Jones expects new arrivals to help LSU into NCAAs

LSU coach optimistic new talent will help end Tigers’ 6-year NCAA tournament drought

      
 

 

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Duncan, Parker help Spurs beat Fenerbahce Ulker (Yahoo Sports)

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - OCTOBER 11: Tony Parker #9 of the San Antonio Spurs drives against Bogdan Bogdanovic #13 of Fenerbahce Ulker during the game as part of the NBA Global Games on October 11, 2014 at the Ulker Sports Arena in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

ISTANBUL (AP) — Tim Duncan had 23 points and Tony Parker added 22 to help the San Antonio Spurs beat Fenerbahce Ulker 96-90 in an exhibition game Saturday night.


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Could the NBA’s New TV Deal Help the Cavaliers Land a 4th Superstar?

The NBA‘s new TV deal will mean a higher salary cap in a few years, which could help the rich get richer throughout the league. Could a bigger cap help the Cleveland Cavaliers add yet another star to their already formidable Big Three?

Howard Beck joins Stephen Nelson to weigh in on the topic in the video above.

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How Dirk Nowitzki’s New Shot Release Will Help His Production

Speed and strength have never been the calling card of Dallas Mavericks superstar Dirk Nowitzki. Footwork, craftiness and one of the deadliest jump shots ever have carried him for 16 NBA seasons and will one day lead him into the Hall of Fame. 

Without superior athletic gifts, Nowitzki has also relied on a constant tinkering of his game in the offseason to keep defenders off-balance. According to Nowitzki, via ESPN.com‘s Marc Stein, the latest adjustment is a quicker jump shot release. 

In his earlier days, Dirk was a pure catch-and-shoot big that stretched immobile centers and power forwards all the way to the perimeter.

After earning respect as a shooter, the closeouts tightened. Dirk responded in kind by developing a pump-and-go game, drawing defenders in the air and deftly slipping to the rim or pulling up from the mid-range area.

Then came the matchup changes. His mobility and ball-handling were largely unheard of for a 7-footer, but his lack of physicality left him incapable against quicker forwards. He couldn’t blow by them and they could contest his jumpers, leaving him without an offensive response despite a clear height advantage.

That’s when the post-up game first began to appear. If defenses threw smaller players on him, he responded by walking them down to the block and calling for the ball. His arsenal of quick spins, face-up jumpers and one-legged fadeaways left defenders guessing.

It’s largely why Miami struggled to contain him in the 2011 NBA Finals, and how he willed an inferior roster to an upset and the NBA championship.

Chris Bosh was quick enough to handle Dirk, just not long enough. Udonis Haslem was certainly strong enough, but his lateral quickness was poor. LeBron James had the speed and strength, but he was only 6’8″.

Now at 36 years old, Dirk is fine-tuning his skills to match his diminishing athleticism. No longer able to deal with the brutal physicality of the post or the growing speed of today’s bigs on a nightly basis, he’s looking for a new edge. 

A quicker release might just be that answer.

Last season, Dirk was his usual self: 21.7 points per game on 49.7 percent shooting from the field and 39.8 percent from three-point range. But his total threes per game ticked up significantly to 4.1, the highest total since his early days in the league when he was primarily a spot-up shooter. 

That was due to the physical toll of his offensive burden over the years—he’s been a primary scorer and creator for more than a decade. Now he’s reverting to his less demanding roots by hoisting up more threes. After once shedding the comfort of the three-point arc to evolve as a scorer, he’s finally reversing course. 

But if the Mavericks hope to achieve anything significant before Dirk retires, he’ll need to find that careful balance between reducing his burden while not losing his role as a primary threat. 

Nowitzki, after all, is the crucial piece to any Dallas championship puzzle. Saving his legs is a worthwhile goal in the long run, but regular-season success and comfortable playoff seeding still require his playing at full throttle. 

The Western Conference is too talented for anything less than his best. 

That dilemma will be partially solved by a stronger roster, according to Mavs Moneyball:

What can you say that hasn’t already said about Dirk? Another healthy year will hopefully not see any decline in his play and, with Chandler Parsons, Mark Cuban says the scoring burden should be distributed even more evenly. Still, Dirk has been working this summer on a faster release, exemplifying the Larry Bird-like work ethic he’s always had. With more firepower behind him that perhaps he’s ever had, Dirk should be well rested without having to carry the team.

The quicker release can also play a large role. One of Dirk’s favorite moves, the fadeaway jumper from the post-up position, is an impressive feat that appears largely non-contact. He’s jumping away from his defender to create separation.

In this case, the victim is Markieff Morris of the Phoenix Suns.

But that is only set up by drives to the basket to loosen up the defense.

Earlier in this particular game, Dirk was dominating Phoenix’s defense by barreling his way to the rim as a response to Phoenix’s ball pressure.

In the post-up below, notice how Channing Frye is all up in Dirk’s face when he turns toward the rim. Frye is all but daring him to put the ball on the floor.

It’s plays like these that create the requisite room for his jumper. 

In this case, Dirk shakes off Frye only to find himself relatively free. Better defenses send multiple defenders at Dirk and force him to be a distributor, making him power through multiple bodies and extra layers of contact.

We can safely assume that Dirk isn’t looking to absorb this type of beating on a nightly basis, especially if he plans to last 82 games and (hopefully) through multiple playoff series.

With less room to shoot, then, he’s left with two options: Take more difficult jumpers or change his timing. 

The classic high-arcing, high-release Nowitzki jumper is beautiful to watch but time-consuming to complete. His height and fadeaways counter this effect, but the growing athleticism among NBA bigs is cutting into his leeway. 

Nowitzki’s tedious shooting process mostly derives from his prolonged release. It’s easy for him to launch the ball with just a flick of the wrist, so he tends to hold off doing so until he’s leaning well away from his defender. 

The drawback is that defenders can put him in compromising positions by occupying the space he’s leaving and leaping to contest from that spot. That’s what Kawhi Leonard does here against Dirk’s one-legger, nearly blocking the shot by simply sliding closer to Dirk as he evacuates. 

Dirk’s mastery of this particular shot is unparalleled, but it’s hardly the bread and butter of a high-functioning scorer. In small doses, it can keep defenders close and open up driving lanes. As a main offensive course, it doesn’t work.

Release the shot quicker and Dirk might have something more sustainable. Not only would it cut down on the pure distance of the shot, it would throw off a defender’s timing. 

Remember that the fadeaway is drawn out, allowing defenders to time up contests easily. If he’s launching it a tick sooner or at different intervals, mistimed jumps or non-contests will become more frequent. In best-case scenarios, he’ll draw fouls from overzealous leapers. 

Then there’s the pick-and-pop with Monta Ellis, another key area of scoring for Dirk that could use a faster trigger. Defensive bigs tend to stay with Dirk when he floats out to three-point line after picks, and he’s left with very little room to shoot the ball. 

Five years ago, he used one explosive dribble to blow by players sticking him too closely. Dirk’s activity level on offense has understandably dropped off with age, and he’s no longer craving that kind of action at the rim. 

Firing the ball a bit quicker is the natural solution. Notice the rhythm here, from the catch to the gather and finally to the shot. It’s slow. He drops the ball to his knees before starting his upward motion, an unfortunately common tactic that can mean the difference between a shot going up or not.

Hurrying this process up without losing technique is any shooter’s goal, and there’s little doubt that Dirk can fix it. 

As for the specific techniques of his improvement, we’ll only know those once the season comes around. Most likely, we’ll see him keep the ball high on the catch to cut down on the gather time. 

To be clear, there is virtually nothing wrong with Dirk’s jump shot. This type of modification is only the slightest of changes that even Dirk acknowledges might not be noticeable, per Stein:

I don’t think, to the naked eye, you would see it. I don’t know if the [average] fan will see the difference. But I’m always trying to get better, and this is just a little tool for me to shoot a little quicker. We’ll see how it works during the season.

If he pulls it off, it will be reflected most clearly in his shot selection. We might see a new type of fadeaway or a less calculating post move. We might see him try to get his shot off quickly and quietly, before his defender is ready and before the help can rotate.

It certainly won’t reshape his game, however, and it won’t lift his scoring to new heights.

What it will do is allow him to sustain a high level of play for at least a year or two more.

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Timberwolves hire shooting coach to help Rubio (Yahoo Sports)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Timberwolves have hired Mike Penberthy as a full-time shooting coach to help Ricky Rubio and the rest of the team with their shooting during the season.

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How Playing for Team USA Will Help Kenneth Faried’s Progress with Nuggets

After uncertainty regarding whether he would be the starting power forward on the Denver Nuggets last season, Kenneth Faried is now one of the stars for Team USA at the FIBA World Cup.

There’s no doubt just making the team is quite the experience. There’s the opportunity to represent your country, team up with the best NBA players in something other than the All-Star Game and improve your game overall.

But to go from someone who had an outside shot of making the roster to being a possible FIBA World Cup MVP? That’s remarkable, even if a handful of top-level USA players aren’t participating. 

How can this translate to the growth of “The Manimal” in Denver? 

 

Proving He’s an Elite NBA Player in a Unique Way

If you were to rank the power forwards in the NBA, where would you put Faried? Top 10?

It’s safe to say most would have guys like Kevin Love, Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis (despite the fact he’s at center for Team USA) and LaMarcus Aldridge ahead of him. Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki have more polished games with a lot more to show on their resume than Faried.

Even though this is a subjective question and it completely depends on how a player fits into a certain system, there’s something Faried possesses that no other power forward in the NBA has. That’s the best combination of athleticism, rebounding and consistent energy.

It’s no secret Team USA is the most athletic squad at the FIBA World Cup, which is mostly highlighted by Faried and Anthony Davis. So they will stand out.

But as Faried continues to demonstrate his motor and physical talents, he leads Team USA in player-efficiency rating (21.6), rebounds per game (7.8) and field-goal percentage (79.1). He’s second in points per game (13.8), blocks per game (1.0) and plus-minus differential (20.6, a team’s points versus their opponents’ when a player is on the court).

In terms of the efficiency statistics, you could chalk that up as Faried constantly catching alley-oops and taking most of his shots within a few feet of the rim.

But Faried is dominating on a roster filled with commonly labeled superstars like Stephen Curry, Derrick Rose and James Harden. Plus, guys like Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins are at least rising stars, if not further along.

Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski makes an important point in ESPN’s Marc Stein’s article about Faried. “Overall, from the start of training camp, he’s been the biggest and best surprise and has turned out to be a very, very important player for us. He’s made that happen. We never call a play for him.” 

There’s the key: “We never call a play for him.” 

Some people may think in order to be elite or a superstar, a player must be the face of a franchise, or he has to be a fully developed player. That’s a narrow-minded way to judge how valuable someone is to his team.

When Faried has the flexibility to be “The Manimal,” the team’s performance increases substantially. He doesn’t need others to make him better, but with greater talent around him, it is easier for him to pick his spots and do his thing.

Think about Dennis Rodman. While he had a stronger defensive game and weaker offensive skill set than Faried, he earned his high status by always owning the boards with his athleticism. 

Clearly, Krzyzewski understands that concept and how to get the best out of Faried.

His ability to consistently run the floor, play above the rim, create extra possessions on the offensive glass and energize his team is greater than any player in the NBA. That alone puts Faried in the upper tier of NBA big men.

But now he’s proving that his great numbers with the Nuggets over the last few seasons aren’t just because he’s on a team with average-to-decent talent. He’s doing it with some of the best players in the world.

Now consider all the strides Faried made under Nuggets head coach Brian Shaw at the end of last season. Not only did he post a terrific 19.8 points and 10.8 rebounds over his final 25 games, he converted a much-improved 38.8 percent of his attempts from 10-to-16 feet and evolved in pick-and-roll defense.

This is why the Team USA experience is crucial for a younger player like Faried, who has been involved in several trade rumors this offseason and during 2013-14. Adding last year’s progress to the confidence he’s gaining from playing with the best USA players and for a legendary coach in Krzyzewski, is extraordinary.

 

What It Means for Faried in Denver for the 2014-15 Season

As Bleacher Report’s D.J. Foster mentions in his piece on Faried, “His ceiling may be capped, but his floor is awfully high.”

This couldn’t be closer to the truth.

Faried may never develop a three-point shot like Love. He’s not going to be 6’11″ like Aldridge.

But it doesn’t matter.

Instead of focusing on Faried’s potential, as most people often do with athletes who have enormous athleticism, the attention should be on how much he improves a team. Even if it doesn’t come from scoring over 20 points each night, demanding to be double-teamed in the post or assists, his difference comes from a combination of statistics that are a result of his physical skills.

Faried’s time in the spotlight with Team USA is evidence that his original starting point in the NBA was so high that he’s automatically better than a significant number of players in the league. But that was overshadowed before with a shortage of fundamentals.

As for upside, after Faried’s tremendous progress last year over just one hectic season filled with Nuggets injuries, his ceiling might be higher than advertised. That’s especially true when you consider his desirable work ethic.

Furthermore, remember that Faried has spent most of his NBA career playing under George Karl alongside Timofey Mozgov, Kosta Koufos and JaVale McGee. Karl kept Faried and McGee on a fairly tight leash in terms of what they were allowed to do offensively.

But Faried is getting a chance to play next to Davis, who has rapidly grown into one of the best NBA frontcourt players.

Obviously McGee isn’t nearly in the same ballpark as Davis. However, if McGee can start to show some positive signs like Faried did last year under Shaw, Denver will arguably have the most athletic and dynamic duo in the NBA.

Even if that doesn’t happen, Faried’s run with Team USA is nothing but good news for the Nuggets. He’s flourishing with superb talent around him.

With McGee, Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari, J.J. Hickson and Nate Robinson all getting healthy to go with the return of Arron Afflalo to Denver, that’s a huge improvement to how the roster looked at the end of last year. That’s going to give Faried plenty of freedom to be great and get the franchise back to playoff contention.

By the end of the 2014-15 NBA season, Faried will no longer be noticed as someone on the rise. “The Manimal” will be recognized as an elite power forward.

 

All FIBA World Cup statistics per FIBA.com

All NBA statistics per Basketball-Reference.com

Nick Juskewycz is the Featured Columnist of the Denver Nuggets for Bleacher Report. Follow @NickJuskewycz

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Will Indiana Pacers’ Offseason Losses Help or Hurt Roy Hibbert’s Production?

Before the Indiana Pacers were worried about Lance Stephenson’s departure or Paul George‘s broken leg, they had major concerns surrounding mercurial center Roy Hibbert.

While the perimeter casualties will likely define Indiana’s 2014-15 season, getting the big man back on track should be the Pacers’ main priority.

His bipolar 2013-14 campaign included both a trip to the All-Star Game and a stint as the biggest punchline in basketball. At different times dominant and dreadful, Indy’s interior anchor struggled wearing any label consistently.

Rediscovering what made him a vital piece of the Pacers’ puzzle—the mastered art of verticality, supplemental scoring and glass work—was supposed to be key to the reigning Eastern Conference finalists retaining their NBA elite status. With Stephenson off to the Charlotte Hornets and George potentially lost for 2014-15, that option is no longer on the table.

This isn’t a matter of if the Pacers will take a step back, but rather how many.

For Hibbert, though, these losses could combine to form some type of an individual win. Simultaneous moves up the offensive pecking order and out of the NBA spotlight might be the perfect remedy to whatever ailed him last season.

The big man hit a major rough patch near the midpoint of the campaign, and he never really made it back on track.

Upon first glance, Indy’s offseason losses might seem like major threats to Hibbert’s stat sheet.

Without George and Stephenson, the Pacers are out 35.5 points, 14 rebounds and 8.1 assists a night. Indy’s already pedestrian scoring attack (22nd in efficiency) and passing game (26th in assist percentage) lost its top two contributors.

That could mean stopping Hibbert will climb the priority list for opposing defenses.

However, a featured role—or at least a supporting one behind David West—might be exactly what Hibbert needs.

Lost in the story of his dramatic decline was just how far he had fallen out of the Pacers’ offensive game plan. His 9.3 field-goal attempts per game were the fewest since his rookie season, and when stretched out on a per-36-minutes scale, they were the lowest of his career (11.3).

Before his infamous “selfish dudes” swipe at unnamed teammates, he spoke of the importance of someone reducing their own role for the betterment of the team.

“I can’t be selfish,” he said earlier in the season, via Pacers.com’s Mark Montieth. “Somebody has to sacrifice. I have to sacrifice for this team. Would anybody like to get 15 shots a game? Yeah. You’re a human being and you have feelings, but you have to play through it and do what’s best for the team.”

The sentiment might have come from the right place, but the effects of that sacrifice seemed to linger. As his offensive involvement dipped, so did his impact in other areas.

The 7’2″, 290-pound mountain of a man finished two regular season games and two playoff contests without a single rebound in his stat line. Altogether, his 12.5 rebounding percentage was the second-worst mark of his career.

Even worse, his confidence seemed to nosedive faster than his production:

But perhaps he was plagued by the knowledge he could do not only do better but also so much more.

As Indy’s offense collectively sputtered, it couldn’t have been easy to keep giving up shots to guys who weren’t converting theirs. Hibbert isn’t an electric scorer by any stretch, but his previous four seasons saw him put up 12.2 points on 47.3 percent shooting. He had proved himself reliable enough to not have fallen out of the offensive picture as rapidly as he did.

“He can score and if you get him the ball, he will score,” Pacers consultant Donnie Walsh told SiriusXM NBA Radio’s Brian Geltzeiler and Noah Coslov (via Vigilant Sports’ Scott Agness).

Finding scoring chances should no longer be a struggle.

Even if West takes over the role of No. 1 option, it’s hard to picture anyone else standing in Hibbert’s way. George Hill showed even less assertiveness than Hibbert last season (8.1 field-goal attempts per game). The players most likely to fill the minutes vacated by George and Stephenson—Rodney Stuckey, C.J. Miles, Damjan Rudez, Solomon Hill—have neither the talent nor the track record to take the ball out of Hibbert’s hands.

“Hibbert will more readily develop a rhythm almost by default,” wrote Bleacher Report’s Stephen Babb. “Without George and Stephenson running the offense, head coach Frank Vogel will be forced into operating from the post more frequently.”

Not only are more touches likely to come Hibbert’s way, he should also be better equipped to take advantage of them.

At the behest of Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird, Hibbert spent part of his summer learning from Hall of Fame center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Considering that Hibbert’s most preferred and productive shot type was the hook last season (39 percent of his total field goals, converted at a 57-percent clip), it’s hard to imagine a better teacher than the sky-hook savant.

Abdul-Jabbar, the most prolific scorer in NBA history, was also an expert distributor. He averaged 4.5 assists per game over his first 11 seasons in the league, and Hibbert could do a lot with a better passing touch considering the double teams that may be coming at him in 2014-15.

In terms of chemistry and comfort, Hibbert should find himself in a much better place moving forward.

Once a seemingly tight-knit group, Indy’s locker room seemed to dissolve over the course of last season. The Pacers’ Andrew Bynum experiment may have helped kick-start Hibbert’s tailspin. And Indiana’s bigs weren’t the only ones having problems.

Bynum is gone now, and so are Stephenson’s antics. Throw in the lack of expectations surrounding this team, and Hibbert could be as comfortable as he’s been in a while.

He’ll ultimately decide how much his numbers can improve going forward, but the Pacers will provide him ample opportunity to get back on track. Indiana needs him at his best, either to keep him as a cornerstone for the future or to build his value high enough to flip him on the open market.

With two years and $30.4 million left on his contract (second season is a player option), via ShamSports.com, the Pacers can’t afford to have the Hibbert they don’t want and no one else does, either. The 2014-15 season is about finding their difference-making defensive centerpiece and offensive secret weapon.

Indiana’s summer took some unexpected turns, but it will still pick up next season where it left off after the last onewaiting for the real Roy Hibbert to return. This time around, there’s a chance it could find something even better.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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Clues from Chris Bosh’s Raptors Days Can Help Miami Heat Next Season

One of the primary questions hanging over the Miami Heat’s 2014-15 season is how Chris Bosh will acquit himself as the team’s chief offensive weapon, which, with LeBron James in Cleveland and Dwyane Wade on the wane, is presumably what he’ll be.

To a great extent, the Heat’s year will hinge on how well Bosh performs in this new, expanded role. If he can produce like a star, Miami might turn out quite a bit better than the 44-win/No. 6 seed projection ESPN.com’s summer forecasters have it pegged for. If he plays like a third option who’s been thrust by attrition into a larger role than he’s fit for, the Heat could struggle mightily.

“I want to see if I can do what’s necessary to go in there and win every night,” Bosh told The Associated Press (via Tim Reynolds of NBC 6 South Florida) after James decamped. “That’s the challenge of being a leader. It excites me. It’s been a long time, and I feel like I’m a much better player and a leader now, so it’ll be fun.”

So how will it turn out? Bosh’s time as a Toronto Raptor is instructive here. While it was five years, two titles and 13,000 NBA minutes ago, Bosh’s Raptor career can provide some clues as to how he will handle the heavier offensive load.

First, it’s worth revisiting just how effective Bosh was in Toronto. Over the course of his seven seasons north of the border, CB4 averaged 20.2 points and 9.4 rebounds. And he accomplished this while carrying a team whose roster oscillated between putrid and mediocre.

Consider the performance Bosh submitted in 2006-07, his age 22 season. He averaged 22.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists and led the Raptors to a 47-35 record—then a tie for the best mark in franchise history—and the Atlantic Division crown. He was rewarded with a second-team All-NBA berth.

This was a remarkable feat. The Raptors second best player that season—by measure of Basketball-Reference.com’s win shares—was Anthony Parker, who was 31 years old and had just spent the previous six seasons playing professional basketball in Israel. Goodness, Andrea Bargnani played over 1,600 minutes for that group.

This was a bad basketball team. And Bosh, through sheer force of will—and a lot of points and rebounds—somehow got them to 47 wins, earning Bryan Colangelo Executive of the Year and Sam Mitchell Coach of the Year. (Those are Chris Bosh’s awards. They should rightly be sitting in his trophy case right now.)

But what was most interesting about Bosh’s efficacy in Toronto—and what augers well for his chances of carrying Miami’s offense this coming season—wasn’t just its extent but its nature. Though Bosh is now widely, and rightly, known for his mid-range game, in the early parts of his career, he played much closer to the basket.

In the aforementioned 2006-07 campaign, Bosh attempted 34.8 percent of his shots from within three feet of the hoop, according to Basketball-Reference.com. For his Raptors career, Bosh took 34.2 percent of his shots from that close range, compared to just 27.5 since he landed in South Beach.

There’s reason to think that, with the Miami offense running through Bosh in 2014-15, he’ll return to these roots. For starters, playing along LeBron and Wade, Bosh’s mid-range shooting created a synergy that drove the Miami offense. His ability to knock down 18-footers pulled opposing bigs away from the paint, opening slashing lanes for James and Wade, in turn creating more space for Bosh to shoot.

But with LeBron LeGone, and Bosh presumably responsible for more direct point creation, the mid-range game is too inefficient to make up a large percentage of his shots. Bosh will have to return to the paint.

Fortunately for Miami, there’s reason to believe he will thrive there. Last season, according to NBA.com, the center finished fourth among qualified players in field-goal percentage from within five feet of the basket. Only LeBron, Kevin Durant and Deandre Jordan bettered Bosh’s 69.7 percent mark from that range. Suffice it to say, that’s good company.

If Bosh can shoot more often from that range without forfeiting much efficiency, he’ll give the Miami O a serious—and seriously needed—post-James boost.

This proximity to the basket could also have a secondary effect that benefits Bosh and the Heat. According to the Washington Post’Seth Partnow, Bosh’s rebounding could get a boost:

As a primary scoring option this season, one with more low- and mid-post scoring chances, Bosh will likely end up close to the basket. This in turn will likely increase his ability to secure offensive rebounds.

In Toronto, while Bosh was more active around the bucket, he had an offensive-rebounding percentage of 8.5. In Miami, it dropped to 6.1.

This all points to a conclusion Bosh would be wise to keep top of mind this season. If he hopes to keep the Heat’s prospects from going south, he needs to remember the lessons he learned north of the border.

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UNC Basketball: Will Preseason All-American Pressure Help or Hurt Marcus Paige?

Practice doesn’t begin for five weeks, and the opening tip is still more than two months away, but the accolades have already started coming in for North Carolina junior Marcus Paige.

Earlier this week Blue Ribbon Magazine released its 2014-15 College Basketball Notebook, which featured Paige in the middle of its cover showing its preseason All-American team. Paige was joined on the first team by fellow ACC players Malcolm Brogdon of Virginia and Montrezl Harrell of Louisville, Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Wichita State’s Fred Van Vleet.

After the breakout season that Paige put together, this early All-American nod is likely to be one of many as increased expectations are put on the 6’1″ guard. Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News has tabbed Paige as the top returning point guard in the country after he averaged 17.5 points and 4.2 assists per game and was more or less Carolina’s only reliable weapon:

“Marcus Paige managed to enjoy an excellent sophomore season while bouncing between running the North Carolina offense and being the North Carolina offense.”

Paige is sure to get named to other lists and all-star teams, but such mentions don’t ensure success. What they do guarantee, though, is a raised awareness about a player and heightened scrutiny, something that could help boost a player to the next level or knock them down a peg.

Which way will it go for Paige?

The answer will come as the result of two main variables, one of which Paige can control and the other that he can only watch as it unfolds.

First, the latter: With a star-studded three-man recruiting class joining the Tar Heels roster, Paige looks to have some significant help coming in that will dramatically lessen his need to do it all. Point guard Joel Berry brings the ability to either spell Paige at the point or enable him to move over to the 2, where he can create more for himself without having to worry about finding opportunities for his teammates.

And in wings Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson, Paige will have a pair of teammates that can be explosive in transition and with their ability to use length to get to the rim. All of that will likely lead to Paige scoring at least a few points less per game in 2014-15.

This means Paige won’t have to do as much, but that’s where the other side of the coin comes into play. With the added expectations and notoriety, could Paige look at this scenario as one where he still feels he needs to be the guy and, therefore, tries to take on more than is needed? If he does, it could lead to offensive confusion when he tries to dominate the looks and others are ready and able to contribute.

Paige seems like he’s handling the brighter spotlight pretty well so far. He told Turner Walston of GoHeels.com that the added attention on him is a sign of how good UNC will be this year, not just how well he is expected to perform. “People being excited of our basketball here is a good thing,” he said. “And I think we’re going to prove to a lot of people that they have good reason to be excited.”

How Paige fares this fall and winter will go a long way toward determining how Carolina’s season goes. What will be the key is whether player/team performance has a direct correlation or if it’s more just part of the process.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Will Triangle Offense Help Reboot Iman Shumpert’s Stalled NY Knicks Career?

Nobody on the New York Knicks needs a bigger change than Iman Shumpert. It’s been getting hard to watch. 

And it’s frustrating—because you know he can do better than 6.7 points a game on 37.8 percent shooting. You just don’t get progressively worse from your first to third NBA season—not after the promise he flashed as an impact two-way rookie—unless something clearly isn’t right. 

In this case, it’s been Shumpert‘s role and fit in the offense that’s forced him to play to his weaknesses as a shot creator. 

Through passing and off-ball action, the triangle offense, which will be implemented by Phil Jackson and taught by new head coach Derek Fisher, should help create cleaner looks for players who otherwise struggle to create themselves.

It should also eliminate over-dribbling, one-on-one basketball and low-percentage looks. It’s all about movement—not just the ball, but the players—as well as spacing and angles. The Knicks finished ranked No. 28 in the NBA last year in assists, a reflection of just how stagnant their offense really was.

Shumpert explained the new system and its perks to Ian Begley and Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN New York:

The way it’s set up, you can start three guards, it really doesn’t matter. Everybody’s going to get touches, everybody gets opportunities to cut. It’s constant action going on. So I think that I’ll be able to capitalize on that and I’ll be able to use my athleticism a lot more than standing in the corner.

With the triangle, the goal is that the ball finds the player in scoring position, as opposed to Mike Woodson’s offense, which frequently forced the player to have to create his own scoring opportunities.

This is certainly good news for Shumpert, who’s at his best slashing and spotting up from outside—not falling away for a step-back or crossing over into a pull-up jumper.

The triangle should increase and ultimately create more scoring opportunities for Shumpert in the areas of the game he thrives in.

On one side of the floor, you have your triangle, which opens up lanes and angles for players to pass and cut through.

Once a player cuts through, he then sets a screen for someone else and eventually rotates around. Like Shumpert said, you won’t see him camping out as much while Carmelo Anthony goes to work. 

On the other half of the floor, there is plenty of space with only two players occupying the entire weak side. 

A quick ball reversal could open up opportunities in the two-man game (with plenty of space to operate in), whether it’s a pick-and-roll, dribble handoff or a backdoor cut:

Given his skill set and athleticism, Shumpert could really flourish as one of the Knicks’ cutters, slashers or drivers in the triangle or two-man game. 

ESPN’s Begley noted how Shumpert could fill the Ron Harper role—another big guard who fit the triangle as an opportunistic playmaker for Phil Jackson in Chicago. Don’t forget Shump ran the point in college, and at 6’5″, he’s got the size and versatility to operate from multiple spots on the floor. 

From an X’s and O’s standpoint, the new system sure seems to favor Shumpert on paper. However, it’s the fresh sense of hope it offers that might ultimately help reignite his confidence.

It’s a change. No more showing up at work to follow the same instructions and routes that he’d been struggling to convert into consistent production. 

This triangle should help breathe some new life into Shumpert, who’s seemingly lost his sense of purpose at the offensive end. 

The Knicks don’t need him to go out there and drop 20. Shump‘s at his best when he’s active and that adrenaline is pumping. It leads to on-ball steals, putback slams and points in bunches off jumpers.

And this new triangle offense is going to keep him more involved.

The Knicks weren’t able to add much this offseason, though the Jose Calderon pickup is a significant upgrade. Still, an effective Shumpert would go a long way for a lineup deprived of two-way players and reliable complementary scorers.

And maybe a completely new system is just what he needs to reboot his stalled career in New York.

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