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Can the Atlanta Hawks Keep Their Team Together This Offseason?

The Hawks have been the NBA’s darlings this season. Can they keep this team together for the long haul?

Nate Duncan

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When word began to leak out about the NBA’s new television deal late on Sunday night, October 5, the focus immediately turned to the league’s free agent landscape.  Cap dorks immediately began feverish calculations. The eventual conclusion is that the salary cap could rise to as much as $90 million for the 2016-17 season, when over $2 billion per season in TV money will line the league’s coffers.  While reports have indicated that the NBA has engaged the players’ union in talks to “smooth” the impact of the new deal over successive seasons, it now appears that the players are unwilling to acquiesce to such a scenario.  It now appears that the summer of 2016 will be a free agent free-for-all unmatched in league annals.

But for those who follow the league closely, contracts signed in the 2015 offseason could have nearly the same intrigue despite a comparatively modest projected increase from $63.065 million to $67.4 million.  A number of converging factors make this summer absolutely fascinating.  One, of course, is that looming 2016 offseason.  Maximum contracts are delineated as a percentage of the salary cap at the time they are signed, but do not adjust upward based on a rising cap in subsequent seasons.*  With the cap set to rise by almost a third in 2016, max contracts signed in 2015 could look relatively cheap in subsequent years.

*With an exception covered in the bullets below.

Now consider that nearly half the league could have $15 million or more in cap room, with many others possessing a realistic possibility for a significant contract.  While that is a lot of teams by historical norms, it pales in comparison to 2016, in which pretty much the entire league will have huge cap room.  That year, the competition between teams along with the larger maximum contracts will result in a colossal feeding frenzy. Teams are no dummies–they realize they will likely get a lot more bang for their buck this offseason than the following year.

All of these factors could serve to inflate the 2015 market by quite a bit more over past years than the projected $4 million jump in the cap alone would indicate. And that could make this summer rather difficult for a current league darling, the Atlanta Hawks.  Hawks GM in absentia Danny Ferry deserves plaudits for having built such a flexible and competitive roster.  But the price of that flexibility is the 2015 free agency of two starters and a key reserve: Paul Millsap, DeMarre Carroll and Pero Antic.*  All were wisely signed to two-year contracts in the Hawks’ landmark summer of 2013.*  With Millsap 28, Carroll 27 and Antic 31, the Hawks were locking these players up through what were likely the best years they had left while avoiding overpaying for possible decline years.  Now though, Atlanta must pay the price for those players outperforming their modest deals.**

*Ferry signed Millsap and Carroll for less starting salary and half the years that outgoing free agent Josh Smith received in Detroit.

**Atlanta would surely love to talk contract extension with all three to prevent their hitting the open market, but the 2011 CBA prohibits extensions on contracts any shorter than four years, while preventing raises of more than 107.5 percent from a player’s previous salary.

Here is what the Hawks’ 2015 offseason could look like, including cap holds for Millsap, Carroll and Antic.*

*We will assume the remainder of the Hawks’ free agents can be renounced when appropriate, extinguishing their cap holds.

 

Hawks Current Cap Holds

Under that scenario, they are currently projected to have over $9 million in cap space even with those three free agents’ cap holds.  Add in a cap hold from their first-round pick, which will probably be about number 11 since it can be swapped with the Brooklyn Nets, and that drops to around $7 million. But due to the short-term contracts signed by Millsap and Carroll, that number is not as delicious as it might seem.  Were they completing three-year deals, the Hawks could sign outside free agents up to the cap, then re-sign Millsap and Carroll for anything up to the maximum salary using the full Larry Bird exception, which allows teams to go over the cap to sign their own free agents.  But since Millsap and Carroll have only been with the Hawks two years, Atlanta is limited to the Early Bird exception if they want to go over the cap to re-sign them.  If Atlanta is over the cap when they re-sign them, that exception limits them to the higher of 175 percent of their prior salary or the Estimated Average Player Salary, likely around $5.7 million in 2015-16.  They also may only offer a four-year deal, rather than five years if the players had full Bird rights.

Millsap is a particularly difficult case as a 30-year-old coming off consecutive All-Star appearances.  He has bucked the aging trend for shorter power forwards, having his two best seasons at 28 and 29 by adding significantly to his skill level since his arrival in the A.  His abilities to shoot threes, take bigger players to the basket on closeouts and post up effectively are essential to the Hawks’ beautiful offense.  Defensively, he is highly underrated after garnering a reputation as a defensive liability playing next to Al Jefferson in Utah.  All told, Millsap ranks 16th in ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus statistic, adding 5.07 points per 100 possession to the Hawks’ bottom line.  His well-rounded game is especially rare as one of only five players in the league recording both an offensive and defensive RPM above 2.00.

Right now, it is clear Millsap is a premium player, although he likely benefits immensely from the spaced floor and ball movement of Coach Mike Budenholzer’s system. Nevertheless, if he keeps up this performance the rest of the year, he would likely be worth his individual maximum of around $19 million were we only considering next season. Unfortunately, the age-related decline Millsap has successfully postponed to date remains an issue for anything longer than a one-year deal, which free agents of his caliber rarely sign.  So what is an appropriate deal with Millsap?

Remember that Marcin Gortat re-signed for a five-year, $60 million contract last offseason as a 30-year-old with a lower cap and less certainty about the influx of new TV money.  While that may have been a bit of an overpay by the Wizards with the length of the contract,* it probably was not too far above market value.  Millsap, of course, is a much better player than Gortat.

*Gortat hasn’t even been closing a lot of games for Randy Wittman in Washington, although it is possible the Wizards are not using him properly.

The most Millsap can glean via the Early Bird Exception is $16.6 million.  If the Hawks were to offer him a four-year deal starting at that amount, it would be a very fair offer considering the likelihood of decline in the later years.  Depending on the negotiations, the Hawks could possibly allow for a declining salary, opening up more room to add pieces in the upcoming years.  This would result in a four-year deal totaling around $60 million.  If Millsap demands a starting salary of more than $16.6 million, the Hawks would have to use cap space to sign him.

The timing and amount of his re-signing could also prove crucial due to the delicate situation with Carroll.  Unless Millsap re-signs for a starting salary less than his $12.35 million cap hold (unlikely in this environment), the Hawks will want to delay his signing until after Carroll to allow them as much cap room as possible. And if Millsap signs for more than the Early Bird exception, it really limits what they can do with Carroll.

The Early Bird limitations could be problem in the case of Carroll, who is due a major raise from a bargain $2.4 million this year.  He probably even deserves more than the $5.7 million Estimated Average Player Salary.*  I previously sung Carroll’s praises as one of the league’s most underrated players, and selected him to my team of East All-Stars for a “real” All-Star game. He is now up to 40 percent on threes while shooting a robust 4.3 per game.  But he also provides great cutting and energy offensively, leading to a high free throw rate for a secondary player and an overall .591 True Shooting Percentage.  Those skills in concert with his abilities as a defender at both wing positions (so the Hawks can hide Kyle Korver) and smallball four (the latter of which the Hawks don’t really utilize) are a very rare combination. Of the other wings on the market this summer, only Danny Green and Khris Middleton offer the same combination of proven three-point shooting and defense.

*This is just my opinion. It is possible Carroll may continue to remain criminally underrated and find his market value lower.

Were he 27, Carroll could merit a four-year deal starting at eight figures per in this new environment. But at 29, a long-term deal is a little dicier.  The Hawks might try one of two approaches.  The first would be a four-year deal starting right at the Estimated Average Player Salary with the maximum 7.5 percent annual raises, totaling $25.4 million.  While this may be a smaller starting salary than Carroll could get elsewhere, the number of years may be more than other teams would offer.  Depending on the market dynamics, the Hawks could offer a player option on the fourth year.  Keeping Carroll within the confines of the Early Bird exception could allow it to take advantage to add another two-way wing or big.  Of course, this also assumes Carroll and Millsap were willing to wait to actually sign their deals until after Atlanta had used its cap space—a rather dicey situation that would require a lot of trust between the parties.

 

On the other hand, if Millsap and Carroll sign immediately, but are willing to stay within the Early Bird exceptions, the Hawks can stay over the cap and retain the $5.5 million Mid-Level Exception and the $2.1 million Bi-Annual Exception.  This would certainly be their preferred route.

However, Carroll may find a deal within the confines of the Early Bird exception below his market value.  In that case, the Hawks would like to look at offering him a shorter deal with higher salaries that decline in value throughout the length of the contract.  The downside there is any deal starting at higher than the Early Bird Exception would require the use of their cap space. What’s more, by using cap space they would lose the MLE and BAE, limiting any further additions to the $2.8 million Room Exception. Nonetheless, the Hawks may have little choice. Including the first-round cap hold, the most the Hawks could pay Carroll is $10.2 million to start.

Re-sign Carroll big

So a two-year deal around $21 million would be the idea.  However, that would require Millsap waiting to sign until after Carroll, and staying within the Early Bird exception.  If both Millsap and Carroll require salaries above the Early Bird Exception, the Hawks will have to look into jettisoning players like Thabo Sefolosha, Adreian Payne, Shelvin Mack, or Kent Bazemore.  That would not be ideal, but none of those players are immovable.

 

It is also possible that the Hawks may find Carroll’s contract demands too expensive. In that case, they could have the space to look for his replacement(s).  If Carroll signs elsewhere or is renounced, the Hawks could have that same $10.2 million to work with in a market that includes a fair number of wings. But that again would require the dicey plan of asking Millsap to wait to sign his new contract, and that the contract fit within the Early Bird exception.

Antic is a far simpler proposition due to what should be lower salary demands. The Macedonian is not a great individual player, but as a backup center who can shoot threes and avoid getting taken advantage of in the post he allows the Hawks to keep their style of play rolling with their bench units.  At age 33 he probably will not get a ton of offers on the open market, so a two-year deal (the minimum allowed for an Early Bird contract) starting at around $2 million per year should get it done for him.  As a restricted free agent, the Hawks have the right to match any outside offer.

Assuming the Hawks continue their dream season and reach at least the Conference Finals, retaining Millsap and Carroll should be their preferred approach.  Adding another piece is possible via cap room or more likely the MLE, but depends on the amounts of their contracts and when they are signed.  The more likely outcome is retaining Millsap and Carroll, then adding a minimal piece via the Room Exception.  Even if that occurs, in 2016 Hawks could still have as much as $20 million in cap to add another free agent and still re-sign Al Horford.  If they keep winning like this, Atlanta could prove a premium free agent destination for the first time in its history.

Team Rebounds:

  • There are many good arguments for smoothing, laid out by Basketball Insiders’ and ESPN’s Larry Coon in this piece.  As he notes, the players will be entitled to 51 percent of the revenue even if player contracts do not add up to that much–the owners would simply write the players checks to alleviate the shortfall. However, the players may get some perceived value out of getting as many big contracts as they can on the books prior to a likely CBA opt-out by one of the two sides in the summer of 2017.  Smoothing is also something the owners want more than the players.  It may just be good negotiating to avoid simply agreeing without other concessions from the NBA, which the league in turn may be unwilling to give up.  On the other hand, cynics may also note that player agents would be against smoothing because they get a cut of new contracts, but do not get a cut of checks the league gives the players to cover any shortfall below 51 percent.  What’s more, with the league’s two biggest stars set to be free agents in 2016, and LeBron James having specifically positioned himself to be so that year, they would not be too happy about their maximum salary for that year being reduced due to smoothing.
  • It was noted earlier that contracts do not adjust upward with a rising cap. They are limited to 7.5 percent annual raises for a player re-signing via Early Bird or Bird rights (or extending with his prior team) and 4.5 percent annual raises when signing with another team or changing teams via sign-and-trade. The only exception is trade bonuses, which can encompass up to 15 percent of the remaining salary on the contract at the time the player is traded.  Trade bonuses have usually been of little relevance for max players, since their built-in raises outstrip the growth in the cap, and a trade bonus cannot cause a player’s salary to exceed the overall maximum for his experience level.  But with the cap going up like crazy after 2015, even max players will be able to get their full 15 percent trade bonuses in the event they are moved.  Expect agents to push much harder for trade bonuses on max contracts than in the past–and to get them in this buyers’ market.
  • As of this writing, the Warriors currently possess the fourth-best point differential in NBA history, behind only the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, the 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks and the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers.  If the Warriors can keep this up all season (and win the championship, of course), their feat will be much more impressive than those predecessors’.  Those teams all benefited from recent expansion to fatten up their victory margins.  The NBA expanded by eight teams from the 1966-67 to 1970-71 season, nearly doubling the number of teams from nine to 17.  The ABA’s 11 teams by 1970-71 siphoned away even more talent, meaning it was far easier for teams with a few dominant players to eviscerate the league as those Bucks and Lakers did.  The Bulls’ 72 win season also came in an expansion year, a few years after the league added four more teams.  Throw in terrible drafts from 1988 to 1991, and the league was much more watered down back then. With more talent from overseas, better training and player development, and perhaps most importantly much smarter front offices than in the past distributed throughout the league, winning in the NBA is harder today than it has ever been.  That makes what the Warriors are doing all the more remarkable.

 

 

Nate Duncan is an NBA analyst and attorney. He writes regular features for Basketball Insiders and chats weekly at 11 Eastern on Tuesdays.

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NBA Daily: Trae Young, the Burgeoning Star

A month into the new season, Trae Young has staked his claim as one of the league’s best up-and-coming players. Quinn Davis takes a look at where Young has succeeded this season, and where he could lead the Atlanta Hawks.

Quinn Davis

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Over the first two months of his NBA career, Trae Young struggled. Through October and November of 2018, Young shot 25 percent on three-point attempts and found it difficult to generate any offense for a bad Atlanta Hawks squad.  

Meanwhile, Luka Doncic — the player Atlanta traded out of taking in favor of Young — made an instant impact with the Dallas Mavericks and had the look of a future superstar.

Predictably, the trade and the chasm between the two players brought on a rash of media and fan criticism, both to the Hawks and Young. Doncic was a future champion and true franchise cornerstone, while Young, at the time, looked like a bust in the making, a streaky shooter that couldn’t defend at the NBA level.

But, as it turns out, 20-year-old NBA guards tend to require some patience.

After the All-Star break, Young rewarded the Hawks for that patience, and made it clear as to why they were so determined to draft him. As his long-distance shooting improved to a more respectable 35 percent, Young averaged nearly 25 points and 9 assists after the NBA’s marquee weekend.

In that time, Young also led Atlanta on a stretch as a .500 win percentage team, whereas they looked like a bottom-five unit prior.

Now in his sophomore season, Young has capitalized on that strong second half and proven a revelation in Atlanta. Young has almost effortlessly contorted defenses, thanks to his Stephen Curry-esque gravity, and has used that gravity to make plays that few other NBA players can.

Young’s impact is evident in the stats: with him on the court this season, Atlanta has posted an offensive rating of 109.1 points per 100-possessions, around a league-average figure. When he’s been on the pine, that number plummets to a dismal 94.3, a full six points lower than the New York Knicks’ league-worst outfit, per Cleaning the Glass.

His ability as a passer has seemingly revitalized the career of Jabari Parker as well. With John Collins suspended, Parker has stepped into a primary role alongside Young, and the pair have had their share of impressive performances.

Young’s ability to manipulate a pick-and-roll is beyond his years. Here, Young baits the San Antonio Spurs into a double team, only to find a wide-open Parker underneath for the bucket.

Young has seen some major improvements across the board this season, as his per-game averages have jumped to 27.3 points and 9.1 assists per. Meanwhile, his three-point percentage has ticked up to 38.6 percent, a number more impressive when you consider some of the shots he frequents behind the arc.

Young’s devastating pick-and-roll game has only been enhanced by his now-deadly floater. Per Cleaning the Glass, Young has hit on 51 percent of those shots from close or in the mid-range.

His mastery of that shot has made Young nearly unguardable in arguably the NBA’s most-often-used offensive set. If you trap him, Young has the ability to find the open man with a pass out of either hand. If you drop coverage, you leave him open to hit the floater.

Switching, of course, would be foolish as well. With his handle, quickness and small frame, Young could torture almost any big man that dare approach him on the perimeter.

Young has also further utilized the screen reject in his offense. He’s adept at feigning a move toward the screen before sharply cutting back the opposite way. If a defender cheats to get over the screen, they find themselves trailing as Young cuts through a clean lane for the layup.

Young’s best game the young season may have come in a win against the Denver Nuggets. The second-year pro dropped 42 points and 11 assists on one of the Western Conference’s top teams as he finished an impressive 8 for 13 from three and 13 for 21 from the floor.

Nikola Jokic was not equipped to handle Young’s pick-and-roll game.

Jokic was not the first lumbering big to be befuddled by Young’s quickness, however. Young had his way with the Spurs’ LaMarcus Aldridge on more than one occasion as well.

Those plays are prime examples as to why switching a big onto Young is a bad idea for the opposition; dribbling moves and quickness aside, the passes Young completes are gorgeous and nearly impossible to defend against.

That said, for all his offensive brilliance, Young still has a glaring flaw in his game: defense.

Young’s size — or lack-there-of — has played a major role in his defensive issues. While Young, on offense, can take advantage when switched onto a big, it’s an obvious mismatch for the opposition when a member of their frontcourt has the ball against the 6-foot-2, 181-pound guard. Young has also had struggled to remain vigilant off the ball, where he’s often lost track of shooters or beaten on backdoor cuts.

Per Cleaning the Glass, the Hawks are eight points per 100 possessions better, defensively, when Young is on the bench as well.

Still, while the defensive concerns are valid, Young can more than make up for those deficiencies on offense — they could also be somewhat excused because of the sheer burden Young has to carry on offense — while the Hawks can mask those deficiencies with players like Collins, De’Andre Hunter and Kevin Huerter.

Whether fair or not, Young and Doncic may forever be tied together. Doncic came into the league with a superstar amount of hype and lived up to it. But, now, Young is right there with him.

Not only is he incredibly fun to watch, but Young has proven one of those rare players that could “wow” spectators at any moment. Soon enough, as the Hawks continue to build a competent roster around him, Young will find himself leading his team to the postseason, and maybe beyond.

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When Is The Sample Size Big Enough?

A couple of weeks into the season, Matt John looks into some of the surprises so far and asks how long will it take until these unforeseen wrinkles can be considered more than just flukes.

Matt John

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*Small sample size

That’s always the disclaimer we media folk have to include when we take offer opinions or analysis early on in the season. The reason is justifiable. A lot can change between now and when the season comes down the homestretch that we can’t say that the success or lack thereof surrounding either a team or a player will continue in the long-run.

But there comes a time when the “small sample size” is no longer a factor in how the NBA season has turned out. At that point, the early subplots that no one saw coming can be considered something more than just a fluke. Now that the 2019-2020 season has entered the double-digit mark, we’re starting to see things take shape a bit, and the excuse “small sample size” is beginning to fade.

For now, it’s still too early to come to any drastic conclusions, but, for some of these early-season surprises, we need to ask: how long do they need to keep doing this until they’re taken seriously? Some probably will take longer than others, but the end result is still the same. That being said, let’s begin.

How long until Boston is considered an elite team?

The cliche answer has been “When they upgrade their frontcourt.” However, that’s going to be very difficult for them to do with their salary situation and they currently have the league’s best record in spite of a supposedly weak big rotation.

Boston hasn’t lost a game since falling in their season opener to Philadelphia and are currently on a nine-game winning streak. According to ESPN’s Relative Percentage Index, they’ve had the 18th-toughest schedule so far, so they haven’t exactly been facing the top teams on a nightly basis. However, in that time, they’ve beaten some of their toughest competitors in the East, such as Milwaukee and Toronto, as well as blown out other quality teams like San Antonio on the road.

They currently have the best offensive rating in the entire league, scoring 114.3 points per 100 possessions. Before they gave up 133 points to Washington the other night, they also had the seventh-best defensive rating, giving up 102.1 points per 100 possessions. Those 133 points they gave up can be alluded to them not having their two best defensive bigs – Daniel Theis and Robert Williams III – and Gordon Hayward.

At some point, the Celtics are going to lose again. At some other point, they’re going to go through a slump. For now, all they’re doing is proving that they shouldn’t be counted out. At full-health, they may have the most well-rounded offense headed by Hayward, Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. They’ve maintained a solid defense without Al Horford and Aron Baynes – sans against the Wizards – because of how they’ve managed their center rotation of Theis, Williams, Enes Kanter and, at times, Grant Williams.

If that isn’t enough, their 9-1 start is the best they’ve had since 2007-08, the last season they won the NBA title. Boston hasn’t established itself as the team to beat like their predecessor did at that time, but they have exceeded expectations enough that they shouldn’t be written off against the likes of Milwaukee or Philadelphia.

There was some temptation to ask the same question about the reigning champions, but instead, more focus should be put on their unquestioned, newly-appointed alpha dog.

How long until Pascal Siakam is in the running for MVP?

This writer already dove into how Siakam has proven himself to be a superstar in the early parts of the season. A week or so later, nothing has changed. Instead of starting with him, let’s start with Toronto.

Coming into the season, the Raptors already had enough personnel on the defensive side of the ball that even without Kawhi, they still should have been a great, possibly even elite team on that end. Offensively, there was supposed to be a significant dropoff with Leonard gone. So far, there has been some decline on that end, but not nearly as significant as originally feared. Defensively, they’ve been even better when you compare their defensive rating to last season, which has in part sparked their 8-3 start.

Let’s not kid ourselves here. Pascal Siakam’s evolution into a lead guy has kept Toronto among the best in the league. If you don’t believe that, look at his net-rating. The Raptors are plus-19.3 with him on the floor, and that’s not skewed because of how good he’s been one side. On both sides, he has been Toronto’s most effective player.

The Raptors are plus-12.5 offensively and minus-6.8 defensively when Siakam is on the floor. Offensively, he tops everyone on the roster while defensively, he’s third behind Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson, neither of whom play close to the number of minutes that Pascal does.

Siakam’s numbers have come down a bit since his hot start – surprising no one – but they’re still about as fantastic as Toronto could have hoped for. He’s scoring 27.2 points a game on 49/37/82 splits as well as averaging 9.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists. If that doesn’t scream out “elite all-around player,” then what does? More importantly, those numbers are getting the Raptors’ positive results.

Think of it this way. If Toronto had the same Pascal Siakam from last year, they’d probably be somewhere between average and good right now. They’ve started this season firmly in the elite tier because of their fourth-year man taking another step in his career. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, and James Harden are probably going to garner the most MVP buzz, but Pascal’s impact should not be slept on.

How long until we realize that Cleveland’s not blowing it up?

Spencer Davies already wrote about how Cleveland has been a fundamentally solid team thus far this season on Wednesday. If you want a more thoroughly detailed look on why the Cavaliers are not as bad as people may have thought coming in, take a look.

It’s amazing how much different a team can look when their circumstances change for the better. Their best player has a clean bill of health. They have a head coach who knows how to run the ship. Their young guys are one year older and wiser too. A lot of their guys are on expiring deals, which means they’ll be playing their hearts out all season.

All of those factors have added up into the Cavaliers being a little more competitive than we may have anticipated. The Cavaliers are 4-7 because Kevin Love is playing more like his old self, Collin Sexton has taken some great strides this year, and Tristan Thompson is having a career year. With John Beilein running the show, we’re seeing not a greater, but a grittier team in “The Land.”

So why are outlets still putting Kevin Love in trade scenarios? Why are they labeling Tristan Thompson as a buyout candidate? Why are they still saying Cleveland’s best option is to start over?

There’s no need to tear apart something that, at the present moment, is proving itself to be promising. Haven’t we seen from Boston, Brooklyn and Utah over the last few years that if you have something good in the works, you should see where it takes you?

By no means are the Cavaliers a great team. They definitely have room for improvement on both ends of the floor. They’re mediocre, but *mediocre* is still better than *bad*, and this roster has the potential to improve in significant ways.

What’s getting overlooked is that they have both expiring deals and draft assets that can be used to acquire someone really good value on the trade market. Good character guys like Marcus Morris could probably be had, and who knows what stars could become available?

Cleveland could blow it up, but what are the odds that they get someone as good as Kevin Love in a trade? What are the odds that they’ll not only win the lottery but also get a franchise cornerstone there too? We’ve seen Cleveland possibly be the luckiest team ever with the ping pong balls, but the only superstar they grabbed in that time was Kyrie Irving.

The Cavaliers are nowhere near the team they were when LeBron was around, but they have the building blocks for a new era of good basketball. For now, they don’t have to go anywhere near the reset button.

How long until Andrew Wiggins is pegged as a “future star” again?

Have we ever seen something like this happen in the history of professional basketball? Or even professional sports?

Two years ago, Andrew Wiggins was supposed to be a franchise player in waiting. Less than a month ago, he was a bust. Since the start of November, he’s played some of the best all-around basketball of his career. Because of that, it seems that hope for Wiggins’ future is slowly being restored.

Many believed the Minnesota Timberwolves consisted of Karl-Anthony Towns and not much else coming into the season, but not if Maple Jordan had anything to say about it. Following a decent start to the season, Wiggins has torn it up so far in November. In seven games, Wiggins has put up 29.1 points on 50/43/69 splits. To add to that, he’s shown improved playmaking abilities, averaging 5.1 assists in that span. For more details, read Douglas Farmer’s piece on Wiggins.

The hot shooting will die down a bit, but there’s more to Wiggins’ progress than just hitting more shots. Offensively, he’s been a lot smarter. He’s cutting down his mid-range jumpers. He’s evolved as a playmaker. He’s turned his three-ball into more of a weapon. To summarize, he’s looking more like the Andrew Wiggins we thought the Timberwolves were getting when he first arrived. It’s the best stretch of his career, and it’s played a part in Minnesota starting out better than we thought they would.

No one knows why exactly this is happening now and not before. Maybe we expected too much from him early on. Maybe he experienced some fatigue after playing under Tom Thibodeau for over two seasons. Maybe the Jimmy Butler experience damaged his psyche a bit. Whatever the case may have been, Wiggins’ career now looks like it’s on an upward trajectory again.

In fact, if things keep going this way, there might not be any need to put “future” in “future star” for Wiggins when the All-Star break comes around.

As encouraging as some of these surprises have been, time will tell whether these questions will be worth looking into further. It may take a month, a week, or even just a game to make any of them look offbase.

For the record, there were plenty of other early-season surprises that were worth talking about. How long until Phoenix proves that they’re for real? How long until San Antonio realizes it is better off without DeMar DeRozan? How long until the top of the Eastern Conference is comparable to the top of the Western Conference?

These questions, as of now, arguably aren’t worth looking into because of the small sample size, but time will tell.

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High-Performance Mindfulness: Improving Free Throw Percentage

Jake Rauchbach breaks down the most powerful way to improve free throw percentage.

Jake Rauchbach

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Free Throw Components

In this article, we are going to break down how to revamp a player’s free throw percentage without changing free-throw mechanics or increasing repetitions. Holding these variables constant and keying in on Mental Focus and Emotional regulation, there exists the possibility of massive statistical improvement.

For many, this might sound crazy. But for players that have experienced these sorts of upward bursts in free-throw efficiency, this outside of the box approach has become a commonplace implementation.

Before we jump into the most POWERFUL way to improve free throw percentage, let’s first talk about the old model.

The Traditional Free-Throw Model

Repetition

In the traditional model, the central focus of improving free throw percentage is based around putting up physical repetition. Repetition is most effective when players are subconsciously open and ready to receive the muscle memory downloads of the physical/on-court free-throw reps. When a player’s conscious and subconscious mind (mind-body connection), is in alignment, practice reps equal In-Game Improvement.

Said in another way, when there is alignment on the unconscious level of the player, there is innately a positive correlation between practice repetition and in-game results.

However, in the case when a player’s psychosomatic baggage gets in the way, there is generally no amount of practice reps that will move the dial on foul-line improvement. Many times, shot repetitions, laden with psychosomatic trauma, will just belabor the problem for the player.

It is not until these deep psyche imbalances are neutralized that long-term improvement can take place. In my experience, every player has some level of subconscious baggage. Most players only approach free throw improvement, or the improvement in their overall game for that matter, from one or maybe two angles. This is a big-time oversight. It also a BIG-TIME opportunity. I will talk about this in a minute.

Game-Reps

Another way that players and coaches attempt to elevate free throw percentage is through mimicking in-game situations during practice. This is great if the subconscious mind of the player is receiving, processing and executing said outside stimuli. But like the example above, if there is deep trauma present for the player, generating free throw percentage improvement in this manner is generally ineffectual.

Film

Film study is also used frequently to critique form and show different parts of the mechanical process. Film can be beneficial, but usually only when players watch their MADE shots during past periods when they were shooting the ball well.  Analyzing shooting form, and mechanics generally, has been shown to not be beneficial. This hampers the player’s ability to move forward with free throw proficiency.

Tweaking Physical Mechanics

When coaches and/or the player begin trying to fix physical shot mechanics, that is probably the thing that sets players back the most when they are struggling with improvement.

The reason? 99 percent of the time the underlying reason for the free throw struggle is not found in the physical mechanics, but the much deeper energetic level of the athlete.

When shot mechanics are addressed without also focusing on the mental, emotional and energetic level, this tends to further throw a wrench into free throw efficiency.

Often, coaches will change a player’s mechanics out of season with the hope that repetition alone will fix the past shot struggles. This initially CAN have a positive effect on free throw shooting in non-stimulus-filled situations such as practice.

However, often you will see a player revert to old inefficient shooting patterns in-game.

An example of this, albeit from the three-point line, has been Ben Simmons. Great work was seemingly employed during the offseason to solve his long-range shooting challenges.

However, what wasn’t likely addressed was the psychosomatic level of his shot. Unfortunately, Simmons has not yet broken through his long-range shooting struggles, and the reason is most likely because the root cause of his shooting woes is not mechanically based. The root cause of his shooting struggles likely lies deeper than mechanics and just getting up more shots. More analysis on Simmons can be found here in a past column.

Historically, these are some of the most common ways that have been used to improve free throw percentage. Now, let’s discuss the next step frontier for improving free throw percentage.

The Free Throw Formula

Beyond Mechanics and Repetition

Addressing the psychosomatic energetic blocks held at the subconscious mind-level of the player has been shown time and time again to dramatically improve free throw percentage. Reread that.

Keeping all other variables constant, eliminating the mental baggage of a player moves foul-line percentage upwards. Nothing is guaranteed, but this has been the norm.

I have spoken about Nick Anderson’s example at length in previous columns. The reason Anderson’s story is so valuable for today’s player is it gives a real-life account of how past psychosomatic trauma, when left unchecked, can sabotage future performance. Anderson’s case was extreme.

However, from my experience, ALL players experience some level of subconscious limitation, which if addressed could unlock improvement.

All this being said, we are going to outline the most leading-edge way to improve free-throw percentage. This way of working is the next step in optimizing charity stripe efficiency, because, as you will see, it works to UNLOCK ALL levels of the player, and free throw, not just the physical, analytical mind or repetition side.

Off-Court Player Development

Through the use of Energy Psychology methods, players can eliminate the mental blocks obstructing free throw improvement. Through systematic and customized processes, generally facilitated by a High-Performance – Player Development Coach, a player can begin to create the mental shifts needed to move free throw percentage upwards.

Energy psychology works with the energy flow in the body, also known as Chi, Prana or life force. Techniques such as MRP™ Tapping, Reiki and muscle testing work with this energy flow, and when applied correctly, move the dial.

On-Court Player Development

The positive change of the EP work, combined with ownership of the mental and emotional process, has the effect of getting the player out of his/her way,  so that free throw percentage improvement can ensue.

On the energetic level, players will begin to experience a difference in how they FEEL. As this happens, the on-court player development curriculum should be instituted back into the equation.

For example, shooting sets of 10 shots while employing Energy Psychology methods as a part of the free routine is generally the best practice. This way, the player begins to combine both on-court player development with internal player development to exponentialize improvement.

Programs, shot volumes and techniques vary based upon what is best for the player.

Daily Mindfulness Routine

Off-court routines are also super important! Meditation in the morning and visualization at night help create strong psychosomatic foundations for the player. This is a superb way to help move the dial at the foul-line. Yes, the work does go that deep.

If a player wants to improve free-throw percentage in the most powerful way possible, the process to do so begins when they wake up and ends when they go to bed.

These routines are not meant to be arduous or cumbersome. Many times, players report that they very much like these techniques. It gives them a way to anchor into their day.

In-Game Free-Throw Routine

Of course, the game is where the rubber meets the road. As such, it is also important to incorporate customized and player-specific mental focusing routines that leverage the Off-Court player development work.

Focused routines at the foul-line help players own their mental and emotional processes and have been shown to decrease, and at times, altogether eliminate the fear, anxiety and jitters that they once experienced.

Closing

Supporting the player in the most efficient way is not complicated, but does take a willingness to step outside of the traditional box.

The result of making free throws at a better rate is not confined to physical repetition, game-reps or film study alone.

Improvement begins at the core level of the player. Once players recognize that, their energetic system is the KEY that drives improvement. The sky is the limit.

To learn more about the Next Step In Player Development, Please Click Here.

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