Shooting has always been valued in professional basketball, and it’s become even more important of late in the NBA. The league average for three-point attempts per game was 34.1 in 2019-20, up from 29 just two seasons earlier and 20 back in 2012-13, according to Basketball-Reference.
Well, that alone probably has a lot to do with why Chasson Randle is back in the NBA for the 2020-21 season.
“All summer long you hear teams are looking for shooting. That’s something I pride myself on – knocking down shots,” Randle recently told Basketball Insiders. “It’s something I work on constantly during the summer and the season, getting reps and staying confident.”
Randle is a career 37.8 percent three-point shooter with a career-high of 40 percent across 49 games with the Washington Wizards in 2018-19. But Randle is a pro’s pro, meaning he works on all aspects of his game and prides himself on more than just shooting.
“Picking up full [court], create a little havoc on the defensive end, changing the pace of the game,” Randle explained when asked about his other strengths. “And then I’ve worked on my playmaking ability and running the team all summer, making different reads out of pick and rolls and putting myself in situations that I’ll see in games.”
Randle has bounced around the NBA quite a bit for a 27 -year-old. In early December, he agreed to terms with the Oklahoma City Thunder for the 2020-21 season. Unfortunately, the team added a number of guaranteed contracts through trades this offseason and were unable to move players they may not be interested in keeping. As a result, Randle recently found out that he’ll start the 2020-21 season with the team’s G-League affiliate (the Oklahoma City Blue). Still, it is expected that he’ll be called up at some point this season.
Last season — just prior to the COVID-19 shutdown — Randle was with the Golden State Warriors, where he played three games. And while his time in California was cut short, he learned a lot from the organization.
“Everything is top-notch from top to bottom – how they communicate with each other [as an organization] and the players. And how the players communicate is huge,” Randle explained. “ [There’s] a lot of camaraderie and togetherness and it shows when they play. It was a short experience, I wish I would have had more time with them (to learn and compete), but I’m grateful for them none the less.”
The Warriors failed to qualify for the bubble, which prohibited Randle’s involvement in Orlando. But he explained that if given the opportunity to do so, he would have played any way he could.
“Yeah, absolutely,” Randle said. “I’m a basketball player. Anytime there’s a game going on, I’m down to play. I would’ve loved to have been in the bubble and showcase what I can do.”
But Randle has entirely new challenges ahead of him this season with the Thunder. Fortunately for the quasi-veteran, he’s not alone. Oklahoma City made a flurry of offseason moves that resulted in returning only six players from last season – Darius Bazley, Hamidou Diallo, Luguentz Dort, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Isaiah Roby and Mike Muscala. They’re a young team with limited continuity.
So, it would make sense that a player with Randle’s poise and professionalism could be able to carve out a role on such a young team.
“I think it’s a mix,” Randle said regarding his standing with the Thunder. “Thing about this game is that everybody has to be somewhat of a leader in their own way. I’ve been in roles where I’ve been the guy and I’ve also been in roles where I’ve had to follow. I’m comfortable doing both.”
“But this season in particular, whatever they need from me, I feel like I’ll be able to provide simply because over the course of my career, I’ve done so many different things, so I’m excited.”
According to his agent, Darrell Comer, Randle missed the 2020 preseason due to contract negotiations and the franchise’s need to make additional roster cuts. But Randle traveled with the team and observed them in action, so he’s encouraged with what he’s seen.
“Watching the guys throughout the preseason, I see a lot of things,” Randle said. “The ball moves. they’re playing free with a lot of pace and flow. I think my role fits right in as a shooter and a playmaker. And then on the defensive end, picking up full and being a pest.”
Randle repeatedly emphasized the idea of being more than a shooter over and over, often relaying his ability to make plays for others and defend. But he explained that the work he put since returning from a January stint in China has prepared him to prove it on the court. Randle followed a tedious training regimen in the Bay Area that began in April – and for much of the spring, he isolated himself from others outside his girlfriend by working out at home using whatever he could get his hands on.
“Early on. we didn’t know what the virus was,” Randle said. “I wasn’t going anywhere from when they shut things down in March until April. We stocked up. Luckily, my girlfriend can cook and I can do a little bit in the kitchen, too.
“But I was doing home workouts then, like on YouTube, and I had bands and free weights. Once mid-to-late April hit though, my girlfriend’s brother-in-law has a huge facility in his garage – machines, weights, treadmills, everything you need. I was there twice-a-day on most days. We called it the grindhouse, that was the deal. Then once I was able to get access to a court, probably a few weeks later, it was back to normal for me. Like an extended offseason.”
But once he was able to, he got right back to long days in the weight room, on the court and in film sessions, always trying to add just a little more to his game.
“Sunday is the Lord’s day, so I don’t do much on Sundays beyond stretching,” Randle explained. “Monday is weights at six in the morning until around ten. At ten, I get on the court shooting until noon. Then I’ll go back at like two-thirty or three and get another workout in with weights.”
But that wasn’t all.
“Also, if there’s a pickup game at night, I play pickup. And that’s like Monday-through-Friday. Saturday it was just one workout. I was lifting probably at least four times per week.”
But the best players are cerebral. They can’t just work on their craft, the most elite also prepare for their opponent, studying film, hoping to identify a weakness or a pattern to exploit.
“I’d also watch the film of myself, things I can improve on,” Randle continued. “My trainers do a great job sending me stuff through an app we have. I can watch my workouts to see how I’m shooting, my footwork.
“If it’s a pick-and-roll and the ball is in my hands. If it’s a live dribble. I’m looking get into the defender’s body, create contact, come off the screen . . . or if I’ve already used my dribble, setting up that man, making him think I could reject and then come off the screen.
“Or I’m looking at defense and my positioning, where I could have helped, my closeout. It’s all the little details you could pick up on that go a long way,” Randle said. “Everyone is so good in the NBA. It’s those details that separate the good from the really good players. So I’m just trying to figure out how I can get a little better every day.
“But another thing we focused on this offseason was my passing and making reads out of the pick-and-roll. I’ve been watching the film on Chris Paul and how he’s so patient coming off of screens, he uses his dribble to create windows for himself – and that’s stuff we work on in the gym. I’ll have a guy guard me, and a roller, and we’ll rep it out to build familiarity. Cutting down on turnovers, one-hand passes. Every little thing that can happen in a game. We had the time, we figured we might as well… for me, I’m always looking for ways to get better.
“Then I’m crashing at like ten-thirty to do it all again the next day. My girlfriend’s mad at me, but it’s the life, man. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, being an NBA player.
“And I’m having so much fun enjoying the process.”
It’s somber times for many people in the United States and around the globe. COVID-19 has ravaged families, killing hundreds of thousands and leaving millions in financial peril. Its effect on athletes isn’t yet known, with long-term symptoms like brain fog not yet reported or discussed in professional athletes. Keyontae Johnson, a Florida University guard and 2019-20 All-SEC team member, recently collapsed during a game was recently diagnosed with acute myocarditis, which will force him to miss at least three months according to sources. So Randle is approaching COVID-19 with total seriousness, while not allowing it to get in the way of his dreams.
“I don’t believe they (NBA trainers and team executives) would put us in a situation where we would be harmed, or our families,” Randle explained. “I feel for that kid. I’m glad he’s doing great. At the end of the day, basketball is a way to provide for myself and my family. It’s something that’s been a part of me since I was a kid. To let that go in my prime, I wouldn’t be able to do that. I’m down to play now. I trust our medical staff and everyone has done a great job so far.”
But regardless of his determination, things will be different. To start the 2020-21 season, only six teams will allow fans to attend games, all of whom must obey local health mandates. A few others plan to open arenas up to fans at a later date. It won’t be exactly like the bubble, but it will be significantly different than the last time Randle was on an NBA court. Plus, for what it’s worth, most NBA arenas are significantly larger than the gyms in ESPN’s World Wide of Sports complex used for the bubble in Orlando, Florida, making it all the more daunting to play with a limited or non-existent crowd.
“I’ve talked to a lot of guys who played in the bubble and the pre-season with no fans – they say it’s weird,” Randle mused. “For me, you treat practice like a game and there’s no one in practice. So you go out there and do your job like it’s any other game. When I’m playing, I don’t necessarily see the fans, I hear them but don’t necessarily see them. They’re importing the 2K simulated sound in the arenas. But I’ll just have to see when we get there I guess.”
In the end, Randle belongs in the NBA – but lots of guys who aren’t there now can say the same thing. What’s slightly different about Randle is that he understands that. He’s grateful for the opportunity while also understanding that he needs to continue to prove himself.
But the professional in him expects to be criticized along the way, although Randle doesn’t necessarily buy into all of it.
“Criticism doesn’t hurt me,” Randle said. “If I don’t believe something somebody’s saying about me isn’t true, then I prove them wrong. It’s something I’ve had to do for a very long time. I can do it again. I’m all for learning and getting better.”
ICYMI: Atlantic Division
To kick off our new “ICYMI” series, Basketball Insiders’ Ariel Pacheco breaks down what you might have missed from the Atlantic Division this season.
Here at Basketball Insiders, we’re introducing a new series called “ICYMI” where we’ll fill you in on some of the NBA’s biggest storylines that you may have missed, division by division. Today, we’ll focus on the Atlantic Division.
So far, the Atlantic has been arguably the most competitive division in the league. If the playoffs started today, all five teams in the division would at least make the play-in game. But what’s gotten those teams to that point? Who or what might have flown under the radar? Let’s take a look.
Chris Boucher: Sixth Man Of The Year Candidate
After a cold start to the season, the Toronto Raptors have started to figure it out, winning 5 of their last 7 games. And a huge part of that success has been due to the rise of Chris Boucher.
In just 23.7 minutes per game, he is averaging 14.3 points, 6.6 rebounds to go along with 2.2 blocks per game. He’s also shown touch from beyond the arc, shooting 45.3% from three-point range on almost four attempts a game. On the year, Boucher also has 4 double-doubles.
Boucher has provided a much-needed spark for the Raptors. In fact, while Nick Nurse has been reluctant to do so, many have been clamoring for Boucher to start. Still, as a starter or off the bench, Boucher has done more than enough to mask the loss of both Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol. And doing so has placed him squarely in the middle of the Sixth Man of the Year conversation.
Is Immanuel Quickley the Knicks Point Guard Of The Future and Present?
The Knicks entered the season with a conundrum at the point guard position. Former Lottery picks Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina have both disappointed while Elfrid Payton, a proven but flawed NBA rotation player, has only exacerbated the team’s issues, especially their need for spacing.
Enter Immanuel Quickley, a rookie out of Kentucky that has not only shown the ability to shoot, but also defend and facilitate at a high level and has developed a floater game that has become his signature.
There’s no question that Quickley is currently the best point guard on the Knicks’ roster. While his 11 points and 2.6 assists per game might undersell his play, lineups with RJ Barrett, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson that feature Quickley have outscored opponents by 20 points, albeit in just 30 total minutes. That same lineup with Payton in Quickley’s place have been outscored by 6 points in 371 minutes. Quickley is simply a better fit.
While the Knicks point guard situation in the last decade has been lousy, the Knicks may not have only found their point guard of the future, but of the present as well.
Doc Rivers, the Tobias Harris Whisperer
After a disappointing year, Tobias Harris is in the midst of a bounce-back season. This should come as no surprise, however, with Doc Rivers now at the helm. Harris played some of the best basketball of his career as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers with Rivers as his head coach. Now, reunited in Philadelphia, Harris’ play has surged once again.
Harris has been an uber-efficient scoring option for the first place 76ers, averaging 19.8 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game on a 61.5 true shooting percentage. Rivers, meanwhile, has done an excellent job of putting Harris in the best position to succeed. With Brett Brown, Harris was used more as a floor-spacer and spot-up shooter, something that Harris is certainly capable of — he’s shot 45.8 percent from three-point range this season — but doesn’t exactly suit his game. But, under Rivers, Harris has attacked the basket and has been far more decisive with the ball in his hands. It also helps when Harris is shooting a scorching-hot 45.8 percent from three-point range.
Where other coaches have faltered, Rivers has seemingly unlocked Harris’ ultimate ability and, with the type of player he has shown himself to be, Harris might just be enough to push Philadelphia to a title. He’s certainly got them in the conversation.
Jeff Green’s Role in Brooklyn
The Brooklyn Nets’ trade for James Harden hurt their defense and their depth significantly. They’re betting on sheer star power and their new powerhouse offense to get them far in the playoffs.
They will need role-players to step up and knock down shots, however. Jeff Green has done just that.
Shooting 48.2 percent from three, Green has been playing a bunch of his minutes at center. And, with how the roster is currently constructed, the team may rely on him to play that spot throughout the season. Green, of course, is no stranger to the situation, having played the very same role with the Houston Rockets last season.
Since the Harden trade, he’s averaging 33 minutes per game. Green has also scored in double figures off the bench in 7 straight games. He’ll continue to play a major role for the Nets as the season goes and, if he can continue to perform at this level, Brooklyn will have someone in the rotation beyond the big-three that they can trust.
Be sure to check back throughout the week as we break down what you may have missed from the other divisions.
NBA Daily: Khris Middleton Should Be The Bucks’ Closer
Bobby Krivitsky breaks down Khirs Middleton’s season and explains how the Milwaukee Bucks second star has earned more opportunities in crunch time.
For the Milwaukee Bucks, being one of the NBA’s best regular-season teams doesn’t mean much. In each of the last two seasons, the players and their fans have enjoyed this movie’s rising action but, as winning the title is the ultimate goal, left the theatre disappointed.
In order to get that satisfying conclusion, Milwaukee must make some changes. And, to start the 2020-21 season, they’ve tried to do just that. As expected, Mike Budenholzer is more flexible in his approach this season than in year’s past. They’ve reshaped their five-out offense, which now features someone, often Giannis Antetokounmpo, occupying the dunker spot. Those are the two areas just outside the paint along the baseline, where a player can catch the ball, take one or two steps, and dunk.
The Bucks are also pursuing their missed shots far more aggressively than they used to; two seasons ago, Budenholzer’s first at the helm, Milwaukee ranked 26th in offensive rebounding percentage, last year, they ranked 28th. But, through the first 16 games of this season, they’re snatching up 29.2 percent of their misses, good for the sixth-highest percentage league-wide.
Another meaningful difference, arguably the most meaningful, is how the team has allowed Khris Middleton to initiate the offense far more frequently at the end of games. In the final three minutes of games within five points, Middleton’s usage rate has spiked from 30.1 percent in 2019-20 to 40 percent this season.
Once again, Middleton has put together a fantastic season that’s receiving little fanfare. After he averaged a career-high 20.9 points per game last season, he’s improved to 21.8 points through the Bucks’ first 16 games. Middleton is also taking 5.9 three-point attempts per game (knocking them down at a 42.6 percent clip, the second-best mark of his career) and has increased the amount of two-point field goals he’s attempting to 9.8 per contest, making 58 percent of them.
That combination has produced an effective field goal percentage of 60.2 percent. Additionally, Middleton has shot 92 percent from the foul line on an average of 3.1 free-throw attempts per game, giving him a true-shooting percentage of 63.7 percent. Those shooting percentages mean Middleton has a legitimate chance to join the 50-40-90 club; only eight NBA players have accomplished that feat. Middleton’s also gone from averaging 4.3 assists per game the last two years to dishing out 5.8 dimes this season and has grabbed 6.3 rebounds per game.
Add it all up and you have a two-time All-Star that ranks fourth in the NBA in offensive win shares, fifth in total win shares and has delivered a compelling opening statement as to why he should make an All-NBA team for the first time in his career.
While it may not seem so noteworthy that one of the best wings in the NBA is off to a hot start, the way Middleton has responded to shouldering more responsibility in crunch time should serve as an ingredient to the elixir that can cure the postseason issues that have plagued them in recent seasons. Out of every player that has made more than one appearance in crunch time, which is defined as the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime of a game within five points, the sharpshooting Middleton is eighth in points per game. He’s also yet to turn the ball over in that span.
As the pressure mounts and the clock counts down, Middleton’s approach doesn’t change from how he’s played the game’s previous 43 minutes. Whether he’s attacking off a screen from Antetokounmpo or Brook Lopez, shooting off the catch, or using a jab step to create the necessary space for him to rise and fire, Middleton knocks down his shots with the same ruthless efficiency.
That said, he could stand to be a bit more assertive in the game’s waning moments. Yes, his usage rate has jumped in the fourth quarter, but there have been instances where Middleton has taken a backseat; in Milwaukee’s recent 112-109 win over the Dallas Mavericks, Middleton managed just two shots in the entire fourth quarter, back-to-back threes that turned a two-point deficit into a four-point lead the Bucks never relinquished.
Of course, there’s a balancing act that Budenholzer must work out between Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Jrue Holiday. Late in the game, Budenholzer can’t simply take the ball away from Antetokounmpo, the reigning MVP, and Holiday, a fantastic player in his own right, needs opportunities to have an impact.
But Middleton has done more than enough to show he’s deserving of even more opportunities than what he’s taken for himself this season. And, if the Bucks want to win a title in the near future, it may be in their best interest if Middleton’s the player primarily in charge of initiating their late-game offense.
NBA Daily: Gordon Hayward Realizing His Potential in Charlotte
No one envisioned Gordon Hayward joining the Charlotte Hornets in free agency. Not many people believed he could return to being an All-Star caliber player. Chad Smith puts the spotlight on Hayward’s resurgent season in Buzz City.
Many eyebrows were raised when Gordon Hayward decided to join the Charlotte Hornets this offseason. Most figured a return home to play for the Indiana Pacers was where the next chapter of his career would take place. But, when a potential deal with Indiana fell through, the Hornets became a reality. Maybe it was the lure of playing for Michael Jordan or just the opportunity for a fresh start where he could realize his full potential.
Either way, Hayward has proved himself to be the guy once again.
Shortly after Thanksgiving, Hayward signed a four-year deal with Charlotte for $120 million. At the time, it seemed like a heavy price to pay for a player in his 30’s that has endured so many injuries so recently in his career. Hornets fans went through this in 2019 with Terry Rozier’s sign-and-trade deal from the Boston Celtics for $56.7 million. The move for Charlotte almost felt desperate, like some sort of gamble they were willing to take.
But this signing has been different. Even before their deal, Hayward underwent a minor surgical procedure on his left foot to alleviate some discomfort he dealt with last year; the team was aware and still wanted to move forward with the deal, which speaks volumes as to how they felt about him as a player and how he would recover.
While Rozier was younger and seemed to have a high ceiling, Hayward is an established wing that has been an All-Star and the face of a franchise before. And, as we enter the quarter-mark of the 2020-21 season, it appears as though the team’s gamble has paid off quite nicely. Hayward is looked resurgent, averaging career-high numbers across the board after his injury-plagued stint in Boston.
With the Celtics, Hayward averaged 13.9 points per game, shot 36 percent from behind the arc, and got to the free throw line just 2.7 times per game. So far this season he is averaging more than 24 points per game, which is a career-best. His free throw attempts have nearly doubled and he is knocking down 43 percent of his three-pointers.
Hayward’s minutes have also increased significantly this year. And, in addition to his high percentage shooting, his 21.07 Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is a career-best.
The roster crunch at certain positions was a concern heading into the season, but head coach James Borrego has built a solid rotation that has allowed his team to maximize their potential. The Hornets have the ability to play big or go with a smaller lineup should the need arise. In fact, one of the major benefits of having Hayward is the ability to play him at multiple positions; having played alongside Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum in Boston, Hayward is well versed in switching and matching up against both bigger and smaller opponents.
Charlotte’s defense has also been much better this year with Hayward on the floor. They rank in the top ten in terms of opponents scoring and top five in steals. Borrego has used various full-court press coverages, as well as an unusual zone defense in the half-court that eventually turns back into a man-to-man scheme.
Using different lineups, the Hornets have been able to utilize guys like PJ Washington and Miles Bridges who, in turn, have ignited their offense. If LaMelo Ball is not in the game, Charlotte can still play their two smaller guards, Rozier and Devonte’ Graham, with Hayward often serving as the primary ball-handler. With him running the offense, it allows those two to do what they do best: shoot the ball.
As a team, the Hornets aren’t exactly elite offensively. They are strong in certain areas, but they also rank near the bottom of the league in scoring, field goals made, field goal percentage and free throw percentage. In order to win close games, there are times where they need Hayward to just take over — and he’s proven on multiple occasions that he is still more than capable of doing just that. Hayward has actually been on quite a roll lately, scoring the ball at an incredible clip. Two weeks ago he put up 34 points in a blowout of the New York Knicks. Later, he had another 34-point performance against the Chicago Bulls. He also scored 39 points, including the game-winning layup, against the Orlando Magic. His season-high came earlier in the month where he posted 44 points in a victory against the Atlanta Hawks.
The individual scoring by Hayward has been impressive, but it hasn’t hampered their offensive rhythm at all. In fact, the Hornets currently average 28.3 assists per game, which is the best in the league.
It hasn’t all been sunshine and rainbows in Buzz City. The success on the court hasn’t necessarily translated to winning. After 17 games, their 7-10 record has them sitting in 12th place in the Eastern Conference standings. And, looking at their upcoming schedule, there could be some more bumps in the road.
Charlotte’s next two games are against the aforementioned Pacers. Later, the Hornets will host the Milwaukee Bucks and then head south to face the Miami HEAT, who should have their key pieces back on the floor. After that, they will have to face the Philadelphia 76ers, who own the best record in the conference. Following that game is a matchup with the red-hot Utah Jazz, who have won nine games in a row. Withstanding that rough stretch will be pivotal for this team, as they have now lost four of their last five games. These Hornets are a young group, but Hayward’s experience and the return of fellow Indiana-native Cody Zeller should allow them to win some of those games. Their season just might depend on it.
The Hornets are a fun team to watch. The jaw-dropping passes from Ball and the ridiculous highlight dunks by Bridges are must-see television, but their leader is proving he is worth every penny. Sure, Hayward has the massive contract, but he also has earned the opportunity to be a franchise player once again.
He isn’t the same All-Star player that he was in Utah. This version of Hayward is even better.