Time To Make The Phone Call
While NBA teams are typically talking trades and personnel year-round, things in the NBA tend to heat up in mid-December and start to take real shape into the new year.
With less than 52 days until the 2018 NBA Trade Deadline, there are some situations that may warrant exploring and some teams and players that could be ready to deal sooner than later. Here are a few:
Paul George and the Thunder
There is an inevitability to the Thunder’s rocky season so far, which is that it hasn’t been nearly dominating enough to think that Thunder forward Paul George would stay beyond this season.
George’s looming ability to hit free agency and the long-running narrative that he’d like to play in L.A. for the Lakers will weigh heavily on the Thunder as the deadline gets near. However, the same issue the Thunder face faces anyone that could or would trade for George, and that’s he’d likely leave them in July too, making him a playoff run rental on the best of days.
For the Thunder, expecting any real value out of George will be tough, especially when you consider that while the win/loss record isn’t great, the chemistry inside the team has been better than expected.
The Thunder have been hovering at or around .500 for a while and seem close to putting things together. However, if the Thunder doesn’t get a sustained push that gets them out of the middle of the Western Conference, its hard to believe a real offer on George would get dismissed, mainly because of the inevitability that George likely walks in July.
Can the Thunder afford to lose another marquee All-Star for nothing in return? That is something even the Thunder’s massively secure general manager Sam Presti has to factor into his decision-making process.
The reality is that if George is indeed made available in trade—something more insiders believe than not—it likely doesn’t happen until late January, but getting in line now might not be the craziest of ideas, especially for a team that still may be one player away.
DeAndre Jordan and the Clippers
The L.A. Clippers and center DeAndre Jordan have been talking contract extension. In fact, there was a window for several weeks when the narrative out of the Clippers was that they were going to get a deal done. Then the Clippers season fell off a cliff.
Jordan has a player option worth $24.11 million, and while most insiders don’t believe there will be a very robust free agent market for traditional centers, there is something to the idea of trading in $24.11 million for a multi-year deal.
With the Clippers beginning to accept that a rebuild is more than necessary, Jordan’s future with the Clippers is anything but clear, especially with the notion of him expecting a new deal north of $100 million.
There has already been some speculation that Jordan could be on the move to the Milwaukee Bucks in a package built around John Henson and possibly Jabari Parker, who is getting closer to returning to action after a second ACL tear.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have also been in the mix with an offer built around guard Iman Shumpert, Tristan Thompson and a first-round pick. It’s been reported that pick was possibly the Brooklyn pick obtained in the Kyrie Irving trade, although sources close to the situation say it was never discussed and that the Cavs were open to moving their own pick in any trade scenarios.
On the surface, none of those deals seem to return much value to the Clippers, but the truth of the matter is the Clippers aren’t necessarily dealing from a position of strength and may end up taking what they can get, even though there is a lot of affection for Jordan in the senior leadership of the Clippers.
This one is far from decided, but absolutely one to watch especially as teams in the East try and jockey for the top spot with eyes on how to beat or contain the Warriors.
Nikola Vučević and the Magic
The Orlando Magic got off to a hot start, but have fizzled into the bottom of the East after a nine-game losing streak and now what’s become a new five-game losing streak. Since November 1st, the Magic have lost 18 of 23 games.
There have been few bright spots in the Magic’s journey to the bottom, save maybe the reemergence of center Nikola Vučević, who is posting maybe his most efficient season in the NBA.
Vučević has maybe the most team-friendly deal in the NBA, with $12.25 million owed this season and a fully guaranteed $12.75 million next season.
With the Magic clearly going nowhere fast, Vučević is the name mentioned most in NBA circles as having value.
The Magic’s message continues to be the same in trade talks. They will listen to offers and ideas but are not actively seeking change for change sake, accepting that this season was more about the newly installed front office understanding who and what they really had.
League sources have maintained for some time that to get Orlando off the dime was going to take a significant player hitting the market—something that has not happened yet.
The Magic are absolutely a team to watch as the trade season picks up steam for two big reasons, they have some productive players they can offer, and they have cap money they’d love to shed for the future.
If the Magic end up making a move this trade season, you can expect that Vučević will be the primary name talked about, in part because he may be the best trade asset the Magic have to offer.
Kent Bazemore and the Hawks
The Atlanta Haws are exactly where they were planning to be when they opted to tear apart the roster, sitting dead last in the NBA.
The challenge for the Hawks is they still have some contract dollars and players that may or may not fit the rebuild plan. The biggest name and salary would be swingman Kent Bazemore.
The Hawks owe Bazemore $16.91 million this season and a guaranteed $18.089 million next season. Bazemore has a player option in 2019 worth $19.262 million, which could be problematic for the Hawks to find a real salary shedding transaction.
The fact that Bazemore is 28 years old puts him outside the rebuild window.
League sources say the right combination of ending contracts and a first-round pick, even one highly protected might be enough to get Bazemore in trade, especially for a team looking for a scoring punch.
Of all of the players likely to be moved this trade season, Bazemore may be one of the harder players to trade, but if a team were serious about trying to get him, the word is he could be had and for not a lot in return.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the Hornets
The prevailing thought in NBA circles is the Hornets have to move off a salary, with forward Nic Batum, who can’t seem to get and stay healthy or swingman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist being candidates. Of the two, Kidd-Gilchrist is owed the least amount of money—$13 million a year for the next three years, which isn’t exactly a bargain.
The question for the Hornets is what else they would put into a deal to shed some cap dollars and get far enough under the tax line to add to the team next season?
The Hornets aren’t exactly brimming with promising and expendable young guys they’re willing to trade—rookie Malik Monk is a non-starter according to league sources. Its safe to say it would take a ton to get the Hornets to include fellow rookie Dwayne “Don’t call me Wade” Bacon.
The name to watch may be Frank Kaminsky, although he’s had a couple of really solid games as of late.
If the Hornets genuinely want to shed dollars and try and jump-start a floundering season, they may have little choice but to toss in some youth.
As things stand today, the Hornets are five games out of the eighth spot in the East and not exactly trending in a very good direction. This becomes a real issue when you consider that the face of the franchise, Kemba Walker, has just one more guaranteed year on his deal and has only played in 11 post-season games.
If the Hornets don’t want to find themselves in the same spot the Pacers were with Paul George, last season, they may have to do something.
The prevailing question is what will they really be open to?
Marc Gasol and the Grizzlies
The Grizzlies hoped that when they fired former head coach David Fizdale, they could right what appeared to be a sinking ship. Since that decision, the Grizzlies have won just two games out of their last 10.
Franchise big man Marc Gasol was labeled as a key reason why the Grizz parted ways with the immensely popular Fizdale, saddling him (unfairly) with the coach-killer label. With point guard, Mike Conley sidelined since mid-November, it’s been all on Gasol to carry a ho-hum Grizzlies roster.
Gasol continues to say all the right things when asked directly about his future, but more and more people in NBA circles are saying the same thing. All it will take for Gasol to be traded is him telling management he wants out—that would give the front office the green light with ownership to move on from Gasol.
With Conley’s return still unclear, there is a sense internally that the Grizzlies could rebound once he comes back and that any talk of trading Gasol before that wouldn’t be seriously considered.
There is little doubt this Grizzlies roster has run its course, especially in a tough Western Conference. The real question is when do the Grizzlies opt to blow the roster up and how much would they really move off in trade?
There is an additional situation worth watching in Memphis, and that’s the ongoing ownership situation.
When the current ownership group came together in 2012, a unique clause was put into the partnership agreement at the behest of then NBA commissioner David Stern. The gist of the idea was that current majority owner Robert Pera and the next two minority owners with most equity (Steve Kaplan and Daniel Straus), would have the option to buy each other out in what’s called a buy/sell provision.
The parties have begun this process which started with a normal negotiation window on buying out each other. If a deal cannot be reached (and it has not been), that triggers a valuation process, where any of the three parties can name a valuation for the franchise. That value would force one of the other partners to sell their stake at that defined price or buy out the others at that price – which is expected to be the outcome. The question becomes does Pera, who now has a net worth according to Forbes at over $4.2 billion, go all-in on owning a much bigger share of the Grizzlies?
If majority ownership changes hands, there is a real belief leadership with the Grizzlies changes too. That could change the entire dynamic of the team’s future, so it’s absolutely a situation to watch.
George Hill and the Kings
By most accounts, the Sacramento Kings had a coup of an off-season luring in proven and established NBA veterans like Vince Carter, Zach Randolph and George Hill.
The idea at the time was they would help get the Kings respectable and winning games, while also giving a roster loaded with youth and inexperience a few proven veterans to learn from.
All three were sold on the idea that the Kings were aiming for the playoffs and that this wasn’t going to be a babysitting gig.
The Kings are currently sitting at 9-20, which is tied for the third-worst record in the NBA and increasingly looking like another lost season.
Carter and Randolph seem to be okay with the situation, mainly because they are in the twilight of their careers. However, Hill seems to be the one who may have the most remorse over the deal.
The be fair to the Kings, they massively overpaid Hill. Hill is owed $20 million this season and a fully guaranteed $19 million next season. Considering the rumored situation with Hill’s foot during free agency, the Kings were the best deal out there.
All of that said, the Kings seem open to the idea of trading Hill, and it seems Hill would more than welcome a move. Is there a team that would take on Hill’s contract without the Kings including youth or a future draft pick?
While the season does seem to be slipping away in the win-loss column, it’s hard to argue that the youth of the Kings isn’t improving, which is ultimately why the Kings committed so much cap money to older players.
Like many of the players on this list, the right phone call could put a deal in motion, and for the Kings and Hill, it seems he could be had if an inquiring team really wanted him.
This is by no means the only names to know and watch as the NBA trade season begins to pick up steam, but these are the names that could likely spark a real conversation based on the chatter in NBA circles at this point, and it only looks to get more interesting from here.
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NBA Daily: The Most Underrated Departures
A lot can be made about the under-the-radar players that teams pick up, but not enough is made about the under-the-radar players that teams lose. Matt John elaborates.
When comparing the loss of a star player to the loss of a glue player, there’s no question which one is worse. Losing a star can set back a franchise for years, with so many questions surrounding what they should do next in light of his departure. Losing a glue player doesn’t make as much of a sting, but it can make all the difference in a playoff series.
It’s a shame that Golden State had all the injuries that it did. Because, had the Warriors been at full health, we would have seen one of the most obvious advantages the Raptors had over them – their glue guys. The Raptors had plenty of them at their disposal while the Warriors’ glue guys had slowly disintegrated into a shell of the depth they once had.
Before Durant’s injury, Golden State had enough star power to match up with Toronto’s, but Toronto’s glue players rounded out the edges whereas Golden State’s could not. That made a big difference in how the NBA Finals turned out.
Which brings us to this summer. This may have been the most epic player movement in one offseason. The highlight has been the movement among the players considered among the upper class.
A fair amount of quality teams lost their star players this year. Golden State lost Kevin Durant. Boston lost Kyrie Irving. Philadelphia lost Jimmy Butler. None of these teams replaced their departed stars with players who can do everything they can, but their replacements can do enough to keep the team afloat.
It’s a rarity to see playoff teams that lose their star players make such an effort to replace them. What’s not a rarity is that these teams also lost some of their glue players in the process. Since so many big names switched teams this offseason, their decisions have overshadowed the role players who have done the same.
This won’t be the case next summer when the NBA has one of its weakest free agency classes it’s had in years, but not enough has been made about the glue guys who find themselves on different teams this summer. Let’s take a look at who would fit that bill.
JJ Redick – Philadelphia 76ers
The acquisitions of Josh Richardson and Al Horford – on top of paying top dollar to re-sign Tobias Harris – has overshadowed the loss of the man who helped kick “The Process” into a higher gear.
Redick was a brilliant addition for the 76ers. With Simmons slated to play his rookie year and Embiid itching to capitalize on his promising rookie season, Philadelphia knew that it was too good to be a bottom dweller. With the centerpieces coming into place, the team needed immediate help. With all the cap room in the world, it added a surefire contributor with Redick.
JJ’s all-around abilities as a player are not what they once were, but what he is best at showed up so beautifully that it made him worth every penny in Philly. Because Philly used his elite three-point shooting as a focal point of its offense, Redick averaged career-highs in points per game in his two years as a Sixer.
Averaging 17.1 points per game in one season then 18 the next doesn’t usually happen with players entering their mid-thirties. The 76ers basically used JJ the same way the Hawks used Kyle Korver, only at a higher volume. Offensively, he may have never looked better in his entire career.
Because Redick’s shooting fit so snugly next to Simmons and Embiid – the three-man trio was the most used three-man lineup by Philly last year – his three-point shot became a weapon. Now that weapon is gone.
Richardson and Horford are adequate three-point shooters, but their ability to shoot the longball isn’t as intimidating as Redick’s is. Compared to Redick, their three-point shots are not accurate nor quick enough that other teams would frantically do everything to make sure their shot couldn’t see a glimmer of daylight.
The Sixers should be fine this season, but adjusting to Redick is not going to be easy. Especially for Simmons and Embiid, who lest we forget are their two cornerstones.
Aron Baynes – Boston Celtics
There was some temptation to put Al Horford on this list, but those in the know can see clear as day that going from Horford to Enes Kanter is a downgrade for the Celtics. Boston’s going to miss Horford the most out of all the players it lost, but losing Baynes is really going hurt the team’s defense in the post.
There are lots of reasons as to why the Celtics disappointed as badly as they did. There’s no reason to rehash everything because you probably saw it yourself. In regards what Baynes has to do with it, well, an injury-plagued season had him play in only 51 games.
In the 31 games that Baynes was absent, the Celtics went 17-14. When taking into effect that the Celtics won 49 games in total, it’s not totally out of left field to suggest that maybe they could have added a few more wins, and then some, had Baynes avoided the injury bug.
His unavailability definitely played a role in how the Celtics defensive rating went from 103.8 to 108 in 2019. Since the defense allowed 4.8 fewer points per 100 possessions with him on the floor – the highest among players who played 800 minutes or more – they missed what he could do when he was out last season, and it’ll be the same reason why they’re going to miss him in his entirety this season.
To make things worse, Baynes and Horford made for one terrific frontcourt duo. In their first season, the two of them together combined for a defensive rating of 95.5. The next season, that defensive rating was 98.5. Baynes doesn’t have the typical criteria for a shot-blocker, but the results speak for themselves. When he’s on the court, he makes life hell in the paint.
Boston had to trade him in order to get the cap space to bring Kemba Walker in. With a star like that, sacrificing Baynes is more than understandable, but his absence should be felt.
The real question is, why exactly did Phoenix go out of its way to get him?
Al-Farouq Aminu/Moe Harkless – Portland Trail Blazers
The Trail Blazers lost a lot of players that helped them reach their first Conference Finals since 2000. Enes Kanter. Evan Turner. Seth Curry. Harkless and Aminu stand out the most among them because they’ve been with the team since 2015 – the year Portland lost LaMarcus Aldridge – and have been in the starting lineup for most of that time.
Losing continuity can really hurt. In Portland’s case, there’s more to this than just losing two players that they relied on. They didn’t replace what they can do. Both Harkless and Aminu are wings capable of playing power forward in a small-ball lineup. This summer, the Blazers added Kent Bazemore and Mario Hezonja and retained Rodney Hood.
Bazemore is a two/three tweener who’s barely played power forward. Hezonja has played some power forward, but he hasn’t really put it together. Hood played a fair amount of power forward in this year’s playoffs, but in the regular season, not so much. Most of the minutes he’s played are at small forward.
There is a gap there that one way or the other, Portland is going to have to fill. Neither Aminu nor Harkless are the best three-point shooters – Harkless’ three-ball somehow went to hell this season – but their defense will sorely be missed. Harkless has a Defensive Real Plus-Minus of 1.69 while Aminu had one of 1.46. While not the best, both finished in the top-20 in their respective positions.
With Jusuf Nurkic out for who knows how long, Portland definitely had to do something to fill that gap. Trading Harkless for Hassan Whiteside – in a contract year – was a move the Blazers had to make even if it’s just a stopgap.
Losing both continuity and versatility can definitely hurt when you’re trying to pounce on a tough, but wide-open Western Conference. If the Blazers want to go further than they did last year, they need to address this before the season starts.
Glue guys are important, but what they bring to the court can be replaceable in some cases. Fans should really keep an eye out on how buyout season goes because, with all the contracts that are set to expire this year, we could see a lot of talent on the open market six months from now.
The teams that lost these players have the privilege of waiting to see how they fare. Even if losing a role player doesn’t sting as much as losing an All-Star does, getting someone who can replace what he does can make all the difference between winning the championship and getting eliminated in the opening round in this day and age.
Isaiah Thomas Facing Uphill Battle In Returning To Form
Isaiah Thomas has an opportunity for a great comeback season with the Washington Wizards – but did Thomas take too long to address his hip injury with surgery? David Weissman writes.
Like the long ball, everyone loves a good comeback story.
This offseason, the NBA world had been enamored with the comeback story of DeMarcus Cousins. After two major leg injuries in a 15 month period, the association was waiting to see how the six-time All-Star would bounce back this season. Those speculations ended when Cousins tore his ACL in a pickup game last week, taking him out for the entire 2019-2020 campaign.
With Cousins’ return consuming the NBA world, many overlooked another comeback superstar – Isaiah Thomas. Once an MVP candidate, Thomas’ career now hangs on whether the labrum in his hip can heal properly. Unfortunately for the 30-year-old guard, he may be facing permanent damage to his hip that will prevent a fairy tale ending.
Thomas has been plagued with a hip injury since 2016, but will see his first attempt at playing a full season this year since with the Washington Wizards. Thomas faces long odds for a comeback story, but he has been the quintessential underdog from the beginning of his career.
In the 2011 NBA Draft, Thomas was the last player selected, mainly due to skepticism over his 5-foot-9 stature. After being selected by the Sacramento Kings, there were no expectations Thomas would be a contributor his first year. Despite those predictions, he ended the season as a starter.
For three years Thomas maintained the starting role and ended his tenure with the Kings averaging 20 points per game. Instead of re-signing him, the Kings refused to match an offer sheet of 4-years/$28 million and let him go to the Phoenix Suns, a bargain especially getting a free agent with a stat line of 20.3 PPG, 6.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game.
Thomas was traded to the Celtics in 2015 and had been considered an MVP caliber talent by the end of his first season in Boston. At his peak, Thomas had two All-Star seasons with the Celtics. He led them to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2017 by averaging 28.9 points per game. Thomas showed devotion to the Boston Celtics by playing through a torn hip labral injury he sustained during the regular season. The injury forced him to sit out two-and-a-half games in the conference finals, which led to a Celtics defeat in the series.
Despite his success, Celtics general manager Danny Ainge ignored what Thomas did during his tenure and focused on what Thomas could provide for the future. Ainge viewed Thomas as being an injured, under-sized point guard with aspirations of a maximum contract down the road. The Celtics avoided giving Thomas an extension by trading him away to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Kyrie Irving. Ainge saw Irving as a more talented, stable point guard that the Celtics could build around.
After the Celtics playoff run, Thomas was diagnosed with a right femoral-acetabular impingement, a bruised hip and labral tear. Thomas decided to forgo surgery and do non-surgical treatment, usually preferred by most athletes. This treatment postponed Thomas’ debut with the Cavaliers until Jan. 2, 2019 and he ended up only playing 14 games with the team. Thomas was then traded to the Lakers due to locker room issues and played 17 games before finally opting for hip surgery.
Thomas was primed to earn a max-level contract after his 2017 season. However, after a season full of off-court drama and injury, Thomas only got a one-year veteran minimum contract with the Denver Nuggets. Thomas made his debut with the Nuggets this past February after recovering from his hip surgery and only played 12 games last season. Due to a packed Nuggets backcourt, Thomas averaged career lows in minutes played, field goal percentage, three point percentage and points per game.
Coming into 2019-20 season, Thomas has signed a veteran minimum contract with the Washington Wizards, where he could earn the starting point guard role. Being able to run the offense for a point guard-hungry Washington Wizards team will be the ultimate opportunity for a great comeback season. The question is: Did Thomas take too long to address his hip injury with surgery? And what lasting effect will that have on his career? A torn labral in the hip is not an injury with a high success rate of full recovery for NBA players.
A labral hip tear occurs when there is damage to the labrum (ring of cartilage) within the hip joint (ball and socket joint) due to irregular movement in the hip. In some cases, if the injury to the labrum is not repaired in time, permanent damage can be done to cartilage causing early on-set arthritis. When Thomas tore the labrum in his hip, it was due to a right femoral-acetabular impingement. A hip impingement is when an abnormal bone in the hip joint causes unusual contact between the ball and socket, sometimes tearing the cartilage.
Once torn, the labrum tissue in the hip does not heal on its own and surgery can remove or repair torn labral tissue. Currently, there are no procedures that will replace cartilage in the hip to prevent early on-set arthritis. The damage to the cartilage is permanent and will continue to cause severe pain. If injury to the hip is not that severe, athletes prefer to treat the issue with physical therapy by maximizing the strength and mobility of the hip to minimize the stress placed on the injured area.
Thomas played through his labral tear through the 2016-2017 season and postponed surgery 32 games after he tried to rehab the injury. The biggest issue for Thomas is whether the problem has been neglected so long that the impingement causes permanent cartilage damage and leads to arthritis. It is unknown how much damage has been done to his cartilage, but this would be the biggest obstacle to making a full comeback. Based on the lingering issues with his hip, it would not be surprising if he is facing early on-set arthritis.
The success rate for the average person has not translated to the NBA. LaMarcus Aldridge is one of the few who came back from this injury and succeeded. Aldridge was a freshman at the University of Texas when he tore his hip labrum and successfully came back from the injury after undergoing only nine months of rehab. Six years later, Aldridge suffered another tear to his hip labrum, but decided to undergo surgery. He came back six-and-a-half months later and has had an All-Star career without any other hip injury.
On the other hand, 6-foot Johnny Flynn – a similar sized point guard to Thomas – had surgery in July 2010 after his rookie season. The former number six overall pick played his final NBA game in 2012.
Martell Webster, a 10-year veteran, underwent surgery in November 2015 to repair a partial tear in his right hip labrum. 21 months later, Webster was signed to the Charlotte Hornets training camp, but got cut five days later.
Lastly, Wilson Chandler missed significant time from multiple labrum tears and subsequent surgeries from 2010 to 2016, but he has been healthy and decently productive since the beginning of the 2016-2017 season.
Isaiah Thomas took over the basketball world in 2016 and dominated at a level very few people thought was possible for his size. The Wizards hope Thomas can recover and return to MVP form, again proving all the critics wrong. Unfortunately for Thomas, small guards like himself do not have the best track record of coming back from a torn labral, and his future really depends on how much damage has been done to the cartilage in his hip.
Playing through the torn labrum from 2016 to 2018 without surgery may have cut Thomas’ career short. With continued lingering hip issues, there is a significant possibility that he is facing early on-set arthritis, a condition that could ultimately keep him from returning to MVP form.
High-Performance Mindfulness: Top Ways To Translate Practice Into Statistical Improvement
Jake Rauchbach nails down 5 foundational ways for players to translate in-practice repetition into in-game statistical performance improvement.
There are players at all levels of basketball, including the NBA, that struggle to connect the dots on how to translate their practice repetitions into actual statistical performance improvement during the game.
In past columns, we have discussed how unconscious performance blocks can derail a player’s improvement. A refresher for some of the most commonly held subconscious barriers to performance can be found here and here.
Unconscious barriers to success can affect a player’s ability to consistently perform at optimum levels. That being said, we have all seen players that seem to be able to seamlessly migrate practice repetition over to in-game performance improvement, while other equivalently-talented players seemingly struggle to do so.
So, what are the underlying reasons for this dichotomy in player development? What’s the differentiating factor for translating practice repetition into in-game performance improvement? The answer is mental focus.
Mental Focus is Key
The consistency with which a player remains mentally locked-in is crucial. A player’s ability to interface with his present moment awareness during his timeline for preparation – practice, individual workouts, film study and the game – directly influences how much translatable on-court performance improvement will be had by the player come game time.
One of the main things that coaches tell players is: “Come ready to play!” Interpreted more literally, this means come focused. However, many players do not have a repeatable process for getting the most out of their preparation process.
There Are Levels to This
It is important to note that there are levels of application for High-Performance Mindfulness techniques. Just like progressions in an on-court skill-development series, a similar process is employed when teaching players how to sharpen focus to statistically improve performance.
There are foundational tools and skill-sets that players can pick up and begin to employ straight away.
There are also leading-edge Energy Psychology – Integrated Player Development processes. Specific to each player, these zero in on statistically improving specific parts of a player’s game that the player, coach or general manager pre-determines.
This is the next level of High-Performance Mindfulness. We will break these down at a later date. For this column, we’ll outline some foundational HPM tools that players can begin to employ immediately to begin sharpening their focus and influencing in-game improvement upwards.
Foundational Techniques to Improve Mental Focus
Meditation has been scientifically shown to help improve focus and attention, creative thinking and regulation of emotions, all of which are critical elements regarding successfully processing through split-second reads during the game. Meditation has also been shown to decrease depression and anxiety.
There are many types of meditation practices. However, what I have seen work best for high-level basketball players is employing a 15-minute meditation session twice a day, once in the morning and once at night.
20 years ago, there were very few athletes who would touch a yoga practice. Look for meditation to become the new yoga, helping athletes sharpen focus and master internal peace of mind. The effects of this technique, when fed into an overall focus for on-court performance, is immense.
Affirmations are an unbelievable way for players to clear and reprogram their deep subconscious minds of the toxic performance blockages stemming from experience. I have found “I AM” statements to be most powerful when working with players who employ these techniques on the court during the game.
The reason for this is that it reaffirms a new mental program while simultaneously counteracting emotional baggage, which has the effect of sharpening mental focus. When mental focus improves, so too does overall performance.
Visualization retrains a player’s mind to expand the boundaries for what is deemed possible. One of the more profound experiences is observing players who manifest virtually the same play on the court that they have mentally Rep’d during visualization. We are talking about the over-the-top plays that they haven’t pulled off in months, maybe sometimes years.
Common examples of plays that high-major college and professional basketball players often visualize and then directly thereafter manifest on-court are:
- The Pick-Six: Denying the passing lane – Creating a Stealing – Going opportunity for an uncontested finish on the other end. This play is common for players who begin to focus on improving ball pressure through visualization techniques.
- The Big-Time Block: Defensively rotating over and pinning the ball against the glass. This is a big-time energy play that happens frequently when leveraging visualization to optimize defensive efficiency.
- The Dunk-On: Dunking on or over someone maybe one the most energizing plays in basketball. When visualization is employed to rep this specific play, often the player capable of such finishes performs it in real-time on the court.
Generally, this is an eye-opening experience for the player. There is a level of connection made by the player between the mental rep and the on-court execution of said play that helps to reinforce the High-Performance Mindfulness training.
These types of plays give the player a discernible cause-and-effect experience from implementing the mental rep, to manifesting the specific play on the court. Experiences like these help players connect the dots on how mental training positively correlates to improvement on the court.
The implementation of Breath-Work deepens awareness and has been employed by different cultures around the globe for years. Foundational breathing techniques are also the building blocks for many of Martial Arts such as Qigong, Tai Chi and Karate.
These types of techniques have been shown to help players hone focus by becoming more present, getting the athletes out of their head and into their present moment of awareness. Improving focus this way can have the overall effect of helping move the dial when it comes to on-court performance improvement.
Practicing Detached Observation
Observation is a key component in every technique mentioned herein. It is important to mention that as a standalone technique.
Once players are better able to recognize that they are not their thoughts, they are generally able to make the shift in detaching from the performance-blocking thoughts and emotions that have historically been holding them back.
This creates peace of mind and facilitates greater present moment poise and focus.
Improving in-game performance comes down to consistent mental focus over the preparation timeline. Employing the foundational techniques mentioned above will begin the process, helping players prioritize focus as a way to optimize performance efficiencies during the game.