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NBA AM: NBPA Organizes Offseason Training Camp

The NBPA held their first annual offseason training camp last week and many notable players attended. Details here.

Alex Kennedy

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NBPA Organizes First Annual Offseason Camp

Last week, nearly 30 NBA players traveled to Las Vegas to participate in the National Basketball Players Association’s first annual offseason training camp that was held at Impact Basketball.

The three-day event (Sept. 2-4) was designed to prepare players for their respective team’s training camp, and there was also an NBPA dinner so that players could bond and receive updates on union matters.

RudyImpactEditAmong the NBA players in attendance were Paul Pierce (Clippers), Kyle Lowry (Raptors), Andre Drummond (Pistons), Rudy Gay (Kings), Amir Johnson (Celtics), Stanley Johnson (Pistons), Tayshaun Prince (Timberwolves), Kyle O’Quinn (Knicks), Marreese Speights (Warriors), Brian Roberts (Hornets), Brandon Rush (Warriors), James Anderson (Kings) and Jarrid Famous (Mavericks). Some injured players – like Brandon Jennings (Pistons) and Alan Anderson (Wizards) – showed up but their participation was limited due to their injuries.

Several veteran free agents were also among the players in attendance, including Jason Maxiell, Keith Bogans, Dahntay Jones, Hakim Warrick, Marcus Banks, Greg Smith, Patrick O’Bryant and Scotty Hopson. Team executives weren’t allowed in the gym during the camp so this wasn’t a tryout; it was just a way for these free agents to get in game shape and test themselves against NBA-caliber talent so they’re prepared if they receive a training camp invite or a team brings them in for a workout.

Impact Basketball founder Joe Abunassar worked with the NBPA to organize the camp, and both parties are planning to make it an annual event that continues to grow going forward.

“Roger Mason is now with the Players Association and I’ve known Roger for a very long time, so we had discussed organizing a camp like this,” Abunassar told Basketball Insiders. “The Players Association is always trying to do two things: find ways to help the players and create opportunities for players to come together and [bond]. When we started talking about this, we knew that everyone is getting ready for training camp right now so it made sense for players to come to Vegas for a few days to train. Roger pitched it to everyone at the NBPA and it just came together. This was kind of a getaway for the players where they could all train and get together as a union.

“We definitely hope to do it every year. We’ll probably expand it and make it longer too. This year it was three days just because it all came together so late, but we’ve discussed making it several weeks where guys can come in and out to train with us. We’re looking forward to really expanding it, for sure. The response we’ve gotten from all of the players was extremely positive.”

Each day, the players were split into teams. From 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., each team would go through a schedule that included individual on-court work with coaches, skill development drills and a weightlifting session. Players were also offered Pilates classes, pool workouts and physical therapists among other resources. After all the players completed their scheduled workouts, the teams would play pick-up games.

Impact Basketball’s pick-up games are legendary since they often include star players. Years ago, Impact’s pick-up runs would include stars like Kevin Garnett, Chauncey Billups, Jermaine O’Neal, Rashard Lewis and Gilbert Arenas. Today, those veterans have passed the torch to All-Stars like DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall, Paul George and Kyle Lowry. Paul Pierce is one of the few players who’s been there for it all; Pierce suited up alongside Garnett and Billups back in the day, and he was there at the NBPA camp last week playing on a team with Jason Maxiell, Marcus Banks and Patrick O’Bryant among others.

“The thing the players like most is the five-on-five games,” Abunassar said. “To be able to play pick-up with 95 percent NBA players and five percent high-level guys from Europe who may end up going to an NBA training camp too, that is always great for them.”

LowryImpact“With their mixture of guys – from All-Stars to rookies – Impact has the most competitive five-on-five around,” Kyle O’Quinn told Basketball Insiders.

At the NBPA training camp, all of the rosters were talented and constructed so that the teams would be relatively even matched (for example, each team had big men, a ball-handler, etc.). Even still, one team dominated the rest. The squad featuring Lowry, O’Quinn, Stanley Johnson, Tayshaun Prince and Hakim Warrick emerged as the best group. One reason they thrived is because those guys are Impact Basketball regulars who have been training together for quite some time.

“Kyle Lowry’s team won all three days,” Abunassar said with a laugh. “But if you look at that team with Lowry, O’Quinn, Tayshaun – those guys have been here training together for weeks, so they had chemistry. They were running plays! The first day, they won pretty big. But then, as the other teams got used to playing with each other, it was a little more competitive. The games got better each day.”

Several of the players who attended the camp raved about the experience.

“The NBPA training camp was fun, and I look forward to doing it again next year,” O’Quinn said. “It was great to hang out with different players from different teams. I even got a chance link up with some ex-teammates. Then, to top it off, after the workouts we all grabbed dinner and chatted about the happenings around the league. It was super fun.”

“It was cool to train and compete at a high level before [everyone] gets ready to start training camp,” Dahntay Jones told Basketball Insiders.

Organizing this camp was smart of the NBPA. Recently, the union also held an awards show in Las Vegas – to honor players and give them some say in the award process, but also to get a large group of players in one place for a union meeting (which was held the day after the award ceremony). These creative ways to get players involved in the NBPA could pay off, with players becoming more knowledgeable about the issues at hand, more prepared for a potential lockout in 2017 and more united should they have to fight the NBA owners in the next round of labor talks.

It would have been nice to see more of the NBPA’s leaders participate in these events, but that wasn’t the case. At the offseason camp, NBPA President Chris Paul was missing along with First Vice President LeBron James, Secretary-Treasurer James Jones and all six Vice Presidents (Stephen Curry, Kyle Korver, Willie Green, Anthony Tolliver, Andre Iguodala and Steve Blake). Some of those players did attend the awards show (Paul, Curry and Iguodala, to name a few), but James and many other players were noticeably absent from that as well.

With that said, Abunassar is optimistic that more players will attend the camp next year and says that late notice coupled with poor timing prevented a lot of individuals from attending.

“The idea came up a little bit late this year and it was sort of a weird time since it was right before Labor Day weekend,” Abunassar said. “A lot guys wanted to come, but they had already scheduled trips and made plans. And some players, especially the young guys, were about to report to their team. For example, Emmanuel Mudiay (who did his pre-draft training at Impact) wanted to come but he was already in Denver. Next year, we’ll have a lot more time to plan it. We just wanted to get it off the ground this year and let players know that this is something that’s going to be available moving forward.”

Much like the union’s inaugural award show, the first offseason camp in Las Vegas was a success. Expect it to continue growing over the next few years and, eventually, perhaps even become an event that the majority of NBA players attend as a way to prepare for their team’s training camp.

Basketball Insiders Podcast: Kyle O’Quinn

Speaking of Kyle O’Quinn, he was the latest guest on the Basketball Insiders Podcast.

Basketball Insiders’ publisher Steve Kyler hosted the episode and had a wide-ranging conversation with the New York Knicks big man. The two talked about O’Quinn’s free agency process, the incoming rookie class, some stories from O’Quinn’s NBA career and much more. Listen here:

The next episode of the Basketball Insiders Podcast will drop on Tuesday, with Kristen Ledlow of NBA TV as my guest. To listen to older episodes of the podcast, subscribe on iTunes or go to our SoundCloud page.

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 Daily: Three Teams Failing Expectations

Expectations were extremely high for three teams entering this season. A variety of factors have derailed their trajectory but there may still be time to address their issues and turn their seasons around.

Chad Smith

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Every offseason presents the opportunity for organizations to revamp their rosters in hopes of improving their team for the upcoming season. Between the NBA Draft and the free agency period, executives are busy around the clock. The flurry of phone calls and internal discussions among management is key to molding the future.

But the league found itself in an unfamiliar position this past year with the delayed season, the playoffs in the Orlando “bubble” and a shortened offseason that went by in the blink of an eye. The first preseason game tipped off exactly two months after the final game of the NBA Finals. The turnaround was quick and complicated for everyone involved.

That said, several teams were able to capitalize on the abbreviated turnaround. The Phoenix Suns knocked it out of the park with the Chris Paul trade and signing of Jae Crowder. The Charlotte Hornets nailed the draft and free agency, as Michael Jordan landed both Gordon Hayward and LaMelo Ball. The New York Knicks found success in the draft with Immanuel Quickley and Obi Toppin. The Brooklyn Nets added excellent role players in Bruce Brown and Jeff Green while re-signing Joe Harris, who has been worth every penny.

Some teams appeared as though they had hit a home run, only to see the ball being caught at the warning track. The hype and buzz surrounding these teams were well warranted at the time, but things just haven’t panned out for a variety of reasons. With the All-Star break finally here, these three teams would welcome the idea of hitting the “undo” button on their offseason moves.

Toronto Raptors

The Raptors find themselves sitting two games under .500 entering the All-Star break. While they are certainly not out of contention, they are a far cry from where most people thought they would be at this point. It began with a rocky start to the season, where they dug themselves a massive hole with a 2-8 record.

The crux of their struggles came with their frontcourt issues. Both Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka took the Kawhi Leonard route from Toronto to Los Angeles in the offseason. Losing one of their big men hurt, but losing both of them was crippling. The signings of Aron Baynes and Alex Len looked okay on paper, but the fit could not have been worse. Toronto currently ranks dead last in rebounding as a team.

Toronto ended up waiving Len, while Baynes has seen his role reduced even more. Fortunately, the emergence of Chris Boucher and Norman Powell has helped the Raptors turn their season around. Draft picks Malachi Flynn and Jalen Harris haven’t had a major impact, but Pascal Siakam finally snapped out of his bubble fog and Kyle Lowry is healthy once again as well.

One good thing that the Raptors were able to do in the offseason was retain their sensational guard Fred VanVleet. Toronto has seemingly turned things around over the past few weeks and, considering they are playing all of their home games 1,400 miles away from their arena, they are positioned for a much better second half of the season.

Dallas Mavericks

Last season, the Mavericks boasted the best offense in the entire league, led by MVP-candidate Luka Doncic. The goal for them in the offseason was to acquire a defensive presence that could get this team more balanced. It appeared as though they addressed that when they traded Seth Curry to Philadelphia for Josh Richardson. Unfortunately, that has not been the case early on.

Dallas was also looking for an upgrade at the center position, but they missed out. They ended up having to settle for bringing back Willie Cauley-Stein on a two-year deal for $8.2 million. As a team, the Mavericks rank 24th in rebounding. James Johnson has been a solid addition, but he alone was not nearly enough to upgrade their porous defense.

Kristaps Porzingis has been quite inconsistent this season, so it is difficult to know what they are going to get from him every night. He is nowhere near the defensive presence that he was during his time in New York. Richardson is the guy that Dallas has been waiting on to provide outstanding perimeter defense, but he too has been unable to piece it together on a nightly basis.

The Mavericks did not find anything in the draft and it seems as though, once again, Doncic is having to do everything for this team in order for them to have success. His 36.2 percent usage rate is the highest in the league and that doesn’t appear to be going down anytime soon. If you are going to give the keys to the entire offense to someone, he is a good choice but Dallas struck out in terms of giving their franchise player more help this season.

Atlanta Hawks

No team had won the offseason quite like the Hawks. The organization was able to surround its franchise player with truckloads of talent in free agency. They added elite shooters like Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari. They added key defensive guards in Kris Dunn and two-time champion Rajon Rondo. They even scored more talent in the draft, taking Onyeka Okongwu with the sixth overall pick.

Atlanta lost no players of significant value, either, as general manager Travis Schlenk added to his already loaded young nucleus of Trae Young, John Collins, Clint Capela, Cam Reddish, De’Andre Hunter and Kevin Huerter. The problem here is that there are just too many overlapping pieces.

The veterans that were brought in either haven’t been able to get on the floor or are taking up valuable minutes for the younger players, potentially stunting their growth. The workload has been spread thanks to their depth as they deal with all of the injuries but there is no chemistry on the floor. In a season where practice time is near non-existent, that is a real problem.

The Hawks hit the All-Star break in 11th place in the Eastern Conference with a disappointing 16-20 record. The game is being played in their backyard, yet they don’t even have a player to represent them. And, in recent days, it’s gotten even worse; the team officially fired head coach Lloyd Pierce on Monday, with Nate McMillan set to take over as interim coach.

Atlanta has played 36 games this season. Their nine best players have missed a combined 143 games. Not including Dunn, who hasn’t played all season, that number is still well over 100 games missed. This locker room is a mixed bag of players that lack leadership and desperately need guidance. Pierce wasn’t the answer and Vince Carter isn’t walking through those doors anytime soon.

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NBA Rookie of the Year Watch – March 5

Two rookies have pulled away from the rest of the pack in the hunt for the Rookie of the Year award. Tristan Tucker breaks down how the rookie pyramid is shaping up halfway through the season.

Tristan Tucker

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The All-Star break is nearly upon the NBA, and the Rising Stars rosters were just announced with several rookies leading the charge. Two players have pulled away by a significant margin in recent weeks, with several first-year players making impacts on winning teams. Let’s take a look at how the rookie ladder has changed over the last two weeks.

1. LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets (Previous: 1)

February was kind to the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month, who’s ascended to another level of stardom in the NBA in just his first season. The rookie is averaging 20.1 points, 6.7 assists, 6.2 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game during that span. Since Basketball Insiders’ last update to the rookie ladder, Ball put up a stretch of five 20-plus point games, including a 30-point showing against the Portland Trail Blazers and a 24-point, 12-assist game in Charlotte’s wild win over the Sacramento Kings.

One of the concerns surrounding Ball when he entered the league was his ability to knock down jump shots at an effective rate. The 6-foot-6 point guard has shattered those concerns with his recent play and knocked down 40.7 percent of his attempts from downtown in just under seven tries per game.

When Charlotte parted ways with Kemba Walker in the summer of 2019, it would’ve been far-fetched to imagine that the Hornets would be stacked at the point guard position in just two years. However, with Ball and Terry Rozier, the Hornets are looking at a legitimate shot at the postseason.

2. Tyrese Haliburton, Sacramento Kings (Previous: 2)

Together with Ball, Haliburton has all but cemented this Rookie of the Year race as a two-party contest. It gets harder to not give Haliburton the top nod with each passing week; the rookie out of Iowa State is completely dominating off the bench for the Kings. Though he’s missed the last three games for Sacramento, Haliburton is averaging 17.4 points, 6 assists and 2.4 steals per game while shooting a very impressive 47.9/39.4/85.7 line in five games over the last two weeks.

Haliburton’s excellence extends beyond his scoring, as the Kings are 1.5 points better when Haliburton is on the floor. Furthermore, the 6-foot-5 guard boasts an assist percentage of 24.6, which ranks in the 97th percentile of all NBA players and a 1.33 assist to usage clip, which ranks in the 100th percentile.

The Kings have to feel good about their young core in spite of their record, especially with Haliburton earning Western Conference Rookie of the Month honors and a spot on the Rising Stars roster.

3. Immanuel Quickley, New York Knicks (Previous: 5)

Before the season, nobody would’ve guessed that the Knicks would be the fifth seed at the halfway point of the season. Head coach Tom Thibodeau and improved veteran play from All-Star Julius Randle and others have sparked the franchise’s turnaround. No player, however, is more synonymous with that spark of energy than Quickley.

Since the last ladder update, Quickley is averaging 13.5 points on a staggering 48.4 percent clip from deep. When the team acquired Derrick Rose, Quickley’s playing time was in the air, but the rookie’s resilience and determination have kept him in the lineup as he continued to exceed expectations.

4. Saddiq Bey, Detroit Pistons (Previous: 6)

Bey’s placement here should be representative of the overall fantastic job the Detroit Pistons have done with all of their young pieces. Bey is obviously playing great — more on that later — but other draftees Isaiah Stewart and Saben Lee are playing phenomenally as well. Then there’s the case of resurgences in Josh Jackson — averaging a career-high 13.5 points per game — and Dennis Smith Jr., who was just acquired and posted a triple-double in a blowout win.

But, in a year that many thought would be a throwaway for the Pistons, especially with seventh overall pick Killian Hayes sidelined, Bey and the rest of the young corps along with Jerami Grant and company have stepped up and delivered exciting basketball to Detroit.

Over the last two weeks, Bey is averaging 11.7 points and 5 rebounds per game while shooting an impressive 37 percent from deep on just under eight attempts per game. If Hayes pans out, the 2020 NBA Draft is shaping up to be a turning point for the Pistons.

5. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves (Previous: 3)

If Edwards could hit shots at even a 45 percent clip, there’s little doubt that he would be running away with the scoring title of all rookies and perhaps the Rookie of the Year award itself. However, it continues to be a hindrance, as Edwards is shooting a horrid 32.8 percent from the field and 25.4 percent from 3 in the last two weeks.

It’s unfortunate that the shooting is so inconsistent, as he’s put together a string of four 19-plus points per game contests and several highlight-reel plays across the span of the last two weeks.

The last two weeks brought a lot of turmoil to light for the Timberwolves, with the team undergoing a head-coaching change, bringing in Chris Finch from the Toronto Raptors to replace Ryan Saunders. But that’s not all, as Ricky Rubio recently voiced displeasure with the team’s performance and D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley continue to be out.

With all the drama surrounding Minnesota, it’s hard to envision any rookie seeing much success there. The fact that Edwards is able to put these high-scoring performances together at all is telling of how special a talent he can be.

6. Jae’Sean Tate, Houston Rockets (Previous: 4)

Tate’s on-court production has dipped slightly in conjunction with the Houston Rockets’ losing streak, but the hyper-athletic forward is still giving it his all on a nightly basis. Look no further than the fact that the team is parting ways with DeMarcus Cousins for proof that Houston believes in Tate as a member of its future.

Houston plays better when Tate is on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass. And with that comes rejuvenated energy from all points on the court. When Tate is on, the team’s offensive rebounding percentage increases by 8.1 percent, which ranks in the 98th percentile of the entire NBA. 

Even though the Rockets are in a slump, Tate is averaging 9.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game on 47.9 percent shooting from the field. Most recently, he enjoyed a double-double in James Harden’s return to Houston.

Honorable Mention: Isaac Okoro, Cleveland Cavaliers (Not Ranked)

Okoro gets his first rookie ladder nod after the Cleveland Cavaliers saw a fantastic stretch in which the team won four straight games. During that span of time, Okoro averaged 10.1 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.3 steals while seeing season-best shooting figures of 49.1 percent from the floor and 41.4 percent from three.

The 6-foot-5 forward out of Auburn has played the second-most minutes of any rookie and has started in every game for the Cavs, a promising start to Okoro’s career. Okoro is also playing strong defense for a Cleveland team that desperately needs good defenders and his stock could rise as the weeks go on.

With a multitude of highlight-reel dunks, passes and plays in just the last two weeks, several rookies are making big impacts on teams in a year where young depth is crucial. While Ball and Haliburton are currently leading the race, don’t sleep on James Wiseman to make a resurgence, as he scored 14, 11 and 16 points, respectively, in his first three games since returning from injury. Be sure to check back with Basketball Insiders for the next rookie ladder to see how tight this competition gets!

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NBA Daily: Marcus Morris Thriving Off Bench

Marcus Morris has been one of the Clippers’ most dependable reserves this season, David Yapkowitz breaks it down.

David Yapkowitz

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When Marcus Morris Sr. came over to the Los Angeles Clippers last season near the trade deadline, he stepped right into the starting lineup at power forward. He started all 19 regular season games – including the bubble – and when the team re-signed him this past offseason, he looked like a lock to remain in the starting lineup.

But he’s been one of the main anchors of the Clippers’ second unit this year and coming off the bench was something he requested of new head coach Tyronn Lue. Along with Lou Williams, the pair have spearheaded one of the most formidable bench units in the NBA. The pair has combined for 24.8 points per game on the season and they’re both shooting lights out from three-point range.

On a call last month with media, Morris admitted that this dynamic pairing with Williams was exactly what he was envisioning when he initially asked to be part of the second unit.

“Building that chemistry with me and him both coming off the bench, we’ve to be one of, if not the best bench in the league. Both of us are proven vets, proven scorers in this league,” Morris said. “I think our camaraderie, us being really good friends, I think that helps on the court. Not just scoring but just being vets, being able to talk and being able to lead our unit.”

As well as he’s played this season, it wasn’t always such a smooth transition to the Clippers. Morris’ numbers dropped last year from his career averages and he shot 31 percent from the three-point line; the lowest he’s shot since his second year in the NBA. Like most of the team, he faded a bit during the team’s second-round playoff debacle against the Denver Nuggets.

This season, although his scoring isn’t as high as it used to be at 12.4 points per game, Morris’ shooting has been much more efficient. His 46.3 percent from downtown is a career-high. He looks much more comfortable in the flow of the offense and he’s played his role to perfection. Naturally, Morris credits Lue with helping him establish his role.

“I think the biggest difference is just having that exact from [Tyronn Lue] just talking to me and telling me exactly what he’s wanting me to do. Last year, I thought I was a lot of times in no man’s land, I couldn’t really put my finger on my role,” Morris said.

This year, I’m coming off the bench to be aggressive, coming off to bring energy, shoot the ball, the guys I’m playing with just playing off them. Lou does a great job of drawing the defense and you have to have guys that can knock it down. I’m just here to do whatever it takes, whether it’s to bring energy or to score.”

Morris began the season missing the first eight games due to a knee injury. But he’s always been one of the more durable players in the league and since then, he only sat out one game. Thankfully for him, he didn’t end up needing surgery only rest.

Lue has been quite pleased with Morris’ contributions this season. He credited Morris’ conditioning while acknowledging the extra work he’s put in to be as effective as he has.

“Just putting in the work, just trying to get his body right, just trying to adjust to the speed of the game, when you’ve been out for so long it is kind of tough to just step back in and play well,” Lue said. “We’ve been needing and asking more from him in the post, rebounding the basketball and, of course, shooting the basketball. He’s been great and he’s been putting in the work. You see the results.”

Like the rest of the team, Morris has been able to shut out any lingering effects from the bubble. He knows the Clippers have championship aspirations this season and, because of the way they flamed out in the playoffs, there will doubt as to whether this team is capable of winning a title.

“Seeing how many people jumped ship last year, I think it definitely helped us. That’s how it works when you have a good team and doesn’t work, people tend to jump off the ship,” Morris said. “We get back to work and we get a championship, people will jump back on the ship. That’s just how it works. We are going to continue to find our camaraderie and we are going to continue to get better. Come playoff time, we’re going to be ready.”

And for the Clippers to win their first championship in franchise history, they’re going to need Morris to be at his best. His versatility is key to their attack, while that ability to stretch the floor with his three-point shooting –plus putting the ball on the floor or posting up – is a big part of what makes the Clippers so dangerous.

He’s willing to do whatever needs to be done.

“I’m a hooper. Whatever you need me to do. One thing I do, I don’t just talk,” Morris said. “I’m just playing. I’ve been in the league for a long time, going on my eleventh year. It doesn’t change for me. One thing you’ll find out about me is I’m never too high, never too low.”

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