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NBA AM: Larkin Needs Opportunity, Stability

After playing for 3 teams (and 4 coaches) in 3 years, Shane Larkin wants to show what he learned.

Alex Kennedy

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Larkin Needs an Opportunity and Stability

Shane Larkin has played for three teams in his first three seasons in the NBA, and that number could easily become four teams in four seasons depending on what happens this July. That’s because Larkin opted out of the final $1.5 million of his contract, meaning he is an unrestricted free agent.

Larkin, the 18th overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, has played for the Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets. He signed with Brooklyn last offseason because he loved New York and wanted an opportunity to play. With the Nets, he delivered the best season of his NBA career thus far.

The 23-year-old point guard averaged 7.3 points, 4.4 assists, 2.3 rebounds and 1.2 steals in 22.4 minutes for Brooklyn, and his per-100-possessions numbers were 16.3 points, 9.8 assists, 5.2 rebounds and 2.7 steals. In his 17 games as a starter this season, he averaged 9.5 points, 5.8 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.5 steals in 29.4 minutes. Larkin also shot a career-high 44.2 percent from the field and 36.1 percent from three-point range in Brooklyn.

He scored in double-figures 22 times this season and had a number of impressive performances throughout the year. In Brooklyn’s final back-to-back, Larkin was one of the team’s most productive players. He had 15 points, eight assists, four rebounds and one steal against the Indiana Pacers and then followed it up with 20 points (on 9-13 shooting from the field), seven assists and six rebounds against the Washington Wizards the next night. In late March, he led Brooklyn to consecutive wins over the Cleveland Cavaliers (contributing 16 points on 7-10 from the field, seven assists and three rebounds) and the Pacers (recording 14 points on 4-6 from the field, five assists and three steals).

Larkin has opted out of his contract and will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1. He did stress that he loves New York and that he would love to stay with Brooklyn if the franchise wants to grow with him moving forward. But it’s clear that Larkin is seeking stability and, preferably, a long-term home.

“I’m not a guy who wants to play a 10-year career with eight different teams; I want to find a home and really lock in with a team where I know what the coach wants, what my teammates want and we can just all grow together,” Larkin told Basketball Insiders. “I feel like that’s how you get the best out of your players. It’s not like, ‘Alright, let’s get this guy here for a year, he can fill in this void for us and then [move on].’ I just turned 23, so I’m still young. Being able to get with a team on a two-year deal or three-year deal saying, ‘This is what we want you to be. We want you to spark our offense, push the tempo, be this guy and this is what we feel you can do for the team,’ then that’s perfect. Whether I’m a starter or whatever, it’s cool either way. I just want to find a situation where a team wants to see me grow with them and not just [have me as] a fill-in. That’s the kind of situation I’d be looking for.”

The Nets won just 21 games this season, which led to big changes throughout the organization. Head coach Lionel Hollins was fired (Tony Brown became the interim coach) and general manager Billy King was replaced by Sean Marks. Also, the team announced on Sunday that it had hired Atlanta Hawks assistant coach Kenny Atkinson to be its new head coach. The front-office change could impact Larkin’s future since the general manager that signed him is no longer calling the shots. The coaching change affected him as well and he had to make a difficult midseason adjustment.

“It’s tough, especially as a point guard because you’re an extension of the coach on the floor,” Larkin said. “I mean, at the beginning of the year, there were several articles saying, ‘Oh, it’s Larkin’s breakout year, he’s finally found himself, averaging this and that, shooting well from the three.’ I was really comfortable with Coach Hollins. But after 37 games, to be exact, Coach Hollins was out of here and Billy King was released or whatever it was so it was like we didn’t really have a lot of direction. Coach Tony was kind of just handed the job like, ‘Alright, here you go.’ It was kind of like, ‘Just like go play basketball.’ [Until mid-February], there was no GM telling him who he wants to be played, what he wants to do. It changes everything because there’s no real direction. There’s no, ‘Oh, let’s play the young guys in this type of system.’ It’s kind of just like, ‘Okay, here’s the guys you have – go out and try to win basketball games.’ I mean, that’s tough. Coach Tony wanted to change some things up, whether it’s not running as many pick-and-rolls or playing more up-tempo, post feeds, cuts, stuff like that.

“It’s just difficult, when I’ve now been with four coaches in three years. It’s definitely easier when you’re with a team for a while and you know what your coach wants and you know what he expects from you. He knows what you can do, he knows the pros and cons to your game and he could put you in a position to be successful. So not really being able to be in that type of situation is difficult. But at the same time, I’m learning [from each coach], just like I did with the Triangle in New York and the system in Dallas. When I do get to a situation where I’m comfortable, all those things will help me be a better player. It’s tough, but I just have to keep working. No excuses.”

On the other hand, there are some positives that come with playing for so many coaches. Larkin has gotten the chance to pick the brain of Rick Carlisle, Derek Fisher, Hollins and Brown, while learning to play differently for each of them.

“You can see the chemistry that Brook [Lopez] and I have with the back-door cuts and everything, and I learned that from the Triangle,” Larkin said. “Before that – my rookie year in Dallas – I didn’t really have that knowledge of how to cut off the post and what not, but the Triangle taught me that. For whatever reason, some people don’t like the Triangle, but it really helped me in terms of playing off of the post. So I’ll throw it into Brook, make my read off the post and me and him are really deadly in that when he’s dropping it off to me when I’m cutting to the basket. I’d say that helped me this year. It helped me take another step up, progressing in the pick-and-roll, learning when to drop the pocket pass, when to feed the big, when to shoot the pull-up. I’ve just been progressing every single year.”

While this past year was certainly frustrating at times, Larkin is remaining positive and looking for lessons from the campaign. He acknowledges that he still has a lot of room for growth, but did say that he grew as a player during his third NBA season.

“I’ve learned a lot,” Larkin said. “This is really my first year being in the pick-and-roll system since my rookie year, but I missed half of that with a broken ankle. So it’s just been a progression on reads, what I should be looking for when we are in the single eye, double eye and just being patient in the pick-and-roll. That was something that Coach Hollins was really preaching to me at the beginning of the year: making the right reads, the pick-and-roll, defensively what I need to do more of and things like that. The more you play, the more experience you gain. Overall, I’ve learned a lot this year.”

When players enter the NBA out of college, they’re often asked what NBA players they study. Well, as a point guard, Larkin spends most evenings playing against some of the best basketball players on the planet since there are so many stars at his position. When asked which players he has learned from since being in the league and who he tries to model his game after, Larkin mainly focused on Los Angeles Clippers floor general Chris Paul.

“Every time Chris Paul plays, I try to watch him just because he’s masterful in the pick-and-roll,” Larkin said. “There are certain guys you can’t really watch and play like, you know? You see Steph Curry and you can’t do Steph Curry stuff. You can’t do what Russell Westbrook does because he’s 6’4 and he beats everybody off the dribble. CP is my size, he’s not the quickest guy in the league and he just plays with a nice pace to his game. He always sets his man up, gets in the lane, knows when to throw the lob, when to throw the pocket pass and he just knows where all his people are on the court. I would say he’s somebody that I really watch a lot. [Shooting coach] David Nurse sends me clips of him constantly. Steve Nash is another guy I get sent clips of often. Those are the guys that I watch and try to learn from.”

While Larkin’s career hasn’t gotten off to the start that many expected, it’s important to note that he has improved each year and played well when put in position to succeed. Sometimes, it takes some time before a player is given a great opportunity or put in the perfect situation

It wasn’t until Chauncey Billups was in his sixth season (and on his fifth team, the Detroit Pistons) that he became a full-time starter and thrived.

Or take Kyle Lowry, for example. It took several years and changes of scenery before he became the perennial All-Star everyone knows today. Now that Lowry is a star, it’s easy to forget that he didn’t become a starter until his fifth season in the NBA and wasn’t an All-Star until he was 28 years old and in his ninth year in the league.

Larkin looks at Billups’ and Lowry’s journeys and hopes he can have a similar path to success after bouncing around the league during his first three seasons.

“A lot of the NBA is about your situation,” Larkin said. “Kyle Lowry was in Memphis his first couple years and he wasn’t playing bad, but he was a back-up with solid numbers like eight or nine points a game and a couple assists. Then, he went to Houston, started there and then it was 12 or 13 points a game, not really killing it. But then he got to Toronto and he’s taking off now. He’s been an All-Star two years in a row and he’s one of the best point guards in the league.

“It’s just progression. It’s about work ethic and finding the right situation. That’s really all it’s about. You just have to get to a situation where the team really wants you to progress and excel so you can go far with the team and grow with them. I feel like I can do that. It’s possible – you just have to keep working, keep getting better and just find the right situation.”

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 PM: Hornets Rookies May Become Key Contributors

Some key injuries may force Charlotte’s rookies into becoming effective role players earlier than expected, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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As the NBA finally gets underway tomorrow evening, the 2017 rookie draft class will get their first taste of regular season action. Teams reliant on young rookie talent might produce an exciting brand of basketball but that rarely translates into a winning formula. Having rookies play a key role for a team hoping to make the playoffs can be a risky endeavor.

Out West, the Los Angeles Lakers are relying on both Lonzo Ball as well as Kyle Kuzma, who may have worked his way into the rotation with his surprising preseason play. However, the Lakers are, at this point, not realistic contenders in the competitive Western Conference. In the East, the Philadelphia 76ers have more realistic playoff hopes. The team is relying on this year’s top overall draft pick, Markelle Fultz, and 2016’s top pick, Ben Simmons, for meaningful production. Although Simmons has been in the league for over a year, he is still classified as a rookie for this season since he didn’t play last season.

The Charlotte Hornets are looking to return to the playoffs after narrowly missing the cut this past season. The team will likely feature not one, but two true rookies as a part of their regular rotation. Like the Lakers, the Hornets feature a highly touted rookie with the talent and poise to contribute right away in Malik Monk. The team also features Dwayne Bacon, a rookie that has flashed scoring potential as well as maturity — key attributes that will allow him to quickly contribute to the team.

Both players will be given the opportunity to contribute as a result of the unfortunate and untimely injury to forward Nicolas Batum. Batum tore a ligament in his left elbow in an October 4 preseason game against the Detroit Pistons. Initial speculation was that the injury would require surgery. However, it was announced on October 10 that surgery would not be necessary, and that he is projected to return in six to eight weeks. Assuming that there are no setbacks in Batum’s recovery, the Hornets will be looking to replace his perimeter scoring, playmaking abilities and perimeter defense. Enter Monk and Bacon.

Monk and Bacon have both shown the ability to score the ball, which is not exactly a common trait in Hornets rookies. Bacon, the 40th pick in the 2017 NBA draft, has made it a point to look for his shot from the outside, averaging 7.8 three-point shots per game while knocking down 33.3 percent of his attempts. As Bacon gains more experience, he presumably will learn how to get cleaner looks at the basket within the flow of the team’s offense. Doing so should help him increase his shooting percentage from beyond the arc, which would turn him into an even more effective contributor for Charlotte.

Bacon spoke to reporters after a recent preseason game against the Boston Celtics. Bacon was placed in the starting lineup and went 4-4 from three-point range in 34 minutes of action.

When asked what are some of the things he wanted to work on, Bacon focused on one end of the court in particular.

“Definitely defense. I’m trying to perfect the defensive side, I want to be one of the best two-way players to ever play the game,” Bacon stated. “I feel like I got the offensive side so just keep getting better on defense, I’ll be fine.”

Lack of consistency and defense are key factors that prevent many rookies from playing and being successful on winning teams right away. Based on Bacon’s size (6-foot-6, 221 pounds with a long wingspan) and physicality, he has the physical tools necessary to play passable defense. Combine that with his ability to score (he led the team in scoring in three of its five preseason games) and the unfortunate injury to Batum, it’s apparent that Bacon will get an opportunity to make the rotation and contribute.

Reliable two-way players on the wing are crucially important, but are not always readily available and are even less common on cheap contracts. The Los Angeles Clippers went through the entire Chris Paul/Blake Griffin era swapping small forwards on a nearly annual basis, struggling to find this kind of contribution from the wing. With little cap flexibility, the Clippers were unable to acquire a forward that could effectively and consistently play both end of the court, which caused issues over the years. As a second round pick, Bacon is set to make $815,615 in his first year. If Bacon is able to contribute at even a league average level, that will be a major boost for the shorthanded Hornets. Bacon is smart to focus on improving as a defender as Steve Clifford is a defensive-minded coach who will leave talented players on the bench if they aren’t making a positive impact on the defensive end of the court.

In fact, Clifford offered some strong simultaneous praise and criticism of Monk when it came to his scoring and defense.

“He can score, he can score, he can score [speaking of Monk],” Clifford stated. “I think his defense will come because he’s willing, he’s a good guy. I think that being a good player is very important to him.”

It’s apparent in Clifford’s comment that he values scoring, but that defense is also extremely important and essential to any player that wants to be a “good player.”

“He knows and understands that the way he has played in the past [in college], he can’t play in this league if he wants to be a good player,” Clifford said about Monk. “The big thing is, I told him, when people say, ‘he’s a talented offensive player’ that is a lot different than somebody saying, ‘he’s a talented NBA player.’”

Point guard Michael Carter-Williams also suffered an injury (bone bruise in his left knee), which received less attention than Batum’s injury. While Carter-Williams is not the same caliber of player as Batum, the Hornets are alarmingly thing at backup point guard. Without Carter-Williams, the team was going to lean on Batum to act as a playmaker more than he has in the past, which would have, at least in part, addressed the lack of an established backup point guard. But with Batum sidelined, Coach Clifford has given Monk time at the point guard position. If Monk proves capable of playing both guard positions and playing alongside Walker, that could go a long way towards mitigating the loss of Batum and Carter-Williams. It’s not reasonable to expect Monk (or Bacon) to produce as consistently as a seasoned veteran, but having them contribute at a league average level would constitute a big win for a Charlotte team with serious playoff aspirations.

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Teams Refuse To Back Down To Stacked Warriors

Golden State got better over the summer, but that didn’t stop others from trying to stop them from repeating as champions

Spencer Davies

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Opening week is finally upon us.

Appropriately enough, the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics will kick off the 2017-18 NBA season tomorrow night, as will the defending champion Golden State Warriors when they host the improved Houston Rockets.

The clear-cut favorites to win the league title are the ones who have done so two out of the past three years, and rightfully so. Warriors general manager Bob Myers has done a masterful job of assembling a juggernaut. They’ve kept their insanely talented core intact and—aside from Ian Clark and Matt Barnes—haven’t lost any of their key bench pieces to free agency.

In fact, Golden State has added to that dangerous second unit. Jordan Bell was bought from the Chicago Bulls and will bring another Draymond Green-esque impact almost immediately. Nick Young and Omri Casspi were brought in to fill the void of backup wings, which is an improvement at the position anyway. With the same roster as last year and better reserves to give the starters a breather, there’s no reason Steve Kerr and company can’t repeat if they stay healthy.

Knowing what the Warriors are capable of and how well they are set up to truly be a dynasty, there are some league executives out there who are hesitant to make significant moves that could potentially flop against such a powerhouse.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported back in middle June that select teams don’t want to risk a big play because of it. What that basically translates into is: We’re throwing in the white towel until that ball club disbands.

But luckily for fans and for parity’s sake, there was a handful of general managers that refused to take that path. Just looking down the list in the Western Conference, there were organizations that swung for the fences this summer.

The aforementioned Rockets are one of them.Daryl Morey pieced together multiple trades to allow him to land Chris Paul to play next to James Harden and form a dynamic backcourt tandem. Houston also signed a pair of veteran two-way players in Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker to provide depth and defense.

What about the Oklahoma City Thunder? Just when we thought Russell Westbrook’s MVP season was enough to maybe build off, the unthinkable happened. Sam Presti unloaded Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to Indiana after just one season with the team to add All-Star forward Paul George, who is in a contract year.

That blockbuster move was followed up with another two months later, as Presti decided to deal fan favorite Enes Kanter and Doug McDermott to the Knicks in exchange for Carmelo Anthony. The creation of a Westbrook-George-Anthony big three forms an elite trio that is determined to prove championship worthiness.

Top tier Eastern Conference counterparts did their due diligence as well. The Cavaliers and Celtics are essentially rivals and became trade partners in an attempt to re-tool their respective rosters, in addition to gaining important pieces outside of that.

Boston inked Gordon Hayward to a maximum contract to create a bolstered starting unit alongside Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, and Al Horford until madness happened.

Firstly, Bradley got moved in a swap with the Detroit Pistons for Marcus Morris to address the hole at power forward. After that—with reports of Kyrie Irving’s unhappiness in Cleveland swirling around the basketball universe—Celtics general manager Danny Ainge acted immediately and swung a deal for the All-Star point guard in exchange for his All-Star point guard, a vital member of his team in Jae Crowder and the coveted Brooklyn Nets first-round pick.

It’s almost a brand new squad, but Brad Stevens has a versatile group to work with to try and finally dethrone the conference champions of the last three years.

As for the East’s cream of the crop, the Cavaliers moves are well known because wherever LeBron James goes the spotlight follows. Thomas and Crowder were huge gets for first-time general manager Koby Altman, especially after the outside growing doubt in the franchise’s front office. The rookie executive was also instrumental in signing Derrick Rose, Jeff Green, and Dwyane Wade to veteran minimum contracts.

Rose and Green have plenty of motivation because their critics think they’re washed up, meaning Tyronn Lue won’t have to give them a reason to play their hearts out. Wade simply made the decision to come to Cleveland because he can play with his best friend and potentially add to his collection of championship rings.

Ante Zizic, Cedi Osman, and Jose Calderon are also now a part of the roster that all-of-a-sudden is now deep at almost every position. It’s a new flavor for a team that may have only one year left to compete for a title with James’ pending free agency next summer.

Those four teams feel great about their chances to get in the way of the Warriors. It doesn’t stop there though. The West in general loaded up.

The Minnesota Timberwolves executed the first big move of the year when they traded for Jimmy Butler. The Denver Nuggets signed Paul Millsap to provide leadership and a veteran voice in a young locker room full of talent. The San Antonio Spurs lost Jonathan Simmons but brought in a very capable Rudy Gay under-the-radar as Kawhi Leonard’s backup.

Nobody expected the league to completely fold and hand Golden State another championship, but it was surprising (and relieving) to see so many teams have the fortitude to pull off the moves that they did. There was definitely risk involved for some of them, however, one thing is for certain.

The Warriors will not have a cakewalk to the NBA Finals. They will have to go through a rigorous set of teams in the West throughout the regular season and the playoffs.

If any team is up to the task, it’s Golden State. But we’ll see how it plays out starting about 24 hours from now.

See you at tip-off.

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NBA League Pass Debuts for 2017-18 Season

NBA League Pass has launched for the 2017-18 season. Basketball Insiders has the details.

Ben Dowsett

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The NBA and Turner Sports have launched NBA League Pass for the 2017-18 season, with several new features and pricing options available. NBA League Pass, a subscription-based service, will be available to users across 19 different platforms, from television and broadband to tablets, mobile and a plethora of connected devices.

In addition, an important note: As of Monday, NBA League Pass subscribers who have already purchased their access through a TV provider (Comcast, DirecTV, Dish, etc.) are now able to link their account to the NBA’s streaming service at no additional charge. The link to do this can be found here.

Basketball Insiders has you covered with a breakdown of all the new details immediately available. We will also be bringing you a detailed breakdown of certain important technological areas later in the week.

Features

New or improved features of NBA League Pass include:

  • Improved video quality for streaming League Pass content developed by iStreamPlanet, a high-level video streaming entity working in partnership with NBA Digital. Included among these improvements are faster delivery time for live feeds, reducing notable lag time present in previous versions. More detail on these video quality improvements will be featured in our breakdown later this week.
  • A new premium package that includes continuous in-arena coverage, even during commercials. This allows fans to view team huddles, live entertainment and other venue features that make them feel closer to the experience.
  • A season-long virtual reality subscription package via NBA Digital and NextVR, available to all premium and traditional NBA League Pass subscribers (also available to international subscribers and single-game purchasers beginning in week two of the NBA season). Access will be available across Samsung Gear VR, Google Daydream and Windows Mixed Reality.
  • Coverage of pre-game warmups and other in-arena events.
  • Spanish-language video coverage for select games, as well as Spanish-language audio continuing for select games.
  • NBA Mobile view will contain a zoomed-in, tighter shot of game action that’s optimized for mobile devices.

Pricing

Pricing for NBA League Pass has not changed for traditional access, and will remain at $199.99 for the full season. New monthly-based subscriptions are now also available, both for the full package and for individual teams. Full pricing will be as follows:

  • Traditional NBA League Pass (full league): $199.99
  • Premium NBA League Pass: $249.99
  • NBA Team Pass: $119.99
  • Single Game Pass: $6.99
  • Virtual Reality package: $49.99
  • Premium monthly subscription: $39.99
  • Traditional League Pass monthly subscription: $28.99
  • NBA Team Pass monthly subscription: $17.99

Notes

As previously reported by Basketball Insiders, upgrades are also expected on the TV side of NBA League Pass, particularly through Comcast, which has had the largest share of customer issues for this product in recent years. While only a single nightly HD channel was available via Comcast XFINITY League Pass previously, sources tell Basketball Insiders that all games will be available in HD through Comcast’s Beta channel package by the end of November (or earlier).

This Beta package does have limitations, however, including users’ inability to record, pause or rewind games. The package that was available in previous season will continue to be available until (and after) the Beta package is active, and subscribers will get access to both for no additional charge.

Check back with Basketball Insiders later in the week for a full rundown of the technological improvements being made to NBA League Pass.

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