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NBA AM: The All-Reserve All-Stars

Who have been the best bench players this season? Joel Brigham gives his All-Reserves Team.

Joel Brigham

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When it comes to postseason awards, all most people really care about is the race for Most Valuable Player. However, this year it really doesn’t look like much of a race at all considering how many games Golden State has won behind Stephen Curry’s insanely efficient and entertaining play.

There are, of course, other postseason awards that matter, including the Sixth Man of the Year Award, which has been doled out every season since 1982-83 to the players who have offered up the strongest performances as reserves for their respective teams. It’s a severely under-appreciated award because every true fan of the game knows how integral a strong bench is to winning games, particularly in the postseason. To have the best reserve in the league is a massive advantage over other teams in the NBA because it essentially allows for starter-quality production to continue even when the starters are getting a breather on the bench.

Part of the reason it’s so underrated as an accolade is because the men that get awarded the trophy tend not to be the most recognizable of names. Only two players (Bill Walton and Kevin McHale) ever earned this award and then later made it to the Hall of Fame, while several players on the list never even were named to an All-Star team.

They deserve an All-Star team of their own, though, which appears below. The following is a list of the best reserves at each position in the NBA including, ironically enough, a sixth man, just to keep with the spirit of the thing. One of these players likely will win the actual Sixth Man Award later this spring, but for now it feels like enough just to recognize those players that contribute the most to their current teams despite not being regular starters.

This is the 2015-2016 All-Reserve All-Star Team:

G – Jeremy Lin, Charlotte Hornets – The years following the Linsanity breakthrough in New York have been at times rather trying for Jeremy Lin, but he looks like he’s finally found a bit of comfort on this blossoming Hornets team playing behind Kemba Walker. In 26 minutes a night, Lin is averaging 11.4 PPG and 3.0 APG, while turning the ball over only 1.8 times per game. Ever since Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was declared injured for the season, Lin has stepped up considerably and really helped the Hornets establish themselves as what appears to be a sure-thing playoff team. That early-season Mohawk was the real MVP, though.

G – Jamal Crawford, L.A. Clippers – While it seems like Crawford injects himself into the conversation for the Sixth Man Award every year, the two-time winner of the award only continues to end up there because he deserves it. Even at age 35, Crawford is still filling up the stat sheet, and in the months of February and March, no reserve player in the NBA has scored more than Crawford’s 15.6 PPG, meaning he’s finishing off strong enough to once again earn himself consideration for the award that could someday be named after him, especially if he ends up winning a third one this year. No other player has ever done that.

F – Evan Turner, Boston Celtics – While his numbers probably aren’t massive enough to win big money consistently in nightly DraftKings contests, they haven’t been bad, either. In fact, his all-around averages of 9.9 PPG, 4.8 RPG and 4.5 APG are pretty well-rounded on a team with so many contributors, and he leads the league’s reserves in 10-point/5-assist/5-rebound games with ten this season. Also, no other reserve in the league has more assists than Turner, which is surprising considering he’s not a point guard. While scorers typically win Sixth Man of the Year, Turner deserves a spot on the All-Sixth-Man Team for his versatility. The points might not be there, but everything else sure is.

F – Will Barton, Denver Nuggets – For a good chunk of December and January, Barton was the trendy pick for Sixth Man of the Year, and really there’s little reason for those good vibes to dissipate considering he’s now the team’s leading active scorer despite his coming off the bench. His quick, athletic play has helped the Nuggets be a good running offensive team, and while Denver is 12 games under .500, they’re still a lot better than anybody thought they’d be, and Barton deserves considerable credit for that. As a sixth man, he’s been absolutely elite this year.

C – Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City Thunder – While the Thunder sure have received a lot of grief for giving Kanter what could have been James Harden’s money, there’s no denying the fact that the Turkish big man has been a considerable asset to that team since signing his big contract. He hasn’t started a single game, but is averaging 12.3 PPG and a team-leading 7.8 RPG, all in just 20.6 minutes per game. Kanter’s per-36-minute stats are All-Star caliber, and his team is one of only three or four that have any sort of real shot at winning the NBA title this year. Come playoff time, OKC will be glad they’ve got such a bruiser headlining their second unit.

6th Man – Andre Iguodala, Golden State Warriors – While his numbers aren’t staggering (7.3 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 3.4 APG), the reigning Finals MVP has a huge positive impact on his team when on the floor, particularly on the defensive end. The fact that he’s the key reserve for arguably the greatest regular-season team in the NBA earns him the honor of being the key reserve for arguably the greatest all-reserve team ever (hypothetically) assembled. The Warriors are a lot worse without this guy, which is what makes him so valuable, even if the stats aren’t as sexy as those put up by some other guys on this team.

Great NBA reserves are hard to come by, which is why the Sixth Man of the Year Award is so important. Not all of these guys can win that award, though, so as a consolation prize they get a spot on this All-Star team of reserves. It’s not much of a silver medal, but it’s better than nothing.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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