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Jermaine Taylor Ready for NBA Comeback

After a year-long bootcamp, Jermaine Taylor is in terrific shape and determined to make an NBA comeback.

Alex Kennedy

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Mention the name Jermaine Taylor to an NBA player or coach, and two things will typically happen.

First, the person will rave about Taylor’s talent or work ethic. Even though he only played two seasons in the NBA, he made a very strong impression on the people who were around him on a daily basis. Here’s a sampling of what players and coaches said about Taylor when contacted by Basketball Insiders.

DeMarcus Cousins (played with Taylor in Sacramento): “Jermaine is an extremely athletic guard who plays hard no matter the circumstances. He’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever been around – a true pro in all aspects. And I would say the best thing about him is he’s a great teammate, somebody guys always want to be around and appreciate having in the locker room.”

Courtney Lee (played with Taylor in Houston): “I had the chance to play with him in Houston, so I know he works extremely hard on his game. He’s a low-key guy who would [produce] without causing any problems on and off the court. Not to mention, he’s a good looker room guy who puts the team before himself.”

Garrett Temple (played with Taylor in Houston and Sacramento): “He’s always been a guy who just had a knack for putting the ball in the basket. His ability to score is something that can’t be taught. You either have it or you don’t, and he does.”

Francisco Garcia (played with Taylor in Sacramento): “He was a good teammate – very professional with a great work ethic. He has a natural-born talent and a good feel for the game. He can be a great asset to any team.”

Sacramento Kings assistant coach Elston Turner (coached Taylor in Houston): “When Jermaine came to us in Houston, he had just as much talent as any player at his position in the whole NBA! He had the ability to score from transition, ISOs and jumpers. He also was incredibly athletic; he had great tenacity and a will to win.”

Cleveland Cavaliers assistant coach Phil Handy (coached Taylor in Cleveland): “Jermaine was incredible when he was in Summer League and training camp with us. He’s just a tremendously hard worker. Whatever we asked of him, he did it with no questions asked. He was extremely professional every day and has a workmanlike attitude. Not even mentioning the physical attributes, he impressed me with his mentality and professionalism. The way he approached every day and the way he worked so hard every day, I gained a lot of respect for that kid while he was with us. He’s an NBA talent. For guys like him, sometimes it’s just about finding the right place and even having a little bit of luck. He’s a tremendous athlete, thrives in the open court, brings a lot of energy and he’s improved his jump-shot to the point where he can make open shots. I think everyone knows that he’s a tremendous athlete, but he’s a gifted scorer as well. If [given] the right opportunity, he can bring a lot of energy and athleticism to a team.”

Assistant coach T.R. Dunn (coached Taylor in Houston): “J.T. is a very hard-working, coachable young man. I had the opportunity to work with him on two separate occasions. He is, in my opinion, an athletic scorer who runs well in transition and has the ability to aggressively attack the rim off the bounce. Defensively, he is very competitive and not afraid of a challenge. Finally, he’s a good person and very professional about his career.”

Second, the person will usually ask the same question: Why isn’t he in the NBA right now? After the players and coaches finished talking about Taylor’s game, many wondered why he isn’t on a roster. The former teammates seem confused. The coaches wonder if they missed something and, since Taylor is only 29 years old, they ask when he’ll be back.

After spending the last year obsessively working on his game and making drastic life changes in an effort to maximize his potential, Taylor is confident he’ll be back on an NBA roster for the 2016-17 season.

“You have no idea how hungry I am right now,” Taylor told Basketball Insiders. “My whole life is designed around basketball. Between the time I wake up in the morning and the time I go to sleep at night, everything I do is about basketball. I changed my diet completely and started juicing. It’s why I endure intense workouts several times a day. It’s why I changed my sleep schedule. It’s why I’m starting yoga five times a week, deep-tissue massages three times a week and cryotherapy-chamber treatments three times per week. Hungry doesn’t begin to describe this. Starving doesn’t describe it either. There isn’t a word for what I’m feeling right now.”

******

Casual NBA fans may not remember Taylor all that well, as the 6’5 shooting guard only played 65 games in the league before heading overseas. Taylor first made a name for himself at the University of Central Florida, where he averaged 26.2 points (on 48 percent shooting) and 5.2 rebounds as a senior.

He was drafted with the 32nd pick in the 2009 NBA Draft by the Washington Wizards and traded to the Houston Rockets shortly after. He spent his two years in the NBA with Rockets and then the Sacramento Kings.

In Sacramento, he played well enough to earn eight starts, in which he averaged 11.9 points and three rebounds while shooting 58 percent from the field and 35 percent from three-point range. Taylor played well when given significant minutes. In one game against the Dallas Mavericks, he filled the stat sheet with 17 points, five assists, three rebounds, four steals and a block while shooting 58.3 percent from the field and 50 percent from three-point range.

One week after that impressive outing against Dallas, he led the Kings to victory over the Orlando Magic – a game that meant a lot to him since he grew up less than an hour outside of Orlando and attended nearby UCF. He had a career-high 21 points (on 9-12 shooting from the field) and five rebounds, and the crowd cheered him on even as he helped the Kings defeat the Magic. He was one of the most electrifying scorers in the country while at UCF, and fans in the area still love him. With Taylor doing so well when given playing time, it seemed like NBA success was imminent.

But just as quickly as his career started to pick up momentum, it fizzled out. The Kings let him go after that lone season – days before the NBA lockout. This made it tough for him to find a team when the Collective Bargaining Agreement was eventually ratified, and he has been bouncing around a bit ever since. He averaged 24.8 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.5 steals for the Maine Red Claws of the NBA D-League. He had preseason stints with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers, but was a final cut before he saw regular-season action with either team.

After briefly flashing his talent and potential in the NBA, Taylor went overseas. He played in five countries (China, Nicaragua, New Zealand, Spain and Israel) over three years.

Then, Taylor disappeared from the basketball scene altogether over the last year. He didn’t play abroad. He didn’t surface in the D-League. He talked about joining a friend’s team in The Basketball Tournament (which allows anyone to assemble a team and compete for a $2 million prize), but ultimately backed out. The mystery surrounding Taylor over the last year is why people around the NBA wondered what Taylor is up to these days and where he plans to go from here.

******

When a professional basketball player takes one year off during what seems to be their physical prime, people wonder if they’re walking away from the game for good.

However, Taylor is far from done. His one-year hiatus wasn’t about taking a break from basketball. In fact, it was the exact opposite. He essentially put himself through a year-long boot camp to get himself into the best shape of his life, become more well-rounded as a player and, perhaps most importantly, stop coasting off of his natural talent.

In 2014, Taylor tore his ACL and had season-ending surgery. Eight months later, he was back on the court – suiting up in the D-League and eventually overseas. But because he was coming back from the injury, he didn’t put up the monster numbers people were used to seeing from him.

“When I came back in the 2014-15 season after my surgery, I averaged 13 points in the D-League and 17 points overseas, and people weren’t happy because they felt like I wasn’t the same,” Taylor said. “But it was tough, averaging those numbers eight months after surgery to repair my ACL as well as my meniscus. People didn’t know what it was like going through that or what it felt like. They just said, ‘Oh, he’s not the same player. He’s not as explosive. He’s not blowing past people and dunking.’ At that point, I decided I was going to take one year away from playing for a team so that I could get completely healthy and get in the best shape of my life.

“I changed everything. I feel like a different person. Over the last 10 months, I changed my routine. I wake up every morning at 8 a.m. and stretch and then I juice. I started the juicing, doing yoga, getting deep-tissue massages and doing cryotherapy-chamber treatments because I researched what stars like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade do to keep their body in top shape. I want to do everything I can to get better. Everything people have seen from me to this point was just because of my raw talent. I was just quicker and more athletic than my opponents. Now, I’m pushing myself and doing what’s necessary to take my game to the next level. The game has slowed down for me and I’m doing everything I can to maximize my potential. I can’t wait to get back in front of these NBA teams that saw me in the past because I’m a whole different player.”

Taylor has been working out at UCF and former NBA player Pat Burke’s Training Facility in Orlando. He does morning and afternoon workouts, followed by pick-up games at night that include players like Courtney Lee from the New York Knicks and Toney Douglas from the New Orleans Pelicans as well as a number of overseas stars (such as former Ole Miss guard Chris Warren, for example).

Lee, who played with Taylor in Houston, has been really impressed with Taylor’s growth as a player.

“I think J.T. could bring a lot to a team,” Lee said. “He’s a scorer from inside and out. I’ve been watching him play lately [in Orlando] and he has extended his range past the NBA three-point line. He’s still athletic enough to get by his defender and play above the rim.”

Taylor is thrilled with the results he’s seen from his year off and believes it will lead to an NBA comeback.

“Right now, this is the best I’ve ever been,” Taylor said. “This is the best shape I’ve been and the best that my game has been, and I owe it all to this last year. I have taken my game to a level that nobody has seen before. I wanted to become a better all-around player and that’s what I am now after taking this year off. Not only is my athleticism back, I’ve worked hard to improve as a shooter, as a ball-handler and as a pro.”

Niall Berry, who is the Director of Coaching and Player Development at Pat Burke’s Training Facility, raves about the work that Taylor has put in over the last year.

“What he’s doing is above and beyond what most players do,” Coach Berry said. “I coached at the highest levels in Europe for a number of years and I’ve never seen anyone with his level of determination. He’s on another level. I knew he was trying to go really hard, so I tried to get some workout buddies in here with him. But the workout buddies never lasted. He went through three or four guys who each went through a couple weeks, but none of them could handle it. Usually after about a week, they would start to get flaky and stop showing up. But he’s still here, still going. He was trying to convince the other guys to stick with it, telling them that they could bring their game to another level, but I suppose some players have that intensity and mentality and some players don’t. I think that’s a big difference between an NBA player and someone who doesn’t belong in the league.”

While Taylor says that he feels better than ever, there’s actually solid evidence that he is in the best shape of his life.

“Pat Burke runs our facility and he played in the NBA with the Phoenix Suns, so he went to the Suns and was able to get some of Jermaine’s athletic results from when he was doing pre-draft workouts,” Coach Berry said. “When he was trying to enter the league out of college, he had a no-step vertical of 34 inches, which is pretty good. When he began working out here, he started with a 30-inch no-step vertical. Now, his most recent no-step was measured at 34.85 inches. I didn’t even realize he had increased it that much. That’s absolutely crazy, but that’s a testament to how hard he works. For that to be higher now than he was when he was entering the NBA blows me away. I didn’t even realize until we got these results. He has put in months and months of work. This didn’t happen overnight.”

In addition to working on his athleticism and conditioning, Taylor has been working hard to become an even better ball-handler and shooter. He has always had a knack for scoring the ball, but he wanted to ensure that these skills were in peak form should he get that NBA opportunity. When asked how he feels he would fit in today’s NBA, Taylor doesn’t hesitate to respond.

“I think I fit perfectly in today’s NBA because creating your own shot and playing in space have been huge parts of my game for my entire life,” Taylor said. “I’ve been a big-time scorer since fourth grade, when I first started playing. I’ve always been able to score the basketball and I’ve been asked to be a star for a lot of my teams. I always have the belief that I’m one of the best players on the court, even if there’s somebody like LeBron James out there with me. If LeBron is on the court, I’m going to make things hard on him and he’s going to work for every point. I want them to show me why they’re great. In my rookie year, I guarded Kobe Bryant and it was the same thing. Some people thought I’d back down, but I had my best game as a starter and he had his worst-scoring game of that whole season. I don’t back down from anyone.

“Because of that, plus the fact that I’m older and more mature now so I know how to go out there and fill a certain role for a team, I know I can contribute in today’s NBA. Since the last time I was in the league, the game has slowed down for me so much. I look back on my [old NBA game film] and I was out of control, always at 100 percent speed. Now, things have slowed down, my basketball IQ has improved and people have never seen my handles the way that they are right now. It’s like the ball is on a string for me now. Like I said before, everything before was just me using raw talent. My man would be guarding me and I’d just try to drive past him using my athleticism. Now, defenders have told me that I’m really unpredictable. Now, I can go through my legs, [hesitate], act like I’m going to shoot it and then go. The game has slowed down for me and my arsenal of moves is completely different.”

Having witnessed all of the work that Taylor has put in and watched his transformation firsthand, Berry is campaigning for the 29-year-old to get another look in the NBA.

“I think he’s definitely good enough,” Coach Berry said. “When you have the scoring ability that Jermaine has, he would be an asset to any team. Me, personally, I am very confident that he can help an NBA team, but I’m not aware of all of the politics that go on so I can’t comment from that point of view. But from a talent and work ethic and scoring point of view, there’s no question he can help a team. He has been in the league before and with where he’s at physically now, he’s at a level I haven’t seen in many other athletes that I’ve worked with. I’ve seen what he can do and how hard he works and how coachable he is. I’m an Irish coach who introduced him to some new things, and he’s absolutely open to everything. If he’s part of an NBA team, he’s going to be extremely coachable and eager to learn, and that’s what every coach wants. I also loved what I saw from him when he was working out with the other players. He brings people together and leads and pushes everyone around him, so he’s great to have in the locker room too. I just think there’s too many positives here, so if he gets that opportunity I can’t envision him not helping an NBA team.”

Taylor’s basketball journey hasn’t gone exactly according to plan, but he’s grateful for every stop and the valuable lessons he took from each.

“I feel like I matured a lot and it felt like I grew five years in these last two years with all of the experiences that I had,” he said. “I know who I am now. Before, I started questioning myself when things weren’t going my way. But taking this year off allowed me to look back on my life and think, ‘Look at what you’ve done.’ To come from where I came from – the background I have, growing up without a father and everything I’ve been through – I’m not supposed to be where I am. But I made it here. It put everything in perspective and made me realize that what I’m doing now – working for this – is nothing for me. With what I’ve been through, I can do this. I know who I am now and I have more confidence.

“I’ve grown so much because I don’t take anything for granted now. When I was in the league, everything was happening so fast that I didn’t enjoy the moment and take it in. I want to yell at that kid, ‘Your dream came true! You’re in the NBA!’ It wasn’t until I went overseas and didn’t have that lifestyle anymore that I started appreciating it so much more. It also made me respect the guys who go bounce around year after year after year chasing their dream. I started respecting them so much more, because I know how hard it is to be thousands of miles away from everything you know. You don’t know anyone, the language is different, you’re out of your comfort zone. What I’ve learned the most is just to appreciate everything. And the same goes for my overseas experiences, because the things I experienced there turned me in to who I am now. Had I not gone overseas and had those experiences, I’m not the same person today. It changed my game and certain parts of my skill set too.”

Taylor hired a new agent, Daniel Hazan, who has talked with a number of teams about setting up a workout for Taylor to put his new-look game on display. Taylor is salivating at the opportunity to get in front of NBA talent-evaluators and show what he can do.

“I’m excited about that,” Taylor said with a smile. “I’m open to doing workouts for these NBA teams. The way I look at it, it’s like nobody has seen me play before because my game is so different now. I want to show how my game has evolved. I’m ready.”

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Most Valuable Player Watch — 12/12/17

Dennis Chambers updates the latest MVP watch rankings.

Dennis Chambers

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The NBA season is coming in hot on Christmas Day games, and before we know it the new year will arrive as well. As the second half of the season starts to come into sight, more stability among the league’s MVP candidates will prevail.

By now, most of the frontrunners for the award have staked their claim of consistent dominance over the last eight weeks of the NBA season.

For our list here at Basketball Insiders, the same names make up our ladder from the last MVP race installment. A slight juggling of the order is the only new wrinkle. Thus far, these individuals have put themselves ahead of the pack.

A full season in the NBA is a long race, but through the first few laps, these are the MVP leaders.

stockdown456. Steph Curry (Last Week: 3)

Coming in at No. 3 on the last list, Steph Curry sees a bit of a tumble in the standings. Unfortunately for Curry, he’s suffering from a sprained ankle that is going to cause him to miss some time. Fortunately for the Golden State Warriors, they’ve won three straight games without their star point guard.

This doesn’t discredit the type of season Curry is having, or his brilliance on the court when he’s healthy, but the fact that the Warriors have enough firepower to sustain his absence damages his claim to the most “valuable” player throne.

Nevertheless, for the Warriors to truly fulfill their championship potential, Curry needs to be healthy and playing. Otherwise, the Warriors aren’t as lethal as they could be.

Barring a complete meltdown from his ball club, Curry’s spot will likely continue to drop slightly as he sits on the bench watching his team win games without him.

stockup455. Joel Embiid (Last Week: 6)

Almost the exact opposite of Curry, the Philadelphia 76ers don’t seem to have a prayer at winning basketball games that Joel Embiid sits out of. Luckily for the city of Philadelphia, though, that hasn’t been nearly frequent of an occurrence as past seasons.

The on/off numbers for Embiid are staggering. On both ends of the court, no less. Without their big man, the Sixers’ offensive rating drops off by more than five points and their defensive rating sees a 10-point spike in favor of their opponents.

In short, it’s worse for the Sixers when Embiid is tweeting rather than playing.

After missing back-to-back games over the weekend, Embiid’s value became more apparent to the Sixers. Among a myriad of injuries, Embiid’s was felt the heaviest as his team posted a defensive rating of 111.6 to the Cleveland Cavaliers and then a 130.2 the next night to the New Orleans Pelicans.

Both figures are a far cry from the 102.9 rating the team records with Embiid on the floor.

Much like Curry, the Sixers will need Embiid on the court moving forward to live their best life. So long as he is resting on back-to-backs, or sitting with back soreness, the Sixers won’t be as fortunate as the Warriors to pull out wins.

stockup454. Kyrie Irving (Last Week: 5)

Masked Kyrie joined Untucked Kyrie this season as another alter ego capable of taking the NBA and Twitter by storm on a nightly basis.

Irving, despite suffering an injury to his face that forced him to wear a protective mask a la Rip Hamilton, still has the Boston Celtics atop the league standings with his MVP campaign so far this season. Over Irving’s last 10 games, he’s averaging 25.8 points on 53 percent shooting from the field and 44 percent from beyond the arc. Over the course of that same span, the Celtics are 7-3.

Just to strengthen his already solid MVP claim, the Celtics went into Chicago Monday night to play the Bulls without Irving, as he sat out of the game with a quad contusion. All the league’s best team preceded to do was lose 108-85 to the league’s worst team.

At this point in the season, MVP candidates have their statistics in place. As viewers and fans, we really get to see the difference they make on their teams during the games that they aren’t playing, and Monday night for the Celtics was a microcosm of Irving’s season-long importance to the success of their team.

stockup453. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Last Week: 4)

The Greek Freak is still putting up absurd numbers, keeping him right in the conversation for Most Valuable Player. On top of his gaudy production, the Milwaukee Bucks are starting to pile up some wins as well.

Winning six of their last seven games — the only loss coming to the Celtics where Antetokounmpo put up 40 points, nine rebounds, and four assists — the Bucks currently hold a 15-10 record and the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.

It’s been well-documented up to this point how effective Antetokounmpo is for Milwaukee from a numbers standpoint. If he can really start translating those performances into wins over good teams, the narrative of him winning the award may begin to revert back the dominance it held over the first few weeks of the season.

As it currently stands, though, Antetokounmpo is ahead of the rest of the pack before a pretty sizeable gap at the two spots above him.

stocknochanges452. LeBron James (Last Week: 2)

After having his Cavaliers’ 13-game win streak snapped by an unconscious Victor Oladipo, LeBron James returned to business as usual by defeating the shorthanded Sixers without Kevin Love by his side. He did so in typical Year 15 fashion, posting 30 points, 13 rebounds, 13 assists, and three steals.

No big deal.

That’s the mantra for James’ 15th year in the NBA: Do it all, and do it well. He doesn’t have the supporting cast that many projected coming into this season, and Irving is out doing his thing in Boston. But for the King of the NBA, after a month of rough basketball, he seems to be figuring it all out for his club and putting them in the positions they need to be in to be successful.

Since the start of Cleveland’s winning streak up until the game against Philadelphia, James is averaging 27.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 8.5 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.1 blocks, 55 percent shooting from the field and 44 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

His team is 14-1, Irving is in Boston, and Isaiah Thomas is on the bench.

Year 15 may very well end with James getting MVP number five.

stocknochanges451. James Harden (Last Week: 1)

The only man standing between James and his fifth MVP is the man who’s setting the league on fire trying to get his first.

James Harden is recreating his stellar season from a year ag but improving it, somehow. Harden’s averages are incredible: 32 points, 9.5 assists, 5.1 rebounds, 40 percent from downtown, and a 31.6 player efficiency rating.

Not to mention he’s led the Houston Rockets to a 21-4 record, and looks to be a real threat at knocking off the Golden State Warriors.

What Harden is doing on the defensive end is what is brining his game, and his MVP case, to the next level. Harden is posting his lowest defensive rating is four years and coming up big on D in crunch time situations.

On Monday night against the Pelicans, Harden came up with a clutch steal with under a minute to go (his sixth of the night) to extinguish a New Orleans rally and put the icing on his 26-point, 17-assist performance.

LeBron may be having an MVP season, even by his standards, but Harden’s performance this year thus far is keeping the King at arms length of the MVP crown.

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NBA DAILY: What Is Really Wrong With The Thunder?

The Thunder continue to struggle to string together wins. What’s the problem in OKC?

Steve Kyler

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At Some Point It Just Doesn’t Work

The Oklahoma City Thunder continue to be middling, despite having the star level talent it takes in the NBA to be exceptional. With the clock ticking in the wrong direction, is it more likely that this combination of players won’t work, or is there something bigger at play worth considering?

Before we dive too far into this, keep in mind the Thunder have played their 26th game, and are just a half a game out of the eighth spot in the West. Equally, they are also three and a half games behind the fourth-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves, so the sky is far from falling. In fact, they have won four of their last six games, including wins over the Spurs and Timberwolves, which only makes the Jekyll and Hyde of all of this even more frustrating.

All of that said, what’s really wrong with the Thunder? Here are some thoughts:

Not Enough Touches

The Oklahoma City Thunder are dead last in the NBA in touches per game as a team at 384. To contrast that number, the Philadelphia 76ers lead the league in touches at 480.9 touches per game.

Thunder guard Russell Westbrook accounts for 94.4 touches per game, while forward Carmelo Anthony accounts for 61.3 touches with swingman Paul George bringing in 56.0 touched per game. Those three players account for 211.7 of the Thunders 384 touches per game.

That’s not as bad as you would think watching the Thunder play, but what it does illustrate is that neither Anthony or Paul are getting the volume of touches both are used to getting before joining the Thunder. It’s also why neither seems to be able to get into a rhythm on a game to game bases. They have had their moments individually, but it been far from consistent.

It’s more than fair to say that the Thunder offense isn’t generating enough touches to maximize what George and Anthony bring to the table. When the Miami HEAT brought their “Big Three” together, one of the biggest challenges they faced was how to generate the touches to get all their guys in a rhythm and rolling.

That seems to be the biggest part of the problem with the Thunder.

Russ Has To Be Russ

When you look at the Thunder’s “convincing wins” those wins in which they look like an elite team in the NBA, Russell Westbrook plays like last year’s MVP.

The problem for the Thunder is it seems Russell is trying to get other players, specifically Anthony, often to the detriment of his team and his own game. When Westbrook puts his head down and plays his game, the Thunder tend to come out on top.

Westbrook never seemed to have this problem playing with Kevin Durant, and maybe that’s why Durant opted to leave, but Westbrook seems to be trying too hard to get others going.

Where’d Offense Go?

The Thunder continue to talk about how good they are defensively, and that’s a real thing. They are currently the ranked second in the NBA’s defensive rating category. They rank second in point allowed per 100 possessions at 103, just behind league leader Boston at 101.6 points per 100 possessions.

There is no doubt their defense is keeping them in games, but what’s killing them is the long stretches of sub-par offense, many times in the fourth quarter where their offense comes to a grinding halt.

Some have suggested that head coach Billy Donovan simply isn’t creative enough for the construct of this roster. Looking at the stats this far into the season, there may be something to the idea that the Thunder, offensively, just are not creative enough to maximize the potential of their star players.

It’s Not A Selfish Problem

The easy answer on the Thunder is to say they are simply selfish players. There is enough historical evidence on Anthony and Westbrook to support the idea, however, if you really look at the Thunders’ games, it’s actually the opposite. Westbrook likely isn’t selfish enough; it’s likely why he’s struggling from the field on the season.

Part of the offensive problem may be Westbrook’s shooting. His averages this season is markedly down from a year ago—39.6 percent this season from the field versus 42.5 percent last season. Westbrook is also 31.1 percent from three this year versus 34.3 percent from three last season.

But Westbrook is not alone, George is tying his second worst season from the field at 41.8 percent shooting. Anthony is having his worst year as a pro from the field at 40.4 percent.

All three are producing some of their lowest efficiency ratings of their careers, so it’s not just one guy doing so much more than the other. None of them are playing particularly well together.

It’s easy to look at the Thunder and label them one thing or the other; there are enough polarizing personalities on the roster to draw the labels. The truth of the matter is the Thunder just are not very good or efficient offensively, and until they find a way to make that part work, they will likely continue to be middling.

That’s going to make things fairly tough on the Thunder front office, because come the February 9th NBA Trade Deadline, the Thunder may have to cut bait on some players before they potentially lose them in free agency for nothing. The trade deadline is only about 60 days away, believe it or not.

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, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA Daily: Clippers Looking Forward to Teodosic Return

Clippers hanging on and looking forward to Teodosic return, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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The Los Angeles Clippers have had a season of twists and turns. While the season is still young, they’ve dealt with setbacks, mostly in the form of a multitude of injures. In fact, the team’s misfortunes began almost immediately. On Oct 21 (the NBA season started earlier this year), Clippers guard Milos Teodosic went down with a plantar fascia injury. This stands as the first bump in the road for the Clippers, who have seen a number of key players go down.

Following the loss of Chris Paul this past offseason, the Clippers appeared to have salvaged their immediate future through a number of offseason transactions. Under the direction of the front office, which includes Lawrence Frank, VP of Basketball Operations, and Jerry West, a Clippers consultant, the Clippers traded Paul, which helped to remake the roster. West spoke of his approval of the Paul trade before the season started.

“The Clippers feel comfortable that we made out really well. We could have lost him for nothing,” West stated of the Paul trade. “I think it was kind of a win myself.”

The Paul trade brought in Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, Sam Dekker and helped to eventually bring in Danilo Gallinari. A big part of the offseason makeover was the acquisition of European star Teodosic. Losing Paul meant that the Clippers were going to be without a highly talented, pass-first point guard for the first time since Paul’s acquisition during the 2011-2012 season.

Part of the strategy called for replacing Paul with both Beverley, who could match Paul’s defensive tenacity, and Teodosic, who could match Paul’s vision and passing. While neither player could match Paul’s overall brilliance (and Paul has been brilliant this season for the Rockets), the team hoped to create a winning environment around these two players.

Unfortunately, Teodosic went down quickly. Then Beverley experienced issues with his knee, culminating with season-ending microfracture surgery on his knee in late November. Combine this with Gallinari missing nearly a month with injuries and Blake Griffin going down for the next few months with an MCL sprain of his left knee recently, and the Clippers have struggled to stay competitive with lineups that have often included only one of the team’s opening day starters (center DeAndre Jordan). The franchise shouldn’t be completely surprised by the rash of injuries, as their offseason plan banked on players with questionable injury histories such as Griffin and Gallinari.

To fill in, the Clippers have also made use of a number of young, inexperienced players (not at all common in the Doc Rivers era), including playing 2017 second round pick, guard Sindarius Thornwell. Thornwell has benefited from the opportunity as is averaging 16.2 minutes a game and has even started in seven games (of 24 played).  Thornwell confirmed the obvious regarding injuries.

“We’ve been playing without a lot of our core guys,” Thornwell stated.

Clippers head coach Doc Rivers also made it clear that injuries have affected the team.

“It’s not just Blake [Griffin]. If it was just Blake, we’d be OK,” Rivers stated recently. “But you miss [Danillo] `Gallo,’ Milos [Teodosic], Patrick Beverley.”

Currently, the team is well below .500 with a 9-15 record, good enough for 11th in the Western Conference. And while the team is ahead of a number of teams destined for the NBA lottery such as the Dallas Mavericks and Sacramento Kings, they aren’t too far removed from the eighth seed, currently held by the Utah Jazz, who are below .500 (13-14 record). It’s not reasonable for a team that has already suffered a nine-game losing streak and is only 4-6 in the last 10 games to expect another playoff berth, and the team has not yet signaled they have given up on the season.

The Clippers have stayed afloat by being extremely reliant on the individual offensive output of guards Austin Rivers and Lou Williams. Give Williams credit, as he has been brilliant recently including a game winning shot against the Washington Wizards on Saturday. Over the last 10 games, he is averaging 23.2 points on 62.7 true shooting percentage and 6.2 assists in 34.5 minutes per game, per nba.com. For reference, Williams has a career true shooting percentage average of 53.3 percent, per basketball-reference.com. However, this doesn’t scream long-term winning formula, nor should it — the team hasn’t recently had reliable offensive output outside of these guards who were originally expected to come off the bench for the Clippers.

Gallinari has since returned and played well in his second game back, an overtime win against the Wizards. Now the team has upgraded Teodosic’s condition to questionable and are hopeful that Teodosic makes his return Monday night against the Raptors.

“He’s ready. He’s close,” Rivers stated, speaking of Teodosic at a recent Clippers practice. “And that will help. In a big way.”

In addition to possibly helping their increasingly remote chances at making the playoffs, the Clippers have other goals. Teodosic is signed to a two-year deal, but the second-year is a player option allowing the European guard to leave after the season. Should Teodosic find that the Clippers are somehow not a good fit or a place where he can find success, he may opt out of the second year. If the team wants to ensure that the 30-year-old guard sees a bright future with the Clippers, they should hope that his return leads to the Clippers playing winning basketball.

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