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Basketball Insiders Week in Review 11/30

Basketball Insiders looks back at some of the articles from last week in case you missed any the first time around.

Kyle Cape-Lindelin

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The Ascension of Marc Gasol

By Moke Hamilton

Way back in 2001—before his move to Germantown, Tennessee and long before his older brother became an NBA Champion—Marc Gasol was merely a figment of his own imagination.

Long before he became the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2013 and long before he became renowned as one of the top centers in the NBA, he was simply known as “Pau’s little brother,” before being affectionately referred to as “The Big Burrito.”

But today, you call him something else—the best center in the NBA.

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Fantasy Focus: Chris Bosh

By Susan Bible

When the Miami HEAT’s “Big Three” of the past four years (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh) suddenly became the “Remaining Two” after James bolted for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the offseason, fantasy basketball owners collectively posed one question: Will Bosh return to his Toronto Raptors-era numbers?

Bosh was the unquestionable go-to player and face of the franchise during his seven-year stint in Toronto. Looking at his final four-year statistics with the Raptors, he averaged 22.9 points, 10 rebounds and 2.5 assists. Compare those numbers to Bosh’s past four seasons in Miami and a different picture is painted. He averaged 17.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists as part of the HEAT’s three-pronged approach.

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Was It Really Kidd’s Fault In Brooklyn?

By Steve Kyler

While it is still very early in the season, there is something that sort of jumps out at you in the NBA standings. The Milwaukee Bucks are doing pretty well for themselves and the Brooklyn Nets are still under achievers.

Much was made about Bucks head coach Jason Kidd, especially as things came unglued at the end in Brooklyn. From listening to the Bucks players and staff and watching how things are imploding in Brooklyn, you have to wonder: Did Kidd bear the brunt of the problem unfairly?

Many versions of the Kidd story have been told, but the one that seems most likely is that Kidd, like most around the NBA, had heard that the Nets were thinking about firing him after a dreadful start last season. Can you really blame the guy for going into self-preservation mode when his front office allegedly turned on him?

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Zoran Dragic in Phoenix Was No Favor to Goran

By Joel Brigham

While brothers playing in the NBA isn’t neccesarily a rare thing, having two brothers actually play for the same team for an extended period of time in the regular season is pretty rare.

Of course, you wouldn’t know that looking at the Phoenix Suns’ roster, since they’ve got not one but two sets of brothers on the team, but just ask Marcus and Markieff Morris and Goran and Zoran Dragic how valuable it is to have that sort of familiarity in the locker room.

“It’s always nice to have some family in town and on the same team,” Goran said. “For the past six, seven years we only see each other for the summer when we played together for the national team.”

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Can Steve Nash Still Help the Lakers?

By Yannis Koutroupis

The losses are continuing to pile up for the Los Angeles Lakers at a historic rate. They run one of the most one-dimensional, predictable offenses in the league that is overly reliant on Kobe Bryant, whose shot selection has never been more ill-advised and unfiltered. Defensively, they often play uninspired, having great difficulty containing anyone out on the perimeter.

Despite the change at head coach over the summer from Mike D’Antoni to Byron Scott, these kind of issues have become all too familiar for the Lakers over the last three years. Only, before, they had hope to point to, whether it was the return of Bryant and Steve Nash or the opportunity to make a run at Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James in free agency.

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NBA Trade Watch: Eastern Conference

By Cody Taylor

As the Feb. 19th NBA trade deadline approaches, talks around the league will heat up, particularly on Dec. 15 when players that were signed over the summer become eligible to be traded. The trade outlook in the Eastern Conference is certainly becoming a very interesting one as the season progresses and we begin to see how certain teams perform. Once players can be traded on Dec. 15, teams will have a better idea if they are going to be buying or selling at the deadline. Teams may be active in trade negotiations because they feel like one or two more pieces might put them in contention or they might be active because they are out of the race and want to begin selling off assets as they move their franchise in a different direction.

Here are some East teams to keep an eye on in trade talks in the months to come:

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Telfair Reflects on Lessons Learned 10 Years After “Through the Fire”

By Jessica Camerato

It has been almost 10 years since the world got a firsthand glimpse into the life of a young basketball talent on the path to stardom. From New York to the NBA, Sebastian Telfair was one of the next big things to watch in sports.

His decision to go straight from high school to the pros was captured in the documentary “Through the Fire.” The movie, released in 2005, chronicled a period in his life when the doors were wide open for him to take the pros by storm. The highly touted high schooler was well on his way to acheiving his basketball dreams when filming wrapped. Years later, Telfair realizes how much of the unknown actually laid ahead of him.

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Griffin Still Adjusting to Expanded Game

By Alex Kennedy

Blake Griffin has always been an elite athlete. He hit the genetic lottery, so even when he’s matched up against fellow NBA players who are freaks of nature in their own right, he’s typically the most athletic player on the court. There are plenty of YouTube videos that show he can impose his will athletically and there are many poster victims who could back up that evidence.

However, in recent years, Griffin has also become an elite player. In Griffin’s case, that leap occured when being the most athletic player was no longer enough to satisfy him. He wanted to be one of the NBA’s best players, not just one of the league’s best athletes. This meant training extremely hard, changing his game, expanding the range on his jump shot, improving his ball-handling, working on his passing and growing as a leader. Some elite athletes never become elite players, but Griffin has made that transition. He never liked being described as a dunker, and he was determined to prove he’s much more than that.

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The Pelicans’ Quest to Build a Contender

By Nate Duncan

With the ascension of Anthony Davis, the New Orleans Pelicans are suddenly at the forefront of the NBA discussion. By box score statistics, Davis has been playing about as well as any player possibly can over the 12 games to start the season. He has a 35.9 PER, 62 true shooting percentage, and is blocking 7.4 percent of opponents’ two-pointers. The Pels outscore opponents by 8.6 points per 100 possessions with Davis on the floor, and get murdered to the tune of -14.0 points/100 when he sits, per NBA.com. All of those numbers are almost certain to regress, if only because no player in NBA history has ever eclipsed a 32 PER over a full season, and the 10 seasons over 31 all belong to LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain. Regardless, the Pelicans may already have the best player in the NBA on their hands, one who might be the favorite for MVP without accounting for team performance.

 

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NBA Rookie Of The Year Watch: Napier Joins Race

By John Zitzler

Andrew Wiggins almost jumped Jabari Parker for the top spot this week after a 29-point scoring outburst against the Sacramento Kings on Saturday.  However, Parker has put in some solid performances recently as well, and his overall contributions to the 8-7 Milwaukee Bucks keeps him in the top spot for the fourth week in a row.

Nikola Mirotic and Shabazz Napier both jump into the top-10 this week as both have received an increase in playing time because of injuries to teammates.  Napier makes his first appearance in the top-10 after recently showing off an efficient offensive game and surprising accuracy from beyond-the-arc.

The rookies continue to be inconsistent collectively, but it is nice to see that some, such as Kostas Papanikolaou, are contributing to playoff teams.

Now, let’s take a look at how the rookies stack up against one another four weeks into the season.

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Undrafted Guards From Overseas Who Could Help NBA Team

By David Pick

Every year, a number of NBA teams turn to the same veteran retreads when it comes time to add a free agent. However, there are plenty of NBA-caliber players overseas who could help an NBA franchise if given the opportunity.

Skilled guards like left-handed Keith Langford, the reigning No. 1 Euroleague scorer, could’ve pursued NBA offers, including from the Philadelphia 76ers, but opted tosign a lucrative $3.8 million pact with Russian club Kazan instead.

Veteran star point guard Bo McCalebb, undrafted out of New Orleans in 2008, has won multiple MVP awards and championships in Serbia, Italy and Turkey. However, though he’s been in recent contact with multiple NBA teams, McCalebb signed a one-month deal with German powerhouse Bayern Munich, and it appears his NBA window is closing.

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Lance Stephenson Struggles in Charlotte

By Lang Greene

After years spent toiling in the league’s basement, the Charlotte Hornets were supposed to take another step forward in the NBA’s hierarchy this season. After all, the team reached the playoffs last season after recording 43 wins and securing a rare appearance in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. The team also rebranded itself during the offseason which further increased the excitement around the franchise in the Queen City. The free agent signing of guard Lance Stephenson cemented most observers’ belief that nothing but positive things were ahead for the Hornets.

However, 16 games into the season, the Hornets have struggled to a 4-12 start and if the playoffs began today the franchise would be sitting outside of the playoff chase.

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Can the Thunder Still Make the Playoffs?

By Jesse Blancarte

After missing 14 games because of a fractured right hand, Russell Westbrook returned to the Oklahoma City Thunder lineup last night, sparking his team to a convincing 105-78 win over the struggling New York Knicks.  Westbrook was sensational, scoring 14 points in the first quarter, making 12-of-17 shots overall (including 3-4 from three-point range), while adding eight assists and seven rebounds in just 23 minutes of action.

Westbrook’s return is a significant boost for a struggling Thunder team that has been without its two superstars for the first time since this team was constructed.  Despite the best efforts of up-and-coming guard Reggie Jackson, Serge Ibaka and the rest of the team, the Thunder simply could not compete at a high level without Westbrook and Kevin Durant.

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NBA Trade Watch: Western Conference

By Jabari Davis

As mentioned in our Eastern Conference Trade Watch feature, we should expect the bulk of discussions to surface after Dec. 15 once players that signed contracts this past summer are eligible to be included in deals. Although we are still weeks away from that date and months away from February’s trade deadline, that hasn’t stopped speculation and some early discussions that several teams have already reportedly had.

It may seem as though the 2014-15 season started just moments ago, but we are actually nearly 20 percent through the schedule in many cases, leaving teams with plenty of time to have assessed whether moves are necessary.

Here are some of the Western Conference teams to keep in mind as trade talks increase over the coming months:

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Kyle Cape-Lindelin is based out of Portland, OR covering the NBA while being one of the newsline editors and contributor to "Out of Bounds."

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NBA Daily: Rich Cho Out As Charlotte Hornets GM

The Charlotte Hornets opted to not move forward with GM Rich Cho and are expected to pursue former Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak.

Buddy Grizzard

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The fateful moment for Rich Cho came days after he was hired as GM of the Charlotte Hornets in June of 2011. With the NBA Draft coming just nine days later, Cho started work on a three-team trade that would land Charlotte a second top-10 pick to pair with its own ninth pick, which was used to draft franchise cornerstone Kemba Walker.

In that draft, Klay Thompson went 11th to the Golden State Warriors and Kawhi Leonard 15th to the Pacers. Of the 17 players selected after Bismack Biyombo, who went to the Hornets with the seventh pick, 12 are regular contributors on current NBA rosters. The Orlando Magic are currently outscored by 11.6 points per 100 possessions with Biyombo on court, a rotation-worst.

Today, Hornets owner Michael Jordan announced that Cho is out as Charlotte’s GM.

“Rich worked tirelessly on behalf of our team and instituted a number of management tools that have benefited our organization,” said Jordan in a press release. “We are deeply committed to our fans and to the city of Charlotte to provide a consistent winner on the court. The search will now begin for our next head of basketball operations who will help us achieve that goal.”

While the failure to obtain Thompson, Leonard or any of the numerous impact players in the 2011 draft will always mar Cho’s record, falling to the second pick in the 2012 NBA Draft will continue to haunt Charlotte. Despite a brutal 7-59 record in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, which set the record for lowest win percentage in an NBA season (.110), the New Orleans Pelicans won the right to the first overall pick and selected Anthony Davis.

The Hornets selected Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with the second pick. Although the 2012 Draft wasn’t nearly as deep as 2011’s, the Hornets still left players like Bradley Beal (third) and Andre Drummond (ninth) on the board. Either would have been an outstanding compliment to Walker, who remains with the team despite rumors of his availability leading up the the trade deadline.

“I feel like I’m going to be in Charlotte,” said Walker at his All-Star media availability. “So that’s where I’m at, that’s where I’m playing. So I never really sat and thought about any other teams.”

Walker made his second All-Star appearance after Kristaps Porzingis suffered a season-ending ACL injury.

“I wish K.P. hadn’t gotten hurt,” said Walker. “Everybody hates to see guys go down, especially great players like him. But when I was able to get the call to replace him, it was a really good feeling.”

Another fateful moment in Cho’s tenure came during the 2015 NBA Draft. According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, the Boston Celtics offered the 15th and 16th picks, a future protected first rounder from the Brooklyn Nets and a future first from either the Grizzlies or Timberwolves in exchange for the ninth pick, which Cho used to draft Frank Kaminsky.

“If it was such a no-brainer for us, why would another team want to do it,” Cho asked rhetorically in defense of the Kaminsky selection, according to Lowe.

Years later, it’s evident that the Celtics dodged a bullet when both Charlotte and the Miami HEAT rebuffed its attempts to move up and draft Justise Winslow. The latter has not panned out while Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, the players Boston subsequently obtained with Brooklyn’s picks, have developed into starters.

Chris Mannix of Yahoo! Sports reported in the first week of February that Charlotte may target former Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak for a high-ranking role in the organization. Kupchak, like Jordan, is a former UNC star. Kupchak would join Jordan’s UNC teammate and Charlotte assistant GM Buzz Peterson.

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The G-League is a Path Back to the NBA

The G-League has become an avenue for several player types toward the NBA, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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When the NBA first instituted their development league, its main purpose was two-fold. The first was to give experience to young players who perhaps were not seeing regular playing time on their respective NBA teams. The second was to give undrafted players a chance at getting exposure and ultimately getting to the NBA.

With the growth in size and popularity of the development league, now known as the G-League, it’s begun to serve another purpose. It’s become a place for older veterans who have already tasted the NBA life to get back to the highest level of basketball that they once knew.

One player in particular who has a wealth of NBA experience is Terrence Jones. Jones is currently playing with the Santa Cruz Warriors, the G-League affiliate of the Golden State Warriors.

Jones was originally drafted by the Houston Rockets with the 18th overall pick in the 2012 draft. He was part of a vaunted class of Kentucky Wildcats that year, which included Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb, and Darius Miller. During his four years with the Rockets, he emerged as a dependable reserve and part-time starter. He averaged 9.5 points per game on 49.5 percent shooting and 5.3 rebounds.

“It was just a lot of excitement and a lot of joy, being part of the Houston Rockets was a lot of fun,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “We had great memories and great seasons, a lot of up and downs, I just enjoyed the journey.”

Jones’ dealt with injuries his last two season in Houston, and when he was a free agent in the summer of 2016, the Rockets didn’t re-sign him. He was scooped by the New Orleans Pelicans, however, and he made an immediate impact for them. Prior to the trade deadline, he played in 51 games for the Pelicans, including 12 starts while putting up 11.5 points on 47.2 percent shooting, and 5.9 rebounds.

When the Pelicans acquired DeMarcus Cousins, however, they cut Jones. He didn’t stay unemployed for long, though, as he was signed by the Milwaukee Bucks to add depth for a playoff run. He was unable to crack the rotation, though, and the Bucks cut him as well before the playoff started. After a brief stint in China, he’s now back stateside and using the G-League to get back to the NBA.

“That’s the goal. Right now, I feel I’ve been playing pretty well and just trying to help my team get wins,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “I think I can play multiple positions offensively and defensively. Whether that’s creating plays for myself or for others, I think I can help contribute on the offensive end.”

He’s been the second-leading scorer for Santa Cruz with 19.9 points per game. He’s pulling down 7.1 rebounds, and even dishing out 4.5 assists. In the G-League Challenge against the Mexican National Team at All-Star Weekend, he finished with eight points on 50.0 percent shooting, six rebounds, four assists, and two steals. He’s definitely a name to watch for as NBA teams scour the market for 10-day contract possibilities.

Another player who’s had a taste of the NBA is Xavier Silas. Silas is currently with the Northern Arizona Suns, the affiliate of the Phoenix Suns. He went undrafted in 2011 and started his professional career in France. That only last a few months before he came back the United States and latched on with the Philadelphia 76ers.

He played sparingly with the 76ers and was ultimately cut before the start of the 2012-13 season. Since then, he’s played summer league with the Bucks, and been in two different training camps with the Washington Wizards.

“It was amazing, any time you get to go and play at the highest level, and I even got to play in the playoffs and play in the second round and even score, that was big,” Silas told Basketball Insiders. “It was a great time for me and that’s what I’m working towards getting back.”

While his professional career has taken him all across the globe from Israel to Argentina to Greece to Germany and even Ice Cube’s BIG3 league, he sees the G-League as being the one place that will get him back to where he wants to be.

He’s done well this season for Northern Arizona. He’s their third-leading scorer at 19.3 points per game and he’s one of their top three-point threats at 39.9 percent. At the All-Star Weekend G-League Challenge against the Mexican National Team, Silas had a team-high 13 points for Team USA including 3-5 shooting from three-point range.

It’s isn’t just what he brings on the court that Silas believes makes him an attractive candidate for an NBA team. At age 30, he’s one of the older guys in the G-League and one with a lot of basketball experience to be passed down to younger guys.

“I think it’s a little bit of leadership, definitely some shooting. I’m a vet now so I’m able to come in and help in that aspect as well. But everybody needs someone who can hit an open shot and I think I can bring that to a team,” Silas told Basketball Insiders. “I think it’s the best place for anyone who’s trying to make that next step. We’re available and we’re right here, it’s just a call away.”

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NBA Daily: Lillard Playing For Something Bigger

Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard has his eyes set on a bigger prize than just being an NBA All-Star.

Steve Kyler

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Playing For Something Bigger

The NBA All-Star Game is a spectacle.

By design, the game is meant to be a showcase, not just for the players selected to compete, but for the league and all of its partners, on and off the floor. It is easy to get caught up in how players selected actually play, but the reality is while most see the game as important for a lot of reasons, Portland Trail Blazer star Damian Lillard understands it has to be put into perspective.

“I don’t think it’s fair to expect people to go out there and treat it like they are playing for the team they’re under contract for,” Lillard explained this weekend.

“It’s the one time in an 82-game season plus playoffs, preseason and training camp that we actually get a break. It’s necessary to take a mental break, along with a physical break from what we do every day. There’s nothing wrong with that, so I don’t think it’s fair to ask guys to go out there and play like it’s for the Trail Blazers. My loyalty is to my team; I got to stay healthy for my team. I got to do what’s best for my team. Obviously, go out there [during All-Star] and not mess around too much and that’s how people get hurt and stuff like that. You got to go out there and play and have respect for the game, but I don’t think it’s necessary to go out there and go crazy like it’s a playoff game.”

Lillard notched 21 minutes in Sunday’s big game, going 9-for-14 from the field for 21 points for Team Stephen, a roster that included three Golden State Warriors players. Lillard believes that eventually, he’ll get the chance to share the weekend, his third, with teammate C. J. McCollum.

“Each year you see teams are getting two to three, Golden State got four this year,” Lillard said. “But you look at it and say ‘why is that happening’ and it has a lot to do with team success. Me and C.J. just have to take that challenge of making our team win more games. I think when we do that, we’ll be rewarded with both of us making it. If we really want to make that happen, then we’ll do whatever it takes to win more games.

“I feel like this season we’ve moved closer in that direction. In the past, we haven’t even been in the position to get one, because I did not make it the past two years. I think if we keep on improving we’ll eventually get to the point that we’re winning games and people will say ‘how are they doing this’ and then hopefully our names come up. Hopefully, one day, it’ll happen.”

Another issue that got addressed during the All-Star Weekend was the growing tensions between the NBA players and the NBA referees. Representatives from both sides met to address the gap developing on the court, something Lillard felt was necessary.

“We’re all human,” Lillard said. “As competitors, we want to win. If you feel like you got fouled, you want them to call the foul every time. I think sometimes as players, we forget how hard their job can be. At the pace we play, it’s hard to get every call, and then you got guys tricking the referees sometimes, we’re clever too. It’s a tough job for them. I think when we get caught up in our competitive nature, and we forget that they’re not just these robots with stripes, they are people too. You have got to think, as a man if someone comes screaming at you every three plays, you are going to react in your own way. Maybe you’re not going to make the next call; maybe I am going to stand my ground. It’s just something that I think will get better over time. I think both have to do a better job of understanding.”

With 24 games left to play in Lillard’s sixth NBA season, the desire to be more than a playoff team or an All-Star is coming more into focus for Lillard, something he reportedly expressed to Blazers management several weeks ago.

“There are guys that have this record and guys that have done these things, and I want to at least get myself the chance to compete for a championship,” Lillard said. “If I get there and we don’t win it, it happens. A lot of people had to go see about Michael Jordan, a lot of people had to go see about Shaq and Kobe. You know, those great teams, but I have a strong desire to at least give myself a chance to be there. Take a shot at it.”

With All-Star out of the way, the focus in the NBA will switch to the race to the playoffs. As things stand today Lillard and his Blazers hold the seventh seed in the West and are tied with Denver, and just a half of a game back from the five seed Oklahoma City Thunder.

If the Blazers are going to make noise this post season its going to be on the shoulder of Lillard, and based on what he said, it seems he’s up to the challenge.

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