Becoming The Man: As much as fans would like to see young, high draft picks come onto their teams and assert themselves, that’s not always as easy as you might think, especially when a locker room is filled with guys who have achieved more.
Washington Wizards guard John Wall was the top overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. He was at the time regarded as a “can’t miss” NBA prospect and a future All-Star before he played a minute of professional basketball.
The Wizards’ roster Wall’s rookie year included Gilbert Arenas, Mike Bibby, Kirk Hinrich, Josh Howard and Maurice Evans – all established NBA veterans with strong and outspoken leadership personalities. It’s no wonder that Wall sort of went where he was told to go. Regardless of his draft status, those kind of veteran players are not giving ground to a rookie.
It’s taken Wall time to adjust to being the go-to guy on his team. It’s helped that the roster in Washington has slowly evolved around him and that many of the veterans on the team today were brought in to support Wall, not lead him. It also helps that he has shaken the injury bug that plagued him early in his career. A little postseason success hasn’t hurt the cause either.
“I’m a lot more comfortable especially coming off the experience we gained from last year from being in the playoffs and coming back with almost the same group of guys,” Wall told Basketball Insiders. “[They] want me to lead and want me to have the ball in those situations. Paul [Pierce] can still give us those big shots and Brad [Beal] has proven he can give those to us but they want me to be able to create and get comfortable in that role and it’s just something I’m getting more comfortable with.”
Last year the Wizards really leaned on forward Trevor Ariza when things got tough; he was sort of the locker room glue guy that helped keep everyone focused.
This year some of that is falling on veterans like Rasual Butler and Pierce, but the Wizards are leaning on Wall more than they ever have.
“We kind of lost some of the pieces, we lost both Trevors that we had, but we managed to get some of the right pieces in Kris [Humphries] and Paul Pierce,” Wall said. “We just built off what we had last year. The main thing for us is just to try and stay healthy, but I think that every player got better this summer and that’s helping our team. Our main focus is just being a top defensive team and not turning the ball over as much.”
One of the biggest changes for Wall personally is that he is slowing down. Early in his career he was frantically fast, tossing himself at the rim with reckless abandon. Now in his fifth season, Wall is more patient and his team is more engaged.
“There is a complete difference,” Wall said. “It takes all five guys to execute the play. I think we are doing a great job of everyone just paying attention during timeouts and in huddles and everyone else just going out there and executing the plays. Guys on this team aren’t cheating. Guys aren’t worried about who is getting the ball. We just trust one another to the point that if someone takes a shot and makes it or not we are still going to hold our heads up.”
Wall is also learning a lot about the NBA game and how to stay focused when things get tight, something his team is learning as well.
“With certain games there are different experiences that you have to go through,” Wall said. “You don’t want to be in those situations often and we have to learn how to keep leads when we get them and close out quarters better. It just shows our resilience not to panic. I think last year we were panicking and losing games by 10-15 points and taking bad shots. I think we have just been patient executing the plays that coach has been drawing up for us. Guys are just stepping up and making big shots.”
Wall has also gotten a taste of the postseason and after several years of his season ending early, he likes where he finds himself.
“I’ll just say that it’s way better when you win instead of just sitting at home in the summer,” Wall said.
The Wizards find themselves at 17-6 on the season and 12-2 at home, which is good enough for the second seed in the East. Their 5-4 road record puts them at the bottom of the pack among teams currently in the playoff hunt and could haunt them later in the season.
Wall is having a solid season, shooting a career-best 44.4 percent from the field while averaging 17.7 points per game. This is also Wall’s best season as a distributor as he is averaging a career-high 10.3 assists per game to go along with a 2.2 steals per game – also his top mark ever.
Wall is currently second in the NBA in assists, just behind Boston’s Rajon Rondo (10.6). Wall is also second in the NBA in steals per game, just behind Minnesota’s Corey Brewer (2.30).
The Wizards have 59 games left on their schedule including 24 games against teams currently above .500. They also have 32 road games remaining, which could be problematic given their road record so far on the season.
Lessons Learned The Hard Way: In many vocations there is a class, or a course, or some kind of real-world training that can prepare you for the job you are doing. There is a how-to book, like a guide for dummies, something that helps bridge the information and experience gap for almost anything you do in life.
Nothing like that exists for NBA owners.
Over the last year newbie owners in the NBA have tripped over themselves and made embarrassing, sometimes comical, moves that illustrated how little they knew about the world they now operate in. Despite many of them hiring seasoned and proven operators, they still couldn’t get out of their own way.
Grizzlies owner Robert Pera’s decision to abruptly overhaul his front office, despite success on every level of the business and then the awkward dance involving head coach Dave Joerger was one of the bigger miscues by a rookie owner.
New Milwaukee Bucks owner Marc Lasry’s decision to negotiate, pursue and ultimately trade for head coach Jason Kidd, while his team still employed head coach Larry Drew was one as well. Kidd was obtained before the club notified Drew he was being let go. Drew watched it play out in the media. Ultimately, it was a good move for the franchise, but handled as ham-handedly as almost any coaching transaction in recent history.
Warriors’ ownership made the decision to fire former head coach Mark Jackson after two straight seasons of winning basketball. Ultimately, that too turned out to be a better move for the franchise. However, majority owner Joe Lacob took to the media to sort of gloat over his teams hot start, basically throwing his ousted coach under the proverbial bus, creating such a stir that he ultimately issued an apology to Jackson.
This week, Kings owner Vivek Ranadive showed his inexperience, firing Kings head coach Mike Malone just a year and six months after touting his hiring as a key to changing the losing culture of the Kings’ franchise. Again, a move that might be good for the franchise in the long run, but again illustrating a lack of understanding for the process that has yielded success.
It’s understandable why many of these titans of industry attempt to be hands-on. For many that’s how they amassed the kind of wealth and power it takes to own a NBA franchise. However, in almost every case, rather than do things as they are normally done in the NBA, they opted to take matters into their own hands and ended up looking fairly messy when it was said and done.
This is life in the modern NBA. Gone are the days of quiet owners who let their executives and front office staffs run things. They want the limelight of being the owner. They like the thrill of being in charge and shaping the team.
In many ways, and maybe it’s because of how big of a star Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has become, they seek the spotlight a little for themselves.
A troll through Ranadive’s twitter page shows him throwing up hand signs in photos and touting his team.
They say owning a sports team is the world’s most expensive sports car, and when you see who ultimately ends up owning them, what they pay for the privilege to own them. It’s hard not to say they “paid the cost to be the boss”, especially when the PR miscues surface and the right things turns into the wrong things. Keep in mind, there is no training to be an owner of a sports team.
You sort of have to figure it out as you go and with so many new, outspoken personality types buying teams, the miscues from the owner’s box are not likely to stop anytime soon.
They simply have to figure it out the hard way.
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NBA Daily: Checking In With Terrance Ferguson
Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Terrance Ferguson talks to Basketball Insiders about learning from his teammates, earning minutes and being mentally tough.
Before he reached the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Terrance Ferguson was once often referred to as a man of mystery. After changing course on two different programs in a two-month span, Ferguson ditched the typical one-and-done collegiate season for an adventure on the other side of the planet. But even after the Thunder selected Ferguson with the No. 21 overall pick in last year’s draft — the questions still lingered. How would a teenager with one season overseas adjust to the world’s most physical basketball league?
Not many rookies can contribute to a 40-plus win squad out in the cutthroat Western Conference so quickly — but down the stretch, here Ferguson is doing just that. With the Thunder locked in a tight playoff battle with six others teams, the 19-year-old’s hard-working personality has fit alongside the roster’s three perennial All-Stars — Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. And although his rookie season has come with some growing pains, Ferguson is earning meaningful minutes and making the most of them.
“I think it’s my work ethic, I come in every day with the same mentality,” Ferguson said. “I work my butt off — inside the game, being physical. Even though I’m a skinny guy, as everyone can see, I’m still everywhere on the floor being physical. I think [the coaching staff] really likes that, especially on the defensive end.”
Skinny or not, Ferguson is one of the league’s youngest players, so the 6-foot-7 guard has plenty of room to grow — literally. But for now, he’s playing an integral role on an Oklahoma City team looking to protect its high postseason seed. Late January brought the unfortunate season-ending injury to Andre Roberson — an All-Defensive Second Team honoree in 2016-17 — so the Thunder have needed both new and old players to step up in bigger roles.
While those candidates included the three-point shooting Alex Abrines, veteran Raymond Felton and the newly-acquired Corey Brewer, Ferguson’s recent rise in the rotation has arguably been the most interesting development. Since the calendar flipped to January, Ferguson has featured in almost all of the Thunder’s games, tallying just two DNP-CDs and one missed contest following a concussion. This steady diet of opportunity comes as a stark contrast to the 15 games in which he received no playing time, spanning from the season’s opening tip to the new year.
Of course, playing time is not always indicative of success, but Ferguson himself isn’t surprised that he’s carved out a crucial role ahead of the playoffs.
“Not really, it’s all up to coach’s decision,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just here playing my part, staying ready at all times and some minutes came, so I’mma take them and play to the best of my ability.”
Back in October, Basketball Insiders’ own Joel Brigham spoke to Ferguson about his unconventional path to NBA and the choice to spend a year grinding with the Adelaide 36ers, an Australian outfit. In the land down under, Ferguson averaged just 15 minutes a night, considerably less than he would’ve likely received as a highly-recruited prospect here in America. Some five months later, Ferguson’s early-season stance on the move still stands out.
“I’m living the dream now, right? I must have done the right thing,” Ferguson said.
Today, it’s hard to disagree with Ferguson’s decisions considering that they’re currently paying off. In 2009, Brandon Jennings became the first to skip college and play in Europe before being drafted, with Emmanuel Mudiay most notably following in his footsteps six years later. While those two point guards both were selected in the top ten of their draft classes — at No. 10 and No. 7, respectively — it still remains the road far less traveled.
Considered raw by most pre-draft evaluations, an early expectation was that Ferguson would spend much of the season with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s G-League affiliate. Instead, Ferguson has played in only three games with the Blue, where he has averaged a commendable 14.7 points, four rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.
But as of late, the Thunder have found somebody that’ll always work hard, learn from others and do the little things that don’t show up in the box score.
“I’ve learned a lot more from when I first started,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I got great teammates — I got Nick Collison, I got Russ, PG, Melo, so just picking their brains. I got Corey now, so just the work ethic they put in, just picking their brains each and every day about what I can do better, watching game film, it’s a lot of things.”
When he was drafted, Ferguson had a reputation as a skyscraping leaper with the athleticism to become an elite perimeter defender. Although his current averages with the Thunder understate his innate potential, Ferguson knows he can contribute without scoring — even noting that he can make up for it “on the other side of the court.” Playing defense and competing hard every night, he has slowly made a name for himself.
And while Ferguson has tallied far more single-digit scoring outings than his 24-point breakout performance in early January, he’s earned the trust of head coach Billy Donovan and his veteran teammates, which is something the rookie will never take for granted.
“Coach believes in me and that means a lot to me,” Ferguson said. “But my teammates believe in me, so I’m not gonna let them down. I’m gonna go out every day and play my hardest, compete and try to get the win each and every night.”
One might assume that his year abroad in Australia helped to mentally mold him into the high-flying, hard-nosed rookie we see today. Ferguson, however, contends that he’s had that edge from the very beginning.
“I’ve been mentally tough, it wasn’t overseas that did that,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I had to be mentally tough just to go over there — so I’ve always had that mentality, the [desire] to just dominate, play to the best of my ability and compete.”
And now he’s doing just that in the NBA.
Is Kyrie Irving’s Second Opinion a Cause for Concern?
Shane Rhodes breaks down the tough situation the Celtics are in with Kyrie Irving.
The Boston Celtics are in one awful predicament.
With a third of the roster out due to injury, Brad Stevens has been forced into the impossible task of maintaining Boston’s championship aspirations with some subpar talent; while they have performed admirably, the likes of Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye wouldn’t see the same run they are currently on with most contenders. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire season, save a few minutes on opening night. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are all currently out, some for the year and others not. Key contributors Al Horford, Marcus Morris and others have missed time as well.
It couldn’t get worse, could it?
Well, it may just have. Reports surfaced Tuesday that Irving, who had missed time this season — including the last four games — with left knee soreness, is seeking a second opinion after a lack of progress in his recovery.
My understanding is that Kyrie Irving is getting a 2nd opinion on his left knee, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Bottom line: he needs the screws out. Knee is flaring up. He will either play thru it going forward or … he will get thee screws out and won’t play at all. Stay tuned.
— Tony Massarotti (@TonyMassarotti) March 20, 2018
With lack of progress on his ailing left knee, Celtics All-Star Kyrie Irving plans to travel for a second opinion later this week, league sources tell Yahoo.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 20, 2018
In the wake of the Isaiah Thomas fiasco and his ailing hip last Summer, an injury that lingered deep into this season, the Celtics will likely be more than cautious with Irving, whom they gave up a haul (the rights to the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick, most notably), to acquire. But one can only wonder if these persistent issues — Irving’s left knee was surgically repaired after he sustained a fractured kneecap in 2015, and he reportedly threatened the Cleveland Cavaliers with surgery this offseason before his trade to Boston — are a cause for concern for general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.
The situation presents the Celtics with a quandary, to say the least.
Knee injuries aren’t exactly a death-knell, but fans need not look far for to see the devastating effect they can have on NBA players (e.g. Derrick Rose). They can snowball and, over time, even the best players will break down. Regardless of the severity, Irving’s knee issue presents problems both now and in the future.
The problems now are obvious: the Celtics, already down Gordon Hayward, cannot afford to lose Irving if they are at all interested in making a Finals run this season. Boston struggles mightily on the offensive end when Irving and his 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists aren’t on the court. In a playoff atmosphere, especially, the team would sorely miss his scoring prowess.
Looking ahead, if Irving is dealing with these problems at the age of 25, what could the future hold for the All-Star guard? Knee issues, most lower body issues in general, are often of the chronic variety, and constant maintenance can wear on people, both mentally and physically.
Just a season separated from a likely super-max payday, will the Celtics want to commit big-money long-term to potentially damaged goods?
If there is a silver lining in it all, it is the fact that 20-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum must now shoulder the scoring load, something that should go a long way in building on the potential that made him the No. 3 overall pick last June. And, should Irving miss the remainder of this season, exposure to the fires of the playoffs should only temper the Celtics’ young roster. In the event that Irving’s absence isn’t prolonged, time like this could only serve to strengthen the roster around him.
Still, Ainge brought Irving to Boston for a reason: he was meant to lead the Celtics into battle, alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, in their quest for a title. Obviously, he can’t do that from the bench. Without Irving at 100 percent, the Celtics are not a championship caliber squad, healthy Gordon Hayward or not. That fact alone will make Irving’s situation one to monitor going forward and for the foreseeable future.
NBA Daily: Houston Has It All
Deciphering whether Houston is a contender or pretender is tough, but they’re making it easy.
It is very easy to get caught up in the NBA regular-season hyperbole. The past is littered with a plethora of NBA teams that looked like world-beaters in the regular season only to pull up lame in the playoffs and emerge as a bunch of pretenders.
So when it comes to the Houston Rockets, it’s no surprise many pundits and fans of the game fall heavily on one side or the other. The 2017-18 Rockets are a polarizing squad in that respect. On one side of the fence, you have the folks that are struggling to get behind Houston until they see how the franchise performs in the playoffs under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. On the other, folks that place a great deal of weight on the 82-game regular season and the ability to sustain consistency throughout the marathon.
As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
At the top of Houston’s lineup are two future Hall of Famers in James Harden and Chris Paul. The latter was a perennial star in his heyday and is still a top-tier talent in the league. Harden, on the other hand, is closing in on his first MVP award and had serious cases for winning the honors in prior seasons, as well. Both Harden and Paul are criticized for their past playoff failures.
Paul entered the league during the 2006 season and has been dogged by the ever looming fact that he’s never reached a Conference Finals. Harden has been to the NBA Finals but has been dogged for multiple playoff missteps and shaky performances that remain etched in everyone’s memory. But something about this season’s Rockets team (57-14) seems different as the duo closes in on 60 wins.
One way to measure the true greatness of a NBA team is evaluating how many ways the roster can win playing a variety of styles. From the eyeball test, Houston checks the boxes in this category. The team sustains leads during blowouts. They have an offense built to erase large deficits quickly. The team possesses the talent to employ an array of versatile lineups to withstand top heat from opposing teams. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has shown the ability to adjust on the fly during certain situations. Houston is seemingly comprised of a bunch of guys that are selfless and ready to sacrifice at this stage of their respective careers.
Time will tell on all of those aforementioned aspects, but the Rockets are built to compete and win now. On paper at least, the team fits the criteria.
Paul has a chance to go down as a top five point guard in NBA history .His court vision is unquestioned and his big men always seem to end up being in the top five of field goal percentage each season (i.e. Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and now Clint Capela). In years past, the Rockets faltered down the stretch of games because the entire system ran through Harden. But this year’s club has the luxury of taking some of the on-ball expectation away from Harden and by giving the rock to Paul who naturally thrives in this role the squad doesn’t take a step back on the floor.
This is going to be big for Houston which has seen Harden gassed late in playoff games from carrying the entire load.
Small Ball Ready
Presumably standing between the Rockets and an appearance in the NBA Finals are the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors turned the NBA upside down with their free-flowing offense, long range accuracy and the successful ability to push the pace while playing small ball.
At the height of Golden State’s success they employed the “death lineup” which places All-Star forward Draymond Green at center. In different variations this gives the Warriors five guys on the court who can dribble, drive, pass and shoot. Versatility is important and if you look at this year’s Rockets team they have the ability to match the death lineup with their own version. Veteran forward P.J. Tucker would be able to guard Green in this scenario at center or Houston could just rely on the athleticism of Capela.
When it comes to defense, the Rockets will never be confused for the bad boy Detroit Pistons of yesteryear, however, the team has an assortment of individually capable defenders on the roster. Paul has all defensive team honors hanging on his mantle during his time in the league. Small forward Trevor Ariza made his bones in the league by placing an emphasis on defense. Before Capela emerged as a double-digit scorer, he was relied on as a defensive spark off the bench. Luc Mbah a Moute has a reputation and consistent track record of being a very willing defender.
Shooting, Versatility and Experience
All of this success, leads to the variation D’Antoni can put out onto the floor. The versatility to go with a small ball lineup or a lineup heavily skewed toward defenders is a luxury amenity. Houston also features five guys with 125 or more three-pointers made this season with Harden, Eric Gordon, Ariza, Paul and Ryan Anderson leading the way. A sixth, Tucker, should join the +100 club before season’s end. Veteran Gerald Green has only played 30 games with the franchise but has already knocked down 76 attempts from distance.
Experience is key as well. This year’s Rockets team features only one player under 25, receiving 25 or more minutes per night in the rotation. Look at NBA history, title winning teams are full of veterans not second or third year players.
Again, the Rockets will never be confused with the late 80s or early 90s Pistons but the team has more than a few guys that don’t shy away from contact or physical play. The collection of Nene, Tucker, Green and Ariza have had more than their share of shoving matches when things get heated on the floor.
With the start of the NBA playoffs (April 14) under a month away, the Rockets continue to build momentum toward a title run. Will Harden and Paul’s playoff demons from the past emerge or is their first true shot at greatness with a complete team? These questions will soon be answered.