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Allen Crabbe Discusses Free Agency, Nets’ Offer, Blazers’ Core

Blazers guard Allen Crabbe on free agency, the Nets’ offer sheet, Portland’s core and more.

Michael Scotto

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The Portland Trail Blazers have one of the best backcourt trios in the NBA with Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Allen Crabbe, but the group was almost broken up this past summer.

The Brooklyn Nets made a four-year, $75 million offer sheet to Crabbe as a restricted free agent, which Portland ultimately matched.

Crabbe recently visited Barclays Center, which would’ve been his home arena had Portland declined to match his offer sheet.

“It’s human nature [to wonder] what if?” Crabbe told Basketball Insiders inside the visitor’s locker room in the arena. “I’m happy with where I’m at. Walking in here, it felt kind of weird like, ‘Oh, I could’ve played here.’ But I’m where I’m at and I’m happy here so just continue to do what I got to do to be a great asset to this team.”

Portland had Lillard and McCollum as the backcourt of the future and a young, talented roster with upside and cap space when Crabbe entered restricted free agency. Brooklyn had more cap space, but little talent on the roster other than Brook Lopez and many holes to fill with few draft picks to select homegrown talent for the future.

With that in mind, what made Crabbe want to sign the offer sheet with Brooklyn?

“The culture, straightforward coaches and they told me everything, all the things they were doing with their organization and they were straightforward with it and I respected that a lot,” Crabbe replied. “I looked at how they were going, how they said they wanted to use me and things like that. As a basketball player, of course, you don’t want to turn a situation like that down. So I felt like, ‘Sign that offer sheet.’ And then again, it also shows that it’s good to be wanted by other teams. I mean, not just by your team, obviously. I’m glad that Portland did match it because it showed that they wanted me still on this team and they still value me. I feel like it’s a good thing. It shows that the organization is doing a good job developing their players and you’re getting attention from other teams. So I felt like with me, it was just a blessing and a good opportunity for me. It was really like my first year really getting to play significant minutes and having a significant role on the team. It was fun, but like I said, just to know that you have interest from teams and the way Brooklyn wanted to use me, it’s a good feeling. I know that I’m going in the right direction as a player and I just want to continue to build on that.”

Lillard, the face of the franchise, spoke highly of Crabbe’s value to the team on both sides of the court.

“He’s a really good perimeter defender,” Lillard said. “In our offense, we use a lot of flare screens and pin downs and he’s great with that action, coming off of them and shooting, coming off and catching, hitting the guy in the pocket, one dribble pull-up jumper; he’s great at those things. In this league, that’s in high demand right now. Guys that can make threes and play defense, especially at his size with his length, and kind of guy he is, he was that important to our team. I’m glad Brooklyn didn’t get him and we did.”

While Crabbe would be a starter on many other teams, he’s accepted his role with the Trail Blazers coming off the bench as part of the league’s most explosive backcourt trio.

“I think everybody as a competitor, everybody wants to bring something to the table,” Crabbe said of the trio. “Just watching them day in and day out, how hard they go and just looking at the hard work and seeing how it’s paying off. Everybody wants to be on the same level, but we also know that everybody’s role is different. One of the biggest things our coaching staff always told us is, ‘Be an All-Star in your role. Whatever we ask you to do, what you do best, do that to the best of your ability each and every night and that’s what’s going to help the team.’

“Everybody knows you’re not going to have the same opportunities as other players on the team. But our biggest thing, like I said, playing our role to the best of our ability. I feel that’s why we’ve had such great success. We don’t have selfish guys on the team. Nobody cares who gets the most shots one night or who gets the most points. It’s all about winning. That’s the culture we created over here and everybody’s just chipping in what they can to get wins.”

While Crabbe has proven to be a capable scorer off the bench (and shown upside when given more playing time), the headlines will always focus on the star backcourt tandem of Lillard and McCollum.

With that in mind, I asked Lillard where the team’s starting backcourt ranks among the league and he answered confidently.

“I think we’re right at the top,” Lillard said. “We can match up with anybody when it comes to our backcourt. I think we play well off each other because I’m constantly seeing where he is, I’m constantly seeing how involved he’s been in the game, I’m trying to get him going and vice versa, same for him. If it’s a game where maybe he’s hit a few shots and I haven’t got going, he’s like, ‘Dame, let’s look at this, let’s look at that, kind of get you in position to at least make a play.’ Or at least get a shot, because we care about each other, we care about how he can go out there and dominate the game and I can still be effective. We’re playing off of each other, but that and just the firepower, we’re able to score points in bunches. That’s a problem [for other teams].”

McCollum, who broke out last season in his first opportunity as a full-time starter by averaging 21 points on 45 percent shooting from the field and 42 percent beyond the arc, agreed with Lillard’s assessment.

“I think we play extremely well off of each other and I think he hit it right on the head, I think we’re one of the top backcourts in the NBA,” McCollum told Basketball Insiders. “We’ve just got to continue to build on that.”

With that in mind, what are the expectations for the Trail Blazers after losing in the Western Conference Semifinals last season?

“Just being a better team,” Lillard replied. “I think we came in and we had issues on the road, we had issues being consistent. We want to be better about those things and come out every night regardless of who’s the team we’re playing against, regardless of if it’s at home or on the road, regardless of it being a back to back, regardless of the record, we’re going to go out there and we’re going to be a better team. That’s what we expected of ourselves, to play a more complete game. When you expect so much of yourself and you’re not living up to what you expected of yourself, it’s more, I guess, disappointing from within our team than with everybody else. But we also feel like we’re going to work towards that. I said it in our first couple games: it was much better to learn and win games than to lose and have to learn from that. So I’m grateful for where we are, but we got a lot of work to do. I think it just shows how far we have to go.”

For Portland to challenge the Golden State Warriors and L.A. Clippers among others in the West, Lillard must take his game to an MVP level.

“I think I’m playing pretty well,” Lillard said. “Obviously, being probably my own biggest critic, I feel like there are a lot of things I could do much better. I feel like I can defend much better, just to help the team with our perimeter defense. A lot of times we’re giving up penetration or trailing in pick-and-roll situations and causing problems for our bigs to contest shots and the rim and then their man is getting offensive rebounds. Being a better playmaker, coming back and helping rebound more, things like that. But I think I’m having a pretty good season so far, it’s still early.

“As far as the MVP, I mentioned it because that’s really a goal of mine. I don’t go in to every game saying, ‘I want to me MVP.’ I’ve got to do what’s best for the team and we’ve got to win games if that’s going to be anywhere close to being a possibility. I try to focus on anything I can do to give us our best chance to win.”

While Lillard and McCollum get the headlines as the dynamic duo, there’s no doubt the collective trio with Crabbe is one of the league’s most explosive backcourts and will be the backbone of any success Portland has going forward.

Michael Scotto is a Senior NBA Writer for Basketball Insiders in his sixth season covering the league. He also works for The Associated Press focusing on Brooklyn Nets and New York Knicks game coverage.

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Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 12/15/17

Spencer Davies checks in on the race for DPOY with his top six candidates.

Spencer Davies

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It’s mid-December and candidates for individual awards are starting to really garner attention. On Basketball Insiders, we’ve been taking a close look at players who should be in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year in a unique fashion.

As the numbers begin to even out and the noise lessens with larger sample sizes, the picture becomes clearer. There is no clear-cut favorite, and the return of Kawhi Leonard will likely complicate things more in the future, but right now there are six players who have stood out from the rest.

 Luc Richard Mbah a Moute

It’s a shame that a right shoulder injury is going to keep Mbah a Moute out of action for the next few weeks. He’s done everything that the Houston Rockets have asked of him and more. It’s been his versatility defensively that’s made him a headache for any opponent he’s guarded. He’s able to seamlessly switch onto assignments coming off screens and create turnovers from forcing extra pressure.

The Rockets have the fourth-best defensive rating in the NBA (103.7) as it is, but when the veteran forward is on the floor, they allow just 99.8 points per 100 possessions per Cleaning The Glass.

 Andre Roberson

There’s not a lot of good going on with the Oklahoma City Thunder right now, though you can pick out a bright spot when it comes to the defensive side of the ball. As a team, they are first in the league in turnover percentage and second in defensive rating. This is due in part to Roberson’s ability to force his matchups to make errant decisions with the ball, which usually results in a steal for one of his teammates.

Currently, the 26-year-old is the top guard in ESPN’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus ranking system and 10th in Basketball Reference’s Defensive Box Plus-Minus. According to CTG, Oklahoma City is worse when Roberson isn’t playing (97.9 on/10.5 off) and his impact using those figures ranks in the 94th percentile.

 Kevin Durant

Here’s a case where the numbers don’t exactly tell the real story. The Golden State Warriors are technically a better team defensively by 6.4 points per 100 possessions with Durant off the court. But when you go deeper into things, things get clarified. Let’s start simple: He’s tied for most total blocks in the league (51) and the second-most blocks per game (2.1). The Warriors have the third-best defensive rating in the NBA at 102.9.

How about we go further into individual defense? Durant is contesting nearly 13 field goals per game and only 38.4 percent of those attempts have been successful, a mark that is the second-lowest for opponent percentage among those defending at least 10 tries per game. Diving deeper, the reigning Finals MVP is stifling in the fourth quarter, yielding a league-low 30 percent conversion rate (min. three attempts) to his competition.

 Joel Embiid

Trusting the Process has gone mainstream, and for good reason. Everybody is focused on the beautiful footwork, the sensational euro steps and the dream shakes, but Embiid’s got a suit just as strong on the other side of the ball. The Philadelphia 76ers are barely on the outside looking in as a top-10 defense, and they’ve been a team improving as they’ve grown together over the course of the season. The entire trio of Robert Covington, Ben Simmons, and Embiid has been the stronghold of the Sixers’ defense, but it’s been the sophomore center who has assumed the most responsibility to anchor down the paint and take on individual challenges against quality big men.

Embiid ranks third in DRPM among those playing at least 30 minutes per game and has the highest defended field goal percentage differential (-8.7) in the NBA for players seeing at least eight attempts per game. Philadelphia is also allowing 112.4 points per 100 possessions with him sitting, which is a 12-point difference that puts his impact in the 97th percentile.

 Eric Bledsoe

Since Bledsoe’s arrival, the Milwaukee Bucks have been on the upswing regarding their defensive principles. The combination of Giannis Antetokounmpo—who could be a candidate for DPOY in his own right—and the strong guard has created havoc for opposing teams. There’s a ton of pressure being applied and it’s worked well. Due to a less-than-ideal stretch a month ago, work still has to be done in order to rid the Bucks out of that bottom-10 stigma in that specific area, but they’re on their way.

Bledsoe’s reputation as an in your face, stick-like-glue defender precedes itself. He’s doing an excellent job with one-on-one matchups. Already hesitant to attack him as it is, opponents don’t try to take him much, but when they do, it doesn’t usually turn out in their favor. In isolation situations, Bledsoe is allowing just 0.44 points per possession and is tied for the second-highest turnover frequency on those plays, ranking in the 97th percentile according to NBA.com. Using CTG, the Bucks’ defensive rating dips by 13 points when he’s off the floor. That discrepancy is also highly regarded and ranks in the 98th percentile.

 Anthony Davis

Where would the New Orleans Pelicans be without Davis? There’s a special talent about The Brow that can’t really be put into words. He takes on the brunt of the defensive load and has for years now. DeMarcus Cousins started off as the physical presence of the duo on that end of the court, but it’s been Davis who has remained the most consistent force.

Answering the question posed in the first paragraph, the Pelicans are giving up 117.5 points per 100 possessions when Davis is not present. That is a ridiculous figure, and given that New Orleans isn’t the best team defensively in the first place, it shows his true importance to that group. Including Cousins, he is one of 13 players defending at least 14 field goals per game. The difference between them, however, is that he is allowing just 40.5 percent of those attempts to be successful. It’s the lowest conversion rate among that list of names. Add in the fact that he’s blocking almost two shots per game and is averaging a steal per game—that’s a convincing case for DPOY.

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Jahlil Okafor Being Slowly Incorporated By Nets

The Nets hope Jahlil Okafor can be a franchise player for them, but, of course, only when he’s ready.

Moke Hamilton

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It’s incredible that a player selected as highly in a draft and as recently as he could be considered damaged goods by his drafting team, but that’s what the Philadelphia 76ers thought of Jahlil Okafor, and the Brooklyn Nets were the beneficiaries.

Remarkably, behind the genius of general manager Sean Marks, the Nets, with Okafor, suddenly have a roster with two young building blocks in he and D’Angelo Russell. With Allen Crabbe and DeMarre Carroll, Marks has done an incredible job of improving the talent base of the Nets despite having little assets to offer in terms of trade value.

Now, with Okafor in tow, the question everyone in Brooklyn wants to know the answer to is “When?”

After acquiring Okafor and shooting guard Nik Stauskas from the Sixers on December 7, neither of the two played in any of the club’s first three games following the trade.

The idea, said head coach Kenny Atkinson, is to bring both Okafor and Stauskas along slowly.

“I just think it’s going to take time,” Atkinson, according to New York Newsday, said Wednesday after practice.

“I can’t give you a timetable. I think we come to these decisions as a group. We’ll know when he’s ready and we’ll give you the word.”

Selected with the third overall pick in the 2015 draft, Okafor averaged 17 points and 7.5 rebounds per game as a rookie. Since then, a combination of the rise of Joel Embiid, his lack of defensive presence and perceived inability to play in an NBA where traditional back-to-basket centers are considered obsolete dropped his stock dramatically, to the point where he played a total of 25 minutes this season for the Sixers.

Still, it hasn’t impacted the value that Atkinson or Marks sees in him.

“I think he’s been very serious, very focused, and that’s a great start because that’s where it starts,” Atkinson said on Wednesday.

“What’s your demeanor like? What’s your work? I’m looking to get to know him more.”

It’s not every day that a coach will acquire a new player who has impact potential and seat him on the bench, but that’s exactly what Atkinson has done. What it means, though, is probably more important.

When one considers what has transpired with the Nets since their move to Brooklyn, the franchise has been renowned for attempting to take shortcuts to the top. From Gerald Wallace to Joe Johnson to even Deron Williams, the moves made by the franchise were always designed with the thought of tomorrow, not the pragmatic patience and long-sighted view that, at least to this point, Atkinson and Marks seem to have.

In most situations, a franchise which knows that its first round pick is going elsewhere would feel at least some sort of pressure to win as much as possible in the short term, especially after having the first overall pick in the prior year’s draft snatched from their grasp. As a reminder, as a part of the 2013 trade that sent Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn, the Nets sent the Celtics their first round picks in the 2014, 2016 and 2018 drafts, as well as the right to swap picks with them in 2017.

As fate would have it, the Nets’ pick in 2017 ended up being first overall, but, obviously, the Celtics exercised their right to swap.

Since then, the Celtics dealt the Nets’ 2018 pick to the Cavaliers in exchange for Kyrie Irving, but to the front office’s credit, the knowledge of the sins of yesterday have no impact on the brick-by-brick approach that Marks has taken in attempting to rebuild the franchise.

Okafor, unlike his prior life in Philadelphia, isn’t coming to Brooklyn with the pressure of being any sort of franchise savior on his shoulders—he simply needs to fit in, on his own time.

“They know my weaknesses and strengths and I’m working with them every day to get better,” Okafor said on Wednesday.

“They already told me what they want me to work on and like I said, I’m all in.”

Obviously, Atkinson has a plan for Okafor, and with the Nets playing three games in four nights, having another big body to provide some minutes would do the team wonders. But, for a change, there’s no haste in Brooklyn.

“Right now, I’m just getting used to the pace,” Okafor said. “That’s the main thing. Especially with me really not having played at all this year,” he said, alluding to the fact that, despite weighing in about 20 pounds lighter than he was last season, his lack of action has cause him to lose a bit of his wind.

But while he may have lost his place in the rotation and his game readiness, in Brooklyn, Okafor has found something much more valuable—a sense of belonging.

“They’re just really invested in me and that just makes me feel wanted, it makes me feel a part of this team,” he said.

With the final debit of the ill-fated 2013 trade being paid this coming summer, the Nets will turn the page on a new era that they hope Okafor and D’Angelo Russell—two players selected one pick apart—can help to lead.

Behind the scenes, Marks will continue to work diligently to acquire undervalued pieces which can, for him, hopefully become a part of a sum that’s bigger than their individual pieces.

But, of course, like Okafor’s debut with Brooklyn, it’ll take some time.

That’s okay, though. Finally, at Barclays Center, for a change, there’s pragmatic patience. For sure, this time, there’s simply no need to rush.

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NBA DAILY: The Detroit Pistons Are In A Giving Mood

The Pistons were gifting opposing teams with wins during a seven-game losing streak, but Andre Drummond gifted his teammates with nine assists in a near triple-double against the Atlanta Hawks.

Buddy Grizzard

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During a seven-game losing streak that ended with Thursday night’s win over the Hawks in Atlanta, the Detroit Pistons crisscrossed the country like Santa while giving away wins.

The team lost in D.C., Philadelphia, San Antonio and Milwaukee before returning home for a trio of losses to Golden State, Boston, and Denver. As the losing streak mercifully ended, Pistons center Andre Drummond turned his generosity toward his teammates, falling just one assist shy of a triple-double.

“Call me Santa Dre,” said Drummond after the Pistons dispatched Atlanta 105-91 ahead of Friday night’s visit to the Indiana Pacers.

“I’m handing out gifts. I’m just trying to move the ball around. I’m trying to get my teammates in the right position to score. When they do get cut off, they’re able to pass the ball back to me to finish the play. So it’s just fun the way we’re playing.”

It’s been a while since the Pistons could take a lighthearted approach during postgame interviews. Coach Stan Van Gundy called Tuesday’s loss to the Nuggets, the last of the streak, one of the worst he’s coached in a career that has spanned better than 850 NBA games.

“It’s a win,” said Van Gundy, declining to take much away from a victory over the last-place team in the East.

“It certainly feels a little less burdensome now, so maybe we can just get back to playing basketball.”

Van Gundy had a lot to say about those burdens prior to the win in Atlanta. Asked if his team had fallen prey to any finger pointing during a poor stretch that has undone Detroit’s hot start, Van Gundy didn’t hold back.

“It does happen, but it’s generally because guys don’t want to hold themselves accountable,” said Van Gundy. “They want an excuse. It’s somebody else.”

Van Gundy further hinted that off-court issues may be contributing to his team’s poor play over the last two weeks.

“It’s hard to play when you have dilemmas, whatever they are. If your dilemma is an off-the-court thing, if your dilemma is I’m not getting enough shots, I’m not playing enough, this guy doesn’t pass to me … whatever your dilemma is, it’s tough to play,” said Van Gundy. “We do have some guys who just never seem to have — or at least they don’t bring it here — a dilemma.”

Rather than single out the offenders, Van Gundy pointed to reserve point guard Ish Smith, journeyman power forward Anthony Tolliver and backup center Boban Marjanovic as role models for consistent contribution, while also shouting out guard Langston Galloway and stretch four Henry Ellenson.

“To me, Ish, A.T., Boban, those guys are the same guys every day,” said Van Gundy. “How many times in two years have you sat there and said, ‘Wow, Ish’s energy is really down today?’ Or you see A.T. now going into his second year like, ‘Wow, A.T. just didn’t bring anything?’ You never say that because they just come and play. They don’t think about anything. They don’t think about, is practice too long? Is he wearing us [down]? They show up every day and whatever you tell them to do, they do. And Langston and Henry are the same, they just haven’t played quite as much.

“They don’t burden themselves down thinking about all these other things. Losing has guys down. Guys haven’t been shooting the ball well. That brings you down. All these things [are] weighing them down.”

While Van Gundy spoke of players holding themselves accountable, his actions suited his words following the Nuggets defeat as he took to the podium to point the finger directly at himself.

“I selected these players,” said Van Gundy. “I decide who plays. I decide what we run on offense. I decide how we play defense. That was embarrassing tonight. That’s on me.”

A single win against a struggling Atlanta Hawks team isn’t going to turn Detroit’s season around. The Pistons currently sit two games above .500 and only half a game ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers, which are presently on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. But Galloway, who led Detroit’s bench with 17 points in Atlanta, said the Pistons will take any win they can get, given the recent struggles.

“It’s definitely important to get off the schneid and continue to make an effort to get back on track and continue to keep this thing rolling tomorrow,” he said.

A win on Friday in Indiana would certainly help restore some holiday cheer to the Pistons. But the best gift of all would be to string wins together to put Detroit back in the heart of the playoff race.

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