Which Players Have a Case for Most Improved?
By EJ Ayala
Every offseason, players put in extra work in an effort to make that next leap in their development and take their game to the next level. Everything from a return from an injury, a new role on a team, an increase in playing time or a team’s changing style can have an effect on a player’s individual impact. So far in the 2014-15 NBA season, which players have impressed and have a shot at winning this year’s Most Improved Player award? Here are a few names to keep in mind:
Houston’s Rocket Fuel
By Moke Hamilton
Deep down inside, James Harden always knew that he was more than one whose destiny was to merely take flight in an atmosphere surrounded by simple creatures.
Relegated to sixth man and commonly discounted among the game’s other titans, deep down inside, he knew that he had the potential to be one that soared not in awe of LeBron James or Chris Paul, but with them.
And when Harden looked at the likes of Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Carmelo Anthony and even his own teammate, Kevin Durant, he knew, deep down inside, that he had the ability to soar with the celestials.
So, it is quite fitting that he became a Houston Rocket.
Westbrook’s Return Immediately Impacts OKC Thunder
By Susan Bible
What started as excited chatter last week swelled to thunderous cheering in Oklahoma City when Russell Westbrook returned to the court a couple days ago. Projected to miss four to six weeks after fracturing his hand in the second game of the season, he made his return in exactly 30 days.
When it became clear he was indeed returning on the early side of projections, Westbrook shared his thoughts about finally resuming his season.
Looking At The Numbers
By Steve Kyler
The NBA, in partnership with SportVU, installed motion tracking cameras into every NBA venue last year and began producing a wide range of player tracking type stats. With SportVu coming into its second year of being widely used in the NBA, some of the data that can be extracted becomes interesting, especially when you are valuating how well specific players are doing.
While there is wealth of new data to comb through, here is a look at some of the leaders in various areas.
NBA Fantasy: Five Buy-Low Candidates
By Joel Brigham
A little over a month into the regular season, now is a perfectly appropriate time to start giving serious consideration to making some trades to improve your fantasy basketball roster. There are a million ways to go about doing this, but one of the most effective is to buy low on a player you think projects to perform better than their current statistics show.
Just like every year, there are plenty of candidates for precisely this kind of trade. Here’s a handful of this season’s most likely buy-low players:
Grizzlies’ Chemistry is Key to Success
By Alex Kennedy
The Memphis Grizzlies organization understands the importance of continuity and chemistry. Take one look at their roster and this is evident, as much of their team has been together for years. The organization has kept the team’s core four intact in recent years, inking Mike Conley (eight seasons in Memphis), Marc Gasol (seven seasons), Zach Randolph (six seasons) and Tony Allen (five seasons) to multiple contract extensions.
This leads to excellent chemistry between the team’s top contributors, which is very important, yet often overlooked in the NBA. Each year, the Grizzlies make a few tweaks to their supporting cast (such as adding Vince Carter this offseason and Courtney Lee during last season), but the core remains the same. Gasol and Randolph form one of the best starting frontcourts in the league, Allen provides perimeter defense and toughness, and Conley runs the show as one of the game’s most underrated point guards.
The Good: What’s Working Around the NBA
By Cody Taylor
Most NBA teams are approaching the 20-game mark of their respective season, which means roughly a quarter of the season is in the books. Over the course of the first month or so, there have been some great performances by players and teams and there have been some bad performances. Some of those performances have been expected, while many have been surprising. During the course of this week, we will recap the good, the bad and the ugly of what we’ve seen thus far this season.
Here are some situations that have been good to watch:
The Bad: What’s Not Working Around The NBA
By John Zitzler
As we enter December, the NBA season is really starting to take shape. There is still a long way to go, but we are beginning to see how things may play out as the season progresses. The Memphis Grizzlies have jumped out to a terrific start, making a case that they should be viewed as serious title contenders and as one of the best teams in the West. The East, on the other hand, again appears to be the inferior conference, anchored by the winless Philadelphia Sixers, who have seemingly refined tanking into art form. In terms of what’s working and what’s not, you could say the Sixers and the Grizzlies represent opposite ends of the spectrum.
This week, Basketball Insiders is taking a look at The Good, The Bad and The Ugly around the NBA to break down what has gone right, what has gone wrong and what has failed miserably. Yesterday, we kicked it off with The Good. Today, we take a glance at a number of situations that haven’t worked out quite as well.
Here are a few of the more disappointing storylines early on in this NBA season.
Spurs Veterans Set Up Young Teammates to Succeed
By Jessica Camerato
The saying goes, “Help me help you.”
The San Antonio Spurs take it one step further.
The defending NBA champions are led by a trio of veterans who have clocked over 118,000 minutes between their regular season and playoff games. In order for the Spurs to continue their success, they need their younger players to shoulder some of the weight absorbed by Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker.
These vets pour into their teammates, offering advice, leading by example and setting the tone every game and practice of the season. By helping the younger Spurs become better, it helps them and the entire team.
Stephen Curry Talks About Being Underpaid
By Lang Greene
Outside the arena in the realm of league executives, away from the flashy passes, thunderous dunks and three-point marksmanship one thing is clear: The NBA is a business and run by shrewd business minds who are always on the hunt to capitalize on a situation and in turn maximize potential profits.
We often hear about lopsided deals signed by players where most believe the athlete laughed straight to the bank for getting far and away above their respective market value. But what often doesn’t get attention is when those same league executives are able to pull off the same type of maneuver – on a player.
The Ugly: What Has Gone Horribly Wrong Around The NBA
By Jabari Davis
We continue this week’s multi-part series that began with the ‘Good‘ and ‘Bad‘ teams thus far in the 2014-15 season with today’s focus on the downright ugly situations around the league. These are the teams that made additions or have chosen strategies that have yielded results ranging from flat-out bad in some cases to full-on catastrophes in others:
The Market for Rajon Rondo
By Yannis Koutroupis
A 109-102 overtime victory against Detroit Pistons may have been enough to end the Boston Celtics’ five-game losing streak, but at just 5-11 overall this season, emotions are running high as the time to make some tough decisions is nearing.
As Rajon Rondo and the Celtics’ decision-makers exchanged pleasantries leading up to the season, much of the league wondered how long the mood would remain so light between the two parties. Rondo, set to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, is off to a productive, but highly inefficient start this season. He’s regularly flirting with triple-doubles, averaging 8.3 points, 10.9 assists and 7.4 rebounds per game, but he’s shooting just 41 percent from the field, 28 percent from distance and a horrific 30 percent from the charity stripe. He’s also turning it over 3.5 times a contest.
10 Takeaways from 2014-15 NBA Operations Manual
By Eric Pincus
The NBA annually updates its operations manual, a 750-page beast that breaks down the rules of the league from the anti-drug program, to court dimensions, to in-game music.
Some of the items make absolute sense — others make no sense at all.
Here are 10 takeaways from the 2014-15 NBA Operations Manual.
NBA Daily: Jonathan Isaac Proving to be Key Part of Orlando’s Future
Basketball Insiders spoke with Jonathan Isaac about his rookie season, injuries, areas to improve on, his faith and more.
On January 13, the Orlando Magic were eliminated from playoff contention. This date served as a formality as the team has known for quite some time that any postseason hopes had long since sailed. The Magic started the year off on a winning note and held an 8-4 record in early November. However, the team lost their next nine games and never really recovered.
Many factors play a role in a young but talented team like the Magic having another season end like this. Injuries to franchise cornerstone Aaron Gordon as well as forward Evan Fournier and forward Jonathan Isaac magnified the team’s issues.
Isaac, a rookie selected sixth overall in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft, started the season off reasonably well. On November 10, in 21 minutes of action, he registered an 11-point, six-rebound, one-assist, one-steal, two-block all-around effort against the Phoenix Suns to help the Magic get to that 8-4 record. Isaac then suffered an ankle injury midway through his next game and wouldn’t play again until December 17, by which time the team was already 11-20 with athe season quickly going sideways. From November until March, Isaac would only play in three games until finally returning to consistent action in the month of March with the season all but decided.
Basketball Insiders spoke to Isaac recently to discuss how he has pushed through this season, staying healthy, his impressive skill set and more.
“I’ve had a lot of time off from being injured so, I think my body is holding up fine along with how much I’ve played. I haven’t played a full season,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders “I feel good. I feel good.”
Isaac talked about what part of his game he feels strongly about and has improved on.
“I think defensively,” Isaac said. “I didn’t expect myself to make strides defensively like I have. I’ve been able to just be able to just do different things and help this team defensively and I didn’t expect that coming in so, that would be the one thing.”
Magic Head Coach Frank Vogel was effusive in his praise of Isaac’s defense and also focused on the rookie’s great defensive potential.
“His defense is out of this world. I mean it’s really something else,” Vogel said. “Just watch him play and everybody’s getting a taste of it right now. They haven’t seen him a whole lot but he’s an elite defender right now at 20-years old and the sky’s the limit for what he can be on that end of the floor.
While Isaac hasn’t logged a huge number of minutes on the floor this season, he has impressed in his limited action. As Coach Vogel stated, anyone who has taken the time to watch Isaac play this season has noticed his ability to guard other big men and his overall defensive impact.
“I think I’ve been able to do a good job on most of the people that I’ve had to guard,” Isaac said.
Missing Isaac’s defense impact and overall contributions partially explains why the Magic cooled off after their hot start. However, with the playoffs no longer an option, younger players like Isaac now have the opportunity to play with less attention and pressure. While it can be argued that the Magic aren’t really playing for anything, the truth is these late-season games can be an opportunity to develop these younger players and determine what to work on during the offseason.
There is more to Isaac than just basketball, however. Isaac discussed other parts of his life that are important to him, including religion and his faith.
“[M]y faith in Jesus is something that I put a lot of emphasis on,” Isaac told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a part of me.”
Isaac did not hesitate to credit his faith when asked if it helped him push through his injuries.
“I would say definitely,” Isaac said. “Especially with getting injured so early in the season and being out for 40 games. That’s a lot on somebody’s mental capacity and then just staying positive, staying joyful in times where joy doesn’t seem like it’s the right emotion to have. And I definitely [attribute] that to my faith.”
Looking forward, both Vogel and Isaac discussed the future and what the young big man can improve on.
“Offensively, he’s grown in confidence, he’s gained so he’s going to give us a big lift and our future’s bright with him,” Vogel stated.
Isaac gave a hint of his offseason training plans when asked what he looks forward to working on.
“I would say consistency with my jump shot. Really working on my three-ball and I would say ball-handling,” Isaac stated.
When asked if there was anything more he wanted to add, Isaac simply smiled and said, “Oh no, I think I got to get to church right now,” as the team prepared to play later that evening.
Tyronn Lue’s Health Concerns Latest Bump In The Road For Cavaliers
Spencer Davies outlines Tyronn Lue’s decision to take a leave of absence to deal with health issues and covers the reaction around the NBA.
The win-loss record is not where they want it to be.
The performances have not been up to par with what they expect.
With that said, one thing is for certain: There is no other team that will have been more battle tested going into the playoffs than the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Day after day and week after week, there’s always something going on with the team. Between in-house arguments, on-court miscommunication, roster turnover, and more, it has been one giant roller coaster of a season.
Monday morning, another twist was added to the ride. In a statement released by the Cavaliers organization, Tyronn Lue and general manager Koby Altman announced that the head coach would be taking a leave of absence to address his health:
“After many conversations with our doctors and Koby and much thought given to what is best for the team and my health, I need to step back from coaching for the time being and focus on trying to establish a stronger and healthier foundation from which to coach for the rest of the season.
“I have had chest pains and other troubling symptoms, compounded by a loss of sleep, throughout the year. Despite a battery of tests, there have been no conclusions as to what the exact issue is. While I have tried to work through it, the last thing I want is for it to affect the team.
“I am going to use this time to focus on a prescribed routine and medication, which has previously been difficult to start in the midst of a season. My goal is to come out of it a stronger and healthier version of myself so I can continue to lead this team to the Championship we are all working towards. I greatly appreciate Dan Gilbert, Koby Altman, our medical team and the organization’s support throughout.”
There were multiple instances where Lue either missed part of a half or an entire game this season. The symptoms are definitely not to be taken lightly. According to a report by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Dave McMenamin, Lue attempted to return to the bench Saturday night in Chicago but the team didn’t allow him to. Evidently, Lue was “coughing up blood” some nights.
Seeing it first hand after postgame press conferences, Lue was visibly exhausted and stress could likely be playing a part. He’s been fighting through the tough times the team has been going through and avoided stepping away twice this season.
Charlotte Hornets head coach Steve Clifford had his own battle with health problems earlier this season and temporarily left the team for those reasons. He has attempted to reach out to Lue, a friend and former player of his.
Other head coaches around the league—Joe Prunty, Steve Kerr, and Luke Walton—have all gone to bat for Lue when discussing the rigors of an NBA schedule and the toll it takes.
Altman supports the decision for Lue to get to the bottom of what’s going on.
“We know how difficult these circumstances are for Coach Lue and we support him totally in this focused approach to addressing his health issues,” he said.
LeBron James is glad that Lue is going to take some time to get better.
“Obviously, health is the most important with everything in life,” James said Monday after shootaround. “Not surprised by it at all. I knew he was struggling, but he was never not himself. He was just dealing with it the best way he could, but he was never not himself when he was around.
“It doesn’t matter what’s going on here. We play a great sport, our coaches get to coach a great sport, and you guys get to cover a great sports. But health is most important right now and that’s what our coach is doing right now and we’re all in favor for it.”
The latest piece of news is a blow to the already injury-ridden Cleveland group. Assistant coach Larry Drew will take over duties until Lue returns.
The good news for the Cavaliers is that Kevin Love can potentially return to the mix as soon as Monday night against Milwaukee.
NBA Daily: Calderón’s Late NBA Start
Jose Calderón might be the only player in the league who didn’t grow up dreaming of playing in the NBA.
There are a lot of different ways to get to the NBA, but most of them involve lifelong scouting and an unceasing dream to play in the world’s premier basketball league.
Cleveland Cavaliers guard José Calderón didn’t really have either of those things.
“I never even thought of the NBA when I was a kid,” Calderón told Basketball Insiders. “I grew up in a small town in Spain, and I played basketball because my dad played and I loved it. I was having fun, always playing with the older guys because I was good at that age, but I never really even thought about playing any sort of professional basketball.”
Having grown up in Villanueva de la Serena, Spain, Calderón watched his father play for Doncel La Serena, which was his hometown team as a child. He was something of a prodigy, having attended practices and games with his father from a young age, and as burgeoning teenager he left home to play professionally for the lower-level Vitoria-Gasteiz team.
“They wanted to sign me at 13 years old, and we didn’t even know that they could sign people that young,” Calderón remembers. “So I did that, and I tried to get better. I tried to advance into the older clubs, but I never really did think about the NBA at all, honestly.”
That changed as he got older, though, especially after Spain finished 5th in the 2002 FIBA World Championship and Calderón started to get some stateside recognition.
“After that summer, [my agent and I] got a call from Milwaukee asking about my situation, and asked would I think about coming to play over here. It was sort of a let’s-see-what-happens sort of situation, but I couldn’t at that time because I was under contract. That was the first time I was really approached.”
As his teammates from the Spanish National Team made their way to the NBA, Calderón grew increasingly intrigued.
“Pau Gasol obviously opened a lot of doors for us,” he said. “Raul Lopez came, too. I was just playing basketball, though. I didn’t know anything about scouts. Later, when we started to get the calls from Toronto, I started to realize how possible it really was. That’s when I thought, ‘Hey, why not?’”
Despite being eligible for a few drafts in a row, Calderón never did get drafted, which was fine by him. Growing up the way he did, Calderón never had any dreams of his hearing his name called by Commissioner Stern, so playing his way through most of his deal with TAU Vitoria was no big deal for him. He could take or leave the NBA.
“Not getting drafted was the perfect situation for me,” he said. “In my satiation, coming from Europe, I was already playing professionally for a good team and making some good money. That was perfect for me at the time, and I was happy to be a free agent at 23, choosing where I was going to sign instead of going in the second round and having to play for one team.”
He signed with the Raptors in 2005 since they were the most aggressive in recruiting him to the NBA. As a 23-year-old rookie, he wasn’t overwhelmed physically the way a lot of rookies are, but he did find his new league challenging in other ways.
“The hardest part was just having to start over,” he said. “You start over from zero. It doesn’t matter if the other players know you or don’t, you have to prove yourself all over again. You could be the MVP of Europe, but to get respect in the NBA you have to gain it on the court.”
The talent differential was immediately noticeable, as well.
“There are so many guys out there that are better than you. It’s not just like a guy or two; there are six, seven guys on the floor any given time that are better than you.”
That meant making some changes in the way that Calderón played. He was asked to do a lot more offensively for his EuroLeague team. Playing with so many talented scorers completely changed his approach.
“I went from taking 20 shots a game to doing something else, and as a point guard in the NBA I had to approach that point guard role even more, to make those guys respect my game, to make them want to play with me. I had to be able to pass the ball, to do something different from all the other players, so I became a fast-first point guard to make sure we always played as a team. That’s how I get to where I am as a professional.”
Now 36 years old, Calderón is one of the league’s oldest players, making it easy for him to look back at where he came from to transform into the player he is today.
“I’ve grown so much, but I was lucky to be given the opportunity,” he said. “When you arrive from Europe, whether you’re good or bad, it doesn’t always matter if you don’t have the opportunity. Toronto gave me the opportunity to play 20 minutes a night, and that’s a lot. I made a lot of mistakes, but they let me play through those mistakes. All those little things added up for me, and I learned a lot.”
He owns two silver medals and a bronze in the three Olympics he’s participated in over the course of his career, as well as gold medals in FIBA World Cup and EuroBasket, but he’s never won an NBA championship. Joining up with LeBron James improves those odds, but that’s the thing that would really put an exclamation point on an excellent career.
Calderón could have stayed in Spain and been fine. He jokes that while the NBA has been very good to him, he and his family could have stayed in Europe and he could have made good money playing basketball there. He’s been happy with his career, though, however unorthodox his journey here, and he hopes his most prestigious accolades are yet to come.