Duke Basketball: What You Need to Know About Blue Devils’ 2015 Big Monday Games

Let’s not kid ourselves, national exposure for the Duke basketball program is not exactly a rare occurrence. 

That’s why it should come as no surprise that Mike Krzyzewski and the Blue Devils will be featured multiple times during ESPN’s Big Monday series of double headers during the 2014-15 season. Starting Jan. 5, ESPN will televise a game from the ACC followed by a game from the Big 12 on Monday evenings.

Duke and its crop of game-changing freshmen will battle Pittsburgh and Florida State in those two contests. Let’s take a look at what the team will be up against.

 

Pittsburgh at Duke, Jan. 19, 7 p.m. ET

The Blue Devils played Pittsburgh once last year and won in decisive fashion on the road.

However, the Panthers will look dramatically different this season after losing their two leading scorers and rebounders. That means freshmen Jamel Artis, Michael Young and Josh Newkirk will have to assume more responsibilities as sophomores. They were all solid role players a year ago, but Pittsburgh needs more than their combined 15.5 points a game to reach the NCAA tournament.

Newkirk and James Robinson will assume the point guard duties. Newkirk can blow by past people off the dribble and create open looks for his teammates, and Robinson is an effective distributor.

Still, Lamar Patterson was the primary ball-handler a year ago, so this will be new territory for both Robinson and Newkirk.

Elsewhere, transfer Sheldon Jeter will finally have the opportunity to contribute for Pittsburgh. The former Vanderbilt player tried to transfer to the Panthers before but was blocked by Commodores head coach Kevin Stallings. The stretch forward has arrived though and commented on the move, via John Perrotto of The Beaver County Times (subscription required):

I couldn’t be more excited. I already have a relationship with a lot of players at Pitt, and I’m looking forward to joining the team.

This took a little bit longer to happen than I wanted it to but I’m happy with the way it turned out. Vanderbilt had their reasons, whatever they were, but I’ve had a lot of people help me.

Duke will certainly be the favorite in this matchup, especially at home. The Panthers are breaking in a lot of raw talent, but the group of players that Coach K has accumulated will be too much for Pittsburgh early in the conference schedule.

Jahlil Okafor should have his way down low against the guard-heavy Panthers now that Talib Zanna is no longer around. Look for a double-double from the prized freshman as the Cameron Crazies make life particularly difficult for the young Panthers. 

Prediction: Duke 81, Pittsburgh 65

 

Duke at Florida State, Feb. 9, 7 p.m. ET

Duke destroyed Florida State 78-56 in Durham in their only meeting last year.

That Seminoles squad featured Okaro White down low and Ian Miller on the outside, but both of them are gone now. However, don’t write off Florida State just yet.

Xavier Rathan-Mayes was Florida State’s top recruit for the 2013-14 campaign, but he was ruled academically ineligible last year. The dynamic shooting guard will lace it up this season as a leading piece for the Seminoles thanks to his ability to hit the long-range shot, attack the rim off the bounce and spearhead the perimeter defense with his lateral quickness and fast hands. 

Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports is certainly impressed by Rathan-Mayes, who is a former high school teammate of Andrew Wiggins:

Florida State also brings in transfer Dayshawn Watkins, a speedy point guard who is best in transition. His ball-handling skills and ability to find teammates in the open floor will immediately boost the Seminoles attack.

The Watkins and Rathan-Mayes combination will be a test for freshman Tyus Jones, although it helps that this game doesn’t take place until February. Ideally, the multitalented Jones will be completely comfortable running Duke’s offense this late in the season.

Florida State also brings plenty of size to the table.

Kiel Turpin, Michael Ojo and Boris Bojanovsky all check in at least 7’ tall and will help the Seminoles control the boards and paint throughout the year. Duke was plagued by a lack of interior defense and rebounding a year ago, but Okafor and Amile Jefferson should change that this season.

Even if the Blue Devils advance to the Final Four this year, there will be few opponents, if any, that feature as much size as Florida State. There will certainly be some interested NBA scouts watching Okafor’s performance in this one.

While Florida State should be better this year with a combination of effective guards and size, Duke is still the more talented team. We are talking about a squad that has national title aspirations and elite 4- and 5-star athletes all over the floor. 

The freshmen will be seasoned by February and will take care of business in Tallahassee.

Prediction: Duke 75, Florida State 67

 

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20 Players You Need to Know Before the 2014-15 College Basketball Season

The 2014-15 college basketball season tips off in less than three months, which means it’s about time to bone up on the need-to-know names and faces of the hoops year ahead.

If you’re planning on paying attention to the college basketball regular season for the first time in your life, keeping tabs on these 20 players will help you sound like a certified fan in no time.

Alternatively, if you’re already a diehard fan who doesn’t believe in offseasons, feel free to use this list in your weekly debate over the preseason All-Americans.

Either way, these are the names who should be frequent fliers in the national headlines throughout the course of the 2014-15 season.

 

The following players are listed alphabetically by last name.

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Ohio State Basketball: What You Need to Know About 2014-15 “Super Tuesday” Games

The Ohio State basketball team may have disappointed last year, but one luxury of being a marquee program is the national exposure that comes every season.

The 2014-15 campaign will be no different for the Buckeyes. ESPN will feature Big Ten and SEC doubleheaders throughout the year on Super Tuesday, and head coach Thad Matta’s bunch is scheduled for two of those contests.

The full schedule can be found on ESPN MediaZone, but we are particularly interested in the games featuring Ohio State. With that in mind, let’s preview those showdowns.

 

Ohio State at Minnesota, Jan. 6, 9 p.m. ET

Ohio State split its two contests against Minnesota last year, with the home team winning both times.

The Buckeyes’ victory over the Golden Gophers in Columbus may have been their most memorable one of the season because they overcame a double-digit deficit by winning the second half 46-18.

Minnesota turned it on down the stretch, though, and enters the 2014-15 season with plenty of momentum.

Richard Pitino’s bunch won the National Invitation Tournament by knocking off High Point, Saint Mary’s, Southern Miss, Florida State and SMU, and it returns most of the primary contributors from that squad. Anything short of a spot in the NCAA tournament this time around would be a major disappointment.

Andre Hollins is the leader, and he is looking to improve on what was a shaky finish last year. He averaged 16.2 points a night in his first 19 games but suffered a severe ankle sprain against Wisconsin and literally limped to the finish.

Assistant coach Dan McHale discussed Hollins’ season with Amelia Rayno of the Star Tribune:

I don’t think people realized, I don’t think we really realized — because he’s such such a good kid — how much the injury affected him. I think it was evident a little bit with his game in the second part of the year, after the Wisconsin game. But he’s the type of kid that puts the team first, guts it out.

The Golden Gophers will need more of that leadership, but Hollins won’t be alone.

DeAndre Mathieu returns after averaging 12 points and 4.2 assists a night last year behind 51 percent shooting from the field and 48.9 percent shooting from three-point range.

Mathieu’s quickness on defense helps him stay in front of ball-handlers and dart into passing lanes, which is why he averaged 1.6 steals per game last season. His perimeter defense could pose a problem for freshman D’Angelo Russell if the young Buckeye isn’t completely settled in as a ball-handler by January.

Down low, Minnesota is counting on a jump from Maurice Walker. Walker is 6’10”, shot 56.5 percent from the field a year ago and has double-double potential.

Ohio State can certainly relate to Minnesota when it comes to counting on players to fulfill their potential, especially this season. Freshmen Russell, Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate will all be marquee members of Matta’s team, but the battle to watch in this matchup takes place in the backcourt.

Hollins and Mathieu will test Ohio State on both ends of the floor. Shannon Scott will be tasked with containing Hollins, while the young Russell will have to keep his turnovers in check against the pesky Mathieu.

Fortunately for Scott and Russell, they will have some help on the wing and down low with Bates-Diop, Tate, Sam Thompson, Amir Williams, Marc Loving and Anthony Lee.

All that talent will be enough to overcome Minnesota and its guards on the road, but the Golden Gophers will be a serious threat to the young Buckeyes.

Prediction: Ohio State 76, Minnesota 71

 

Michigan at Ohio State, Jan. 13, 7 p.m. ET

A matchup between Ohio State and Michigan in Candy Land would make waves in Columbus and Ann Arbor, so a prime-time showdown on the hardwood is sure to turn heads.

Matta has dominated the Wolverines throughout his career, but Michigan won both contests last year. Revenge will certainly be on the mind of the Scarlet and Gray when their hated rivals come to town, and it will be a very different Michigan team they encounter.

Glenn Robinson III, Nik Stauskas and Mitch McGary will all be in the NBA this year, which means head coach John Beilein will count on junior Caris LeVert for leadership and offensive production.

LeVert started his career as a defensive specialist but averaged 12.9 points and 4.3 rebounds a night last year behind 40.8 percent shooting from behind the three-point line.

He earned second-team All-Big Ten honors for his efforts and has Michigan fans anticipating another monumental leap forward this season.

Brendan F. Quinn and Nick Baumgardner of MLive Media Group passed along some encouraging news on that front:

LeVert isn’t the only player Ohio State fans have to worry about.

Derrick Walton Jr. averaged 7.9 points per game and shot 41 percent from three-point range as a freshman, torching the Buckeyes for 13 points and 10 rebounds in the matchup in Columbus. Zak Irvin was an elite recruit when he arrived on campus and averaged 6.7 points per contest behind 42.5 percent shooting from long range.

With Stauskas and Robinson III out the door, both Walton and Irvin will have more responsibility and freedom on both ends of the floor. That should result in plenty of three-pointers, well-placed passes and defensive pressure.

Don’t overlook freshman Kameron Chatman either. At 6’7”, he is the perfect combination of athleticism, speed and size, and will play a number of different positions for the Wolverines.

With McGary and Jordan Morgan gone, Michigan will be very reliant on the backcourt this year. The Buckeyes’ best chance will be to unleash the defensive pressure they used so effectively in 2013-14, with Scott, Thompson and Russell leading the way.

As long as Ohio State can contain the guards and small forwards, the combination of Williams, Lee, Bates-Diop and Tate will be too much to handle on the boards for the Wolverines.

Having this game in Columbus will also help. 

Prediction: Ohio State 73, Michigan 69

 

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Everything You Need to Know About Houston Rockets’ Kostas Papanikolaou

The Houston Rockets will have a different look entering the 2014-15 NBA season, and while the acquisition of Kostas Papanikolaou won’t move the needle much for casual admirers, fans in Clutch City should know a few things about one of their newest acquisitions. 

At 24 years old, Papanikolaou is about to make the transition from Europe to the NBA. As he stated in a written statement following the signing of his new contract (h/t Aris Barkas of EuroHoops.net), “A new page opens [upon] me and the biggest challenge of my [career] awaits.”

So who is this youngster who’s embarking upon the biggest challenge of his career? As B/R’s Dave Leonardis put it, he’s the newest “international man of mystery.”

There’s a lot to learn about Papanikolaou, but one thing we know is that he’s been a winner up to this point in his career. That’s a mentality Houston needs, and it’s one that will behoove all parties involved during the 2014-15 campaign.

 

Championship Background

At 24 years old, Papanikolaou is hardly a household name for NBA fans. His accolades, however, are impressive considering his age.

At this point in his professional career, Papanikolaou is a two-time Euroleague champion. He’s also a Greek League champion and a Spanish League champion from 2012 and 2014, respectively.

On top of the team success he’s achieved, he was the MVP of the 2009 FIBA Europe Under-20 Championship, the MVP of the Greek Youth All-Star Game the same year and the Euroleague Rising Star of 2013.

Will all this success translate across the pond in the NBA? Not necessarily. The professional game is played at a different level here than it is there, but all that said, the prospect brings a versatile skill set to the table, and his on-court abilities are noteworthy entering his rookie season.

 

What He Brings To The Rockets

Papanikolaou was drafted in 2012 by the New York Knicks. He was selected as a draft-and-stash prospect who ultimately stayed with Greek heavyweight Olympiakos, and he was eventually traded to the Portland Trail Blazers as part of the deal that sent Raymond Felton to the Big Apple.

From there, all while Papanikolaou was still overseas, the Rockets acquired his rights while trading away Thomas Robinson to make room for Dwight Howard. Then on Aug. 8, Houston finally signed him to a two-year deal, as reported by Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski

Set to play his first game in the NBA this fall, Papanikolaou brings both size and versatility to the roster. At 6’8″ (or 6’9″ depending where you look), he has the potential to play as either a 3 or stretch-4 at this level. 

According to DraftExpress.com, he shot 36.1 percent from deep this past season in the Euroleague, and while he only averaged 6.9 points per contest, his minutes were limited to 25.0 per game and he shot an efficient 60.4 percent from two-point range.

Papanikolaou doesn’t have elite athleticism, but he appears to have a great motor. As he said in his written statement (from above), “I know that in order to justify my presence i have to work two and three times as hard as i did [until] now, but this isn’t something that scares me.”

He’s more of a 3 at this point, but he doesn’t appear intimidated by contact, offering hope he can play down low on occasion. He’ll have to adjust defensively to the NBA game, but his work ethic and already-impressive defensive attributes should give fans hope he can be a difference-maker on both ends of the floor sooner rather than later.

 

Expectations

At this juncture, it’s safe to say Papanikolaou won’t exude stardom as the Rockets make a run at playoff success in 2015. That said, there’s at least a glimmer of hope he can soften the blow of Chandler Parsons’ offseason departure.

As ESPN’s Marc Stein put it, “The 6-foot-9 small forward has won the Euroleague championship twice already in his young career and appeared destined to continue playing in Spain this season until the Rockets, after losing Parsons in free agency to the Mavericks, decided to increase their offer.

Don’t expect greatness on Day 1, but with the kind of money Papanikolaou will be making in 2014-15 ($4.8 million guaranteed, according to Wojnarowski), he’ll certainly have a shot to earn his minutes. A modest role to start the year should be expected, but if he can step in and avoid mistakes while spreading the floor, he could make a name for himself on a roster full of unproven role players.

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Ray Allen is not what LeBron’s Cavs need now

Cleveland has bigger holes to fill than the need for another outside shooter.

      
 

 

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Michigan Basketball: 5 Players Who Most Need Good Performances in Italy

Before the Michigan basketball program begins practicing in the fall, it will have the pleasure of heading to Italy to participate in four exhibition games in an effort to build team chemistry and camaraderie before the 2014-15 season starts.

Michigan is set to start play against a local Italian All-Star team in Rome on Sunday, according to Brendan F. Quinn of MLive.com, before visiting similar teams in Vicenza and Como in their nine-day trip away from Ann Arbor.

While the sights are nice and a trip to Europe is always fun and enlightening, John Beilein and company will also treat the excursion as business and a way to get several key players to step up their play.

With that said, here are five players (listed alphabetically) who most need good performances in Italy. 

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5 Things the Sacramento Kings Need to Become Contenders

The Sacramento Kings have toiled in mediocrity for far too long. No, that’s not even true. Mediocrity is far too kind for a team with six consecutive seasons of fewer than 30 wins.

Things won’t get better immediately, either. The Kings have a couple quality pieces like center DeMarcus Cousins and small forward Rudy Gay, but the rest of the roster is composed of unproven young guns and low-ceiling veterans. 

What’s more, Sacramento plays in the NBA‘s vaulted Western Conference, where the Phoenix Suns went 48-34 last season and still missed the playoffs. Getting back to the contention will take a couple years, by which time the disparity between East and West is likely to have evened out.

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Everything You Need to Know About Houston Rockets Rookie Nick Johnson


Houston Rockets rookie Nick Johnson has the tools to become the latest in the franchise’s recent string of second-round steals. 

The Rockets have shown a knack for finding talent late in the draft. In 2007, they landed Carl Landry (No. 31 overall) in a draft-day trade with the then-Seattle SuperSonics. In 2009, Houston bought the No. 44 overall pick from the Detroit Pistons, which it used on athletic swingman Chase Budinger

In 2011, the team drafted the biggest steal of general manager Daryl Morey’s career in small forward Chandler Parsons. Houston may have also struck gold in last year’s second-round pick, point guard Isaiah Canaan (No. 34 overall). 

This past June, Morey used the No. 42 overall pick on Johnson, a high-flying guard out of Arizona. Johnson is the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Year and was a consensus First Team All-American. As a junior, he averaged 16.3 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.1 steals per game for the Wildcats. 

He also shot 43.2 percent from the field, including 36.7 percent from three. While undersized for a shooting guard at 6’3″, Johnson makes up for his lack of ideal height with a 6’7″ wingspan and an astonishing 41.5-inch vertical. 

The kid known as “Bunnies” (for his insane hops) also has a good bloodline, as he’s the nephew of former Boston Celtics legend Dennis Johnson. 

The rookie wasted little time showing off his skills in the pros. He was impressive in summer-league action, both in Orlando and Las Vegas. In five games in Orlando, he averaged 15.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.0 assists. In Vegas, Johnson contributed 12.5 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.8 steals in eight games. 

Both summer-league stints were sprinkled with highlight dunks. In the Orlando opener against the Pistons, Johnson put center Tim Ohlbrecht on a poster with a ridiculous one-handed jam. He followed that up with a nasty 360-degree jam against the Brooklyn Nets and later finished an alley-oop with a reverse dunk against the Sacramento Kings in Vegas. 

While the early highlight reel is a nice feather in his cap, Johnson will have to use those impressive hops to leap over a few hurdles in the NBA. He’ll have to prove he’s more than just a dunker and that being a little short won’t hinder him from being a viable pro. 

Let’s take a further look into Houston’s latest second-round prize. 

 

What Johnson Does Well

As mentioned earlier, Johnson is an explosive athlete. With his speed and amazing leaping ability, he’s an excellent finisher at the rim and is going to be a joy to watch when he gets the ball in the open court. The dunk on Ohlbrecht shows that Johnson’s not afraid to attack the basket (as well as whoever’s under it), and he had many moments at Arizona where he seemingly embraced contact. 

That fearless approach will serve him well in the pros, though too much unnecessary punishment in the paint could take its toll on his body down the road (see Wade, Dwyane).

One thing that will help out Johnson is his reliable jumper. Johnson has a strong mid-range game, and while it didn’t seem like it in the summer league, he can knock down some shots from behind the arc. 

While he’ll always be more of a scorer than distributor, Johnson’s assist numbers in Orlando allow for some hope that he can be a serviceable point guard in the pros. He also showed a knack for forcing turnovers in Sin City, which is a plus for a Rockets team that doesn’t have many good perimeter defenders beyond Patrick Beverley and Trevor Ariza

 

What Johnson Needs to Work On

All of the stretches in the world won’t make Johnson any taller. His lack of height is something both he and the team will have to work around. If the plan is to play Johnson at point guard, it will be interesting to see if he can stay with quicker floor generals such as Tony Parker and Chris Paul on the defensive end. 

If the Rockets play him at the 2, he’s going to have to find a way to hinder the offense of much taller guards. Teammate James Harden has managed to become an NBA superstar without showing much desire for defense, but the Rockets can’t afford to have another guard who’s only effective on one end of the court. 

Beyond that, Johnson’s deep ball could use some more practice. While he didn’t have a problem knocking down treys in college, that wasn’t the case in the summer league. He shot just 29.2 percent from three in Orlando and followed that up by converting 20.8 percent from deep in Las Vegas.  

Could that be an aberration owing to possible jitters? Sure. 

However, the league has seen quite a few college marksmen lose their shooting touch when they get to the pros (Xavier Henry, for example). The Rockets are a team obsessed with the three-ball. As nice as it is to be a great dunker in the YouTube age, the ability to drill shots from downtown is what keeps players in the NBA long after their physical talents decline. 

Also, regardless of what position he plays for Houston, Johnson will need to improve his ball-handling skills. That will cut down costly turnovers as well as allow him to create offense for himself and others. 

 

How Johnson Fits with the Houston Rockets

Playing time with the Houston Rockets will be scarce for Johnson. Even after trading point guard Jeremy Lin to the Los Angeles Lakers earlier this summer, the team’s backcourt is pretty crowded. Beverley and Harden will draw the bulk of the minutes as the starting guards. 

Behind them, promising second-year man Canaan and emerging shooter Troy Daniels will see some of the remaining playing time. The team also signed veteran guard Ish Smith, who will be factored into the equation as well. 

Could Johnson use his youthful exuberance to blow past Smith and maybe even snatch away some minutes from Daniels? Possibly. But that’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

Luckily, the team gave Johnson a fully guaranteed three-year contract, so it clearly sees a future for him. In the meantime, he can hone his craft in the NBA D-League until his time comes, much like summer-league teammate Robert Covington did last year. 

Once he’s ready to go to the pros, Johnson’s athletic skills and mid-range jumper could make him a dangerous weapon in the pick-and-roll. Obviously, working on his three-point shot will help tremendously, too. 

Johnson could also mold himself into a solid two-way guard if he continues to display quick hands and proves capable of holding his own on the defensive end. One thing’s for sure, the long wait on draft night has certainly motivated Johnson to succeed, per AZCentral Sports’ Paul Coro:

I just don’t think there are seven Pac-12 players better than the Pac-12 Player of the Year, and not (41) players better than me in that draft class. That’s what we have the whole career for. It’s not where you start. It’s where you finish.  

I am very confident in myself. It was a tough night on draft night, but that just adds fuel to the fire. 

Johnson would also go on to say that he’s “played with a chip on his shoulder since high school.” That kind of determination worked out well at Arizona and could again in the NBA if he doesn’t get discouraged by the naysayers or having to wait his turn.

On tape, he looks a lot like journeyman combo guard Shannon Brown (a comparison NBADraft.net used for Johnson as well). Brown has had his moments throughout his eight-year career (including a couple decent seasons with the Phoenix Suns) but has still played for seven teams and is 28 years old. 

Johnson is in a position to be better than that. He’s a talented kid on a team with a proven track record of developing second-round picks. If Brown is Johnson’s floor, his ceiling could be a poor-man’s version of Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley, assuming he shows improvement defensively and shoots better from three. 

That’s pretty good for the 42nd pick in the draft. 

 

College stats and measurements courtesy of DraftExpress.com.

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Everything You Need to Know About Boston Celtics Rookie Marcus Smart

There are certain things you can know about Boston Celtics rookie guard Marcus Smart just by looking at him in a basketball uniform.

More so than any other sport, basketball players are visible and vulnerable in their playing attire. There are no bulky pads or protective helmets. We can clearly see that Smart is around 6’3″ and 227 pounds. If we work at the circus, we may come even closer to guessing those exact measurements.

We can clearly see his muscle definition and safely assume that this is a strong and athletic young man.

However, even in a sport as visually leveling as basketball, there is a lot hidden. There are countless things Boston fans still don’t know about Rajon Rondo, a player they have been learning about for nearly a decade.

Smart has a whole life and background few know a lot about, and that all comes before anything he can or can’t do on a basketball court, individually and as a part of this current Celtics roster.

Over the next year, fans will get a large dose of what this 20-year-old kid can do on the court. But beyond that, there is still a whole lot you need to know about young Marcus Smart, a kid from Flower Mound, Texas.

 

Smart’s Family

The best place to start with getting to know a person is with his or her family, and in Smart’s case, his was very formative.

You may have noticed during the summer league games or during his time at Oklahoma State University that Smart has a set of No. 3 tattoos, one behind each arm. These represent his older brother, Todd, who unfortunately succumbed to cancer in 2004. Smart, born in 1994, was just a kid then. Todd, as well as each of his other brothers, Jeff and Michael, always wore No. 3 in their basketball-playing days.

At Oklahoma State, No. 3 was unavailable due to a player named Dan Lawson, who died in a plane crash. So, Smart chose 33, double his original number and the age at which Todd passed away.

In Boston, Smart had to choose another number entirely. No. 3 hangs in the rafters in memory of Dennis Johnson, and No. 33 is self-explanatory. Still, Smart went with a choice that started with three, opting to wear No. 36. The six, he says, is for his draft spot. The Celtics landed him No. 6 overall in June’s NBA draft.

Smart grew up with his brothers and both parents in Flower Mound, Texas. It wasn’t an easy neighborhood to be a youth in, but Smart’s family was always strong. This is perhaps the most important thing to know about him. How much this young man values family is a great sign for his future in the league and with an organizational family as strong and storied as the Boston Celtics. 

 

Smart’s Money

A small factor at this point but definitely worth noting is how much money Smart will be paid by the Celtics over his first contract.

On July 5, Smart was signed to a $14.8 million rookie-scale contract.

This coming season, the Celtics will pay Smart $3.28 million. In comparison, No. 5 pick Dante Exum will make $3.615 million from the Utah Jazz, and No. 7 overall pick Julius Randle will make $2.997 million from the Los Angeles Lakers.

Last year’s No. 6 overall pick, Nerlens Noel, was paid $3.17 million by the Philadelphia 76ers.

Smart will make $3.43 million for the 2015-16 season guaranteed. Then the Celtics will have team options for two years at $3.58 million and $4.54 million. His qualifying offer in 2018-19 will be for $6.05 million.

 

Smart’s Reputation

The reputation of this rookie took a sizable hit last season when he entered into an altercation that involved him shoving a fan of the opposing team during a game at Texas Tech. 

Smart claimed to have heard a racial slur being yelled by said fan. That, coupled with his mother’s recent hospitalization, pushed the 19-year-old kid over the edge. For his actions, Smart was suspended for three games of his sophomore season. 

Perhaps the most telling sign in this ordeal, though, was the aftermath of his suspension. Smart has since done everything right, and immediately following his return to Oklahoma State, he and the team went on a tear. They won four straight games and toppled Texas Tech in the conference tournament, earning a spot in the NCAA field. 

While the incident drew national attention, a lot of the animosity was directed at that fan. Smart was viewed through the lens of being this young kid playing a game. He was an amateur at the time, not being paid to perform in front of all those screaming people. 

I want to apologize to the fan, whose name is Jeff Orr. I want to apologize to him. I want to apologize to my teammates, to my coaching staff, Coach (Travis) Ford, my family, Oklahoma State University. This is not how I (conduct) myself, this is not how this program is run. This is not how I was raised. I let my emotions get the best of me.

Smart apologized and moved on. It was all he could do at that time. Since declaring for the NBA draft and leaving the Cowboys, Smart has rehabbed his image a fair bit. As he became a bigger name, more eyes navigated their way to Eric Prisbell’s 2013 profile for USA Today, which paints Smart as a kid from troubled beginnings who had transformed himself into an unselfish and humble point guard.

Of course, that piece was published a little over a year before the shoving incident.

Since being drafted by the Celtics, Smart has made appearance for charities and done a lot of good things. 

His fellow rookies clearly view him with respect, as showcased in the 2014-15 NBA.com Rookie Survey. He was voted as the best rookie defender, along with Philadelphia’s K.J. McDaniels. They also placed him third in the category of best playmaker. Behind Twitter aficionado Joel Embiid, Smart was picked as the funniest rookie as well.

Perhaps the incident was merely a terrible case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is entirely possible that Smart had a lot of anger and sadness pent up and some random fan wound up finding the trigger with his words.

Smart likely still has a fair amount of emotion inside him, but given his upbringing, there are few people who appear as capable of keeping it in check as him.

 

Smart’s Game

Given the information provided by the Rookie Survey, it is pretty obvious where Smart’s strengths reside.

He is a fearsome defender and a quality distributing penetrator.

The size and strength he presented at the college level are typically unseen in kids at his age. They will translate seamlessly into the NBA. Things will move a little faster than he is used to, but his strength and lateral quickness should cover up for a fair amount of that.

Likewise, a major thing to keep in mind is that the Celtics are not expecting him to come out of the gates guarding John Wall, Kyrie Irving and Tony Parker. Boston has a very capable starting backcourt with a fair amount of experience in Rondo and Avery Bradley. Both are also plus-defenders and have been recognized by the league with All-Defensive team nods in the past.

Smart will have the time to ease into this transition while using his abilities in shorter periods to really showcase his specific skills and hone the ones that need work.

The benefit Smart will have defensively is sheer size and strength. At roughly the same height, he outweighs a player like Bradley by 40-plus pounds. Looking at him, you know that isn’t extra body fat. It is muscle and size in his center body mass.

When dealing with bigger guards, who nullify Bradley’s crafty quickness by forcing him lower into the offensive zone, Smart will have an easier time holding ground and even forcing them out.

In transition, he has the speed to keep up with fast-breaking players and the defensive instinct of where to keep his hands. With time to think on the perimeter in the half court, Smart loses some of that instinct and overthinks, using his hands to commit fouls. That is something NBA seasoning will teach him.

What we saw from Smart in summer league should be taken fairly lightly. His shooting was atrocious, hitting 29.4 percent from the field and missing 26-of-35 three-point attempts. 

Offensively, shooting likely won’t be his primary game, though. That three-point shot is going to have to come along eventually (29.5 percent in college) if he wants to play next to Rondo, just like it did for Bradley. For now, he will have to rely more on being a slightly undersized slasher when playing with Boston’s first unit.

If he is playing without Rondo, Smart can take over a bit more of those playmaking duties he seemed to be so deft at during college.

Smart is an incredibly patient offensive player. Seeing that from a 20-year-old is pretty rare, but with Smart it seemed natural. He was able to maintain his dribble through contact and wait until a passing lane opened or he had a clean look at the rim. This also helps in drawing fouls. Smart is in no rush to create the contact, instead understanding what he has to do to make it come to him and get to the line.

Smart averaged 8.1 free-throw attempts per game as a sophomore and visited the charity stripe 30 times in five summer league contests.

 

Smart’s Off-Court Presence

Perhaps most important to a lot of fans is Smart’s presence in their daily lives. In 2014, NBA players are regularly a part of our days, and Smart is no different.

He is on Twitter, @Smart_MS3. He also has an Instagram, youngamechanger.

Smart appears to be fairly active on both sites and has a decent sense of humor as well. Maybe that is why the NBA rookies voted him as funniest next to Embiid. While Smart has yet to proposition any married celebrities, he has had some very good tweets since becoming a member of the Boston Celtics.

He showed some serious leaping ability, while also calling out No. 2 overall pick Jabari Parker.

He was clearly saddened by what happened with Indiana Pacers star Paul George during the Team USA scrimmage. Smart was invited to participate in Team USA training camp this summer and impressed while he was there. He also appears to have developed some relationships with the league’s prominent stars.

Smart will represent Adidas, after signing an endorsement deal with the company this summer. He joins the likes of Dwight Howard, John Wall and new teammate Bradley as members of the Adidas family.

He is also clearly excited about joining the Boston Celtics.

In the end, that is all you really need to know.

 

We should, you know, hang out some time…

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Things You Need to Know About NY Knicks Rookie Cleanthony Early

The New York Knicks added another scorer to their bench.

Cleanthony Early brings versatility to the Knicks rotation and depth at the 3. The 6’8″ rookie from Wichita State rebounds well and should be an effective cutter in the triangle offense. He possesses good athleticism and ought to become a reliable defender in the NBA

 

Made in New York

Early was born in Middletown, New York and frequently professes his gratitude:

With a wise head on his shoulders, he should become a consistent rotation player for head coach Derek Fisher. Via Tim Bontemps of the New York Post, Early said the following in regard to his current opportunity: “With no school, I have nothing else to do but time to work on my craft, and I’m all for it. That’s what I’ve wanted to do for my whole life, and now it’s here. You think I’m not going to do it?”

Early could use a little more muscle, but at 23 years old he’s more than capable of backing up Carmelo Anthony and contributing on both ends. 

He’s been asking questions and studying game film from Phil Jackson’s Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers teams to better understand the triangle offense, as he says in the interview below:

Early has the desire to grow into his unique skill set. 

 

Expectations

Aside from some initial rookie jitters, Early should adapt to the NBA game rather easily. He can score off the dribble and is athletic enough to thrive in transition and finish around the rim.

He was a little tentative at times during the summer league, but that could be chalked up to inexperience.

An NBA scout said the following about Early, via Marc Berman of the Post: “He still hasn’t shown he wants to put the ball on the floor. But his defense is good. He plays hard.”

Early had no problem putting the ball on the floor and scoring against the opposition in college, and as his confidence rises with experience, he should find himself and become a productive slasher. 

He’ll get plenty of opportunities to cut to the basket and finish easily around the rim as long as the triangle is executed correctly. 

Early also possesses enough range to be a factor along the perimeter. 

The Knicks have a talented young player who should provide the franchise with another consistent option on offense and defense. 

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