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NBA AM: Is Oladipo Orlando’s Missing Piece?

Is Victor Oladipo the missing piece to Orlando’s quest for a playoff berth?… John Henson believes he’s ready to break out in his third year.

Steve Kyler

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Is Oladipo The Missing Piece?:  The Orlando Magic didn’t get off to the best of starts this season, but as things are starting to settle in the Magic are starting to find their way. The return of second year guard Victor Oladipo should help, as his energy and defensive presence was clearly missed as he rehabbed from a broken orbital bone he sustained in practice just as the season opened.

With Oladipo back in the lineup this week, his team’s energy level has been noicably better, especially on the defensive end.

“I just think they feed off the way I play,” Oladipo told Basketball Insiders. “When they see me flying around and playing D, helping and rebounding, I think it’s contagious. We just got to continue to build off that and continue to do that.”

Oladipo’s role as spark plug has been welcomed by his teammates, pushing Oladipo into a leadership role especially among the young guys on the team.

“It is what it is; I’m a leader whether I like it or not now,” Oladipo said. “From my experience last year, just going out there and being patient and being poised I have to be a leader. Vocally, I feel like people listen to me on this team and they respect my work ethic, and what I bring to the table. I got to be vocal and I got to lead by example, I think people look up to me on this team, so I’m looking forward to being one throughout the year.”

It’s a little unusual for a second year player to be asked to lead, especially with so many players on the roster with more experience.

“I’m ready for it, it’s not my first time leading,” Oladipo said. “It’s a learning process to lead at this level but it’s a learning process at every level. Like I said just got to lead vocally, lead by example, but at the same time lead with respect.

“I think some people kind of lead and just have no respect for anybody’s integrity, but I have a respect for all these guys, these are my brothers so I’m going to listen to what they have to say, and get my input in and we’ll come to a meeting, and that’s how we’ll go from there.”

Oladipo’s injury was a bit scary. He took an inadvertent elbow from team mate Dewayne Dedmon in practice, and required some pretty intense surgery.

“It feels amazing actually, I’m honored and blessed to be able to get back and play the game that I love,” Oladipo said. ”To go out there and help my teammates; I think that was big for me, words can’t really describe how it felt.”

Having to sit and watch due to injury often becomes valuable, especially for young players as it forces them to watch and learn, which Oladipo took seriously.

“I learned that we are really good, when we play together,” Oladipo said. “When we move the ball, we share the ball, we are really good. We just got to continue to build on it, and be consistent, play together, especially on the defensive end, just buy into that and we’ll be effective.”

As the Magic cross the ten game mark, there are some things that are starting to surface as positives for the team, the things that are working.

“We’ve just realized what way we have to play in order to be successful, and we just got to continue to keep doing that,” Oladipo said. “When we do that we have a chance to win every game, so I’m looking forward to this ride this year, and it’s going to be fun.”

In his two games since his return, Oladipo is averaging 15.5 points, 4.5 assists and 5 rebounds per game. His 35.7 percent field goal shooting and 16.7 percent three point shooting averages are a bit of a concern, but his energy level is undeniable and clearly a missing piece for a young Magic team that believes they can contend for a playoff spot in the East.

It’s Time To Make His Mark:  They say a player’s third year in the NBA is when they should cement their roles. For Milwaukee big man John Henson not only are things starting to click for him, his team is having some level of unexpected success, which can only help his cause.

“It’s my third year, time flies,” Henson told Basketball Insiders. “It’s coming along. When I get the opportunity I just want to go in there and play. We got one of the deepest benches in the league as far as points, and we pride ourselves in that so we got to be ready to come in and contribute.”

Henson isn’t overly concerned about his role in Milwaukee as he know he’ll get his opportunities, something he is trying to maximize.

“You just got to stay ready, you never know the situation of the game, might play 5, 10, 15 minutes, 30 minutes, you never know. So you got to stay ready,” Henson said. “That’s the biggest thing as being one of the bench guys is kind of staying ready and making sure you’re coming in ready to contribute.”

A lot of players struggle playing from the bench, as it requires instant energy that’s not easy to muster while sitting for long periods of time.

“It’s just one of those things where you kind of just got to adjust to that role,” Henson said. “I’ve been in both situations as far starting and on the bench, so it’s just one of those things that I’m kind of adjusted to and ready for.”

Henson has really come a long way in his two years of NBA play, developing a more NBA-ready frame and adjusting to how to manage his long-wiry body.

“I’m just getting older and with time and maturity; it’s something you figure out as a big guy, especially in this league,” Henson said. “I think the best thing for a big guy is experience. I was fortunate enough, through injuries and being on a young team to get through my first two years, so it’s helped me a lot.”

Henson also points to teammate Larry Sanders as a big part of his improvement.

“He makes me a lot better; I would say if I could get over Larry I can get over anybody in this league,” Henson said. “That’s something that we kind of do every day, and it’s cool.”

There are moments when both guys are on the floor, and that creates a formidable front line for the Bucks.

“Whenever we do get the opportunity to do that, it’ll happen this year, one or two times, we want to play well with each other,” Henson said.

Henson has also developed a nice array of low post offensive moves, including a nifty left hand hook shot.

“That’s just kind of something I do,” Henson said. “If I can get within 12 feet, I feel like my left hook is a pretty good move for me, and I could get that off over anybody, and that’s kind of my goal.”

While the third year is often when players find their place, Henson isn’t concerned about his role, understanding that especially for big guys it often takes time.

“I think it’s a natural process,” Henson said. “Some guys cement themselves in the third, fourth, fifth, sometimes it takes longer, and sometimes it takes shorter. It’s just a process of improving every year and doing what you can do, and hopefully being on a team contributing or on a winning team and playing well.”

The Milwaukee Bucks are a surprising 5-5 on the early season, which puts them in the sixth seed in the East. Given how bad the season when last year, the Bucks improvement is surprising.

For Henson and the Bucks, they like being the underdog, but believe they are good enough as a unit to be in the hunt for a playoff spot in the East.

More Twitter:  Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA and @YannisNBA.

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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The G-League is a Path Back to the NBA

The G-League has become an avenue for several player types toward the NBA, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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When the NBA first instituted their development league, its main purpose was two-fold. The first was to give experience to young players who perhaps were not seeing regular playing time on their respective NBA teams. The second was to give undrafted players a chance at getting exposure and ultimately getting to the NBA.

With the growth in size and popularity of the development league, now known as the G-League, it’s begun to serve another purpose. It’s become a place for older veterans who have already tasted the NBA life to get back to the highest level of basketball that they once knew.

One player in particular who has a wealth of NBA experience is Terrence Jones. Jones is currently playing with the Santa Cruz Warriors, the G-League affiliate of the Golden State Warriors.

Jones was originally drafted by the Houston Rockets with the 18th overall pick in the 2012 draft. He was part of a vaunted class of Kentucky Wildcats that year, which included Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb, and Darius Miller. During his four years with the Rockets, he emerged as a dependable reserve and part-time starter. He averaged 9.5 points per game on 49.5 percent shooting and 5.3 rebounds.

“It was just a lot of excitement and a lot of joy, being part of the Houston Rockets was a lot of fun,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “We had great memories and great seasons, a lot of up and downs, I just enjoyed the journey.”

Jones’ dealt with injuries his last two season in Houston, and when he was a free agent in the summer of 2016, the Rockets didn’t re-sign him. He was scooped by the New Orleans Pelicans, however, and he made an immediate impact for them. Prior to the trade deadline, he played in 51 games for the Pelicans, including 12 starts while putting up 11.5 points on 47.2 percent shooting, and 5.9 rebounds.

When the Pelicans acquired DeMarcus Cousins, however, they cut Jones. He didn’t stay unemployed for long, though, as he was signed by the Milwaukee Bucks to add depth for a playoff run. He was unable to crack the rotation, though, and the Bucks cut him as well before the playoff started. After a brief stint in China, he’s now back stateside and using the G-League to get back to the NBA.

“That’s the goal. Right now, I feel I’ve been playing pretty well and just trying to help my team get wins,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “I think I can play multiple positions offensively and defensively. Whether that’s creating plays for myself or for others, I think I can help contribute on the offensive end.”

He’s been the second-leading scorer for Santa Cruz with 19.9 points per game. He’s pulling down 7.1 rebounds, and even dishing out 4.5 assists. In the G-League Challenge against the Mexican National Team at All-Star Weekend, he finished with eight points on 50.0 percent shooting, six rebounds, four assists, and two steals. He’s definitely a name to watch for as NBA teams scour the market for 10-day contract possibilities.

Another player who’s had a taste of the NBA is Xavier Silas. Silas is currently with the Northern Arizona Suns, the affiliate of the Phoenix Suns. He went undrafted in 2011 and started his professional career in France. That only last a few months before he came back the United States and latched on with the Philadelphia 76ers.

He played sparingly with the 76ers and was ultimately cut before the start of the 2012-13 season. Since then, he’s played summer league with the Bucks, and been in two different training camps with the Washington Wizards.

“It was amazing, any time you get to go and play at the highest level, and I even got to play in the playoffs and play in the second round and even score, that was big,” Silas told Basketball Insiders. “It was a great time for me and that’s what I’m working towards getting back.”

While his professional career has taken him all across the globe from Israel to Argentina to Greece to Germany and even Ice Cube’s BIG3 league, he sees the G-League as being the one place that will get him back to where he wants to be.

He’s done well this season for Northern Arizona. He’s their third-leading scorer at 19.3 points per game and he’s one of their top three-point threats at 39.9 percent. At the All-Star Weekend G-League Challenge against the Mexican National Team, Silas had a team-high 13 points for Team USA including 3-5 shooting from three-point range.

It’s isn’t just what he brings on the court that Silas believes makes him an attractive candidate for an NBA team. At age 30, he’s one of the older guys in the G-League and one with a lot of basketball experience to be passed down to younger guys.

“I think it’s a little bit of leadership, definitely some shooting. I’m a vet now so I’m able to come in and help in that aspect as well. But everybody needs someone who can hit an open shot and I think I can bring that to a team,” Silas told Basketball Insiders. “I think it’s the best place for anyone who’s trying to make that next step. We’re available and we’re right here, it’s just a call away.”

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NBA Daily: Lillard Playing For Something Bigger

Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard has his eyes set on a bigger prize than just being an NBA All-Star.

Steve Kyler

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Playing For Something Bigger

The NBA All-Star Game is a spectacle.

By design, the game is meant to be a showcase, not just for the players selected to compete, but for the league and all of its partners, on and off the floor. It is easy to get caught up in how players selected actually play, but the reality is while most see the game as important for a lot of reasons, Portland Trail Blazer star Damian Lillard understands it has to be put into perspective.

“I don’t think it’s fair to expect people to go out there and treat it like they are playing for the team they’re under contract for,” Lillard explained this weekend.

“It’s the one time in an 82-game season plus playoffs, preseason and training camp that we actually get a break. It’s necessary to take a mental break, along with a physical break from what we do every day. There’s nothing wrong with that, so I don’t think it’s fair to ask guys to go out there and play like it’s for the Trail Blazers. My loyalty is to my team; I got to stay healthy for my team. I got to do what’s best for my team. Obviously, go out there [during All-Star] and not mess around too much and that’s how people get hurt and stuff like that. You got to go out there and play and have respect for the game, but I don’t think it’s necessary to go out there and go crazy like it’s a playoff game.”

Lillard notched 21 minutes in Sunday’s big game, going 9-for-14 from the field for 21 points for Team Stephen, a roster that included three Golden State Warriors players. Lillard believes that eventually, he’ll get the chance to share the weekend, his third, with teammate C. J. McCollum.

“Each year you see teams are getting two to three, Golden State got four this year,” Lillard said. “But you look at it and say ‘why is that happening’ and it has a lot to do with team success. Me and C.J. just have to take that challenge of making our team win more games. I think when we do that, we’ll be rewarded with both of us making it. If we really want to make that happen, then we’ll do whatever it takes to win more games.

“I feel like this season we’ve moved closer in that direction. In the past, we haven’t even been in the position to get one, because I did not make it the past two years. I think if we keep on improving we’ll eventually get to the point that we’re winning games and people will say ‘how are they doing this’ and then hopefully our names come up. Hopefully, one day, it’ll happen.”

Another issue that got addressed during the All-Star Weekend was the growing tensions between the NBA players and the NBA referees. Representatives from both sides met to address the gap developing on the court, something Lillard felt was necessary.

“We’re all human,” Lillard said. “As competitors, we want to win. If you feel like you got fouled, you want them to call the foul every time. I think sometimes as players, we forget how hard their job can be. At the pace we play, it’s hard to get every call, and then you got guys tricking the referees sometimes, we’re clever too. It’s a tough job for them. I think when we get caught up in our competitive nature, and we forget that they’re not just these robots with stripes, they are people too. You have got to think, as a man if someone comes screaming at you every three plays, you are going to react in your own way. Maybe you’re not going to make the next call; maybe I am going to stand my ground. It’s just something that I think will get better over time. I think both have to do a better job of understanding.”

With 24 games left to play in Lillard’s sixth NBA season, the desire to be more than a playoff team or an All-Star is coming more into focus for Lillard, something he reportedly expressed to Blazers management several weeks ago.

“There are guys that have this record and guys that have done these things, and I want to at least get myself the chance to compete for a championship,” Lillard said. “If I get there and we don’t win it, it happens. A lot of people had to go see about Michael Jordan, a lot of people had to go see about Shaq and Kobe. You know, those great teams, but I have a strong desire to at least give myself a chance to be there. Take a shot at it.”

With All-Star out of the way, the focus in the NBA will switch to the race to the playoffs. As things stand today Lillard and his Blazers hold the seventh seed in the West and are tied with Denver, and just a half of a game back from the five seed Oklahoma City Thunder.

If the Blazers are going to make noise this post season its going to be on the shoulder of Lillard, and based on what he said, it seems he’s up to the challenge.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA Daily: James Harden on the new All-Star Format and Chris Paul Being Snubbed

James Harden shared his thoughts on the new All-Star game format and teammate Chris Paul not being selected as an All-Star

James Blancarte

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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made a bold decision to alter the All-Star game format. By allowing the two highest voted players in each conference to be team captains, Silver did away with tradition and the usual West versus East format. While there were a few complaints about the switch, fans were seemingly more vocal about the decision to not televise the selection of players by the team captains.

Well, the results are in and praise for new format has been nearly universal. With players more invested in the new format, and perhaps the $100k per player bonus for the winners, the effort level was up, plays were being drawn up and executed and defense made a surprise appearance in an exciting game that came down to the final possession.

2018 NBA All-Star and Houston Rockets guard James Harden spoke about the All-Star game and the new format.

“I think it is exciting. You get an opportunity, you know, for a mixture of guys to play on the same team together. We’re trying to win though, it’s competitive,” Harden stated. “Obviously, the All-Star game has a lot of highlights but we’re trying to win, we’re going to go out there and prove we’re trying to win.”

Harden, who played for Team Stephen, did not get the win. However, Harden also made it clear that playing in the this year’s All-Star game meant even more having grown up in Los Angeles.

“To be able to play in the big boy game means a lot. I grew up, especially being from LA, you grew up watching Kobe, watching Shaq every single year. You see how fun, you see how exciting it was,” Harden said. “Now to be here, to be in the city is more special.”

While Harden made it a point to talk about what it means to play in Los Angeles, another factor he seemed excited and appreciative about was being the first player picked for Team Stephen.

“Man, that’s a great feeling. Just because in middle school I was the last pick. So, to be the number one pick in the All-Star game, that’s what the swag champ is for,” Harden said.

Harden wasn’t universally positive about All-Star Weekend. Specifically, he was not happy about being the only Rockets All-Star – especially considering Houston’s standing in the Western Conference playoff race.

“I have a lot to say about that. What are we talking about? Everyone knows Chris Paul is with the Rockets and the Rockets have the number one [record]. How does that not happen?” Harden asked rhetorically. “It’s frustrating. I know he’s frustrated. He never brings it up. That’s why I did say what I said. He’s never going to bring it up. But, I’ll defend for him. He should be here with me in LA as an All-Star.”

Harden had some success as he led his team in minutes and logged 12 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He spoke after the game and confirmed the reconfiguration of the All-Star game produced a competitive game and a fun product for the fans.

“Felt great. I hope all the fans enjoyed [the All-Star game] as well. It was very competitive. Guys got after it from the beginning of the game. Usually All-Star [games] there are a lot of dunks, a lot of freedom. Tonight was intense,” Harden said.

Harden was not wrong with his conclusion that there was less freedom. With less freedom and better defense played, Harden went 5-19 from the field and 2-13 from three-point range while finishing the game without a single free throw attempted. The lack of free throws may have irked Harden, who is renowned for his ability to get to the line (9.9 free throw attempts per game this season). Adding to that frustration, Harden had the opportunity to put his team ahead with a three-pointer late in the game but failed to connect on the shot. Unsurprisingly, Harden expressed his disappointment with the result.

“I was pissed we lost. I’m still mad,” Harden stated.

On the final play of the game, while ignoring Harden, Curry kept the ball with the chance to tie the game. Curry dribbled into a LeBron James/Kevin Durant double team. Curry wasn’t able to get a shot off and Harden was left with his hands up waiting for a pass and a chance to win the game that never came.

Looking toward next year, Harden was asked if as a possible captain he would prefer to have the player selection two weeks before or right before the game. He thought about it and then smiled.

“Probably right before the game,” Harden answered.

Commissioner Silver has spoken on the subject and is sending strong signals that next year’s selection will be televised. That will potentially add another layer of excitement to the new All-Star game format, which is already paying off for the NBA.

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