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: Boston’s Potential Crisis
The Kyrie drama may finally be over in Boston, but some tough decisions could be on the horizon for the Celtics, writes Matt John.
It’s hard to get a read on what exactly the Boston Celtics are going to be this upcoming season.
Losing a talent with the rap sheet that Kyrie Irving has at only 27 years old would usually spell misery for any fanbase. Yet, after all that transpired this season, there may not be a fanbase happier to see an NBA superstar in his prime walk than Celtics Nation was when Irving bolted.
Besides, the sting of his departure was mitigated by the arrival of Kemba Walker. Kemba is a slight downgrade from Kyrie, but his consistent improvement, as well as his reputation as a team player, has some believing that he may be able to produce more effectively than Kyrie did as a Celtic.
The most damaging loss the Celtics suffered from the summer is Al Horford. Horford’s all-around game was the perfect fit in Brad Stevens’ system. His floor-spacing, vision, defense, and unselfishness benefitted the team in so many ways that it would be almost impossible to replace every dimension he brought to the Celtics by himself.
Instead of finding a replacement for Horford, the Celtics thought outside of the box by bringing in Enes Kanter. Kanter can’t do everything that Horford does – comparing those two defensively alone is downright laughable – but Kanter still commands double-teams, is one of the league’s best rebounders and is joining a team that ranked 22nd in rebounds per game. It’s definitely a downgrade, but Enes has proven he can be a solid contributor.
That’s not even factoring in the other unknowns facing the Celtics this season. Jayson Tatum in year three; Jaylen Brown in year four; Gordon Hayward being two years removed from his leg injury. After a down year so difficult that pretty much everyone involved took a step back, it’s hard to say where the bar should be set for this team.
Presently, Boston’s ceiling is drastically lower than it was at this exact time a year ago. But when you consider that they won 49 games, is it delusional to think they’ll be able to exceed that win total with a seemingly lesser roster?
That will depend on whether they can solve a possible crisis that their roster as constructed could produce.
In basketball, it’s common sense that if you want to win, you put your five best players on the court when things matter most. As long as those best players can actually play together on the court. That’s the Celtics’ problem right there.
Boston’s five best players are slated to be the following:
With Kanter designated as the starting center – this may change as the season progresses – one of these five is going to start the season coming off the bench, which Brad Stevens will figure out with due time. Hayward, Brown, and Smart have all played significant minutes with the second unit recently so it shouldn’t be much of an adjustment there.
The problem is, if all five of those players play to the best of their abilities, all of them are too good to be wasting away on the bench in crunch time. But if they all are on the court to close out games, who plays center? The only one out of the five who has any experience playing the five position is Hayward, which came last year and he only played one percent of his minutes there.
Brad Stevens has always been one to experiment. He’s never been hesitant to thrust players who aren’t usually the center type into the role of the small-ball five. From Brandon Bass to Jonas Jerebko to Semi Ojeleye, Stevens can really commit to the small in small-ball.
There’s just one problem. The Celtics’ top competitors for the crown this season sports some of the best centers in the league, which include Anthony Davis, Joel Embiid, and Nikola Jokic among others. Should Boston try to use its projected best players in its crunchtime lineup, they won’t stand much of a chance. Gordon Hayward and Marcus Smart are good defenders, but they’re not that good.
Boston right now isn’t really considered a contender by most people who follow the NBA but adding the 29-year-old Walker, who is now entering the prime of his career, signaled that they aim to be one. Say Boston tries the Walker-Smart-Brown-Tatum-Hayward lineup, and it does not pan out, they may have to trade one of them in order to balance out the roster and crunchtime lineup.
Who they would ship out is the real mystery. They’re definitely not trading Kemba after they just added him. Jayson Tatum’s trade availability expired the second Anthony Davis was traded to the Lakers. Many fans are clamoring for it after a not-so-stellar comeback, but Gordon Hayward is unlikely to be traded. His contract at this moment is an albatross, and when teams trade the star free agents they lured to them shortly after said luring, it’s not a good look for the franchise, especially after what Hayward has gone through.
For better or worse, Gordon Hayward is remaining a Boston Celtic. That leaves Smart and Brown. This is where this hypothetical crisis gets interesting. If Danny Ainge’s hand is forced to choose between the two, who does he trade?
If Ainge wants to keep the one with the highest ceiling, it’s Brown. Jaylen did not have the easiest start last season. He was so bad in fact that they benched him for Smart. Over time, Brown found his game again off the bench. As good as he was, a man of Brown’s talents should not be relegated to the bench.
If that’s not enough, remember that just the year prior, Brown was one of the most vital contributors on a team that was within inches of the NBA Finals. Eighteen points on 46/39/64 splits in 18 of what had to be the most important games of his life as a 21-year-old cemented Brown’s status as a high-upside, possible star player.
Between Brown and Smart, Brown has a higher ceiling.
If Ainge wants to keep the one who solidifies the team culture, it’s Smart. Smart may never have the scoring prowess or the reliable jumper that Brown has, but ask anyone who sets the tone for the game more, and it’s Smart.
Ever since he first walked on the court, Smart’s been one of the most intense, high-energy players in the league. His playmaking and defense inspire the Celtics to play at their best. When the Celtics’ 2018 playoff run comes up, people talk about how impressive the youngsters were, but they forget that their fortunes may not have turned out so well if Smart had not come back in time from injury.
It’s true that his love for the game puts his flaws on display, but Marcus Smart is what helped catapult the Brad Stevens era and establish a successful culture in Boston. His efforts probably won’t lead to any All-Star appearance, but they solidify him as an impact player for a championship team.
Between Brown and Smart, Smart brings more of a winning culture.
Some other components at play – Brown is in a contract year, and he should have suitors next offseason, while Smart is currently being paid $12 million (salary that could be used in a possible trade for a star player).
Now there’s the chance that none of this happens. The Celtics may go forward with the core they have right now, and maybe they have something up their sleeve that nobody knows about. There’s also the chance they may trade both Smart and Brown for an upgrade or trade someone else.
There’s obviously no way to tell what will happen at this point. However, these are the pertinent questions that the Celtics need to ask themselves as we approach the upcoming season.
High-Performance Mindfulness: Incorporating The Mental Health Resource Into The NBA
Jake Rauchbach outlines best practices and working parameters for integrating a mental health/Mental Performance resource into the coaching staff.
As NBA teams begin to integrate mental health resources into the overall working structure of their organizations, several key points should be taken into consideration so that practitioners can be most effective when working with players.
Before we dive in, it is important to note that, within the mental health spectrum, there are generally two avenues.
There is the clinical side, which focuses on diagnosing and treating behavioral disorders like depression, substance abuse and learning disabilities. There is also the applied/performance-related side, where the end goal is to improve on-court performance through techniques such as High-Performance Mindfulness.
Let’s jump in and break down some of the best practices and key considerations for successfully installing this resource within your staff:
Best Practices & Key Considerations
Player buy-in should be the number one priority. All other considerations should directly feed into facilitating and supporting this. With any sort of coaching, trust and rapport with the player are vital. The same thing holds for mental health resources/High-Performance Mindfulness coaches. Credibility and strong rapport with the player must be built.
This responsibility lies on the shoulders of the interpersonal skill-sets of the High-Performance Coach. However, much more of this responsibility resides with the decision-makers, who define the working parameters for the resource. If players do not like, trust or see value in the resource and the services offered, it is going to be very tough to make much headway. Before any substantial progress, this foundation must be in place first.
Staff Buy-In (Cooperation)
If a player senses that staff members, especially decision-makers, surrounding that player do not support or are sending mixed messages regarding the value, effectiveness, and acceptance of the mental health work, it can derail or block the initiative. When leaders within the organization outwardly support the role of the practitioner and initiative, it makes it that much easier to effectively serve the player.
In a perfect world, all levels of the organization are sending the same message to the player(s) regarding the role, value and implementation of the mental health practitioner. More realistically, outward support and clear definition of the practitioner’s role goes a long way.
- Defined Role: Clearly defining the role, will properly position the resource. It will also put players and staff members on notice regarding working parameters.
- Embed Resource in Coaching Staff: The highest probability for success is by having the resource sit on the bench during the game, ideally right between the player rotation. This is ultra-effective in improving performance and halting performance issues straight away as they arise during the game.
- The Dallas Mavericks, the Temple University Men’s Basketball Program, and Ironi Ness-Ziona Basketball Club of the Israeli Super League (FIBA Europe Cup) have all employed this set-up with success. Embedding a High-Performance Coach reinforces credibility and shows players that the team means business regarding the integration of the mental side of the game within the overall team dynamic.
- Direct Line of Communication: A direct line of communication from the mental health resource/performance coach to the decision-makers within the organization is vital. The mental and emotional responses of athletes are illogical and often unpredictable. So is the performance improvement of the player. It is very rarely a straight line up. A clean and clear feedback loop from the mental health expert to the decision-makers make this job much easier.
- Expert feedback presented consistently is a must, ideally in weekly or bi-weekly meetings. Confidentiality is always a major consideration. However, performance results and projective performance trajectories of a player are different than confidential information. When it comes to player performance, results, trajectories and player progression can be shared and must be put into context.
In High-Performance Mindfulness, there should be measurables, or metrics, showing the improvement for the player. Performance coaches should be judged by the tangible production they can facilitate for a player or set of players. In a results-based business such as professional basketball, showing the value add via statistical improvement is important. This is especially true in a growth space such as Mental Performance.
Finding a way to do this so that it does not infringe upon the domains of other coaching staff members is also a consideration. However, not acknowledging that Mental Performance has the potential for improving statistical on-court performance would be missing the point.
There is a gestation period that exists in High-Performance Mindfulness Coaching. Just like any other type of coaching, there is a period between the implementation of the work and the actual production improvement results. Understanding this will provide clarity and context.
There are just some of the best practices for helping jump-start your mental health and High-Performance Mindfulness initiatives at the NBA and professional basketball level.
The application of the mental health and High-Performance Mindfulness resources within the NBA and professional basketball is a little like the wild west right now. Through trial and error, organizations will see what works and what doesn’t within the context of their given situation.
One thing is for sure, though: This space is growing and growing fast, and decision-makers better have foundational understanding for how to give this initiative the best probability for success.
NBA Daily: Grading The Offseason – Denver Nuggets
James Blancarte continues Basketball Insiders’ “Grading The Offseason” series by examining the Denver Nuggets’ deep roster.
James Blancarte continues Basketball Insiders’ “Grading the Offseason” series analyzing the Denver Nuggets.
Throughout the offseason, Basketball Insiders has been taking a look at each respective franchise’s roster after the draft, offseason signings and trades. In doing so, we look to analyze and determine how each team did as they prepare for next season and beyond.
There are numerous strategies teams can take when it comes to the future. Some teams look to acquire various assets in exchange for taking on players with undesirable contracts. Having cleared up cap space, other teams use the offseason targeting free agents with the hope of making a big leap going forward. This offseason was one for the ages with a few teams willing to take huge risks and spend a treasure trove of assets to build an instant contender. Successful teams oftentimes resist the urge to make any major additions or subtractions and take a bet on internal growth and continuity.
And that leads us to the Denver Nuggets. Denver is fresh off a playoff run that nearly saw the franchise return to the Western Conference Finals. Some teams in big markets seem to come away with the biggest free agents. This offseason, Denver mostly did not come up with any top-tier acquisitions. However, with the talent and youth of their key players, the Nuggets shouldn’t be concerned. A year older, more mature and with the benefit of continuity, the Nuggets again enters the upcoming season as a Western Conference contender.
Last year, the Nuggets jumped up to second place in the west after finishing in ninth the prior two seasons. With that jump, Denver finally returned to the postseason, ending a five-season playoff drought. Jumping up seven seeds is an impressive season-to-season jump not often seen in the NBA. However, many Nuggets followers would argue that the team had been better than their prior results and the jump shouldn’t come across as a major surprise.
Credit the Nuggets’ investment and patience in their core players for last year’s results. The team has allowed their franchise star Nikola Jokic to fully explore his talents as his minutes, effectiveness and usage have increased year-to-year. Alongside Jokic, the team has seen significant development and improve play from Gary Harris and Jamal Murray.
Last year saw the two-man game between Jokic and Murray take off to a new level. Their intuitive and fluid two-man game created a foundation on offense that the team thrived on. Throw in a full season of Paul Millsap and the team became that much more dangerous. The year prior, the Nuggets acquired the multi-skilled Millsap but an injury kept him out much of the year and prevented the team from gelling fast enough to get back into the playoff picture. With a full season of Millsap in addition to the team’s young core, the Nuggets were able to hit another level.
The Nuggets should be lauded for their ability to draft, acquire and develop young talent. This past season saw second-year guard Monte Morris join the rotation and establish himself as another key contributor. Malik Beasley, a first-round pick for Denver in 2016, also had his best year so far and started in 18 games. Longtime mainstay Will Barton did struggle with injury last season. With his explosiveness somewhat limited, Barton didn’t have the same overall impact he has had in year’s past.
The Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers matchup in the semifinals produced fireworks. Denver came out of the wrong end of an unbelievable quadruple-overtime game. Losing that marathon game could have easily been the kind of loss that a team doesn’t recover from in a close matchup. Instead, the Nuggets came back and even led the series 3-2. Despite going toe-to-toe, the Nuggets came up just short in the final quarter of game seven.
Unlike a few other teams this year, there is no splashy star acquisition and that is just fine. Having come so close to making the Conference Finals and having already seen year-to-year growth from multiple key contributors, slow and steady may still win the race for the Nuggets. Jokic is arguably a top-10 player and is a realistic MVP candidate entering this upcoming season. Also, Jamal Murray was signed to a five-year, $170 million extension. Murray is an emerging talent and has the skill to be a dynamic offensive force in the future.
Just because the Nuggets didn’t sign or trade for a top-tier free agent doesn’t mean they would never consider it. There have been murmurs at times about whether Denver would or should pull the trigger and use their wealth of young talent to acquire a potentially available star like Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal. That speculation never seemed to amount to much and the team opted for a few smaller transactions.
On June 29, Denver exercised their team option to keep Millsap for $30 million for the 2019-20 season. Again, Millsap played well last season and helps make the Nuggets more versatile on both ends of the floor.
The Nuggets also acquired forward Jerami Grant by jumping into the Thunder fire sale of assets that started with the Paul George trade. In exchange for a 2020 first-round pick, the Nuggets picked up a versatile and capable defensive forward to help round out their deep roster.
There are a few other minor transactions to take note of. The Nuggets closed the book on Trey Lyles, who has been in the team’s big man rotation for the past few years. In spot play, he contributed at times but didn’t make an overall impact sufficient to justify the continued investment.
Denver has a deep roster and will need to stay flexible and figure out their best rotations next season. Barton will be looking to re-establish himself. Juan Hernangómez, who can play on the wing or as a small-ball four, will again be trying to find a permanent place in the rotation. Center Mason Plumlee formed a towering two-man front-court tandem that allowed Jokic to play from the perimeter, in addition to his backup center minutes. Plumlee may be wary of Jerami Grant, who could usurp some of those frontcourt minutes alongside Jokic.
PLAYERS IN: Jerami Grant, P.J. Dozier, Tyler Cook, Vlatko Cancar
PLAYERS OUT: Isaiah Thomas, Trey Lyles, Tyler Lydon, Brandon Goodwin, Thomas Welsh
Finishing second in the west, being a quarter away from the Conference Finals and bringing back the same squad of up and coming players should make the Nuggets a near lock to be a top-shelf team again. Continued development from many of their young players and an MVP season from Jokic could easily place them in the top-tier of the Conference again.
Unfortunately, the Nuggets will have to contend with newly minted contenders in the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers. Add a stellar offseason for the Utah Jazz and the possibility that the James Harden-Russell Westbrook experiment could succeed and there are at least four other realistic contenders for the top two spots in the west.
Simply holding the two spot will be quite the challenge. However, the Nuggets have the benefit of youth, player development and continuity. Few teams can tout continuity as a major asset the way Denver can. This upcoming season will be an interesting test to see how important continuity is in an always-improving Western Conference.
Offseason Grade: B+