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NBA PM: Erik McCree Hungry to Prove Himself

Erik McCree is looking to show to NBA teams that he is more than just a scorer, writes Cody Taylor.

Cody Taylor

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Erik McCree established himself as a consistent scoring threat in three seasons at Louisiana Tech. Now, he is out to prove to NBA teams that he’s more than just a scorer.

After all, his production on the offensive end speaks for itself.

McCree averaged 17.7 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 33 games this past season for the Bulldogs and led his team in scoring and rebounds. He earned All-Conference USA First Team honors this season as he was one of only two players in the conference to rank in the top six in scoring and rebounds.

The 6-foot-8 forward shot 47 percent from the floor, including 36 percent from three-point range. He was one of only five forwards in the country to record at least 200 made field goals, 50 made three-pointers and 125 made free throws.

“I don’t really like people just labeling me as a big-time scorer,” McCree told Basketball Insiders. “I can do more than that. I’ve been able to do that my whole life. God just blessed me with that gift to have touch at my size to able to score the ball. I’m trying to stress to people that I can do more than score. I can really guard people.”

As McCree enters the pre-draft process to show teams his defensive abilities, there are a couple of stats that show his impact on the defensive end. He ranked fifth in Conference USA in both defensive rating and defensive win shares. His 2.3 defensive win shares rank 65th in the country among all players.

“[Teams] already pretty much know I can make shots, but I’m just trying to show I can guard a bunch of different positions,” McCree said. “That’s honestly what I’m going in focused on — making sure I’m in great shape and showing that I can guard multiple positions. That’s where the NBA is going with a bunch of versatile guys that can guard so that’s what I’m trying to showcase.”

*****

Part of the process for NBA prospects involves going through various on-court workouts. Teams love to see players that can turn in impressive shuttle times and high marks in jumping. Prospects are also put to the test in 3-on-3 and 5-on-5 settings as well.

A workout with an NBA team can be very beneficial for prospects this time of year. Players have an opportunity to show teams in a private environment why they should be drafted. In some cases, teams will work out prospects in a group setting in order to see how they stack up against the competition.

As much as these on-court workouts can help a player’s draft stock, the interview process has proven to be a key element during these meetings as well. Teams do extensive background checks on players they bring in for workouts, but it’s also important to have a face to face meeting as well.

McCree believes the interview off of the court is just as important as the on-court evaluation in impressing teams. As a senior, McCree will enter the draft as one of the older prospects available, but he believes that can give him an edge over some of the younger guys.

“When the lights are off and practice is over, teams are not going to have to worry about me when I’m off of the court,” McCree said. “I’m an older guy. I did four years in college so I’m mature. I feel like that’s the biggest thing I can bring to a team is maturity. I’m not a little boy anymore. I’m a grown man. I think that’s what really sets me apart.

“They do so much studying on your game there is nothing they don’t know about you. That probably is more important than on the court just the type of person you are. My mentality is to just go in there and being me; showing them who I am. I’m a good guy. I just have to be me. I don’t have to pretend to be anybody I’m not.”

McCree had an opportunity to meet with several teams at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament last month. The annual tournament brings in some of the top seniors in the country to showcase their respective games in front of representatives from every NBA team. In three games at Portsmouth, McCree averaged 14.3 points, four rebounds and three assists.

Teams will often ask players about their backgrounds, how they grew up and other related topics. They have also been known to ask prospects some random questions in order to see how they’ll react.

“I got one question, “What’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think of the phrase ‘One and one’ or something like that,” McCree said. “That was probably the weirdest question I got. I just said, ‘Free throws.’”

*****

McCree has spent the past several weeks in Las Vegas training at Impact Basketball. He’s currently working out with several other Division I prospects, including many that are projected to be drafted next month.

Working out with so many of the top prospects in the draft has given McCree an opportunity to see where he stacks up against them. Many of those players were at powerhouse schools and had impressive collegiate resumes so working out with those players has made him more even more hungry to prove himself.

Does he believe he’s just as good as those players?

“Absolutely,” McCree said quickly. “No question. I feel like I’m just as good as anybody here. It might just be my confidence or it might just be that I’m delusional, but in my opinion, I’m just as good as anybody here.

“I know these guys are coming in with all of this pedigree because they went to big schools, but I don’t really care, to be honest. I’m coming to take that because I need it. I feel like I’m just as good as anybody. That’s my mentality and that’s how I’ve always been.”

McCree has worked out with the San Antonio Spurs and Orlando Magic so far and has more workouts scheduled in the coming days. His goal is just to impress as many executives as he can during the days leading up to the Draft and will let the chips fall where they may.

He didn’t earn an invitation to last week’s Draft Combine and he hails from a small school. He admits that he faces an uphill battle, but players have proven that making it to the NBA from a small school is possible.

McCree is just trying to become the latest to do it.

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 Daily: Spurs Enter New Territory After Moving Parker To Reserve Role

The San Antonio Spurs are seemingly entering a new phase as Tony Parker has been moved to a reserve role.

James Blancarte

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San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg made a significant change to his rotation earlier this week. On Sunday, January 21 Popovich placed guard Dejounte Murray into the starting lineup in place of Tony Parker. The Spurs went on to lose the game at home to the Indiana Pacers. The result was the same as a losing effort in Friday’s matchup against the Toronto Raptors in Toronto.

The San Antonio Spurs came into the 2017-18 hoping to bounce back from last year’s playoffs where the team suffered injuries to Kawhi Leonard and Parker and eventually lost to the Golden State Warriors. This season started off with the Spurs surviving without Leonard and Parker as the two continued to rehab from lingering injuries. As of now, Leonard is once again taking time off to rehabilitate after playing in nine games while Parker has been able to stay healthy so far. Unfortunately, being healthy enough to play doesn’t make up for the inevitable decline that comes with age and injuries.

On the season, Parker is averaging a career low in minutes (21.6), assists (4.0) and points (8.2), as well as free throws made and attempted per game. His usage rate, player efficiency rating (PER) and shooting percentages are also all at or around career lows. It’s hard to argue against the notion that Parker, at 35 years old with 17 years of pro basketball under his belt, is in the twilight of his impressive career.

Parker has acknowledged his demotion but seems to be handling it like a true professional.

“[Popovich] told me he thought it was time, and I was like, ‘no problem.’ Just like Manu [Ginobili], just like Pau [Gasol], you know that day is going to come,” Parker said recently. .

Before Sunday’s game, Parker had started 1151 of 1164 games played, all with the Spurs of course.

Popovich was asked specifically if the plan was either to start Murray at point guard moving forward or if this switch in the lineup was a part of some kind of injury management program for Parker. Never known for being overly loquacious, Popovich responded with little detail or insight.

“We’ll see,” Popovich stated.

In the starting lineup, Murray logged eight points, four assists, seven rebounds, three steals and one block in nearly 28 minutes of action. Murray had previously started before Parker returned from injury earlier this season but eventually relinquished that spot to career reserve guard Patty Mills.

Parker also spoke of the benefit of coming off the bench and potentially mentoring Murray’s growth in his new presumed role as the starter.

“If Pop [Coach Popovich] sees something that is good for the team, I will try to do my best,” Parker said. “I will support Pop’s decision and I will try to help DJ [Murray] as best as I can and try to be the best I can in the second unit with Manu [Ginobili] and Patty [Mills].”

If nothing else, this move will allow the Spurs to see if Parker can be more effective in limited minutes against opposing bench units. Additionally, Parker will hopefully benefit from playing alongside his longtime running mate, Ginobli.

Parker’s willingness to mentor Murray may come as a relief to Spurs fans watching the ongoing dismantling of San Antonio’s former Big-3, which began with the retirement of future Hall-of-Famer, Tim Duncan. At 6-foot-5, Murray benefits from greater size and athleticism than Parker, although Murray failed to keep the starting job when given an opportunity earlier this season. Coach Popovich gave another straightforward answer when asked which areas he thinks Murray can improve in.

“He’s 21-years-old,” Popovich declared. “He can improve in all areas.”

After asking for a trade in the offseason, the Spurs have benefited from focusing their offense around LaMarcus Aldridge, who is having a bounce-back campaign. However, Leonard is now out indefinitely and the Minnesota Timberwolves have now caught the Spurs in the standings. The pressure is on for this resilient Spurs team, which has again managed to beat the odds despite an injured and aging roster.

Parker became a starter for the Spurs at age 19 and never looked back. Now all eyes are on Murray to see how well he performs in his second stint with the starters at a crucial point in the season.

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Sources: Milwaukee Bucks Fire Coach Jason Kidd

Basketball Insiders

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The Milwaukee Bucks have fired coach Jason Kidd, sources ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Source: Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN

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Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 1/22/17

Spencer Davies checks into the DPOY race with his latest list of candidates.

Spencer Davies

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It’s a new year and Basketball Insiders is continuing its Defensive Player of the Year watch with sample sizes widening and new players emerging in the conversation.

There were a couple of names knocked out of the list, but that gives more of a spotlight to those who have really stepped up since our last edition ran on December 29. Without further ado, let’s get into it.

 6. Hassan Whiteside

After missing nearly a month of action with a knee injury, Whiteside has returned with a vengeance. The Miami HEAT were already a good defensive team before he came back, but he’s really bolstered that reputation even further. Since Dec. 26, the 7-foot center has recorded eight multi-block games. In five of those, he had at least four swats, including a six-rejection performance in a win at Milwaukee. Overall in ESPN’s Defensive Real-Plus Minus, Whiteside owns by far the best rating at 4.73. “Agent Block” is back and daring all comers to try him.

5. Anthony Davis

Slowly but surely, the New Orleans Pelicans are creeping away from the bottom of the league in defensive rating. Once ranked in the bottom five a few weeks ago, they’ve shot up to 18th in the league (108.4) rather quickly. While that’s not the most impressive statistic to provide, the obvious reason for their improved standing on that end of the floor is Davis. He’s been an absolute workhorse for Alvin Gentry in the restricted area as an elite rim protector, with a heavy responsibility and a ton of minutes. Without him on the floor, the Pels are allowing 8.9 more points per 100 possessions, which puts Davis in the 96th percentile according to Cleaning The Glass.

4. Josh Richardson

Notice there are two members of the HEAT on this list. It’s because they are on fire right now, no pun intended, so it’s about time they received some love in the conversation for DPOY. Whiteside was addressed first, but if we’re talking about a greater sample size with consistent evidence, Richardson fits the bill. Opponents are attempting over 11 shots per game against him, yet are only making 38.9 percent of those tries. That’s the lowest conversion rate in the league with a minimum of 10 attempts.

Battling injuries a season ago, Richardson has played in all 46 games for Miami this year. While it’s been a team effort, he is the heart and soul of Erik Spoelstra’s defense, taking on the most difficult assignments each game. For that reason, he deserves long overdue recognition on this list.

3. Kevin Durant

This isn’t a case where Durant is slipping because of his performances. He’s only ranked third this time around because of the job others have done outside of him. The Golden State Warriors are still a juggernaut on both sides of the court. He’s still a top-notch individual defender. The numbers don’t suggest otherwise and the eye test certainly confirms it.

In isolation situations, Durant is allowing only 0.53 points per possession, which is second in the NBA to only Tony Snell. When it comes to crunch time, he’s always locking up. In fourth quarters, he is limiting the competition to shooting less than 30 percent—and his defended field goal percentage and field goal percentage discrepancy is the best in the league at -17.2. He’s got as good of a chance as anybody to take home DPOY.

2. Joel Embiid

Everybody loves to focus on the off-court antics and hilarities that come with Embiid, but the man deserves his due when it comes to his reputation in the NBA as a truly dominant big. The Philadelphia 76ers have won seven out of their last eight games and it has started on the defensive end of the floor.

Take the games against Boston, for example. Al Horford is a crucial part of the Celtics offense and has had problems getting going against the 23-year-old. In the 22 minutes per game, he’s been on the floor along with him, Horford has been held to below 30 percent from the field on an average of nine attempts. With Embiid off, he’s converted nearly 73 percent of his tries.

Another matchup you can examine is with Andre Drummond. The two have had their fair share of words with each other, but Embiid’s had the edge one-on-one. Similar to Horford, the Detroit Pistons big man has had a rough time against him. Embiid has limited Drummond to under 38 percent on five attempts per game in an average of over 23 minutes on the floor together. When he’s not playing, Drummond has had close to a 78 percent success rate.

Regarding centers, Embiid ranks second in ESPN’s DRPM and fifth in Basketball Reference’s Defensive Box Plus-Minus. Citing Cleaning The Glass, the Sixers are allowing 10 more points per 100 possessions when he’s sitting, which slots Embiid into the 97th percentile.

He’s altering shots. He’s blocking shots. He’s forcing kick outs. And that’s a big reason why the NBA gave Embiid its Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors. Trust The Process.

1. Paul George

Basketball Insiders was well represented this past Saturday in Cleveland when the Oklahoma City Thunder decimated the Cavaliers in their own building. The focus was on the “OK3” exposing a terrible defense, but the real story in this game was how in-tune and sound George was on both ends of the court. He was sizzling shooting the basketball, but perhaps more defining was shutting down LeBron James on a day that was supposed to belong to him.

Any time 23 got the ball to try and get the Cavs going, George was there. He suffocated him with pressure, forcing James into bad decisions and contested shots. The talk of the day was the 30,000-point mark, but PG-13 had other ideas.

“I was hopeful that it took two games for him to get to that,” George said after the 148-124 win at Quicken Loans Arena. “I actually didn’t know that stat until right before coming into [Saturday]. They told me he needed 25 to go to 30,000. I’ve been a part of a lot of those baskets that he’s had, so that’s an achievement or milestone I didn’t want to be a part of.”

Thunder teammate Steven Adams spoke to his prowess on that end of the floor.

“He’s a really good defender man,” Adams said. “It was like a perfect matchup, honestly. He played LeBron really well in terms of our system and what we want him doing. He did an amazing job there.”

Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan is a huge fan as well.

“He really I think puts forth good effort,” Donovan said pre-game. “He’s long, smart. He’s disruptive. He’s got good feet. He’s a physical defender. He’s hard to shoot over. Certainly, with he and Andre [Roberson] on the wings, that’s certainly bolstered our defense.”

That was one performance, but it’s obvious how much George brings to the table as one of the toughest guys to score on in this league. He’s got a league-leading 188 deflections and is tied with Eric Bledsoe at the top of the NBA with 2.2 steals per game.

Recently, the Thunder have allowed 91 points at most in three of their last four games. They are also in the top three allowing just 104.7 points per 100 possessions and George has been a huge part of that.

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