in Coach Scott’s system.

Finishing near the hoop has been a trouble spot for Henry, who shot a disappointing 55 percent from within three feet each of the past two seasons, per Basketball-Reference.com.

He has also never been a good jump-shooter. In four NBA seasons, Henry has attempted just 126 threes total and has connected on only 32.5 percent of them.

Henry’s playmaking needs to improve as well in a system that requires a lot of passing. According to Basketball-Reference.com, Gerald Green, Jeff Green and Avery Bradley were the only perimeter players in the league who played as many minutes as Henry, while posting a usage rate as high as Henry and an assist rate as low as Henry in 2014.

On defense, Henry struggles at times. He has good lateral quickness and initial effort, but he doesn’t always rotate correctly and can get caught ball-watching.

He lacks Johnson’s size, so if he is in there with Bryant, the Lakers are vulnerable to attacks from bigger wings.

Unless he adapts his game to fit Coach Scott’s philosophies, Henry may be on the outside of the rotation looking in.

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Timberwolves Wise to Double Down on Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett Pairing

It was a good move, from acquiring an elite prospect like Andrew Wiggins to securing Anthony Bennett as a buy-low throw-in. 

The Minnesota Timberwolves weren’t winning with Kevin Love, anyway. 

Of course, the typical skeptic will argue against dealing established talent for guys whose appeal is strictly tied to long-term potential, given the uncertainty that comes with it and the time it takes to reach. 

Then again, if Wiggins does hit his stride and Bennett eventually figures it out, the Wolves will likely look back on the trade as a huge success, considering the ugly position the organization was put in. 

And based on the current setting in Minnesota, you have to really like their chances.

Offensive freedom, no expectations, built-in camaraderie—Wiggins and Bennett, whose relationship dates back to their days playing AAU ball for the Canadian-driven CIA Bounce, are looking at a no-pressure environment with unlimited opportunity. 

The Timberwolves will get to develop these guys under fairly ideal conditions—as long as management and fans can sit tight while each prospect works out the kinks in their respective games.

Arguably the biggest knock on Wiggins as a college freshman was his tendency to drift or disappear. Playing amongst fellow star prospects and veterans at Kansas, he’d often go long stretches without taking a shot. The only real question that scouts continuously asked was whether or not they were looking at an eventual No. 1 scorer or a complementary weapon. 

Wiggins won’t find a better stage to develop his go-to scoring repertoire on than the one he’s got lined up in Minnesota. What better way to ignite a prospect’s confidence than to consistently give him the rock under nothing-to-lose circumstances?

As a rookie, he’ll be getting the green light he’ll hope to have as a top option for a playoff team three to four years down the road. Consider this upcoming season valuable on-the-job training. 

The Timberwolves offer Wiggins a chance to fine-tune his offensive arsenal (step-backs, pull-ups, fall-aways, drives, floaters) on an every-game basis alongside guys like Bennett, Zach LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad—other rookies and sophomores also at early stages in their development.

The fact that Wiggins will be going to a team where he’ll see familiar faces, each looking at similar hurdles, should help raise his comfort level as a 19-year-old newcomer breaking into the league.

“It’s been a crazy summer, really up and down. Kind of lost, not really knowing where I’m going,” Wiggins told the Associated Press, via ESPN. “But I wanted to play for a team that wanted me. I felt the love as soon as I got off the plane at the airport, so it’s all good now. I’m excited for this season.”

The move was good for Bennett as well, as it gives him a chance to start fresh and shake off the bricks he threw up and the boos that followed.

Last season, we’d see Bennett alternate 20-minute games with four minutes cameos and the occasional DNP. And when he actually did get time, he was never really able to get his footing or gain any stability—like a fatigued water polo player struggling to make plays in a deep pool.

But the water is shallow in Minnesota, where Bennett will have a more defined role and a better shot to nail it. 

Like it should be for Wiggins, the young roster and unestablished chemistry should be good for Bennett, who won’t have to try too hard to fit in or think about living up to the hype. 

“I’ve been hearing all the talks for a while now,” said Bennett. “So me being here in Minnesota, it’s a great (state). It’s a great fan base, great team coming up where everybody’s young. We have some vets, too. I’m just here to learn from everybody.”

With Love essentially forcing his way out, the Timberwolves turned a bad hand into one that could pay off big time later on. Tim Bontemps of the New York Post actually rated this the best superstar trade (in Minnesota’s favor) of this era.

You’re never going to get direct equal value in return for a superstar on the trade market. But in Wiggins, the Wolves managed to reel in a rare talent with a ceiling that technically exceeds the height of the hot shot they just dealt. If it clicks for Wiggins, Minnesota could be looking at one of the game’s top two-way wings as a dynamite scorer and lockdown defender.

In Bennett, Minnesota gets a project. And he’ll need work. But at 21 years old, he’s not broken. There’s still some untapped offensive game bottled up inside him somewhere.

Hopefully, pairing the two together on a team with other guys their age will help create a more favorable environment for each to really flourish.

I’m viewing this trade and move as a positive for both Wiggins and Bennett individually, and in turn, a surprise win for the Timberwolves as a franchise.

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Breaking Down Miami Heat’s Point Guard Position for 2014-15 Season

When you have someone like LeBron James around, traditional point guards almost seem unnecessary.

The four-time MVP has established himself as the planet’s very best thanks in large part to his extraordinary playmaking ability. He may be a forward on paper, but in practice he’s also a floor general who can run and initiate offense with the very best of them.

Now the Miami Heat confront a post-LBJ era, an era in which point guards are suddenly anything but unnecessary.

While Dwyane Wade remains a capable ball-handler and facilitator, he’ll need help—the kind of help Miami sorely missed during the 2014 NBA Finals.

The question is where that help will come from.

 

Grading 2013-14′s Point Guard Performances

Maybe it’s unfair to judge starting point guard Mario Chalmers on the basis of his NBA Finals performance alone, but it’s awfully hard to ignore.

After a season in which the 28-year-old tallied 9.8 points and 4.9 assists per contest, Chalmers saved his worst for last—averaging just 4.4 points and 2.8 assists through five games against the San Antonio Spurs. For the series, he was just 7-of-21 from the field and turned the ball over 10 times through the first four games.

By the end of Game 3, Chalmers’ confidence had all but collapsed.

“I think everybody else is doing their job and I’m being that guy that’s not helping out,” Chalmers said after the game, per Bleacher Report’s Ethan Skolnick. “I don’t want to be that guy.”

Chalmers added that he was “still at the drawing board.”

After Game 4, it was time for change. Head coach Erik Spoelstra benched Chalmers for Game 5, instead inserting shooting guard Ray Allen into the starting lineup. The decision conceded the Heat were struggling at a position widely regarded as the most important on the floor—and that backup point guard Norris Cole offered little hope.

During the season, Cole averaged just 6.4 points and three assists in 24.6 minutes per game. Beset by uneven playing time in the Finals, those numbers dropped to just 3.2 points and 1.8 assists per contest.

After three seasons of running point for Miami’s second unit, Cole clearly hasn’t instilled much confidence. He’s a frenetic player with solid defensive ability, but he’s less adept at hitting the open shots Chalmers ordinarily made. Recall that Chalmers converted on 38.5 percent of his three-point attempts during the regular season.

Cole made just 34.5 percent of his.

On paper, Chalmers’ Finals implosion was untimely but also anomalous. Yet concerns about his fit on a championship team were nothing new.

Hardwood Paroxysm’s William Bohl recently wrote that, “He was, in the eyes of his superstar teammates, their idiot younger brother, always to blame when mistakes were made, the whipping boy when a defensive assignment was blown or an open man wasn’t passed to on offense.”

Bohl adds that, “LeBron, especially, wasn’t afraid to let ‘Rio have it from time to time, often over Chalmers’ shot selection, defensive intensity or lack of court vision.”

Though Chalmers seemed to justify himself with a surprisingly electric performance in the 2013 NBA Finals, it’s this June’s disappearance that left a lasting impression. He looked like a backup guard in over his head—which puts Cole’s limitations in even greater perspective.

Grade: C+

 

Offseason Developments

Team president Pat Riley called in some reinforcements this summer, but there’s little reason to believe it will be enough.

The organization’s big acquisition came on draft night when, per The Palm Beach Post‘s Jason Lieser, “Miami immediately traded for [Shabazz] Napier [taken No. 26 overall] by giving up its first-round spot, second-round pick (No. 55), an unspecified future second-round selection and cash.”

The 23-year-old most recently averaged 18 points and 4.9 assists per game as a senior at Connecticut.

His subsequent performances at the Orlando and Las Vegas summer league tournaments left something to be desired. Through his first five games, Napier made just 15 of 55 field-goal attempts. After piecing together a couple of respectable games, he finished by going 9-for-42 from the field in his final three games.

“I definitely needed this one to understand the game much better,” Napier said during summer league play, per Jeff Shain’s special to the Miami Herald. “It’s a big adjustment, but I’m looking forward to it.”

Napier offered an example, adding, “I was unable to do a lot of things I did in college as far as passes. I’m going to have to learn how to adjust and make those certain passes on an NBA level. That’s the learning curve.”

More recently, Napier cited another culprit.

“But my biggest thing is getting comfortable with that basketball,” he said, according to The Associated Press. “That’s one of my biggest problems and it’s kind of ironic, because it’s a basketball. But it’s different than a college basketball.”

Assuming those issues work themselves out in time, Miami should have some additional firepower in its backcourt this season.

Otherwise, little has changed.

The franchise re-signed Chalmers to a two-year deal reportedly worth a total of $8.3 million, and Cole will make $2,150,188 this season in what could be his last with the Heat (the club can make him a restricted free agent next summer with a qualifying offer).

Miami certainly hasn’t taken a step back at the point guard spot, but nor has it made significant strides.

 

Looking Ahead

Napier could certainly evolve into a starting-caliber floor general, but it’s hard to see where he fits in this season. Assuming he shakes off whatever ailed his summer-league shooting, he should be able to carve out a few minutes early on. Whether he plays enough to make a consistent impact remains to be seen.

There could be some additional opportunities for Napier in the event Chalmers begins adopting a slightly more versatile role.

“We’re looking at Mario differently in this roster,” Riley explained, per the Miami Herald‘s Barry Jackson. “He’s a point guard, but we’re also looking at him as a [shooting guard]. Mario can be very effective as a long-armed [shooting guard] who can shoot the three.”

For what it’s worth, Riley added that Napier, “struggled this summer somewhat shooting the ball, but we still feel he has a tremendous upside.”

At the moment, however, the starting gig belongs to Chalmers. And at the very least, the Kansas product should be good for a few passes and around 10 points per contest—perhaps more without James around to soak up touches.

The good news is that Chalmers has been with this team since he was drafted in 2008. He preserves some measure of corporate knowledge and understands Spoelstra‘s system. His experience in Miami could be instrumental to the club’s ability to steady the ship in the wake of James’ departure.

The bad news is that by now Chalmers is what he is. It’s unlikely he takes a significant step forward this late into his career. The odds of Cole rapidly ascending the point guard ranks aren’t much better.

While this team’s need for a credible floor general is suddenly acute, its ability to meet that need is in question.

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Duke Basketball: Breaking Down Tyus Jones’ Chances to Make 2014-15 All-ACC Team

There are few bets in all of college basketball that are safer than saying at least one Duke player will be on the All-ACC team. With all the talent that head coach Mike Krzyzewski brought in this offseason, that will once again be the case in the 2014-15 season.

The question now becomes which player or players make that distinguished squad.

Jahlil Okafor may be the headliner of the Blue Devils’ loaded recruiting class and the potential No. 1 pick in the next NBA draft, but don’t overlook the newcomer at point guard. Tyus Jones is the perfect candidate to quarterback this Duke team, and he will put up some impressive numbers along the way.

Talent-wise, Jones is certainly good enough to compete for a spot on the All-ACC team. He is always looking to set up others, has impressive court vision that allows him to thread passes through narrow openings, controls the pace of the game with his excellent ball-handling skills and understanding of tempo and is more than ready to get out in transition when needed.

He doesn’t have explosive speed, but Jones is quick enough to get by defenders off the dribble and stay in front of shifty guards on the defensive side. He also has a deadly perimeter jumper in his arsenal that will help him make opponents pay when they sag off him to focus on Okafor.

Krzyzewski couldn’t have asked for a better pass-first, distributing point guard to run a team with so much talent across the board.

Having teammates like Okafor, Justise Winslow, Rasheed Sulaimon, Amile Jefferson and Quinn Cook, among others, would be somewhat worrisome when discussing Jones’ chances at earning All-ACC honors if he depended on his scoring. He clearly doesn’t, though, and having these types of players around him will lead to head-turning assist numbers once Jones becomes comfortable in the offense.

What’s more, point guards are often judged in a similar fashion to quarterbacks in football where wins and losses count for or against a resume. Duke should be one of the nation’s best teams, and Jones will get plenty of credit for all those wins as he leads the Blue Devils on the floor.

For those worrying that Jones won’t have a substantial enough role to play his way onto the All-ACC team with Cook still around, ESPN.com’s Myron Medcalf noted that it shouldn’t be an issue:

Jones himself discussed that relationship with the senior Cook, according to Joedy McCreary of The Associated Press, via TwinCities.com:

We’re looking at it as we’re both trying to get better. We’re both pushing each other to be the best players we can be.

We’re both trying to play in the backcourt at the same time, and with each other we feel … we both bring different dynamics to the table that can help our team be good. We’re looking at it as a positive, rather than a negative. It’s a positive to have two point guards on the floor, so that’s what we’re trying to do.

The fact that Jones is gradually becoming more comfortable with Cook in the backcourt instead of fighting for playing time is certainly an encouraging fact going forward.

While Jones’ talent is obvious, we have to look at other contenders as well if we are projecting his All-ACC chances.

Interestingly, only Marcus Paige returns from last year’s All-ACC first team. Duke’s Jabari Parker bolted for the NBA draft, C.J. Fair graduated from Syracuse, James Michael McAdoo declared for the draft from North Carolina, K.J. McDaniels declared for the draft from Clemson, and T.J. Warren left for the draft from North Carolina State.

That is a lot of departed talent, and it opens up the door for the rest of the players in the ACC, including the multifaceted Jones.

Of course, Paige is also a point guard, and the battle between him and Jones will be an interesting subplot to follow throughout the entire 2014-15 campaign on Tobacco Road. Beyond the obvious Duke-North Carolina rivalry, there are parallels in place as both try to lead young and talented teams to the Final Four and beyond.

However, Paige is the more experienced of the two and has the chance to compete for ACC Player of the Year and even National Player of the Year.

It’s not that Jones can’t reach that level eventually, but Paige has proved it consistently in the college game already. The thought here is that Paige puts up a more successful season when it comes to individual statistics and competes with Okafor for the league’s Most Valuable Player.

The good news for Jones, though, in terms of this discussion is that there is room for two guards on the All-ACC squad. If he fulfills his potential, challenges for the conference’s assists title and leads the Blue Devils to a league championship, he will find his name on that team. 

That is a lot to ask of a freshman, but the coaching and surrounding talent are both already in place. Now, all Jones has to do is deliver.

 

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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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Breaking Down Dallas Mavericks’ Point Guard Position for 2014-15 Season

Anybody who watched the 2012-13 Dallas Mavericks knows that this team needs good point guard play.

And if you were one of those people who hung in there with that squad, you deserve a back rub or something.

That year was rough in many ways. Dirk wasn’t himself, the nucleus from the 2011 title team was gone, and all year the Mavs seemed out of sorts. With a roster almost entirely full of players on one-year deals, it was an experiment gone wrong.

But as the saying goes, you can learn more from failure than success. And one of the primary lessons learned was that the Mavs need a competent point guard.

The 2012-13 playoff-less season was marred by less than adequate guard play. There was a lack of understanding of how to run the offense, how to get the whole team involved and maybe most importantly an inability to perform in crunch time.

According to NBA.com’s team clutch database, the 2012-13 Mavericks were 23-24 in games where the spread was five points or less in the last five minutes. That was 17th in the league.

This team needs a solid point guard play, and with all the turnover at the position this offseason, it’s about time to take an assessment of exactly what the Mavs are working with here.

 

Grading Last Year’s Performance

 The 2013-14 Mavericks went 26-22 in games where the score was five points or less in the last five minutes of a game. An obvious improvement over 2012-13 simply in terms of record, but their plus minus in those situations showed even greater progress. The point differential of 1.3 was a 1.4-point improvement from two years ago.

Obviously some of that is due to Dirk Nowitzki. He recaptured his game, and ended up fifth in the league in clutch total plus minus with 84.

But someone had to get Dirk the ball. Someone had to calmly run the offense under pressure. And that someone had to be a point guard.

Enter Jose Calderon.

The veteran fit the bill in crunch time, and the team owes a lot of their improvement to Calderon’s addition.

Clutch situations weren’t the only spots where Calderon made a difference. Their point differential increased by three points per game, and their assisted field-goal percentage shot up to fourth best in the league.

Of course, Calderon isn’t solely responsible for this. The entire team went through an extreme makeover last season, it wasn’t just the point guard that changed. But these are areas where Calderon can make a big impact. Where a guy with his skills is very valuable.

All that being said, the Mavs were limited at the position last season. The two main guys were Calderon and Devin Harris, though Harris missed 42 games. So essentially, the main guy was Calderon.

And anybody who watched him play knew the Spaniard had gaping holes in his game.

In addition to being a notoriously bad defender, the guy had next to no ability to finish at the rim. He made just 46 shots from five feet and closer last season in 2,468 minutes played last season.

For some perspective, Nate Robinson is generously listed at 5’9” and only played in 44 games last season yet he made 66 shots from that same distance.

The position improved dramatically from 2012-13, but still had plenty of weak spots. It was good, but definitely not great.

2013-14 Point Guards: B

 

What to Expect This Season

Half the roster has changed this offseason, but perhaps no one position has undergone more of a radical shift than the point guard spot. Two of Dallas’ top guys in Calderon and Shane Larkin were traded to the Knicks as part of the package that brought Tyson Chandler to the Mavs.

And along with Tyson Chandler came Raymond Felton. Dallas also signed Jameer Nelson, and re-signed Devin Harris. Those three will be the point guards for this season.

Gone is Calderon’s steady hand, and in come three relative question marks.

As previously stated, Harris missed 42 games due to various injuries last season and he also hasn’t played more than 70 games since the 2010-11 season. He brought energy and some offensive punch when he played, but he also only shot 37.8 percent from the field last season. He was good, but often inconsistent with his production.

Speaking of inconsistency, Raymond Felton will compete for starters minutes. He went from key player on a 54-win Knicks team to an afterthought in just a year. It’s anybody’s guess as to which Felton the Mavs get, let’s just hope it’s an in shape one.

Finally, Jameer Nelson might be the closest thing to consistent the Mavs have at the position. His shooting numbers are in decline, but he’s still a good passer and a smart player. His best years are behind him, but he still has a lot to give.

Obviously, this group does not have a Jose Calderon. There is a striking lack of the sharp-shooting and sure-handed point guard who fixed so many of Dallas’s ills last season.

So the plan of attack has to change, but just a bit.

Even though Dallas is without a Calderon-type point guard, the new guys bring other things to the table. Namely, they’re more athletic.

Now nobody is calling these guys crazy athletes, but athleticism was something the position was sorely lacking last season. Devin Harris brings the speed, while Felton and Nelson are far from slow. All three are quick, and they make their money by getting into the teeth of the defense.

Sound refreshing?

And with essentially three starting point guards, we might see a bit more pace-pushing. ESPN Dallas’ Tim McMahon recently wrote about how the roster seems to be moving in that direction, and the point guards are certainly equipped for that style.

As far as missing a steady hand, the Mavs should be just fine there too. Harris, Nelson and Felton have all been starters. They all know what they’re doing. And Nelson specifically has consistently run a team for all 10 of his NBA seasons.

To be clear, this is a team and a position in transition. Things are going to be different this year. Hopefully better, but nonetheless different.

Where Calderon was a limited player, the new trio is versatile. Where there was mostly just one point guard last season, now there’s three.

In football there’s a saying, “if you have two quarterbacks, you have none.” There’s no saying about three point guards in basketball, but either head coach Rick Carlisle will have his hands full or he will have three weapons to work with.

Based on his track record, it seems Carlisle should be happy this year. The Mavs can now play different styles, play mismatches and be less rigid in their lineups thanks largely to their flexibility at the point.

Change can be good. The Mavs have been proponents of that over the years, and this overhaul certainly puts that logic to the test. But the point guard position should improve with its new look. The front office did a nice job of keeping the position’s basketball IQ high while also upgrading its athleticism and versatility.

Now it’s time to start putting all the pieces together.

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Breaking Down How Houston Rockets Could Sign-and-Trade for Ramon Sessions

Point guard Jeremy Lin was nothing but professional when discussing his two seasons with the Houston Rockets after the organization traded him to the Los Angeles Lakers in a cap-clearing maneuver.

“The writing was kind of on the wall,” Lin told Basketball Insiders’ Alex Kennedy. “For me, I just felt like they were heading in a different direction, which is okay and I totally understand it from a business standpoint.”

But in the wake of Lin’s departure, a different kind of writing is now on the wall. Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is tasked with restocking his team’s depth after parting ways with Lin and separately dealing center Omer Asik to the New Orleans Pelicans.

Signing swingman Trevor Ariza will go a ways toward replacing Chandler Parsons (who signed as a restricted free agent with the Dallas Mavericks), but Houston’s depth remains an area of concern.

Especially at the point guard spot.

With 26-year-old Ish Smith currently the club’s best bet to back up starter Patrick Beverley, it should come as no surprise that Morey and Co. are investigating other options.

Such a move may not make many headlines, but it could certainly yield dividends for a Rockets rotation in desperate need of reinforcements.

Sessions finished the season with the Milwaukee Bucks after playing his first 55 games (and the 2012-13 campaign) with the Charlotte Bobcats—now the Hornets. His playing time swelled to an average of 32.5 minutes in 28 games with the Bucks, translating into 15.8 points and 4.8 assists per game.

Through his seven-year career, Sessions has averaged 11.7 points and 4.7 assists while making 43.9 percent of his field-goal attempts.

The 28-year-old’s journey has spanned five different teams and included multiple roles as both a starter and reserve. 

Sessions appear to have the opportunity of a lifetime when the Los Angeles Lakers acquired him via trade in 2012. But after just 23 regular-season games with the franchise and an uninspiring postseason performance, the two sides parted ways that summer when the Nevada product became a free agent.

“It was one of those situations I looked at like, ‘If I do come back what if they trade me?’” Sessions told Yahoo Sports’ Marc J. Spears after signing with Charlotte. “There were talks about getting Deron [Williams]. They always wanted the bigger-named guy. What if I get traded to a team and it’s my contract year?”

The stability in Charlotte was short-lived, however. 

In February, Sessions was dealt along with Jeff Adrien to Milwaukee in exchange for Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour.

And his struggle to find a long-term home isn’t over yet.

Perhaps the Rockets are an ideal situation.

As NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman notes, “The Rockets could use a better backup point guard. The market has mostly dried up for Sessions. And the Bucks, who no longer have a place for Sessions, would love to get return for him. There’s definitely a chance for a deal to be reached.”

The difficulty could be a logistical one.

Feldman also points out that, “Milwaukee can’t mindlessly take back an extra player in a trade,” as the organization already has 15 guaranteed contracts (along with non-guaranteed deals belonging to Kendall Marshall and Chris Wright).

Meanwhile, Morey is somewhat limited in terms of what he can offer.

Here’s what we know. James Harden, Dwight Howard, Patrick Beverley, Trevor Ariza and Terrence Jones aren’t going anywhere. At the moment, that’s Houston’s starting lineup, and it’s unlikely to undergo any significant alteration unless there emerges some opportunity to land another big name.

The rest of the Rockets’ roster is a hodgepodge of unproven or otherwise unattractive assets. Even if Sessions isn’t worth much, Milwaukee still needs some incentive to actually participate in a deal.

One solution may be Donatas Motiejunas, a 7-foot Lithuanian entering his third season. The 23-year-old was acquired in the 2011 draft-night trade that also sent point guard Jonny Flynn to Houston and is scheduled to make just $1,483,920 this season.

Motiejunas averaged 5.5 points and 3.6 rebounds in just 15.4 minutes per game last season, but his big selling point remains upside. 

Having shown some flashes of outside shooting ability, Motiejunas could develop into a legitimate floor-spacing big man. And in today’s NBA, there’s a huge premium on those guys.

For the record, Motiejunas has made just 26.9 percent of his career three-point attempts. He’s still a work in progress.

But he’s also young, and his potential to develop into a consistent contributor just might grab Milwaukee’s attention.

Absent the cap flexibility to sign someone like Sessions outright, Houston may be forced to prematurely pull the plug on its Motiejunas experiment—the closest thing the organization has to an undeveloped long-term project.

Formidable as Houston’s starting lineup may be, this is a team that needs a reliable presence in its second unit—and all the more so in the backcourt. Besides Smith, the Rockets’ other options to back up Beverley currently include second-round pick Nick Johnson and the still untested Isaiah Canaan, who’s entering his second season.

Sessions is precisely the kind of veteran who could stabilize the Rockets rotation and provide insurance behind Beverley, who was limited by injury to just 56 games a season ago.

Harden made a few headlines in July saying, per The Philippine Star‘s Joaquin Henson that, “Dwight (Howard) and I are the cornerstones of the Rockets. The rest of the guys are role players or pieces that complete our team.”

But without the right role players, this team is anything but complete.

Sessions could quietly become a significant step toward changing that.

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