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NBA AM: Willie Reed Enjoys Visiting Orlando

Willie Reed is excited about his opportunity with the Miami Heat and he’s making the most of it.

Cody Taylor

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For Miami HEAT center Willie Reed, there is something about the city of Orlando that seems to bring nothing but good luck for him. Looking at a couple of milestones that have happened for Reed while in Orlando, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the big man enjoys coming back as a visitor.

While walking down Church Street in downtown Orlando, Reed still remembers the exact restaurant he was in when he got arguably the most important phone call of his professional career.

Reed was eating at a hamburger shop with his fiancé and one-year-old son when he received a call that the Brooklyn Nets were interested in signing him. The ironic part about when he received that call from the Nets was that he was playing for the HEAT’s Summer League team that summer.

He signed a one-year, partially-guaranteed contract with the Nets less than an hour later and was in uniform for the Nets’ next Summer League game two days later. Reed recorded 10 points, 10 rebounds and one block for the Nets in his first game with the team.

“Orlando has been good to me as far as a place for me to showcase my talents and be able to excel,” Reed told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just thankful for the opportunity God has put me in, to be able to have teams that want me and for the Miami HEAT organization to want to have me here. They speak highly of me, they think that I can be a really good player so I just want to maximize that potential and give them everything I have for giving me this opportunity.”

After finally getting an opportunity with an NBA team, Reed’s luck took a turn for the worse as he suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right thumb during his Nets’ preseason debut. The injury would sideline Reed until the beginning of December when he eventually made his NBA debut.

As Reed looks back on last season, his thumb injury would end up preventing him from playing in the Nets’ regular season opener. After going undrafted out of Saint Louis in 2011, Reed spent some time with the Sacramento Kings but was waived shortly after.

Over the course of the next four years, Reed would play for a few different teams in the D-League and even had a brief stint overseas. He made a name for himself in the D-League after averaging 15.3 points, 12 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 145 career D-League games.

Fast forward to his second season in the NBA and he was finally able to play in a season opener. Reed made his HEAT debut last night, recording 10 points, six rebounds and one block in 17 minutes off of the bench in place of Hassan Whiteside. He was quick to point out that he also took a charge, which is just as good as a blocked shot.

After Whiteside picked up two early fouls in the first quarter, Reed entered the game. He quickly made his presence known upon checking in after scoring four points and pulling down a rebound in just a couple of minutes.

“It’s special,” Reed said of finally playing in an opening game. “It’s definitely special. I finally got that opportunity [to play in the NBA] last year, and now going into this season being confident, being healthy going into the year, I think that’s the key. This season opener is going to be one that I remember for a long time to come. But this is just one game and we’re going to try to build from this and try to become the team that we want to become come April and May.”

The HEAT underwent a lot of change over this summer as they lost several key players like Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, Joe Johnson and Amar’e Stoudemire among others. In addition, Chris Bosh will likely not return to the organization due to his health issues.

During free agency, the HEAT made Whiteside a priority to retain. On the first day of free agency, Whiteside announced that he’d be re-signing with the HEAT. The team viewed his abilities on the defensive end of the floor as something to build around and made sure he’d be staying – offering him a four-year, $98 million deal.

In order to maintain some stability on defense when Whiteside is off of the court, the team liked the idea of signing Reed. The two players have similar styles of play, as both can defend well and alter shots near the basket. Whiteside’s shot-blocking ability has been on display during his time with the HEAT and Reed was an All-Defensive First Team member in the D-League.

“Willie might be our most improved player since the first day of training camp,” HEAT head coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He’s really made strides. He’s dedicated his approach every day to work to get better. He’s been really consistent with that work and I think you’ve seen improvement; [we’ve] really tried to simplify his game. He’s bought into that role and he gives us an element of another center that’s very similar to Hassan. What you saw tonight was 48 minutes of that kind of center basketball.”

Reed’s playing time with the Nets last season was sporadic. His thumb injury kept him out of the lineup for over the first month of the season and he wouldn’t see consistent play for the rest of the season. When he did play, he performed well. His per-48 stats offered a glimpse into what he could provide when given the opportunity: 20.5 points, 13.7 rebounds and 3.4 blocks.

Although he was with the Nets, the HEAT still kept an eye on him. When free agency came, the decision to join the HEAT was an easy one to make for Reed. He received interest from several teams in free agency, including the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Minnesota Timberwolves among others.

“It’s always comforting knowing that someone wants you, that means you’re doing something right,” Reed said. “It just means that all of the hard work that I’ve put in, they recognize it and they believe that they could help train and build me to be something else. I come in open-minded every day and ready to learn, listen and just take what they give me and from there just try to excel.”

Ask Reed what his stat line looked like from his first regular season NBA game on December 4 with the Nets and he’ll recite it exactly: eight points, four rebounds and a block in 10 minutes of work.

As Reed pointed out, his debut on opening night for the HEAT will be something that he remembers for a long time. Ask him a year from now what his stat line looked like and he’ll likely remember it verbatim.

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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NBA

Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 11/17/17

Spencer Davies updates the list of names to keep an eye on and who’s in contention for DPOY.

Spencer Davies

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We’re exactly one month into the season now, as the NBA standings have started to take shape headed into winter.

A couple of weeks ago, Basketball Insiders released its first Defensive Player of the Year Watch article to go in-depth on players that could compete for the prestigious award. Since then, there have been injuries keeping most of the household names out of the picture.

Guys like Rudy Gobert (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (ankle) have been or will be sidelined for weeks. Kawhi Leonard has yet to make his season debut recovering from a bothersome right quad.

While that isn’t the best news for fans and the league at the moment, it’s likely that those players will be just fine and return with the same impact they’ve always made. In the meantime, there are opportunities for others to throw their names in the hat as elite defenders. With new names and mainstays, here’s a look at six healthy candidates.

6) Joel Embiid

Trusting the Process in Philadelphia was worth the wait. As polished as the seven-footer is with the ball in his hands on offense, he might be even more dangerous as an interior defensive presence.

One of ten players in the NBA averaging at least a block and a steal per game, Embiid makes a world of a difference for in limiting opponents. Through 14 games, the Philadelphia 76ers are allowing just 96.4 points per 100 possessions with him playing. Furthering that, he’s the only one on the floor who dips the team’s defensive rating below 100 and has the second-highest Defensive Real Plus-Minus rating (3.03) in the NBA.

5) Kristaps Porzingis

Like Embiid, it’s been an incredible season for the one called The Unicorn. Before the season started, Porzingis stated it was a goal of his to accomplish three things—an All-Star game appearance, Most Improved Player, and Defensive Player of the Year.

So far, he’s on the right track. Outside of being the league’s third-highest scorer (28.9 points per game), the Latvian big man is hounding and deterring shot attempts nearly every time inside. According to SportVU data, Porzingis is allowing his opponents to only convert 35.1 percent of their attempts at the rim, which is the lowest by far among his peers seeing at least four tries per game. Oh, and when he’s off the floor, the Knicks have a 112.4 defensive rating, which is 9.3 more points per 100 possessions than with him on.

4) Nikola Jokic

At the beginning of the season, it looked like the same old story with the Denver Nuggets defense, but their intensity has stepped up on that end of the floor for the past couple of weeks. Playing next to new running mate Paul Millsap has taken some getting used to, but it seems like the two frontcourt partners have started to mesh well.

Though it might not have been the case a season ago, the Denver Nuggets are a net -12.4 per 100 possessions defensively without Jokic on the court as opposed to a team-best 100.1 defensive rating with him on. A huge knock on the Serbian sensation last year and before then was his inability to defend. He’s still got things to work on as a rim protector with his timing, but the progress is coming. He’s seventh in the league in total contested shots (168) and has been forcing turnovers like a madman. Averaging 1.6 steals per game, Jokic has recorded at least one takeaway in all but two games.

3) Draymond Green

In the first DPOY watch article, the Golden State Warriors had been better off defensively with Green sitting. That right there should tell you how much we can really put into data in small sample sizes. It’s changed dramatically since that point in time.

Without Green playing, the Golden State Warriors have a defensive rating of 105.4 as opposed to 98.4 on the same scale with him on the floor. His matchups are starting to grow weary of driving on him again, as he’s seen less than four attempts at the basket. Currently, in DRPM, he ranks eighth with a 2.60 rating.

2) Al Horford

The Boston Celtics are still the number one team in the NBA in defensive rating. Horford is still the straw that stirs the drink for Brad Stevens. If you didn’t see that watching that knockdown, drag-it-out game against the Warriors on Thursday, go back and watch it.

He has the highest net rating on the team among starters and is leading the team by altering shots and grabbing rebounds with aggressiveness we haven’t seen since he played for the Atlanta Hawks. Ranking fourth in Defensive Box Plus-Minus and in DRPM, Horford is continuing to make his presence felt.

1) DeMarcus Cousins

Dominance is the word to describe Cousins’ game. With a month-long absence of Gobert, he has a real chance to show fans and voters that his defensive side of him is no façade.

Next to his partner Anthony Davis, Boogie has kept up the physicality and technique of locking up assignments. The third and final member of this list averaging at least a block and steal per game, Cousins is at the top of the mountain in DRPM with a 3.13 rating.

The New Orleans Pelicans significantly benefit with him on the hardwood (102.3 DRTG) as opposed to him on the bench (112.7 DTRG). He’s one of six players in the league seeing more than six attempts at the rim, and he’s allowed the lowest success percentage among that group. He’s also contested 193 shots, which is the second-most in the NBA.

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Gregg Popovich Continues To Be The Gold Standard For Leadership

There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and Gregg Popovich.

Moke Hamilton

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There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and the San Antonio Spurs.

Okay, let’s be honest, it’s probably not the first time that you’ve heard that one, but it also won’t be the last.

Behind the genius of Gregg Popovich, the Spurs have qualified for the NBA Playoffs 20 consecutive years. In hindsight, they appear to have been the only team to legitimately frighten the Golden State Warriors during their 16-1 playoff run last year, and this season, well, they’ve been the same old Spurs.

That’s been especially amazing considering the fact that the team has been without Kawhi Leonard. Although Popovich recently said that Leonard would return “sooner rather than later,” he himself admitted to not being certain as to what that meant.

Best guess from here is that Leonard will return within the next few weeks, but at this point, it’s entirely fair to wonder whether or not it even matters.

Of course, the Spurs don’t stand much of a chance to win the Western Conference without Leonard thriving at or near 100 percent, but even without him, the Spurs look every bit like a playoff team, and in the Western Conference, that’s fairly remarkable.

“A team just has to play in a sense like he doesn’t exist,” Popovich was quoted as saying by Tom Osborn of the San Antonio Express-News.

“Nobody cares if you lost a good player, right? Everybody wants to whip you. So it doesn’t do much good to do the poor me thing or to keep wondering when he is going to be back or what are we going to do. We have to play now, and other people have to take up those minutes and we have to figure out who to go to when in a different way, and you just move on.”

In a nutshell, that’s Popovich.

What most people don’t understand about Popovich is what makes him a truly great coach is his humility. He is never afraid to second-guess himself and reconsider the way that he’s accustomed to doing things. Since he’s been the head coach of the Spurs, he’s built and rebuilt offenses around not only different players, but also different philosophies.

From the inside-out attack that was his bread and butter with David Robinson and Tim Duncan to the motion and movement system that he built around Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the latest incarnation of Popovich’s genius isn’t only the fact that he has survived without Kawhi Leonard, it’s what could fairly be considered the major catalyst of it.

There are many head coaches around the league that take their roles as authority figures quite seriously, and that’s why a fair number would have been threatened by one of their star players requesting that things be rebuilt in a way to maximize his potential.

So when LaMarcus Aldridge proactively sat down with his coach to discuss the ways that he felt he was being misused in the team’s schemes, it wouldn’t have come as a shock for Popovich to meet him with resistance.

Instead, he did the opposite.

“We have talked about what we can do to make him more comfortable, and to make our team better,” Popovich acknowledged during Spurs training camp.

“But having said that, I think we are mostly talking about offense. Defense, he was fantastic for us. Now, we have got to help him a little bit more so that he is comfortable in his own space offensively, and I haven’t done a very good job of that.”

Just 11 days after those comments were printed, the Spurs announced that they had signed Aldridge to a three-year, $72 million extension.

Considering that Aldridge’s first two years as a member of the Spurs yielded some poor efforts and relatively low output, the extension seemed curious and was met with ridicule.

Yet, one month later and 15 games into the season, the Spurs sit at 9-6. They’ve survived the absence of Kawhi Leonard and the loss of Jonathon Simmons.

Behind an offensive system tweaked to take advantage of his gifts, in the early goings, Aldridge is averaging 22 points per game, a far cry above the 17.7 points per game he averaged during his first two years in San Antonio.

Coincidence?

I think not.

Death, taxes and the Spurs.

So long as Gregg Popovich is at the helm, exhibiting strong leadership while remaining amazingly humble, the Spurs will be the Spurs.

Sure, Kawhi Leonard will be back—at some point.

But until then, the Spurs will be just fine.

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NBA AM: Atlanta’s Dewayne Dedmon Is Letting Shots — And Jokes — Fly

Dewayne Dedmon’s emergence has been an unexpected positive for the rebuilding Atlanta Hawks.

Buddy Grizzard

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It’s been a brutal season for the Atlanta Hawks, they’re just already 3-12 with the worst record in the Eastern Conference.

Wednesday’s franchise-record 46-point win over the visiting Sacramento Kings was a rare chance for Atlanta to have a laugh in the postgame locker room and reflect on things that have gone well, including hot shooting for the team and a potential breakout season for center Dewayne Dedmon.

The Hawks trail only the Golden State Warriors in three-point shooting at just over 40 percent. Prior to joining the Hawks, Dedmon had attempted only one three-pointer in 224 career games. As a Hawk, though, Dedmon is shooting 42 percent on 19 attempts. Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer explained after Wednesday’s game how his staff decided to encourage Dedmon to extend his range.

“You do your research and you talk to friends around the league, you talk to people who have worked with him and you watch him during warmups,” said Budenholzer. “We had a belief, an idea, that he could shoot, he could make shots. We’re kind of always pushing that envelope with the three-point line. He’s embraced it.”

Dedmon is currently averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, blocks and minutes, and set season-highs in points (20), rebounds (14) and assists (five) against the Kings. He’s also brought an offbeat sense of humor that has helped keep the locker room loose despite the struggles. It became apparent early on that Dedmon was a different type of dude.

At Media Day, when nobody approached Dedmon’s table and reporters instead flocked to interview rookie John Collins at the next table, Dedmon joined the scrum, holding his phone out as if to capture a few quotes.

“This guy’s going to be a character,” said a passing Hawks staffer.

Those words proved prophetic, as Coach Bud confirmed after Wednesday’s win.

“He brings a lot of personality to our team, really from almost the day he got here,” said Budenholzer. “I think he’s getting more and more comfortable and can help the young guys and help everybody.”

Dedmon took an unconventional path to the NBA. Growing up, his mother — a Jehovah’s Witness — forbade him to play organized sports. Once he turned 18, Dedmon began making his own decisions. He walked on to the team at Antelope Valley College, a two-year school in Lancaster, Ca., before transferring to USC and eventually making it to the league.

His personality, which formed while Dedmon forged his own path, shone through in the locker room after the Sacramento win. Asked about conversations he’s had with Budenholzer about shot selection, Dedmon turned to teammate Kent Bazemore at the adjacent locker.

“What’s the phrase, Baze? LTMF?”

“Yep,” Bazemore replied.

“Yeah, LTMF,” Dedmon continued. “Let it fly. So he told me to shoot … let it go. I’m not going to say what the M means.”

Amidst laughter from the assembled media, he explained that ‘LTMF’ is Budenholzer’s philosophy for the whole team, not just part of an effort to expand Dedmon’s game.

“Everybody has the same freedom,” said Dedmon. “So it definitely gives everybody confidence to shoot their shots when they’re open and just play basketball.”

With the injury bug thus far robbing Atlanta of its stated ambition to overachieve this season, Dedmon’s career year and team success from three-point range are two big positives.

Rebuilding or retooling can be a painful process. But with a unique personality like Dedmon helping keep things light in the locker room, Atlanta should make it through.

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