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A Realistic Free Agent Wish List for the Knicks

A realistic list of free agent guards, forwards and centers the Knicks should target this summer.

Tommy Beer

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LeBron James is not walking through that door…

Back in the summer of 2010, the last time (and the first time since 1996) that the New York Knicks were under the salary cap, New Yorkers were dreaming of landing the biggest of fishes. Hopes were high that LeBron might relocate to NYC, and bring along a couple of All-NBA his buddies with him. As we know, the Knicks were spurned by LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and had to settle for the oft-injured Amar’e Stoudemire.

This summer, the Knicks will once again be major factors in the free agent market, as they have upwards of $27 million to lavish on available players. And while LeBron James is again expected to exercise his player option and become a free agent, even the most optimistic Knicks fans knows LeBron is not coming to New York. In fact, it’s also highly unlikely that rest of the cream of the 2015 free agent crop lands in NYC as well. Studs such as LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Love and Marc Gasol can all make far more money by re-signing with their current teams – who are all near the top of the NBA standings.

However, Knicks president of basketball operations Phil Jackson still has a tremendous opportunity to improve and reshape the roster.

Even without signing one of the elite, top-tier players, Jackson can craftily construct a foundation that puts New York back on the road to relevancy. By spreading the money around, Jackson can build a balanced roster, one that is not reliant on just one or two superstars. (Of course, who the Knicks select in June’s draft will obviously impact the direction they take in free agency…)

With that in mind, here’s what a potential and realistic wish list for the Knicks might look like:

 

Guards:
Wesley Matthews – Unrestricted Free Agent
The Knicks are not going to win a championship next season. Thus, there is no need to chase a ‘quick fix.’ New York has to slowly but surely re-establish a winning culture. Consequently, New York can afford to take a chance on a player coming off a major injury, giving him time to fully heal. Matthews tore his Achilles tendon in early March and is facing a daunting rehab. However, that will scare off plenty of suitors and will likely drive his price down considerably. Before the injury, the underrated Matthews was enjoying another solid season, playing well on both sides of the ball. In fact, he was leading the entire league in made three-pointers at the All-Star break. Recovering fully from an Achilles tear is certainly no guarantee, but if his price tag drops far enough, Matthews could be a very shrewd signing.

Danny Green – Unrestricted Free Agent
Born and raised on Long Island (he attended St. Mary’s High School in Manhasset), Green starred at the University of North Carolina. He became the only player in ACC history with at least 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 250 assists, 150 three-pointers, 150 blocks and 150 steals, but still slid into the second round in the 2009 draft. He was eventually waived by the Cleveland Cavaliers before the San Antonio Spurs scooped him up. Green flourished in the Spurs’ system. He played well in big games, and helped propel the Spurs to a title last season. Would the native New Yorker be willing to give the Knicks a slight hometown discount?

Patrick Beverley – Restricted Free Agent
The Knicks desperately need to upgrade defensively, especially in the backcourt. Opposing guards have been able to get into the paint at will against the Knicks for years now. The ball-hawking Beverley has been one of the NBA’s most aggressive defenders since elbowing his way into the Rockets’ rotation. Like Wes Matthews, Beverley is out for the season. He underwent surgery on his left wrist that will require four months of recovery. This may decrease demand for his services. If the Knicks made a solid offer, would the Rockets match?

Cory Joseph – Restricted Free Agent
Joseph hasn’t had a real opportunity to showcase his skills, but has flashed intriguing upside in limited minutes with the San Antonio Spurs. It remains to be seen if a large enough offer could pry him away from San Antonio.

Eric Gordon – Player Option
Gordon was wildly overrated, and consequently overpaid, after his rookie deal expired. He’s been hurt and mostly ineffective since being traded to New Orleans in the Chris Paul deal (his scoring average has dropped in each of the last five seasons). Gordon has a player option for $15.5 million for the 2015-16 season. If he opts out, he would have to settle for a major pay cut, but could lock up a long-term deal. Again, if the price is right, he might be worth a roll of the dice. This season he is shooting above 45 percent from three-point territory and over 80 percent from the free throw stripe (Kyle Korver is the only other player in this exclusive club).

Jared Dudley – Player Option
Every good team needs a ‘glue guy’ like Jared Dudley. A solid shooter with a high-basketball IQ, Dudley is the type of bench contributor the Knicks have been missing. In the past, Dudley has talked highly of New York.

K.J. McDaniels – Restricted Free Agent
The raw rookie showed why he generated so much draft day buzz while playing heavy minutes for the Philadelphia 76ers earlier this season. However, he’s been an afterthought now that he’s buried on the bench in Houston. The Knicks badly need an infusion of youth and athleticism. McDaniels would provide both. He’s restricted, so the Knicks would have to make an offer that the Rockets refuse to match to land him.

Gary Neal – Unrestricted Free Agent
Neal is a sharp shooter who can come off the bench as a third guard and help space the floor, giving Carmelo Anthony more room to operate.

Honorable Mentions: J.J. Barea, Will Barton, Randy Foye, Mo Williams, Marco Belinelli, Rodney Stuckey, John Jenkins

 

Forwards:
Draymond Green – Restricted Free Agent
As detailed in depth here, Green would be an ideal fit in NYC. It is an expensive proposition, as the Knicks would almost assuredly have to offer a max contract to even have a shot at Green. Still, Green is the type of young, hungry, defensive-minded, versatile, unselfish, aggressive player who can help turn a franchise around. And it’s not just intangibles that Green brings to the table – he is on pace to become just the second player in NBA history to tally at least 110 blocks, 110 steals and 110 three-pointers in the same season.

Luol Deng – Player Option
Deng’s production has steadily declined the last few seasons, but he still plays hard and he plays the right way. For the right price, he’d improve any team he’s a part of.

Thaddeus Young – Player Option
Young doesn’t have any one particular skill that will bowl you over, but he contributes across the board. He’s been stuck playing for bad teams the last few seasons, which has depressed his value as he’s been forced into a larger role than he’d prefer. A player like Young excels when he can thrive as a complementary piece of a bigger puzzle (as he has been with Brooklyn since being traded to the Nets). The long, lengthy defender can guard numerous positions, and also contribute on the offensive end of the floor. During the 2013-14 season, he became the first player in eight years to average at least 17 points, six rebounds and two steals over the course of a full NBA campaign.

Tobias Harris – Restricted Free Agent
Another Long Island product, Harris has been linked as a potential Knicks target for years, but is that simply his agent trying to manufacture New York buzz in order to increase interest and leverage for his client? Harris has shown plenty of intriguing upside during his stint in Orlando, but his cost will likely be prohibitive, especially considering he’s probably not a perfect fit considering the Knicks many needs.

David West – Player Option
For starters, it’s unlikely the Indiana Pacers would let West get out of town. In addition, adding an aging veteran could be viewed by some as counter-intuitive. However, if the Knicks do draft a young big man (like Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor) with their first pick, ideally they would have a mentor on the roster to teach the youngster how to play the game and succeed in the NBA both on and off the court. You couldn’t ask for a better mentor than West.

Ed Davis – Player Option
Davis slid through the cracks last summer and had to settle for a low-ball offer from the L.A. Lakers. After a decent season in L.A., he’ll be a free agent again this summer.

Honorable Mentions: Mirza Teletovic, Chase Budinger, Jae Crowder, Derrick Williams, Thomas Robinson, Al-Farouq Aminu, Aminu, Jonas Jerebko, Tyler Hansbrough, Carlos Boozer, Tayshaun Prince

 

Centers:
Kosta Koufos – Unrestricted Free Agent
It will be very interesting to see what offers Koufos fields once he hits the open market. Backing up Marc Gasol, his playing time has been limited. However, his Per-36 minute averages are impressive: 11.1 points, 11.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks. Due to the dearth of big men in the league, plenty of teams will be interested.

Robin Lopez – Unrestricted Free Agent
He’s not nearly as accomplished on the offensive end of the floor as his brother Brook, but Robin is a better defender and rebounder. Robin has also been far more durable. Because the Knicks have ‘Melo and should have plenty of offensive firepower, Lopez is solid fit as he will be happy to clog up the paint, board and bang.

Tyson Chandler – Unrestricted Free Agent
It is obviously extremely unlikely that Chandler would consider returning to the Knicks, especially after rumors circulated that Carmelo Anthony requested that Phil Jackson and company move Tyson last offseason. However, the Knicks’ terrible 2014-15 season highlights how valuable Chandler can be. Anthony has always been the Knicks’ best offensive player, by far, since the day he arrived in New York; however, when the Knicks found brief success during Melo’s tenure – including the 54 win season in 2012-13 – Chandler was arguably the team’s most valuable player. That season, Chandler won the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award, the only player in franchise history to receive the honor.

Greg Monroe – Unrestricted Free Agent 
Monroe flashed elite talent and very intriguing upside early on in his career. As a 21-year-old, he averaged 15.4 points (on 52.1 percent shooting), 9.7 rebounds and 0.7 blocks per game in his second season. However, he’s never taken his game to the next level. His field goal percentage has dipped below 50 percent for three consecutive seasons. His steal and block totals have decreased three years in row. Still just 24, some team will throw plenty of money (and possibly even a max deal) his way. (Per a published report in the NY Daily News, that team might be the Knicks)

Enes Kanter – Restricted Free Agent
Kanter remains a bit of a mystery. He’s been in the league for four years, but is still just 22 years of age and has never averaged more than 27 minutes per game in any season. Will a team make a big offer and force the Thunder to match? What offer would be high enough to scare OKC away? Those are the big questions as Kanter prepares to hit restricted free agency. Our Jesse Blancarte recently broke down why Kanter’s defensive issues could hurt his stock in free agency (which could, potentially, make him more obtainable).

Omer Asik – Unrestricted Free Agent
Asik has been solid, if unspectacular, since becoming a starting center. He signed with the Houston Rockets prior to the start of the 2012-13 season, which was his first opportunity to showcase his full skill set as a starter in the NBA. Then, last summer, he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for a first-round pick. In the 200 games he has played over the last three years, Asik has averaged 8.1 points, 10.1 rebounds and 0.9 blocks. He’s not a stud, but certainly a serviceable starting center who will protect the rim and chip in offensively. In a league bereft of quality big man, Asik will have plenty of eager suitors when he hits the open market in July.

Brandan Wright – Unrestricted Free Agent
Currently on the Suns, Wright is playing for his third team this season. He had the best season of his young career last year in Dallas, when he averaged 9.1 points and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 67.7 percent from the floor. Still, there are noticeable flaws in his game. Can he handle the rigors of starter’s minutes? Is he worth upwards of $5 million a season?

Bismack Biyombo – Restricted Free Agent
Biyombo, the seventh overall pick in the 2011 draft, has been labeled a bust. He averaged fewer than three points and five rebounds per game last season. However, the big man has showed signs of life this season, particularly of late. Over the Charlotte Hornets’ last five games, Biyombo is averaging 9.0 points, 9.4 rebounds and 3.0 blocks, while shooting 58.3 percent from the floor and a respectable 68 percent from the FT stripe.

Honorable Mention: Jeff Withey, Chris Kaman, Aron Baynes, Lavoy Allen

Tommy Beer is a Senior NBA Analyst and the Fantasy Sports Editor of Basketball Insiders, having covered the NBA for the last nine seasons.

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NBA Daily: The Most Underrated Departures

A lot can be made about the under-the-radar players that teams pick up, but not enough is made about the under-the-radar players that teams lose. Matt John elaborates.

Matt John

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When comparing the loss of a star player to the loss of a glue player, there’s no question which one is worse. Losing a star can set back a franchise for years, with so many questions surrounding what they should do next in light of his departure. Losing a glue player doesn’t make as much of a sting, but it can make all the difference in a playoff series.

It’s a shame that Golden State had all the injuries that it did. Because, had the Warriors been at full health, we would have seen one of the most obvious advantages the Raptors had over them – their glue guys. The Raptors had plenty of them at their disposal while the Warriors’ glue guys had slowly disintegrated into a shell of the depth they once had.

Before Durant’s injury, Golden State had enough star power to match up with Toronto’s, but Toronto’s glue players rounded out the edges whereas Golden State’s could not. That made a big difference in how the NBA Finals turned out.

Which brings us to this summer. This may have been the most epic player movement in one offseason. The highlight has been the movement among the players considered among the upper class.

A fair amount of quality teams lost their star players this year. Golden State lost Kevin Durant. Boston lost Kyrie Irving. Philadelphia lost Jimmy Butler. None of these teams replaced their departed stars with players who can do everything they can, but their replacements can do enough to keep the team afloat.

It’s a rarity to see playoff teams that lose their star players make such an effort to replace them. What’s not a rarity is that these teams also lost some of their glue players in the process. Since so many big names switched teams this offseason, their decisions have overshadowed the role players who have done the same.

This won’t be the case next summer when the NBA has one of its weakest free agency classes it’s had in years, but not enough has been made about the glue guys who find themselves on different teams this summer. Let’s take a look at who would fit that bill.

JJ Redick – Philadelphia 76ers

The acquisitions of Josh Richardson and Al Horford – on top of paying top dollar to re-sign Tobias Harris – has overshadowed the loss of the man who helped kick “The Process” into a higher gear.

Redick was a brilliant addition for the 76ers. With Simmons slated to play his rookie year and Embiid itching to capitalize on his promising rookie season, Philadelphia knew that it was too good to be a bottom dweller. With the centerpieces coming into place, the team needed immediate help. With all the cap room in the world, it added a surefire contributor with Redick.

JJ’s all-around abilities as a player are not what they once were, but what he is best at showed up so beautifully that it made him worth every penny in Philly. Because Philly used his elite three-point shooting as a focal point of its offense, Redick averaged career-highs in points per game in his two years as a Sixer.

Averaging 17.1 points per game in one season then 18 the next doesn’t usually happen with players entering their mid-thirties. The 76ers basically used JJ the same way the Hawks used Kyle Korver, only at a higher volume. Offensively, he may have never looked better in his entire career.

Because Redick’s shooting fit so snugly next to Simmons and Embiid – the three-man trio was the most used three-man lineup by Philly last year – his three-point shot became a weapon. Now that weapon is gone.

Richardson and Horford are adequate three-point shooters, but their ability to shoot the longball isn’t as intimidating as Redick’s is. Compared to Redick, their three-point shots are not accurate nor quick enough that other teams would frantically do everything to make sure their shot couldn’t see a glimmer of daylight.

The Sixers should be fine this season, but adjusting to Redick is not going to be easy. Especially for Simmons and Embiid, who lest we forget are their two cornerstones.

Aron Baynes – Boston Celtics

There was some temptation to put Al Horford on this list, but those in the know can see clear as day that going from Horford to Enes Kanter is a downgrade for the Celtics. Boston’s going to miss Horford the most out of all the players it lost, but losing Baynes is really going hurt the team’s defense in the post.

There are lots of reasons as to why the Celtics disappointed as badly as they did. There’s no reason to rehash everything because you probably saw it yourself. In regards what Baynes has to do with it, well, an injury-plagued season had him play in only 51 games.

In the 31 games that Baynes was absent, the Celtics went 17-14. When taking into effect that the Celtics won 49 games in total, it’s not totally out of left field to suggest that maybe they could have added a few more wins, and then some, had Baynes avoided the injury bug.

His unavailability definitely played a role in how the Celtics defensive rating went from 103.8 to 108 in 2019. Since the defense allowed 4.8 fewer points per 100 possessions with him on the floor – the highest among players who played 800 minutes or more – they missed what he could do when he was out last season, and it’ll be the same reason why they’re going to miss him in his entirety this season.

To make things worse, Baynes and Horford made for one terrific frontcourt duo. In their first season, the two of them together combined for a defensive rating of 95.5. The next season, that defensive rating was 98.5. Baynes doesn’t have the typical criteria for a shot-blocker, but the results speak for themselves. When he’s on the court, he makes life hell in the paint.

Boston had to trade him in order to get the cap space to bring Kemba Walker in. With a star like that, sacrificing Baynes is more than understandable, but his absence should be felt.

The real question is, why exactly did Phoenix go out of its way to get him?

Al-Farouq Aminu/Moe Harkless – Portland Trail Blazers

The Trail Blazers lost a lot of players that helped them reach their first Conference Finals since 2000. Enes Kanter. Evan Turner. Seth Curry. Harkless and Aminu stand out the most among them because they’ve been with the team since 2015 – the year Portland lost LaMarcus Aldridge – and have been in the starting lineup for most of that time.

Losing continuity can really hurt. In Portland’s case, there’s more to this than just losing two players that they relied on. They didn’t replace what they can do. Both Harkless and Aminu are wings capable of playing power forward in a small-ball lineup. This summer, the Blazers added Kent Bazemore and Mario Hezonja and retained Rodney Hood.

Bazemore is a two/three tweener who’s barely played power forward. Hezonja has played some power forward, but he hasn’t really put it together. Hood played a fair amount of power forward in this year’s playoffs, but in the regular season, not so much. Most of the minutes he’s played are at small forward.

There is a gap there that one way or the other, Portland is going to have to fill. Neither Aminu nor Harkless are the best three-point shooters – Harkless’ three-ball somehow went to hell this season – but their defense will sorely be missed. Harkless has a Defensive Real Plus-Minus of 1.69 while Aminu had one of 1.46. While not the best, both finished in the top-20 in their respective positions.

With Jusuf Nurkic out for who knows how long, Portland definitely had to do something to fill that gap. Trading Harkless for Hassan Whiteside – in a contract year – was a move the Blazers had to make even if it’s just a stopgap.

Losing both continuity and versatility can definitely hurt when you’re trying to pounce on a tough, but wide-open Western Conference. If the Blazers want to go further than they did last year, they need to address this before the season starts.

Glue guys are important, but what they bring to the court can be replaceable in some cases. Fans should really keep an eye out on how buyout season goes because, with all the contracts that are set to expire this year, we could see a lot of talent on the open market six months from now.

The teams that lost these players have the privilege of waiting to see how they fare. Even if losing a role player doesn’t sting as much as losing an All-Star does, getting someone who can replace what he does can make all the difference between winning the championship and getting eliminated in the opening round in this day and age.

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Isaiah Thomas Facing Uphill Battle In Returning To Form

Isaiah Thomas has an opportunity for a great comeback season with the Washington Wizards – but did Thomas take too long to address his hip injury with surgery? David Weissman writes.

David Weissman

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Like the long ball, everyone loves a good comeback story.

This offseason, the NBA world had been enamored with the comeback story of DeMarcus Cousins. After two major leg injuries in a 15 month period, the association was waiting to see how the six-time All-Star would bounce back this season. Those speculations ended when Cousins tore his ACL in a pickup game last week, taking him out for the entire 2019-2020 campaign.

With Cousins’ return consuming the NBA world, many overlooked another comeback superstar – Isaiah Thomas. Once an MVP candidate, Thomas’ career now hangs on whether the labrum in his hip can heal properly. Unfortunately for the 30-year-old guard, he may be facing permanent damage to his hip that will prevent a fairy tale ending.

Thomas has been plagued with a hip injury since 2016, but will see his first attempt at playing a full season this year since with the Washington Wizards. Thomas faces long odds for a comeback story, but he has been the quintessential underdog from the beginning of his career.

Ultimate Underdog

In the 2011 NBA Draft, Thomas was the last player selected, mainly due to skepticism over his 5-foot-9 stature. After being selected by the Sacramento Kings, there were no expectations Thomas would be a contributor his first year. Despite those predictions, he ended the season as a starter.

For three years Thomas maintained the starting role and ended his tenure with the Kings averaging 20 points per game. Instead of re-signing him, the Kings refused to match an offer sheet of 4-years/$28 million and let him go to the Phoenix Suns, a bargain especially getting a free agent with a stat line of 20.3 PPG, 6.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game.

Thomas was traded to the Celtics in 2015 and had been considered an MVP caliber talent by the end of his first season in Boston. At his peak, Thomas had two All-Star seasons with the Celtics. He led them to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2017 by averaging 28.9 points per game. Thomas showed devotion to the Boston Celtics by playing through a torn hip labral injury he sustained during the regular season. The injury forced him to sit out two-and-a-half games in the conference finals, which led to a Celtics defeat in the series.

Despite his success, Celtics general manager Danny Ainge ignored what Thomas did during his tenure and focused on what Thomas could provide for the future. Ainge viewed Thomas as being an injured, under-sized point guard with aspirations of a maximum contract down the road. The Celtics avoided giving Thomas an extension by trading him away to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving. Ainge saw Irving as a more talented, stable point guard that the Celtics could build around.

After the Celtics playoff run, Thomas was diagnosed with a right femoral-acetabular impingement, a bruised hip and labral tear. Thomas decided to forgo surgery and do non-surgical treatment, usually preferred by most athletes. This treatment postponed Thomas’ debut with the Cavaliers until Jan. 2, 2019 and he ended up only playing 14 games with the team. Thomas was then traded to the Lakers due to locker room issues and played 17 games before finally opting for hip surgery.

Thomas was primed to earn a max-level contract after his 2017 season. However, after a season full of off-court drama and injury, Thomas only got a one-year veteran minimum contract with the Denver Nuggets. Thomas made his debut with the Nuggets this past February after recovering from his hip surgery and only played 12 games last season. Due to a packed Nuggets backcourt, Thomas averaged career lows in minutes played, field goal percentage, three point percentage and points per game.

Coming into 2019-20 season, Thomas has signed a veteran minimum contract with the Washington Wizards, where he could earn the starting point guard role. Being able to run the offense for a point guard-hungry Washington Wizards team will be the ultimate opportunity for a great comeback season. The question is: Did Thomas take too long to address his hip injury with surgery? And what lasting effect will that have on his career? A torn labral in the hip is not an injury with a high success rate of full recovery for NBA players.

Injury

A labral hip tear occurs when there is damage to the labrum (ring of cartilage) within the hip joint (ball and socket joint) due to irregular movement in the hip. In some cases, if the injury to the labrum is not repaired in time, permanent damage can be done to cartilage causing early on-set arthritis. When Thomas tore the labrum in his hip, it was due to a right femoral-acetabular impingement. A hip impingement is when an abnormal bone in the hip joint causes unusual contact between the ball and socket, sometimes tearing the cartilage.

Once torn, the labrum tissue in the hip does not heal on its own and surgery can remove or repair torn labral tissue. Currently, there are no procedures that will replace cartilage in the hip to prevent early on-set arthritis. The damage to the cartilage is permanent and will continue to cause severe pain. If injury to the hip is not that severe, athletes prefer to treat the issue with physical therapy by maximizing the strength and mobility of the hip to minimize the stress placed on the injured area.

Thomas played through his labral tear through the 2016-2017 season and postponed surgery 32 games after he tried to rehab the injury. The biggest issue for Thomas is whether the problem has been neglected so long that the impingement causes permanent cartilage damage and leads to arthritis. It is unknown how much damage has been done to his cartilage, but this would be the biggest obstacle to making a full comeback. Based on the lingering issues with his hip, it would not be surprising if he is facing early on-set arthritis.

Possible Outcomes

The success rate for the average person has not translated to the NBA. LaMarcus Aldridge is one of the few who came back from this injury and succeeded. Aldridge was a freshman at the University of Texas when he tore his hip labrum and successfully came back from the injury after undergoing only nine months of rehab. Six years later, Aldridge suffered another tear to his hip labrum, but decided to undergo surgery. He came back six-and-a-half months later and has had an All-Star career without any other hip injury.

On the other hand, 6-foot Johnny Flynn – a similar sized point guard to Thomas – had surgery in July 2010 after his rookie season. The former number six overall pick played his final NBA game in 2012.

Martell Webster, a 10-year veteran, underwent surgery in November 2015 to repair a partial tear in his right hip labrum. 21 months later, Webster was signed to the Charlotte Hornets training camp, but got cut five days later.

Lastly, Wilson Chandler missed significant time from multiple labrum tears and subsequent surgeries from 2010 to 2016, but he has been healthy and decently productive since the beginning of the 2016-2017 season.

Isaiah Thomas took over the basketball world in 2016 and dominated at a level very few people thought was possible for his size. The Wizards hope Thomas can recover and return to MVP form, again proving all the critics wrong. Unfortunately for Thomas, small guards like himself do not have the best track record of coming back from a torn labral, and his future really depends on how much damage has been done to the cartilage in his hip.

Playing through the torn labrum from 2016 to 2018 without surgery may have cut Thomas’ career short. With continued lingering hip issues, there is a significant possibility that he is facing early on-set arthritis, a condition that could ultimately keep him from returning to MVP form.

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High-Performance Mindfulness: Top Ways To Translate Practice Into Statistical Improvement

Jake Rauchbach nails down 5 foundational ways for players to translate in-practice repetition into in-game statistical performance improvement.

Jake Rauchbach

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There are players at all levels of basketball, including the NBA, that struggle to connect the dots on how to translate their practice repetitions into actual statistical performance improvement during the game.

In past columns, we have discussed how unconscious performance blocks can derail a player’s improvement. A refresher for some of the most commonly held subconscious barriers to performance can be found here and here.

Unconscious barriers to success can affect a player’s ability to consistently perform at optimum levels. That being said, we have all seen players that seem to be able to seamlessly migrate practice repetition over to in-game performance improvement, while other equivalently-talented players seemingly struggle to do so.

So, what are the underlying reasons for this dichotomy in player development? What’s the differentiating factor for translating practice repetition into in-game performance improvement?  The answer is mental focus.

Mental Focus is Key

The consistency with which a player remains mentally locked-in is crucial. A player’s ability to interface with his present moment awareness during his timeline for preparation – practice, individual workouts, film study and the game – directly influences how much translatable on-court performance improvement will be had by the player come game time.

One of the main things that coaches tell players is: “Come ready to play!” Interpreted more literally, this means come focused. However, many players do not have a repeatable process for getting the most out of their preparation process.

There Are Levels to This

It is important to note that there are levels of application for High-Performance Mindfulness techniques. Just like progressions in an on-court skill-development series, a similar process is employed when teaching players how to sharpen focus to statistically improve performance.

There are foundational tools and skill-sets that players can pick up and begin to employ straight away.

There are also leading-edge Energy Psychology – Integrated Player Development processes. Specific to each player, these zero in on statistically improving specific parts of a player’s game that the player, coach or general manager pre-determines.

This is the next level of High-Performance Mindfulness. We will break these down at a later date. For this column, we’ll outline some foundational HPM tools that players can begin to employ immediately to begin sharpening their focus and influencing in-game improvement upwards.

Foundational Techniques to Improve Mental Focus

Meditation

Meditation has been scientifically shown to help improve focus and attention, creative thinking and regulation of emotions, all of which are critical elements regarding successfully processing through split-second reads during the game. Meditation has also been shown to decrease depression and anxiety.

There are many types of meditation practices. However, what I have seen work best for high-level basketball players is employing a 15-minute meditation session twice a day, once in the morning and once at night.

20 years ago, there were very few athletes who would touch a yoga practice. Look for meditation to become the new yoga, helping athletes sharpen focus and master internal peace of mind. The effects of this technique, when fed into an overall focus for on-court performance, is immense.

Affirmations

Affirmations are an unbelievable way for players to clear and reprogram their deep subconscious minds of the toxic performance blockages stemming from experience. I have found “I AM” statements to be most powerful when working with players who employ these techniques on the court during the game.

The reason for this is that it reaffirms a new mental program while simultaneously counteracting emotional baggage, which has the effect of sharpening mental focus. When mental focus improves, so too does overall performance.

Visualization

Visualization retrains a player’s mind to expand the boundaries for what is deemed possible. One of the more profound experiences is observing players who manifest virtually the same play on the court that they have mentally Rep’d during visualization. We are talking about the over-the-top plays that they haven’t pulled off in months, maybe sometimes years.

Common examples of plays that high-major college and professional basketball players often visualize and then directly thereafter manifest on-court are:

  1. The Pick-Six: Denying the passing lane – Creating a Stealing – Going opportunity for an uncontested finish on the other end. This play is common for players who begin to focus on improving ball pressure through visualization techniques.
  2. The Big-Time Block: Defensively rotating over and pinning the ball against the glass. This is a big-time energy play that happens frequently when leveraging visualization to optimize defensive efficiency.
  3. The Dunk-On: Dunking on or over someone maybe one the most energizing plays in basketball. When visualization is employed to rep this specific play, often the player capable of such finishes performs it in real-time on the court.

Generally, this is an eye-opening experience for the player. There is a level of connection made by the player between the mental rep and the on-court execution of said play that helps to reinforce the High-Performance Mindfulness training.

These types of plays give the player a discernible cause-and-effect experience from implementing the mental rep, to manifesting the specific play on the court. Experiences like these help players connect the dots on how mental training positively correlates to improvement on the court.

Breathe-Work

The implementation of Breath-Work deepens awareness and has been employed by different cultures around the globe for years. Foundational breathing techniques are also the building blocks for many of Martial Arts such as Qigong, Tai Chi and Karate.

These types of techniques have been shown to help players hone focus by becoming more present, getting the athletes out of their head and into their present moment of awareness. Improving focus this way can have the overall effect of helping move the dial when it comes to on-court performance improvement.

Practicing Detached Observation

Observation is a key component in every technique mentioned herein. It is important to mention that as a standalone technique.

Once players are better able to recognize that they are not their thoughts, they are generally able to make the shift in detaching from the performance-blocking thoughts and emotions that have historically been holding them back.

This creates peace of mind and facilitates greater present moment poise and focus.

Improving in-game performance comes down to consistent mental focus over the preparation timeline. Employing the foundational techniques mentioned above will begin the process, helping players prioritize focus as a way to optimize performance efficiencies during the game.

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