With some help from the outside, Chaminade University point guard Austin Pope is trying to achieve his goal of one day playing in the NBA.
Of course, it also helps his chances of making it to the next level that he’s had a very successful first season with Chaminade in Hawaii and has impressed some people along the way. He spent his first two years collegiately split between Cerritos College and North Idaho College before transferring to Chaminade in Division II last year.
Pope was rated by 247Sports.com as the fourth-best point guard in the nation at North Idaho College and the No. 24 prospect overall during the 2014-15 season. He averaged 12.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game that season and helped North Idaho College to the NJCAA Region Championship game.
He really began to turn heads this past year at Chaminade. Pope is listed at 6-foot-5, weighs 180 pounds and is the lead guard for the Swords. He averaged 12.1 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.3 steals and one block in 29 total games played. He was named the PacWest Newcomer of the Year and was on the All-PacWest Third Team.
“My coaches sat me down at the beginning of the season and they had been having a couple of years where they didn’t have the best years,” Pope told Basketball Insiders. “They said if we want to have a good year, you need to have a Newcomer of the Year type of season for us. I took that to heart and I got to work. I put in a lot of work for it and it obviously paid off this year.”
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of his game is his rebounding ability. His 9.8 rebounds per game in conference play led all players in the PacWest Conference. He grabbed double-digit rebounds in 13 games and pulled down a career-high 16 against Notre Dame de Namur.
Pope’s most impressive stretch of the season came when he tied a school record with five straight double-doubles. He averaged 17.4 points, 13.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.2 blocks per game during that stretch. The hype began to build as he attempted to break the school record.
“For me, it’s an effort thing,” Pope said. “You see a ball, you go and get it. There are guys that could get those rebounds, but at the end of the day, they don’t give that same effort. I think people around school and around the internet were like, ‘You got four double-doubles, you got to get another one!’ I think that kind of played into it, too. It was really cool, though.”
Pope was born in Burbank, California. He often returns to his hometown whenever he gets an opportunity to do so. His parents and other family members still live in the area and he often credits them for an uptick in his play.
For instance, he joked that it was perhaps his mother’s home cooking that allowed him to play so well during his streak of five straight double-doubles. Of course, he was also able to see his grandmother and friends in town as well. Seeing his loved ones gave him an opportunity to clear his mind and play distraction free.
He was thrilled to know that his family back home would get a chance to watch him play on ESPN. Chaminade regularly participates in the Maui Invitational Tournament in which seven Division I schools are invited to play. Schools like North Carolina, Oregon, UConn, Tennessee and Georgetown among others played in this season’s tournament.
Chaminade faced North Carolina, UConn and Tennessee this year in the tournament with each game broadcast on an ESPN network. Those three games gave Pope and his teammates a chance to see how they stacked up against some of the top prospects in Division I. He averaged 10.7 points, five rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals in those three games.
“The following I had throughout that tournament was ridiculous,” Pope said. “After the UNC game, I probably had like a million SnapChats and texts and pictures and everything of what I did that night. That whole thing followed throughout that tournament.”
While he’s back home in Burbank, Pope is also afforded an opportunity to workout with one of the most decorated players in NBA history: Robert Horry.
The two met at a gym in Glendale where Pope frequents. He would work out there and run pick-up games and noticed Horry would also come in from time to time. They’ll occasionally play on the same team together and he’s given an opportunity to see what it’s like to be on the same court as a seven-time NBA champion.
“He comes in and works with his wife and trains,” Pope said. “When he’s on the basketball court, I look at how he works and how he still takes it seriously even though he’s not in the NBA anymore. I could just imagine him being in the NBA at the peak of his career and how serious he was. I just talk with him about those kinds of things and it definitely makes me work harder.”
Pope will often pick his brain and try to absorb as much information as he can. It’s not every day that a college player has an opportunity to talk to a player as accomplished as Horry. The biggest advice that Horry gives him is to keep it simple and just continue to work hard and respect others. Horry even congratulated him on his double-double streak.
Even though it’s been nearly nine years since Horry retired, his “Big Shot Bob” nickname still lives on.
“We’re at the gym and we were down a couple of points,” Pope recalled. “We were losing. He was missing shots; I was missing shots. We’re down two and we have a chance to win the game and I drive to the basket and he’s open at the top of the key for a three. I give it to him and he hasn’t hit many shots all game and of course he hits the game-winning shot. He looked at the people around and goes, ‘You guys should have covered me because that’s kind of what I do.’ He’s definitely still ‘Big Shot Bob.’”
Now that Chaminade’s season is over, Pope will finish up his classes on campus and eventually return back home. He plans on continuing to work out and improve his game before his senior year. He wants to get stronger this offseason and fill out his long frame. In past summers, Pope has played at The Drew League in Compton.
He has played against NBA players like Nick Young and Gilbert Arenas at The Drew and was teammates with Brandon Jennings. The Drew attracts many hoop fans each summer and is wild because current NBA players have been known to just randomly show up and play. Guys like Kevin Durant, James Harden and Jordan Clarkson among others have all shown up and played before.
Pope played in a few games last year and had a great showing in one game in particular. He racked up 20 points, eight assists and five rebounds and caught the eye of one former NBA player.
“We played right before Baron Davis’ team played and he saw my game and he definitely was like, ‘You’re a great player,’” Pope said. “He added me on Twitter that night and he knew my name. He DM’d me and was like, ‘I see you grinding. Keep working and stay humble and hungry.’ … You never know who you’ll run into at the Drew.”
Several players from Division II schools have made the jump to have successful careers in the NBA. Players like Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman, Charles Oakley and Ben Wallace among others came from Division II schools and made a name for themselves in the NBA. Pope is hoping he can add his name to that list.
Robert Horry and Baron Davis have already noticed his game. Who will be next?
NBA Daily: Don’t Sleep on Fred Hoiberg
With the team the Bulls have assembled this summer, Fred Hoiberg finally has the chance to run things the way he always wanted.
Fred Hoiberg hasn’t exactly had the best start as a head coach in the NBA.
In the three years that Hoiberg has coached the Bulls, the team has only gotten to the playoffs once as an eighth seed, where they were eliminated by the Celtics in six games.
Since taking the reins as coach, Hoiberg has tried to implement a pace-and-space system with Chicago. This approach would be hard to execute on a team like the Bulls over the last several years since Hoiberg’s best players weren’t exactly sharpshooters.
In the last four years, Hoiberg’s marquee players have included Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Pau Gasol, Rajon Rondo, Dwyane Wade, Taj Gibson, and Robin Lopez, all of whom ranged from putrid to “meh” floor spacers. Hoiberg’s system was not well-received by the team, specifically by Butler, which created much tension that escalated to the point of Butler issuing an “it’s him or me!” ultimatum to Bulls management.
Unlike almost every other team who’s been through similar conflicts between players and coaches, Chicago sided with the coach. Again, Hoiberg has not led the Bulls to much success, but the glimpses of excellence that have shown themselves from the system that he’s designed may very well show that the Bulls made the right choice.
It wasn’t too long ago that Hoiberg was holding his own against Brad Stevens in a playoff series, who many believe is one of the best coaches in the game at the moment. In the first round of the 2017 playoffs, the Bulls stole the first two games from the top-seeded Celtics while in Boston. Many point to the brilliance of Rajon Rondo for why the Bulls pulled ahead, which is mostly true, but the Bulls’ hot shooting in both games gave them an edge.
Between individual performances—Bobby Portis shot 8-for-10 including from 3-for-4 from three-point land in Game 1—or all-around team performances—the team shot 10-for-25 from three in Game 2, the shooting gave the Bulls an edge, which fueled hope for a potential upset.
Of course, it was all fluky given that Chicago shot 34 percent from three in the regular season, good for 24th in the league. Nonetheless, their spacing sent the Celtics spinning. The tides inevitably turned once Rondo went out with a thumb injury, effectively dooming the Bulls. Still, for a brief moment, Hoiberg’s strategy proved successful.
The Bulls later went full rebuild when they got rid of Butler, Rondo, and Wade, but somehow, we got yet another glimpse of Hoiberg’s brilliance. Record-wise, the Bulls were nothing to brag about, as their 27-55 record tied for sixth-worst record in the league, lowlighted by their 3-20 start. However, once Nikola Mirotic returned from injury, the Bulls went on a tear.
In a 12-game span, the Bulls had gone 10-2, beating half of the East’s playoff teams, including Boston, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia. Mirotic’s return catapulted the Bulls’ three-point shooting, as they shot 38 percent from deep while shooting an average of 26 shots per game. It didn’t seem possible given all they got rid of, but the Bulls were rolling.
At that point, it didn’t matter because the Bulls were already in too big a hole to dig themselves out of, but Hoiberg’s system yet again got some results.
The rebuild is in full swing in the Windy City. but after the moves that the Bulls have made this summer, Hoiberg may finally show the NBA what he’s made of this upcoming season.
First, they drafted Wendell Carter with the seventh overall pick in the draft. Fans were understandably furious that the Bulls’ surprising albeit pointless 10-2 run midseason played a part in killing their chances of getting a top-5 pick in a loaded draft, but Carter put their anger to rest with his brilliant all-around play in the summer league.
Second, they re-signed Zach LaVine. The Bulls raised some eyebrows when they matched the very expensive offer sheet that LaVine signed with Sacramento, but LaVine looked like he hadn’t missed a beat when he came back late in the season. Now that he’ll have a full training camp under his belt, LaVine should be able to better acclimate himself into the Bulls’ game plan by the time the season begins.
Third, they added Jabari Parker. Parker will be one of the bigger question marks coming into this season given his injury history, but his potential as a dynamic scorer in this league is still untapped. Better yet, being a Chicago native and having a team option next year, Parker may be extra motivated to show why he was the second overall pick in the 2014 draft.
Factor in these guys with the exciting youth movement that Chicago already has in place, and the Bulls have formed a team that can only be described as “not good, but fun.”
But there’s more to it than that. This isn’t just about the talent that Chicago has accumulated since trading Jimmy Butler. The fact of the matter is, they’re now building the team that Fred Hoiberg always wanted to run after all these years.
Look at the three-point percentages from the Bulls’ young rotation from this past season:
Jabari Parker: 38 percent
Denzel Valentine: 38 percent
Lauri Markkanen: 36 percent
Bobby Portis: 36 percent
Zach Lavine: 34 percent
Kris Dunn: 32 percent
They may not have a Kyle Korver or a Ray Allen type, but that is all-around a step up compared to the shooters they had before. Factoring in Wendell Carter’s floor spacing in college (41 percent from three) and their other first-rounder Chandler Hutchison (35 percent), the Bulls youth movement can finally give Hoiberg the spacing he wants.
As for pacing, the Bulls are also on the up and up.
In Hoiberg’s first year, the Bulls ran at a pace of 95.7, which tied for 15th in the league. In his second, they ran at a pace of 95.3, good for 20th in the league. This past season, they’ve bumped themselves all the way to 10th as they played at a pace of 98.3. Now that Parker and LaVine are anticipated to play this season with a clean slate of health, their pace should continue to go up as Hoiberg has wanted from the beginning.
There will most definitely be some hurdles for the Bulls this season. Besides the fact that they are a very young team, nobody will be exactly intimidated by the Bulls’ defense. The Bull ranked 24th in defensive rating last year, allowing 110.8 points per 100 possessions, and there’s not much they can do to improve that outside of the addition of Carter. Dunn and Robin Lopez are more than solid, but LaVine, Parker, and Markkanen aren’t making an all-NBA Defense team anytime soon.
All of that, however, is part of the learning process for both Hoiberg and these Baby Bulls. Once again, the bar for them is set at “not good, but fun.” The Bulls had the worst point differential in the Eastern conference at -7.0, so there’s plenty of room for improvement for them, especially now that there is nothing holding back their coach.
With Hoiberg’s vision coming to fruition, and the Eastern Conference having quite a few iffy teams, this is an opportunity for the fourth-year coach to prove once and for all that he was the right man for the job when the Bulls hired him to replace the well-esteemed Tom Thibodeau.
In other words, for Chicago to succeed, Hoiberg must take the bull by the horns.
NBA Daily: Who Could Be The Next Star On The Move?
With the 2018-19 NBA Season approaching, the big question being asked is who is the next star player on the move, Steve Kyler takes a look at a few of the names to watch.
Who Is Next?
Twelve months ago, the idea that former Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard would be anywhere but San Antonio seemed laughable. But as history has shown in the NBA, it doesn’t take much for a seemingly untouchable star to ask for a trade out of even the greatest of situations.
With that in mind, how are some of the guys to watch in 2018-19 that could end up in a similar, albeit not nearly as awkward, situation.
Jimmy Butler – Minnesota Timberwolves
It is easy to forget that Wolves All-Star Jimmy Butler did not choose Minnesota, it was chosen for him. And while the situation was ideal for Jimmy in being reunited with head coach Tom Thibodeau, he didn’t pick the Wolves, they picked him.
Butler made the most of his first season in Minnesota, but for most of the year and all of the off-season there have been stories about Butler being frustrated with how the young players on the roster compete and look at the game, and that maybe he’s not all the way on board with the direction of the franchise.
Butler has a long history of being a tough guy to play with, mainly because of his competitive nature. Butler has not qualms about laying into a teammate both publicly and privately, and that can wear thin on young guys who may not be as thick-skinned as Butler wants them to be. Tough love doesn’t work with everyone.
The Wolves have been trying to get Butler to agree to a multi-year extension, but the problem is extensions are based on the final year of a player’s contract. That’s not in Butler’s best financial interest, meaning he’ll likely hit unrestricted free agency in July, if only to re-set his deal and ensure he gets as much money as possible.
The uncertainty of pending free agency combined with roster frustrations makes Butler a name to watch as the season gets underway.
The narrative from Minnesota is they won’t trade him. We’ll see how steadfast they remain if frictions between Butler and the young guys pick up where they left off, or worse yet, if the Wolves struggle to get out front in a loaded Western Conference.
Damian Lillard – Portland Trail Blazers
Anyone that has spent time with Blazers guard Damian Lillard will tell you he is loyal to a fault. For the Trail Blazers, that’s a good thing because he’ll likely give them a runway longer than maybe they deserve based on how the roster and the salary cap has been managed. The additional upside for Portland is Lillard is under guaranteed contract for three more seasons, including the upcoming one.
That said, does anyone believe the Blazers are serious contenders?
This will be the problem the Blazers have to battle. Not the fact they won 49 games last season and nabbed the third seed in the West; it’s the perception they are second tier.
Some would say that’s on the Blazers players to evolve in their contracts and star status in the NBA, and that might be a fair criticism, but how often in the modern NBA has the potentially disgruntled or unhappy player taken ownership of the situation?
Given how differently Lillard is wired, he might be the first to shoulder the blame for his team’s limitations in a genuine way, but there is a reality: the Golden State Warriors are not going anywhere in the short term. At what point does management in Portland simply sell high on the roster they have and try to reload or rebuild?
That’s the real question to watch in this situation, because Lillard may never be the guy that askes out. The real question is, how long do the Blazers stick with what they have and end their season in May?
Does anyone believe Blazer’s owner Paul Allen will be happy being the third seed every year of Lillard’s contract?
Kyle Lowry – Toronto Raptors
Tick-tock. Kyle Lowry is on the clock.
When the Toronto Raptors opted to trade DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard, they made a big bet that not only would Leonard put them over the top in the East, but that his two-way style of play would yield more to the team than DeRozan.
The problem for the Raptors is Lowry and DeRozan were incredibly close, and the manner in which things were communicated has undoubtedly created a real and tangible awkwardness to the team dynamic.
Let’s be real for a minute. Lowry is a pro; he’ll come in and do his job and do it well. That’s how Lowry is wired, so to think he’d be petty because his best friend was traded is misplaced, so let’s make sure to table that idea.
There is, however, a reality that if Leonard and Lowry don’t mesh on the court, Lowry could be moved. Equally, if things don’t come together by the deadline, the Raptors could be in fire sale mode, not only with Lowry but with Leonard.
The Raptors made a big bet on Leonard; if that bet doesn’t look like it will pay off, all bets are off in Toronto, and the roster could get flipped on its head at the deadline, and that makes Lowry a name to watch.
Anthony Davis – New Orleans Pelicans
Amusingly, the guy that sings the praises for his current team is the one most people talk about when they dream about the next big fish to switch teams, and that’s Pelicans All-Star Anthony Davis.
It’s important to point out Davis has never hinted at being anything but thrilled with the Pelicans and his trust in his team.
Skeptics will point out virtually every star player that changed teams said basically the same kinds of things at similar points in their contracts. Davis has two fully guaranteed years left on his deal in New Orleans, and a Player Option in 2020-21.
This will be a big year for the Pelicans and Davis. They had an amazing run in the post-season last year and may have finally found the right kinds of players to play with Davis in a way that could yield post-season success. The fear in all of this is that even with the Pelicans’ window being fairly open right now, do they have enough to be elite in the West?
Davis continues to say all the right things, and he will soon be eligible for a Super Max contract extension from the Pelicans worth some $220 plus million. The question becomes, will he sign it or put himself front and center in the rumor mill?
At this point, Davis seems thrilled with his team, and that’s a huge positive for the Pelicans. The question is, will he stay happy if they don’t gain ground?
At this point, none of these guys seem ready to bail on their team, but like Leonard a year ago, no one saw the distrust brewing or the desire to exit as being even a remote reality. One thing that has been true in the current iteration of the NBA is that even the biggest of stars will look for the door if their teams are not moving towards a championship, and that’s the biggest reason to watch some of these names, because they are all crossing into that point in their career where being a star with a lot of money may not be enough to justify being home and not deep into the playoffs in May.
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NBA Daily: Celtics Retain Glue Guy in Marcus Smart
The Celtics are going for gold this season, which is why keeping Marcus Smart long-term was absolutely the right move.
Every championship team needs its glue guy.
Without Andre Iguodala, the Warriors proved to be quite vulnerable when the Rockets pushed them to the brink in this year’s conference finals. Without Shane Battier, the Lebron-led Heat teams would have never had that extra gear to push them to a championship. Without Lamar Odom, the Kobe-Pau Lakers never regained their status as title contenders.
The most distinguished glue guy to ever step foot on a basketball court was one Robert Horry. “Big Shot Bob” never came close to being a star when he played, but he will always be remembered for his consistent abilities to come through in the clutch for seven championship teams over his 16-year career.
Stars are without a doubt the main ingredient to any championship team in this league, but the glue guys are the ones that add the finishing touches.
There aren’t set criteria for what makes a player a “glue guy”. He doesn’t necessarily have to be a dead-eye three-point shooter. He doesn’t have to be a top-notch athlete. He doesn’t have to be a defensive guru or a scoring spark. What qualifies a player for the title of glue guy is his ability to give his team an extra edge.
Since joining the league in 2014, Marcus Smart has become the NBA’s ultimate glue guy, which primarily comes from him being one of the league’s most unique players.
In the past four years, Smart has been the living embodiment of a mixed bag. From the very get-go, Smart has been one of the league’s best, most versatile defenders, capable of holding his own against just about any player of any height. Better yet, his effort and hustle for loose balls really set the tone for the Celtics’ defense on a nightly basis. Anyone who has watched him would tell you that Smart would put his life on the line if it meant bettering his team.
That, unfortunately, has been evened out by Smart’s offensive shortcomings, specifically shooting-wise. Smart’s shooting percentages are not just bad. They’re historically bad. Smart has consistently shot in the 35-36 range percentage-wise from the field, including only breaking through the 30 percent from three-point barrier twice in his four-year career.
But that’s what makes watching Smart so entertaining. He’s never been afraid of the moment. It doesn’t matter if he gets blocked in embarrassing fashion as he drives for a layup or if he airballs a wide-open three-pointer. If given the chance, Smart will try those exact same actions again without a second thought.
Even if his shooting numbers are flat-out egregious, metrics have proven that the Celtics offense has been better with Smart on the floor than off. This year, the Celtics were +1.1 points per 100 possessions on offense with Smart on the floor during the regular season and were +0.7 points per 100 possessions with Smart on the floor in the playoffs as well.
Those aren’t the most impressive numbers, but for someone who shoots at an impressively bad rate as Smart, those stats show that he can still be useful offensively. Smart’s versatility, as he can play positions 1-3, as well as his passing abilities, as his assist averages have gone from up from three to five a game, may have something to do with that.
Smart’s tenacity on both sides of the ball, for better or worse, makes him a winning player in this league, which effectively made him the first building block of the Brad Stevens era.
Smart technically wasn’t on the Celtics when Brad Stevens first took over as head coach, but he joined the team just as the wheels started turning in the Brad Stevens era. From the last days of Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green to the brief but productive days of Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder to the potentially glorious of days of Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum among others, Smart’s been there to do his fill for the Celtics. Judging off of the agreement that he and the Celtics came to, it sounds like the role he has is the one he wants for a long time.
A few months back, I had written about Smart’s upcoming free agency, believing that his best course of action was to take the qualifying offer, but the agreement between Smart and the Celtics showed that both sides truly wanted Smart to be a Celtic long-term.
On the Celtics side, they could have ridden out Smart’s restricted free agency, lowballed him even less or have him take the qualifying offer so that they could avoid the luxury tax. On Smart’s side, with the market dried up, Smart could have taken the qualifying offer, played out the season then see who would be interested in his services next summer in a free agency that’s expected to have a lot more available money.
Instead, the two came agreed because both wanted Smart to remain a Celtic, and why wouldn’t they? There’s a fair argument that without Smart, the Celtics could have been eliminated as early as the first round. The Bucks had the Celtics right where they wanted them when they tied them 2-2 in the first round, but when Smart came back from his wrist injury the following game, he gave the Celtics another dimension that sealed the Bucks’ fate.
Though Smart’s contributions played a key role in avoiding the upset against the Bucks, it was Smart’s play against the Sixers in the second round, specifically in the last minute of the series-clinching win in Game 5, that showed not just how important Smart is to the Celtics, but also summarized the Marcus Smart experience as a whole.
In the last minute of Game 5 with the Celtics down a bucket, Smart did the following:
-Tipped in a missed lay-up by Jayson Tatum to tie the game
-Forced Dario Saric to turn the ball over on a risky no-call
-Found Tatum in the post for the go-ahead layup
-Missed a free throw he was trying to make
-Made a free throw he was trying to miss
-Intercepted Ben Simmons’ hail mary heave as time expired
Did Smart win that game by himself? No, but he was the catalyst to the Celtics’ victory. If it hadn’t been for him, the Celtics could have very well gone back to Philadelphia with only a one-game lead and all the momentum shifting to the Sixers’ side. Instead, Boston went on to their second consecutive conference finals in a gentleman’s sweep.
Smart may not be a star, but his impact on the Celtics is undeniable. Fans have been wondering for years if Smart was the right pick when the Celtics took him sixth overall in the 2014 draft. To answer that, they must know that Brad Stevens has valued versatility above everything else since becoming the Celtics’ head coach. Smart’s style isn’t the prettiest, but he fits Stevens’ versatile way of thinking to a T, meaning that, in the end, he helps his team win.
Even if he’ll give everyone a heart attack first.