Something To Play For: The 2014 March Madness Tournament will get underway tomorrow with the play-in “first round” games and with the full “second round” getting underway on Thursday.
While the tournament rarely impacts a player’s NBA draft stock significantly, the March Tournament is a chance to put an exclamation point on a player’s college career or it can open more doors for questions. At this point in the process most NBA teams have done their homework on players, but the tournament is a big stage for teams to either validate what they believe about a player or to illustrate what they don’t like about a player.
There are a few players that need to show up big in the tournament, if only to silence some of their critics, here are a few of them:
Andrew Wiggins – Kansas – SF – 6’8″: There is almost no scenario in which Andrew Wiggins does not go in the top three in June’s NBA Draft. He is the proverbial lock. The question is can he use the the tournament to close the door on his detractors? Wiggins needs to show that he can take over games and be a dominator on the big stage. Throughout his run at Kansas he has had flashes of brilliance and moments of greatness, but not that sustained greatness that locks him in as the top pick. With Kansas big man Joel Embiid sidelined for at least the opening weekend, Kansas will need Wiggins to lead the way. If he can do that, and show that he can handle all the pressure, he could lock himself in as the consensus number one overall pick. As things stand today, there are still very vocal detractors of Wiggins overall game, so a strong and dominating performance could shut a lot of people up.
»In Related: (2) Kansas vs. (15) Eastern Kentucky
Jabari Parker – Duke – SF/PF – 6’8″: Much like Wiggins, Parker is a virtual lock in the top three of the 2014 NBA Draft, but to get himself squarely in the top pick race, Parker will need to show that he can shot the ball from the outside consistently as well as be a game changer on both ends of the floor. His 9-for-24 showing in the ACC Title game is the red flag scouts point to on Parker. He puts up numbers, but his shooting has to improve and a strong tournament run filled with efficient basketball could help quell some of the questions about his perimeter game. Parker is one of the players to watch. If he shows well, and Wiggins does not, the debate over number one get serious for a number of NBA teams that could be sitting at the top of the draft.
»In Related:(3) Duke vs. (14) Mercer
Marcus Smart – Oklahoma State – PG – 6’4″: Very much like Parker, Smart needs to shoot the ball well in the tournament. The biggest knock on Smart is his shooting and the fact that he really has not improved much as a shooter in two years in college. NBA teams love his tenacity and his ability to run a team, so showcasing that along with a better shooting game could help lock Smart into the top 10. His ho-hum season and the fact that Smart has been over-scouted has made his weaknesses more of the discussion. The tournament will give him a chance to change the conversation back to all the things he can do as a player and a point guard. A deep run in the tournament could remind teams why they liked him so much when this process started.
»In Related:(8) Gonzaga vs. (9) Oklahoma State
Aaron Gordon – Arizona – PF – 6’9″: At the start of the season there was talk that Gordon could be a top four guy, however, after a full season of college play Aaron has devolved into the “just a guy” category. There are several teams that like Gordon, but he has dropped significantly from a top five prospect into a next ten prospect. A strong tournament could help his draft stock, especially if he can show big and lead his team deep into the tourney. If he struggles on the big stage or is simply average, he could find himself validating the criticisms NBA scouts have about him and find himself needing to work out for more teams just to stay in the top ten discussion.
»In Related:(1) Arizona vs. (16) Weber State
Tyler Ennis – Syracuse – PG – 6’2″: Ennis was the darling of the draft just five weeks ago, but as Syracuse has come unglued so has Ennis’ draft stock. The tournament could be a good stage for Ennis to lock in some of his better attributes as a player and a point guard. If Syracuse implodes, Ennis could take some of the blame, because their early season success was tied to how well he was playing. It seems the hype and expectations have derailed him a little and the tournament is a chance for him to re-set the clock a little and showcase what teams like about him. If Ennis struggles in the tournament as he has over the past few weeks, his bid to get into the top ten could take a hit. There are a number of NBA teams that are very high on Ennis so a strong tournament could help make his case in the room as teams debate the merits of one player over another.
»In Related:(3) Syracuse vs. (14) Western Michigan
Gary Harris – Michigan State – SG – 6’5″: To say NBA scouts are mixed on Harris’ potential as a NBA player is something of an understatement. Most scouts either love Harris or hate him, so he’ll have a chance in the tournament to gain a few more fans or validate the critics that question his game at the next level. Michigan State could be one of those teams that goes deep in the tournament and Harris playing well on a big stage would be huge for his draft stock if only to cement him into the top 20 discussion.
»In Related:(4) Michigan State vs. (13) Delaware
James Young – Kentucky – SG/SF – 6’7″: NBA scouts have gushed about Young’s potential all season. With Kentucky’s season having gone as bad as you could have imagined, there is a chance in the tournament for Young to showcase his athletic game a little and remind scouts and executives who may not have seen much of him that he could be a sleeper in the bottom of the first round. UK is so crowded with guys who need the ball; it will be interesting to see what kind of role Young plays in the tournament. Every year there is a guy who gets hot and lands himself on the big stage. Young needs that kind of moment. He has some fans in NBA circles; they just need some stellar game film to make their case in the room.
»In Related:(8) Kentucky vs. (9) Kansas St.
Patric Young – Florida – PF/C – 6’9″: The story on Young is always about what he can’t do. Scouts point to his small hands or his bruising frame as negatives of his ability – his hand are too small to be a great rebounder. He’s too big to run the floor. The fact that Young and his Florida team landed the number one overall seed and should have a chance at a National Title is only going to help Young’s stock if he plays well. He’ll get a chance to put something on film that could counter the idea that he’s not a game changer. As things stand today Young is considered a second round guy. A strong tournament filled with rebounds and blocked shots could go a long way towards teams taking a closer look at him in the draft process and maybe considering his flaws a little less than his strengths.
»In Related: (1) Florida vs. (16) Albany/Mt. St. Mary’s
A strong tournament can help a scouting department make their case for a particular player. A bad tournament can give detractors in the room more ammunition to weigh one guy a little more than the other. Players rarely get drafted based on what they do in the tournament, but the tournament is a series of big games that scouts and executive can use to help them decide between one player and the next.
Also keep in mind that a large number of General Managers and coaches don’t spend a lot of time watching regular season college basketball, so for some of the second tier guys this may be the first time a GM or a team president really pays serious attention to their game, so while the tournament won’t get them drafted it might get thema work out or a longer look in the evaluation process.
The March Madness Tournament is a place to get noticed, and for a number of guys they need to show big.
So They Got Phil, What’s Next?: The New York Knicks have already started to see the fruits of their signing of coaching legend Phil Jackson as their next team president. Since talk of Jackson joining the team, the Knicks have run off six straight wins and have a favorable schedule down the stretch. The Knicks find themselves roughly three games out of the eighth seed in the East with 15 games remaining including matchups against the 76ers, the Kyrie Irving-less Cavaliers, the Lakers, the Kings, the Jazz and two matchups against Brooklyn and the Raptors in April. Conservatively there are maybe eight wins on the table for the Knicks in their remaining 15 games, so the postseason is not lost yet.
The Knicks will be making Jackson’s hire official on Tuesday and it’s believed Jackson will officially start working the Knicks situation in the coming weeks.
Sources close to the process say they are not expecting in real changes during the season, but that Jackson has already started talking with former associates and could make some changes fairly quickly after the season ends for the Knicks.
There continues to be talk that former Suns executive Steve Kerr is the front runner to be Jackson’s head coaching hire, especially if Jackson can pry some of his former assistant coaches out of their existing situations. Long-time assistant Frank Hamblen is currently not coaching, while former assistant Brian Shaw is the head coach for the Denver Nuggets and not expected to be part of anything Jackson is doing in New York. Long-time assistant Jim Cleamons is currently on Larry Drew’s staff in Milwaukee and could be on the list of hires for Jackson in New York. Longtime assistant Kurt Rambis is currently on the staff with the Lakers; however, there is talk that current head coach Mike D’Antoni could be on his way out at seasons end, making Rambis a possibility too.
There are many around the process that believe Jackson would like to see the Triangle offense dusted off for the Knicks, and that means hiring a staff that understands how to teach it to players as well as signing players that know how it is supposed to be run. Others have tried to make the triangle work with other teams and have failed, mainly because they could not assemble the supporting staff to properly teach or execute it.
Jackson will inherit a roster with very little financial flexibility, so substantial change in the roster make up might not happen during the summer.
Current Knicks team president Steve Mills is expected to remain with the team and handle some of the day to day needs of running the business side of the Knicks and there is a belief that Jackson will put an Assistant GM-type in place to oversee the day to day of the basketball side of things.
Jackson’s deal is said to pay him $12 million per season and is a five year deal.
The Beauty of The 10-Day Contract: Fans often wonder why a player would agree to a 10-day contract, however when you look at the economics, it’s the easiest money you can imagine. Ten day deals are usually done at the NBA minimum and pro-rated out for ten days, however teams with cap money or even exception money can use part of that money to negotiate a better deal.
For guys in the D-League it’s a no-brainer to take a ten-day deal. The D-League pays its highest paid players $29,000 a season. A single 10-day in the NBA could be worth more than that. Players who sign two 10-day deals usually end up pocketing $40,000 to $50,000 plus per diem and lodging.
Players who land on NBA rosters also get prorated service days that count towards the NBA’s retirement program and a prorated share of the group license payments.
So in the end those 10-days could end up being worth a lot more to them financially than just the cash that’s obvious.
Teams are permitted to sign players to two consecutive 10-day deals before they have to decide to carry the player for the balance of the season. That’s obviously the goal for every player and why they’d sign a short term deal.
Most of the players that get picked up for the balance of the season usually sign what’s called a multi-year deal, which usually means it pays the balance of this season and has non-guaranteed years for next season and beyond. This serves two purposes: It locks a player into a team’s summer program and also gives the team a non-guaranteed contract that can be tossed into trades around the draft or free agency. Players are not obligated to accept a 10-day deal from a team or a team’s offer for the balance of the season. It is completely their choice, however most players being looked at on ten-day deals usually take the offer.
Teams can sign players to 10-day deals right up to the tenth day remaining on the season.
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NBA Daily: Checking In With Terrance Ferguson
Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Terrance Ferguson talks to Basketball Insiders about learning from his teammates, earning minutes and being mentally tough.
Before he reached the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Terrance Ferguson was once often referred to as a man of mystery. After changing course on two different programs in a two-month span, Ferguson ditched the typical one-and-done collegiate season for an adventure on the other side of the planet. But even after the Thunder selected Ferguson with the No. 21 overall pick in last year’s draft — the questions still lingered. How would a teenager with one season overseas adjust to the world’s most physical basketball league?
Not many rookies can contribute to a 40-plus win squad out in the cutthroat Western Conference so quickly — but down the stretch, here Ferguson is doing just that. With the Thunder locked in a tight playoff battle with six others teams, the 19-year-old’s hard-working personality has fit alongside the roster’s three perennial All-Stars — Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. And although his rookie season has come with some growing pains, Ferguson is earning meaningful minutes and making the most of them.
“I think it’s my work ethic, I come in every day with the same mentality,” Ferguson said. “I work my butt off — inside the game, being physical. Even though I’m a skinny guy, as everyone can see, I’m still everywhere on the floor being physical. I think [the coaching staff] really likes that, especially on the defensive end.”
Skinny or not, Ferguson is one of the league’s youngest players, so the 6-foot-7 guard has plenty of room to grow — literally. But for now, he’s playing an integral role on an Oklahoma City team looking to protect its high postseason seed. Late January brought the unfortunate season-ending injury to Andre Roberson — an All-Defensive Second Team honoree in 2016-17 — so the Thunder have needed both new and old players to step up in bigger roles.
While those candidates included the three-point shooting Alex Abrines, veteran Raymond Felton and the newly-acquired Corey Brewer, Ferguson’s recent rise in the rotation has arguably been the most interesting development. Since the calendar flipped to January, Ferguson has featured in almost all of the Thunder’s games, tallying just two DNP-CDs and one missed contest following a concussion. This steady diet of opportunity comes as a stark contrast to the 15 games in which he received no playing time, spanning from the season’s opening tip to the new year.
Of course, playing time is not always indicative of success, but Ferguson himself isn’t surprised that he’s carved out a crucial role ahead of the playoffs.
“Not really, it’s all up to coach’s decision,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just here playing my part, staying ready at all times and some minutes came, so I’mma take them and play to the best of my ability.”
Back in October, Basketball Insiders’ own Joel Brigham spoke to Ferguson about his unconventional path to NBA and the choice to spend a year grinding with the Adelaide 36ers, an Australian outfit. In the land down under, Ferguson averaged just 15 minutes a night, considerably less than he would’ve likely received as a highly-recruited prospect here in America. Some five months later, Ferguson’s early-season stance on the move still stands out.
“I’m living the dream now, right? I must have done the right thing,” Ferguson said.
Today, it’s hard to disagree with Ferguson’s decisions considering that they’re currently paying off. In 2009, Brandon Jennings became the first to skip college and play in Europe before being drafted, with Emmanuel Mudiay most notably following in his footsteps six years later. While those two point guards both were selected in the top ten of their draft classes — at No. 10 and No. 7, respectively — it still remains the road far less traveled.
Considered raw by most pre-draft evaluations, an early expectation was that Ferguson would spend much of the season with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s G-League affiliate. Instead, Ferguson has played in only three games with the Blue, where he has averaged a commendable 14.7 points, four rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.
But as of late, the Thunder have found somebody that’ll always work hard, learn from others and do the little things that don’t show up in the box score.
“I’ve learned a lot more from when I first started,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I got great teammates — I got Nick Collison, I got Russ, PG, Melo, so just picking their brains. I got Corey now, so just the work ethic they put in, just picking their brains each and every day about what I can do better, watching game film, it’s a lot of things.”
When he was drafted, Ferguson had a reputation as a skyscraping leaper with the athleticism to become an elite perimeter defender. Although his current averages with the Thunder understate his innate potential, Ferguson knows he can contribute without scoring — even noting that he can make up for it “on the other side of the court.” Playing defense and competing hard every night, he has slowly made a name for himself.
And while Ferguson has tallied far more single-digit scoring outings than his 24-point breakout performance in early January, he’s earned the trust of head coach Billy Donovan and his veteran teammates, which is something the rookie will never take for granted.
“Coach believes in me and that means a lot to me,” Ferguson said. “But my teammates believe in me, so I’m not gonna let them down. I’m gonna go out every day and play my hardest, compete and try to get the win each and every night.”
One might assume that his year abroad in Australia helped to mentally mold him into the high-flying, hard-nosed rookie we see today. Ferguson, however, contends that he’s had that edge from the very beginning.
“I’ve been mentally tough, it wasn’t overseas that did that,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I had to be mentally tough just to go over there — so I’ve always had that mentality, the [desire] to just dominate, play to the best of my ability and compete.”
And now he’s doing just that in the NBA.
Is Kyrie Irving’s Second Opinion a Cause for Concern?
Shane Rhodes breaks down the tough situation the Celtics are in with Kyrie Irving.
The Boston Celtics are in one awful predicament.
With a third of the roster out due to injury, Brad Stevens has been forced into the impossible task of maintaining Boston’s championship aspirations with some subpar talent; while they have performed admirably, the likes of Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye wouldn’t see the same run they are currently on with most contenders. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire season, save a few minutes on opening night. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are all currently out, some for the year and others not. Key contributors Al Horford, Marcus Morris and others have missed time as well.
It couldn’t get worse, could it?
Well, it may just have. Reports surfaced Tuesday that Irving, who had missed time this season — including the last four games — with left knee soreness, is seeking a second opinion after a lack of progress in his recovery.
My understanding is that Kyrie Irving is getting a 2nd opinion on his left knee, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Bottom line: he needs the screws out. Knee is flaring up. He will either play thru it going forward or … he will get thee screws out and won’t play at all. Stay tuned.
— Tony Massarotti (@TonyMassarotti) March 20, 2018
With lack of progress on his ailing left knee, Celtics All-Star Kyrie Irving plans to travel for a second opinion later this week, league sources tell Yahoo.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 20, 2018
In the wake of the Isaiah Thomas fiasco and his ailing hip last Summer, an injury that lingered deep into this season, the Celtics will likely be more than cautious with Irving, whom they gave up a haul (the rights to the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick, most notably), to acquire. But one can only wonder if these persistent issues — Irving’s left knee was surgically repaired after he sustained a fractured kneecap in 2015, and he reportedly threatened the Cleveland Cavaliers with surgery this offseason before his trade to Boston — are a cause for concern for general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.
The situation presents the Celtics with a quandary, to say the least.
Knee injuries aren’t exactly a death-knell, but fans need not look far for to see the devastating effect they can have on NBA players (e.g. Derrick Rose). They can snowball and, over time, even the best players will break down. Regardless of the severity, Irving’s knee issue presents problems both now and in the future.
The problems now are obvious: the Celtics, already down Gordon Hayward, cannot afford to lose Irving if they are at all interested in making a Finals run this season. Boston struggles mightily on the offensive end when Irving and his 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists aren’t on the court. In a playoff atmosphere, especially, the team would sorely miss his scoring prowess.
Looking ahead, if Irving is dealing with these problems at the age of 25, what could the future hold for the All-Star guard? Knee issues, most lower body issues in general, are often of the chronic variety, and constant maintenance can wear on people, both mentally and physically.
Just a season separated from a likely super-max payday, will the Celtics want to commit big-money long-term to potentially damaged goods?
If there is a silver lining in it all, it is the fact that 20-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum must now shoulder the scoring load, something that should go a long way in building on the potential that made him the No. 3 overall pick last June. And, should Irving miss the remainder of this season, exposure to the fires of the playoffs should only temper the Celtics’ young roster. In the event that Irving’s absence isn’t prolonged, time like this could only serve to strengthen the roster around him.
Still, Ainge brought Irving to Boston for a reason: he was meant to lead the Celtics into battle, alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, in their quest for a title. Obviously, he can’t do that from the bench. Without Irving at 100 percent, the Celtics are not a championship caliber squad, healthy Gordon Hayward or not. That fact alone will make Irving’s situation one to monitor going forward and for the foreseeable future.
NBA Daily: Houston Has It All
Deciphering whether Houston is a contender or pretender is tough, but they’re making it easy.
It is very easy to get caught up in the NBA regular-season hyperbole. The past is littered with a plethora of NBA teams that looked like world-beaters in the regular season only to pull up lame in the playoffs and emerge as a bunch of pretenders.
So when it comes to the Houston Rockets, it’s no surprise many pundits and fans of the game fall heavily on one side or the other. The 2017-18 Rockets are a polarizing squad in that respect. On one side of the fence, you have the folks that are struggling to get behind Houston until they see how the franchise performs in the playoffs under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. On the other, folks that place a great deal of weight on the 82-game regular season and the ability to sustain consistency throughout the marathon.
As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
At the top of Houston’s lineup are two future Hall of Famers in James Harden and Chris Paul. The latter was a perennial star in his heyday and is still a top-tier talent in the league. Harden, on the other hand, is closing in on his first MVP award and had serious cases for winning the honors in prior seasons, as well. Both Harden and Paul are criticized for their past playoff failures.
Paul entered the league during the 2006 season and has been dogged by the ever looming fact that he’s never reached a Conference Finals. Harden has been to the NBA Finals but has been dogged for multiple playoff missteps and shaky performances that remain etched in everyone’s memory. But something about this season’s Rockets team (57-14) seems different as the duo closes in on 60 wins.
One way to measure the true greatness of a NBA team is evaluating how many ways the roster can win playing a variety of styles. From the eyeball test, Houston checks the boxes in this category. The team sustains leads during blowouts. They have an offense built to erase large deficits quickly. The team possesses the talent to employ an array of versatile lineups to withstand top heat from opposing teams. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has shown the ability to adjust on the fly during certain situations. Houston is seemingly comprised of a bunch of guys that are selfless and ready to sacrifice at this stage of their respective careers.
Time will tell on all of those aforementioned aspects, but the Rockets are built to compete and win now. On paper at least, the team fits the criteria.
Paul has a chance to go down as a top five point guard in NBA history .His court vision is unquestioned and his big men always seem to end up being in the top five of field goal percentage each season (i.e. Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and now Clint Capela). In years past, the Rockets faltered down the stretch of games because the entire system ran through Harden. But this year’s club has the luxury of taking some of the on-ball expectation away from Harden and by giving the rock to Paul who naturally thrives in this role the squad doesn’t take a step back on the floor.
This is going to be big for Houston which has seen Harden gassed late in playoff games from carrying the entire load.
Small Ball Ready
Presumably standing between the Rockets and an appearance in the NBA Finals are the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors turned the NBA upside down with their free-flowing offense, long range accuracy and the successful ability to push the pace while playing small ball.
At the height of Golden State’s success they employed the “death lineup” which places All-Star forward Draymond Green at center. In different variations this gives the Warriors five guys on the court who can dribble, drive, pass and shoot. Versatility is important and if you look at this year’s Rockets team they have the ability to match the death lineup with their own version. Veteran forward P.J. Tucker would be able to guard Green in this scenario at center or Houston could just rely on the athleticism of Capela.
When it comes to defense, the Rockets will never be confused for the bad boy Detroit Pistons of yesteryear, however, the team has an assortment of individually capable defenders on the roster. Paul has all defensive team honors hanging on his mantle during his time in the league. Small forward Trevor Ariza made his bones in the league by placing an emphasis on defense. Before Capela emerged as a double-digit scorer, he was relied on as a defensive spark off the bench. Luc Mbah a Moute has a reputation and consistent track record of being a very willing defender.
Shooting, Versatility and Experience
All of this success, leads to the variation D’Antoni can put out onto the floor. The versatility to go with a small ball lineup or a lineup heavily skewed toward defenders is a luxury amenity. Houston also features five guys with 125 or more three-pointers made this season with Harden, Eric Gordon, Ariza, Paul and Ryan Anderson leading the way. A sixth, Tucker, should join the +100 club before season’s end. Veteran Gerald Green has only played 30 games with the franchise but has already knocked down 76 attempts from distance.
Experience is key as well. This year’s Rockets team features only one player under 25, receiving 25 or more minutes per night in the rotation. Look at NBA history, title winning teams are full of veterans not second or third year players.
Again, the Rockets will never be confused with the late 80s or early 90s Pistons but the team has more than a few guys that don’t shy away from contact or physical play. The collection of Nene, Tucker, Green and Ariza have had more than their share of shoving matches when things get heated on the floor.
With the start of the NBA playoffs (April 14) under a month away, the Rockets continue to build momentum toward a title run. Will Harden and Paul’s playoff demons from the past emerge or is their first true shot at greatness with a complete team? These questions will soon be answered.