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A Look at the NBA’s Top ‘Energy Guys’

Every team needs at least one energy guy. Jake Rauchbach highlights some of the NBA’s best.

Jake Rauchbach

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Great NBA teams require a leading scorer, a captain and veteran leadership. However, in today’s ultra competitive league, a player who can lift the play of his teammates through effort and passion is an invaluable commodity. Having players like this, who are willing to do whatever it takes to win, can be the difference between mediocre and playoff-bound.

A player who brings a high level of energy while simultaneously positively affecting the game without necessarily needing the ball in his hands is considered an “energy guy.” This type of player generally has a high level of intangible attributes.

Maybe the best energy guy of all-time was Dennis Rodman. Rodman could likely be the benchmark for all other hustle players to be measured against. Despite being an undersized big, Rodman’s relentless approach to the game produced absurd rebounding numbers and fueled championship runs for both the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls. At the height of his career with both teams, Rodman averaged 18.7 rebounds (and 9.8 points) during the 1991-92 season with the Pistons, and 16.1 rebounds (and 5.7 points) during the 1996-97 season with the Bulls.

As the NBA season has opened, there are several players around the league who stand out among the rest as premier energy guys. Let’s take a look at today’s impactful energy players.

Patrick Beverley, Houston Rockets – Nasty. That’s the word that comes to mind when describing how Patrick Beverley plays. The point guard finds ways to get under the skin of even the most poised players around the league. Views differ on whether Beverley’s play is considered dirty or just hardnosed. Nevertheless, it’s hard to refute the energy and effort that the 6’1 guard brings to his team. Beverley’s pressure of opposing ball handlers (sometimes in a full-court press) often rubs players the wrong way and leads to confrontations. Just ask Russell Westbrook, who has had several run-ins with Beverley.

Despite his antics, Beverley’s intensity on the defensive end, combined with his steady play on the offensive end, gives his team a boost that is often contagious. Last season, Beverley averaged 9.9 points and boasted nearly a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, while also adding 1.3 steals per contest. Assuming he bounces back from minor knee surgery, expect Beverley to resume his high energy ways this season in Houston.

Bismack Biyombo, Orlando Magic – Biyombo had a breakout postseason in 2016 and brought tremendous grit and enthusiasm to the Raptors during their playoff run. The big man helped the Raptors reach the Eastern Conference Finals. His most notable performance came during Game 3 against the Cleveland Cavaliers, when Biyombo recorded 26 rebounds, four blocks and seven points and was one of the central reasons for the win. Kyle Lowry explained how valuable Biyombo’s approach to the game and impact on the Raptors was last season. Speaking to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, Lowry described Biyombo as “our lion.”

According to NBA.com, during the last year’s regular season, Biyombo averaged 1.8 minutes between passes from teammates, which ranked him in the bottom 16 players in the league for a player playing at least 20 games. He is the quintessential energy guy – doing the dirty work and not needing the ball. He rebounds, sets screens and uses effort to affect the game. Between Serge Ibaka and Biyombo, the Magic now have two junk yard dogs who they are hoping will lift the team into contention for a playoff spot.

Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers– Players around the NBA cite Thompson as one of the top energy guys in the league, because he seems to never get tired and is always focused on rebounding the ball. Recently, a big man told Basketball Insiders that Thompson was his least favorite player to go up against because he’ll make you work for everything. Thompson helped spark the Cavs’ success over the past few seasons. The big man tenaciously attacks the glass and his high-energy play allows him to grab rebounds that, on first glance, seem out of his range. Thompson averaged nine rebounds last season, and he has averaged 8.5 rebounds per game over the course of his career. He is back at it again this season, averaging 9.5 rebounds per game through the first four games of the season.

Thompson embraces this role and enjoys impacting games with his rebounding and hustle plays. “My job is pretty simple, just come out and play hard and be an energy guy,” Thompson told Brian Windhorst of ESPN during the Cavs’ 2014-15 playoff run.

Oh, and it’s worth noting that Thompson looks up to the previously mentioned Dennis Rodman, watching film of him to try to emulate his game. “I try to be the best I can be at what I can do, and that’s playing hard and rebounding; I watch a lot of Dennis Rodman film,” Thompson told Basketball Insiders last year. “[I] see how he impacted the game, see how he impacted his team when he was playing. Especially for this team, I feel like I can do that and bring it to the table. That’s what I try to do every night. I liked his energy and his passion. He didn’t let any possessions off, made it tough, and that’s what changes a game.”

LeBron James even compared Thompson to Rodman last May saying: “What Dennis did for the Bulls on the floor, Double T does for us – giving us extra possessions, defending guys who are sometimes bigger than him. We know that every night he’s going to give us everything he’s got. Sometimes it doesn’t show up in the box score, but what he does is huge for our team.” As the Cavs try to defend their title, Thompson and his terrific motor will be integral to the team’s success.

Matthew Dellavedova, Milwaukee Bucks – “Delly” is best known for his defensive energy, which helped the Cavs clinch their first championship last season. Dellavedova unleashed fierce ball pressure and a do-anything-it-takes-to-help-the-team-win mentality that endeared him to both his teammates and fans. However, like Beverley, the Aussie’s style of play has sometimes been considered too over the top. In a Los Angeles Times poll of players and coaches in 2016, Dellavedova was voted the NBA’s dirtiest player. That didn’t stop the Milwaukee Bucks from signing Delly to a four-year $38 million deal over the summer.

This season, expect Dellavedova to continue his “take no prisoners” style of play. With his sturdy frame and high basketball IQ, look for Dellavedova to aggressively attack opposing defenses via ball screen action. This should open up opportunities for himself and teammates now that he’s expected to become more of a scoring threat with the Bucks.

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs – It may seem strange to see Leonard on this list, given that he has emerged as one of the best players in the NBA and may even be a Most Valuable Player candidate this year. However, he’s one of the few superstars who is also an energy guy since he has an incredible motor and relentless defensive approach. He is one of the best shutdown defenders in the league, as evidenced by his back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards. Leonard has built his game from the ground up, adding shooting and efficient offense to his defensive mastery. Before stepping up his scoring output last season, Leonard primarily affected the game with his athleticism, length and energy. During the 2015-16 season, Leonard averaged 1.8 steals, one block and 6.8 rebounds to go with his 21.2 points per game. During the 2014-15 season, Leonard registered 2.3 steals per game, which placed him tied for fifth-best in the league.

In recent years, players on opposing teams have dreaded facing Leonard. L.A. Clippers guard J.J. Redick raved about Leonard’s defensive prowess to Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated: “More than his length, his strength, his quickness, that mother‐‐‐‐‐‐ is So. Locked. In. I have no idea what scouting report they give him, but he knows every play, and he takes no breaks.” LeBron James has said that Leonard guards him better than any other player in the league, and there’s a great clip of James looking frustrated when Leonard checked back into the game when the two were facing off in the NBA Finals. During the first two games of this season Leonard has already tallied 10 steals, and looks to be picking up where he left off last season.

Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics – After being traded from from Phoenix to Boston on February 19, 2015, Thomas seemed to will his Celtics to the playoffs last season. Thomas went for 42 points versus the Atlanta Hawks in Game 3 of the first round, and he averaged 24 points per game during the series. Generously listed at 5’8, Thomas overcomes his smaller frame and maximizes his potential by playing with outstanding energy night in and night out. Like Leonard, he’s an All-Star, but he had to make this list because he can be a pest for opposing guards on both ends of the floor. He uses his jaw-dropping speed in transition and in the halfcourt to get to certain spots so he can create plays for himself and teammates. Although he looks to score the ball often, Thomas does a great job of getting his team involved, as evidenced by his 6.7 assists per game. Thomas can also hound opposing guards with his quickness and tenacious defense. It’s not uncommon to see Thomas diving for loose balls as well.

Through three games, Thomas is averaging 24.7 points, 6.7 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals (while shooting 53.1 percent from the field). Expect Thomas to continue to fill the stat sheet as he becomes even more comfortable in Boston this season. That sound you just heard is an annoyed groan coming from rival point guards around the league.

Do you have a favorite energy guy? Leave a comment below or reach out to Jake on Twitter (@MindRightPro).

After playing four years of college basketball at Drexel University, Jake Rauchbach coached at the collegiate level, founded The MindRight Pro Program and trained numerous professional and Olympic athletes. Now, Rauchbach writes about the NBA and college basketball for Basketball Insiders and serves as the Player Performance Specialist for Temple University's men's basketball team.

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NBA PM: Hornets Rookies May Become Key Contributors

Some key injuries may force Charlotte’s rookies into becoming effective role players earlier than expected, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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As the NBA finally gets underway tomorrow evening, the 2017 rookie draft class will get their first taste of regular season action. Teams reliant on young rookie talent might produce an exciting brand of basketball but that rarely translates into a winning formula. Having rookies play a key role for a team hoping to make the playoffs can be a risky endeavor.

Out West, the Los Angeles Lakers are relying on both Lonzo Ball as well as Kyle Kuzma, who may have worked his way into the rotation with his surprising preseason play. However, the Lakers are, at this point, not realistic contenders in the competitive Western Conference. In the East, the Philadelphia 76ers have more realistic playoff hopes. The team is relying on this year’s top overall draft pick, Markelle Fultz, and 2016’s top pick, Ben Simmons, for meaningful production. Although Simmons has been in the league for over a year, he is still classified as a rookie for this season since he didn’t play last season.

The Charlotte Hornets are looking to return to the playoffs after narrowly missing the cut this past season. The team will likely feature not one, but two true rookies as a part of their regular rotation. Like the Lakers, the Hornets feature a highly touted rookie with the talent and poise to contribute right away in Malik Monk. The team also features Dwayne Bacon, a rookie that has flashed scoring potential as well as maturity — key attributes that will allow him to quickly contribute to the team.

Both players will be given the opportunity to contribute as a result of the unfortunate and untimely injury to forward Nicolas Batum. Batum tore a ligament in his left elbow in an October 4 preseason game against the Detroit Pistons. Initial speculation was that the injury would require surgery. However, it was announced on October 10 that surgery would not be necessary, and that he is projected to return in six to eight weeks. Assuming that there are no setbacks in Batum’s recovery, the Hornets will be looking to replace his perimeter scoring, playmaking abilities and perimeter defense. Enter Monk and Bacon.

Monk and Bacon have both shown the ability to score the ball, which is not exactly a common trait in Hornets rookies. Bacon, the 40th pick in the 2017 NBA draft, has made it a point to look for his shot from the outside, averaging 7.8 three-point shots per game while knocking down 33.3 percent of his attempts. As Bacon gains more experience, he presumably will learn how to get cleaner looks at the basket within the flow of the team’s offense. Doing so should help him increase his shooting percentage from beyond the arc, which would turn him into an even more effective contributor for Charlotte.

Bacon spoke to reporters after a recent preseason game against the Boston Celtics. Bacon was placed in the starting lineup and went 4-4 from three-point range in 34 minutes of action.

When asked what are some of the things he wanted to work on, Bacon focused on one end of the court in particular.

“Definitely defense. I’m trying to perfect the defensive side, I want to be one of the best two-way players to ever play the game,” Bacon stated. “I feel like I got the offensive side so just keep getting better on defense, I’ll be fine.”

Lack of consistency and defense are key factors that prevent many rookies from playing and being successful on winning teams right away. Based on Bacon’s size (6-foot-6, 221 pounds with a long wingspan) and physicality, he has the physical tools necessary to play passable defense. Combine that with his ability to score (he led the team in scoring in three of its five preseason games) and the unfortunate injury to Batum, it’s apparent that Bacon will get an opportunity to make the rotation and contribute.

Reliable two-way players on the wing are crucially important, but are not always readily available and are even less common on cheap contracts. The Los Angeles Clippers went through the entire Chris Paul/Blake Griffin era swapping small forwards on a nearly annual basis, struggling to find this kind of contribution from the wing. With little cap flexibility, the Clippers were unable to acquire a forward that could effectively and consistently play both end of the court, which caused issues over the years. As a second round pick, Bacon is set to make $815,615 in his first year. If Bacon is able to contribute at even a league average level, that will be a major boost for the shorthanded Hornets. Bacon is smart to focus on improving as a defender as Steve Clifford is a defensive-minded coach who will leave talented players on the bench if they aren’t making a positive impact on the defensive end of the court.

In fact, Clifford offered some strong simultaneous praise and criticism of Monk when it came to his scoring and defense.

“He can score, he can score, he can score [speaking of Monk],” Clifford stated. “I think his defense will come because he’s willing, he’s a good guy. I think that being a good player is very important to him.”

It’s apparent in Clifford’s comment that he values scoring, but that defense is also extremely important and essential to any player that wants to be a “good player.”

“He knows and understands that the way he has played in the past [in college], he can’t play in this league if he wants to be a good player,” Clifford said about Monk. “The big thing is, I told him, when people say, ‘he’s a talented offensive player’ that is a lot different than somebody saying, ‘he’s a talented NBA player.’”

Point guard Michael Carter-Williams also suffered an injury (bone bruise in his left knee), which received less attention than Batum’s injury. While Carter-Williams is not the same caliber of player as Batum, the Hornets are alarmingly thing at backup point guard. Without Carter-Williams, the team was going to lean on Batum to act as a playmaker more than he has in the past, which would have, at least in part, addressed the lack of an established backup point guard. But with Batum sidelined, Coach Clifford has given Monk time at the point guard position. If Monk proves capable of playing both guard positions and playing alongside Walker, that could go a long way towards mitigating the loss of Batum and Carter-Williams. It’s not reasonable to expect Monk (or Bacon) to produce as consistently as a seasoned veteran, but having them contribute at a league average level would constitute a big win for a Charlotte team with serious playoff aspirations.

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Teams Refuse To Back Down To Stacked Warriors

Golden State got better over the summer, but that didn’t stop others from trying to stop them from repeating as champions

Spencer Davies

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Opening week is finally upon us.

Appropriately enough, the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics will kick off the 2017-18 NBA season tomorrow night, as will the defending champion Golden State Warriors when they host the improved Houston Rockets.

The clear-cut favorites to win the league title are the ones who have done so two out of the past three years, and rightfully so. Warriors general manager Bob Myers has done a masterful job of assembling a juggernaut. They’ve kept their insanely talented core intact and—aside from Ian Clark and Matt Barnes—haven’t lost any of their key bench pieces to free agency.

In fact, Golden State has added to that dangerous second unit. Jordan Bell was bought from the Chicago Bulls and will bring another Draymond Green-esque impact almost immediately. Nick Young and Omri Casspi were brought in to fill the void of backup wings, which is an improvement at the position anyway. With the same roster as last year and better reserves to give the starters a breather, there’s no reason Steve Kerr and company can’t repeat if they stay healthy.

Knowing what the Warriors are capable of and how well they are set up to truly be a dynasty, there are some league executives out there who are hesitant to make significant moves that could potentially flop against such a powerhouse.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported back in middle June that select teams don’t want to risk a big play because of it. What that basically translates into is: We’re throwing in the white towel until that ball club disbands.

But luckily for fans and for parity’s sake, there was a handful of general managers that refused to take that path. Just looking down the list in the Western Conference, there were organizations that swung for the fences this summer.

The aforementioned Rockets are one of them.Daryl Morey pieced together multiple trades to allow him to land Chris Paul to play next to James Harden and form a dynamic backcourt tandem. Houston also signed a pair of veteran two-way players in Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker to provide depth and defense.

What about the Oklahoma City Thunder? Just when we thought Russell Westbrook’s MVP season was enough to maybe build off, the unthinkable happened. Sam Presti unloaded Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to Indiana after just one season with the team to add All-Star forward Paul George, who is in a contract year.

That blockbuster move was followed up with another two months later, as Presti decided to deal fan favorite Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott to the Knicks in exchange for Carmelo Anthony. The creation of a Westbrook-George-Anthony big three forms an elite trio that is determined to prove championship worthiness.

Top tier Eastern Conference counterparts did their due diligence as well. The Cavaliers and Celtics are essentially rivals and became trade partners in an attempt to re-tool their respective rosters, in addition to gaining important pieces outside of that.

Boston inked Gordon Hayward to a maximum contract to create a bolstered starting unit alongside Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Al Horford until madness happened.

Firstly, Bradley got moved in a swap with the Detroit Pistons for Marcus Morris to address the hole at power forward. After that—with reports of Kyrie Irving’s unhappiness in Cleveland swirling around the basketball universe—Celtics general manager Danny Ainge acted immediately and swung a deal for the All-Star point guard in exchange for his All-Star point guard, a vital member of his team in Jae Crowder and the coveted Brooklyn Nets first-round pick.

It’s almost a brand new squad, but Brad Stevens has a versatile group to work with to try and finally dethrone the conference champions of the last three years.

As for the East’s cream of the crop, the Cavaliers moves are well known because wherever LeBron James goes the spotlight follows. Thomas and Crowder were huge gets for first-time general manager Koby Altman, especially after the outside growing doubt in the franchise’s front office. The rookie executive was also instrumental in signing Derrick Rose, Jeff Green, and Dwyane Wade to veteran minimum contracts.

Rose and Green have plenty of motivation because their critics think they’re washed up, meaning Tyronn Lue won’t have to give them a reason to play their hearts out. Wade simply made the decision to come to Cleveland because he can play with his best friend and potentially add to his collection of championship rings.

Ante Zizic, Cedi Osman, and Jose Calderon are also now a part of the roster that all-of-a-sudden is now deep at almost every position. It’s a new flavor for a team that may have only one year left to compete for a title with James’ pending free agency next summer.

Those four teams feel great about their chances to get in the way of the Warriors. It doesn’t stop there though. The West in general loaded up.

The Minnesota Timberwolves executed the first big move of the year when they traded for Jimmy Butler. The Denver Nuggets signed Paul Millsap to provide leadership and a veteran voice in a young locker room full of talent. The San Antonio Spurs lost Jonathan Simmons but brought in a very capable Rudy Gay under-the-radar as Kawhi Leonard’s backup.

Nobody expected the league to completely fold and hand Golden State another championship, but it was surprising (and relieving) to see so many teams have the fortitude to pull off the moves that they did. There was definitely risk involved for some of them, however, one thing is for certain.

The Warriors will not have a cakewalk to the NBA Finals. They will have to go through a rigorous set of teams in the West throughout the regular season and the playoffs.

If any team is up to the task, it’s Golden State. But we’ll see how it plays out starting about 24 hours from now.

See you at tip-off.

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NBA League Pass Debuts for 2017-18 Season

NBA League Pass has launched for the 2017-18 season. Basketball Insiders has the details.

Ben Dowsett

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The NBA and Turner Sports have launched NBA League Pass for the 2017-18 season, with several new features and pricing options available. NBA League Pass, a subscription-based service, will be available to users across 19 different platforms, from television and broadband to tablets, mobile and a plethora of connected devices.

In addition, an important note: As of Monday, NBA League Pass subscribers who have already purchased their access through a TV provider (Comcast, DirecTV, Dish, etc.) are now able to link their account to the NBA’s streaming service at no additional charge. The link to do this can be found here.

Basketball Insiders has you covered with a breakdown of all the new details immediately available. We will also be bringing you a detailed breakdown of certain important technological areas later in the week.

Features

New or improved features of NBA League Pass include:

  • Improved video quality for streaming League Pass content developed by iStreamPlanet, a high-level video streaming entity working in partnership with NBA Digital. Included among these improvements are faster delivery time for live feeds, reducing notable lag time present in previous versions. More detail on these video quality improvements will be featured in our breakdown later this week.
  • A new premium package that includes continuous in-arena coverage, even during commercials. This allows fans to view team huddles, live entertainment and other venue features that make them feel closer to the experience.
  • A season-long virtual reality subscription package via NBA Digital and NextVR, available to all premium and traditional NBA League Pass subscribers (also available to international subscribers and single-game purchasers beginning in week two of the NBA season). Access will be available across Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream and Windows Mixed Reality.
  • Coverage of pre-game warmups and other in-arena events.
  • Spanish-language video coverage for select games, as well as Spanish-language audio continuing for select games.
  • NBA Mobile view will contain a zoomed-in, tighter shot of game action that’s optimized for mobile devices.

Pricing

Pricing for NBA League Pass has not changed for traditional access, and will remain at $199.99 for the full season. New monthly-based subscriptions are now also available, both for the full package and for individual teams. Full pricing will be as follows:

  • Traditional NBA League Pass (full league): $199.99
  • Premium NBA League Pass: $249.99
  • NBA Team Pass: $119.99
  • Single Game Pass: $6.99
  • Virtual Reality package: $49.99
  • Premium monthly subscription: $39.99
  • Traditional League Pass monthly subscription: $28.99
  • NBA Team Pass monthly subscription: $17.99

Notes

As previously reported by Basketball Insiders, upgrades are also expected on the TV side of NBA League Pass, particularly through Comcast, which has had the largest share of customer issues for this product in recent years. While only a single nightly HD channel was available via Comcast XFINITY League Pass previously, sources tell Basketball Insiders that all games will be available in HD through Comcast’s Beta channel package by the end of November (or earlier).

This Beta package does have limitations, however, including users’ inability to record, pause or rewind games. The package that was available in previous season will continue to be available until (and after) the Beta package is active, and subscribers will get access to both for no additional charge.

Check back with Basketball Insiders later in the week for a full rundown of the technological improvements being made to NBA League Pass.

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