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God Shammgod Crossing Over to Coaching

After a 20-year playing career, God Shammgod is now coaching and passing on the life lessons he learned.

Alex Kennedy

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God Shammgod is most known for his memorable name and the flashy crossover that he created as a college freshman with the Providence Friars. After all, there aren’t many players who have an iconic move named after them. To this day, “the Shammgod” dribble is used in NBA games by point guards like Chris Paul and Kyrie Irving in an effort to fly past defenders (often in humiliating fashion).

However, there’s much more to the 39-year-old, whose professional playing career spanned 20 seasons. Now, Shammgod is making a name for himself with a different kind of move: The former point guard is crossing over to coaching, as he currently serves as a graduate assistant under Ed Cooley at Providence.

ShammgodInside3Shammgod works as a trainer for the Friars’ guards and has made a significant impact since returning to the program where he once starred. He played an instrumental role in the development of guards Bryce Cotton (who most recently played for the Utah Jazz) and Kris Dunn (who’s being projected as a top pick in the 2016 NBA Draft). In addition to training Providence’s players, he says he has also worked with NBA players like Isaiah Thomas, Ben Gordon and Ricky Ledo among others.

He first joined Cooley’s staff as an undergraduate assistant in 2012, but he is now a graduate assistant after recently receiving his degree. As he continues to gain experience on the sideline and help guards make huge strides, he’s being recognized as a coach with a lot of potential and the ability to help players better themselves on and off the court.

“During my last year in China, I was kind of a player-coach and I had trained their National Team’s guards for the Olympics so that gave me my first taste of training players and coaching,” Shammgod said. “I decided to forgo the final year of my contract in China to come back to the United States and finish my degree. When I got drafted, I promised my mother I would finish my degree. So I decided to do that and when I returned to Providence, everyone embraced me so much. I started helping MarShon Brooks and some other guys work out. It was a great fit and it took off from there. That’s when I realized I wanted to coach.”

*****

Players respect Shammgod, which has helped him as he transitions from playing to coaching. They know of his incredible handles, long playing career and legendary streetball status. They certainly know his unforgettable name. He Got Game director Spike Lee once told the New York Times that he came up with the name Jesus Shuttlesworth for Ray Allen’s character after he watched God Shammgod play, became a fan of his game and believed his “mythical name… heightens the legend.”

Players also listen to Shammgod because he has been in their shoes and has plenty of life experience to share. In 1995, he was a McDonald’s All-American alongside future NBA stars Kevin Garnett, Vince Carter, Chauncey Billups, Paul Pierce, Stephon Marbury, Antawn Jamison and Shareef Abdur-Rahim while developing a reputation as one of the best ball-handlers in the nation. After two years in college, Shammgod entered the 1997 NBA Draft and was selected by the Washington Bullets with the 45th overall pick.

Shammgod spent just one season in the NBA and often says that he was “20 years ahead of his time” because teams were turned off by his tendency to dominate the ball. While many of today’s guards are encouraged to take over games, Shammgod was urged to get the ball out of his hands despite the fact that his dribbling and creating were his biggest strengths. Shammgod says NBA decision-makers told him that the only way he’d have a future in the league is if he became a spot-up shooter and passed the ball to his team’s bigs.

GodShammgodInsideChina1After that lone NBA season, Shammgod continued his career overseas, where he was allowed to play his game and handle the ball much more. Over the next two decades, he had stints in China, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Croatia as well as American stops in the Continental Basketball Association, International Basketball League and United States Basketball League.

While he never achieved the mainstream NBA success of his peers, he had a nice career, influenced many players and developed a strong circle of friends from his playing days (which should also help him in his coaching career).

“He has that respect from the moment he meets a kid because he’s a streetball legend; everybody knows who God Shammgod is or, at the very least, you’ve heard of him,” Cleveland Cavaliers associate head coach Tyronn Lue said. “That alone means a lot, especially for the kids in New York who grew up hearing up about him and now get a chance to work with him. That means a lot for those kids. He definitely has a ton of respect from everyone, and that’s really important.

“He’s doing a great job as a coach and he always sends me the videos of his players working out, doing the ball-handling and shooting drills. He’s helping those guys. Also, he’s a great mentor because of the things he’s been through and the things he’s seen growing up, playing in the NBA, going overseas and being a streetball legend. He has so much to offer and give. I really love the mentor part. That’s big. He’s been there and guys respect that. They look up to him.”

NBA champion Chauncey Billups, who has been close with Shammgod since they trained together for the 1997 NBA Draft, agrees that his friend’s journey will help him in his post-playing career.

“He has the experience and that absolutely helps,” Billups said. “Coaches can say, ‘Do this, do that,’ but when you have a guy who has actually been through it like Shammgod, that’s so valuable. He’s not telling guys about things he’s learned from other coaches or things he’s heard. He’s telling them what he’s been through. He can tell you what to do and what not to do. I’m pretty sure if Shamm could do it all over again, there would be some different decisions made that probably would’ve propelled him to a 10-to-15-year NBA career, so being able to own that and then being courageous enough to pass those lessons on to kids is great. He can tell guys, ‘This is what I did, this is what I should’ve done and you shouldn’t make these mistakes.’ He has a chance to do something special and that message resonates a lot stronger with these kids than anything a coach who hasn’t been through it can tell you.

“I think he has done a phenomenal job. He has a wealth of knowledge that these kids need. These kids want to be pros, they want to be in the NBA, and Shammgod has been through a lot and seen a lot. His lessons are great for these young fellas. And, look, a lot of people can’t go through all of that and then turn around and teach. Shamm has done an incredible job of teaching these guys about what he’s been through and helping guys not go through a bump [in the road] like he did. And these guys have really grown to trust him and really respect him. He’s a huge asset to these guys.”

*****

Shammgod has always enjoyed helping other players improve their ball-handling. It’s something he has done since he was a child. In fact, he says his first training sessions technically took place when he was in high school at the famed ABCD Camp. Each day, there was a young guard who would wake up early to work out with Shammgod and try to learn his moves. The high school junior was determined to master the crossovers and add them to his arsenal.

The kid was Kobe Bryant.

GodKobeInside1“The first person I ever trained in my life was Kobe Bryant,” Shammgod said with a laugh. “I was going into the 12th grade and he was in the 11th grade and we were at the ABCD Camp. We would get up early every day at the camp and I’d show him some dribbling moves and things like that. I’ve always liked to help other players and show them some things. That’s always been in me since day one, and I’ve kind of been training people my whole life without really knowing it.”

Bryant isn’t the only player who Shammgod impacted. Two years ago, Shammgod had the opportunity to meet Chris Paul. Shammgod said that the Los Angeles Clippers point guard credited Shammgod and Tim Hardaway with influencing his ball-handling (which explains why “the Shammgod” is a part of Paul’s repertoire).

Because he never lit up the NBA, it’s easy to forget just how talented Shammgod was during his playing days. But talk to basketball lifers and just about everyone has a Shammgod story.

“This is a story that most people wouldn’t tell, but I’ll tell it,” Lue said with a laugh. “Me and Shammgod met when we were entering our senior year of high school and we were playing AAU basketball. He was playing for Brooklyn USA and I was playing for Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. We played a game at the University of Purdue. Now, I had heard his name and heard some things about him, but in the Midwest you don’t see a lot of guys who can handle the ball and do what he could do. The first time we played against each other, he had 40 points on me. Like, he killed me. Some of the tricks he was doing with the ball, being in the Midwest, we had never seen anything like that before. It was just like, ‘What?!’

“Our team liked to full-court press a lot. Well, he caught the ball against the press and just dribbled through his legs down the length of the court, beating the press and making it look so easy. Everyone on our team just turned to each other like, ‘What the hell?’ It was kind of crazy. Then, at the end of a quarter when guys will usually just hold the ball and wait for the last shot, Shammgod came just barely across half-court and stood right next to the sideline, rocking the ball back and forth. I mean, if he had mishandled the ball by one inch it’s either out of bounds or a backcourt violation. But he’s just rocking the ball back and forth for 10 seconds, staring the defense down and doing whatever he wants. That was my first time meeting Shammgod and playing against him, and I’ll always remember that because it was just crazy seeing a guy who could handle the ball the way he did and do the things he did. We stayed in touch from that point on.”

*****

Today, Shammgod is influencing the next generation of basketball talent. As a trainer, Shammgod tries to help his young players on and off the court. While he obviously wants to improve their ball-handling and point guard skills, he also wants to be a mentor to them and ensure that his pupils learn from his experiences and mistakes as a pro. That ability to help players with every aspect of their development separates Shammgod from some other trainers.

His work with former Providence guard Bryce Cotton helped the point guard get on the NBA’s radar, and he most recently played for the Utah Jazz.

“We both went to the same school and when he came back [to Providence], I was going into my junior year and we just hit it off right away,” Cotton said. “We worked out every single day and I loved the improvements that I saw, so I’ve been working with him ever since. He helped my mindset and he helped me become a much better point guard. He has so many different tricks that he used to use back in the day and since we’re around the same size, he passed those on to me and they were really helpful. I think the sky is the limit for him; he’s a tremendous trainer. Every single person who has worked out with him at Providence has seen enormous growth in their game.”

KrisDunnInsideNow, Shammgod is working with Kris Dunn, who is projected to be one of the top prospects in the 2016 NBA Draft. DraftExpress currently has him being selected as the seventh overall pick. Dunn worked out with Shammgod every day during the summer and raves about the experience.

“I first met him during my freshman year at Providence; he knew I was a McDonald’s All-American and I knew he was a McDonald’s All-American so right away there was a connection,” Dunn said. “I’ve always known who God Shammgod is because of the move that he created and because he’s just such an amazing dribbler. The fact that he showed me love right away made me feel special.

“He has helped me a lot. In the summer, that’s my guy. I’ve been going to him every summer and I’ve been getting better every year because of him, so I just try to stay with him and work with him as much as possible. The biggest lessons from him are just about being yourself and knowing who you are. We’ve done a lot of drills to improve my ball-handling, read a ball screen, perfect my decision-making and things like that. I’m always picking his brain and asking him how to get better because he’s so knowledgeable when it comes to the game. But what a lot of people don’t know is the off-court stuff. He’s been a mentor to me on the court, but really I view him as a big brother who has also been there for me off the court. We’re always discussing things that have nothing to do with basketball and he has taught me a lot about life in general. There’s just so much that he has done for me and I appreciate all of it. He’s one of the first guys who I go to if I’m having a bad day or a bad game because he’s been there, knows what it’s like and how to bounce back. He has so much life experience that he can share.”

On the court, Shammgod will preach that his guys need to do things like “keep the ball low, dribble quick and be creative.” But, as Dunn said, Shammgod also wants to help players off the court and form long-lasting bonds.

“My advice is to never take anything for granted, always work hard and try to do things the right way,” Shammgod said. “We have our plan and God has his plan, and I try to tell guys not to rush God’s plan. When I was at Providence, I feel like I rushed my plan along. I thought I was set up to do great things and I thought leaving [for the NBA] after my sophomore year was part of God’s plan, but I rushed it. So I always tell guys to be patient and that there’s no substitute for hard work. No matter how many business opportunities that guys like LeBron or Kobe or whoever has, none of those happen without basketball, so you need to give basketball 110 percent, focus on the present and work as hard as you can every single day.

“I also try to talk to guys about life – things like taking care of their family and seeing the big picture. It’s much more than a trainer-player relationship. Kris and Bryce are like my little brothers; that’s how I view them. I don’t necessarily consider myself a trainer. I’m just a person [in your life] who is focused on making you better. Period. I want to work on improving their skill development, but I also want to work on improving their mind. You want to have an impact on people for the rest of their life, not just in that moment you’re training them. You want to make a long-term impact. I think that’s the sign of a great coach – when you can have much more than a coach-player relationship and be the coach who is invited to the player’s wedding years later when they’re in the NBA and things like that. You build that real, life-long relationship.”

Shammgod is proud of his young prospects and their recent success.

“We worked hard all summer, so it’s been great to see all of that work pay off for Bryce and Kris,” Shammgod said. “I’m just honored that I’m still relevant enough for them to want to listen to me. These are elite athletes. And the way I look at it, they’re helping me grow just as much as I’m helping them. I just feel blessed that everything is coming together for them like we talked about and that they’re having success. That’s the ultimate reward for me, seeing those guys have success.”

*****

What’s the long-term plan for Shammgod? He says he doesn’t consider himself a trainer and he’s currently a graduate assistant for Providence. Where does he hope to be several years from now?

“Eventually, I want to be a coach,” Shammgod said. “I think Coach Cooley is doing a wonderful job preparing me to be a coach in the long term. Coach [Andre] LaFleur, Coach [Brian] Blaney, Coach [Jeff] Battle and Coach [Kevin] Kurbec have helped me and I pick their brains so that I can try to learn something from each other and one day be a great coach like they are. Right now, they’re my inspiration. They do it the right way, especially Coach Cooley. I just feel honored to even be part of the staff. If I was 18 years old and I could do it all over again, I would play for Coach Cooley in a heartbeat. I would love for my coaching journey – if God blesses me – to follow the same path that Coach Cooley has taken.”

His peers and pupils believe he’d make a great NCAA or NBA head coach someday.

“I think he’d be successful,” Billups said. “Knowing him, he’s a strong-willed person and when he puts his mind to something, he will attain it eventually. If that’s what he wants to do, he’d be great at it. He’s going to put the time in and work hard. He’s not someone who thinks, ‘Okay, I’m Shammgod and have done this and that so I’ll be successful.’ No, he’s going to learn, he’s going to work and he’s going to put the time in. He’s doing that right now, sitting behind these coaches, respecting them and learning from them. He’s someone who is always going to be put in the necessary time to be successful at his craft.”

“Can he be a head coach? Why not?” Lue said. “He’s already making an impact with these kids and, honestly, I think that’s harder to do than it is on the NBA level. When you’re dealing with kids, you’re dealing with AAU coaches and parents and all of that. At least on the NBA level, it’s just all basketball. I see him being someone who comes in and does player development first, getting his feet wet that way, and then working his way up. But I don’t see why he couldn’t become a head coach someday. Why not?”

“I think he’d be great,” Dunn said. “His brand alone would really help him. I mean, he’s God Shammgod! Everybody knows him – from the pros, to the college players, to the high schoolers, to the kids. His brand and name alone will automatically help him. But it’s not just that – he has what it takes on and off the court to really succeed in that role. He’s so knowledgeable, he’s a teacher and he has a great basketball IQ. And off the court, he can get along with anybody because of his personality. If you don’t like God Shammgod, well, to be honest, you aren’t a good person (laughs). I say that because he’s a great individual. He’s always worried about other people rather than focusing on himself and he’s so considerate. Also, I think he’d do an excellent job recruiting, especially guys in New York since he came from there and he’s still known as the best ball-handler from there. He can teach anyone how to dribble and read screens and all of that. I definitely think he could be a great head coach.”

“There’s no question that he’ll be a college or NBA coach at some point,” Cotton said. “He has a great knowledge of the game, and he has such a creative mind when it comes to creating workouts and helping players get better. Anybody would be lucky to have him as their coach.”

With a coaching career seemingly in his future, the legend of God Shammgod continues.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA

How Magical Can Orlando Be?

In an Eastern Conference full of unknowns, the Orlando Magic stand out as one of the most prominent in that category. Matt John takes a look at the three players who should play a role in their progress this season.

Matt John

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As it stands right now, the Eastern Conference is wide open.

It definitely has its favorites, like the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers. But even they have their question marks.

There are teams who could be at that level, or possibly higher should things break their way, like the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers. But, that remains to be seen; how they do depends on if their previously injured stars are back to normal and how much their young talent progresses.

Then there are others like the Brooklyn Nets, who honestly may have to wait a year before they’re put in the conversation, and the Miami HEAT, who just got their biggest free agent since LeBron James and could sneak their way into the conversation if they make the right moves.

And then, there’s the Orlando Magic.

There’s a lot of optimism coming out of the Magic Kingdom. And why shouldn’t there be? Orlando made its first playoff appearance in seven years, they had one of the best records in the league following the trade deadline (18-8) and they brought pretty much everyone back and even some reinforcements.

And yet, of all the teams in the East, Orlando’s the one that has no consensus. Or, more specifically, no one knows where they will fall in the conference. They might just be the biggest wild card in an Eastern Conference that already has plenty of them.

If all their hopes and dreams come true this season, the Magic could very well be right up there with the Bucks and the Sixers. If it goes the opposite way, they could find themselves back in the lottery.

But this Orlando team is good. They can make the playoffs, but they should be wary of their other competitors. The Toronto Raptors may have lost Kawhi Leonard but, as of now, they’re not going anywhere. Same goes for the Detroit Pistons. There is also a lot of buzz around two particular and young up and coming teams- the Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls.

If the Magic are to prove themselves better than those teams and as good as those aforementioned ones, they’ll need contributions from several particular players. They already know what they’re going to get out of Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier, Terrence Ross, Al-Farouq Aminu, Wes Iwundu and DJ Augustin, but for the following players, Orlando’s odds of getting to that next level depends on their individual progressions.

Aaron Gordon

Aaron Gordon has already proven himself an above average player. He’s an excellent athlete, a hard-nosed defender, has improved his three-point shot over the years and, in this past year alone, has shown improved playmaking ability, as his assist percentage shot all the way up to 16.6.

But now, entering his sixth season in the NBA, he still has yet to prove that he’s a truly special talent. We’ve been waiting for a couple of years to see an explosion from Gordon, the transition from raw talent to the superstar we anticipated he’d be. It’s not entirely his fault; previous Orlando management forced Gordon to play out of position for too long, which may have hurt his growth as a player.

It didn’t ruin his career, but it didn’t help one bit. Two years later, Gordon has some playoff experience under his belt. His first go-round was honestly quite solid for a playoff rookie. 15.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists while putting up 47/40/52 splits is promising, but those are satisfactory stats for a complementary player.

Gordon’s ceiling right now is still that of a future star. And, at 24-years-old, there is still plenty of time for him to reach that level. Last season, Steve Clifford wanted the young player to be more a defensive specialist, a role in which Gordon performed very well in. Now with higher expectations from the team, Gordon should be expected to take his game another step further.

We got an explosion from an athletic, defensively stout power forward who showed off the three-point range last season that we keep expecting from Gordon, but it came from Pascal Siakam. If Gordon is to take that next step, he should look at Siakam’s last season as an example to build his game on.

Jonathan Isaac

Jonathan Isaac is only 22-years-old. He’s 6-foot-10. He has a 7-foot-1 wingspan. He plays more like a wing but does things on the court that any big would be capable of doing. When people think of Isaac, they think of raw talent.

Following an injury-plagued rookie season, Isaac did okay offensively in his first full year, averaging 9.6 points on 43/32/81 splits while also averaging 5.5 rebounds. Defensively, there was a lot to be excited about, as Isaac averaged 1.3 blocks and 0.8 steals while also putting up a Defensive Real Plus-Minus of 1.13.

With his insane physical measurements, there’s a lot to like about Isaac’s game and potential. His body frame has garnered comparisons (albeit unfairly) to Kevin Durant, but the potential he has makes it hard not to see a great future for him.

He knows how to use his length to bother his opponents; there are just too many advantages he has physically to not already be a good defender. Offensively, he’s not at the same level. But, every so often, Isaac showed he was capable on that end. There were even times where he took over games last season.

As of now, Orlando already has Vooch, Fournier, and Ross to handle the scoring load. If they want to take that next step, Isaac’s offensive progression would not only vault them higher in the standings, but it would also add a whole new dimension to the team.

There’s no rush for him to become a star, but if Isaac can show even more improvement in year three, then the Magic should become a lot harder to stop.

Markelle Fultz

Now this is where the Magic’s ceiling gets interesting.

Markelle Fultz was a project from the day it was announced that he was traded to Orlando. It was clear he no longer fit Philadelphia’s timeline and that he needed his own timetable to get his game back on track. That said, he’s a project worth investing in; Fultz was a top overall pick for a reason.

Unlike Anthony Bennett, whom Cleveland reached for back in 2013, Fultz has the tools to be something special. It’s only been injury and mental gymnastics that have held him back. Now he has a fresh start and a team that can afford to be patient with him.

Because of all the off the court drama that was going on with Fultz, there’s no concrete data to support anything that he could do this season. All we have now are just preseason videos to see what Fultz can do. But, in the few preseason games that we’ve seen, the returns look promising.

With or without a reliable jump shot, Fultz is definitely an NBA-caliber player. He has good court vision.

He can attack the basket.

And he has shown good instincts on the defensive end of the floor.

Then there’s his jumper. His jump shot looks… better? It doesn’t look like it’s completely fixed, but when your jumper is so ugly that it would have made Shawn Marion grimace, you have nowhere to go but up.

We’ll have to see how his new and improved jump shot will fare when the real competition starts. If it’s for real, then Markelle becomes a much more lethal scoring threat. He’s already shown that he can be a useful tool in the offense. His abilities as a scorer would make him all the more dynamic.

The reason why Fultz’s potential could pay more dividends than Gordon or Isaac this season is that the one area where the Magic desperately need improvement is at the point guard spot. DJ Augustin had one of his most efficient seasons ever last season, but that didn’t exactly take Orlando that far. If Fultz is to show that he was worth the top pick – which, at this point, may be unrealistic – then Orlando becomes so much better.

Gordon’s and Isaac’s improvements would definitely take the Magic up a notch. Fultz could vault them up so much higher.

We’re not going to include Mo Bamba on this list because, as long as Vooch is around, Bamba won’t be relied on to do much besides be a back-up five. Even in that role, he has some competition.

Now say these guys all progress enough to stay promising, but not enough that the Magic would take a major leap forward. Then comes the possibility of trading some of their youth for an established star.

Orlando has the assets to acquire someone good. Players like Blake Griffin or Bradley Beal could be had if they have an offer sweet enough to entice their respective teams, but it all depends on the progress of the roster as a whole. They may have to decide whether to try and open a win-now window by pairing Vucevic and Fournier with an established star or to build for a more glorious future around Gordon, Isaac, Bamba and Fultz.

Either way, this Magic team should be up next. What is left to be determined is how “up next” they truly are.

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Zach LaVine, Charting a Path Toward Analytics Superstardom

Zach LaVine made headlines by decrying his team’s preference to avoid long twos. But however reluctantly, the Chicago Bulls guard is charting a path toward analytics superstardom.

Jack Winter

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The widespread hand-wringing about Zach LaVine’s stated hesitance to shirk mid-range jumpers in favor of shots at the rim and from beyond the arc was largely overblown.

While the Chicago Bulls would no doubt prefer he publicly embrace the coaching staff’s plan this season to further prioritize high-value field goal attempts, the truth is that LaVine has gradually been cutting long twos from his game for years. His share of shots that came from mid-range last season was 17.8 percent, a career-low mark that’s dwindled on an annual basis ever since he entered the league in 2014-15.

It’s not like LaVine openly flaunted the Bulls’ preference to hunt efficient shots and employ a more egalitarian style of offense during the preseason, either. Just four of his 54 shots in exhibition play were non-paint twos, and a whopping 48 of his field-goal attempts were taken from deep or in the restricted area. The result has been by far the best basketball of LaVine’s five-year career, a remarkable blend of production and efficiency that makes it easy to forget the meaningless stakes of preseason basketball – and just as easy to believe he’s on the verge true stardom.

LaVine won’t average 34.8 points per-36 minutes with a true shooting percentage of 75.1 come the regular season. Stats like that are reserved for video games and, it turns out, a four-game stretch of the preseason slate. Still, LaVine’s jaw-dropping performance over the past two weeks hasn’t received nearly enough attention league-wide and, perhaps, positions him as basketball’s most imminently dangerous long-range shooter and perimeter penetrator this side of James Harden.

LaVine showed last season that he had the goods to earn that distinction. None of the 11 players who averaged more drives than his 13.6 per game shot better than LaVine’s 36.9 percent on pull-up threes, according to data compiled at NBA.com. The insane degree of difficulty of Harden’s off-dribble triples pushed his accuracy just below LaVine’s, and Kemba Walker, who averaged 15.2 drives per game, nearly eclipsed his three-point shooting percentage despite taking nearly double the number of long-range pull-ups.

But the numbers are the numbers, and they provide even more evidence to suggest LaVine is on the cusp of becoming a scorer tailor-made for the analytics era, despite his apparent preference otherwise.

LaVine took 3.1 off-dribble threes per game last season, 21st-most in the league. If the preseason is any indication of his style of play to come, expect him to easily beat that average in 2019-20. All but seven of LaVine’s 25 three-point attempts in the preseason came off a live dribble, a total that extrapolates to 6.8 pull-up tries per-36 minutes of play.

LaVine rarely deviated from the offense to launch those looks, either. Chicago made a concerted effort in each of his four exhibition games to free LaVine for off-dribble threes early in the shot clock, whether by drag screens as he brought the ball up the floor or staggered ball screens coming middle off the catch. He’s also already developed a nice wink-wink chemistry with Tomas Satoransky, who boasts natural playmaking ingenuity the Bulls have long lacked next to LaVine in the backcourt. And on the few occasions LaVine has isolated before pulling up from deep, his burst off the bounce and cat-quick shot release have caught defenders flat-footed, unable to manage an effective contest.

LaVine isn’t Harden, and he never will be. Expecting any player, no matter how explosive an athlete or how smooth he is with the ball, to function as a close approximation of the Houston Rockets’ superstar is flatly unfair. He’s the most accomplished off-dribble three-point shooter ever, and even before earning that distinction proved impossible for defenders to keep out of the paint.

LaVine isn’t nearly as comfortable as Harden putting a series of high-level dribble moves together before letting fly, and Chicago isn’t asking him to play that way. But the threat of his pull-up jumper looms large nonetheless, which makes LaVine an even more devastating penetrator than his all-world physical tools alone suggest he would be.

Over his first couple seasons in the league, LaVine routinely drove at full speed, often getting all the way to the rim but arriving out of control. He’s slowly, but surely, added more nuance and patience as an attacker in recent years, honed ability that combined with his pull-up jumper made him more effective than ever getting to the basket during the preseason. Playing beside frontcourt shooters like Lauri Markkanen and Luke Kornet affords LaVine extra space to manipulate help defenders with fakes and hesitations behind the initial line of defense, too.

It took years for LaVine to develop the understanding needed to take advantage of defenders’ missteps by doing things like rejecting screens and splitting defenders, reads that come easy for some high-usage ball handlers. He drew more free throw attempts on drives last season than every player in basketball but Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Spencer Dinwiddie. LaVine needs to get more comfortable with his left hand and still lacks a reliable floater game, but should be one of the league’s most productive penetrators this season regardless.

Even if LaVine proves his eye-popping preseason play wasn’t a complete aberration, the stats will nevertheless convey a more glowing assessment of his overall impact than his real on-court influence. LaVine was still prone to tunnel vision with the ball in his hands, often missing simple kickouts as defenders converged on his drives, and is unlikely to improve from his low defensive baseline despite a stated desire otherwise. At 24, dreams of him realizing his utmost, Hall-of-Fame potential as a dynamic primary ball handler who doubles as a dogged, disruptive defender are pretty much long gone.

But LaVine has made so much progress as a shooter and attacker that for now his weaknesses only matter on the margins. And as long as he continues on the path toward becoming basketball’s most reluctant analytics darling, the Bulls will be best served building an ecosystem around them – just like the Rockets with Harden’s.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Bradley Beal Extension Signals Long-Term Plan for Washington

After signing Bradley Beal to a two-year extension, the Wizards will try to return to relevancy. While it will be difficult, there is a long-term plan materializing in Washington.

Quinn Davis

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Yesterday Bradley Beal inked a two-year 72 million dollar extension with the Washington Wizards. The extension, which kicks in beginning in the 2021-2022 season, includes a player option for the second year and could potentially keep him from reaching free agency until the summer of 2023.

Following a summer defined by player movement, Beal’s signing marks a change of pace for NBA superstars. After a season marred by John Wall tearing his Achilles and culminating in the Wizards’ lowest win total since 2012-13, many expected Beal to be a marquee name on the trade market.

Instead, Beal will stay with the team that drafted him and attempt to right the ship. In a recent interview following the extension, Beal explained his motivation:

“I guess just legacy at the end of the day. This is where I’ve been for the last seven years, going on eight, and I have an opportunity to turn this thing around,” Beal said.  “It’s a beautiful market. I love it. I love D.C. This is where I’ve always wanted to be, and this is where I want to be for the rest of my career.”

With Beal committed to the franchise, the team can look to the future knowing they have a potential All-NBA player in tow. The question now becomes, where can they go from here?

Firstly, there is the Wall-sized elephant in the room when it comes to the Wizards’ future roster construction. Shortly after signing a four-year supermax extension, injuries began to plague the former top overall pick.  

Wall played only 41 games in 2017-18, and then only 32 games in 2018-19, before tearing his Achilles by slipping and falling in his home last February. Wall is expected to miss the entirety of this season as he rehabs.

The supermax extension signed by Wall in the summer of 2017 begins this season and will pay him 170 million dollars over the next four years. This will keep Wall on the roster through the 2022-23 season, assuming he picks up the fourth-year player option on the deal.

It is unclear how Wall will return from such a devastating injury. There is a poor track record for NBA players returning from an injury of this nature. The outlook could be even grimmer when factoring in Wall’s reliance on speed and athleticism.

With that in mind, along with the consensus projection that the Wizards will be a lottery team, many will question the decision to extend Beal rather than undergo a full rebuild. The question is certainly a valid one, but there may still be a path back to competitiveness for the franchise with Beal on the team.

The options to improve the team in the short-term will be limited. They are hard-capped for this season and will have no more than 16 million in cap space for the coming summer, should the projected salary cap number of $116 million remain unchanged.

The plan for the next two seasons will likely be to foster internal development, while remaining somewhat competitive with Beal and any veterans they can add to the fringes. There is excitement about rookie first-round pick Rui Hachimura, who had a nice showing in the FIBA World Cup and thus far in preseason.

The Wizards also have Troy Brown Jr. and Moritz Wagner on their rookie contracts for the next two seasons.  Brown, particularly, showed an ability to finish at the rim and draw fouls last season. He shot 70 percent at the rim and drew shooting fouls on 9.8 percent of his shot attempts. Those numbers were in the 90th and 71st percentile for his position, respectively, per Cleaning the Glass.

If Brown and Hachimura can blossom into a starting quality wing duo, the Wizards’ future outlook could gain a little optimism.  

The team will also have Thomas Bryant on a team-friendly contract for the next three seasons. The 22-year-old center showed flashes of ability to not only fill a rim-running role in the pick-and-roll last season, but to space the floor as well.  Bryant finished 80 percent of his shots at the rim, and shot a serviceable 34 percent from beyond the arc, per Cleaning the Glass.

Encouragingly, the Wizards offense scored at a top-three level when Beal and Bryant shared the court without Wall last season. Tomas Satoransky, who ran point guard during most of those minutes, is no longer here. Ish Smith will slide into that role, and while his speed and passing are helpful, he will not space the floor as Satoransky did.  

That spacing loss could be offset with the addition of three-point marksman Davis Bertans, who will operate as a stretch four next to Bryant. There is also the option of running Beal at the point, an experiment that was successful in limited minutes last season.

Bertans and fellow signee C.J Miles will both provide spacing and a veteran presence to the lineup, but both are on one-year deals. It is likely that the Wizards will continue to sign veterans to short-term deals going forward to round out their core.

With all that said, the ceiling for this Wizards team this season is likely the eighth seed in the East. The defense will still be an issue this season unless the younger players, specifically Bryant, take massive leaps on that end.

The expected mediocrity will require smart drafting by Washington going forward. Hachimura looks like a decent pick at 9th overall, but it would be unwise to make any declarations at this stage.  It is also very difficult to consistently hit on late lottery to mid-first round draft picks.  

If the Wizards do manage to draft well, they could build themselves a solid core to develop over the next few years while they wait out Wall’s contract and hoard cap space for the summer of 2023.  Anything Wall can provide after his return from the injury would be a bonus.

The possibility of a trade down the line still remains as well. Beal made it clear he was committed to staying with the Wizards, but there is ample evidence as to how quickly things can change in the NBA.  Another lottery season or two and what once seemed like a strong long-term plan could feel like a lost cause.  

But, assuming Beal and the Wizards are both true to their word and stay in this for the long haul, the team will need to bank on internal development and hope for some good luck. The size of both Beal and Wall’s contracts will make it nearly impossible to bring on another star, even without factoring in the tall task of convincing such a player to relocate to D.C.

First-year GM Tommy Sheppard has a long road ahead, but the first step of signing Beal signaled a commitment to the team’s star and could help foster a culture to build on over the next few seasons. While 2023 is a ways away, the team does have a long-term plan in place to field a solid team around Beal while developing young players in the meantime.

In the NBA, it is impossible to say if this vision will pan out, but having any vision at all is half of the battle.

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