What Boston Celtics Need from James Young This Season

Head coach Brad Stevens’ second season with the Boston Celtics should feature plenty of question marks, and rookie swingman James Young might actually be the biggest.

Young, who ended up in green after falling to No. 17 in the 2014 NBA draft, is a high-upside swingman but is just 19 years old.

On top of that, Young missed the entire Orlando Summer League, so he’ll be heading into his rookie campaign with just the preseason under his belt.

In years past, this would not be that big of a deal. Under Doc Rivers, the Celtics rarely relied on rookies, preferring to let them develop slowly.

However, the mid-rebuild C’s are going to try a variety of lineups and will likely look to get Young and fellow first-year guard Marcus Smart immediate minutes in the rotation.

This means Young will be facing expectations right away. 

He may be raw, but if Young hits the ground running, he could potentially help Boston exceed expectations in what many anticipate to be another lost year.

Let’s take a look at what Stevens and the Celtics need out of the Kentucky sharpshooter and whether it’s possible he delivers.

 

Any Semblance of Outside Shooting

If there is one thing Boston absolutely needs from Young, it is three-point shooting. 

With Rajon Rondo, Evan Turner and Smart all set to see major minutes, the team’s outside shooting could be grizzly. 

Both Jeff Green and Avery Bradley can make open threes, but neither are volume shooters who should be jacking up five or six triples per game.

Young only shot 34.9 percent from three in college, which is troubling, but he’s a threat from anywhere beyond the arc.

He’s equally adept above the break as he is from the corners, which is key.

He can’t necessarily nail tough off-the-dribble shots, but as a rookie, he’ll be doing the vast majority of his work without the ball in his hands. 

Young has the potential to be a legitimate catch-and-shoot threat who can help create driving lanes for players like Bradley and Rondo.

Boston was tied for 27th in overall three-point percentage at 33.3, something that must improve.

The Celtics aren’t suddenly going to become the San Antonio Spurs or Golden State Warriors with Rondo and Turner throwing up bricks, but if this offense hopes to show any sign of life, it will need more perimeter shooting.

Even if the other aspects of Young’s game don’t come together in year one, his season will be a success if he can log 12-14 minutes and hit 35-plus percent of his threes.

 

A Positive Disposition

Let’s be realistic: Young could exceed all expectations, and the Celtics would still wind up losing a lot of games in 2014-15.

Going from the NCAA national championship game to the NBA lottery would be a rough adjustment for any player, especially a teenager like Young who has been a winner his entire career.

On another level, Young will have to go through the same trials and tribulations as any first-year player.

When asked if he would be comfortable going to the D-League to receive heavy minutes, Young told MassLive’s Tom Westerholm, “Definitely not.”

He elaborated, “If it happens, it happens. But I just want to stay here and get better like that.”

Wanting to stay around the Celtics makes sense, but his aversion to the D-League is troubling.

A raw athlete like Young, who needs to work on his strength, defense and playmaking, would be wise to log some time against lesser competition. 

As a 6’6″, 215-pound wing, Young would be eaten alive by some of the league’s bigger 2s and 3s.

Had Young actually been drafted by a playoff team, he likely would see very sporadic playing time and potentially an extended stay in the D-League.

Just because the Celtics could struggle this season doesn’t mean Young deserves to get starting or sixth-man minutes. 

Boston also simply has a logjam in the backcourt, and Young is near the bottom of the food chain.

According to ESPN’s depth chart, Young is the C’s third 2-guard behind Bradley and Marcus Thornton.

If that stays the same, he will likely be seeing sub-double-digit minutes for much of the season.

Obviously, a potential injury could bring Young to a more prominent role, but overall, he needs to stay patient during what could be a rocky rookie year.

 

Consistent Aggression

Even if Young winds up receiving consistent minutes from the beginning of the season, there is still serious potential for him to drift in and out of games.

That simply cannot happen.

While Young is commonly known as a sharpshooter, he is at his best when he’s attacking the basket.

As you can see by his shot chart (below), Young is roughly as effective shooting from mid-range and driving to the hole as he is gunning from distance. 

Obviously, it will be harder for him to get into the paint against NBA defenders, particularly with his scrawny frame, but he needs to attack as much as possible.

Young only got to the line 4.4 times per game at Kentucky, a number he must improve on if he hopes to become a starting-caliber player in the league.

Boston already has players, like Green and Bradley, who have a tendency to settle for tough, long two-point jumpers instead of driving to the hole, a habit Young cannot get into early on.

If he runs the floor hard alongside Rondo, he should find himself with some easy looks, and while he’s not an elite dribbler, he has a decent enough handle to create some of his own offense.

If Young truly wants to avoid a prolonged trip to the D-League, he must be aggressive on offense at all times even if it hurts his field-goal percentage and leads to some questionable decisions.

Boston was 26th in the league in points per game last season (96.2) for a reason, and the biggest thing Young can do to fix that is to just to look for his shots when available.

The Celtics lack a clear first option offensively, and while Young won’t take on that role, he could alleviate some of the pressure faced by Green, Rondo and Jared Sullinger

 

Overall

Young is not going to be the Rookie of the Year or anything close to it, but he’s far from an afterthought.

The Celtics are talent-strapped enough that every player has the potential to play a major role, and Young’s upside makes him highly intriguing.

His skills, in theory, could help Boston’s woeful scoring issues, but only if he can make the most of his limited action and be prepared for trips to the D-League to see some extra burn.

Figure Young plays in roughly 55 games and averages something along the lines of 6.3 points, 1.7 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 17 minutes per night.

In the end, Young will have a turbulent first season but will show enough promise that he becomes a key cog of Boston’s rebuild.

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Kentucky Basketball: Wildcat Recruiting Watchers Need Patience for 2015 Class

Every Kentucky basketball fan is very proudand justifiably soof the fact that their Wildcats will be suiting up a record-tying nine former McDonald’s All-Americans, as well as a 10th player who’s an expected NBA draft lottery pick.

At the same time, players are sailing off the class of 2015 recruiting board daily, and none of them are elite prospects committing to Kentucky. This can cause no small worry to the casual observer, although few will admit to it.

The intelligent fan, however, knows that these two developments are intimately related, and will smile at the angst they’re causing on other campuses. The knowledgeable recruiting watcher has patience. The rest of Big Blue Nation needs it.

 

Keeping Up With the Joneses?

Arch-rival Louisville was in the running for the mythical recruiting championship once Florida shooting guard Antonio Blakeney committed to become a Cardinal. Mere weeks later, Blakeney threw his recruitment open again under murky circumstances, but the Cards still have a very solid crew coming in and a scholarship to give.

Along with Louisville, UK’s SEC rivals Auburn and Florida stand among the current top 10 on 247 Sports’ team rankings, with Tigers fans especially excited about new coach Bruce Pearl’s early recruiting roll.

Meanwhile, Wildcat coach John Calipari started September as a road warrior, taking visits to several of the truly big fish in next season’s pond.

See, therein lies the rub. When we examine 247′s player rankings, 28 of the top 50 and 67 of the top 100 have already made verbal commitments. Of the top 18, however, 13 are still undecided. Of those 13, how many have trimmed their list and left UK out of the mix?

OneMilwaukee big man Diamond Stone.

That leaves 12 of the nation’s top high school players simply playing the waiting game. And a waiting game is all it is.

 

No Room at the Inn?

With Kentucky’s absurd array of talent, particularly in the frontcourt, no one knows who’s leaving for a professional career seven months from now. Of those 12 elite players still considering UK, seven are forwards or centers.

A couple of weeks ago, I surveyed UK’s top recruiting targets and how confident the BBN should be about landing each.

Of the bunch, only one has expressly indicated any sort of timetable for a decision, that being Kinston, N.C., wing Brandon Ingram. SNY.tv contributor Joseph Duruaku reported that Ingram plans to announce his choice this fall. Of course, the best-laid plans of mice, men and elite teenage basketball players…

Once considered a mortal lock for North Carolina in the 247 Sports Crystal Ball, the analysts now favor Duke above UNC for Ingram’s signature, and no other school is even in the picture.

This leaves top prospects like Cheick Diallo, Ivan Rabb, Jaylen Brown, Carlton Bragg or Stephen Zimmerman gauging who’ll have a spot. Kentucky could have anywhere from six frontcourt openingshey, don’t scoff, it could happento none.

The latter scenario would be doomsday for those who’ve become addicted to bright, shiny new prospects arriving every season. And truthfully, the Chicken Littles may have a point there. If, after all of the hype, all of the big Cats play poorly enough to fall out of the NBA draft’s first round, something has gone drastically wrong.

No matter how UK’s season unfolds, give the 2015 recruits credit. Assuming that a particular number of Wildcats won’t be back next season can easily backfire. If no one leftfrontcourt or backthere wouldn’t even be room for the lone current Cat commit, Chicago guard Charles Matthews.

We’re 99.9 percent sure someone’s playing himself into the NBA lottery, so the doomsday scenario isn’t really even worth entertaining.

Sorry I brought it up.

Still, these new prospects are smart enough to cover themselves against even the most unlikely occurrences.

So when national signing day (Nov. 12, in case it’s not already circled in bright blue ink on your calendar) comes and goes and all remains quiet on the Kentucky front, don’t panic.

Just wait. Something big is still very likely to go down, even if it doesn’t happen until late April.

 

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What the Golden State Warriors Need from Andre Iguodala Next Season

The Golden State Warriors are going to need Andre Iguodala to build on his last campaign and perform at a higher level next season.

The Warriors failed to place Iguodala in a setting where he was consistently successful, and it hurt both parties. Former head coach Mark Jackson utilized the high-flyer as his backup point guard and secondary ball-handler behind Stephen Curry.

Iguodala is a good passer and decent orchestrator at best. He’s much more suited to create as a second option or third option after defenders have already converged on the first one.

Golden State will want defenses rotating in Iguodala’s direction as opposed to stifling him directly at the point of the attack when he makes his initial move.

Iguodala is a good spot-up shooter and scary finisher, and the Dubs will want to emphasize those strengths.

 

Abandoning the Point Forward

Iguodala will likely start at small forward, and that’s exactly where the Dubs want him. Sure, he might play some at 2-guard, which is fine, but the days of orchestrating the offense are over.

To be clear, Iguodala will get opportunities to feed teammates within the flow of the offense, and that will be the extent of the creativity needed.

B/R’s Fred Katz touched on this in August: “Iguodala can still be a secondary ball-handler, but he may not be a guy you want to turn the offense over to for long stretches anymore, considering how important the pick-and-roll has become in today’s NBA.”

By signing Shaun Livingston this past offseason, it would appear that management was making this fairly clear to Iguodala. Katz added: “The Shaun Livingston acquisition will help remove some of the offensive burden from Iggy’s shoulders.”

Livingston is one of the league’s best backup point guards, and he will handle all ball-handling duties when Curry rests. Furthermore, Livingston’s defensive prowess coupled with his finishing ability will earn him minutes alongside Curry as well.

As a result, the Warriors will have a lot of playmakers on the floor, which will make the offense look incredibly fluid. Just think of what Boris Diaw does for the San Antonio Spurs.

What’s more, Steve Kerr will rely a bit more on his big men to initiate the offense.

“I think you’ll see a lot of ball movement; I think you’ll see the bigs utilized as passers on the elbows and on the block,” Kerr said in May, per the San Jose Mercury News‘ Tim Kawakami. “I think you’ll see some Triangle concepts.”

Indeed, by stationing David Lee, Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green at the elbows, they will be able to hit cutters directly at the rim.

This is right up Iguodala’s alley. He’s at his best while moving around the court without the ball because it gives him opportunities to attack spread-out defenses from different angles. It makes him far less predictable and enhances his scoring opportunities.

George Karl did a masterful job at executing this when coaching Iguodala with the Denver Nuggets. That Denver team lacked anything resembling a legit three-point threat, and yet it had top-five offense.

It simply came down to overwhelming opponents with fast breaks, cuts, ball movement, pick-and-rolls and back screens.

This is specifically what the Warriors need from Iguodala. As long as he’s not static, Golden State will gladly live with the results because it will mean that the offense is flowing.

When Kawakami pressed Kerr on whether he could see Klay Thompson and Iguodala improving as a result of a shared approach, the Golden State coach did not mince words: “I don’t know if I’ve ever met a player who didn’t improve with ball movement and spacing.”

The last thing the Dubs want is Iguodala handling the ball with great frequency and firing up contested jumpers with the shot clock ticking down or running pick-and-rolls as a primary option with defenders daring him to shoot off the dribble.

An offense inspired from the triangle offense keeps him active and, more importantly, gets him open.

 

Rediscovering Defense

Iguodala has to become the lockdown defender fans have become accustomed to through the years.

Although Iguodala made the All-Defensive first team last season, he simply wasn’t that impressive when compared to his usual work.

The honor was likely earned by reputation, given the Golden State swingman barely handled the tough perimeter assignments during the 2013-14 campaign.

Don’t get me wrong, Iggy was a terrific help defender last season, and he did well in some individual matchups. Iguodala was a net positive on this front, but he wasn’t as disruptive as in previous years.

The coaching staff felt more comfortable giving those matchups to Thompson, which indicates he earned the trust of his team in this front. In the same breath, this suggests Iguodala lost some of the faith of his teammates and coaches.

Granted, he dealt with injuries (hamstring, tendinitis and hip soreness) last season and may have taken a step back defensively in an effort to concentrate his efforts on an offense that desperately needed a secondary ball-handler.

The offseason probably allowed him to regain the ideal physical form, and the reduction of duties will give him an opportunity to focus all of his energy on shutting down the player he must guard.

Golden State will need for Iguodala to once again become the destructive defensive force he once was. It will allow the Dubs to occasionally flummox the opposition’s offense and perhaps even completely lock it down with Iguodala and Thompson on the perimeter and Bogut on the interior.

Thompson and Bogut’s contributions helped the Warriors become the third-ranked defense in the league last season.

With Iguodala regaining his previous form, this could be the most feared defense in the league.

Iguodala holds the key to unlocking a killer Golden State squad. If he meets the team’s expectations, we’ll be looking at one of the best units in the Western Conference.

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What Indiana Pacers Need from Roy Hibbert Next Season

With Indiana Pacers‘ star Paul George more than likely out for the season with a broken leg, it’s time for Roy Hibbert to take his game to the next level.

Saying Hibbert struggled last season is putting it mildly.

His rebounding numbers were atrocious for a guy his size, and he could not seem to get the ball in the hoop no matter what he tried, posting his worst field-goal percentage ever. The player we saw in the 2013 playoffs was long gone.

But now, the seven-year vet has a chance to redeem—and perhaps reinvent—himself. The talent is there, and the time has come to put it all together.

We know what Hibbert can do defensively.His rim protection is the best in the Association, using his size and length to make it nearly impossible for scorers to get around him.

It’s also incumbent upon Hibbert that he shows improvement on the offensive end. Without George or Lance Stephenson—who Indiana lost in free agency—the Pacers will have to get creative in order to put points on the board.

Hibbert is a two-time All-Star, and while it’s been primarily his defense that has garnered him attention and praise, he’ll have to show he’s a complete player this year to breathe some sort of life into the Pacers’ season.

 

Improvement on the Boards

It starts with one of the more basic basketball fundamentals. Hibbert was the team’s fourth-leading rebounder in 2013-14, with Stephenson and George each grabbing more rebounds than the big man.

The 7’2″ center corralled just under 50 percent of his nightly 13.4 rebounding chances, per NBA.com’s player tracking data. Of his 6.6 rebounds per game, half of them were contested, meaning an opponent was within 3.5 feet of the ball when he collected a miss.

Now, his low number can be attributed to George, Stephenson and West’s higher outputs—Stephenson averaged seven per game, after all. However, the former two guys won’t be there to corral a high volume of those misses again.

Their replacements may not fare very well, either. C.J. Miles has never averaged three rebounds per game, and the 2-guard spot is up in the air. It’s probably safe to expect a decline in rebounding from the perimeter guys.

Hibbert could have his hands full if he has to box out and grab a majority of the rebounds. His 12.5 total rebound percentage during 2013-14 was the second-worst of his career. For comparison’s sake, Joakim Noah and Kevin Love—two of league’s best at crashing the boards—were both above 18 percent last season.

That’s not to say Hibbert has to be an elite rebounder, but there’s no reason he shouldn’t snatch at least nine every night. His size gives him a nice advantage, and it’s something that will also provide an edge in another area.

 

Low-Post Presence

Hibbert is a big fella—over seven feet and nearly 290 pounds—so he should be able to have his way with just about anyone down low.

But the former Hoya didn’t get the same looks as he did in previous years. During the 2013-14 season, Hibbert‘s attempts came eight feet away from the rim on average. That’s 1.5 feet farther than 2012-13 and two more when compared to the year before.

It wasn’t just his attempts, though, as Hibbert was receiving the ball farther away from the rim. Of the 40 touches he averaged per game, only 6.3 came within 12 feet of the basket, per NBA.com.

Indiana has to change this by putting its center in better positions. It can isolate him on the low block and let him work from there. Hibbert has a very solid hook shot, and his physique should allow him to get good position against most centers in the league.

The video shows an example of where Hibbert was when Indiana entered the ball in the post.

The Pacers will probably have to become an inside-scoring team, relying on West and Hibbert to provide a bulk of the points. Without George and Stephenson—their main perimeter threats a year ago—they really have no other choice.

However, the Pacers will need more than scoring from Hibbert. If they do switch to this style of play, they’ll also need him to become a better and more willing passer as he’s bound to see more double-teams.

This past season, he had the lowest assist percentage of his career at 6.2. Indiana isn’t exactly stacked with shooters, but the offense will greatly benefit from Hibbert becoming a better distributor.

The 27-year-old is in line to have the most responsibility he’s ever had. While it definitely starts with his offense, it will almost always end with what he does best.

 

Elite Defense

Defense is Hibbert‘s calling card, and now that he’ll have to focus on other facets of the game this upcoming season, he can’t allow his defensive efforts to falter.

The Pacers will have to lean heavily on their defense to keep them in games—more so than usual this time around. Indiana had the league’s second-best scoring defense last season, and Hibbert played a major role in it.

The former Georgetown star was the league’s top rim protector among starting centers last season, holding opponents to a 41.1 field-goal percentage on shots near the hoop, per NBA.com. He was also fourth in total blocks with 182.

Indy’s perimeter defense has also taken a hit due to its offseason losses, so a strong interior presence will be essential as it looks to maintain its spot among the top five defenses. West and Hibbert posted defensive ratings under 100 last season, so it’s not exactly the worst anchor to a defense.

On the surface, it looks like a lot is being asked of Hibbert, but it’s not out of this realm to think he can accomplish all of the above.

After all, Hibbert complained about not getting enough touches this past season, calling his teammates selfish, per NBA.com’s David Aldridge. It’s somewhat justified, too—although publicly stating it might not be the best idea.

Hibbert‘s usage rate was the lowest among the starters last season, and it was the first time during his career it ever dipped under 20 percent. While this may not be the exact situation he imagined, the circumstances are such, and he’ll have a chance to prove he can be a featured player.

Indiana might not make the playoffs this season, which is a giant leap back after appearing in consecutive Eastern Conference Finals. But Hibbert could be a big reason why their regression isn’t as drastic.

During the 2013 postseason, Hibbert had the best per-game averages of his career, posting 17 points and 10 rebounds. That’s pretty much what the Pacers need Hibbert to do so the upcoming season isn’t a complete waste.

Indiana’s season looks bleak, but a couple of steps forward in Hibbert‘s development could provide a very bright spot as the Pacers look forward to George’s return for 2015-16.

 

Note: Stats gathered from Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise stated.

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What Fringe NBA Title Contenders Need to Get Over the Hump

There are currently just a few surefire, no-questions-asked championship contenders in the NBA, but a number of other teams are close to joining that conversation.

In the cases of the teams to follow, the talent is in place but a particular hurdle still stands in the way of serious contention. For example, the Los Angeles Clippers, dangerous as they are, desperately need somebody capable of backing up Blake Griffin.

To be clear, we’re not discussing the already established title threats. The San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls are the NBA’s elite clubs—or at least we think so now, weeks before training camp opens.

Their championship chances are the best, per Odds Shark, and nobody will be stunned if any member of that quartet hoists that big, heavy trophy in June.

On the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got teams with no shot whatsoever at contention—your Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks and Orlando Magic, just to name a few. The list of non-contenders is much longer than that, but we’re not concerned with clubs lacking a shot at real success.

Instead, we’ll run through the fringe contenders, teams that have many of the required championship ingredients but need a key development in order to lift their profiles.

All of these teams were in the playoffs last year, but none advanced past the conference semifinals. And every one of them hopes to fix a critical flaw that stands between them and the league’s truly elite.

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What Dallas Mavericks Need from Dirk Nowitzki Next Season

In many ways, the Dallas Mavericks are a completely different team. They have new point guards, a revamped roster, a potential new playing style and, to top it off, elevated expectations for the 2014-15 season.

But really, the core of the team has remained the same.

The team still ultimately begins and ends with Dirk Nowitzki, as it has for the last 15 years. Between his shooting stroke and role as the cornerstone of the Mavericks, as long as he’s on the roster he will be a massive part of the franchise.

Then again, this season will be Dirk’s 17th NBA season. He can’t be expected to be the same player he once was. He’s changing along with the team.

With more help coming in, this is the most talented roster Dallas has had in a while. And as such, they need some tweaks from their star. Tweaks Dirk would be wise to make.

 

Doing More with Less

Last season, Monta Ellis was really the only guy on the floor besides Dirk who could create with the ball in his hands. Okay, maybe one and a half if Devin Harris counts.

But now, that number has ballooned.

Chandler Parsons will be a primary option on the wing, and he will have a lot of creative responsibilities. Raymond Felton and Jameer Nelson both will look to be more aggressive than their predecessor Jose Calderon. And a full season of the ever-attacking Devin Harris adds another player to this group.

And this means that Dirk will be less of a focus point. Fewer possessions will revolve around feeding Nowitzki in his spots. Now this may not be a ton of possessions, but it will be some.

As foreign as this sounds, it might not actually be a bad thing.

Nowitzki seemed to physically wear down as the season progressed. If the Mavs can afford to trim his minutes down and save him for later in the year, all the better.

But the bottom line is that Dirk will have to produce at a similar level with fewer opportunities. Though not being involved as much might save his legs, the Mavs still need production from their big guy.

He can afford to pick his spots, and he’ll probably get more catch-and-shoot opportunities, both luxuries that the Mavericks couldn’t afford last season. Obviously these are things that Dirk could like once he gets adapted to the new adjustments. But once he gets comfortable, these small changes will really help everyone around him.

 

Leadership

Unlike the previous section, this aspect requires essentially no changes from Dirk.

Nowitzki is not just the on-court core of the team, he’s also the leader in the locker room. The guy is loved by his fellow Mavs, and he’s the ultimate teammate, a guy other stars love to follow.

Take it from Tyson Chandler. The 13-year veteran gushed about Nowitzki in an interview with a local Dallas radio station.

He’s the type of guy, if I was a GM or president or owner, that I’d want to start my team with. He’s given Dallas his everything. When I first got here, I remember coming back late at night to get a lift in or work on some free throws and every single time I got there, he was there. He’d be putting up shot after shot after shot. It just shows that he’s never going to settle and he doesn‘t want to settle. He always wants to win and he’s willing to do whatever it takes. A lot was made about what I did and what I accomplished in my year here. He’s the man. When you have the top dog leading that way, you can’t help but fall in line

This team needs a leader. Someone to bring the roster’s mix of age, talent, role and experience together. Chandler has been all over the league and has seen his fair share of ups and downs. He knows a good leader when he sees one, and apparently he sees one in Dallas.

The task of meshing this team together will fall largely on Nowitzki’s shoulders. He’s done it for a couple of years now with all the recent roster turnover. The Mavs need him to do it one more time.

 

Crunch Time 

Let’s play a little game. Look at the Mavericks roster and point out some guys who you’d feel comfortable with taking a big shot down the stretch.

Chandler Parsons doesn’t have much experience in that department. Raymond Felton hasn’t earned anyone’s trust yet. Jameer Nelson shot incredibly poorly last year and Devin Harris didn’t shoot the lights out either. Richard Jefferson might rise to the occasion, but solely as a catch-and-shoot player.

Monta Ellis is the only guy who has recently shown any late-game chops. Him and Dirk Nowitzki.

So though Dirk may see less minutes and fewer touches, until the Mavs know what they have with this new roster, he will still have to be the fourth-quarter rock he’s always been.

According to NBA.com’s clutch stats database, last season Nowitzki was 18th in clutch scoring and had a plus minus of 1.9 in those same situations. Even in his mid-30s, he’s still as reliable as ever.

The guy even has his own top-10 clutch-shots video on YouTube for crying out loud.

Dirk’s late-game heroics are essential for Dallas. When the Mavs really are searching for a bucket, they need Dirk to answer the call. They need to have that option. Whether he’s a decoy or the trigger man, the team must have Dirk be the crunch-time guy they’re accustomed to.

Or else the late-game options get real thin real fast.

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Everything You Need to Know About Los Angeles Clippers’ Joe Ingles

Dante Exum isn’t the only wonder from down under who’s set to debut in the NBA during the 2014-15 season. According to Eurobasket.com’s David Pick, Joe Ingles, a teammate of Exum‘s on the Australian national team, will join the Los Angeles Clippers on a one-year, guaranteed deal for the league minimum.

That, in itself, is more than Ingles originally anticipated. “I won’t be on a guaranteed contract and will be trying to make the team but that in itself is motivation for me to go in and work,” Ingles told The Courier-Mail‘s Boti Nagy during the recently concluded 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain.

Ingles, though, isn’t just another international veteran trying to find a niche for himself in the Association. The 26-year-old native of Happy Valley (not the one in Pennsylvania, of course), who also holds a British passport, happens to be one of the most accomplished Boomers around and may well make a significant impact as a rookie come fall.

Ingles certainly knows a thing or two about making a splash right off the bat. In his first game with the South Dragons of Australia’s National Basketball League, Ingles, then all of 19, scored 29 points—an NBL record for a player debut—to tip off a campaign that would conclude with him as the league’s Rookie of the Year. All in all, Ingles averaged 15.3 points, 4.9 rebounds and three assists per game that season, per FOX Sports Pulse.

Prior to that, Ingles spent two years at the Australian Institute of Sport, the same school that produced Exum and Andrew Bogut. Ingles was preceded in stardom at AIS by Brad Newley, a second-round pick of the Houston Rockets in 2007.

Ingles was never drafted by an NBA team, though his upcoming time in L.A. won’t be the first he’s spent in affiliation with the Association. Ingles was a member of the Golden State Warriors‘ Summer League squad in 2009 and 2010 but failed to garner a suitable contract from either stint.

Instead, Ingles opted to bolster his game and his credentials overseas. He led the Dragons to what would be their first and only NBL title in 2009; the club was dissolved shortly thereafter.

From there, Ingles jumped to CB Granada in Spain’s prestigious Liga ACB. He immediately emerged as one of the team’s most productive players, averaging 11 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.1 steals in 29.2 minutes.

But Granada, as a whole, struggled. The squad went just 15-19 during the 2009-10 campaign and soon found itself unable to afford Ingles amidst its crippling debt. As a result, Granada offloaded Ingles to Barcelona Regal just seven games into the 2010-11 season.

Ingles tasted plenty of team success with the Blaugrana, even as his own output declined. Barcelona won five domestic competitions and contended in the Euroleague during each of Ingles‘ three seasons with the club. In none of those campaigns, though, did Ingles average more than 6.3 points or 20.1 minutes per game, per DraftExpress.

That didn’t really change this past season, either, when Ingles made his way to Maccabi Tel Aviv. He put up 6.8 points per game during the regular season in Israel, 2.9 points in the playoffs and 6.4 points amidst Maccabi‘s surprising run to the Euroleague crown under David Blatt.

In Ingles‘ defense, European club basketball isn’t exactly conducive to putting up big numbers. The team-oriented, sharing-is-caring style of play that the San Antonio Spurs have perfected was about as close as any NBA squad has yet come to replicating the continental basketball culture on American shores.

That being said, the Australian national team has long been the driving force behind Ingles‘ career ascension, and this year was no different.

Ingles first appeared on the international stage at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, with an 11-point fourth quarter against Team USA. His star rose another step at the 2010 FIBA World Championships in Turkey, where he put up 10.3 points, three rebounds and 2.2 assists on the Boomers’ behalf. 

Come 2012, Ingles was a bona fide cornerstone of the Australian team. He put up an impressive line of 15 points, five rebounds and 4.3 assists while shooting a scorching-hot 63 percent from the field. Ingles bested even that efficiency at this year’s World Cup, where he nailed 70.8 percent of his field goals, including 66.7 percent of his threes—albeit during an abbreviated run for the Aussies.

Still, Ingles has clearly come a long enough way to warrant more than a tryout in the NBA. He hit better than 40 percent of his threes in Europe last year, thereby quelling lingering concerns about his perimeter shot. 

He’s always been a good athlete who can create off the bounce, be it for himself or for his teammates. Now that he can shoot, Ingles brings to the table the sort of skill set with which he can become another valuable “3-and-D” guy. Here’s how then-Australian coach (and current Philadelphia 76ers head man) Brett Brown described Ingles‘ game back in 2012 (via The Daily Telegraph‘s Jim Tucker):

“Joe’s got a body like (Detroit Pistons‘ small forward) Tayshaun Prince. He’s long, left-handed, multi-faceted at guard or small forward, he’s stepped up in defence to take personal pride in guarding people and you’ve seen his competitive spirit here.”

Does that mean Ingles is going to be a key cog for the Clippers this season?

He certainly could. L.A.’s wing rotation has thinned somewhat with the Jared Dudley trade and wasn’t all that exciting to begin with. Beyond Matt Barnes, who’s had his own issues with inconsistency over the years, the Clippers will count on a host of youngsters (Reggie Bullock, C.J. Wilcox) and fringe types (Chris Douglas-Roberts, DeAndre Liggins) to fill out their wing rotation.

That may well afford Ingles enough opportunity to prove his worth in the NBA. Then again, on a Clippers club that’s already so close to championship contention, Ingles will probably have to work that much harder and shine that much brighter for anyone to take notice.

But Ingles hasn’t had much trouble garnering attention yet. Who’s to say that will change now?

 

For more on the Clippers, find me on Twitter!

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Breaking the Mold: Why the Knicks Need Tim Hardaway Jr. to Fulfill His Promise

There was something strangely familiar about Tim Hardaway Jr.’s rookie season.

After a promising first year, Hardaway became the third Knick in the last four seasons to be named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team. The other two, Landry Fields and Iman Shumpert, regressed after their first year.

For the Knicks to have any hope in 2014-15, they need Hardaway to break the recent tradition of rookies fizzling out.

The trend began in 2010-11, when Fields took the NBA by surprise and averaged 9.7 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 31.0 minutes per game while shooting 49.7 percent from the field and 39.3 percent from three-point range. Donnie Walsh went so far as to compare Fields to a young John Havlicek. The comparison was a stretch, even at the time, but Fields, a second-round pick, looked like the steal of the draft.

He couldn’t sustain it. Fields lost confidence in his second year, and his percentages dipped to 46.0 percent from the field and a ghastly 25.6 percent from three-point range. Even his free-throw shooting plummeted (76.9 percent to 56.2 percent).

By Year 4, Fields was averaging just 2.3 points in 10.7 minutes per game for Toronto (including 35 games in which he didn‘t play due to a coach’s decision), putting his NBA career on life support.

Shumpert’s career arc has been tragic in its own way. Like Fields, Shumpert debuted with aplomb, averaging 9.5 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 28.9 minutes per game. Shumpert didn‘t shoot as well as Fields (40.1 percent from the field and 30.6 percent from three) but earned a reputation as a lockdown defender and boasted a defensive rating of 101 according to Basketball-Reference.com, excellent for a rookie.

Then he blew out his knee. It’s difficult to say how much the injury stunted Shumpert’s development, but it certainly didn’t help. His offensive game has barely improved in three seasons, if at all, and his defense has slipped too—a 108 defensive rating last season placed Shumpert in the bottom half of the league.

Sensing a pattern yet?

Last season Hardaway Jr. averaged 10.2 points, 1.5 rebounds and 0.8 assists in 23.1 minutes per game while shooting 42.8 percent from the field and 36.3 percent from beyond the arc. Although it’s clear that Hardaway is a more prototypical shooting guard than Fields or Shumpert, the numbers are strikingly similar.

Hardaway hasn’t had to battle injuries like Shumpert, and confidence issues—which derailed Fields—are the least of Hardaway‘s concerns. But opponents now have a book on Hardaway. Teams are armed with a season of film and data documenting Hardaway’s weaknesses, which they will exploit.

Their target will be Hardaway’s soft underbelly: his defense.

Hardaway’s 114 defensive rating ranked 328th out of 337 players who logged 500 minutes last season, and the numbers bear out what was visible on the court: frequent mental lapses, failure to close out shooters and struggles guarding the pick-and-roll. If Hardaway has any designs on a successful NBA career, he must shore up his defense.

The “promising” part of “promising rookie year” was mainly limited to Hardaway’s offensive game, where he ran the floor like a gazelle and at times lit it up from range. Still, there were holes. Hardaway was too streaky, mostly due to poor shot selection.

Shedding his gunner mentality would go a long way for Hardaway, although good luck ingraining restraint in anyone who would cite J.R. Smith as a mentor.

If the Knicks want to entertain any notions of the playoffs next season, Hardaway must improve. The backcourt was shambolic last season. Felton was overweight and overmatched, Smith was incredibly erratic (even by his standards) coming off a marijuana suspension and knee surgery, and Shumpert—whose tense relationship with Mike Woodson was palpable—drifted in and out of games like a petulant teenager. And let’s not even get into the Beno Udrih fiasco.

Mercifully, Phil Jackson upgraded the backcourt in the offseason when he jettisoned Felton for Jose Calderon, a capable point guard with three-point shooting to complement an offense built around Carmelo Anthony. But Calderon is another weak defender, and pairing him with Hardaway could be a disaster unless Hardaway vastly improves on defense.

One way or another, the Knicks will be a bad defensive team next year; the question is how bad. They lost former Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler, although by the end of last season it was clear Chandler had either checked out, was on the decline or both. How effectively new additions Samuel Dalembert and Jason Smith can plug the defensive holes remains to be seen.

To make matters worse, the perennially incompetent Andrea Bargnani will be back from injury, and the sieve-like Amar’e Stoudemire will demand minutes too. If Smith starts over Shumpert, it’s possible that Anthony will be the best individual defender in the Knicks’ starting lineup. Carmelo Anthony.

It’s a frightening thought. The silver lining is Hardaway, who unlike the rest of the roster (excluding rookie Cleanthony Early) can still improve. At 22 his NBA makeup is still elastic, and there’s no reason to believe that with his athletic ability he can’t become at least a par defender in the league. But he has miles to go.

Anyone can surprise in a rookie year. Building on it is different question altogether. If Hardaway goes the way of Fields and Shumpert, the Knicks will almost certainly be resigned to another year of sub-mediocre basketball. If he comes through on his promise, the Knicks just might show some promise of their own as they transition into a new era.

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The Detroit Pistons need to trade to upgrade

With a largely returning roster the Detroit Pistons need to make significant roster changes to avoid another losing season. The Pistons have already taken action and made changes to the front office and coaching. Longtime President and General Manager Joe Dumars has stepped down and Stan Van Gundy has come in as President and Coach. Van Gundy inherits a team that needs a lot of help.
The team needs to help itself and change the roster. The roster has talent, but the talent does not work well together. The starters Brandon Jennings, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Josh Smith, Greg Monroe, and Andre Drummond can all play, but not together. Smith especially hurts the team playing together out of place at small forward.
Josh Smith
Smith is an explosive player with freak athleticism at the power forward position. Playing at small forward does not play to his strengths. He is not in the paint as much playing at small forward. This results in him being forced to take outside jumpers instead of using his athleticism to get

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What Brooklyn Nets Need from Joe Johnson Next Season

A year ago, it was championship or bust.

This season, a playoff berth should satiate Brooklyn Nets fans. But with Deron Williams and his questionable ankles a year older, a new leader must emerge. 

That’s where Joe Johnson steps in. 

 

Leadership

Williams may not be able to lead by example like he once did. His ankles have become brittle, and the explosiveness that once made D-Will a top-three point guard is no longer present. 

Johnson did well last season as Brooklyn’s head honcho. His willingness to take big shots and knock them down in the closing moments of games gave the Nets stability amid an otherwise volatile year. 

In order to avoid a poor start, Brooklyn will need Johnson to enter the season ready and hungry for more responsibility. Johnson possesses the tools—he’s a good playmaker for a shooting guard, his jumper is wet and his lack of an ego or attitude never alienates his teammates. 

He could be a little isolation-happy at times, but Johnson is one of very few players who could excel in any system.

Under head coach Lionel Hollins, he’ll need to carry over the ball movement and post play that benefited the Nets in 2013-14.

If Johnson could initiate the offense a little more, it should play into Williams’ favor. The less hard cuts D-Will has to make, the less the ball is in his hands and the healthier he should be able to remain. 

  

Efficient Shooting

Johnson shot 45.4 percent in 2013-14, which was above his career average of 44.3 percent. In order for Brooklyn to be a force, Johnson will need to once again shoot above the mean for his career. 

There aren’t too many proven offensive options on the roster, and the Nets may need to rely on their defense to generate offense at times. But if Johnson could be more consistent with his jumper and get back to the 20 PPG club, Brooklyn could have dark-horse potential. 

He’ll need to carry over his rhythm from the end of last year. In March and April, Johnson shot 49.8 and 48 percent from the field, respectively.

In the playoffs, against the Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat, Johnson posted field-goal percentages of 52.3 and 54.8, respectively. 

Spreading the floor is a necessity for any fluid offense, and the more consistent and assassin-like Johnson could be, the better 2014-15 will be.

Johnson will need to shoot around his career high of 47 percent, and he’ll need to be more aggressive, contributing the 20 points a night he has within him. 

 

Focused Defense

Johnson, like Carmelo Anthony, isn’t known for his defense. However, like Melo, Johnson is capable of not being a revolving door.

Brooklyn will need Johnson to provide consistent, competent defense. If the veteran could stay in front of his opponent, rotate well and close out properly, his job will be done.

The Nets have a gritty roster with hardworking players like Mason Plumlee, Alan Anderson and newcomer Jarrett Jack.

As long as Johnson isn’t playing matador defense and letting his opponent get to the basket with regularity, Brooklyn should be able to grind games out and finish the year with around 45 wins.

Johnson’s consistent effort on both ends of the floor, coupled with his increased offensive efficiency, will help the franchise in its quest for prominence. 

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