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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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The Case for Upperclassmen in the NBA Draft

College upperclassmen are becoming increasingly viable options in the NBA Draft, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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Each year when the NBA draft comes around, there seems to be an aversion to taking upperclassman with a top selection. More specifically, it’s college seniors who often find themselves getting drafted in the second-round if at all.

It can be understandable. NBA teams are clearly looking for a home run pick with a lottery selection. They’re looking for a player who they can build a foundation around for years to come. College seniors often project as solid role players to strengthen a team once that foundational superstar is already in place.

However, recent years have seen the entire first round dominated almost entirely by freshmen and sophomores. In 2017, a college senior wasn’t drafted until the San Antonio Spurs took Derrick White with the 29th pick. The Los Angeles Lakers followed that up with Josh Hart. Hart ended up having a better rookie season than a few of the underclassmen taken ahead of him.

A few other upperclassmen, Frank Mason III, a senior, and Dillon Brooks, a junior, both had better rookie seasons than many of the freshmen taking before them as well. Junior Semi Ojeleye is playing a major role for the Boston Celtics who are in the Eastern Conference Finals.

In 2016, Malcolm Brogdon, another college senior, was taken in the second-round with the 36th pick by the Milwaukee Bucks. He went on to win the Rookie of the Year award and was a starter for a playoff team.

Senior Tyrone Wallace was taken with the last pick in the draft at No. 60 that year. When a rash of injuries hit the Los Angeles Clippers this season, Wallace stepped in right away as a starter at times and helped keep the team afloat in the playoff picture.

There were a few college seniors that went undrafted in 2016, players such as Fred VanVleet Yogi Ferrell that have had better NBA careers to this point that a lot of the underclassmen taken ahead of them.

This isn’t to say that NBA teams should completely abandon taking young, underdeveloped players in the first-round. The Spurs took Dejounte Murray, a freshman point guard, over Brogdon, Wallace, VanVleet and Ferrell. That’s worked out well for them. It’s more a testament to having a good front office and scouting team than anything else.

But maybe NBA teams should start expanding their horizons when it comes to the draft. There appears to be a stigma of sorts when it comes to upperclassmen, particularly college seniors. If a guy can play, he can play. Of course, college production is often not the best means of judging NBA success, but it does count for something.

With the 2018 NBA draft about one month away, there are a few interesting names to look at when it comes to college seniors. Players such as Devonte’ Graham from Kansas, Theo Pinson from North Carolina, Chandler Hutchinson from Boise State, Jevon Carter from West Virginia and Bonzie Colson from Notre Dame are all guys that should be on NBA team’s radars.

Sure, none of those guys are going to turn into a superstar or even an All-Star. But you’re probably going to get a player that becomes a solid contributor for years to come.

Again, it’s understandable when teams take projects in the lottery. After a long season of losing, and in some cases years of losing, ownership and the fanbase are hungry for results. They don’t want a top pick to be used on a player that projects as only a solid contributor.

But after the lottery, the rest of the draft gets a little murky. A good front office will find an NBA caliber player whether he’s a freshman or a senior. The NBA Draft isn’t an exact science. Nothing is ever for sure and no player is guaranteed to become the player they’re projected to be.

College upperclassmen tend to be more physically developed and mentally mature for the NBA game. If what you’re looking for is someone who will step right in and produce for a winning team, then instead of wasting a pick on the unknown, it might be better to go with the sure thing.

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NBA Daily: Are the Houston Rockets in Trouble?

Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals may have been the perfect storm for Houston, writes Shane Rhodes.

Shane Rhodes

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The Houston Rockets took a gut punch from the Golden State Warriors, but they responded in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

After they dropped the first game of the series, Houston evened things up at one apiece Wednesday night with a 127-105 blowout win over Golden State. With the Warriors struggling on the offensive end and Houston rebounding from a less than stellar Game 1, the Rockets rolled through the game with relative ease.

But was their improved demonstration a fluke? While fans may not want to hear it, Game 2 may have been the perfect storm for Houston.

The Rockets’ gameplan didn’t change much from Game 1 to 2. They attacked Steph Curry relentlessly on the offensive end, James Harden and Chris Paul took plenty of shots in isolation and their role players got shots to drop that just weren’t going down in Game 1. Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza and P.J. Tucker exploded for 68 points while shooting 66.7 percent from three after scoring just 24 the previous game. The trio averaged only 35.8 points collectively during the regular season.

Meanwhile, Golden State couldn’t buy a bucket; starting Warriors not named Kevin Durant scored just 35 points. Curry shot just 1-8 from downtown while Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguadola combined for just 19 points while shooting 35 percent from the floor. All of that will undoubtedly change.

So, going back to Oakland for Game 3, where do the Rockets find themselves? Not in a great place, unfortunately.

Golden State did their job: they stole a game — and home-court advantage — from the Rockets at the Toyota Center. Now, as the series shifts back to Oracle Arena and, assuming the Warriors return to form in front of their home crowd, Houston will have their work more than cut out for them. If Curry, Thompson and Durant all have their shot falling, there isn’t much the Rockets can do to keep up

The Warriors, aside from Curry, played great team defense in Game 2, something that will likely continue into Game 3. The Rockets hit plenty of tough, contested shots — shots that won’t drop as they move away from the energy of the home crowd and shots that Golden State would gladly have Houston take again and again and again. Harden and Paul didn’t exactly bring their A-game in Game 2 either — the two combined for a solid 43 points but took an inefficient 38 shots to get there. If the two of them play like that at Oracle, the Warriors will abuse them in transition, something that can’t happen if the Rockets want to steal back the home-court advantage.

The aforementioned trio of Gordon, Ariza and Tucker are unlikely to replicate their Game 2 performance as well, and relying on them to do so would be foolish on the part of Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni. Devising a game plan that will keep the offense moving while not leaning heavily on the role players will be of the utmost importance — if the offense returns to the bogged down effort that Houston gave in Game 1, the Rockets stand no chance.

Meanwhile, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr will likely adjust his defense in an effort to limit the Rockets effectiveness in the isolation while also trying to find somewhere to hide Curry on the defensive end. It almost certainly won’t be the same sets that Houston throttled in Game 2 which will take another toll on the Rockets offense, especially if they fail to execute.

Not everything looks bad for Houston, however. Faced with a do-or-die scenario, Harden, Paul and co. were the more aggressive team from the jump. Pushing the pace flustered the Warriors and forced some pretty bad turnovers consistently throughout the night. If they come out with the same kind of energy and pace, the Rockets could have Golden State on their heels as they did in Game 2.

Budding star Clint Capela also has plenty of room to improve his game, as he has averaged just 8.5 points and eight rebounds through the first two games of the series — the Rockets need him to play his best basketball of the season if they want a chance to win.

Still, the Warriors are virtually unbeatable at home. The team has lost three games this postseason, just four times over their last two playoff trips and not once at Oracle, making the Rockets’ task even more daunting than it already was. Like Game 2, Game 3 should be played as a do-or-die situation for the Rockets because, if they don’t come out with the same aggressive, up-tempo energy, things could be over quickly.

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NBA Daily: Hope Not Lost for Mavs

The Dallas Mavericks were the lottery’s biggest losers, but VP of basketball operations Michael Finley still believes the team will land an elite talent.

Joel Brigham

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Dallas Mavericks vice president of basketball operations Michael Finley knows what it’s like to be on the other side of the draft process. In 2018, he’s an executive for the third-worst team in the league that somehow slipped to the fifth overall pick in Tuesday night’s NBA Draft Lottery, but in 1995 he was a kid from the University of Wisconsin hoping to get drafted.

Finley was a first-round pick that summer, ironically selected by the Phoenix Suns, who won the first overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft earlier this week, but he says he doesn’t even remember the lottery. The lottery wasn’t the event then that it has since become.

“The lottery wasn’t this big when I was in the draft,” Finley told Basketball Insiders. “I don’t even remember how the lottery process played out when I was coming out of college. It’s grown so much, but the league has grown. It’s good for fans, and it’s good for people to get excited about this process.”

Of course, the irony in getting excited about a draft pick isn’t lost on him.

“It’s kind of weird that [fans] are celebrating the losing process, isn’t it?”

Not surprisingly, Finley wasn’t especially thrilled to see his team fail to reap the rewards of a Dallas Mavericks season that was stepped in that losing process. The lottery odds will change next year, and Finley believes that’s a good thing.

“It’s a good thing to change the system a little,” he says. “It will help keep the integrity of the game intact, especially toward the end of the year. It also will be even more suspenseful than these lottery events have been in the past.”

That’s next year, though. This year, the Mavericks are tasked with finding an elite player at a pick lower than they expected. Finley’s trying to look at things optimistically.

“It could have been sixth,” he said. “It’s still in the top five, and going on what we did this season, we don’t want to be in this position next year, so hopefully the guy we pick at #5 will get us out of the lottery and back into the playoffs.”

In fact, having that selection doesn’t preclude the team from finding a star, especially in a draft this loaded. Most agree that Luka Doncic and DeAndre Ayton are the prizes of the draft, but there are other guys available with All-Star potential. Marvin Bagley, Trae Young, Michael Porter, Jr., and Mo Bamba all have incredibly high ceilings. The Mavs may yet do something meaningful with that selection.

“It’s a strong draft, and a lot of the draft is going to go with what player fits what team in a particular system. If you’re lucky enough to get that perfect combination, the players that are in this draft are really good and have the capability of helping a team right away.”

That’s what Finley and the rest of the Mavericks’ organization hopes will happen in 2018-2019.

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