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Basketball Insiders Week in Review 9/7

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

Kyle Cape-Lindelin

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Five Centers on the Rise in 2014-15

By John Zitzler

As the game has evolved over the last decade and the stretch four has become increasingly popular, more and more teams are relying solely on their center to protect the rim. The days of having two bigs with the ability to bang down low and control the paint seem to be rapidly fading away. This puts a premium on having a center that can, at the very minimum, change shots around the rim and ideally send some of those shots back. Additionally, with teams emphasizing floor spacing, more pressure is on the center to secure the rebound and keep second chance opportunities to a minimum. If you can find a guy who has the ability to do all that while also having a strong post game and passing ability on the offensive end, he can be the type of player who can transform a franchise.

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Why the Clippers Traded Jared Dudley

By Jesse Blancarte

On Friday, the Los Angeles Clippers waived Carlos Delfino and Miroslav Raduljica, whom they acquired (along with their own 2015 second-round pick) in exchange for small forward Jared Dudley and a protected first-round pick in 2017.

The trade was originally considered a questionable move by the Clippers, despite the fact that Jared Dudley had a down season in his one and only year with the Clippers. On paper, the Clippers only had Matt Barnes, Dudley, and second-year player Reggie Bullock, who played sparingly last season, at small forward. The depth at small forward was already a glaring issue for the Clippers, and Delfino hardly seemed like the answer moving forward as he missed all of last season with a significant foot injury.

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Talking The Shoe Game

By Steve Kyler

In the sports world there is the expression – “Go Big Or Go Home…” Under Armour, a fledging player in the basketball shoe space did exactly that in their offseason offer to Thunder star Kevin Durant.

When news broke that Under Armour was winning out on the bidding process with Durant, there were reports that the deal would clock in north of $325 million. As is usually the case in these kinds of things, shoe figures are often massively exaggerated and focus in on what’s possible if all incentives are met. What’s real is what’s guaranteed and possible to earn and that’s where the numbers came down to earth a little bit. In the end Under Armour’s offer was said to be worth $265 million, with achievable incentives and inducements that could have gotten the deal to $285 million over the next ten years.

Nike, who has had Durant since he entered the NBA had the right to match the offer, and over the weekend they informed Durant and his agent that they would matching the deal. It’s believed that Nike is offering a different structure to their deal, but that’s the dollar figures will come close enough to get Durant to agree to the terms.

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Top 5 Worst Defending Champions

By Joel Brigham

Not enough was made this offseason about what an admirable job the San Antonio Spurs did in keeping together the championship roster that was mighty enough to break up the LeBron James Dynasty in Miami. With loads of great contracts and plenty of role players willing to take less to remain part of something so special, there’s no question that the reigning champs keeping themselves intact was the least talked about major story of the summer.

Of course, not all defending champs are so lucky. Sometimes a dynasty just runs its course, and after that final title most of the major players (and sometimes even the coaches) all go their separate ways. Today’s list looks at the most egregious of those title defenses:

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Dunc’d On: Not Time For USA to Panic

By Nate Duncan

The Team USA critics are out in force again after what is apparently the most disastrous 21-point win in basketball history, a 98-77 victory over Turkey.  Nevertheless, I will admit to feeling that little ball of ice grow in my stomach as Turkey took a five-point lead into halftime and Team USA looked rather discombobulated. They scored a mere 35 points on 40 possessions in the first half, while Turkey managed a point per possession.  The US malaise continued as Turkey made three straight threes to lead 51-45 midway through the third quarter.  But the US took over from there to lead by 20 midway through the fourth quarter.  Overall, they scored 63 points on 44 possessions in the second half, holding Turkey to 37 points on the same number of tries.

Nevertheless, the story was that Team USA had been exposed by Turkey’s first half strategy, which was derided as little more than using a basic 2-3 zone and slowing the game down.  The implication was that this game proved the US had major problems, but a rewatch of the game proved this simply is not the case–at least based on this game.

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The NBA’s Most Underrated Point Guards

By Cody Taylor

As it goes with just about everything in life, someone or something doesn’t get mentioned nearly as often as they should and are often viewed as underrated or under looked. In the music scene, for example, certain artists or bands are viewed as more talented than maybe their record sales show or which awards they lose out on at the Grammy’s.

In the NBA, there are plenty of capable players at each position and more often than not there are only a certain number of players being talked about. When it comes to the point guard position, it seems like Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, John Wall, Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving are among the names that are mentioned most often. While those players have earned the right to dominate those conversations, there are a number of other point guards that should be receiving more praise than they are.

Here are five point guards (in no particular order) that are often overlooked and deserve to be talked about more:

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Kenneth Faried’s Payday is Coming

By Yannis Koutroupis

So far in the 2014 FIBA World Cup, Team USA is 3-0 with a 35.6 point average margin of victory. They did have a little bit of a scare against Turkey recently and their toughest challenges are ahead with teams out of their group like Australia, Greece and Spain in particular really looking formidable. However, there’s no doubting now that despite the absence of some of the NBA’s biggest stars, a team capable of winning the gold has still been put together.

The depth of Team USA’s talent pool has been on full display. Anthony Davis and James Harden have taken over the leadership roles in place of Kevin Durant and Kevin Love, who opted not to play after originally considering it. This comes as no surprise. Davis is a former No. 1 overall pick who is coming off of his best year as a professional and was already on the fast track to stardom prior to the start of the tournament. Harden has been one of the best shooting guards in the league since being traded to the Houston Rockets two years ago and he came into the tournament highly motivated after an early exit from the 2014 NBA playoffs and wide-ranging criticism about his defense.

Somewhat surprisingly, though, is the fact that up to this point Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried has been the third best player on a Team USA squad that also features Derrick Rose, Kyrie Irving and Stephen Curry among other more proven NBA players.

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Storylines Headed Into Training Camp

By Lang Greene

Casual fans will undoubtedly be watching the trajectories of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Miami HEAT this season since LeBron James’ decision to head back home via free agency sent shockwaves through the league. While Miami did a solid job, considering the circumstances, of retooling their roster after James’ departure, the Cavaliers will enter the season as the favorites in the Eastern Conference – if not the league as a whole.

But the Cavaliers-HEAT storyline isn’t the only worth paying attention as we prepare to head into training camp. There are plenty of instances of drama worth keeping an eye on this season.

Let’s take a look at a few:

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Bounce-Back Year for Josh Smith?

By Alex Kennedy

It wasn’t long ago that Josh Smith was viewed as a borderline All-Star, someone who filled the stat sheet but seemed to be snubbed every year when the East and West teams were assembled. He was the face of the franchise for the Atlanta Hawks, making his presence felt on both ends of the floor and filling a highlight reel with ease.

Now, Smith is viewed much differently around the NBA. League insiders have characterized him as inefficient and selfish, and his tendency to settle for long-range jumpers drives coaches and fans crazy. He has also been labeled as overpaid, since the Detroit Pistons signed him to a four-year, $56 million deal last summer that made him the team’s highest-paid player. The Pistons went 29-53 last year and Smith received plenty of blame for the team’s disappointing season. Critics have said that his style of play isn’t conducive to winning, which is never how a player wants to be perceived in the NBA.

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The NBA’s Most Underrated Small Forwards

By Jabari Davis

While players like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony deservedly headline most discussions about the top swingmen in the game, we’re going to take a moment to discuss five of the league’s most underrated small forwards as we head into 2014-15. This list won’t include the likes of Chandler Parsons, Gordon Hayward or anyone else that recently signed max deals as a result of no longer being able to be considered “underrated” by any stretch.

We continue our series that began with the point guards and shooting guards with today’s list of some of the lesser-heralded but very talented small forwards:

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Is Anthony Davis the Heir to King James’ Crown?

By Tommy Beer

Last month, Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden boldly proclaimed himself “the best all-around player in the NBA.”

The headline led to some raised eyebrows, and a few chuckles, because although Harden is an undeniably talented scorer, he has frequently shown little to no interest in defense. As a result, we can safely eliminate him from the “best all-around player” conversation.

In fact, there is no real debate. If we are going to attempt to answer the question: “Who is the best all-around player in the NBA?” – we can do so with one word. LeBron.

This is no direct knock Harden, as most top-tier athletes in each and every sport believe they are the best at what they do. It’s part of the reason for their success. However, it’s almost impossible to argue that anyone other than LeBron James is the best all-around basketball player on the planet. There is almost nothing James can’t do. He’s an elite scorer and the best playmaker on every team he’s ever played on. Furthermore, he can guard all five positions on the floor. When focused, he’s one of the league’s best defenders.

However, the argument over who is the “best all-around player not named LeBron James” is a conversation worth having.

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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 Sunday: Kristaps Porzingis Sure Looks Ready To Be The Franchise

The Knicks hope Kristaps Porzingis can become their franchise. Thus far, he seems up to the challenge.

Moke Hamilton

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He stood in front of his mentor, isolated, just like they used to do in practice.

He’d seen the jab steps before and the head fakes—they were nothing new. And when Carmelo Anthony mustered the acceleration he still has in his 33-year-old legs to drive around Kristaps Porzingis, Anthony knew he had the 7-foot-3 Latvian big man beat.

Anthony triumphantly rose to the basket and delicately attempted his right-handed layup. Before he knew what hit him, though, Anthony’s shot had been sent to the free throw line.

The message was clear—Kristaps had taken the torch.

“It was fun,” Porzingis said about his confrontation with Anthony. “We went at it in practices a lot and one-on-one after practices.

“It was a lot of fun knowing what he was going to do and try to stop him.”

The Oklahoma City Thunder were much closer to the NBA Finals than the Knicks were last season, and removing Anthony from the Knicks and pairing him with Russell Westbrook and Paul George gives the Thunder a triumvirate that can at least conceivably challenge the Golden State Warriors. They are perhaps the only team in the entire league with enough firepower and defensive pieces.

So no, the Knicks may not be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy anytime soon, but at the very least, the franchise seems to be in good hands—the big, soft hands of Porzingis.

As young NBA players come into their own and attempt to fulfill the lofty expectations that everyone has of them, the third year is the charm, almost invariably. And in that that year, a young player can’t control the other pieces that are around him—that’s why they shouldn’t be judged by their team’s wins and losses.

In that third year, a young player also can’t really control the frequency of his injuries. The simple truth is that many 21 or 22-year-old players simply lack the hardened bones of a fully grown adult that most men become after the age of 25.

But what the young player can prove is that he is prepared to shoulder the burden and take the fight to anyone who stands before him. Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks epitomizes this ideal better than any other young player in the league. He is absolutely fearless and it’s a pleasure to watch.

So is Porzingis.

Since the influx of European-born players began about 20 years ago, we have seen our fair share of “soft” European players. His talent aside (which is considerable), Porzingis has proven to be anything but, and that by itself can help players go a very long way.

In what must have felt like the longest summer ever, Porzingis saw the franchise that drafted him undergo an overhaul that resulted in a light beaming so brightly on him, you would have thought the third-year forward was starring in a Broadway musical.

Say what you want about Porzingis, but he has already done all that he can to notify everyone that have anything to do with the Knicks that his bony shoulders aren’t indicative of the weight he’s capable of carrying.

And in Oklahoma City, against his mentor, Porzingis did the heavy lifting.

“I saw energy,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said after his team’s opening night loss.

“He was great moving. He played 38 minutes, and maybe last year that would be a struggle. He would maybe get tired, and get some silly fouls, but even toward the end on that 37th or 38th minute, he was still up hollering, moving, blocking shots and getting rebounds, so he had a great game and we expect a lot more of that from him.”

Being a Knicks fan is something that nobody should wish on their worst enemy. The franchise has made scores of maneuvers that lacked wisdom and seemingly gone out of its way to alienate people beloved by the franchise. On top of it all, Knicks tickets are among the highest in the entire league.

Fans as passionate and dedicated as Knicks fans deserve a team they can be proud of and a front office that dedicates itself to putting winning ahead of petty feuds and politics.

The hiring of Scott Perry may signify just that.

So when the Knicks traded Carmelo Anthony and ended up getting back 10 cents on the dollar for his value, everyone should have prepared for a long season in New York City.

Coming in, Knicks fans once again found themselves in the unenviable predicament of having to talk themselves into believing that Ramon Session, Michael Beasley and Tim Hardaway were capable of giving this team feel good moments. And while they certainly are, they will surely pale in comparison to the amount of losses that the club accrues along the way.

If there’s one thing the Philadelphia 76ers have taught everyone, however, it’s that the losses don’t necessarily need to be in vain.

So heading into this season, what Knicks fans should have been looking forward to and hoping for is nothing more than the installation of a culture that’s marked by effort, communication and selfless basketball—the hallmarks of the Golden State Warriors.

Aside from that, yes, they should have also come in with the hope that Kristaps Porzingis would take an appreciable step forward and prove himself to truly be a capable franchise cornerstone.

To this point, from the way he holds his head highly, despite a win or a loss, and the way he competes to the best of his abilities, despite his limitations. For now, it’s really all that could reasonably be asked of him.

When it was all said and done—when Porzingis looked the Knicks’ past in the eyes after the Thunder had soundly defeated his New York Knicks—Carmelo Anthony probably told him that he was proud of him and that he wished him all the luck in the world.

He probably told him to continue to work on his game and hone his craft and to block out the background noise.

And above all else, Carmelo probably told Kristaps that he believes he is capable of being his successor.

With his nodding head and serious demeanor, Porzingis, in all his glory, listened intently. Even more so, he believed every word. 

It doesn’t take all day to figure out whether the sun is shining—it’s an adage that remains as true in basketball as it does on a May Day in New York.

For Porzinigis, the bright sky and the beaming sunlight—he’s basking in it all. Not only has he becomes the Knicks’ franchise by default, he believes he’s capable of shouldering the burden.

In this town, that’s more than half the battle.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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