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Meet The Thompson Brothers

Jason and Ryan Thompson talk to Basketball Insiders about their supportive parents, the NBA and playing overseas.

Oliver Maroney

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Ryan and Jason Thompson are two very unique individuals. Jason is the older of the two siblings, and they grew up in the same household. Both of their parents were blue-collar workers; their father was a UPS employee while their mother was a nurse. Neither son grew up assuming that they’d someday make basketball or professional sports their career. They had supportive parents who were strict, strong-willed and smart.

“Sometimes I think kids don’t want to be around strict tones,” Jason told Basketball Insiders. “But I think a family with structure works and pans out for the future. Education was always a priority in our household. After that, we could go to [play basketball].”

Their parents were always involved and helpful. As the two brothers grew older, they knew their parents would be there to support them.

“Every single game, you would see them,” Ryan said. “As competitive as they are, they would never sit next to each other. They would also sit on opposite sides of the court. They were at every game. Even every college game, they were in the stands and gave us the support that we needed.”

Both Jason and Ryan credit their parents for a lot of their success. As noted, they would push them – on and off the court. Of course, they both had to put in extremely hard work as well in order to achieve their success. Jason and Ryan attended Rider University, a small school in New Jersey, where they both had illustrious college careers. Jason would graduate and become the No. 12 pick of the 2008 NBA Draft by the Sacramento Kings.

Since that point, a lot has changed. Both brothers are now playing professionally overseas in China and Germany, respectively.

After eight years in the NBA – playing for the Kings, Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors – Jason made the leap to the Chinese Basketball Association this season where he’s now suiting up for the Shandong Golden Stars. The move takes him far from home, but as he looks back on the ups and downs of his NBA journey, he’s excited to be in China and is taking full advantage of the opportunity.

“Well, for me, I am very blessed,” Jason told Basketball Insiders. “I got to play at a small school in Rider and developed, growing three-to-four inches and gaining 50 pounds in college to become an NBA prospect. I was projected from lottery to mid-to-late first round. When you go in the lottery, you don’t go to a good team. Obviously, I had an amazing seven years with Sacramento, but in that time we had two different ownership [groups] and seven different coaches. I had over 100 teammates. So no coach I had was there for over two seasons. I put up good, solid numbers at times, double-figure seasons in most years I played in Sacramento. Then, I just wanted to see if the grass was greener on the other side.

“So I went to Philly and almost immediately, Golden State traded for me. I was in an unfortunate situation with a team coming off a championship where none of the guys were leaving and everyone was coming back. So it was tough getting minutes on a team that just won a championship. Then, I had the opportunity to play in Toronto and experience my first playoffs with a team that was high in the NBA as well. So I went from a team that was not as good, playing a lot of minutes and being a starter my whole career, to higher-ranked teams and not playing as much but just doing what it takes to win. Definitely two different scenarios in that sense of being with an organization for seven years and then being with two teams all in one season. It’s definitely crazy when it comes to that. With the CBA it’s a different opportunity, but it’s a great one.”

For Ryan, he’s also in a different situation. He decided to play in Germany for Telekom Baskets Bonn after playing in the NBA’s Development League. He obviously watched his brother experience success in the NBA and dreamed about playing in the league as well. However, he can appreciate his own path and where his career has taken him over the years.

“The motto that my brother and I have is just, ‘Control what you can control,'” Ryan said. “If you go into a game thinking, ‘I’m going to do this and this, or worrying if coach going to put me in,’ you’ll never be comfortable. Just control what you can control and play the game the way you’ve been playing for your entire life. That’s how I’ve approached my career as well. As the years have been going on and I’ve been getting older, you just kind of hit the point where whatever happens, happens. Before when I was younger it was hoping, hoping, hoping [I’d be in the NBA]. Now, I’ve been playing overseas in what is my sixth season. This is home now until it’s over. Unless another road opens up for me, this is where I am and where I’m going to be.”

thompson-brothers

Rider University Website (rider.edu)

It’s pretty remarkable that the brothers have followed such similar paths. Both were raised under the same roof, played at the same high school and college, and ended up playing professionally. They’re also currently leading their respective teams overseas in player efficiency rating and performing very well. While they’re in two different countries, they keep in close contact because the time zone difference isn’t too bad.

“With [Jason’s] experience, it wasn’t always the greatest of times because he wasn’t always on the winning side of things,” Ryan said. “You got to push through it, and the same goes with me. We always talk because situations aren’t going to be in your favor at all times, you just have to make the best of every situation that you’re in. The thing that’s good about us is we talk a lot. We actually talk more now because he’s overseas and the time change isn’t so different. Also, in the summer when the season is over, it’s good to have somebody in your corner that’s competitive too. In the summer, we’re always working out together and keeping things competitive so we’re ready for whatever is to come next.”

“It’s a great situation,” Jason added about his relationship with his brother. “Obviously, with having a brother two years apart and having the same interests in a lot of things, especially basketball, it’s a great relationship. We went to the high school together and we also went to the same college, which is not heard of. Getting to play two years in high school and two years in college together was great because we’d be there for each other. Any time he needed me for advice as a pro, with things on and off the court, I was always there for him throughout the way. Now with me being on the other side of the water right now, I’ve been getting a lot of advice from him since he’s been over here for the past seven years. It’s definitely been a learning experience and a change of direction, with him knowing more that goes on over here.”

As they’re both playing overseas in different countries now, they’re also mindful of starting their careers after basketball. They grew up in a family that takes pride in working hard, having strong morals, ensuring financial stability and planning for the future. Ryan and Jason each have plans for when they’re done playing because they know their on-court careers can’t last forever. Jason plans to work in broadcasting, while Ryan wants to coach.

“I always keep in contact with my coaching staff at Rider University,” Ryan told Basketball Insiders. “That’s where Jason and I played. Whenever I decide to stop playing overseas or don’t have the opportunity to play overseas anymore, I think coaching is a thing I want to do. I want to stay around the game of basketball and help kids go through the process that I went through – teach them some of the things I’ve learned and watch kids grow up and be able to do some of the things I have.”

Jason, on the other hand, wants to have a future in broadcasting.

“My degree is in TV and Radio Communications,” Jason said. “So I want to be some type of analyst for sports and, obviously, preferably basketball. But really, any sport would be nice. Starting a show on television, being on the radio, hosting a podcast and doing things like that. I also want to do something on the side of SiriusXM radio, where I talk about relationships and being single. I think that would be intriguing from the athlete’s perspective. Those are all things I want to do media wise. But I also have my Jason Thompson Foundation. It’s helping out kids to speak their minds on certain things and keep them out of trouble in the urban areas.”

Jason has attended the NBPA’s sportscaster program and hope to continue pursuing that career path long-term. His foundation is built in support of his cousin, Tiffany Carroll, who passed away to a disease known as Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM). HCM is known as a leading cause of sudden cardiac death in young athletes. The foundation was built around raising awareness of heart disease for athletes, children and young adults. However, Jason also has goals for future endeavors with his foundation.

The Thompson brothers are two basketball players who are living out their dreams on a level they’d never thought possible when they were growing up. Their parents provided them with motivation and support, and through hard work and the desire to learn, they’ve managed to thrive in any situation.

“I want to teach kids that everyone has a dream, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do anything in life,” Jason said. “With hard work, having yourself around the right people and making the right decisions, you can achieve anything you want.”

He also stresses the importance of having a back-up plan just in case, adding: “God forbid something happens to me playing wise, I have my education to fall back on.”

The slogan “Live Like J.T.” is on his website as well as “learn, imagine, voice, educate.” This statement clearly sums up what the Thompson brothers have achieved and will continue to work toward. While they aren’t currently in the NBA, they’re enjoying the international game and looking forward to their respective futures.

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

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A Few Good Free Agents Left

David Yapkowitz looks at several free agents still remaining on the market ahead of the season.

David Yapkowitz

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The start of the 2017-2018 NBA season is finally here, and teams are required to have their 15-man roster (plus two possible two-way contacts) finalized. Every year there are players that are left off a roster. Some are younger guys who maybe haven’t proven they belong in the league just yet. Some are older veterans looking for that one final hurrah.

A few of these players might take open gigs in the G-League or overseas in hopes of attracting the attention of NBA front offices as the year goes on. Others remain at home, working out and waiting for that call that might never come. And sometimes, the waiting and anticipating pays off as playoff teams come looking for veteran help and tanking teams are on the hunt for unrealized potential.

For most of the veteran guys, their opportunities will likely come later in the season when teams gear up for the playoffs. Here’s a look at a few of the top veteran free agents left that could certainly help a team at some point during this season.

David Lee

Since being traded from the Golden State Warriors to the Boston Celtics three year ago, Lee has adapted to his new role as a veteran big man helping to anchor second units. He is no longer the automatic double-double machine and borderline All-Star he once was, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have anything left in the tank.

He didn’t really fit quite right in Boston, but in his stops with the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs, he still showed he can be a solid contributor off the bench. In 25 games with Mavericks in the 2015-2016 season, Lee put up 8.5 points per game on 63.6 percent shooting while pulling down seven rebounds per. With the Spurs last year, he averaged 7.3 points on 59 percent shooting to go along with 5.6 rebounds. For a playoff team that needs a little big man depth, he is a solid option.

Deron Williams

Much was made about Williams’ disappearing act in the Finals last year, and rightfully so, but lost in all the chatter was the actual solid job he did with the Cleveland Cavaliers leading up to that point. Once in the conversation for best point guard in the league, injuries and poor play in Brooklyn sort of made Williams a forgotten man. The Nets bought out his contract and he joined his hometown Dallas Mavericks.

After a so-so first year in Dallas, Williams looked rejuvenated last year to the point that he actually drew some interest around the trade deadline. With the Mavericks looking to get younger and head closer to that rebuilding path, they cut Williams and allowed him to join a contending team. Over the final 24 games of last season, including four starts, he averaged 7.5 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting, 41.5 percent from the three-point line, and 3.6 assists. Of course, his Finals performance is all anyone cares to remember, but if a team needs a veteran backup point guard, they could do a lot worse.

Monta Ellis

Last season in Indiana, Ellis posted some of the lowest numbers of his career since his rookie season. Heading into a rebuilding year, the Pacers waived Ellis and his name barely came up in free agent rumors during the summer. At his best, Ellis was a borderline All-Star talent who could put up points in a hurry. Despite his reputation as a gunner, Ellis was a bit of an underrated playmaker and was never as bad defensively as most made him out to be.

He never really seemed to find his groove in Indiana. In his first year with the Pacers during the 2015-2016 season, he posted 13.8 points per game, down from 18.9 the previous year in Dallas, and his shooting dropped from 44.5 percent from the field to 42.7 percent. His playoff numbers with the Pacers were down even more than his regular season numbers, despite exploding in the postseason a few years before with Dallas. His starting days are almost assuredly behind him, but as a sixth man type scorer bringing energy off the bench, he’s probably better than a lot of the players currently in that role.

Leandro Barbosa

The Brazilian Blur’s best days are behind him, but similar to Ellis, he can still help a team in need of additional scoring punch off the bench. It was only two years ago that he was a key contributor off the Warriors bench. Firmly on the rebuilding track, the Suns waived Barbosa during the summer. Despite still being a capable player, his name also rarely came up in the free agent rumor mill.

He didn’t play all that much last season for a Phoenix Suns team that is clearly rebuilding, but he still was able to average 6.3 points per game in only 14.4 minutes per. His role on a rebuilding team would be a veteran mentor, but for a playoff team, he’s not a bad option. He showed that he can still play at the NBA level despite losing a step or two. Perhaps later on in the season when teams start looking for playoff help is when he may find his phone starting to ring.

Derrick Williams

The former No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations that come with being drafted that high. He’s only averaged double figures (12.0) in scoring once in his career and that was during the 2012-2013 season. When he came into the league, he didn’t really have much of a set position. He was a tweener, somewhere in between small forward and power forward. That was prior to the changes occurring in today’s NBA with more of a premium on stretch big men.

During Williams’ time in Cleveland last season, he played in 25 games and averaged 6.2 points per game. What stood out most, however, was his shooting. He shot 50.5 percent from the field, including 40.4 percent from the three-point line, both career-highs. Shooting from long range was always a bit of a weakness for him and prior to last season, he had never shot higher than 33.2 percent from downtown. He also didn’t register much chatter by way of free agent rumors, but if he can reproduce shooting percentages like that, he fits right in with the direction of the league.

With league rosters pretty much set, there likely won’t be much roster movement, if any at all, for the next few months. Teams are looking to see how their new summer acquisitions work out. But after a few months of real game action, other roster needs start to become more apparent. Don’t be surprised if come the new year, teams start knocking on a few of these player’s doorsteps.

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NBA PM: The Wizards Are “More Than Ready” For A Big Year

Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal says his team is “more than ready” for the start of the NBA season.

Buddy Grizzard

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With several teams in the Eastern Conference taking a step back, the Washington Wizards will be one of the beneficiaries due to roster continuity. Shooting guard Bradley Beal, one of several key Wizards signed to a long-term contract, said the team is “more than ready” for the season and has large expectations.

“This is going to be a big year for us,” said Beal after a Monday practice. “We’re healthy. There’s no excuse for us [not to] get off to a good start.”

Beal added that, while health is a key for the entire roster, it’s especially important for him after struggling with injuries in the past.

“It’s really a confidence booster, realizing my potential, what I can be, the type of player I can be when I had a healthy season,” said Beal of last year’s campaign. “That’s probably what I was more proud of than anything, playing 70-plus games and then playing in the playoffs every game.”

In Basketball Insiders’ season preview for the Wizards, we noted that Beal was Washington’s most efficient ball handler in the pick and roll last season. Beal said that creating for teammates is something he’s worked on in the offseason and will continue to be a point of emphasis.

“That was great for me and the strides I made throughout the year, working on my ball handling, working on creating for other guys and getting my own shot,” said Beal. “Those are the primary things I’m focused on … being able to create better, getting guys easier shots than before, getting more assists and improve everywhere.”

Wizards coach Scott Brooks said after Friday’s preseason finale in New York that he’s been encouraged by the ball movement he has seen since the start of camp.

“I thought a lot of good things happened in training camp,” said Brooks. “The ball movement was outstanding. Guys were sacrificing for one another on the offensive end.”

One thing that should help the ball movement of the second unit is the arrival of backup point guard Tim Frazier, who missed most of the preseason due to a strained groin. Frazier had nine assists and no turnovers in his preseason debut against the Miami HEAT.

“I feel very comfortable with Tim,” said Brooks. “He finds corner threes, which we like.”

Beal added that one area he hopes to improve, both individually and as a team, is rebounding.

“I think I only had like three rebounds [per game] last year,” said Beal. “I obviously love scoring the ball. That’s something I never worry about. I want to continue to fill up the stat sheet a little bit more and contribute to the game in different areas. I think rebounding was something that hurt us a little bit last year.”

The Wizards host the Philadelphia 76ers to open the season Wednesday, and Brooks said it will take a team effort to defend emerging star Joel Embiid.

“He’s a problem,” said Brooks after Sunday’s practice. “His athleticism is off the charts. We’re going to have to do a good job of staying in front of him. You’re talking about a guy that can put the ball on the floor, that can get to spaces and spots that normally a 6-10 guy doesn’t.”

With a revamped bench, roster continuity and good health entering the season, the Wizards look like a team that could challenge the Cavaliers, Celtics and Raptors for supremacy in the East. Beal certainly seems to think so.

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NBA Opening Night Storylines

Hours before the 2017-18 season gets set to tip off, here are some storylines to follow for Tuesday’s games.

Dennis Chambers

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The long summer is over. We finally made it. NBA opening night is upon us.

Rejoice, hoop heads.

Because the NBA is a perfect concoction of chaos at all times, Tuesday’s opening night slate has some can’t-miss built in headlines that the entire league is going to be glued to.

With a new year set to begin, everyone is on the same page. Whether that page includes the likes of Kevin Durant and Steph Curry or Doug McDermott and Tim Hardaway Jr. is a different story. But still, Tuesday marks day one for all teams and as it stands they’re all equal.

As we get set to sit down and dissect these opening game matchups on Tuesday, let’s highlight the most intriguing storylines that will be followed for the rest of the season. There’s nothing like watching a story grown in the NBA from its inception, right?

Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers — 8 p.m. ET (TNT)

This is the game we’ve all been waiting for since late June, when Kyrie Irving let it be known to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert that he wanted out from under LeBron’s shadow.

Three years of NBA Finals appearances, the greatest comeback in basketball history, and a ring to show for was all Irving wanted to walk away from. For him, he felt it was his time to shine.

And because the NBA is the perfect mix of beautiful insanity, it would only make sense that Irving would get dealt to the very team that is jostling for position to unseat the Cavs and King James.

The Irving-led Boston Celtics will have to wait a grand total of one second in the new NBA season to begin their matchup with their point guards old teammates and the team that stands in between them a Finals appearance. With Gordon Hayward and Irving together for the first time against meaningful competition, there’s no better way than to check their fit from the jump than by challenging the conference champions in their building.

But Irving’s homecoming isn’t the only storyline heading into the first game of the season. There are some changes on Cleveland’s end as well.

While the main return for Irving — Isaiah Thomas — won’t be suiting up for the Cavs anytime soon due to injury, there are still plenty of new faces to keep an eye on Tuesday night. First and foremost, Flash is in town. After having his contract bought out by the Chicago Bulls, Dwyane Wade joined forces with his buddy in The Land in hopes of recapturing some of the magic that led them to two championships in South Beach.

By teaming up once again, James and Wade provide some of the best chemistry in the league. Yes, Wade isn’t the player he once was when he and James were winning rings. But something is to be said for knowing exactly where someone will be on the court at all times, and that’s the trait exactly that Wade and James share.

Along with Wade, James and the Cavs are hoping to get some type of resurgence from Derrick Rose and Jeff Green off of the bench. Once Thomas returns to the court for Cleveland, this is arguably the deepest team James has ever been around in Cleveland.

Even with Irving and Hayward on board, Boston will be relying on some role players of their own — namely Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The back-to-back third overall picks will occupy most of the time at the forward spots opposite of Hayward. As the season moves on, the development of both of these wings will be crucial to how dangerous the Celtics can be past their two star players.

Tuesday night will be must-see television at Quicken Loans Arena. New eras for the Eastern Conference heavyweights are about to begin.

And as James told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, “The Kid” will be just fine.

Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors — 10:30 p.m. ET (TNT)

On the Western side of the basketball landscape Tuesday night, the potential conference finals matchup will see its first act when the revamped Rockets head to the Bay Area.

Last season at this time, the basketball world was bracing for what the Warriors would look like after adding Kevin Durant to a 73-win team. And as expected, they dominated. Not even LeBron James could put a stop to them, managing just one win in their finals bout.

This year brings in more of the same questions. Can anyone stop the Warriors? Will Golden State just steamroll their way to another championship, effectively sucking the fun of competition out of the entire league?

Well, a few teams this offseason did their best to try and combat that narrative. One of them being the Rockets, who they added perennial all-star point guard Chris Paul to their backcourt.

Putting Paul in the same backcourt as superstar James Harden has the potential to create some of the biggest headaches for opposing teams. The constant ball movement and open looks the two star guards can provide are nearly endless.

While the league swoons over the Warriors’ ability to hit shots from well beyond the arc, it should be noted that it was Houston last year that led the NBA in three-point shooting, not Golden State. It’s certainly not wise to try and go toe-to-toe with the Warriors at their own game, but if there’s ever a team equipped to do it, it’s Houston. Tuesday night will provide a nice preview look at how things in the Western Conference could shake out in the coming months.

Aside from the barrage of scoring that will take place in this matchup, what would a big game be for the Warriors without a little Draymond Green trash talk?

After Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni told ESPN that, “You’re not gonna stop them. It’s just not gonna happen. They’re not gonna stop us, either,” Green clapped back with a comment of his own, as he always does.

“I don’t know how serious they take defense with that comment,” Green said. “But they added some good defensive players.”

It’s true, the Rockets aren’t considered a defensive stalwart by any means. Last season, Houston was 26th in points allowed, compared to second in points scored. Green may be onto something when it comes to questioning how serious his opponents take defense.

That being said, last year’s Rockets didn’t feature Paul. Even at the age of 32, Paul is still one of the league’s best on-ball defenders. And no matter his age, he’ll always possess that competitive fire he’s been known for over the last 12 years.

Going up against the Warriors at Oracle is usually nothing short of impossible, but if there’s going to be a team to challenge their supremacy this season, we’ll get a good look at how they stack up on night one.

With all of this in mind, let’s not forget that the world’s best league is finally back in action. Give yourself a pat on the back, you made it. Now, go enjoy some basketball.

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