The New Orleans Pelicans are making a playoff push in the Western Conference. After winning their fourth game in a row versus the New York Knicks, the Pelicans are now 1.5 games out the eighth seed.
A big reason for the team’s success has been the sharp-shooting of Langston Galloway. Galloway, who signed with the Pelicans this past offseason, got off to a slow start this season. However, he has steadily improved throughout the campaign. Galloway is proving to be one of the league’s elite late-game perimeter shooters. With his no-conscience shooter’s mentality, you don’t have to tell Galloway twice to let it fly.
Basketball Insiders caught up with Galloway to discuss his transition to the Pelicans, the changes he has adapted this season to improve his performance, and how he got his new nickname in New Orleans.
Rauchbach: What is the biggest difference you have found transitioning from the Knicks to the Pelicans on the court this season? What’s the biggest change?
Galloway: “The biggest change on the court is the pace of our team. We are out there trying to score 100 points a game and play great defense. The main thing is the freedom to move and things that can work with pick-and-roll. It is definitely a lot better, and I am definitely enjoying it.”
Rauchbach: Are you finding different ways to score in Coach Alvin Gentry’s offense when compared to last year? How are you scoring differently this year?
Galloway: “I definitely worked on it real hard this summer. I worked on a lot of ball screens and just how to find different ways to get easier buckets. I think working with [trainer] Drew Hanlen this summer definitely helped out. With Coach Gentry, he really is a great offensive coach… he wants us to go out there and play free and play with a green light. Especially with myself, he gives me the green light to go out there. He gives us the confidence to go out there [and] keep doing your thing. Go out there and play great defense, but at the same time offensively be aggressive.”
Rauchbach: I was reading that you picked up the nickname Green Light Galloway this season with the Pelicans?
Galloway: “(laughs) Yeah, they gave me a nickname. One of the reporters down here gave me that nickname. It seems like it is sticking right now. I am trying to see what’s going to happen with it, but as of right now, I am just out there having fun. Whatever happens happens.”
Rauchbach: From what I understand, they nicknamed you that because you really have no conscience when you are shooting the ball. Where did that mentality come from?
Galloway: “I think my confidence has grown with all the work I have been putting in. Like I said, all the work I have been putting in with Drew Hanlen and with Pure Sweat, and also just the work I have been putting in the gym… A lot of late nights to get up a lot of shots and just the confidence I have in my shot. I know that once I cross half-court, I feel like I am in range to knock down the shot, so that’s definitely the confidence I have [from] my teammates, that they continue to fill me with. They always tell me, ‘Hey the next shot is going in.” And I am like, ‘Hey, I know it’s going in.’ I might miss 10 in a row, but that 11th one is going to go in.”
Rauchbach: You started the season off slowly, averaging 3.9 points through October, but have rebounded nicely over the past couple of months. In December, you averaged 11.6 points and had a career-high 26 points against the Grizzlies. What has allowed you to put up those numbers as of late?
Galloway: “I think I am just getting more comfortable. I think the first couple of games we definitely had some great opponents that we faced, but at the same time, I was just trying to get used to playing back home. Definitely a little nerve-wracking playing back at home, but just [had to] get comfortable again. But lately, I am getting more comfortable and enjoying having the family there and just loving the whole environment of playing down here in New Orleans.”
Rauchbach: Did you tweak your preparation throughout the October/November time frame in order to get you back on track, like getting more shots up, watching more film?
Galloway: “Yeah, I definitely stayed in the gym a lot longer. There were definitely a lot of long nights, and we would go back to the gym and keep working on it and just figure out what I could continue to do – just work on it. It’s never an easy process when you want to do something that you love and you want to be great at it. That’s why I just continued to stay at it and continued to keep working hard. It’s going to continue to show and continue to pay off during this season.”
Rauchbach: Your three-point percentage has improved by about five percent, and scoring has increased from 7.7 to 9.9 points per game from last season. Why do you feel the reason for that is?
Galloway: “I really can’t put my finger on it. I definitely had a lot of great looks last year, but things weren’t falling for me. It was just a tough time, but this year I am out there playing free and just enjoying myself. And like my Mom always tells me, ‘Just go out there and have fun.’ My wife is always telling me go out and have fun too. I’m just enjoying it and playing the game I love.”
Rauchbach: You’re one of the leaders in the league in fourth quarter three-point shooting efficiency (55.6 percent). What changes for you in the fourth quarter?
Galloway: “I just think that Coach just draws up a lot of great plays for me in the fourth quarter, and then my teammates know I want the ball… and the fourth quarter just happens to be at the specific time that we need [big shots]. I just stay confident whenever we need a big shot and stay locked in.”
Rauchbach: Do you think the return of Jrue Holiday (and Tyreke Evans) has helped you with the type of quality shots you are now getting?
Galloway: “Yeah, we got Jrue back and Tyreke back and just getting most of our team back, I think that it made everybody just see where they were going to get their shots from and made the offense flow a lot easier. We have a lot of great guys on this team. Everybody is unselfish and everybody wants to win. Everybody is just trying to help each other win, and that’s a big key right now.”
Rauchbach: What has your experience been sharing backcourt duties with Tim Frazier? Both of you guys have similar backgrounds in going undrafted and earning guaranteed contracts this season.
Galloway: “It has been great. Tim is another guy who has a similar story to me, but at the same time we both just want to be successful and want to make it. We know where we have been at it, and what it took to get here, and now we don’t want to go back to the D-League. We want to continue to improve and continue to show what we can do, so it’s definitely great. I think we are both just having fun out there and just trying to push each other to be great.”
Rauchbach: What are some of your focuses heading into January in regards to improving parts of your game? For instance, you are killing it on catch-and-shoot and dribble hand-off opportunities ,ranking in the upper part of league. But pick-and-roll and isolation opportunities seem to be slightly down for you when compared to last season. What adjustments are you thinking about making to improve in these areas?
Galloway: “I just gotta keep working at it. I think it’s a long season. Just slowly but surely, you work on it. I think the more and more I work on it, the more and more I get better with it, and with the time I put in, I’ll get the results I want.”
Rauchbach: Do you keep in touch with any of your old Knicks’ teammates?
Galloway: “Here and there, I definitely keep in touch with them. I talk to Kristaps [Porzingis] once or twice and then everybody else… it will be great to see them, and it’s definitely going to be a battle [when we play them]. Everybody is competitive, and it’s always great to play against your old team. They know my tendencies, and they are definitely going to take me away from that. They are a great team. They are doing really good this year. They have a lot of new guys on the team, so it’s definitely going to be a great test for us.”
Rauchbach: What do you think of Kristaps’ improvement this season when compared to last?
Galloway: “He has been doing great. You could see it last year coming. He puts the work in. He is a great player. The more and more he continues to learn and the stronger he gets, you can see he is getting better game by game.”
Rauchbach: You guys are two games out of the playoffs. What do you think the key is individually and collectively for your team to grind your way into a playoff spot in the West?
Galloway: “I think we just have to stay consistent and keep having fun. That is what we have been doing these past few games, and it has been getting a lot better with the team camaraderie. I think we are focused on the task at hand, and that might mean one night we have to get a lot of stops and we gotta get up and down, and the next night it might mean we have to lock in and score the ball. We have a lot of guys on the court that can play, and everybody knows the game. It’s definitely huge for us going forward, and we know we are two games out of the playoffs. We don’t want to settle for just getting in the playoffs. We want to keep moving up and up in the standings.”
Rauchbach: What are your individual and collective goals for the rest of the season?
Galloway: “My team and individual goals are just to make the playoffs. That’s all I care about. My first two seasons, we weren’t able to make the playoffs. And now in the third year, it’s just like hey, [it’s time]. The further and further you get into your career, you want to make the playoffs and experience that and definitely just want to help this team in anyway that I can to make the playoffs.”
The Pelicans are currently 14-22, trailing the eighth seed in the Western Conference by two games. They have the seventh-ranked defense in the NBA, allowing just 103.6 points per 100 possessions.
NBA Daily: Reliable Burks Thriving In Long Sought-After Opportunity
Spencer Davies takes a look at Alec Burks’ outstanding start to the season with the Golden State Warriors.
If you go back and look at the 2011 NBA Draft, you’ll see big names all around.
Champions such as Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson and Kyrie Irving. All-Stars like Jimmy Butler, Kemba Walker and Nikola Vucevic.
19th overall pick Tobias Harris turned out to be a maximum contract player. “Mr. Irrelevant” was Isaiah Thomas, a player that made an All-NBA team in a near-MVP season.
But there’s still time for another man to prove himself as one of the best talents in his class and, so far this year, he has given us a reason to believe he will.
Once plagued by injuries and often dealt with inconsistent roles, Alec Burks finally has the opportunity he’d been seeking — and this time around, he’s doing the stepping up instead of being the one on the sideline.
Last night against the Memphis Grizzlies, Burks exploded for 29 points, 8 rebounds and 2 assists, plus a block and a steal. It’s the most he’s scored in a single game since Dec. 2017 and the fourth game where he’s eclipsed the 20-point mark this season already. And in the nights that he’s played over 30 minutes, he’s averaging 23.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists.
While that is an impressive accomplishment in its own right, the way Burks is going about getting his points is the real encouraging story. Healthy and fearless, he’s attacking with purpose and being rewarded with results, one way or another.
Burks is drawing fouls at a high rate with his aggressiveness. He’s getting to the line at will and knocking down his free throws, an astounding 23-for-25 over the last three games. A knack for disrupting opposing offenses, he’s been able to capitalize on the other end with a team-leading 5.5 points off turnovers per 100 possessions. That would also explain his success in transition, where he’s made a living on the open floor.
Don’t mistake Burks as a one-tool guy, either. He’s one of Golden State’s top threats in the pick-and-roll, using his dual-threat ability to either penetrate or pull up from distance. Trailing just Paul George, Andrew Wiggins and James Harden, the veteran combo guard is deadly off handoffs with 1.67 points per possession in such situations.
In addition, Burks has had a noticeable impact on the defensive end. The Warriors suffer when he’s not on the floor, as the opposition’s effective field goal percentage is 8.4 percent better when he sits. According to Cleaning The Glass, that ranks in the 99th percentile in the league. Furthermore, those teams are scoring 120.3 points per 100 possessions if he’s on the bench.
The 28-year-old has been a top-10 defender when it comes to guarding his assignments coming off screens, too, holding those players to 33 percent from the field.
Watching Burks operate with a clean bill of health is a gift from the basketball gods who have been cruel to him over the last three years of his career. It’s a shame that this chance has been given to him with his teammates on the mend, but how many times has he been on the other side of that battle?
Selected by the Utah Jazz at No. 12 eight years ago, Burks started his NBA career on a high note. He was a part of a franchise built around Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, playing a complementary bench role while developing with the likes of Gordon Hayward and Enes Kanter. Then, Trey Burke was added to the mix along with Rudy Gobert in Burks’ third season, one where he appeared in a career-high 78 games.
That following year when he signed an extension, things took a downturn. Already having to adjust to a new head coach in Quin Snyder, Burks began having shoulder issues and played through them until electing to have surgery in late December. The Jazz also brought in Rodney Hood and Dante Exum as rookies.
Burks came back from the setback and, again, had been on the floor consistently in the 2015-16 campaign — except the injury bug decided to rear its ugly head in another way. Almost one year to the date that his season ended with shoulder surgery, he suffered a fractured left fibula that once again cut his year short. Snakebitten by misfortune in way too many occasions, his role in Utah never really was the same. His minutes diminished, his rhythm was off and Snyder had his backcourt rotations set.
Utah ultimately parted ways with Burks via a trade to the Cleveland Cavaliers last year, and while he did show flashes of his abilities and even snuck in a game-winning dunk during that 34-game stint, it wasn’t long before the organization moved on. The Cavaliers flipped him to the Sacramento Kings, where he had 15 DNPs and played less than 10 minutes per game.
Burks admitted at Warriors media day that being traded twice after spending seven years with one organization took a toll on him and his family. By the same token, he also knows that things happen for a reason.
Originally signing with the Oklahoma City Thunder this past summer, Burks pivoted to Golden State because he wanted to reevaluate his following the trades of Paul George and Russell Westbrook. He was sold on the Warriors’ team culture and an opportunity to play for a winner. Unfortunately, Stephen Curry went down with a major injury early this season, D’Angelo Russell is out for a couple of weeks and Draymond Green has missed some time as well — so championship aspiration is aiming high.
At the same time, the Warriors need a veteran to show young guys the ropes. Steve Kerr needs a guy to produce at a high-level to keep up with a fast-moving, deep Western Conference. Burks is proving each night that this group can rely on him.
That first-round pick all those years ago with so much promise, so many obstacles to overcome is now on the other side of the spectrum. The chance he’s been starving for is staring him right in the face.
Believe that Burks won’t take it for granted.
Hungry HEAT Destined To Be Dark Horse In East
The Miami HEAT are off to a hot start at 9-3. Jordan Hicks details why this may actually be legitimate and why the HEAT have a chance to go deep in the playoffs.
After Jimmy Butler was acquired by the Miami HEAT this past offseason, everyone expected them to be a solid team in the Eastern Conference. They weren’t expected to go deep in the playoffs, and very few people had them pegged as one of the league’s elite teams. But 12 games into the season, the HEAT are 9-3…and they might be — dare we say — really, really good.
The crazy part about how their team is playing together is all the moving pieces that make it work. Butler is the leader of the team — both in general and in scoring — but he’s only averaging 18.4 points. They have six guys averaging double-digit points, another at 9.7 and three more all above 7 points per game.
As a team, they are number one in the league in field goal percentage, third in three-point shooting, fifth in assists per game and first in steals per game. They are tied with the Toronto Raptors for the fourth-best plus-minus.
Looking into more advanced statistics, they are fifth in the NBA in net rating, helped greatly by their current defensive rating of 101.2. They are second in the league in assist percentage and first in both effective and true field goal percentage.
Of their nine wins, two of them came on the road against the Milwaukee Bucks and the surprising Phoenix Suns, and another came at home in the complete demolition of the Houston Rockets. Their three losses were all the road against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers — three games you’d almost expect them to lose.
This isn’t a take that’s expecting you to believe the HEAT are the real deal based solely on their wins and losses up to this point in the season, but the fact they are completely taking care of business shows that Erik Spoelstra may be well on his way to one of his best head coaching seasons since the departure of LeBron James.
Just what is making this team so good? Let’s start by highlighting their stingy defense, the main driver behind their early-season success.
Butler is leading the entire NBA in steals with 2.8 per game. He is their leader on that end and a large part as to why they’re so successful. They are currently leading the NBA in steals as a team. This is great for a very obvious reason. It takes possessions away from the opposing offense and, in many cases, leads to an easy look in transition on the other end. The most efficient way to score is a wide-open dunk or layup, and fast breaks usually turn into that. The HEAT are averaging a tick under 10 steals per game, so that is plenty of looks their opponents won’t get off.
A huge breakout player for the HEAT this year is Bam Adebayo. Ever since his rookie year, you got the feeling he’d turn out to be solid, but his third season in the league finally feels like Adebayo’s time to shine. He’s averaging 13.9 points, 10.5 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks. Guess how many other players in the NBA are putting up a similar stat line? Just one. His name is Giannis Antetokounmpo, you may have heard of him before.
In a league that is being overrun with efficient scoring, the glue guy is a key piece to any championship team that often goes unnoticed. Take Draymond Green, for example. You remember Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson, but Green played as big of a role as any of those guys in bringing rings back to Oracle. Adebayo has a chance to take an incredibly large leap this season, and some are even calling him an early candidate for the Most Improved Player award. No big deal, just HEAT-royalty Dwayne Wade.
— DWade (@DwyaneWade) November 17, 2019
Most impressive is where Adebayo currently sits in box plus-minus. This leaderboard is usually nestled with all the top players in the league, and Adebayo currently sits at No. 8. It’d be crazy if he stayed there all season, but the fact he’s up there already 13 games into the season is pretty impressive.
On the offensive end, things seem to be clicking on many different cylinders. As previously mentioned they have six, basically seven guys in double figures. Two of them happen to be rookies, and one of those rookies happens to be undrafted. That undrafted guy, Kendrick Nunn, is making a whole lot of noise.
He’s second in per-game scoring behind Rookie of the Year favorite Ja Morant, and he leads all rookies in steals per game. He’s first in made field goals and first in total steals, too. He leads all rookies in overall plus-minus. He’s second on the HEAT in points per game behind Jimmy Butler and second in steals per game, as well. He’s shooting well from the field as well as from behind the three, where he’s tied with Coby White for most threes made out of all rookies. He’s shooting the three at 38.4 percent which is killer for a rookie considering he’s shooting over six of them per game.
The other rookie standout, Tyler Herro, is averaging 13.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. He’s a great spot-up shooter, but is capable of creating his own looks, too. Of the rookies on the roster, he’ll likely be the better shooter in the long run, and he’s shown every bit of why he deserved to be drafted in the lottery at No. 13.
The HEAT have many other players contributing in diverse ways, some big and some small. Meyers Leonard is shooting over 60 percent from three on two attempts per night. Justise Winslow was pacing the team in nightly plus-minus before his concussion. Goran Dragic — a savvy veteran who is somehow glossed over in this group — is scoring 16 per game on very efficient marks. One could go on and on about all the talent this Miami team has deep on its roster.
Listen, there is still an eternity left before the playoffs start, and Jimmy Butler has shown previous incapabilities of putting the team first. But the HEAT seem to be off to an incredibly productive start. Most wouldn’t pencil them in as a championship team, but with all the parity in the league today, they absolutely have an argument to be considered the top dark horse.
The Miami HEAT have plenty of pieces to make a deep run in the playoffs. Apart from Butler, they are definitely lacking a superstar or two, but they make up for it with early-season continuity, solid coaching and overall execution on both ends of the floor. With all the talent on their roster at almost every poisition, don’t be surprised if the HEAT end up coming out of the East.
NBA Daily: Philadelphia Castoffs Finding Success Elsewhere
After failing to make it with the Philadelphia 76ers, three players have stood out by gaining traction with new franchises as solid contributors. Chad Smith sheds some light on how these individuals have changed the narrative of their careers.
Trust The Process.
That was the slogan that the Philadelphia 76ers plastered on billboards and etched into the minds of their fans. They stressed patience to their fan base and were transparent about the entire plan. The tanking of not just games — but seasons — delivered the Sixers’ front office what they so desired: draft picks.
More valuable than cash considerations and better than expiring contracts, the draft picks offered an unknown quantity. Hope and potential for greatness were the selling points for their dynamic plan. It was easy to convince anyone and everyone that would listen. At the time, it appeared to be a solid plan, so long as everyone could stomach the losing.
While the exciting element of a draft pick is the unknown, that has also proven to be a double-edged sword. If selecting the right talent was easy, Michael Jordan would have never worn a Chicago Bulls uniform. Kevin Durant would have never played in Seattle and the Detroit Pistons probably would have rather had one of Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh instead of Darko Milicic.
Maybe that wasn’t the plan, though. Perhaps the plan was just to get as many bites out of the apple as possible and hope to strike gold on a couple of the picks. If indeed that was the plan, it would be difficult to argue that it didn’t work. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are already All-Star players and the faces of the franchise.
Philadelphia finally molded into a playoff team during the 2017-2018 season. The organization quickly went to work on tweaking the roster, trying to find the right pieces to fit this puzzle together. But outside of its two cornerstones over the past five years, there were three notable players that were labeled as busts or clearly were not going to make it with the Sixers. And many wondered if these guys would even still be in the league in the coming months.
These guys needed a fresh start. They needed a reset button on their careers. Now, they appear to be in the right environment with the right people bringing out the best in them. They have thrived in their new roles and, ultimately, have changed the narrative of their careers.
Markelle Fultz, Orlando Magic
The most obvious success story seems to be playing out right before our eyes. The Sixers selected Fultz with the No. 1 overall pick in 2017, but it turned sideways very quickly. After captivating college basketball fans at Washington, expectations were extremely high as he prepared for his rookie season.
The Orlando Magic have been starving for a star point guard for quite some time. They took a gamble on the 21-year old, and it is paying off in a big way. Fultz being used as a combo guard alongside a strong and youthful roster seems to be an ideal fit. He is getting to the basket and finishing strong. He is also knocking down his free throws (82 percent) and collecting steals (1.3 per game) at a high rate.
Heading into tonight’s game in Toronto, Fultz is averaging just under 11 points and 3.1 assists per game. He had an effective field goal percentage of 42 percent in his 33 total games as a member of the 76ers. Through 13 games this season, he’s upped that to 51.4.
Both Embiid and Simmons missed their entire first season in Philly and turned into All-Stars. This small sample size is just that, but things are definitely trending in the right direction for Fultz to develop into the caliber of player everyone thought he would be when he was drafted. The mental hurdle has been cleared, and his confidence seems to have been been restored.
Jahlil Okafor, New Orleans Pelicans
The 2015 NBA Draft had some exceptional talent. Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell went just before Okafor, but many people thought that was a mistake. While the former third overall pick won’t ever reach the same pinnacle as those two in his career, he has been a tremendous success story nonetheless over the past two years.
After three seasons of below-average production in Philly, Okafor was traded to the Brooklyn Nets where he was seeking a fresh start. His 26-game stint there did not yield positive results, and it appeared as though the promising big man’s future was near the end. In the summer of 2018, Okafor signed a minimum salary contract with the New Orleans Pelicans. He remains on a partially-guaranteed deal, but is outperforming that so far this season.
With so many athletic wings and a bevy of guards in New Orleans, Okafor has found the perfect role as the man in the middle. No longer seeming rushed, the big man is patient with the ball and has the ability to finish himself or find the open guy on the perimeter. He is much more efficient shooting the ball and is averaging 1.1 blocks per game.
Despite suffering an ankle injury that has him temporarily sidelined, Okafor has been playing well. With the absence of rookie sensation Zion Williamson, New Orleans has needed his solid play to keep the train rolling. He won’t be what many had envisioned him becoming after leaving Duke, but Okafor has carved out a nice role for himself in the league.
Richaun Holmes, Sacramento Kings
Another member of Philly’s 2015 draft class has found his opportunity in a different zip code. Despite playing 156 games for the Sixers, Holmes was never really given the opportunity to become a vital role player for the team. He started just 20 of those games and played less than 17 minutes a night. With so many injuries in Sacramento, that opportunity has come for him, and he has stepped up and excelled in his new role.
The overall numbers for Holmes have risen quite a bit, but the blocks are what stand out the most. Through 13 games this season, the active big man is averaging nearly as many blocks per game (1.4) as the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Rudy Gobert. He is averaging career-high numbers in virtually every statistical category.
The former second-round pick has always been known as an energy guy, and he is thriving off of that on this young and hungry Kings squad. His rebounding has been tremendous, especially on offense. Sacramento ranks in the top half of the league in second-chance points, largely due to Holmes being so active on the glass.
Whereas many of the trades that the 76ers executed involved more talent coming back in return, this one was different. Philly traded Holmes to the Phoenix Suns in the summer of 2018 for $1 million. Nearly a year later, Holmes signed a two-year deal with the Kings for $9.77 million. Consider that money well-earned by Holmes, and well spent by Sacramento.
For every Embiid and Simmons that comes along, there are guys like Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel and Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot. What is important for these guys is to embrace a fresh start and a different role with a new team.
By doing so, they can assure themselves of a future in the league as opposed to watching from the sidelines.