Performance technology is firmly entrenched as the next giant frontier for NBA front offices. Recent advances in wearable technology have vastly expanded the amount teams can know about every movement their players make, and the race is on behind the scenes to parse every asset at their disposal. Some front offices may hem and haw about the full benefits of things like analytics, but it’s much tougher to dispute the efficacy of methods that can keep players healthier and more productive from a medical standpoint.
On-court tracking, however, isn’t the only front on which teams can monitor their players. Typically less appreciated by the casual fan is the mental stress of NBA life; it’s easy to forget that these are often teenagers being thrown into a whirlwind experience, and managing the added pressure in conjunction with on-court performance isn’t as easy as some might assume.
That’s where someone like Jake Rauchbach comes in. Jake’s program, MindRight Pro, is designed specifically to identify and remove mental and emotional blockages in athletes to maximize their performance capacity. His concepts, energy psychology and acupuncture philosophy, have been utilized across the professional and college athletic ranks, including by franchises like the St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks plus a wide range of collegiate programs spanning several sports.
MindRight Pro, created in 2012, has been primarily implemented at Temple University, where Rauchbach works as a graduate assistant under coach Fran Dunphy. Since its inception, the system has elicited glowing testimonials from a range of players and staff at Temple, including current Houston Rocket Will Cummings, Coach Dunphy and university orthopedic surgeon Dr. Milo Sewards.
No one can better explain the program than Rauchbach himself, though. Basketball Insiders caught up with him to learn more about a system just beginning to gain traction in the collegiate and professional ranks.
Can you give me a very broad explanation of what your program is?
Rauchbach: “What the MindRight Pro program does is combine acupuncture philosophy and energy psychology to identify and remove mental and emotional blocks, and consistently enhance player performance. The reason this program produces results fast is because it gets to the root of why an athlete is blocked. These blocks are held within the unconscious mind, or the energy systems of the body. So by identifying or removing these blocks from that system, players improve quickly and elevate performance across the long term… As far as I know, nobody else is combining energy psychology and acupuncture philosophy to actually elevate performance consistently. They’re not dealing with the unconscious mind to really get to the root of why guys are blocked. By actually getting to this root – by actually getting to the unconscious mind – you are unblocking these guys at a very core and deep level. The St. Louis Rams and the St. Louis Cardinals are using similar technology, but this program is different because it’s comprehensive. Essentially, what MindRight Pro does is provide a customized athlete program based upon player profiles, performance issues and athlete or coaching staff goals for that player.”
Let’s say I’m a player who wants to subscribe to your program. What’s my process?
Rauchbach: “First of all, you have to identify what the issue is – the performance issue. So being at the Temple program long enough, [I] know what a guy’s issue is. Whether it’s leadership, whether he plays well in practice but it doesn’t carry over to games, whatever that issue might be. Once that’s identified, what I do as a coach is go to the player and [say], ‘Look, this is how I can help you. This is what I’ve done with players in your position in the past, on the college and pro level. And this is how we’re going to get there.’ So from there, the most important thing is getting the athlete buy-in. If the athlete buys in 100 percent to what we’re doing, then I can help that athlete. From there I’m going to customize, usually a six-to-eight-week program combining input from the coaching staff, the player, and then my point of view as a performance coach to structure a program to help that athlete achieve the goal we’re trying to achieve for him. So for Will Cummings [at Temple] last year, from the beginning to the end of the program, one of our goals was to allow him to be a strong and vocal leader on the court at all times. It took six weeks to get there, but after that six weeks he was the unquestioned leader of [the] team, both on the court and in the locker room.”
Can you give me an example of things you did to specifically strengthen leadership confidence?
Rauchbach: “The main crux of this work is, you have to sift out the unconscious energetic blocks before the player can make a change – because if the player can make the change already [on their own], they would have consciously done that. These changes are made on an unconscious level. So by implementing the first element, which is off-court sessions to implement these energy psychology techniques, to go in and identify what these blocks are – past experiences of these players held on an unconscious level. And then through various mechanisms, clear this stuff out so that when the player gets on the court, the coaching staff can go in and coach them up on the focuses that we’re working on. So once [the player] is unblocked, it’s like the doors are open so he can move forward in that specific focus that we’re working on. There are [also] pre-game and in-game processes that Will learned last year, so that when things went awry for him, he was able to focus back in – not only for himself personally, but also as the leader of [his] team.”
What are some of the influences that you drew from in designing this program?
Rauchbach: “This program is very personal to me. It grew out of an organic process for me to heal as a kid – when I was a kid I experienced chronic disease and a number of physical and emotional issues. The byproduct of this disease was a [number] of emotional and physical performance blocks. I went to all different types of doctors and psychologists, traditional methods and means – it just didn’t help me. So I was really forced to find other ways to help me heal. Because of this, I went to holistic practitioners, Chinese medicine, different types of energy psychology practitioners, these sorts of people, to help me get over the ailments that I was dealing with.
Through the tools I learned, I began to create an organic process when I was a teenager. And then when I got back on the court, I already had a process to help me get over the issues I had dealt with, that any athlete deals with. So for instance, shooting slumps, pregame and in-game anxiety, not being focused, and actually dealing with physical injury. This program actually helps expedite injury recovery.
From there, once I got into coaching, I took the process that I knew how to apply from my own personal performance, and kind of turned it outwards on the players that I was coaching and applied my training… So it’s been a very personal journey for me, not just something I picked up. I’m very passionate about this, and I know 100 percent that it works.”
To play devil’s advocate, how do I know this isn’t a placebo effect? Is there more traditional medical backing to the program?
Rauchbach: “We received medical community validations from Dr. Milo Sewards, the team orthopedic surgeon for Temple University athletics. This helps to validate what I’ve known to work, and what many other practitioners have known to work. Energy psychology methods have proven efficacious in clinical treatment of anxiety, depression, phobias and PTSD. This is such cutting edge technology in sports that there is little research on the effects of [this kind of] performance enhancement across high-level sports. I’m building a case with the guys I’m working with, and testimonials from head coaches I’ve worked with both at Drexel and here at Temple, along with all the athletes I’ve worked with. The testimonials back the methodology of this program, because it’s worked and it’s helped them.
Additionally, we track everything throughout the program – so there’s a positive correlation between reduction in performance blocks and improvement in performance statistically. So we actively use basketball statistics, [along with] Temple basketball analytics we use within our internal program here to show that before, during and after the program, players are getting better based upon a reduction in performance blocks. I’m trying to build a case to illustrate [through] these testimonials of players and coaches, and the statistics – because the numbers don’t lie – that this stuff works and is on the cutting edge of performance technology.”
What about coaching? Do you think there are parts of the program that could be applicable to coaching, perhaps even at the NBA level?
Rauchbach: “No question. I think we all experience different types of performance blocks in whatever area of life we are performing in. This program can help coaches and their coaching staffs. Obviously coaching is a tough business – you deal with the stressors day in and day out of competition, and job security is always a big thing. And coaches also have to perform at a high level during practices and games, just as their players do. What this program does is help them connect with their players more easily, help them stay in the moment, and most importantly be on their games and be at their highest level of performance within their own coaching skill set – which will enable them to better be prepared to be successful with the team.”
You mentioned earlier that much of your success involved your proximity to the Temple program and how well you know these players. How might that theme transfer on a larger scale, like perhaps the NBA, with multiple clients?
Rauchbach: “Being on staff full time produces faster results, because its much easier to build trust and receive the buy-in needed to move forward with facilitating the player performance improvement. That’s the most important thing. The players have to buy in to you, and know that you care and are invested in them. Always being around and viewed as a basketball coach by the players is key and is the most ideal situation to apply this program.
Once they have that buy-in, they can actually do the work and help them improve. That being said, working as a consultant can also be effective – albeit it is more difficult. For me personally, getting a chance to build rapport with those players, getting buy-in from those players on a consultant basis can also prove equally effective. This a different way of looking at performance. This program is unique to me and the processes I’ve developed. So at some point, I do see this program having coaches that I’ve trained going out and helping different teams with their player performance issues, and potentially their coaching performance issues as well.”
NBA Daily: Jarrett Culver Ready For Point Guard Duties
Many instinctively see Jarrett Culver as a forward, maybe a shooting guard, but the Minnesota Timberwolves hope he can be their point guard for years to come.
When the Minnesota Timberwolves traded for the sixth pick on draft night, the immediate assumption was that they were targeting Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland. Minnesota rostered one point guard at the time, and Jeff Teague is on an expiring deal. When the Cleveland Cavaliers stayed put at No. 5 and took Garland, many wondered if the Timberwolves had missed their mark in gauging the market.
As the offseason progressed, though, it seemed as if Minnesota may have found its point guard in the draft after all in Jarrett Culver, even though he played primarily at small or power forward when it mattered most for Texas Tech last year.
In the Raiders’ last five games, the crux of their run to the NCAA title game, Culver spent 48 percent of the team’s minutes at power forward and 23 percent at small forward, per kenpom.com. He served as the point guard only 12 percent of the time.
Yet, for the season Culver led Texas Tech in assist rate at 26.1 percent. Even if his draft profile listed Culver as a small forward, distributing and handling the ball was a key part of his skill set.
“I’ve played point guard, shooting guard, going back-and-forth between both all my life,” Culver said two weeks ago at the Timberwolves’ Media Day. “Just being comfortable, having confidence playing those positions, I feel like I’ll do well.”
And Minnesota will need him to. Though Teague may feel revitalized, both in health and through an organizational shift, he cannot carry the ball-handling duties alone. The only other true point guard on the roster is Shabazz Napier and, setting aside the ironic circumstances of his arrival — a pursuit itself arguably set in motion by the Cavaliers grabbing Garland and a transaction necessitated by the Timberwolves’ miss of free agent D’Angelo Russell — Napier is not the point guard of the future that Minnesota needs.
That coming vacuum could be Culver’s to fill, and it may also be his quickest route to consistent playing time. Working anywhere from shooting guard to power forward, he will have to compete for minutes with Andrew Wiggins, Robert Covington and the like. At point guard, though, there may be no one established standing in Culver’s way beyond this season.
“They for sure want me to handle the ball some and be able to play that position,” Culver said. “I’ll have to take that position and learn from Jeff Teague and some of the other guys in the league and grow into that position, and do what I have to do to be the best point guard and shooting guard I can be.”
Albeit in exhibition games, Culver has already shown glimpses of those point guard abilities. While scoring 17 points against the Golden State Warriors, he added three assists. On Sunday, he notched four assists in a 131-101 victory against Maccabi Haifa, his first action in front of fans in Minneapolis.
OKAY. Jarrett Culver showing off some playmaking here in the second quarter. pic.twitter.com/CjVslZ4VGt
— Kyle Ratke (@Kyle_Ratke) October 14, 2019
Culver growing into a distributor’s role would allow Timberwolves head coach Ryan Saunders to lean into his preferred switching defensive scheme. At 6-foot-5, Culver might be big for a point guard, but he could unlock a prospective small-ball lineup, with his 6-foot-9 wingspan adding needed length. More traditional point guards might not inherently take away from that thought, although Napier is only 6-foot-1, but Culver’s positional versatility should outright enhance Saunders’ defensive plans.
Those schemes are a piece of a broader approach by the franchise to change nearly everything they do. In doing so, the idea is to get on the same page across the board. Make no mistake about it: The rookie got the memo.
“I feel like the culture is changing a little bit,” Culver said. “I feel like everybody here wants to win, from [president Gersson Rosas] to coach [Saunders] to everybody to all the players putting in the work. I’m ready to get started, I’m very competitive, so I’m excited to get out there and try to win games.”
When Minnesota opens its season in nine days, the hype around Culver will likely view him as a forward, but his future in pushing their culture toward wins may come at point guard, creating not only for others but himself as well.
NBA Daily: The Knicks’ Point-Forward-In-Waiting
As the regular season inches closer, Drew Mays makes the case for the New York Knicks to play Julius Randle at point guard.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The New York Knicks struck out in free agency.
New York’s hopes were high again this summer – and again they were let down. Kevin Durant twisted the knife in the wound last week:
“I didn’t really do any deep, full analysis on the Knicks.” Then, even worse, continued and delivered the knockout blow: “It’s like the cool thing right now is not the Knicks.”
Some of the media’s opining that New York could land Durant or Irving or another star wound up as empty speculation — thus, the fanbase and their clamoring for stars will continue.
What made the Knicks’ offseason all the more puzzling wasn’t that they didn’t land a star, it was who they acquired in the aftermath. It’s a strong collection of veterans that don’t inspire any future promises — but they do, in a weird way, give New York a slight chance of relevancy now.
While the NBA zigs to small ball, the Knicks zagged, albeit not in a way that raises hope, like the moves in Philadelphia.
But for the first time in a handful of years, New York has something here, that’s for sure. And the way to best maximize whatever this new-look squad has is to play Julius Randle at point guard.
The point guard battle in New York is currently comprised of three players: Elfrid Payton, the non-frontcourt addition to the New York roster, Dennis Smith Jr., the still-intriguing 21-year-old, and Frank Ntilikina, the much-criticized 21-year-old.
Payton is a middling player who has been more placeholder than foundation over the last few seasons. His inability to shoot — a career 30 percent three-point shooter on 1.7 attempts per 36 minutes — is a large part of that; however, he’s maintained a steady 8.0 assists per 36 minutes over his career. That’s impressive, especially considering the teams of which he’s been part.
Smith and Ntilikina are uber-talented, but equally as inconsistent. The former was sent to the Knicks after overstaying his welcome in Dallas, while the latter may be overstaying his welcome in New York, an encouraging FIBA performance notwithstanding.
Playing Randle at point mitigates many of these issues. Payton’s lack of jumper inhibits his game; Randle, a 250-pound bowling ball, doesn’t need a jump shot to be a capable scorer. Defenses can’t sag off of him as they can Payton – standing off only gives him a running start. Randle going downhill can spin into layups and bully into half-hooks and scoop shots. He’s even flashed Draymond Green’s four-on-three playmaking ability in spurts. Better, his floater is too good for defenders to wait for his arrival.
More importantly, Randle as a playmaker lowers pressure on both Smith and Ntilikina. Point guard is the most competitive and toughest position to learn in the NBA — that in itself is a reason for Smith and Ntilikina’s struggles. With Randle shouldering more ballhandling responsibility, the two have less to worry about. Before the Porzingis trade, the fit of Smith next to Doncic in Dallas was intriguing because it allowed Smith to use his athleticism and aggressiveness off the ball. Randle as a ballhandler reaches the same goals.
Ntilikina now ideally owns an improved jumper – his looks will be easier and the up-and-comer can be more prepared for them when he isn’t worried about actually playing point guard.
Both of these positives also hold true for The Great New York Hope, R.J. Barrett. Barrett is a skilled offensive player, a scorer who played point guard out of necessity at times for Duke last year. Extremely talented, he struggled with turnovers, forcing plays that weren’t there and shooting when he should’ve passed.
What helps all of those things? That’s right: Offloading playmaking responsibility onto Randle. Barrett can then develop his passing ability as he maintains his one-track scoring mentality without torpedoing the offense. As the Knicks’ most significant perimeter threat, he’s likely to have a huge role with the ball anyway — so why not make it easier on him?
Perhaps the two most commanding reasons for inserting Randle at the point are that he’s New York’s best player and they have nothing to lose.
Ideally, if you’re striving for wins and not ping-pong balls, your best player should spend the most time with the ball. Randle is the Knicks’ best player and the only surefire guy that would log minutes on a competitive team. Every bit of usage that head coach David Fizdale gets out of Randle over Ignas Brazdeikis is a good thing.
It would also cause matchup problems for opposing defenses, without having to alter expected rotations – all three of the guards in the point guard battle will get minutes, so Randle doesn’t even have to play the position full-time. Randle and Payton in the backcourt would force opposing teams to contemplate matching size; Randle with Ntilikina would give the Knicks a chance defensively, whereas Randle and Smith could be surrounded with whatever the best shooting lineup ends up being to mask inequities.
Really, the 2019-20 version of the Knicks may be best served by playing a throwback style. Marcus Morris was suspended after one preseason game for hitting Washington’s Justin Anderson in the head with the basketball. The bully-ball approach Morris advocates would muck up the game and give the less-talented Knicks more chances to win. Of course, these methods are also more apt to succeed with bigger lineups — obviously, bigger lineups will naturally surface if Randle is playing the point.
Over 311 career games, Randle has averaged 3.4 assists per 36 minutes. But per Cleaning the Glass, his assist percentage has been in the 85th percentile or better over three of his four seasons. Those assist numbers were affected by playing with the Kobe farewell tour, D’Angelo Russell, Lou Williams, Lonzo Ball in Los Angeles and Jrue Holiday in New Orleans.
He’s never had the chance to make plays on a consistent, full-time basis. The opportunity is there now.
On a randomly-constructed and weirdly-passable Knicks team, why not see what he can do?
The Curious Case Of Andrew Wiggins
The path to becoming a superstar took a wrong turn two years ago for top pick Andrew Wiggins. With stability and a new regime in Minnesota, it will be up to him to get the train back on the tracks this season. Chad Smith writes.
Being a number one overall draft pick in the NBA instantly puts a target on your back. Expectations come with that as well, fair or not. Andrew Wiggins has had a roller coaster ride since being taken with the top pick in the 2014 draft. After three years of promise, he has tapered off in each of the last two seasons. The make or break cliché is used too often, but this will definitely be a defining season for the Canadian.
Wiggins has played exactly 400 games in his NBA career. He has played all of them with the Timberwolves, who traded the face of their franchise to acquire the promising young talent. Wiggins has managed to stay healthy throughout his career. Through his first four seasons, he only missed one game. Last year he played 73 for Minnesota, who failed to reach the playoffs after a disastrous season that included trading Jimmy Butler.
Butler left a lot of money on the table to leave Minnesota – largely due to the lack of improvement from Wiggins.
For all of his physical tools and salivating upside, Wiggins has failed to significantly improve as a player. His scoring averages did improve in his first three seasons, going from 16.9 to 20.7 to 23.6 points per game. The following year it dipped to 17.7 and 18.1 per contest. His per-game averages in rebounds, assists, steals and blocks have all plateaued.
From the foul line, Wiggins shot 76 percent in each of his first three seasons, but dropped to 64.3 and 69.9 percent in the last two years. His shooting efficiency numbers across the board have been declining as well. The progression clearly has not been there, and you don’t even need the actual numbers to see it.
If you do need the numbers, they are not flattering. His 0.6 win shares last season ranked him 350th among 530 eligible players. Per 48 numbers were even worse as his 0.005 win shares were the third-worst in the league (minimum 2,000 minutes played). The Wolves finished 11th in the conference last season. Improving upon that will prove to be difficult given the stiff competition in the Western Conference.
The five-year, $147 million maximum extension that Wiggins signed two years ago was questionable at the time and appears even more detrimental now. Gersson Rosas is the new president of basketball operations in Minnesota, and it is not clear what his intentions with Wiggins are. Trading the former Rookie of the Year is one option, but it will not be an easy one. If he can show some true progression in his game, Wiggins could fit nicely alongside superstar Karl-Anthony Towns.
Under former coach Tom Thibodeau, the Wolves appeared to underutilize the services of Towns. He also tended to play his starters heavy minutes. Wiggins averaged nearly 37 minutes per game under his system. Those numbers came down dramatically towards the tail end of last season under new head coach Ryan Saunders. His career average still sits at 36 minutes per contest. The only other active players with a higher minute per game average are LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Damian Lillard.
During Media Day, Andrew said that he felt as though he was on the rise three years into his career, before “some changes were made” that seemed to derail his trajectory. Wiggins went on to talk about Thib’s coaching style, and how the yelling didn’t change anything for him. He stated that he prefers a player’s coach that is “real” with him, like Saunders, the youngest coach in the league.
With Saunders cemented in place, the Wolves could find new and better ways to get the most out of Towns and Wiggins. Using more screening action, it could allow smaller defenders to switch onto Karl, or get a bigger defender on Andrew, allowing him to drive to the basket. That could open up opportunities on the wing for their solid group of role players.
A healthy Robert Covington and Josh Okogie will provide Minnesota with hope from the outside, an area where they have struggled heavily. New additions such as Jake Layman, Jordan Bell and Noah Vonleh should fit right in as well. All eyes will be on rookie Jarrett Culver, whom the Wolves gave up assets (Dario Saric and the 11th pick) to acquire with the sixth pick in the draft.
Saunders will likely want to push the pace and score in transition this season. Minnesota was 14th in pace last season and had the 13th-ranked scoring offense. They have the players needed for that style of play and will now be able to play both small-ball and match up against bigger lineups.
Versatility will be a strength for them this season, but they must improve on their biggest weakness – defense.
The Wolves ranked 23rd in scoring defense last year, and 24th in overall defensive rating. Having Covington back will help in that area, but it needs to start with Towns and Wiggins. As leaders, both must show improvement on that end of the floor in order for the other guys to buy-in.
With a year of continuity and a more stable environment, Minnesota should still be an improved team from last season. Whether or not they are able to challenge for a playoff spot will likely be determined by the play of Wiggins. Andrew has the skillset to become a very good player, even if his ceiling is not as high as Karl’s. That being said, Andrew will turn 25 in February. The time is now for him to show improvement.
Aside from Jeff Teague’s 10 years of experience, only Covington and Gorgui Dieng have more experience than Wiggins. They each have just one more year than he does. So where exactly does he need to improve his game?
Shot selection and defense should be at the top of the list. Despite the decent scoring average, the more minutes he plays, the more shots he misses. In theory that makes sense, but there are a number of players (even his own teammates) that played more minutes and missed fewer shots. In all five seasons, Wiggins has ranked inside the top 20 in the league in missed field goals.
The defense is fairly straight forward. He has the ability to defend on the perimeter and even inside, but his desire and effort are not always there. Playing passing lanes more aggressively and being able to anticipate what comes next on a given play are two key areas to focus on.
Rebounding is another area that would really benefit the team if he is able to improve. His size and athleticism afford him great opportunities to crash the boards, especially when Towns is not on the floor. Obviously, everyone can improve their shooting, and while his three-point shot isn’t horrid, there is no excuse for him to shoot below 70 percent from the foul line. These are things that should have progressed much better entering your sixth year in the league.
Rosas has stated publicly that continuity and playing style under Saunders should make Wiggins one of the biggest beneficiaries this season.
For their sake and his own, here is to hoping he is right.