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NBA PM: Drew Eubanks Excited to Test NBA Waters

Drew Eubanks grew up playing baseball but is now on the cusp of making it to the NBA.

Cody Taylor

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Oregon State forward Drew Eubanks enjoyed playing baseball growing up because running wasn’t a key part of the game. Now, he’s established himself as one of the best big men in the Pac-12 and is on the verge of a professional career playing basketball.

While he may have grown up playing baseball, he’s fully committed to playing basketball now and appears to be heading toward a career in the NBA. The 6-foot-10 forward made huge improvements from his first year at Oregon State to his second year and has put his name on the NBA radar in the process.

Eubanks is coming off of his best season with the Beavers after averaging 14.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 1.2 assists per game. Eubanks led Oregon State in total points, rebounds and blocks this season. He also finished 18th in the Pac-12 in points, eighth in rebounds and fourth in blocks.

Eubanks’ successful sophomore campaign was a complete transformation compared to his freshman year. In his first year at Oregon State, Eubanks averaged 7.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks in 21.4 minutes per game. He worked hard last summer to improve his game and his numbers from this last season reflect that hard work.

“I knew I had to gain weight this past offseason,” Eubanks told Basketball Insiders. “I knew I had to get a lot stronger, get my ball handling up a lot more and learn how to finish shots against Pac-12 players. I just learned a lot more.

“I practiced a lot of my hook shots with my right and left hand shooting over people. I already had a college season under my belt so I knew what to expect going in. I feel like just learning the game and learning how to play at the college level is going to help me.”

Eubanks sees Blake Griffin as a player that he’d like to one day become. After watching Eubanks play for two seasons, it’s easy to see that resemblance. Eubanks puts on a dunk show in virtually every game and he possesses great athleticism for his size. He uses his quickness to his advantage and is very active on the boards and will often blow past defenders off the dribble.

“Blake Griffin is still my favorite player and that’s who I try to be like,” Eubanks said. “He’s just a freak and can do a lot of crazy stuff with the ball. The way he jumps and the way he handles the ball as big as he is, I feel like I could relate to him because he’s really athletic. I feel like we play [a lot alike].”

*****

Admittedly, Eubanks wasn’t very good when he first began playing basketball during his freshman year of high school.

He had grown up with baseball in mind and didn’t even follow an NBA team. In fact, he didn’t know much about the sport when he began playing so he was forced to spend the first few years of his basketball career just learning the rules.

Standing at 6-foot-5 as a freshman, Eubanks caught the eye of some fellow students heading to the gym to play a pick-up game. Since he was the tallest person on campus, they asked him to join because they needed a center for their team.

As a pitcher in baseball, Eubanks figured running up and down the basketball court could help his baseball game. He could build his leg muscles, which would help him push off of the mound harder and increase the velocity of his fastball.

So, he went and played.

That trip to the gym turned out to be the first time he had played basketball and he admits he didn’t play well. It took him awhile to finally understand the sport and begin to get the hang of it. It was in that moment that he realized why he grew up playing baseball instead of playing basketball.

“Part of the reason I didn’t want to play basketball growing up was because I hated running,” Eubanks said. “Baseball was the happy-medium; it’s like see how fast you are running 90 feet and that’s it. There is not a lot of running in the offseason to get in shape because baseball isn’t really an endurance game. It’s like a bang-bang play here and there and that’s about it.”

It started to click after he began playing some AAU basketball teams. He had a good outing against an AAU team at a tournament in Las Vegas and caught the eye of a couple of college scouts. Once he returned from Las Vegas, he received a phone call from a college with an offer and knew it was time to start taking basketball seriously.

“I put baseball on the backburner, but I still played and did well,” Eubanks said. “I tried to focus on basketball and I got to play my first year in AAU the next summer. Toward the end of the summer, I started doing really well against really good AAU teams. That’s when I started to really get recruited.”

Eubanks said one benefit of playing baseball that helped him transition to basketball is the mental side of things. Baseball prepared him to be locked in at all times during the extended time in between plays and that helped him focus on things a bit more in basketball.

“Baseball is a very slow game,” Eubanks said. “In a three-hour game, you probably only experience a minute to two minutes of live action in a game so you’re locked in all of the time.”

Although it has been a few years since he last played baseball, he can still throw some heat off of the mound.

“I hit 90 mph a couple of times in high school,” Eubanks said. “I’ve already gained 30 pounds and have gotten a lot stronger since my senior year in high school so I’m probably up a lot higher now.”

*****

Eubanks plans to take advantage of a new rule established last season that allows underclassmen to test the NBA waters. Players that declare for the draft without hiring an agent can earn an invitation to the Draft Combine and workout for NBA teams and still maintain their college eligibility.

Players have until 10 days after the Combine on May 24 to withdraw their name from draft consideration and still have the option to return to school. Some players opt to enter the pre-draft process to gain feedback from NBA scouts and executives to further improve their game.

Participating in pre-draft workouts and attending the Combine can prepare players for what to expect at the next level. Many players are happy with this new rule that allows them to test the NBA waters and see if they’re truly ready to play in the NBA. After getting such a late start to basketball, Eubanks is just thrilled to even be in this position.

“I’m more excited than anything because not everyone gets this opportunity,” Eubanks said. “I’m lucky I even have this chance. If you would have asked me six or seven years ago when I started playing basketball if I’d be where I’m at, I’d say no way.”

Players that perform well at the Combine and in workouts may also opt to stay in the draft as well. Isaiah Whitehead is a prime example of a player that declared for the draft last year but didn’t immediately hire an agent.

Whitehead began the pre-draft process projected to go undrafted, but performed well during workouts and was ultimately drafted 42nd by the Utah Jazz. Players know that a great showing in front of NBA teams will help their draft stock and Eubanks will certainly be ready to show off his game.

Eubanks will surely use this process to gauge where he stands among all of the other draft prospects and make a decision following the Combine.

Not many are able to make the transition from baseball to the NBA, but Eubanks appears more than capable of making that leap.

Considering how far he’s come in such a short amount of time, don’t be surprised if that happens.

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

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NBA Sunday: Kristaps Porzingis Sure Looks Ready To Be The Franchise

The Knicks hope Kristaps Porzingis can become their franchise. Thus far, he seems up to the challenge.

Moke Hamilton

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He stood in front of his mentor, isolated, just like they used to do in practice.

He’d seen the jab steps before and the head fakes—they were nothing new. And when Carmelo Anthony mustered the acceleration he still has in his 33-year-old legs to drive around Kristaps Porzingis, Anthony knew he had the 7-foot-3 Latvian big man beat.

Anthony triumphantly rose to the basket and delicately attempted his right-handed layup. Before he knew what hit him, though, Anthony’s shot had been sent to the free throw line.

The message was clear—Kristaps had taken the torch.

“It was fun,” Porzingis said about his confrontation with Anthony. “We went at it in practices a lot and one-on-one after practices.

“It was a lot of fun knowing what he was going to do and try to stop him.”

The Oklahoma City Thunder were much closer to the NBA Finals than the Knicks were last season, and removing Anthony from the Knicks and pairing him with Russell Westbrook and Paul George gives the Thunder a triumvirate that can at least conceivably challenge the Golden State Warriors. They are perhaps the only team in the entire league with enough firepower and defensive pieces.

So no, the Knicks may not be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy anytime soon, but at the very least, the franchise seems to be in good hands—the big, soft hands of Porzingis.

As young NBA players come into their own and attempt to fulfill the lofty expectations that everyone has of them, the third year is the charm, almost invariably. And in that that year, a young player can’t control the other pieces that are around him—that’s why they shouldn’t be judged by their team’s wins and losses.

In that third year, a young player also can’t really control the frequency of his injuries. The simple truth is that many 21 or 22-year-old players simply lack the hardened bones of a fully grown adult that most men become after the age of 25.

But what the young player can prove is that he is prepared to shoulder the burden and take the fight to anyone who stands before him. Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks epitomizes this ideal better than any other young player in the league. He is absolutely fearless and it’s a pleasure to watch.

So is Porzingis.

Since the influx of European-born players began about 20 years ago, we have seen our fair share of “soft” European players. His talent aside (which is considerable), Porzingis has proven to be anything but, and that by itself can help players go a very long way.

In what must have felt like the longest summer ever, Porzingis saw the franchise that drafted him undergo an overhaul that resulted in a light beaming so brightly on him, you would have thought the third-year forward was starring in a Broadway musical.

Say what you want about Porzingis, but he has already done all that he can to notify everyone that have anything to do with the Knicks that his bony shoulders aren’t indicative of the weight he’s capable of carrying.

And in Oklahoma City, against his mentor, Porzingis did the heavy lifting.

“I saw energy,” head coach Jeff Hornacek said after his team’s opening night loss.

“He was great moving. He played 38 minutes, and maybe last year that would be a struggle. He would maybe get tired, and get some silly fouls, but even toward the end on that 37th or 38th minute, he was still up hollering, moving, blocking shots and getting rebounds, so he had a great game and we expect a lot more of that from him.”

Being a Knicks fan is something that nobody should wish on their worst enemy. The franchise has made scores of maneuvers that lacked wisdom and seemingly gone out of its way to alienate people beloved by the franchise. On top of it all, Knicks tickets are among the highest in the entire league.

Fans as passionate and dedicated as Knicks fans deserve a team they can be proud of and a front office that dedicates itself to putting winning ahead of petty feuds and politics.

The hiring of Scott Perry may signify just that.

So when the Knicks traded Carmelo Anthony and ended up getting back 10 cents on the dollar for his value, everyone should have prepared for a long season in New York City.

Coming in, Knicks fans once again found themselves in the unenviable predicament of having to talk themselves into believing that Ramon Session, Michael Beasley and Tim Hardaway were capable of giving this team feel good moments. And while they certainly are, they will surely pale in comparison to the amount of losses that the club accrues along the way.

If there’s one thing the Philadelphia 76ers have taught everyone, however, it’s that the losses don’t necessarily need to be in vain.

So heading into this season, what Knicks fans should have been looking forward to and hoping for is nothing more than the installation of a culture that’s marked by effort, communication and selfless basketball—the hallmarks of the Golden State Warriors.

Aside from that, yes, they should have also come in with the hope that Kristaps Porzingis would take an appreciable step forward and prove himself to truly be a capable franchise cornerstone.

To this point, from the way he holds his head highly, despite a win or a loss, and the way he competes to the best of his abilities, despite his limitations. For now, it’s really all that could reasonably be asked of him.

When it was all said and done—when Porzingis looked the Knicks’ past in the eyes after the Thunder had soundly defeated his New York Knicks—Carmelo Anthony probably told him that he was proud of him and that he wished him all the luck in the world.

He probably told him to continue to work on his game and hone his craft and to block out the background noise.

And above all else, Carmelo probably told Kristaps that he believes he is capable of being his successor.

With his nodding head and serious demeanor, Porzingis, in all his glory, listened intently. Even more so, he believed every word. 

It doesn’t take all day to figure out whether the sun is shining—it’s an adage that remains as true in basketball as it does on a May Day in New York.

For Porzinigis, the bright sky and the beaming sunlight—he’s basking in it all. Not only has he becomes the Knicks’ franchise by default, he believes he’s capable of shouldering the burden.

In this town, that’s more than half the battle.

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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