Marcus Smart in Prime Position to Benefit from Rajon Rondo’s Injury

For Rajon Rondo, the timing of his broken hand stinks. It should force him to miss training camp and some early regular-season action. 

But every injury creates an opportunity, and in this case, it’s going to good use.

Rookie Marcus Smart should now be looking at a major bump in minutes in Rondo’s absence—valuable minutes as the Boston Celtics‘ primary decision-maker. 

Decision-making was Smart’s glaring weakness at Oklahoma State. He put up all sorts of numbers, but his questionable pass-to-shot selection led to frustrating inefficiency.

Extra early-season reps can’t hurt his development—maybe the team’s record, but not Smart’s transition and path into the pros. 

He can certainly hold his own from a physical standpoint. 

While there are rookies who typically need to be eased in, Smart isn’t one of them. Having weighed in at 227 pounds and measured a 6’9″ wingspan at the NBA combine, his fearless, punishing style of play should suit him well as a rookie. 

Chances are Smart even gives this team a defensive boost right away. He’s a guy who can make things happen with ball pressure, anticipation and energy. 

But in terms of his offensive development, it’s important that Smart gets time playing on the ball because that’s where his upside lies. He’s only 6’3.25″, and he struggles as a shooter, which limits his upside at the 2-guard position. 

He’ll still get minutes there, thanks to his dangerous attack game and two-way versatility, but if the Celtics want to get the most out of Smart long term, it’s gotta be at point guard. That’s the position where all his upside lies, given the mismatch he’s got the potential to present once he refines his playmaking and floor game. 

Despite his strong passing instincts, Smart doesn’t have all that much experience running the point. He was a 2-guard in high school, and in college, he was forced into more of a score-first role. 

His assist-to-turnover ratios and pure-point ratings were both subpar in each of his two years in college. He actually spent time all over the floor, from the point to the wing to the post.

Last season, Smart was only used in pick-and-roll sets on 21.5 percent of his possessions at Oklahoma State, per DraftExpress‘ Matt Kamalsky. Most of his assist opportunities as a playmaker were of the drive-and-kick variety. 

And the quicker he realizes how important a pull-up jumper can be for point guards, the better. He only hit 28.8 percent of his pull-ups (via DraftExpressKamalsky) last season. This is a shot he’ll need to capitalize on in the pros, particularly as a ball-handler dribbling over screens. 

As a shooter, Smart is capable—just not consistent or reliable. And part of that has to do with shot selection. Smart ultimately took more contested shots than open ones last season, per DraftExpressKamalsky, a likely factor in his 42.2 percent field-goal clip.

He at least seems to understand the problem. “Take better shots. I took a lot of tough shots in college,” Smart said when asked how he plans on improving as a shooter, via the Boston Celtics’ Twitter

With Phil Pressey and Evan Turner, two guys who can handle the rock while Rondo is out of the lineup, Smart is bound to see minutes off the ball as well, a role that really requires outside shot-making.

Sharing a backcourt with Pressey in Orlando Summer League, Smart’s erratic jumper contributed to his ugly 29.4 percent field-goal clip. Maybe the early reps could give him the chance to ultimately knock down some shots and build his confidence.

Still, if Smart is ever going to evolve into an adequate shooter, it’s probably not going to happen for a few years. 

At the end of the day, this opportunity with Rondo out ultimately allows Smart to start the trial-and-error process early in his career—to see what works versus what doesn’t.

It’s picking up the speed at which defenders hedge or learning when to take a floater over a hard drive. It’s getting down the timing as a pick-and-roll facilitator and figuring out when to push the tempo.

All of these adjustments require on-the-job training, and with Rondo on the shelf, Smart should benefit from the extra touches. 

It’s likely to result in bumps and mistakes while he gets his feet wet, but Rondo won’t be out for long. The opportunity would just be a taste of what it’s like to run an NBA offense against a starting NBA unit. 

When Rondo returns, which could be around two weeks into the season, Smart will be able to retreat back into a secondary role to process and hopefully apply what he’s learned as a featured playmaker. 

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Lakers Injury Update: Xavier Henry will not be ready for training camp

Los Angeles Lakers forward Xavier Henry will not be healthy as the team begins training camp on Tuesday. After right knee surgery in mid-April, the 23-year-old is still rehabbing and isn’t quite ready to take the court. Henry’s left wrist, which he also had surgery on in the same time period, is completely healed.Mark D. Smith/USA Today SportsHead coach Byron Scott told reporters earlier this month that it was unlikely Henry would be healthy for the beginning of training camp. While there is no current timetable on Henry’s return to the court, he has been limited to running on a weight-bearing treadmill.Henry, who played on three different teams in the first four years of his career, finally found a home with the Lakers. Henry averaged 10 points and three rebounds in about 21 minutes per game last season in his first significant role since entering the league in 2010. The Lakers re-signed him to a one-year deal this offseason, and he is expected to get minutes at both …

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Heat Injury Update: Danny Granger reveals he had knee surgery months ago

Newly acquired Miami Heat forward Danny Granger revealed at Heat media day on Friday that he had knee surgery two months ago. Granger will be on a “maintenance program” similar to Dwyane Wade was last season, but will likely play in the second half of back-to-backs. He expects to be ready for the regular season. Getty ImagesDanny Granger reveals he had knee surgery 2 months ago but will be ready for reg season opener— Barry Jackson (@flasportsbuzz) September 26, 2014Granger has been plagued by numerous knee injuries, and has not played a full season in three years. As a result, he has predictably struggled, and has not been the 20 point per game scorer he once was. Granger was able to contribute at the end of last season however, helping the Los Angeles Clippers in their playoff run with solid defense and 35% shooting from deep.The 31-year-old forward is expected to play a significant role for the Heat this upcoming season, presumably as a sixth man. The Heat signed Grange…

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Tyreke Evans Injury: Updates on Pelicans Star’s Hamstring and Return

The New Orleans Pelicans play their first game of the 2014-15 season on October 28 against Orlando, and it appears there is a chance star shooting guard Tyreke Evans won’t be able to suit up for that contest.

According to Jody Gennessy of Deseret News, Evans will miss a significant amount of time with a strained right hamstring: 

Evans had a strong 2013-14 season, his first with the Pelicans after spending four years with the Sacramento Kings. He started in all 72 games he played in and averaged 14.5 points, 4.7 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.2 steals per game.

As Gennessy noted, Jimmer Fredette—also a former King—will have a chance to step in and take on a bigger role in the preseason, but he will face stiff competition for minutes with proven veteran guards Eric Gordon and Dionte Christmas in the fold.

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How Does Rajon Rondo’s Injury Affect His Already Shaky Standing with Celtics?

As if Rajon Rondo‘s standing with the Boston Celtics wasn’t already complicated enough. 

While many teams throughout the league were participating in media day, news broke that the All-Star point guard had injured his hand, as first reported by Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe

Well, this wasn’t supposed to happen. 

Rondo’s health was already a major concern, seeing as he spent the second half of the 2013-14 season trying to play himself back into shape following his rehab from the torn ACL he suffered during the previous campaign. In 30 games, he averaged 11.7 points, 5.5 rebounds and 9.8 assists per contest, but he shot only 40.3 percent from the field and 28.9 percent percent from beyond the arc. 

The rebuilding Celtics didn’t exactly commit to him in the offseason, either. 

Not only did general manager Danny Ainge re-sign Avery Bradley to a surprisingly large deal, ensuring that the defensive ace would remain in Beantown for a while longer, but the C’s used their first-round selection in a loaded draft on Marcus Smart, a point guard from Oklahoma State. 

All of a sudden, the backcourt was rather crowded, and that became all the impetus that was needed for Rondo to find himself back in the rumor mill. Now that he’s injured heading into the season, it just furthers that while giving Smart an opportunity to prove his value and simultaneously decrease Rondo’s. 

The whisperings about a trade began when Boston writer Jackie MacMullan said on ESPN’s Around the Horn (h/t James Herbert of CBS Sports), “He’s told them [the Celtics] he wants out. And no one believes me, but that’s the truth.”

That report was rebuffed by some, but it was tacitly supported by others, including CSNNE.com’s A Sherrod Blakely, who explained that a trade could come to fruition down the road: Multiple league and team sources agree the most likely scenario has Rondo beginning the season in Boston. Then, depending on how the team does, both sides will mutually agree to either ride it out or part ways sooner rather than later.”

And how about what was directly said by the Boston front office? 

First, Ainge, speaking with reporters, as relayed by Telegram.com’s Bill Doyle, indicated that he intended to keep Rondo, but he also wouldn’t rule out any alternatives:

The truthful answer is I really don’t know. I have no intention. I’m not trying to trade Rondo, but because he’s a free agent this summer, he assured me that he wants to stay in Boston. We’d love to keep him in Boston.

[...]

The possibility of a trade is not out of the question. Nobody is untradeable, but I don’t see that happening.

And Boston owner Wyc Grousbeck, courtesy of CSNNE.com

Absolutely it’s my goal to keep Rondo here. We all want that, and I actually honestly think—he should speak for himself—I think Rajon wants to stay and would be very happy to stay. We’ll see how the season goes and how the negotiations go, but he’s proud to be a Celtic, I know that, and he’s proud to win that ring, and he deserved it.

Maybe I’m reading too far between the lines, but doesn’t a goal to keep someone in a certain location imply there’s a chance he leaves? And not just any chance, but a greater-than-you-would-find-with-the-typical-player type of chance. 

Additionally, we’ve had speculative pieces about why Boston should move him, like this one from Boston.com’s Jeremy Gottlieb. Marc Stein of ESPN.com has already speculated that the Houston Rockets, who are starting Patrick Beverley at the point, could attempt to acquire the All-Star floor general. 

Most recently—at least most recently prior to the breaking news, injury-related pun intended—Ainge vehemently denied that the Celtics were actively looking to move Rondo, per MassLive.com’s Jay King:

Trade rumors forever shadow Rajon Rondo, and an expiring contract has only added to the speculation about his future.

But at least publicly, Boston Celtics decision-makers continue to agree: They want Rondo around beyond his current contract.

‘Are you seriously asking me that again?’ president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said Tuesday morning before a Shamrock Foundation charity golf tournament at Dedham Country and Polo Club. ‘Yeah, we expect Rajon to be in Boston for the long term. Does that need to be asked anymore by anybody ever again?’

‘I expect the best year of his career,’ Ainge added. ‘He’s worked really hard this summer and I think Rondo’s going to have the best year of his life. That’s what I expect.’

It does have to be asked again, largely because Rondo is no longer going to enjoy the best year of his career. Not with a surgically repaired hand that needed to be rested throughout training camp, causing him to miss preseason and forcing him to the sidelines for the start of the regular season. 

As Holmes reported, Rondo is now expected to miss between six and eight weeks with that left metacarpal fracture. Six weeks from the initial news puts us at Nov. 7. Eight weeks pushes us all the way back to Nov. 21. 

If the former is the case, Rondo would return against the Indiana Pacers‘ suffocating defense, which leaves him missing the first four games of the regular season. The more conservative estimate has him playing his first game against the Memphis Grizzlies, once more boasting a devastating defense. In that scenario, he’d be sitting out for the first 10 contests of the year. 

Either way, that’s not a lot. At least, it wouldn’t be if these missed outings were scattered throughout the campaign or coming in a block during the middle of the year. But the beginning of the season is the worst time to sit out, especially when it involves losing out on those crucial team-building opportunities that come just prior to the season’s opening tip-off. 

There are plenty of new faces in Boston, as well as young ones with whom Rondo’s previous injuries have prevented him from establishing chemistry. He’s still such a good facilitator that he’s able to rack up the dimes, nonetheless, but it was abundantly clear last season that the Celtics offense wasn’t operating at 100 percent, even with him on the floor. 

The key behind all of this is Rondo’s contract, which has already made his future in Beantown tenuous at best.

It expires at the end of this year, and there will be little reason for a then-29-year-old point guard to return to a rebuilding organization with a promising prospect at the same position. Loyalty would be the biggest motivating factor, but that didn’t keep Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett or Ray Allen in town after they hit the open market during the post-ring portion of their careers. Yes, Pierce and Garnett were technically traded, but it’s not as though they didn’t want to leave.  

And that’s why Boston has to look into moving him now. If the team was passively answering the phone and hoping for a convincing offer while maintaining that the long-term plans involved keeping Rondo on the roster, it’s now time to actively seek out trading partners and deal him while he still has the most value. 

Even with an injury, Rondo is an appealing product, simply because he’s an established commodity. The increasingly fragile nature of his frame is a concern, but what he can do when healthy is just too tempting. He can recover, then help out a new team down the stretch run, playing himself back into shape on a stronger roster. 

Of course, Smart’s play is likely going to determine the course of action the Celtics take. With Rondo sitting on the bench, the former Cowboy should take on the starter’s role, as John Lucas and Phil Pressey don’t offer nearly as much upside. Bradley, meanwhile, isn’t suited for running the point.

If Smart struggles immensely, proving that the NCAA-to-NBA transition is a tough one for him, Rondo has a lot more value to the Celtics. He can serve as a mentor to Smart while keeping the seat warm for his younger teammate. But if Smart comes out of the gates strong, much like Michael Carter-Williams did last season en route to Rookie of the Year honors, then Rondo becomes exponentially more expendable during the rebuilding process. 

As of now, “tenuous” is still the word of choice when describing Rondo’s status with the Celtics. The trade rumors are going to pop up incessantly now, but there’s still too much uncertainty swirling around the organization for anything to become even remotely definitive. 

Until a certain rookie point guard shows what he can do during his first go-round in the Association, the smart decision for every party involved is to hold tight, remain patient and see what develops. All this injury to Rondo does is give Smart an opportunity to reveal whether the best course of action is sooner rather than later. 

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Rajon Rondo Injury: Updates on Celtics Star’s Broken Hand and Return

Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo reportedly broke his hand.

According to Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe, the four-time All-Star had surgery on Friday:

Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Rondo could be out for six weeks:

After tearing his ACL in January 2013, Rondo missed major parts of the last two seasons. He played in a combined 68 games between the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons.

The Celtics begin the 2014-15 regular season on Oct. 29 against the Brooklyn Nets.

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Paul George Injury: Updates on Pacers Star’s Recovery from Leg Surgery

Paul George recently took one of the first big steps in his recovery from his likely season-ending leg injury, as the Indiana Pacers forward has begun working out his upper body and is getting close to being off crutches entirely. 

“He’s down to one crutch or no crutches,” coach Frank Vogel told reporters Thursday at the Pacers’ annual golf event in Indianapolis (via ESPN). “For the past three or four weeks, he’s been doing core work, upper-body work in the weight room, and they want him to put weight on it.”

George, 24, suffered a compound fracture of the tibia and fibula bones in his right leg last month during a Team USA scrimmage in Las Vegas before the FIBA World Cup. Attempting to block a James Harden shot attempt, George’s leg bent awkwardly when his foot landed partially on the stanchion under the hoop, sending his body weight backward.

The two-time All-NBA star underwent emergency surgery the same night. He is widely expected to miss the entire 2014-15 season, though the Pacers have not ruled him out. In a recent interview with former Pacers great Reggie Miller, George indicated he’s feeling physically fine while admitting being away from the team will difficult.

“I’m feeling good. You know, this is probably still a tough time just because all the guys that are starting to show up at this point in the season,” George said, via Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star. “For the most part, were looking forward to this year to play alongside with me. And to not be out there with those guys, it’s a reality check at this point.”

Eastern Conference finalists each of the last two seasons, George’s injury and Lance Stephenson’s departure in free agency have the Pacers merely hoping to land a playoff spot. Indiana, which used George and Stephenson as co-lead ball-handlers in most high-priority offensive sets, will instead be reliant on George Hill and free-agent signee Rodney Stuckey.

The Pacers defense, which led the league in efficiency each of the last two seasons, is also likely to take a noticeable dip. George and Stephenson were widely viewed as the NBA’s best perimeter defending duo. George earned his second consecutive All-Defensive selection; Stephenson was a borderline All-Star in the first half. 

Hill is a plus defender in his own right, but Frank Vogel is going to be more reliant than ever on Roy Hibbert to clean up mistakes on the wing by using his body at the rim.

All things considered, everyone in the Pacers locker room and front office knows 2014-15 is already a wash. Indiana’s main concerns at this point are doing enough to sneak into the playoffs and ensuring George comes back at 100 percent health.

“I think this has been my approach every year, whether you’re a front-runner or an underdog,” Vogel said. “We have everything we need to compete at the highest level.”

Having signed a five-year maximum contract last September, the Pacers and George are together for the long haul. Once the crutches are a thing of the past, George can start getting to work on ensuring that haul will be fruitful.

 

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Shaun Livingston Injury: Updates on Warriors Guard’s Toe and Recovery

Golden State Warriors guard Shaun Livingston is expected to miss a majority of training camp as he continues to recover from offseason toe surgery, general manager Bob Myers announced Tuesday.   

Rusty Simmons of The San Francisco Chronicle first reported the news, noting it’s possible Livingston misses the entirety of camp:

Livingston, 29, underwent surgery on his right big toe on Aug. 13 and was initially expected to be out six-to-eight weeks. Given the timing of the injury, Myers’ pessimism isn’t much of a surprise. An eight-week injury would keep him out until the middle of October, so the main takeaway here is that Livingston is on the slow end of the initial timetable.

The Warriors open training camp in October. Their first of eight preseason contests is against the Los Angeles Clippers on Oct. 7 as part of a week-long stay in Los Angeles for games against both Staples Center tenants.

While odds remain in Livingston’s favor for returning before the regular season opens, his absence is a concern. The former first-round pick signed a three-year, $16 million deal with the Warriors in July and was their only offseason signing of great import.

An excellent passer and solid defender with more than enough length to go against both guard spots, Livingston fills a hole left by Jarrett Jack, whom the Warriors let walk during the 2013 offseason. The Warriors tried and failed to replace Jack with a revolving door of talent that included Steve Blake, Toney Douglas and Jordan Crawford.

Livingston’s injury has already cost him much of his offseason—he was diagnosed with the toe injury during his physical. The lengthier his absence the more difficult it’ll be for Livingston to establish a rhythm with starters Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson and gain the trust of new coach Steve Kerr.

As a member of the Brooklyn Nets in 2013-14, Livingston averaged 8.3 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists. It was by far the best he’s looked over a full season since suffering a gruesome knee injury in 2007 that nearly cost him his career.

His comeback story was inspiring, but with a new contract comes increased expectations. Livingston is a unique player. He shot six three-pointers all season and 54 times outside 15 feet, shooting 28.3 percent on those attempts, per NBA.com. Curry and Thompson are widely considered the NBA‘s best shooting backcourt; finding the right way to work all three together in the most efficient manner was always going to take time.

Kerr will not be able to entrust Livingston to run the second unit alone without its offensive efficiency dying. He’ll need to stagger Curry and Thompson’s minutes to have a shooter on the floor at all times, perhaps playing Curry off the ball a bit more than last season. 

“So I’m sure they have the game plan to make it work, and we have to be coachable and figure out how to put the pieces together and make the right plays,” Curry recently said, per Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group. “Coach and (his staff) have done their homework. I’m sure they’ll learn on the job obviously, but they know based on our roster what to do to put us in the best position to win, so we’ve got to accept that.”

Finding the right balance here will be key. The fit was a bit of a question mark many raised at the time of Livingston’s signing. With the injury keeping him out possibly into the regular season, it’ll be interesting to see how Kerr’s guard rotation shakes out when he returns.

 

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Lakers Injury Update: Kobe Bryant to be on minute restriction

NBA superstar Kobe Bryant has logged 18 seasons and made 15 playoff appearances through his storied career with the Los Angeles Lakers. After logging only six games last season before succumbing to injury, Bryant will start the 2014-15 season with restrictions in his playing time. In an interview with the Byron Scott, the Lakers new head coach, Southern California Public Radio 89.3 KPCC’s A Martinez brought up a scenario:Say there’s a game on the East Coast, went into double-overtime, and Kobe played a lot of those minutes. And then you’ve got a game the very next night. You notice that maybe he’s not moving around so good, is it going to be easy for you to tell Kobe Bryant, ‘We’re going to have to limit your minutes tonight. Maybe you take a night off?’  Yeah it’s going to be easy, but it’s going to be hard to probably have that happen! [Laughs] But again, he’s so competitive, he wants to win, and I do too. But I don’t want to win at the expense of having my one of my guys g…

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Xavier Henry Injury: Updates on Lakers Guard’s Wrist and Return

Los Angeles Lakers swingman Xavier Henry was beat up entering the offseason, and his status for the team’s training camp is up in the air at the moment because of his injuries.

New head coach Byron Scott revealed the latest updates regarding Henry’s condition on Tuesday.

“I haven’t seen him do much on the court,” said Scott, per the Los Angeles Daily NewsMark Medina. “It’s going to be close on if he’s ready for camp.”

Medina tweeted about the injuries Henry tried to address through surgery and noted in his report that neither Henry’s wrist nor his knee have fully healed up:

At least it’s good news that Henry should be good to go by the time the 2014-15 NBA campaign commences. However, entering his fifth season as a pro after just one year at Kansas, there is still plenty for Henry to work on in his game.

Dave Miller of TWC SportsNet outlined the areas of Henry’s game where there’s room for improvement:

Even with the coaching change, L.A. saw enough in Henry to keep him around on a one-year deal, per Spotrac.com.

There is still upside for the No. 12 overall pick in the 2010 NBA draft to explore. Henry averaged a career-best 10 points per contest last season, thriving in the uptempo offense deployed by former coach Mike D’Antoni. But Henry also played in just 43 games.

From a health and performance standpoint, Henry has a lot to prove with his stint in the NBA at a crossroads. Mentoring from superstar Kobe Bryant and the opportunity to contribute on a rebuilding team can help Henry market himself well for a future in L.A. or elsewhere.

That is, if he recovers from his injuries and continues his promising development.

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