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Grant Emulating Conley, Embracing Opportunity With Bulls

Jerian Grant sits down with Basketball Insiders for an exclusive interview about his third season and high hopes for Chicago.

Spencer Davies

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When a member of the Grant family sets their mind to something, it’s probably going to happen. The sport of basketball is in their blood.

Jerami is an integral piece of the Oklahoma City Thunder. His father Harvey was a respected 11-year wing that made his mark in the NBA, and Harvey’s brother Horace had a memorable career over 17 seasons in the league as well.

Now, it’s another one’s turn to continue the legacy.

“I just think our work ethic,” Jerian Grant told Basketball Insiders about his family’s connection to the game. “We weren’t always the guys that were ranked in high school or the guys that were the best player on your team even in high school, even in college.

“We get better every year. I think as we continue to play and work hard and get experience, we all get better.”

There are winds of change in the Windy City.

In one summer, the Chicago Bulls lost the brunt of their short-lived core. Franchise superstar Jimmy Butler was traded, hometown hero Dwyane Wade got bought out, and veteran guard Rajon Rondo became a free agent.

Heading into the 2017-18 campaign, it will be up to the young upstarts to prove they can compete at the highest level of basketball. Grant is poised to be the leader of this group, and he plans on using what he soaked in from observing those three to guide him.

“I think last year helped me a lot,” Grant told Basketball Insiders. “I got to play under some great guys—a great leader in a point guard in Rondo, guys like Jimmy and D Wade. Just learning from them, watching them, seeing how they were leading the team and how they were kind of speaking to the guys. I feel like a lot of that has rubbed off on me.”

The collection of talent that Chicago has is inexperienced, yet intriguing. Aside from a veteran like Robin Lopez, these players haven’t truly gotten a chance to see what they’re capable of with significant, expanded roles.

It’s a determination that Grant has noticed since training camp, and believes will be the driving force behind their resolve through the course of this season as they look to turn some heads.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys, but these guys are hungry,” Grant told Basketball Insiders, citing Bobby Portis, Denzel Valentine, Cristiano Felicio and Paul Zipser as examples. “A lot of these guys have been in the league for two to three years and haven’t been able to show what they can do, and they’re really excited to get their opportunity to go out there and prove that they belong in this league.”

Of course, there are many detractors in the wake of losing the core that the Bulls did and moving forward with one of the youngest rosters in the NBA, but that will be the ultimate motivator.

“We talk about it every day,” Grant told Basketball Insiders of the negative noise. “It’s gonna feel great to be able to go out there when everybody thinks you’re gonna be so bad and prove ‘em wrong, so that’s something we look forward to. Obviously, guys are counting us out, but we’re excited to show what we can do.”

Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg is just as enthusiastic about it as Grant is.

“He’s absolutely right about that,” Hoiberg told Basketball Insiders of the team’s hunger. “We’ve got a lot of guys that are trying to establish themselves as players in this league.

“We’ve got guys that’ll play much bigger roles than they’ve had at any point in their careers, so our effort and competitiveness has been awesome. It’s probably been the best part about our camp.”

Entering his third year as a pro, a lot will be asked of Grant. He’s already establishing himself as one of the captains of the ball club, but now it’s about what he can bring to the court.

Unfortunately this past week, Kris Dunn was injured while attempting to block a dunk against Sterling Brown in a preseason game against the Milwaukee Bucks. He’ll be sidelined for two to four weeks because of a left finger dislocation, meaning Grant will have to step up in his place.

Hoiberg has loved what he’s brought to the table in October, noting that Grant is taking care of the basketball, playing downhill and knifing into the paint to open up looks for his teammates on the perimeter. It’s something he’d like to see continue.

“He had a great offseason,” Hoiberg told Basketball Insiders. “He spent a lot of time in the weight room. He’s noticeably bigger and stronger this year.

“The biggest thing we need [from him] is to continue to have consistency in our pace,” Hoiberg continued. “We’ve got to get that ball up the floor quickly and hopefully strike before the defense gets set, the pace in the half-court with cutting and screening.

“We need good effort on the defensive end and then he’s got to give us consistent minutes where we trust that he’s gonna go out there and make the right play. And again, he’s shown us that he’s got that mindset this year.”

The opportunity is exactly what he’s been aiming for. Not only will this allow Grant to have a platform to flourish, but it will also give him a shot at earning more playing time in the process.

You can bet self-belief will not hinder Grant from achieving his true potential. He knows what he’s already good at, and at the same time, he’s aware of what needs work to get to the next level among his peers.

“I’m definitely confident in getting my guys involved,” Grant told Basketball Insiders. “I think just the makeup of our team—I’mma be one of the guys that has to get people shots and I feel like I’m really confident in doing that.

“And then, just being able to score, you know? Point guards in this league nowadays, you’ve got to get a bucket. It’s not easy getting everybody involved and scoring, but I think that’s something I can do.”

As the season arrives soon and Grant looks to cement himself as a true starting point guard in the NBA, he’s received some advice from a new member of the Bulls staff.

Shawn Respert, formerly an assistant with the Memphis Grizzlies, joined the organization as director of player development on August 31 and has been working closely with him.

As soon as Respert stepped foot in the building, he told the recently turned 25-year-old to study a player he knows very well from his time at “The Grindhouse.” Grant is on board with it, too.

“He’s talked to me a lot about Mike Conley,” Grant told Basketball Insiders. “A guy who gets his guys involved, but at the same time plays at his own pace and really understands the game, so I’ve been watching clips of him and I can see a little bit of that in myself.”

Emulating an All-Star caliber point guard who is respected league-wide is a great start to taking that next step, and Hoiberg would be thrilled if that goal comes to fruition.

“The biggest thing that he can learn from Mike Conley is Mike Conley—he’s as good as any in the league at making simple basketball plays,” Hoiberg told Basketball Insiders.

“If he draws two defenders and makes the kick, it doesn’t have to be the spectacular behind-the-back or lob or whatever it is, he just makes good, solid decisions. And that’s what we want out of Jerian.”

Though he’s primarily a drive and kick type of player, Grant has developed into a threat from the three-point line. His rookie year left a lot to be desired in that area of his game, but last season was a drastic improvement.

It was only on an average of two attempts per contest, but he went from 22 percent to 36.6 percent just like *that*. Over five games this preseason, he’s let it fly more and knocked down 41.2 percent of those tries.

“I think a lot of it has to do with confidence, just going out there and just shooting it,” Grant told Basketball of what to credit for his enhanced deep jumper. “But spending a lot of time in the gym.

“Fred’s out there every day in practice putting me through a couple of drills himself, just helping me out a little bit saying put a little more bit of arc on there—and he was a shooter when he played, so that helps.”

Fortunately for Grant, he has a fellow former New York Knick to distribute to and play with as they search for an offensive identity—Justin Holiday.

“He’s been huge for me,” Grant told Basketball Insiders. “He’s a guy who I can kick to and he’s gonna shoot it. A guy who’s talking to me all game, keeping my confidence level up. A guy who’s been around the league and knows the game.”

As far as goals go for Grant, he’s shooting for the stars as an individual and as a member of the Bulls.

“Obviously as a team, we want to win games,” Grant told Basketball Insiders. “The East—everybody knows it’s a little bit down this year, so there’s definitely gonna be some surprise teams, and I feel like we can be one of those teams.

“Personally, I just want to be one of those point guards. I want to be top 10 in assists. I want to be a guy who can score and lead this team.”

It may be seen as shooting for the stars, but if he listens to his coaches, stays persistent and keeps following the credo of his family name, Grant can fulfill his aspirations. After all, he was born to do this.

Spencer Davies is an NBA writer based in Cleveland in his first year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past two seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.

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Fred VanVleet is Finding Success in the NBA

David Yapkowitz speaks to Toronto’s Fred VanVleet about his unheralded path to the NBA and more.

David Yapkowitz

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Fred VanVleet is used to being the underdog. Prior to the NBA, he spent four seasons at Wichita State, a school that hasn’t always been in the national spotlight when it comes to college basketball. Even after he finished his college career in impressive fashion, leading the Shockers to the NCAA tournament every year he was there, he went undrafted in the 2016 NBA draft.

But despite the lack of recognition from national media outlets, VanVleet always knew that he was good enough to play in the NBA. He knew that his path to the league was going to be much different than many other top prospects, but he was confident. He put his trust in NBA personnel to recognize what was right in front of them.

“If you can play, they’re gonna find you. That’s the best thing about the NBA, you can’t hide forever,” VanVleet told Basketball Insiders. “You just got to try to wait and keep grinding for the opportunity, and when it comes be ready to make the most of it and that’s what I did.”

Making the most of his opportunity is definitely what he’s done. After he went undrafted in 2016, he joined the Toronto Raptors’ summer league team in Las Vegas. He put up decent numbers to the tune of 6.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 54.5 percent shooting from the three-point line.

He also showed solid defensive potential as well as the ability to run a steady offense. The Raptors were impressed by his performance and they invited him to training camp for a chance to make the team. They already had 14 guaranteed contracts at the time and had invited five other players, in addition to VanVleet, to camp.

VanVleet did his best to stand out in training camp that year, capping off the 2016 preseason with a 31 point, five rebound, five assist performance against San Lorenzo de Almagro of Argentina. The Raptors were in need of another point guard after Delon Wright was ruled out to start the season due to an injury.

Not only did he make the Raptors’ opening night roster, but he ended up playing some big minutes for the team as the season went on. This year, he started out as the third-string point guard once again. But with another injury to Wright, he’s solidified himself as the backup point for the time being.

“You just want to grow each year and get better. I had a smaller role last year, I’m just trying to improve on that and get better,” VanVleet said. “It’s a long process, you just try to get better each game on a pretty good team, a winning team. Being able to contribute to that is what you work for.”

VanVleet’s journey to the NBA is one that is not very common anymore for players coming out of college. More and more players are opting to spend one, maybe two years at most in college before declaring for the NBA draft.

Players like VanVleet, who spend the entire four years in college, are becoming more of a rarity. Although for him, he feels like the additional time spent at Wichita State helped him make more of a seamless transition to the NBA than some of his younger peers.

“I think more so off the court than anything, just being an adult, being a grown man coming in the door,” VanVleet said. “A pro before being a pro, being able to take care of your business. Coming in every day doing your job and being able to handle the things that come with the life off the court.”

The NBA season is a long one. Teams that start out hot sometimes end up fizzling out before the season’s end. Similarly, teams that that get off to a slow start sometimes pick it up as the season progresses. The Raptors have been one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference the past couple of years and this season looks to be no different.

Even with the Boston Celtics’ hot start, the Raptors are only three games back of the top spot in the East. They’re only one game back in the loss column. There was a time when mentioning the word ‘championship’ was unheard of around this team. Things are different now.

“We’re trying to contend for a championship. Obviously, we’ve been at the top of the East for the last few years,” VanVleet said. “We’re trying to get over that hump and contend for a championship, that’s definitely our goal. It’s a long year and still pretty early, but we’re just trying to grow and build and get better each game.”

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G-League

NBA DAILY: Tyrone Wallace Is Breaking Out in His Own Backyard

On his second G-Leauge team in two years, Tyrone Wallace is putting up numbers close to home, working towards his NBA shot.

Dennis Chambers

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Located in the heart of Southern California, Bakersfield sits just on the cusp of Los Angeles’ shadow.

In terms of size, it’s not easy to overlook this Californian destination. Bakersfield is the ninth most populated city in the state. But it doesn’t hold the glamour that its contemporary two hours south down Interstate-5 possesses. Instead, Bakersfield rests its laurels on the farming past that made it the city it has become today, with three of the four top employers in the city either being farm or produce companies.

Working for a produce company doesn’t interest Tyrone Wallace, though. He’d much rather spend his time on the hardwood. Wallace grew up in Bakersfield. He’s Bakersfield High School’s all-time leading scorer and two-time Bakersfield Californian Player of the Year.

Wallace has sown his oats with a leather ball as opposed to some vegetables.

Growing up in Bakersfield is crucial to Wallace’s story, however. On the outskirts of Los Angeles, Wallace grew up a hardcore Lakers fan, caught up in the generation of kids who idolized Kobe Bryant. It’s Kobe, and Wallace’s brother, Ryan Caroline, who led him to where he is now.

Where that is, exactly, is playing professional basketball in the NBA G-League for the Agua Caliente Clippers. About another 45 minutes down Interstate-5 from his hometown.

For Wallace, getting an opportunity to work towards his dream of playing basketball at the highest level so close to home is a blessing.

“It’s been really fun for me,” Wallace told Basketball Insiders. “You know (Bakersfield) is a smaller city, not too many guys make it out, especially for basketball. It’s more of a football city, but the support there is awesome. Everybody’s behind me you know. Good games, bad games, guys are treating me, and you know the whole city is, I feel the whole support from the city. So to be so close to home is definitely a treat. I have friends and family that will come out to our games quite often. During preseason I had friends and family come out and watch. It’s been a blessing.”

Playing in front of familiar faces isn’t new territory for Wallace. After making his mark in Bakersfield, the 6-foot-4 guard went on to play his college ball at the University of California. Amid his four years at Cal, Wallace finished first-team All-Pac 12 his junior year, along with being named a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award, given to the nation’s best point guard.

Sharing the court with the likes of other NBA players like Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb in college, Wallace joined the professional fraternity himself at the eleventh hour on draft night in 2016 when the Utah Jazz selected him 60th overall.

Pick one, or pick 60. It didn’t matter to Wallace that night in June. He was just happy to get the first chance he worked his whole life for.

“It was emotional, man,” Wallace said. “You watch everybody and see them go, I had Jaylen (Brown) earlier in the first round who I was really excited for. Just sitting there, pick after pick you’re waiting there hoping you get called. But it was a dream come true, better late than never. Very few people get the opportunity to say that they were drafted so it was emotional. But after I was finally selected, I was happy, there was tears of joy. There was a lot of family with me watching throughout and we were just sitting there hoping to be called, and it happened, so it was a dream come true.”

After being selected by the Jazz, Wallace experienced his first summer league action. His performance at the time was marginal, and didn’t warrant an invite to the big league club. Instead, Wallace found himself down in the minors for Utah, with their G-League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars.

During Wallace’s first taste of professional basketball, he displayed some flashes of why, as he put it, he was one of 60 guys drafted in 2016. His first season in the G-League was promising when he posted per game averages of 14.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.3 steals on 27 minutes of action a night.

Alas, that wasn’t good enough for the Jazz organization. On July 18, 2017, just over a year after being selected with the last overall pick on draft night, Utah renounced Wallace’s draft rights, leaving him free to sign with any team.

For some, being let go after what could be considered a productive developmental year may have been a derailing let down. Not Wallace, though.

“I think in every situation you always reflect,” Wallace said. “And look back and say what could I have done better, on the court or off the court. So I think you know you always do that, but I’ve always stayed confident in myself, and I believe in myself. I kinda let that as a new opportunity that I was gonna have to go somewhere else and prove that I can play, and that I can belong. So I wanted to continue. I look at everything as a chance to learn and grow so I was just excited for the new opportunity that would be coming for me.”

New opportunities did come for Wallace. More than a few actually. But it was the opportunity that allowed the California native a chance to return to the place that led him to professional basketball initially, that has really allowed the second-year guard to flourish.

On Sept. 27, Wallace inked a deal with the Los Angeles Clippers. They weren’t his childhood favorite Lakers, but they were the same distance down Interstate-5 from his hometown. Most of all, they represented a chance to keep chasing his dream.

After playing in the preseason, Wallace was one of the last players cut from the NBA roster, and he again found himself in the G-League. This time with Agua Caliente.

Wallace’s second go-around in the G-League so far this season feels different than his last, though. Almost as if the comfort of playing in his own backyard, something he’s been accustomed to for the majority of his basketball life, is easing him out on the court. Whatever it is, it’s reflecting itself in his performance. This year, Wallace upped his averages from last season to 22.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, and five assists per game.

“I worked really hard this summer,” Wallace said. “Just going to the gym, hitting the weight room. I don’t think I necessarily changed anything. I just think being a year in, another year of experience playing in the G-League, I think that helped within itself. Then I think the system here that we run in LA helped a lot, fits my game,  more uptempo. Trying to get out on the break, a lot of pick and rolls. So I think everything just took off at once. I definitely feel like I got better in the offseason, but also just playing in this system where it helps my game.”

It’s been an interesting journey for Wallace since he left college. With the way things have shaped out, especially during this season where he seems to do no wrong on the court, it’s imperative he stays focused on his own goals. Instead of looking at others across the league who may be getting a shot he feels he deserves, Wallace wants to just “stay in my own lane.” Patience and hard work are what Wallace believe will ultimately deliver the goals he’s after.

“I know it’s coming,” he said.

When that opportunity does come, whether it’s near home in Los Angeles, or somewhere else across the country, Wallace will be happy to just be wanted. Just like the way Bakersfield has always treated him.

“Man, I’ll tell you any team for me it would be great,” Wallace said. “I haven’t really had a real NBA deal, and so for me just getting to that level on a team would definitely be a dream come true. I don’t have a specific team I would like to play for. Whoever wants me, I’ll want them.”

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NBA

NBA DAILY: Lou Williams Stepping Up For Injured Clippers

The Clippers have been hit by injuries again, but Lou Williams is doing everything he can to keep the team afloat.

Jesse Blancarte

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The Los Angeles Clippers have been decimated by injuries this season. Blake Griffin is sidelined until approximately February of next year. Danilo Gallinari has been sidelined for an extended period of time with a glute injury and will continue to be out of action for some time after suffering a second glute injury recently. Patrick Beverley underwent season ending microfracture surgery in November. Milos Teodosic suffered a foot injury in just the second game of the season and only recently returned to the lineup. Austin Rivers just suffered a concussion and could miss some time as well.

With so many injuries, the Clippers currently find themselves in the 10th seed in the Western Conference with an 11-15 record. This isn’t what the Clippers had in mind when they brought back a solid haul of players last offseason in exchange for Chris Paul.

Competing with the top teams in the Western Conference was always going to be difficult for this Clippers team. Los Angeles has plenty of talent on the roster and added a few younger prospects to develop. However, key players like Griffin and Gallinari are injury prone and both needed to stay on the court for the Clippers to have any hope of staying in range of the West’s top teams. The Clippers lost 9 games straight in the middle of November and it looked as though they were on course to be competing for a top lottery pick in next season’s draft.

However, despite all of the injuries and setbacks, Lou Williams, along with iron man DeAndre Jordan, has picked up the slack and has done more than his fair share to keep the Clippers’ playoff hopes alive. This season, Williams is averaging 20 points, 4.8 assists and 2.7 rebounds per game, while shooting 45.2 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range (on 6.2 attempts per game). Williams is sporting a healthy 21.2 Player Efficiency Rating, which is a near career best rating (Williams posted a 21.4 PER last season). His True Shooting percentage (59.3) is tied with his career high rating, which Williams posted last season as well. Williams’s free throw rate has taken a dip this season, but his ability to draw timely (and often questionable) fouls has been a valuable asset to his team once again. Simply put, Williams has been particularly efficient on offense this season for the Clippers – a team that has lost its most reliable scorers and playmakers.

“We’ve had some guys go down with injuries and somebody has to step in and fill that scoring void,” Williams said after helping the Clippers defeat the Magic. “I’ve been able to do it.”

Williams has also hit plenty of big shots for the Clippers this season. Most recently, Williams knocked down a go-ahead three-pointer in the final seconds against the Washington Wizards that sealed the win for the Clippers. The Clippers are used to having a natural born scorer coming off the bench to act as a sparkplug as they had Jamal Crawford on the roster for the last five seasons. Similar to Crawford, Williams struggles to hold his own on the defensive side of the ball. But Williams has been more effective defensively so far this season for the Clippers than Crawford was for the majority of his time in Los Angeles. Williams isn’t going to lock down the Russell Westbrooks of the world, but he isn’t giving back the majority of the points he scores either.

In addition to his scoring, Williams is a solid playmaker and has managed to facilitate the Clippers’ offense at various points of the season. Williams isn’t exactly Chris Paul in terms of setting up his teammates for easy baskets, but he has been notably effective in this role, which is very important considering how many playmakers have falled to injury this season. Williams is now, arguably, the team’s best offensive weapon and one of its most effective floor generals. Now that we are nearly two months into the NBA season, it seems as though Williams and his teammates are starting to find a little more chemistry with one another.

“I think these guys are just starting to be more comfortable. They understand we’re going to have some injuries and guys are going to be down,” Williams said recently. “So they’re just playing with a lot of confidence. I think at first you’re kind of getting your feet wet and guys don’t want to make mistakes. Now guys are just going out there and playing as hard as they can.”

Williams will need to continue building chemistry with his teammates if they are to keep pace until players like Gallinari and Griffin make it back onto the court.

The Clippers have won six of their last 10 games and are starting to steady what had becoming a sinking ship. Smart gamblers and predictive algorithms would caution against betting on the Clippers making the playoffs this season, but they are in much better shape now than they were in the middle of November — an accomplishment that Williams deserves plenty of credit for.

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