Basketball Insiders’ Jessica Camerato and CineSport’s Brian Clark discuss several NBA players who are feeling the pressure to deliver a strong 2015-16 season.
Larry Nance Jr. Living His Dream
When NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced that the Los Angeles Lakers had selected Larry Nance Jr. with the 27th overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, the 22-year-old forward was stunned.
“I was just hoping to hear my name called at all,” Nance told Basketball Insiders. “So to hear it called 27th overall by the Lakers, I was like, ‘Really? Really?!’ I had a sense of disbelief because it was just so crazy. I mean, I was just fighting to hear my name called at all and now I’m picked in the first round by the best franchise in history? I couldn’t have dreamt up a better scenario.”
To be clear, Nance absolutely believes the Lakers made the right choice and he’s determined to prove he was worthy of that first-round selection. But in that moment, he was pleasantly surprised and honored. Growing up as a huge NBA fan, he knows all about the Lakers’ rich history and what it means to don that purple and gold jersey. And now, suddenly, he was part of that exclusive fraternity.
“My first impression was, ‘This is the Lakers. The Lakers! THE. LAKERS.’ I couldn’t get that out of my head,” Nance said with a laugh. “I mean, it was just really cool. These guys are a part of my family now! I’m a part of their family! I’m a Laker! It was very surreal.”
Once the shock wore off, Nance knew that his life had changed. He was introduced to Lakers Nation, and bombarded with followers, likes, messages and friend requests across his social media accounts.
“It’s really cool; Lakers fans are everywhere,” Nance said. “They are very outspoken about being Lakers fans. I mean, my comments have spiked, my followers have spiked. They love their Lakers and I’m one of them now.”
Overnight, he went from being recognized only in Wyoming (where he played his college ball) to being stopped for pictures and autographs all across the country. That’s certainly an adjustment for a 22-year-old who hasn’t dealt with large-scale fame before. In the weeks that followed the draft, going out became difficult because he was constantly being stopped by fans – no matter what state he was in.
“It’s different,” Nance said. “When I was in Wyoming, I would get recognized everywhere because it’s a small state. I mean, it’s Wyoming. But now that I’m with the Lakers, I go to Chicago and I’m recognized. I go to Las Vegas and I’m recognized and get pictures taken. I go back home to Ohio and get pictures taken. I went from being recognized on a very small-state scale to now on a country-and-worldwide scale.”
Nance still finds it’s strange that people are excited to meet him.
“Every time, I just think, ‘These people know how I am? In Chicago? In Vegas? They want my picture?! Why?’ It still really hasn’t hit that I’m an NBA player.”
That’s one of the weirdest things about becoming an NBA player. You’re the same person, and many of the players aren’t recognized in public before the draft. But overnight, once your name is read off of that piece of paper on television, you’re suddenly a big deal and everyone wants a piece of you. Nance is still getting used to all of this.
However, the Lakers rookie has noticed some positives that come with this new-found attention and large audience of supporters. Nance suffers from Crohn’s Disease (as he detailed in a Basketball Insiders profile back in March), and he’s determined to use his large platform to start a foundation and raise awareness for the disease.
Back in March, he talked about the possibility of getting drafted and being able to help some people diagnosed with Crohn’s. Now, as a first-round pick on the NBA’s most popular team in a huge market like Los Angeles, he realizes he can really make a difference.
“It’s great for me, but even better for the Crohn’s community,” Nance said. “I’ve tried to be as vocal and open about it as possible and now, being in the NBA and in Los Angeles, it’s like having a big megaphone. I’m ready to maybe start a foundation and just get Crohn’s [awareness] out there more so it’s not off to the side like it is right now. I want to get it out there and reach as many people as I can.
“[Since being drafted] I’ve gotten messages via Twitter, via Facebook and via Instagram from people saying, ‘Hey, I know your story and I have Crohn’s as well. Keep it going, you are an inspiration.’ They say little things like that. I see all of those, and reading comments like that is just awesome. That’s my goal in this entire thing, to show somebody that if I could do it, you could do it too. The kind of responses I’ve gotten from this whole process is really cool.”
For his message about Crohn’s Disease to reach an even larger audience, Nance knows that he must have success in the NBA and become a notable player. This summer, he has been working hard to expand his game and prepare for his rookie season. He’s communicating with the Lakers’ coaching staff and believes there could be minutes for him in the rotation this year.
“I really haven’t spoken to the [coaches] too much about my role; they are more so [telling me] to keep working hard, get in the weight room, just telling me how to improve and things like that,” Nance said. “From what I understand, if I put the work in, if I work as hard as I can, there is going to be minutes available for me because we do have such a young and up-and-coming team.”
This offseason, one of Nance’s main focuses has been improving his shot. In college, he shot 51.4 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from three-point range, but he wants to ensure that he can shoot a high percentage in the NBA and be consistent against the tougher competition. Nance recently attended Tim Grgurich’s famed camp and altered his shot, which should pay dividends once the NBA season starts.
“The biggest thing I want to work on this offseason is my shooting,” Nance said. “I went to the Tim Grgurich camp in Vegas and that was great for me because I got to work with a bunch of coaches there and we kind of changed my shot a little bit. Now, it’s more functional and stuff like that. I’m just working on perfecting that and just getting better at becoming a knock-down shooter. This season, [I’m focused on] mid-range. Next season, I’m moving onto threes and moving to different spots on the floor and things like that. Shooting is definitely the biggest thing I’m working on.”
Another reason Nance was in Las Vegas this summer was to compete in the NBA’s Summer League, which was his first time representing the Lakers organization. Nance did well in the event, appearing in five games. His best outing was an eight-point, five-rebound, three-steal, two-block performance against the Philadelphia 76ers. He had a number of highlight plays that went viral, including a monster block off of the backboard and a powerful put-back slam.
“It was really cool because that’s a type of stage that I had never been on before,” Nance said of playing Summer League. “Being in Thomas and Mack Center and actually hearing the Lakers fans chanting my name gave me goose bumps. It gave me the chills. It was like, ‘Wow, welcome to the NBA, there’s 20,000 people here!’ I just can’t wait to see more of it honestly.”
Summer League was Nance’s first opportunity to play alongside his fellow Lakers rookie D’Angelo Russell, who was the second overall pick in this year’s draft. The two players have hit it off and become good friends, spending a lot of time together off the court. Nance has been impressed with how mature and confident Russell is as a 19-year-old.
“D’Angelo is a great kid,” Nance said. “I mean, it’s crazy because he’s 19 years old! I’m coming into the league with the mindset of like, ‘Alright, after four years of college, I’m ready and I can do this.’ He’s coming into the league like, ‘Alright, after one year I decided I can do it.’ He’s great.
“He’s fun-loving, and loves to just do things. It doesn’t matter what it is. He’ll go to the mall, go to the golf range, go play mini golf. Whatever it may be, he is always moving, always doing stuff. So I’m really enjoying trying to keep up with him. He’s just so eager to see everything and I’m tagging along.”
Nance can’t wait for the start of the season, when he’ll step onto the NBA court surrounded by thousands of cheering fans and play his first real game as a member of the Lakers.
It may feel surreal, but this is Nance’s life now. His wildest dreams have become reality, and he’s enjoying every second of the journey.
Knicks Holdovers Proved Something to Carmelo Anthony and the NBA
The Knicks made a statement in beating Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder convincingly in his return to Madison Square Garden.
As he walked up the tunnel in his dapper outfit and slick looking fedora, Carmelo Anthony had spent the past few nights thinking about this moment.
Seeing friends and family he’s missed since relocating to Oklahoma City, the game was quite emotional for the 10-time All-Star.
Never did he imagine, though, that his former teammates would want to beat him more than he wanted to beat them.
Even without Kristaps Porzingis, though, that’s exactly what the Knicks went out and did.
When LeBron James spurned the Knicks and announced his intentions to take his talents to South Beach, word began to trickle out of Denver that another big fish had his eyes on New York.
It was there, in the aftermath of heartbreak that the infatuation with Anthony began. Forcing a trade to New York in 2011, Anthony will forever wear the fact that the Knicks were muscled into trading for him like a Scarlett letter. It was ironic then that even with Anthony, the Knicks would spend the majority of his career in New York lacking the talent required to compete for supremacy atop the Eastern Conference.
As the years progressed and the Knicks continued to flounder, fans in New York inevitably split. Some blamed Anthony for the franchise’s failure to achieve higher. By forcing the trade, they’d argued, Anthony stripped the team of valuable assets that could have been used to help acquire reinforcements for him. Those that defend Anthony would sooner point to the organization’s lack of continuity—both on the bench and in the front office—as the primary reason the team floundered.
The truth, of course, lies somewhere in the middle, just like the scores of teammates Anthony has had in New York have.
Player movement in the NBA has become its own phenomenon. Tons of time is spent talking about things from the superstars’ perspective, and not much from the perspective of the role players. So when a player like Anthony is deemed to need to relocate in order to have an opportunity to win at the highest levels, players like Lance Thomas, Courtney Lee and even Kristaps Porzingis begin to be thought of as players who aren’t good enough to succeed in a serious way in the league. It usually takes many years of futility for the superstar to be the one considered damaged goods.
So when Anthony and the Thunder came into Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, the 10-time All-Star wasn’t the only one that had something to prove. Subliminally, the role players left behind—the team that many expected to find itself in the lottery once the season was over—was just as eager to prove that the team’s failure to win around Anthony wasn’t completely due to their shortcomings as professionals.
As the Knicks soundly defeated the Thunder by a final score of 111-96, there’s no doubt that the Thunder’s triple-overtime game in Philadelphia the night before had an impact, but there’s also no doubt that there just so happened to be a little extra pep in the step of each Knick player. That the Knicks managed to outlast the Thunder without top gun Porzingis was especially impressive.
And when it was all said and done, the Knicks fans that curiously booed Anthony proved a central point: there is a large section of them that believe that Anthony somehow held the team back. Certainly, the Knicks could have and should have achieved higher during his years there, but to boo an athlete that chose New York—a franchise that has been marked by poor management and poorer decisions—seemed a bit out of touch.
Sure, Anthony may have failed the Knicks, but they absolutely failed him, too. And in the face of it, all Anthony ever did was show up, play hard and answer every question ever posed to him authentically and honestly. He proudly wore New York across his chest and showed up every day. In a world where LeBron leaves for Miami and Durant leaves for Oakland, Anthony’s commitment to New York should have meant something to Knicks fans. Flaws and all, Anthony chose New York and it wasn’t until he was told in certain terms that the organization wanted to move on that he honored their wish.
And in the end, Anthony decided to waive his no-trade clause to head to Oklahoma City. In return, the Knicks got Enes Kanter, Doug McDermott and the rights to the Chicago Bulls’ second round pick in 2018 NBA Draft.
Still, heading into the season, the Knicks were projected to be a lottery team. Without a player the caliber of Anthony, they were thought to be a long shot for the playoffs. Holdovers from last year’s team knew what people were saying about them, and although head coach Jeff Hornacek refused to admit it, there is genuine surprise around the team that, at 16-13, has matched its 29-game start to last year.
Perhaps those that booed Anthony on Saturday night did so because of some warped sense of reality. Perhaps they believed that it was Anthony that quit on the team and not vice versa. Maybe they thought that, without Anthony, they wouldn’t have a shot at doing anything impactful this season.
Through 29 games, it would appear that they were wrong.
And in Anthony’s return to Madison Square Garden, the Knicks proved that, and a lot more.
Fred VanVleet is Finding Success in the NBA
David Yapkowitz speaks to Toronto’s Fred VanVleet about his unheralded path to the NBA and more.
Fred VanVleet is used to being the underdog. Prior to the NBA, he spent four seasons at Wichita State, a school that hasn’t always been in the national spotlight when it comes to college basketball. Even after he finished his college career in impressive fashion, leading the Shockers to the NCAA tournament every year he was there, he went undrafted in the 2016 NBA draft.
But despite the lack of recognition from national media outlets, VanVleet always knew that he was good enough to play in the NBA. He knew that his path to the league was going to be much different than many other top prospects, but he was confident. He put his trust in NBA personnel to recognize what was right in front of them.
“If you can play, they’re gonna find you. That’s the best thing about the NBA, you can’t hide forever,” VanVleet told Basketball Insiders. “You just got to try to wait and keep grinding for the opportunity, and when it comes be ready to make the most of it and that’s what I did.”
Making the most of his opportunity is definitely what he’s done. After he went undrafted in 2016, he joined the Toronto Raptors’ summer league team in Las Vegas. He put up decent numbers to the tune of 6.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and 54.5 percent shooting from the three-point line.
He also showed solid defensive potential as well as the ability to run a steady offense. The Raptors were impressed by his performance and they invited him to training camp for a chance to make the team. They already had 14 guaranteed contracts at the time and had invited five other players, in addition to VanVleet, to camp.
VanVleet did his best to stand out in training camp that year, capping off the 2016 preseason with a 31 point, five rebound, five assist performance against San Lorenzo de Almagro of Argentina. The Raptors were in need of another point guard after Delon Wright was ruled out to start the season due to an injury.
Not only did he make the Raptors’ opening night roster, but he ended up playing some big minutes for the team as the season went on. This year, he started out as the third-string point guard once again. But with another injury to Wright, he’s solidified himself as the backup point for the time being.
“You just want to grow each year and get better. I had a smaller role last year, I’m just trying to improve on that and get better,” VanVleet said. “It’s a long process, you just try to get better each game on a pretty good team, a winning team. Being able to contribute to that is what you work for.”
VanVleet’s journey to the NBA is one that is not very common anymore for players coming out of college. More and more players are opting to spend one, maybe two years at most in college before declaring for the NBA draft.
Players like VanVleet, who spend the entire four years in college, are becoming more of a rarity. Although for him, he feels like the additional time spent at Wichita State helped him make more of a seamless transition to the NBA than some of his younger peers.
“I think more so off the court than anything, just being an adult, being a grown man coming in the door,” VanVleet said. “A pro before being a pro, being able to take care of your business. Coming in every day doing your job and being able to handle the things that come with the life off the court.”
The NBA season is a long one. Teams that start out hot sometimes end up fizzling out before the season’s end. Similarly, teams that that get off to a slow start sometimes pick it up as the season progresses. The Raptors have been one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference the past couple of years and this season looks to be no different.
Even with the Boston Celtics’ hot start, the Raptors are only three games back of the top spot in the East. They’re only one game back in the loss column. There was a time when mentioning the word ‘championship’ was unheard of around this team. Things are different now.
“We’re trying to contend for a championship. Obviously, we’ve been at the top of the East for the last few years,” VanVleet said. “We’re trying to get over that hump and contend for a championship, that’s definitely our goal. It’s a long year and still pretty early, but we’re just trying to grow and build and get better each game.”
NBA DAILY: Tyrone Wallace Is Breaking Out in His Own Backyard
On his second G-Leauge team in two years, Tyrone Wallace is putting up numbers close to home, working towards his NBA shot.
Located in the heart of Southern California, Bakersfield sits just on the cusp of Los Angeles’ shadow.
In terms of size, it’s not easy to overlook this Californian destination. Bakersfield is the ninth most populated city in the state. But it doesn’t hold the glamour that its contemporary two hours south down Interstate-5 possesses. Instead, Bakersfield rests its laurels on the farming past that made it the city it has become today, with three of the four top employers in the city either being farm or produce companies.
Working for a produce company doesn’t interest Tyrone Wallace, though. He’d much rather spend his time on the hardwood. Wallace grew up in Bakersfield. He’s Bakersfield High School’s all-time leading scorer and two-time Bakersfield Californian Player of the Year.
Wallace has sown his oats with a leather ball as opposed to some vegetables.
Growing up in Bakersfield is crucial to Wallace’s story, however. On the outskirts of Los Angeles, Wallace grew up a hardcore Lakers fan, caught up in the generation of kids who idolized Kobe Bryant. It’s Kobe, and Wallace’s brother, Ryan Caroline, who led him to where he is now.
Where that is, exactly, is playing professional basketball in the NBA G-League for the Agua Caliente Clippers. About another 45 minutes down Interstate-5 from his hometown.
For Wallace, getting an opportunity to work towards his dream of playing basketball at the highest level so close to home is a blessing.
“It’s been really fun for me,” Wallace told Basketball Insiders. “You know (Bakersfield) is a smaller city, not too many guys make it out, especially for basketball. It’s more of a football city, but the support there is awesome. Everybody’s behind me you know. Good games, bad games, guys are treating me, and you know the whole city is, I feel the whole support from the city. So to be so close to home is definitely a treat. I have friends and family that will come out to our games quite often. During preseason I had friends and family come out and watch. It’s been a blessing.”
Playing in front of familiar faces isn’t new territory for Wallace. After making his mark in Bakersfield, the 6-foot-4 guard went on to play his college ball at the University of California. Amid his four years at Cal, Wallace finished first-team All-Pac 12 his junior year, along with being named a finalist for the Bob Cousy Award, given to the nation’s best point guard.
Sharing the court with the likes of other NBA players like Jaylen Brown and Ivan Rabb in college, Wallace joined the professional fraternity himself at the eleventh hour on draft night in 2016 when the Utah Jazz selected him 60th overall.
Pick one, or pick 60. It didn’t matter to Wallace that night in June. He was just happy to get the first chance he worked his whole life for.
“It was emotional, man,” Wallace said. “You watch everybody and see them go, I had Jaylen (Brown) earlier in the first round who I was really excited for. Just sitting there, pick after pick you’re waiting there hoping you get called. But it was a dream come true, better late than never. Very few people get the opportunity to say that they were drafted so it was emotional. But after I was finally selected, I was happy, there was tears of joy. There was a lot of family with me watching throughout and we were just sitting there hoping to be called, and it happened, so it was a dream come true.”
After being selected by the Jazz, Wallace experienced his first summer league action. His performance at the time was marginal, and didn’t warrant an invite to the big league club. Instead, Wallace found himself down in the minors for Utah, with their G-League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars.
During Wallace’s first taste of professional basketball, he displayed some flashes of why, as he put it, he was one of 60 guys drafted in 2016. His first season in the G-League was promising when he posted per game averages of 14.8 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.6 assists, and 1.3 steals on 27 minutes of action a night.
Alas, that wasn’t good enough for the Jazz organization. On July 18, 2017, just over a year after being selected with the last overall pick on draft night, Utah renounced Wallace’s draft rights, leaving him free to sign with any team.
For some, being let go after what could be considered a productive developmental year may have been a derailing let down. Not Wallace, though.
“I think in every situation you always reflect,” Wallace said. “And look back and say what could I have done better, on the court or off the court. So I think you know you always do that, but I’ve always stayed confident in myself, and I believe in myself. I kinda let that as a new opportunity that I was gonna have to go somewhere else and prove that I can play, and that I can belong. So I wanted to continue. I look at everything as a chance to learn and grow so I was just excited for the new opportunity that would be coming for me.”
New opportunities did come for Wallace. More than a few actually. But it was the opportunity that allowed the California native a chance to return to the place that led him to professional basketball initially, that has really allowed the second-year guard to flourish.
On Sept. 27, Wallace inked a deal with the Los Angeles Clippers. They weren’t his childhood favorite Lakers, but they were the same distance down Interstate-5 from his hometown. Most of all, they represented a chance to keep chasing his dream.
After playing in the preseason, Wallace was one of the last players cut from the NBA roster, and he again found himself in the G-League. This time with Agua Caliente.
Wallace’s second go-around in the G-League so far this season feels different than his last, though. Almost as if the comfort of playing in his own backyard, something he’s been accustomed to for the majority of his basketball life, is easing him out on the court. Whatever it is, it’s reflecting itself in his performance. This year, Wallace upped his averages from last season to 22.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, and five assists per game.
“I worked really hard this summer,” Wallace said. “Just going to the gym, hitting the weight room. I don’t think I necessarily changed anything. I just think being a year in, another year of experience playing in the G-League, I think that helped within itself. Then I think the system here that we run in LA helped a lot, fits my game, more uptempo. Trying to get out on the break, a lot of pick and rolls. So I think everything just took off at once. I definitely feel like I got better in the offseason, but also just playing in this system where it helps my game.”
It’s been an interesting journey for Wallace since he left college. With the way things have shaped out, especially during this season where he seems to do no wrong on the court, it’s imperative he stays focused on his own goals. Instead of looking at others across the league who may be getting a shot he feels he deserves, Wallace wants to just “stay in my own lane.” Patience and hard work are what Wallace believe will ultimately deliver the goals he’s after.
“I know it’s coming,” he said.
When that opportunity does come, whether it’s near home in Los Angeles, or somewhere else across the country, Wallace will be happy to just be wanted. Just like the way Bakersfield has always treated him.
“Man, I’ll tell you any team for me it would be great,” Wallace said. “I haven’t really had a real NBA deal, and so for me just getting to that level on a team would definitely be a dream come true. I don’t have a specific team I would like to play for. Whoever wants me, I’ll want them.”