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NBA PM: Giannis Embracing Move to Point Guard

Giannis Antetokounmpo on moving to PG, playing for Jason Kidd, teaming up with Jabari Parker and more.

Alex Kennedy

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Giannis Antetokounmpo Embracing Move to Point Guard

Entering the 2014-15 NBA season, Milwaukee Bucks sophomore Giannis Antetokounmpo has a new head coach, a new star teammate, a new owner and even a new position. Jason Kidd was hired as the team’s coach over the summer and he wants to move Antetokounmpo from small forward to point guard.

Kidd believes the second-year player has the skill set to thrive as a floor general, and envisions him being a match-up nightmare with his 6’11 frame and 7’5 wingspan. The 19-year-old has been working out in Milwaukee with teammates and is prepared to make the transition to the one.

“I’m not going to say I was shocked by it,” Antetokounmpo told Basketball Insiders when asked about the move to point guard. “It’s something that I feel comfortable with and I’ll play wherever Coach wants me to play, especially when it’s Coach Kidd who thinks that I can play point guard. That makes me feel like, ‘I can play it. I can play point guard.’ I’m going to try my best and just listen to Coach. I’ll do whatever Coach says to do and I’ll get more comfortable.”

In addition to learning from Kidd, Gary Payton has said that he’ll work with Antetokounmpo during training camp as he adjusts to playing point guard. Antetokounmpo is ecstatic that he’ll get to learn from Kidd and Payton, and realizes this is an opportunity that most players don’t get.

“Oh man, it’s really important and nice, since they’re some of the best point guards in NBA history,” Antetokounmpo said of Kidd and Payton. “Not only are they great point guards, they’re great basketball players and can help us all basketball wise. Whatever they say, that is what I’m going to do. I’m so happy to have guys like them as I figure out the position and to have them teach me. I’m really excited. I’ve talked with Jason Kidd and he’s a really good coach, but he’s also a really great guy. He treats us really well.”

Kidd had Antetokounmpo play some point guard during the Las Vegas Summer League and said that he’ll continue the experiment during the regular season. In Vegas, Antetokounmpo played well. He had the ball in his hands a lot and averaged 17 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists, a steal and a block.

“I was comfortable playing point guard during Summer League, but the pressure and the [competition] level of Summer League is different,” Antetokounmpo said. “Okay, there are some NBA players, but it’s not the same. For sure, it’s not the same [as the regular season]. So, let’s see. Let’s see how training camp goes. The guys are ready. Brandon Knight, who is one of our point guards, will sometimes give me the ball so that I can be the point guard and he can be more of a scorer. I’ll just see how it goes in training camp, playing point guard, and then during the season see how I do.”

Initially, Payton wasn’t sure if Antetokounmpo could succeed as a point guard. However, after talking with Kidd and watching him closely in Las Vegas, Payton is a believer.

“When Jason said to me that he intends to use him as a point guard, I told him to stop making jokes. ‘Gary don’t talk before you see him,’ was his answer and I watched him during the Las Vegas Summer League,” Payton said, according to Eurohoops.net. “He can handle the ball, he can drive, he is smart and he is really athletic. That’s why I was asked to go to Milwaukee during the training camp in order to help him adapt to the demands of the modern point guard position.”

Antetokounmpo isn’t sure how much time he’ll spend at point guard versus small forward this year, but he’s expecting to play both positions. It sounds like the team is playing it by ear and seeing how he does in training camp and the preseason before locking in his minutes at one position over the other.

“I think I’m going to play point guard, but I’ll also play at the three,” Antetokounmpo said. “I’m going to do whatever Coach tells me. Whatever he wants me to do, I’ll do.”

Last season, Antetokounmpo grew two inches and admitted to Basketball Insiders that while it was great news for him in the long-term because it made him even more of a nightmare on both ends of the floor, in the short-term the growth spurt was difficult for him because he had to adjust to being taller. Now, he says he is more comfortable in his body after playing more.

“I feel more comfortable now,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s hard when you’re growing and growing and growing because you have to get used to it. Things change. You’re dribbling higher, you have to find the timing on your shot. When I grew, I had to fix all of that, but I’m more comfortable now with my game.”

In addition to Antetokounmpo’s position change and continued growth (literally and figuratively), another reason to tune in to the Bucks this season is No. 2 overall pick Jabari Parker. The former Duke star has been a household name for several years and he enters the league with huge expectations. Antetokounmpo can’t wait to play with Parker and, after working out with him in Milwaukee, he has nothing but positive things to say about the rookie’s game and work ethic.

“I’m really excited we added him to the team because he’s a great player and a great guy too,” Antetokounmpo said of Parker. “I love playing with him and he’s going to bring a lot of things to the team. He’ll draw a lot of attention [from defenses] and there will be a lot of space, which will help me create. He’s going to help me – and not just me, all of the team. He’s going to make all of the team better because he’s a really good player and he’s a hard worker, who is going to make the rest of the team work hard too. That’s the truth. Whenever I see our guys working, and not just Jabari, that really pushes me to work harder. Seeing a guy like Jabari always on the court and working hard, that makes me want to work harder and harder. I think he’ll be really good for us this year.”

This offseason, Antetokounmpo played for Greece’s national team in the FIBA World Cup. Greece lost earlier than expected, in the round of 16 to Serbia, but it was a great experience for Antetokounmpo, who averaged 6.3 points and 4.3 rebounds in 16 minutes per game. He was often one of the youngest players on the floor and deferred to Greece’s veteran players, mainly getting his points through hustle plays. However, he believes participating made him better and he’s looking forward to playing with Greece every chance he gets going forward.

“I really think it will help me,” Antetokounmpo said of playing in the World Cup. “I went over there [to Spain] and I played among the best from all different parts of the world, so it was a really good experience. With things like that, you never lose something, you always gain something. I’m glad that I was there and participated in the World Cup and helped my team Greece to do something. I was really glad that I did a lot this summer. We didn’t do what we were expected to do. We thought we were going to go further, but what can we do, that’s part of the game. For sure [I will continue to play with the national team]. Things like that make you better because you’re working hard over the summer and participating against the best.”

Antetokounmpo’s numbers from last season don’t jump off of the page, but he didn’t play a ton of minutes and it was easy to forget that he was as old as many high school students. Still, he showed glimpses of brilliance and had a number of jaw-dropping plays.

Really, his development has been incredible, especially when considering that prior to entering the NBA, he was playing against low-level competition in Greece that an NBA executive once compared to YMCA games. Now, he’s one of the most intriguing young players in the NBA, he’s gotten much stronger and he’s ready for an increased role in Coach’s Kidd’s system in Milwaukee.

“For sure, I feel much stronger and more athletic, but I still have a long way to go,” Antetokounmpo said when asked about his development last year. “I can still get much stronger and much more athletic. I’m just going to keep working.”

Antetokounmpo is one of the most exciting up-and-coming players in the entire league and all eyes will be on the Bucks over the next few years to see how he develops. The good news for Bucks fans is that their young point forward is working extremely hard and he’s determined to reach his full potential. He also wants to make Milwaukee more competitive in the near future, since last season’s 15-win campaign was brutal for everyone involved.

“Last year was really hard and the first thing [we want to accomplish as a team] is to get as many wins as possible,” Antetokounmpo said. “We just got to keep getting better as a team because we have a lot of young guys in this group. We can start to show the world what we can do right now, and then in two or three years, we’re going to really show them what we’ve got. We’re still growing and trying to get better. My team goal is to keep getting better, work really hard and win as much as possible this year because last year was really tough. My individual goal is just to be the best that I can be every year and try to add something every year.”

This year, the Bucks are hoping that he’s ready to add point guard duties to his impressive skill set. If he can succeed at the new position, the rest of the league better watch out because he’ll be a nightmare for opposing floor generals.

Lakers Sign Ronnie Price

The Los Angeles Lakers have signed guard Ronnie Price, it was announced today by general manager Mitch Kupchak.

The nine-year NBA veteran holds career averages of 3.4 points, 1.5 assists, and 1.1 rebounds over 425 games (35 starts). The 31-year-old Price spent his first two NBA seasons with the Sacramento Kings (2005-07), followed by stints with the Utah Jazz (2007-11), Phoenix Suns (2011-12), Portland Trailblazers (2012-13) and most recently with the Orlando Magic last season.

The 6’2 Price averaged a career-high 2.1 assists per game in 2013-14 with Orlando, in addition to 2.4 points, 1.4 rebounds, and 0.8 steals in 12.2 minutes over 31 games (two starts).

The Friendswood, TX native has appeared in the postseason four times (2006, ’08, ’09 and ’10) in his career.

Kings Waive Scotty Hopson

The Sacramento Kings today waived guard Scotty Hopson, according to Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro.

Hopson was recently acquired from the Houston Rockets along with Alonzo Gee and a pair of second-round draft picks in exchange for guard Jason Terry and a trade exception.

Undrafted out of the University of Tennessee, Hopson appeared in two contests for the Cleveland Cavaliers last season before being traded to Houston during the offseason.

This was expected, as Hopson’s deal was non-guaranteed.

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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A Few Good Free Agents Left

David Yapkowitz looks at several free agents still remaining on the market ahead of the season.

David Yapkowitz

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The start of the 2017-2018 NBA season is finally here, and teams are required to have their 15-man roster (plus two possible two-way contacts) finalized. Every year there are players that are left off a roster. Some are younger guys who maybe haven’t proven they belong in the league just yet. Some are older veterans looking for that one final hurrah.

A few of these players might take open gigs in the G-League or overseas in hopes of attracting the attention of NBA front offices as the year goes on. Others remain at home, working out and waiting for that call that might never come. And sometimes, the waiting and anticipating pays off as playoff teams come looking for veteran help and tanking teams are on the hunt for unrealized potential.

For most of the veteran guys, their opportunities will likely come later in the season when teams gear up for the playoffs. Here’s a look at a few of the top veteran free agents left that could certainly help a team at some point during this season.

David Lee

Since being traded from the Golden State Warriors to the Boston Celtics three year ago, Lee has adapted to his new role as a veteran big man helping to anchor second units. He is no longer the automatic double-double machine and borderline All-Star he once was, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have anything left in the tank.

He didn’t really fit quite right in Boston, but in his stops with the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs, he still showed he can be a solid contributor off the bench. In 25 games with Mavericks in the 2015-2016 season, Lee put up 8.5 points per game on 63.6 percent shooting while pulling down seven rebounds per. With the Spurs last year, he averaged 7.3 points on 59 percent shooting to go along with 5.6 rebounds. For a playoff team that needs a little big man depth, he is a solid option.

Deron Williams

Much was made about Williams’ disappearing act in the Finals last year, and rightfully so, but lost in all the chatter was the actual solid job he did with the Cleveland Cavaliers leading up to that point. Once in the conversation for best point guard in the league, injuries and poor play in Brooklyn sort of made Williams a forgotten man. The Nets bought out his contract and he joined his hometown Dallas Mavericks.

After a so-so first year in Dallas, Williams looked rejuvenated last year to the point that he actually drew some interest around the trade deadline. With the Mavericks looking to get younger and head closer to that rebuilding path, they cut Williams and allowed him to join a contending team. Over the final 24 games of last season, including four starts, he averaged 7.5 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting, 41.5 percent from the three-point line, and 3.6 assists. Of course, his Finals performance is all anyone cares to remember, but if a team needs a veteran backup point guard, they could do a lot worse.

Monta Ellis

Last season in Indiana, Ellis posted some of the lowest numbers of his career since his rookie season. Heading into a rebuilding year, the Pacers waived Ellis and his name barely came up in free agent rumors during the summer. At his best, Ellis was a borderline All-Star talent who could put up points in a hurry. Despite his reputation as a gunner, Ellis was a bit of an underrated playmaker and was never as bad defensively as most made him out to be.

He never really seemed to find his groove in Indiana. In his first year with the Pacers during the 2015-2016 season, he posted 13.8 points per game, down from 18.9 the previous year in Dallas, and his shooting dropped from 44.5 percent from the field to 42.7 percent. His playoff numbers with the Pacers were down even more than his regular season numbers, despite exploding in the postseason a few years before with Dallas. His starting days are almost assuredly behind him, but as a sixth man type scorer bringing energy off the bench, he’s probably better than a lot of the players currently in that role.

Leandro Barbosa

The Brazilian Blur’s best days are behind him, but similar to Ellis, he can still help a team in need of additional scoring punch off the bench. It was only two years ago that he was a key contributor off the Warriors bench. Firmly on the rebuilding track, the Suns waived Barbosa during the summer. Despite still being a capable player, his name also rarely came up in the free agent rumor mill.

He didn’t play all that much last season for a Phoenix Suns team that is clearly rebuilding, but he still was able to average 6.3 points per game in only 14.4 minutes per. His role on a rebuilding team would be a veteran mentor, but for a playoff team, he’s not a bad option. He showed that he can still play at the NBA level despite losing a step or two. Perhaps later on in the season when teams start looking for playoff help is when he may find his phone starting to ring.

Derrick Williams

The former No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations that come with being drafted that high. He’s only averaged double figures (12.0) in scoring once in his career and that was during the 2012-2013 season. When he came into the league, he didn’t really have much of a set position. He was a tweener, somewhere in between small forward and power forward. That was prior to the changes occurring in today’s NBA with more of a premium on stretch big men.

During Williams’ time in Cleveland last season, he played in 25 games and averaged 6.2 points per game. What stood out most, however, was his shooting. He shot 50.5 percent from the field, including 40.4 percent from the three-point line, both career-highs. Shooting from long range was always a bit of a weakness for him and prior to last season, he had never shot higher than 33.2 percent from downtown. He also didn’t register much chatter by way of free agent rumors, but if he can reproduce shooting percentages like that, he fits right in with the direction of the league.

With league rosters pretty much set, there likely won’t be much roster movement, if any at all, for the next few months. Teams are looking to see how their new summer acquisitions work out. But after a few months of real game action, other roster needs start to become more apparent. Don’t be surprised if come the new year, teams start knocking on a few of these player’s doorsteps.

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NBA PM: The Wizards Are “More Than Ready” For A Big Year

Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal says his team is “more than ready” for the start of the NBA season.

Buddy Grizzard

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With several teams in the Eastern Conference taking a step back, the Washington Wizards will be one of the beneficiaries due to roster continuity. Shooting guard Bradley Beal, one of several key Wizards signed to a long-term contract, said the team is “more than ready” for the season and has large expectations.

“This is going to be a big year for us,” said Beal after a Monday practice. “We’re healthy. There’s no excuse for us [not to] get off to a good start.”

Beal added that, while health is a key for the entire roster, it’s especially important for him after struggling with injuries in the past.

“It’s really a confidence booster, realizing my potential, what I can be, the type of player I can be when I had a healthy season,” said Beal of last year’s campaign. “That’s probably what I was more proud of than anything, playing 70-plus games and then playing in the playoffs every game.”

In Basketball Insiders’ season preview for the Wizards, we noted that Beal was Washington’s most efficient ball handler in the pick and roll last season. Beal said that creating for teammates is something he’s worked on in the offseason and will continue to be a point of emphasis.

“That was great for me and the strides I made throughout the year, working on my ball handling, working on creating for other guys and getting my own shot,” said Beal. “Those are the primary things I’m focused on … being able to create better, getting guys easier shots than before, getting more assists and improve everywhere.”

Wizards coach Scott Brooks said after Friday’s preseason finale in New York that he’s been encouraged by the ball movement he has seen since the start of camp.

“I thought a lot of good things happened in training camp,” said Brooks. “The ball movement was outstanding. Guys were sacrificing for one another on the offensive end.”

One thing that should help the ball movement of the second unit is the arrival of backup point guard Tim Frazier, who missed most of the preseason due to a strained groin. Frazier had nine assists and no turnovers in his preseason debut against the Miami HEAT.

“I feel very comfortable with Tim,” said Brooks. “He finds corner threes, which we like.”

Beal added that one area he hopes to improve, both individually and as a team, is rebounding.

“I think I only had like three rebounds [per game] last year,” said Beal. “I obviously love scoring the ball. That’s something I never worry about. I want to continue to fill up the stat sheet a little bit more and contribute to the game in different areas. I think rebounding was something that hurt us a little bit last year.”

The Wizards host the Philadelphia 76ers to open the season Wednesday, and Brooks said it will take a team effort to defend emerging star Joel Embiid.

“He’s a problem,” said Brooks after Sunday’s practice. “His athleticism is off the charts. We’re going to have to do a good job of staying in front of him. You’re talking about a guy that can put the ball on the floor, that can get to spaces and spots that normally a 6-10 guy doesn’t.”

With a revamped bench, roster continuity and good health entering the season, the Wizards look like a team that could challenge the Cavaliers, Celtics and Raptors for supremacy in the East. Beal certainly seems to think so.

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NBA Opening Night Storylines

Hours before the 2017-18 season gets set to tip off, here are some storylines to follow for Tuesday’s games.

Dennis Chambers

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The long summer is over. We finally made it. NBA opening night is upon us.

Rejoice, hoop heads.

Because the NBA is a perfect concoction of chaos at all times, Tuesday’s opening night slate has some can’t-miss built in headlines that the entire league is going to be glued to.

With a new year set to begin, everyone is on the same page. Whether that page includes the likes of Kevin Durant and Steph Curry or Doug McDermott and Tim Hardaway Jr. is a different story. But still, Tuesday marks day one for all teams and as it stands they’re all equal.

As we get set to sit down and dissect these opening game matchups on Tuesday, let’s highlight the most intriguing storylines that will be followed for the rest of the season. There’s nothing like watching a story grown in the NBA from its inception, right?

Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers — 8 p.m. ET (TNT)

This is the game we’ve all been waiting for since late June, when Kyrie Irving let it be known to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert that he wanted out from under LeBron’s shadow.

Three years of NBA Finals appearances, the greatest comeback in basketball history, and a ring to show for was all Irving wanted to walk away from. For him, he felt it was his time to shine.

And because the NBA is the perfect mix of beautiful insanity, it would only make sense that Irving would get dealt to the very team that is jostling for position to unseat the Cavs and King James.

The Irving-led Boston Celtics will have to wait a grand total of one second in the new NBA season to begin their matchup with their point guards old teammates and the team that stands in between them a Finals appearance. With Gordon Hayward and Irving together for the first time against meaningful competition, there’s no better way than to check their fit from the jump than by challenging the conference champions in their building.

But Irving’s homecoming isn’t the only storyline heading into the first game of the season. There are some changes on Cleveland’s end as well.

While the main return for Irving — Isaiah Thomas — won’t be suiting up for the Cavs anytime soon due to injury, there are still plenty of new faces to keep an eye on Tuesday night. First and foremost, Flash is in town. After having his contract bought out by the Chicago Bulls, Dwyane Wade joined forces with his buddy in The Land in hopes of recapturing some of the magic that led them to two championships in South Beach.

By teaming up once again, James and Wade provide some of the best chemistry in the league. Yes, Wade isn’t the player he once was when he and James were winning rings. But something is to be said for knowing exactly where someone will be on the court at all times, and that’s the trait exactly that Wade and James share.

Along with Wade, James and the Cavs are hoping to get some type of resurgence from Derrick Rose and Jeff Green off of the bench. Once Thomas returns to the court for Cleveland, this is arguably the deepest team James has ever been around in Cleveland.

Even with Irving and Hayward on board, Boston will be relying on some role players of their own — namely Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The back-to-back third overall picks will occupy most of the time at the forward spots opposite of Hayward. As the season moves on, the development of both of these wings will be crucial to how dangerous the Celtics can be past their two star players.

Tuesday night will be must-see television at Quicken Loans Arena. New eras for the Eastern Conference heavyweights are about to begin.

And as James told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, “The Kid” will be just fine.

Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors — 10:30 p.m. ET (TNT)

On the Western side of the basketball landscape Tuesday night, the potential conference finals matchup will see its first act when the revamped Rockets head to the Bay Area.

Last season at this time, the basketball world was bracing for what the Warriors would look like after adding Kevin Durant to a 73-win team. And as expected, they dominated. Not even LeBron James could put a stop to them, managing just one win in their finals bout.

This year brings in more of the same questions. Can anyone stop the Warriors? Will Golden State just steamroll their way to another championship, effectively sucking the fun of competition out of the entire league?

Well, a few teams this offseason did their best to try and combat that narrative. One of them being the Rockets, who they added perennial all-star point guard Chris Paul to their backcourt.

Putting Paul in the same backcourt as superstar James Harden has the potential to create some of the biggest headaches for opposing teams. The constant ball movement and open looks the two star guards can provide are nearly endless.

While the league swoons over the Warriors’ ability to hit shots from well beyond the arc, it should be noted that it was Houston last year that led the NBA in three-point shooting, not Golden State. It’s certainly not wise to try and go toe-to-toe with the Warriors at their own game, but if there’s ever a team equipped to do it, it’s Houston. Tuesday night will provide a nice preview look at how things in the Western Conference could shake out in the coming months.

Aside from the barrage of scoring that will take place in this matchup, what would a big game be for the Warriors without a little Draymond Green trash talk?

After Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni told ESPN that, “You’re not gonna stop them. It’s just not gonna happen. They’re not gonna stop us, either,” Green clapped back with a comment of his own, as he always does.

“I don’t know how serious they take defense with that comment,” Green said. “But they added some good defensive players.”

It’s true, the Rockets aren’t considered a defensive stalwart by any means. Last season, Houston was 26th in points allowed, compared to second in points scored. Green may be onto something when it comes to questioning how serious his opponents take defense.

That being said, last year’s Rockets didn’t feature Paul. Even at the age of 32, Paul is still one of the league’s best on-ball defenders. And no matter his age, he’ll always possess that competitive fire he’s been known for over the last 12 years.

Going up against the Warriors at Oracle is usually nothing short of impossible, but if there’s going to be a team to challenge their supremacy this season, we’ll get a good look at how they stack up on night one.

With all of this in mind, let’s not forget that the world’s best league is finally back in action. Give yourself a pat on the back, you made it. Now, go enjoy some basketball.

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