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Basketball Insiders Week in Review 4/12

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

Kyle Cape-Lindelin

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OKC: Stay The Course Or Blow It Up?

By Susan Bible

When an NBA team is struggling mightily and no relief is in sight, a typical course of action to consider is blowing up the roster. Start fresh. Build for the future. It’s worked for many teams in recent history. So as the 2014-15 regular season comes to a close, teams are being analyzed and scrutinized – by critics and fans alike – and opinions are being offered as to whether a roster overhaul is in order.

At first glance, one such team is the Oklahoma City Thunder. This oft-contending group has fallen from grace in warp speed. How can a team go from a .720 win/loss record (59-23) last year to a current .553 win/loss record (42-34) with just six regular season games remaining? How is it that they are barely holding on to the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference when they earned the second seed last season and the top spot the season before? For the first time since their inaugural 2008-09 season in Oklahoma City, the Thunder may not have a postseason at all.

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Dwyane Wade Defies Attrition

By Moke Hamilton

In the National Basketball Association, things can change quickly.

Just ask Dwyane Wade.

One year ago, with LeBron James and Chris Bosh by his side, the Miami HEAT seemed poised to achieve the first three-peat that the league had seen since Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and Phil Jackson won three championships in a row in 2000, 2001 and 2002.

After that run ended a bit short, one year later, James is back in Cleveland, Bosh has been ruled out for the remainder of the season and Wade is admirably leading a late-season surge and hoping to help the HEAT qualify for the playoffs for what would be the seventh consecutive season.

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Taking Stock of The 2015 Draft Class

By Steve Kyler

For most of last season, the 2014 NBA Draft class was lauded as being stocked at the top with potential stars and while the sample size on some is smaller than others, the pundits may have been right. Top overall pick Andrew Wiggins has been everything advertised. Before tearing his ACL, Jabari Parker was looking the part as well. While the true value of a draft class usually isn’t known for three to four seasons, the 2014 class has lived up to most of its hype.

If you liked that class, the 2015 class could do you one better. For months the talk about Duke big man Jahlil Okafor being the top pick has been a constant. Supporters of Kentucky big man Karl-Anthony Towns have been making their case for his top pick candidacy and then there are the two point guards in Emanuel Mudiay and D’Angelo Russell who are just as worthy of top pick talk.

While the next tier of players may not offer as much star power, it could offer ready-to-play players that could fill that second guy role many of the teams drafting in the top 14 may be missing. Here are a few of them:

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20 NBA Playoff Predictions

By Joel Brigham

Every fall, I sit down and make 50 predictions about the NBA season to come. While we’ve seen more than enough of this year to know just horrible I am at making those 50 predictions, I’m still going to make 20 more of them for these upcoming playoffs.

It’s a tricky business, making predictions, as anyone who filled out an NCAA Final Four bracket knows. But we do them because they’re fun, especially when the author of those predictions promises to come back to them in a few months when the playoffs are over to take stock of how it all turned out.

With the playoffs just a couple weeks away, now is a great time to make some predictions about how the playoff picture will wrap up and how the postseason will actually play out. Here we go:

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Playoff Picture Remains Unclear

By Jesse Blancarte

It’s not hard to understand why a lot of people view the last two weeks or so of the NBA regular season as a dead period. For many fans, their team is out of playoff contention, so they are either ready to watch the playoffs without any rooting interest or start moving their attention toward the upcoming draft. For other fans, their team locked up a playoff spot weeks ago, and the last few games of the regular season carry little to no consequence for them.

But this season, the playoff race in both conferences is still very active. First, let’s take a look at the current state of West.

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Randolph Wants Guaranteed Contract to Explore Options

By Jessica Camerato

It has been said that when one door closes, another one opens. In the case of Shavlik Randolph, the door doesn’t really seem to close with the Boston Celtics.

Randolph was in his second stint with the team this season. He first played for the Celtics in 2013, and was re-acquired from the Phoenix Suns as part of the three-team Austin Rivers trade in January.

On Monday, the Celtics waived Randolph and subsequently signed Chris Babb to a multi-year contract. That afternoon the team discussed the situation with Randolph, who had an expiring contract, and he expressed he would not want to sign a non-guaranteed deal for the upcoming season. Randolph would like to keep his options open, including the possibility of returning overseas to China with the intention of returning to the NBA in February, as he has done in the past.

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Nets Continue Hot Streak

By Cody Taylor

During the course of any given season, teams will go through hot streaks and then they’ll suffer through cold snaps. Some hot streaks come at better times than others, while some slumps come at the worst parts of the season.

Less than four weeks ago, the Brooklyn Nets found themselves in an unlikely slump with the clock quickly running out on the 2014-15 regular season. Their playoff hopes were dwindling with each loss as the team sat at 23-33 with a number of tough match-ups ahead on the schedule.

Then, on February 28, the Nets defeated the Dallas Mavericks on the road and then followed that game up with a 110-108 win against the Golden State Warriors. It seemed like Brooklyn would turn things around and gain some momentum. But just as quickly as they flipped the switch to play well, they flipped it right back off.

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Pivotal Offseason For Demps, Pelicans

By Lang Greene

One of the toughest things for an NBA front office executive to recover from is the departure of an elite talent. This is exactly the position New Orleans Pelicans general manager Dell Demps was placed in before the 2011-12 season when the team dealt All-Star guard Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers.

Demps and company were put in a rough spot.

All indications were pointing to Paul taking his talents elsewhere as soon as the opportunity presented itself in free agency. In exchange for Paul, the Pelicans managed to secure Al-Farouq Aminu, Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman and a 2012 first-round draft pick (which became Austin Rivers at No. 10 overall).

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Yes, Atlanta is a Legit Contender

By Alex Kennedy

No matter how many games the Atlanta Hawks win or how impressive they’ve looked throughout this season, it seems like they never get the credit that they deserve. Each week, I do a number of radio shows around the country and by far the most common questions I’ve been asked this season is, “Are the Hawks actually a legitimate contender?”

People doubt that this team is for real. They wonder if their style of play can work in the postseason. They question if they can really win a championship without a superstar. They consider their regular-season record to be somewhat of a fluke.

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Quin Snyder: On Process, Patience And How An Elite Defense is Built

By Ben Dowsett

The first thing you notice about Quin Snyder in person is his stare. What’s often a piercing glare to a player or referee on the floor is a more refined look in the confines of the press room, but it’s engaging and almost hypnotic nonetheless. He doesn’t make eye contact just for the sake of politeness. This is a man who, in almost every circumstance while on the job, knows more about what you’re saying than you do, but you’d never know it. No thought is too abstract, no question too elementary that Snyder gives it anything less than his full attention. He does the same thing on the basketball court – it’s why the Jazz hired him.

Snyder never speaks in absolutes. His approach to coaching is methodical and highly contextualized, capturing the entire picture while retaining a keen eye for even the minutest detail. You’ve never “failed” in his system – rather you’ve yet to improve, yet to embrace what’s often a painstaking process; you’ve never fully “perfected” anything so much as you’ve progressed to a higher level of functionality.

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A Realistic Free Agent Wish List for the Knicks

By Tommy Beer

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.

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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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High-Performance Mindfulness: What Players Can Learn From Brandon Ingram

By implementing a Daily Gratitude Practice, Brandon Ingram may be ahead of the game. Jake Rauchbach dives in.

Jake Rauchbach

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For younger players, maybe one of the most important elements of successful progression is their ability to mentally and emotionally self-manage.

Throughout a career, and as the stakes increase, the amount of external variables that a player is faced with processing can multiply exponentially both on and off the court.

For players with effective and leverageable skill sets for clear decision-making, as well as mental and emotional self-management, this is a valuable asset. However, for many, it can be like a trial by fire. This means that habits picked up through a career to cope can be either supportive or destructive.

However, players who have the foresight to employ proactive self-management tools — before the volatility of life hits — have a leg up on overall well-being, and with on-court performance.

Brandon Ingram

Brandon Ingram, who is still only 22 years old, helps to shed light on how important it is to have mental and emotional processes in place.

Ingram, who is having a career-best year in New Orleans, averaging 25.4 points per game on 49% shooting, experienced ups and downs during his time with the Lakers.

Whether through proactively seeking out mental skills or by picking them up along the way, BI has seemed to find a process that works for him. He also seems to have found an understanding of how important it is to train these internal habits.

“People around me, they can give me talks, they can tell me what to do, but if I don’t have the right mentality, then nothing good is going to happen for me because I’m not going to be confident,” Ingram said.

As one of the younger up and coming players in the league, it is no coincidence that Ingram learned early the importance of implementing a Daily Gratitude Practice. He employs this tool both in the morning and at night after practice.

Neuroplasticity & Epigenetics

As neuroscientists like Dr. Joe Dispenza are now showing, the differentiating factor in human potential may be the ability to harness thought and emotion. In his Wall Street Journal bestseller, Becoming Supernatural, Dispenza provides several studies showing how these two variables are being shown to directly affect the up or down-regulation of the human gene. Meaning, for every thought or emotion that is produced in the body, there is a corresponding chemical reaction. Each one of the reactions, whether positive or negative, either up-regulate or down-regulate the gene. This is especially true for longstanding thought patterns.

According to neuroscience, Ingram, through his Daily Gratitude Practice, may be positively influencing more levels to his game than he consciously realizes. Players like Ingram who can entrain to higher mental and emotional habits can positively influence physiology and performance.

Conversely, a player with chronic and ingrained negative thought and emotional patterns, such as depression, often produces volatile or underwhelming on-court results. On a psychosomatic level, their mental and emotional states are affecting their physiology and performance.

A player like Ingram, who self admittedly went through many ups and downs, has been able to stabilize and hit his stride this season with the Pelicans. What about the players that have not been able to right the ship?

A deeper understanding of how mindset and emotional states affect a player’s physiology and performance can help us understand what is going on under the hood.

Player Development tools that do this can work to reshape long-standing mental and emotional patterns. Furthermore, providing players with a systematic way of shifting well-being and performance upwards can provide alignment.

Energy Psychology – Player Development

As discussed in previous columns, Energy Psychology – Player Development works on the habit level of the player to remove mental and emotional barriers that inhibit peak performance and overall wellbeing.

Based on Dispenza’s neuroscience findings, when holding all else constant, there seems to be real evidence to show that a player’s thoughts and emotions are the drivers behind overachievement. With this, EP methods help player’s upshift mental state, physiology and performance by neutralizing subconscious blocking thoughts and emotions.

Whether by the player proactively implementing these techniques or through standardized programs set up by the team, working in this fashion goes much deeper than just getting up shots.

Younger Players & The G-League

Ingram is ahead of the curve in regards to implementing elements of consistent mental skills training into his everyday routine. Other players should take heed.

For younger players still on their rookie contracts — or those just coming into the league — support like this may be a deciding factor in how they move throughout the rest of their career.

The G League also may be an ideal proving ground. A proactive mental performance initiative could provide players still trying to solidify an opportunity for an added skill-set. This could provide a leg-up, not only on the court once that call-up opportunity does come.

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NBA Daily: Sixth Man of the Year Watch — 12/6/2019

A Washington sharpshooter joins the ranks of the league’s best reserves, but the Sixth Man conversation still focuses on Los Angeles in Douglas Farmer’s opinion.

Douglas Farmer

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In this update on Sixth Man of the Year candidates, one name must be bid farewell. Unexpected to begin the year but increasingly expected in recent weeks, Charlotte Hornets guard Devonte’ Graham has played too well to keep coming off the bench, most recently shining with 33 points on 10-of-16 shooting from deep Wednesday. In a lost season for the Hornets, Graham’s emergence may be the brightest silver lining, hence his starting their last 13 games.

A similar fate is set to befall another name below in the absence of an injured superstar, but technically speaking, that Brooklyn Nets guard has not started half his team’s games yet, so he remains in this listing one more time …

5. Dāvis Bertāns — Washington Wizards

Bertāns’ recent shooting spurt has not brought the Wizards many wins, but it has led to him reaching double digits in eight of their last nine games, including four instances of 20 or more points. During that stretch, Bertāns has hit 47.5 percent of his looks from beyond the arc, the type of shooting that earns notice.

At this point, he is averaging only 13.6 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, numbers that may not bring out the checkbook this summer, but if Bertāns keeps at his recent pace, his contract year should elicit a worthwhile payday. That would be true in any summer, but even more so in an offseason devoid of many pertinent free agents like 2020 should be.

4. Dwight Howard — Los Angeles Lakers

No. 39’s numbers have not taken off, and they will not, but this space will continue to trumpet Howard’s impact because it has been surprising and quietly important. Even beyond his counting stats — 7 points and 7 rebounds per game — playing fewer than 20 minutes per game will keep Howard from broader recognition for most of the season.

In the Lakers’ 12 wins by 10 or fewer points, Howard has totaled a plus-38. As long as Anthony Davis stays healthy and Los Angeles is the title favorite, Howard’s contributions should not be diminished, even if he is not the prototypical sixth man candidate.

3. Spencer Dinwiddie — Brooklyn Nets

When the Nets face the Hornets tonight, Dinwiddie’s nominal bench status will be in the rearview mirror for the foreseeable future. Through 21 games, he has started 10, fitting the sixth man qualification by one role night. With that distinction, his 20.8 points and 5.8 assists per game place him firmly in this conversation.

If he will have started half Brooklyn’s games by the end of the day, then why include him between Howard and a three-time Sixth Man of the Year winner? Because when Kyrie Irving returns from his extended absence (shoulder injury), Dinwiddie may return to the bench and skew his games off the bench back to the majority of his action.

That effect combined with Dinwiddie keeping the Nets steady and in the East’s top half without Irving is a unique combination of a contribution.

2. Lou Williams — Los Angeles Clippers

Death, taxes and Lou Williams. He has broken 20 points in 14 games this season with two more cracking 30, averaging 21.1 points per game. That was to be expected, even with his slow start to the year. The 14-year veteran is a metronome of a bucket-getter.

His 6.3 assists per game, however, are on pace to be a career-high. While that may not have been anticipated, this will be Williams’ fifth year in a row raising that average. Those dispersals have not shorted Williams’ scoring, as everyone knows. That is all to say, the league’s ultimate sixth man, maybe its best ever, has improved as a complete player in the latter half of his possibly interminable career.

1. Montrezl Harrell — Los Angeles Clippers

At some point this year, this biweekly Sixth Man listing may need to become a one-man testament. Harrell is rendering the preceding four nominations moot. His 19.1 points and 8.0 rebounds per game are impressive, but his pivotal role with the Clippers is even more deserving of lauds.

His 29.7 minutes per game are fourth for Los Angeles — a category Williams actually tops — and his plus-156 leads the Clippers handily, with only Kawhi Leonard’s plus-144 within 60 of Harrell. Yes, Harrell’s on-court impact in Los Angeles rivals Kawhi Leonard’s, despite one of them coming off the bench in 20 of 22 games and the other being the reigning Finals MVP.

The season is still in the early aughts — but some classic and new frontrunners are here to stay. For now, we’ll have to see how Paul George, Kyrie Irving and others ultimately impact the leaders on this list, but the Sixth Man of the Year race has only just started to heat up.

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NBA Daily: Equal Opportunity System With Butler Fueling HEAT

Seemingly always trapped in “good but not good enough” territory, the Miami HEAT have finally turned a corner. They might even be contenders, writes Drew Mays.

Drew Mays

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209 wins, 202 losses.

That’s what the Miami HEAT have to show in the record column since LeBron James left in the summer of 2014.

Their record tells us out loud what we’ve known over the last five years: Miami is a proud franchise. The team maximizes what it has and is a perennial postseason threat no matter who is on the roster.

Middling seasons aren’t necessarily a good thing by NBA standards, however. Competitiveness is a stepping stone to title contention. Without contention, it makes sense to bottom-out and rebuild through draft capital and assets. 40-win seasons are neither of these things.

But what the HEAT have in their favor is their location. NBA stars love South Beach. And this summer, Miami got what it needed: A star to push them over the hump in Jimmy Butler.

Butler wasn’t the shiniest addition, but he was one of the most important. A top-15 player, Butler’s antics in Minnesota frustrated his value over the past few seasons.

Those annoyances were overshadowed by his play for Philadelphia in the playoffs last spring — even with Joel Embiid, Butler may have been the 76ers’ best player. Either way, he was definitely their most important. He took control of games as a ball-handler down the stretch, repeatedly working from 15-feet and in and running pick-and-roll when the games screeched to a halt and defenses were loaded up. With Butler in tow, the Sixers were a few bounces away from the Eastern Conference Finals — although, he’d tell you they would’ve won the whole thing.

Instead of running it back in Philadelphia, Butler flew south in free agency to where he’d always wanted to go: Miami. His signing, followed by the arrival of rookie Tyler Herro, the emergence of Kendrick Nunn, a jump by Bam Adebayo and the support of the rest of the roster has the HEAT at 15-6 and poised to make a deep playoff run.

Miami has seven players averaging double figures. Kelly Olynk, averaging 9.2 per game, is close to making it eight. The balance extends beyond scoring numbers – those eight players all play between 23 and 34 minutes, with fifth starter Meyers Leonard as the lowest-used regular at just under 19 minutes per game. No one shoots the ball more than Nunn and his 13.8 attempts per game, and four players average over 4 assists each night.

While most teams are built on top-down schemes with a few stars and role players filling in the blanks, Miami is thriving in an equal-opportunity system. Much of this has to do with their culture and ability to amplify each player’s talents.

This even attack wouldn’t exist if Herro wasn’t flourishing in his rookie season; if Nunn hadn’t become a revelation after going undrafted in 2018; if Adebayo hadn’t made a leap, detailed recently by Jack Winter; if Goran Dragic hadn’t accepted going to the bench after starting essentially the last seven years; if Duncan Robinson hadn’t developed into an NBA rotation player.

All of these things are hard to predict individually, let alone them coming together at once. But with Miami, and with what we know about Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra, it was almost a foregone conclusion.

Butler’s infusion into Miami’s culture has been the perfect marriage 20 games in. His toughness matches the HEAT’s, and he seems to respect the work ethic of his teammates – something that’s been a huge problem in the past. He’s been able to be “the guy” without forcing it, leading Miami in scoring, but trailing Nunn in attempts per game.

The HEAT’s diversity on offense has led to an effective field goal percentage of 55.2 percent, second-best in the league. They’re 3rd in three-point percentage, 6th in two-point percentage, and 7th in free throws made. They’re 10th in assists. Even with their league-worst turnover percentage, they are 11th in offensive rating and 6th in overall net.

Defensively, the team is doing what Miami has traditionally done. They’re eighth-best in opponent field goal percentage and 2nd in the entire league in three-point percentage at 31.6%. In today’s NBA, defending the three-point line that well will breed success.

After defeating the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday — and the defending champions’ subsequent loss to the Houston Rockets — the HEAT are tied with them for third place in the Eastern Conference standings. And we’re 20 games in, so what we’ve seen from them so far is real. They are contenders to represent the East in the Finals in June.

Toronto and the Boston Celtics are good. They’ve both had strong starts, bolstered by the ridiculousness of Pascal Siakam and the insertion of Kemba Walker, respectively. But they aren’t markedly better than Miami. Are their offenses good enough to overcome the HEAT in a playoff series?

The Milwaukee Bucks, the proverbial frontrunner, still have the glaring non-Giannis weaknesses. They lost Malcolm Brogdon and showed their vulnerability by losing four straight in the conference finals last year. Philadelphia struggled out of the gate, but have won 8 of their last 11. But sans Jimmy Butler, the Sixers face the same questions they faced before his arrival in 2018-19: Who is the guy down the stretch? Who can create offense late in a playoff game?

That hasn’t been answered for Philadelphia yet. There’s no assurance that it’ll be answered at all. That question is answered in Miami.

They have Butler now. They have their star.

Combine that with Herro, Nunn, Adebayo, Dragic, Justise Winslow — who they haven’t even had for half of their games thus far — and the rest of the package, and Erik Spoelstra has what he hasn’t had since LeBron James was still in Miami.

A contender.

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