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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

NBA Daily: Justin Bibbs Gets First NBA Opportunity In L.A.

Justin Bibbs spoke to Basketball Insiders about joining an NBA team after going undrafted, playing in the G League, his developing skill set and more.

David Yapkowitz

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One of the best moments in the life of an aspiring pro basketball player is to receive the news that an NBA team wants to sign them.

For Justin Bibbs, that dream became a reality of his when the Los Angeles Clippers called him up to the team on a 10-day contract last week. The former Virginia Tech guard went undrafted last summer and was spending his first professional season in the G League with Maine Red Claws, the affiliate of the Boston Celtics.

This past Sunday against the Brooklyn Nets was actually his first day being around the team as they had immediately assigned him to the Agua Caliente Clippers after signing him.

“To be honest, I still don’t have words for it. It’s kind of indescribable,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “I always wanted to be on this level, but now that I’m here I just trying to take in every second of it, just relax and let God do his thing.”

Bibbs had a decent showing with the Celtics in summer league, leading to him being added to their training camp roster. He was ultimately cut and joined the Maine Red Claws as an affiliate player. Each NBA team is allowed to assign up to four players to their G League affiliate, players who were in training camp and are guaranteed a G League roster spot.

Affiliate players, however, are still considered ‘free agents’ in that they can sign with any NBA team. Bibbs played in 44 games with the Red Claws and averaged 11.8 points per game, 3.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists.

At Virginia Tech, he was a knockdown outside shooter (42.4 percent) and a strong defender. He has good size for a guard at 6-foot-5 and 225-pounds. It’s those qualities that he’s hoping to bring to the Clippers should he get the chance on the court.

“I always bring energy defensively and I just play my game. On offense, I bring shooting,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “But it’s whatever the coach tells me to do and basically just playing the right way.”

Although Bibbs has reached his goal of the NBA, he’s in a different situation than the rest of his Clippers teammates. They’re all secured with guaranteed contracts. Bibbs has ten days to prove himself to team brass, ten days to show he’s worth keeping around a bit longer.

“I’m happy that my play has been rewarded, that the organization believed in me enough to give me a 10-day. Its motivation for me to keep going,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “I was called down from the G League team, and I’m just trying to get all the sets and plays and stuff, trying to make that adjustment. But it’s definitely a blessing.”

He’s played in three games for the Agua Caliente Clippers so far, logging 27.1 minutes per game off the bench. He’s put up 9.7 points per game on 45.8 percent shooting from the field, 5.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists during that stretch.

He’s yet to log any minutes for the Clippers, but he’s just thrilled to be a part of an NBA organization. Despite being undrafted, he always knew that he’d get to this level at some point.

“Yeah I did, for sure I did. I didn’t know when or how, but I always thought I would be here,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “I had no idea what team, but being out in LA, I’ll take that as a blessing. But yeah I thought I would be here for sure.”

For players like Bibbs who are on 10-day contracts, nothing is guaranteed. But he’s soaking up the entire experience as long as he can. Whether the Clippers decide to retain him a little bit longer, or he moves on to another opportunity, he just wants to be able to play his game.

“My overall goal is just to actually play my game my way and not be restricted,” Bibbs told Basketball Insiders. “Kind of just play freely and right now that’s what I’ve shown, that’s what got me here. I’m just taking in the whole process, just taking it all in and getting the experience and knowledge.”

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Mock Drafts

NBA Daily: 60-Pick NBA Mock Draft – 3/19/19

With the field of teams set for the 2019 NCAA March Madness tournament, things should get noisy over the next few weeks on the NBA Draft front. Steve Kyler offers up another 60-pick Mock Draft before all the zaniness begins.

Steve Kyler

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Let the Madness begin.

The basketball world will shift its attention to college basketball’s biggest stage over the next few weeks, especially this weekend’s opening round of 64.

While the tournament doesn’t necessarily make or break a player’s draft stock, this will be the first time some notable draft prospects will face elite talent and, more importantly, the pressure of the big stage. You can check out march madness predictions 2019 here.

Expect things in the draft world to start to percolate, not just because of the magnitude of the games, but also because a lot of NBA scouts will be in the same places, which is where the draft chatter originates.

Equally, a lot of NBA teams will watch games together in the conference rooms this week, so more group discussion on players will happen inside NBA teams’ front offices, and that could lead to new preference information flowing into the NBA Draft information bubble.

Here is this week’s 60-Pick Mock Draft, based on NBA games played through 3/18/19:

Here are the first-round picks that are owed and how those picks landed where they are.

The Atlanta Hawks are to receive the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first-round pick as a result of the Kyle Korver trade in 2017, which is top-10 protected. But based on the standings, it will not be conveyed.

The Boston Celtics are to receive the Memphis Grizzlies first-round pick as a result of the three-team Jeff Green trade in 2015; the pick is top-eight protected and, based on the current standings, would not convey.

The Atlanta Hawks are to receive the Dallas Mavericks first-round pick as a result of the Luka Dončić – Trae Young swap on draft night in 2018. The pick is top-five protected and, based on the standings, would convey.

The Boston Celtics are to receive the more favorable of either the Sacramento Kings or Philadelphia 76ers first-round picks as part of the Markelle Fultz pre-draft trade in 2017. Based on the current standings, the Kings pick is the more favorable and would convey to Boston.

The Boston Celtics are to receive the LA Clippers first-round pick as a result of the Deyonta Davis draft day trade with Memphis in 2016. The Grizzlies got the pick in their Jeff Green/Lance Stephenson deal at the deadline in 2016. The pick is lottery protected and, based on the current standings, would not convey.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are to receive the Houston Rockets first-round pick as a result of the three-team deadline deal that sent out Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss.

The Brooklyn Nets are to receive the Denver Nuggets first-round pick as a result of the Kenneth Faried – Darrell Arthur trade in July 2018. The pick is top-12 protected and, based on the current standings, would convey.

The San Antonio Spurs are to receive the Toronto Raptors first-round pick as a result of the Kawhi Leonard – DeMar DeRozan trade in July 2018. The pick is top-20 protected and, based on the current standings, would convey.

The Phoenix Suns are to receive the Milwaukee Bucks first-round pick as a result of the Eric Bledsoe trade in 2017. The pick has top 3 and 17-30 protections, designed to yield a lottery-level pick to Phoenix. Based on the current standings this pick would not convey. If the debt is not settled this year, the pick in 2020 would be top-7 protected.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @TommyBeer, @jblancartenba, @SpinDavies, @JamesB_NBA, @MattJohnNBA, @DrewMaresca, @JordanHicksNBA, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA

NBA Daily: Fixing The Cleveland Cavaliers

Spencer Davies starts Basketball Insiders’ “Fixing” series with the rebuilding Cleveland Cavaliers.

Spencer Davies

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Can you believe that the NBA regular season is less than a month away from concluding? It’s March 18, and teams are gearing up for the final stretch run before the playoffs get here. Thus far, there have been three teams to solidify their spots—the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers—while the rest of the league looks to jockey for postseason positioning.

On the flipside, there are four organizations that have begun to look towards the future with their immediate futures already decided, and 10 more will join them in the coming weeks as they become eliminated from playoff contention.

Basketball Insiders is bringing back its annual “Fixing” series to provide a blueprint of how to get each of those teams back on the right track moving forward. We’ll get things started with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

What Is Working

In the second half of the season, the Cavaliers are 5-7. Yes, that is two games under .500 and should not be something to celebrate—but it’s how they are playing that deserves praise. Aside from a couple of clunkers against the Detroit Pistons and Orlando Magic, they’ve been a resilient young group that has clearly matured under the direction of head coach Larry Drew.

The return of Kevin Love coinciding with Cleveland playing its best basketball all year is not a matter of happenstance, either. As detailed a couple of weeks ago, his impact on Collin Sexton and Cedi Osman has made both inexperienced players significantly better. As the team’s “go-to guy” as Drew likes to put it, everybody can play through a legitimate All-Star in a number of ways—feeding him on the block, finding him on the perimeter or even allowing him to dribble drive and create for others.

The Cavaliers are quite excited about the determination of their guys, specifically Sexton and Osman. It’d be foolish to base the projection of a rookie’s career off playing alongside multiple two-way and 10-day contract players, and some did when Sexton had his fair share of struggles. The same could be said for Osman, who’s really turned up the playmaking and shooting as of late. It takes talent and consistency to be in the NBA, which is a lesson they’re learning every night. And the optimism should go beyond just those three, too. There are a number of players who could be a part of the team’s core in the future.

Experiencing perhaps his best season as a pro, Larry Nance Jr. is becoming a vocal leader on and off the floor. Ante Zizic has taken his opportunity as a starter and run with it, averaging nearly 12 points and eight rebounds in 20 of such situations. Drew has constantly praised David Nwaba’s efforts when he’s needed a guy to step up and defend opponents’ top players, even when out of position. Jordan Clarkson thrives as the sixth man and Matthew Dellavedova is the perfect mentor and floor general off the bench.

What Needs To Change

Now comes the harsh part—Cleveland has been a horrific defensive team for a number of years. They’ve ranked among the worst in basketball for the past three years, and that includes the last two seasons they had with LeBron James. It begs the question: Is it scheme or is it personnel? In the case of the Cavaliers, the answer is probably a little bit of both.

There is often confusion with the coverage calls. Blown assignments, miscommunication and difficulty with the pick-and-roll can best describe the mess that is on the floor. There isn’t as much finger pointing as there was at the beginning stages of the season, but it’s paramount that the team drastically improves in this area. Considering the number of injuries, inexperience and lack of continuity that they’ve had this year, it should get better.

While shot selection has gotten better throughout the season, the Cavaliers have to move the basketball better on a consistent basis. Again, Sexton and Osman felt that they had to carry the load in the absence of Love as the primary scoring options—and Tristan Thompson’s injuries didn’t help—so there was a lot of hero ball going on. At least in the last month, these totals have gotten higher.

Cleveland may take the cake in scoring droughts as well, which leads to other teams taking games over. A scenario we’ve seen all too much this season: Cavaliers take the ball down the floor, pass it maybe once or twice and don’t find the open man, which leads to a rebound and numbers for the opposing team that almost capitalizes in every instance. Stagnancy is a killer for the wine and gold, which is a group that needs to play in a transition-heavy, free-flowing type of game to succeed.

Focus Area: The Draft

Currently owning the third-worst record in the association, the Cavaliers would have the same 14 percent odds to land the first overall pick in the NBA Draft as the two teams behind them, the Phoenix Suns and the New York Knicks. If the standings locked, Cleveland would be guaranteed a top-seven selection—although the percentages indicate they’d have a good chance to land in the top four and likely drop no further than sixth. They also are going to convey a draft pick in the mid-to-late 20s from the Houston Rockets via the Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss trade.

There is no singular focus area with the Cavaliers. They could use any talent they can get to add to this developing core and set the tone for the future. Obviously, the buzz surrounding Duke superstar Zion Williamson is real. If you were to pigeonhole him as just a dunker or a highlight reel, you’d be completely mistaken. Though needing to work on a reliable jump shot, the 18-year-old phenom is loaded with an incredibly versatile skill set at his age and a build that is tailor-made for the NBA. Positionless basketball is the future, and Williamson fits the bill.

If Cleveland lands another first overall pick, they’d be foolish to pass up on such a potential franchise changer. Just imagine the speedy Young Bull and bulldozing Williamson on a fastbreak opportunity with Love just waiting on the elbow. That’s quite a triple threat.

Say the Cavaliers end up second, third or fourth—this writer would jump at the opportunity to add Temetrius Morant, a man whom the basketball world knows simply as “Ja.” Set to be a top-five pick in the upcoming draft, the 19-year-old point guard is an absolute blast to watch play the game. He scores the basketball at will. He distributes at a high rate and shares the wealth with his teammates. He excels in transition. Morant lacks some size and will likely need to put on some weight, but forming a tandem with Sexton—who’s found a real groove playing off the ball—could work out famously.

Willamson’s teammates at Duke—RJ Barrett and Cameron Reddish—also have plenty of intrigue about them at those spots. If Cleveland gets put in the worst case scenario, talented wings like De’Andre Hunter and Keldon Johnson might be the way to go.

However, regarding the Rockets’ pick, there might be some diamonds in the rough. Here’s a list of names that could be attractive depending on the draft results: Bol Bol, Jontay Porter, Kevin Porter, Tre Jones, Matisse Thybulle, Luguentz Dort, Ashton Hagans.

Focus Area: Free Agency

With nearly its entire roster returning in 2019-20, Cleveland will not be much of a player in the free agency period. Nik Stauskas and Chriss have expiring contracts and Channing Frye is retiring.

General manager Koby Altman is going to be active in finding a trade partner for J.R. Smith, whose $15.68 million contract fully guarantees on June 30. If the Cavaliers can do so before that day, the team that traded for him can waive him and will only be on the hook for $3.87 million. It seems as if draft night—June 20—would be the most logical time to try this. If Altman is successful in moving Smith, the organization will have opened a roster spot.

Considering the team has been more than pleased with Nwaba’s contributions when healthy, it’s probable that he’ll be tendered a qualifying offer. If he is, then the 26-year-old guard would become a restricted free agent, meaning Cleveland could match any offer he’d receive. If Nwaba doesn’t get any bites, then it’s plausible he’d accept the $1.89 million one-year offer to stay.

Altman did yeoman’s work this year as a front office executive. He took what was a horrific financial situation loaded with unhappy veterans and turned it into something much more manageable, all while bringing in future assets and players on flexible deals. We don’t know whether those additions—Dellavedova, Knight and John Henson—are going to be a part of the future or used in potential trades down the line. The same could be said of Thompson and Clarkson, who also are going to be on the last years of their respective deals.

Other than the potential two rookies, there probably won’t be too many new faces around the Cavaliers in the summertime. It might change as we get into the 2019-20 campaign, but that’s down the road. Don’t expect a lot of change roster-wise going into the new league year.

Of course, coaching wise is a completely different story. The prevailing thought is that Cleveland is going to want a first-year head coach to grow and develop alongside their core players. Reports indicate the front office might prefer a person who has previous connections to the franchise in some capacity.

There are two assistants on other teams who have been the head coach of the Canton Charge—Denver’s Jordi Fernandez and Utah’s Alex Jensen—that could make sense. Toronto Raptors assistant and former player Adrian Griffin is a potentially appealing name as well, per Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com.

If Larry Drew decides he doesn’t want to stick around, finding the right person to lead this Cavaliers team into the next era is going to be crucial.

The “second first” year without LeBron didn’t go as planned. Firing Tyronn Lue six games into the season didn’t make matters easy, nor did Love going down with a toe injury to miss two-thirds of the season. Yet through the bad times, this Cleveland bunch has refused to mail it in and has earned a deal of respect from its competition.

They’re embracing the role of playing spoiler as the year winds down. It’s all about meaningful minutes for these guys, and until the clock hits zero on April 9 at Quicken Loans Arena, the work on the floor won’t be done.

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