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Brandan Wright Excited to Help Memphis Push for the Playoffs

Brandan Wright spoke to Basketball Insiders about what he can bring to the Grizzlies once he is healthy.

Oliver Maroney

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Brandan Wright’s NBA career has been extremely consistent when it comes to production on the court. When he plays, he’s a true difference-maker. A versatile scorer who’s incredibly efficient in the post, Wright’s unique size and skill set make him a tough matchup for almost any forward in the league.

Coming out of high school, Wright was one of the highest ranked players nationally and he would continue that trend in college. He decided to attend the University of North Carolina where he would become one of the most effective freshman basketball players in the ACC. His first and only year at UNC, Wright averaged 14.7 points on 64.6 percent field goal shooting (an ACC freshman record) while also producing 6.2 rebounds, one assist and 1.76 blocks per game.

Wright decided to forgo his sophomore season to declare for the 2007 NBA Draft. With teams hungry for an efficient big man who could provide a lot of versatility on both ends of the floor, Wright ended up shooting up the draft boards and was eventually picked eighth overall by the Charlotte Bobcats. However, he was soon after moved in a draft-day trade to the Golden State Warriors.

Wright’s journey continued with the Warriors where he’d learn a lot under veteran head coach Don Nelson.

“I think it was the end of my rookie year when I was starting to stress,” Wright told Basketball Insiders. “Coach Nelson pulled me to the side and he said ‘I’ve been watching a lot of film of you from college. Every time you get into the paint, I want you to shoot the ball.’ That kind of stuck with me for a long time and now, five or six years later, I’m shooting 70 percent in two or three seasons. He said ‘when you touch that paint, shoot the ball,’ and I just rolled with it. Now, it’s been the strength of my career.”

Wright would end up being traded to the New Jersey Nets. After spending around three months with the Nets, he went on to sign with the Dallas Mavericks where he posted the team’s highest field goal percentage in his first season (2011-2012). From there, Wright would be shipped off to the Boston Celtics and then the Phoenix Suns during the 2014-15 campaign.

After that, Wright would become a free-agent, where he’d sign a three-year, $17.1 million contract with the Memphis Grizzlies back in 2015. But unfortunately, since the signing took place, Wright has only managed to appear in 12 games in a Grizzlies uniform.

After some post-surgery tibial tendinitis, Wright had been out for a number of months dating back to last season. But according to Wright, his rehab is progressing and he’s started to run on the AlterG (anti-gravity) treadmill. A positive sign of things to come for the 28-year old who feels like he has many NBA years ahead of him.

“The biggest thing is that I’m going to surprise a lot of people,” Wright told Basketball Insiders. “The Memphis fans haven’t really seen me play that much besides when I played for Dallas when we came here twice a year to play. So, I’m excited to get out there on the court and show them what I can do. I can play above the rim, I think I can guard pretty much anyone on the court, block a lot of shots, get up and down the floor really fast. Speed, athletic ability are the big things in my game and, like you said, I don’t think we really have anyone [that is like me]. JaMychal Green and Jarell Martin, they possess those types of skills, but I’m much taller and I’m much longer than those guys. So I think I bring an aspect that we don’t have and I think it’s going to be very exciting when I get out there. I think I’m going to surprise a lot of people with what I can do.”

Wright’s role with this team is undetermined at this point because he’s still working to get healthy. But a lot has changed since Wright was last on the court, including the hiring of a new head coach. Wright spoke about the differences between former coach Dave Joerger and current coach David Fizdale.

“Coach Joerger, he was a pretty good X’s and O’s guy,” Wright told Basketball Insiders. “He was pretty straight forward overall, I thought he was a real solid coach. Obviously, he had other opportunities he wanted to explore, he didn’t want to be in Memphis and he took advantage of that. But I had no issues with anything like that, I thought he was a solid coach. But, I think coach Fizdale has brought a totally different vibe. I think he’s supported more togetherness, not only on the court but off the court. He wants families to be together, he wants it to be close knit because he always talks about it takes all that stuff to win a championship. He’s had an opportunity to win two championships in Miami and he’s seen both sides of it. He’s seen where everything was good and they won a championship. He’s seen, in that last year, where everything was going separate ways and they got blown off the court by the Spurs. He’s seen all of that and he just wants us to come together. He’s seen what it takes and, the biggest thing about him is, I think he can instill confidence in a lot of us. He came here and told us ‘I had plenty of opportunities in the past of head coaching jobs I could have taken. When this job came open, it wasn’t about money, it wasn’t about any of those things. I looked at the current roster and said I can work with these guys, I think these guys can win big for us.'”

For Wright, he’s getting closer to returning and the Grizzlies have a good chance to make the playoffs. When Wright returns, he knows he’ll be put in a position to be successful and help the Grizzlies.

“Just, when you’re out and you’re injured, you’re able to see the game in a different view,” Wright said. “You’re always able to learn more. I think with me being out, I’m able to see where I can really help the team, the things I could do to help elevate us. We’ve had a great start thus far, we’ve had a little bump in recent games. We won last night, but we recently had lost three in a row and I think four out of five before that. But, you learn so much, you look forward to getting out there and doing whatever it takes to help your team win.”

The dynamic of adding Wright into this team gives the Grizzlies a lot of promise moving forward. The Grizzlies rank dead last in field goal percentage and Wright’s efficiency will certainly help the team in that area. His career average of 60.8 percent shooting from the field would be good for first among active Grizzlies’ players this season. Not only that, but his diverse offensive skill set should draw opponents’ attention and open up the paint for guys like Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and others.

Wright’s main focus is getting back onto the court, but he has several goals in mind for this team.

“Obviously, you just want to give [the fans] a championship, that’s the easy answer,” Wright said. “But, the honest truth is, I just want all of our guys to be healthy at the same time. We’ve struggled the last couple of years with health. We had some bruises here, we hadn’t had a complete team yet. The championship, that’s a given, that’s what we all strive for, that’s what we all play for. But we just want to give the fans and this organization a good, clean, bill of health. You’re going to get knocked up every now and then, bruises here and there, whatever bumps, and guys are going to miss time. But, hopefully, we just come together and have a nice little stretch where we have a complete team and we can really show this league what we can do.”

Wright sounds genuinely excited to come back and play. It’s clear that he is anxious to get back onto the court and start helping his team in their push to the playoffs.

“I’m just trying my hardest to get back,” Wright said. “I think the biggest thing for the Memphis fans who haven’t seen me play yet is they’re going to be thoroughly surprised. When I get back on the court and I get rolling, they’ll see what I can do for this team. I’m just excited. I get real anxious sitting at home, I can’t even sleep at night sometimes. I’m just thinking about the things I can do for this team to help it succeed. I think it’s going to be real pleasant. I think it’s just going to be great.”

While Wright’s journey hasn’t been perfect due to injuries and setbacks, he’s taken that experience as a chance to evaluate his team and his potential role in it. Now, it seems like he’ll soon be ready to help Memphis make a deep postseason run. With a new coach, veteran core and improved depth, the Grizzlies may be able to surprise some people as they build on their early season success.

Oliver Maroney is an NBA writer for Basketball Insiders. He is based in Portland and covers the league as a whole.

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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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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener

Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.

Jesse Blancarte

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“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”

That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.

While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.

Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.

While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.

Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).

While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.

Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.

Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).

“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”

Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.

Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.

“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.

For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.

“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”

Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.

The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.

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