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George Mason’s Shevon Thompson’s NBA Journey Continues

Despite only four years of organized basketball, George Mason’s Shevon Thompson impresses NBA scouts.

Moke Hamilton

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As his heart raced, his mouth was drier than a June day in the Jamaican heat.

Shevon Thompson said a prayer, sighed and marched toward the check-in line for his Miami-bound American Airlines flight.

And even as he checked his bags, the 19-year-old couldn’t believe that he had made it to this point. For the first time, Thompson was leaving his native Jamaica to pursue his basketball career.

The day began at Kingston’s Norman Manley International Airport and, after three connecting flights, terminated at Midland College in Texas.

But the journey began far away from Kingston’s international airport. Far away, at Vere Technical High school in Clarendon, Shevon Thompson picked up a basketball and, without knowing at the time, changed the course of his life.

If things go according to plan, making the fateful decision to pick up the basketball may help him wind up in the NBA.

* * * * * *

“There’s no doubt that he has the size of an NBA player,” one scout who was present at one of Thompson’s recent workouts told Basketball Insiders. “But what could make him special is his rebounding instinct and his knack for tracking the ball. He’s a phenomenal rebounder. Considering he’s only been playing for a few years, he’s impressive.”

As a prospect, Thompson’s work ethic and determination speak volumes, but a recurring theme among the four NBA teams that have invited Thompson in for workouts has been the fact that his game has seemed to develop so quickly—even with a dearth of organized playing experience.

“At 16 years old, when I first picked the ball up, going up against other guys, it was terrible,” Thompson said with a laugh.

“I wasn’t really good at basketball and I never imagined I’d have an opportunity to play in the NBA. But after playing my first year, I heard about a lot of basketball camps in Jamaica at the time and I went to almost every basketball camp.”

Before he knew it, after being recognized as a youngster with tremendous upside, Ajani Williams, the immediate past president of the Jamaican Basketball Federation, invited Thompson to train at Jamaica’s Elite Academy. Williams—a former NBA player who has dedicated a substantial portion of his life to growing the game of basketball in Jamaica—corralled the island-nation’s most talented basketball players and gave them access to coaching, tutelage and, most importantly, opportunity.

Of that, Thompson has taken full advantage.

Perhaps due to his playing soccer for most of his adolescence, from the beginning, Thompson seemed to possess a knack for reading the basketball and became quickly revered for his rebounding instincts. As a goalkeeper, the fate of his entire team rested on his ability to track the soccer ball and appropriately judge how to best position himself to recover it.

That skill translated.

It took Thompson all of six years to go from a basketball novice to one of the finest rebounders in the nation. After spending two years at George Mason University, Thompson leaves the program with an impressive average of 11.2 rebounds per game. In each of the his two seasons at the Division 1 level, Thompson led the Atlantic 10 Conference in total rebounds, rebounds per game and both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage.

Augmented by his underrated scoring ability—he scored 11.7 points per game on 58 percent shooting from the field—to the informed few, he has the looks of a promising NBA prospect.

“I realize that I’m an outstanding rebounder, but once I realized that, I’ve dedicated myself to developing the other parts of my game—both offense and defense,” Thompson said. “I spent a lot of time watching basketball and a lot of time in the gym. I started with the first thing I had a knack for and began to build.”

He’s been building ever since.

Prior to enrolling at George Mason, Thompson spent time at Midland College and then Pennsylvania’s Harcum College. Eventually, he was discovered by former George Mason head coach Paul Hewitt.

“If people knew who he was and what he was all about, he would’ve had 50-60 Division I offers,” Hewitt once told The Daily Orange—Syracuse University’s independent student newspaper. Hewitt saw potential in the unknown Thompson and knew that with the proper attention and coaching, he could be an asset on the basketball court.

Today, although many know of Thompson and his impressive growth and contributions on the court, in many ways, he is still trying to get people to know who he is.

For him, the process began anew a little over two months ago.

* * * * * *

Established in 1953, the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament has served as a platform for some of the nation’s less heralded college basketball players. Each April, the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament Foundation invites more than 60 seniors to participate in the four-day, 12-game tournament. As the years have progressed, the event has become more and more heavily attended by a bevy of NBA teams.

After participating in the tournament, Thompson relocated to South Florida, where he has been training at the storied IMG Academy in Bradenton.

“Portsmouth was a bit of an introduction for me,” Thompson said. “It showed me what the competition was going to be like and also helped me see what I needed to work on.”

Acknowledging that he is still a work in progress, scouts believe that Thompson—who really has played just four years of organized basketball—is nowhere near his ceiling.

“I think Bismack Biyombo is a fair comparison,” one front office source who attended the Portsmouth tournament told Basketball Insiders. “When Biyombo came into the league, he was regarded mostly as a [potential] defensive specialist, but people put work into him and helped him develop and now, he’s an impact player at this level.”

Aside from the investment at the NBA level, Biyombo had the benefit of being discovered at the age of 16 and began training in earnest in Spain. He began his professional career in Spain at the age of 19 and gained the attention of the NBA with a dominant performance at the 2011 Nike Hoops Summit in Portland.

Since then, after being selected with the seventh overall pick of the 2011 NBA Draft, Biyombo has slowly carved out a place for himself in the NBA and was a major catalyst in the thriving of the Toronto Raptors this past season.

The story of Biyombo and the witnessing of his growth over the years is a tale of how opportunity, work ethic and investment can help a young, promising player blossom. Having been discovered late, Thompson is hoping to find similar success at the NBA level, and his impressive knack for rebounding the ball, explosive athleticism and impeccable timing are all tools that may yield success. That, as well as his impressive motor.

“No matter who I’m going up against, they’re in for a tough time because I compete in every situation,” Thompson said. “I go 100 percent all the time. Whenever I’m on the court, I do my best to have an impact.

“I’ve only been playing for a few years, but I’m true to the game. I love the game a lot. Tracking the ball off the rim, creating space, not waiting for the ball to come to you, those are some of the principles. In life and in basketball, if there’s something you want, you have to go out there and get it.”

Six years after first picking up the basketball and four years after since leaving his home country in pursuit of his goals, that’s exactly what Thompson is doing.

From Clarendon, Jamaica to Midland, Texas and to the brink of completing a journey that once looked improbable, in the end, Shevon Thompson is exactly the type of player that has the potential to make a general manager in the National Basketball Association look very smart.

With the weight of Jamaica on his shoulders and the support of one of the Caribbean’s basketball hot spots—with proven rebounding prowess and major upside—Thompson has shown that he has the tools to excel.

With a few impressive workouts under his belt and one of his skills rising to the level of elite, leaving Jamaica may have been the best decision for the 19-year-old kid from Clarendon.

Indeed, as he boarded his flight to Miami with his final destination still two more connecting flights away, Thompson embarked on a journey whose final destination was, at the time, unknown.

Four years later, somehow, believe it or not, he’s still searching for his opportunity.

Somehow, after opening the eyes of NBA scouts, four years after beginning his ascent, Thompson is still soaring.

Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders.

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Update: Eric Bledsoe Trade Talks

Michael Scotto updates the ongoing Eric Bledsoe trade saga.

Michael Scotto

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The sun has set on the 2017-18 season for Phoenix three games into the year.

The Suns fired head coach Earl Watson and promoted Jay Triano as the team’s interim head coach, as ESPN first reported. The Suns suffered an embarrassing 124-76 loss in the home opener against the Portland Trail Blazers. The final straw came during a 130-88 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on the road to drop the team to 0-3.

Then things went from bad to worse rapidly after a tweet from guard Eric Bledsoe.

General manager Ryan McDonough spoke with Bledsoe. Bledsoe told McDonough he was at a hair salon with a girl and the tweet wasn’t related to the Suns. McDonough didn’t believe that to be true and said the 27-year-old guard “won’t be with us going forward.”

Bledsoe spoke with McDonough and owner Robert Sarver privately several weeks ago. During that conversation the desire for a change was expressed, a league source told Basketball Insiders.

Since then, Phoenix has discussed trades involving Bledsoe around the league, sources told Basketball Insiders. In addition, Tyson Chandler has continued to be shopped by the Suns during that time.

Trade talks have rapidly picked up since Bledsoe’s desire to be traded was made public.

The Suns and Denver Nuggets have discussed a trade of Eric Bledsoe for Emmanuel Mudiay and other pieces, league sources told Basketball Insiders.

Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried has emerged as part of the trade package with Mudiay, league sources told Basketball Insiders.

Denver has shopped Faried for years. The 27-year-old forward is owed $12.9 million this season and $13.7 million next season. Mudiay is owed $3.4 million this season and $4.3 million next season. Mudiay will then become a restricted free agent if given a qualifying offer in the summer of 2019. For more information on Denver’s salary cap situation, click here.

The Suns also spoke to the New York Knicks and asked for No. 8 overall pick Frank Ntilikina and Willy Hernangomez in exchange for Bledsoe. The Knicks are not interested in that package, however.

Kyle O’Quinn is a candidate to be traded. Several teams have called the Knicks expressing interest in O’Quinn. New York wants to retain Hernangomez for the foreseeable future despite a lack of playing time early in the season. It’s also worth noting Hernangomez is a close friend of Kristaps Porzingis. Ntilikina is currently the point guard of the future in New York.

In addition, New York would need to add a salary filler to make the trade work financially. For more information on New York’s salary cap situation, click here.

The Milwaukee Bucks have also expressed interest in trading for Bledsoe, according to the New York Times. The Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers also have interest in Bledsoe, according to Amico Hoops.

Bledsoe is owed $14.5 million this season and $15 million next season before entering unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2018.

Bledsoe has averaged 18.8 points, 6.0 assists, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game with Phoenix. In addition, Bledsoe shot 45 percent from the field, 34 percent from downtown, and 81 percent from the foul line.

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NBA PM: Greek Freak Off to an MVP-Caliber Start

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the Bucks’ MVP and looks primed to be in the actual MVP race this season.

James Blancarte

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The NBA season is officially underway. Although each team has only played a few games so far, it has helped illuminate where many teams and players are in their development. For example, last night’s game in Oklahoma City gave a glimpse into how the Thunder will handle a late-game situation now that the team has three previous number one options. In the final minute, Russell Westbrook scored two of the Thunder’s last three baskets and assisted Carmelo Anthony on the final basket just before Andrew Wiggins hit a game-winning buzzer beater from well beyond the arc.

After three games, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s individual development has been one of the most exciting storylines to follow. A number of positive and far-reaching questions can be asked of Giannis. What is the ceiling for him? Can a player of his considerable talents continue to improve after winning Most Improved Player last season? Remember, Giannis was drafted in 2013 and is still only 22 years old.

When told in August that although he could win most valuable player, he could not also win most improved player as well, he responded with a simple, yet telling response.

“Why not?” Antetokounmpo responded.

While he continued to be lighthearted and moved on to the next topic, it’s fair to ask, “why not?” when it comes to Giannis. Through three regular season games, he is averaging 38.3 points, five assists, 9.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. These averages will likely regress to more sustainable numbers as the season continues. For now, however, his averages are in elite territory. In addition, his ability to impact the game is already getting to the point where LeBron James may be the only other player who can similarly fill up the stat lines while physically terrorizing opponents on both the offensive and defensive end of the court.

When asked who the “biggest freak in the NBA” is, Giannis elaborated that it was James due to his ability to impose himself on the game.

“The things [James] does, the veteran leadership he brings to the team, how big he is, how quick, how strong,” Giannis stated. “And at the end of the day, how smart he is. He can put his team in the right spots, make the right decision.”

In Saturday night’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Giannis willed his team to victory. It was Giannis demonstrating how big, strong and smart he was, putting his team on his shoulders and carrying them to an impressive win.
With less than a minute left in a close game, Giannis closed in with a well-timed double team on Damian Lillard and came away with a clean steal. The steal got the Bucks the ball back and Giannis was fouled, which put him on the free throw line. Unfortunately, he came up short on both attempts and the Bucks remained a point behind.

Despite missing the free throws, Giannis came up huge on the very next play. Giannis took on C.J McCollum one-on-one at the top of the key and created yet another steal. He then leaked out to receive the pass for a breakaway dunk that quickly gave the Bucks the lead with 11.4 seconds remaining.

On the next play, when Jusuf Nurkic set a high screen and roll, he received the pass on the roll and headed to the basket. Giannis’ primary responsibility was the shooter in the corner and yet he read the action correctly and was ready and waiting at the rim for Nurkic. Giannis times Nurkic’s shot perfectly and rejected him at the rim, which effectively ended the game in favor of the Bucks.

Giannis’ ability as defensive Swiss Army Knife was instrumental in the Bucks’ close win over Portland. In addition, Giannis has also made further improvements in an area of his that has received a lot of attention over the years. He continues to shoot a below average three-point percentage for his career (27.6) and has had a rocky start to this season as well (16.7). It’s likely that Giannis’ three-point shooting will be a significant limitation in his game for the foreseeable future. However, over his career, Giannis has shown an ability to improve his shooting percentage on two-point shots consistently, especially shots from 0-3 feet and 3-10 feet, per basketball-reference. As Giannis has gotten stronger and more explosive, he has developed a strong desire to attack opponents off the dribble and absorb contact at the rim. Whether he blows by his opponent outright or scores through opponents at the rim, Giannis has developed into an offensive force that few players in the league could hope to slow down.

In addition to his scoring, Giannis continues to display his unique ability to handle the ball in transitions and run the Bucks’ offense in the half court as a point forward. This sort of ability separates Giannis from the other elite wings in the league who don’t have the skill or vision to act as a primary playmaker. Giannis is doing much of what he did last year, but seems more aggressive and physically dominant through the first three games of this season. That sort of improvement of course puts Giannis in the MVP discussion (though it is incredibly early in the season to even start this sort of discussion).

Giannis was recently asked about his ability to win the MVP and wasn’t shy about his desire to win the prestigious award.

“I’m going to be one of the players that hopefully dominates the game. But I’ve got to still make sure that my team wins, that my teammates get better,” Giannis stated. “I’ve set the goal since the last game against Toronto last year, at the playoffs. I want to be the MVP this year.”

What helps solidify Giannis’ ability to be such a strong MVP candidate is also what makes his team less dangerous. The Bucks are woefully dependent on their star and, at least for now, lack the necessary depth to be a true contender in the East.

Through three regular season games, it’s clear that the Bucks will only go as far as Giannis can take them. And that is the key to Giannis’ budding MVP campaign. Let’s take a look at last year’s top five MVP candidates. Last year’s winner, Westbrook, has two new star-caliber players (Paul George and Carmelo Anthony) to share the spotlight, and the ball, with. James Harden is sharing the ball with Chris Paul, who is currently struggling with a knee injury. LeBron James and the Cavaliers are almost exclusively concerned with the postseason. Kawhi Leonard is similarly crucial to the San Antonio Spurs on offense and defense but has lingering health concerns and has yet to play this season. Finally, Isaiah Thomas is coming off a major hip injury and is not projected to play until January.

With so much uncertainty, Giannis has the opportunity to continue to draw attention as not only the most important player on the Bucks but perhaps the most valuable player in the league. Giannis’ early play this season indicates that this is possible. Despite his early-season outburst, Giannis is giving deference to LeBron James — though he admits he hopes to reach James’ level at some point in the future.

“Definitely [James is] the best player in the NBA. For a few years to come,” Giannis stated. “But I think a lot of players are getting better. Even myself. And hopefully one day we can get to that spot from him.”

Perhaps Giannis will take the spot as the best player in the NBA as early as this season. Considering how dominant he has been so far this season, it’s fair to ask “why not?”

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Wright Primed To Take Next Step With Raptors

Third year Utah alum Delon Wright is showing flashes of what he can do in an expanded role for Toronto.

Spencer Davies

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Backup point guards are essential to a team’s success.

They’re the floor generals of the second unit. They create for themselves to score. They collapse defenses in order for the others to get opportunities.

In some cases, these players perform so well that they outgrow the role they provide and force their way into the starting five—on that same team or elsewhere. Just look at past examples: Darren Collison, Eric Bledsoe, Reggie Jackson, Dennis Schroder, etc. The list goes on.

Kyle Lowry was 20 years old when he was drafted late in the first round of the 2006 NBA Draft by the Memphis Grizzlies. He studied the position behind veteran guards Chucky Atkins and Damon “Mighty Mouse” Stoudamire.

But even after showing promise in his rookie season, management decided to take Mike Conley Jr. the very next year. Though the two were about even in playing time, it was clear the Grizzlies favored youth over anything else, so in 2009, Lowry was dealt with the Houston Rockets in a three-way trade at the deadline.

At this point, Lowry had started in only 30 games over two-and-a-half seasons, so the keys to the car weren’t ready for him just yet. Aaron Brooks was a unique talent that Rick Adelman loved to throw out there along with Tracy McGrady and Kevin Martin.

Brooks started all 82 games in the 2009-10 campaign and blossomed into a scoring machine. He was shooting the lights out that year, and because of that, it was tough to sit him. Lowry still took advantage of his playing time, though, with plenty of floor run. He averaged nearly 14 points and seven assists per 36 minutes.

To the misfortune of his teammate and the advantage to Lowry the next season, Brooks struggled mightily with the jump shot that made him so deadly. After 34 games, the Rockets moved him in a deal to Phoenix for Goran Dragic and a first-round pick. Dragic was on his way to carving his niche in the league, but it opened up a door for Lowry to really take hold as “quarterback” of the team.

Circumstances arose once again, however. Houston had let go of Adelman and hired Kevin McHale in June 2011. Lowry and his new head coach did not have the same rapport. He unfortunately suffered from a bacterial infection and missed out on the beginning of the season, and towards the end, the emergence of Dragic led to his demise.

That summer, the Rockets sent Lowry to the Toronto Raptors for Gary Forbes and a future first-rounder. Once again, it was a fresh start for him, but also a brand new team with a different head coach.

It didn’t take long for the man to realize his true potential there. Aside from shuffling a bit with Jose Calderon as the starter in Toronto, Lowry found a home. The jump he made between that season and the next one was impressive.

Lowry got paid after that 2013-14 season and re-signed with the Raptors for four years. He earned three All-Star appearances and—aside from the postseason disappointments—led the team to new heights with his fellow All-Star backcourt partner DeMar DeRozan.

Toronto and its star point guard agreed to a three-year, $100 million deal over the summer to keep him running the show and to honor that contract well as he has always had. But now there’s somebody behind Lowry waiting to break out, and could very well be the one who gets the torch passed to him.

Delon Wright is ready to make his mark. When he entered the league, he was a reserve behind Cory Joseph and had to observe and soak in the experience of NBA life. For some rookies, they get the chance immediately, and for the others, they have to wait their turn. In this case, it was the latter.

Playing the waiting game ended up working out well for him. In the offseason, the Raptors went out and traded Joseph for C.J. Miles due to the loss of DeMarre Carroll. It was a move that not only addressed a need for depth at the wing but also opened a door for Wright.

So here we are, two games in. The Raptors are 2-0 and have outscored their opponents by 51 points. In those combined, Wright has received 55 minutes of playing time.

Despite the competition being the rebuilding Chicago Bulls and a Philadelphia 76ers team trying to find an identity, he looks extremely comfortable. You don’t want to take too much out a sample size as small as that, but neither the numbers nor the eye test lies.

Wright has played the third-most minutes on the team thus far. He’s done a great job on both sides of the floor but has truly made a difference on the defensive end. As of now, the Raptors are only allowing 83 points per 100 possessions with him on the hardwood. When he’s not, that number blows up to 98.9 using the same scale.

Offensively he’s almost been just as good. Wright has been aggressive as a facilitator and as a shooter, putting up 13- and 14-point games early on. He dished out five assists in the season opener and nabbed five rebounds in the second game. He has a higher offensive rating than both Lowry and DeRozan.

According to NBA.com, Toronto’s net rating with him off the court (12.9) is the second lowest to his lifelong teammate Jakob Poeltl (12.8). Take it with a grain of salt because it’s one week into the season, but Wright has the best net rating in the league (37.6) among those playing at least 25 minutes per game.

Call it garbage time play or whatever you want: He has the tools to succeed. The stature is there. The intangibles are evident. It’s all about putting it together over the course of an entire season.

If the trend continues, there’s no way Casey can keep him off the floor for long. We don’t know where Wright’s career could go. It’s way too early to tell. The Raptors are likely hoping for him to be the successor after this era of basketball has come and gone.

Lowry is the man in Toronto, as is DeRozan. Nothing is changing that anytime soon. But rest assured, Wright’s primed to take a big step this year and it’s going to be fun to watch.

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