Over the last three years, basketball has taken Guerschon Yabusele to Rouen, France, Shanghai, China and Portland, Maine. Even at the young age of 21, it’s safe to say that Yabusele has already been around the world and back — but now he’s looking to make a permanent home in Boston with the Celtics.
The Celtics, for all their innumerable headlines about the arrival of Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, are still significantly short on game-changing rebounders. Last season, the Celtics pulled down 42 rebounds per night, tied for the fourth-worst mark in the NBA. Of those 42 rebounds, Al Horford led the team with 6.8, followed by Avery Bradley (6.1), Jae Crowder (5.8), Kelly Olynyk (4.8) and Amir Johnson (4.6). Besides the oddity of a 6-foot-2 guard starring as an Eastern Conference finalist’s second-best rebounder, the other thing worth noting is that, outside of Horford, they’ve all since left the franchise.
Given their clear need to upgrade in the rebounding department, a large portion of Boston’s summer signings were made with that detail in mind. Of course, the Celtics began free agency by officially signing Ante Žižić, another overseas stash akin to Yabusele, but the center was included alongside Isaiah Thomas and Crowder in August’s blockbuster deal for the aforementioned Irving. In addition to Yabusele, Boston signed both Aron Baynes and Daniel Theis to bench unit roles by the end of July as well. Still, Baynes and Theis own career rebounding averages of just 4.1 and 4.6, respectively, so neither are likely to be Boston’s much-needed savior in that realm anyway.
Heading into his rookie season with the Celtics at long last, there’s a clear niche that the nimble-footed Yabusele can fill immediately.
“My mindset every time I step on the court is to give everything, up and down the floor, offense, defense and I just want to be the best,” Yabusele said at last week’s media day in Canton, Massachusetts. “Defensively, I’m gonna be there. If you have the jump on the ball, I’m gonna be here. I just really try to give everything on the court, then [I] have no regret after the game.”
Although none of his stops thus far will completely prepare Yabusele for the bigger, faster and stronger competition that awaits him in the NBA, he’s passed the eye test each time with flying colors. With Rouen in 2015-16 — Pro A of Ligue Nationale de Basket, France’s highest level — Yabusele averaged 11.5 points and 6.8 rebounds in 28.7 minutes per game. Despite the team’s 17th-place finish and subsequent relegation, Yabusele’s impressive season-long performance convinced the Celtics to reach on the power forward with the No. 16 overall selection back in the 2016 NBA Draft.
Shortly after summer league, the Celtics decided to stash Yabusele for another year and the affectionately nicknamed Dancing Bear ended up with the Shanghai Sharks for most of the season. In China, Yabusele flourished and he averaged a healthy 20.9 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, even earning a berth as a CBA All-Star. To finish the year off, Yabusele joined the Maine Red Claws, Boston’s G-League affiliate, where he averaged 18.5 points and 10 rebounds over the final two regular season games.
Sure, the sample size and weaker competition is definitely a factor in Yabusele’s inflated statistics up until this point, but there’s a fair chance that he’ll quickly stand out as one of the Celtics’ best rebounders.
“That kid can play,” Horford told Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald. “You look at his body and the way that he can move. . . he can really shoot the ball. He has a really good feel for the game. He just has a really good feel, and he plays hard, so I just think that people are going to love him.”
On top of being an able rebounder, Yabusele has steadily improved as a three-point shooter since Boston selected him. During his final season in France, Yabusele attempted just 1.8 three-pointers per game and although he made 42.6 percent of them, it’s not really enough to draw any significant conclusions. But following the draft and his one summer league stint with Boston, Yabusele was firing away in China to the tune of 1.9 makes to 5.2 attempts per contest, good for a manageable 36.4 percent conversion rate.
From the season’s outset, Yabusele will be a reasonable replacement for Olynyk, a solid stretch four when presumed starter Marcus Morris needs a breather. Already, Yabusele seems extremely confident as a ball handler and his body control is uncanny for an athlete his size. Perhaps surprisingly, Yabusele isn’t often found posting up, but instead driving at defenders as if he had the chemical makeup of a guard, all 6-foot-8 and 260 pounds of him. His versatile scoring abilities will help the Celtics take full advantage of the attention funneled toward Hayward, Irving, Horford and the rest of the roster’s adept scorers.
Offensively, there’s no denying Yabusele’s talent and that extra season overseas has become a massive win for general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.
“I’m getting better in my shot and I have no fear putting the ball on the floor, just do what I can do to go to the rim and finish strong,” Yabusele said. “So, I’m not even afraid about the travel [even though] I know it’s a little bit different than in Europe.”
For all of the well-deserved praise Boston has received this summer, it’s been easy to look past the quiet arrival of Yabusele. However, the Celtics still have extremely high internal expectations for 2017-18 despite the return of just four players from last year’s roster. Needless to say, if the Celtics want to reach the Eastern Conference Finals again — and perhaps even further — they’ll need some unheralded heroes to step up and provide quality minutes off the bench.
The smart money, at least in the frontcourt, is on Yabusele, the Celtics’ former international man of mystery. If the Frenchman can become a reliable rebounder and three-point shooter for Boston, he won’t likely stay unknown for much longer. As for his permanent move to a new country and lifestyle, Yabusele sounds like he’s already made a smooth transition off the court as well.
“I always say that America is not really different from France, it’s pretty much the same,” Yabusele said. “So, it’s not really a big transition for me to be here and, I don’t know, I’m just happy to be here, so I just enjoy every moment and everywhere I go.”
Sooner rather than later, the Celtics will be really happy to have Yabusele here too.
NBA Daily: The Carmelo Anthony Trade is a Rare Win-Win for All Involved
It is rare for a trade to be beneficial for all parties, but the Thunder-Hawks-76ers swap has the makings of a win-win-win situation.
The Big Three Era in Oklahoma City came and went rather quickly.
On Thursday, the Thunder reached an agreement to trade Carmelo Anthony and a protected 2022 first-round draft pick to the Atlanta Hawks for guard Dennis Schröder, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. As part of a three-team deal with the Philadelphia 76ers, the Thunder will also walk away with Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot while the Hawks and 76ers swap Mike Muscala and Justin Anderson.
Oklahoma City has agreed to trade Carmelo Anthony and a protected 2022 first-round pick to Atlanta for point guard Dennis Schroder and Mike Muscala, league sources tell ESPN. Anthony will be waived, and he will join team of his choice. Rockets are frontrunner.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 19, 2018
It is rare for a trade to be beneficial for all parties, but the Thunder-Hawks-76ers swap has the makings of a win-win-win situation. Just as well, the trade is perhaps even more beneficial for the players involved.
While Anthony may have wanted to stay with Russell Westbrook and Paul George, the trade is more than beneficial for him. After the trade goes through, the Hawks plan to buyout Anthony’s contract and he will reportedly receive the entire $27.9 million he is owed next season. Even better still, Anthony is free to join any team he wants, whether it be the Houston Rockets and friend Chris Paul, the Los Angeles Lakers and friend LeBron James, or elsewhere.
With his money already in hand, Anthony could sign on the cheap as well, making negotiations with any franchise that much easier.
For the Thunder, clearing Anthony’s massive salary from their books was of paramount importance. Staring down a $150 million luxury tax bill, Sam Presti managed to move Anthony and improve the team or, at the very least, make a lateral move depending on how you look at Schröder. Even as they take back the remaining $46.5 million owed to Schröder, the Thunder will save more than $60 million next season alone. That makes the trade worth it for Oklahoma City all by itself.
Still, the move allowed them to fill a need, perhaps more important than the cash savings as they look ahead to next season. Schröder not only fortifies the Thunder bench but the point guard position behind starter Russell Westbrook as well; he is another athletic playmaker that Oklahoma City can play on the wing with confidence. And, after averaging a career-high 19.4 points per game to go along with 6.2 assists last season, Schröder provides the Thunder offense with more firepower to compete against the other top teams in the Western Conference, a necessity if they hope to make a long playoff run.
For Schröder, the move to Oklahoma City is just as beneficial for him as it is for the team. Schröder is no longer the starter (he was unlikely to be the starter in Atlanta with Trae Young in the fold), but he can still make an impact and now he can do so for a contender.
The Hawks, as they should be, are playing the long game here. They acquired Jeremy Lin, an expiring contract, from the Brooklyn Nets earlier this offseason. After drafting Young, their guard surplus afforded them the chance to move Schröder’s deal off their books, netting them a first-round pick in the process and opening up playing time for the Young right away.
While the pick is top-14 protected (the pick becomes two second rounders if it doesn’t convey in 2022, every asset counts as the Hawks will look to add talent through the draft for years to come. With the addition of the Thunder pick, the Hawks now are owed an extra three first-round picks between the 2019 and 2022 drafts, a benefit for the Hawks whether they use those picks or trade them for already established talent. Meanwhile, Anderson, 24, presents another intriguing, and more importantly, young, option alongside the core of Young, Kevin Huerter, John Collins and Taurean Prince.
Anderson will almost certainly receive more playing time in Atlanta as they figure out who and who can’t help the team. His time in Philadelphia was mired by injury and he never had the opportunity to show what he could do. So, whether they use him as an asset in a future trade or plan to keep him on the roster, Anderson, at the very least, will have the opportunity to show what he can do.
For the 76ers, Muscala is essentially insurance for the reneged deal with Nemanja Bjelica. Bjelica agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the team but the stretch-four never signed his contract and backed out of the deal. With him out of the picture along with losing Ersan Ilyasova, Muscala was one of the few remaining options for the 76ers in that specific, stretch-big role.
Muscala doesn’t have the same shooting chops that Bjelica has, but he is younger and might have more upside alongside Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and co. Last season, Muscala, in addition to career highs in points and rebounds, averaged a career-high 3.2 three-pointers per game and hit 37.1 percent of them. While he likely won’t see the playing time he saw in Atlanta, Muscala should easily slide into a role off the bench for the 76ers. Moving Anderson and Luwawu-Cabarrot clears a logjam on the wing as well and will afford more minutes to Markelle Fultz (when he is ready), T.J. McConnell and rookies Zhaire Smith and Furkan Korkmaz.
As it stands, this trade made sense for all parties involved, and that alone is reason enough to consider it a win all around. While things could certainly change and hindsight is 20/20, this deal is beneficial for all three teams right now could impact all three squads both next season and beyond.
NBA Daily: Grayson Allen Ready for NBA Challenge
Making it in the NBA alone is quite an impressive feat, which is why Grayson Allen is doing the best he can to prepare for the big stage.
Grayson Allen may not be the most hyped-up prospect to come out of this year’s draft, but he is one of the more experienced rookies coming into the league this season.
Allen spent four years learning under the tutelage of Coach K at Duke University while also playing with the likes of Brandon Ingram, Jayson Tatum, and Marvin Bagley III. He’s been through it all at the collegiate level, but he knows that if he’s going to make it in the pros, he’s going to have to adapt as quickly as possible.
“I have to set the tone for myself where I have to know playing in the NBA as a rookie, guys are going to be physical with you,” Allen said. “They’re going to come at you, they’re going to test you and see what you got. You’re gonna get beat. You’re gonna fail, but you gotta come right back at ‘em the next time.”
Since debuting in the summer league, Allen’s been the perfect storm for the Jazz. His shooting numbers have not been encouraging, but his numbers across the board have shown how impactful a player he can be. These have been his stat lines in both the Salt Lake and Las Vegas summer leagues.
July 2 vs. San Antonio: 11 points on 4/16 shooting including 2/6 from three, eight rebounds, seven assists
July 5 vs. Atlanta: 9 points on 2/13 shooting including 0/2 from three, six rebounds, eight assists
July 7 vs. Portland: 16 points on 6/17 shooting including 2/9 from three, six rebounds, six assists
July 19 vs. Miami: 17 points on 7/17 shooting including ⅕ from three, seven rebounds, three assists
Maybe it’s been the dry climate, or maybe it’s been the high Utah elevation that has caused Allen’s struggles shooting-wise, but the fact that his all-around game has shined despite his shooting woes should excite the Jazz. After his summer league play, Allen says the biggest adjustment he’s had to make offensively is acclimating himself with the pace of the game.
“Offensively, it’s a lot easier when you slow down,” Allen said. “I’m starting to see the space of the floor a lot better and finding the open guys. There’s still a few plays out there where I think I got a little antsy but it’s human nature and I’m trying to fight it right now. As a rookie playing in his first couple of games, I’m trying to fight that and play under control.”
On the other side of the ball, Allen says the biggest adjustment is the increased level of physicality in the pros.
“Defensively, it’s physical,” Allen said. “You gotta fight guys. You gotta get through screens. I mean, the bigs, they really set great screens, so you gotta be able to fight through that… If you’re tired on defense, they’ll find you.”
Allen knows that he needs to commit if he’s going to make it in the NBA, which requires eliminating all bad habits. In order to eliminate any habit that Allen has, which in his case is fatigue at the moment, Allen believes that he needs to be more mindful of himself when he’s physically drained.
“I try to be really self-aware of my habits when I get tired out there,” Allen said. “On defense, I have a habit when I’m tired, I stand up and my feet are flat. On offense, I’m not ready for the shot… I try to be really self-aware of that stuff so that in practice or in August, September, October, leading up to the regular season, I can have good habits when I’m tired because we got a short leash as a rookie. You don’t have many mistakes to make.”
In Utah, Allen will be playing for a team that exceeded all expectation last year and has a much higher bar to reach this season. He believes the summer the league should serve him well as he fights for minutes in the Jazz’ rotation.
“I’m joining a playoff team, so I gotta carve out a role with the guys they already have,” Allen said. “When I’m playing in summer league, I’m trying to play the right way. Don’t take too many tough shots, find the right guy, make the right pass.- Because when you come and play for Quin Snyder, that’s what he’s gonna want. He’s just gonna want you to play the right way.”
When Adam Silver announced that Utah was taking Allen with the 21st overall pick, the general masses laughed due to Utah, a state with a white-bread reputation, took a white player. Given that Allen just played four years of basketball at one of the best college basketball programs in the nation and will be starting his career playing for one of the most well-run organizations in the league, he may be the one laughing when it’s all over.
In other words, Grayson Allen playing in Utah could be quite the trip.
NBA Daily: Credit Ujiri And Raptors For Taking The Risk
Perhaps emboldened by OKC’s ability to retain Paul George, the Raptors are taking a gamble of their own.
In any given NBA season, at the most, there are only five legitimate title contenders in play. The rest of the league could be considered as either on the rise, middle of the pack or in the hunt for a lottery pick.
There are far too many teams around the league that are content with solely making the playoffs while not seriously contending for a title. This is why the Toronto Raptors organization along with team president Masai Ujiri should be given credit for taking the ultimate gamble in acquiring a top-five player, even one who could amount to a one-year rental.
The Raptors shipped four-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan, center Jakob Poeltl and a protected first-round pick to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for former NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and veteran wing Danny Green.
The move is the ultimate gamble for an organization that has turned itself into a perennial playoff presence with five consecutive postseason appearances and three straight 50-win campaigns. DeRozan, 28, was locked under contract the next three seasons and the organization could have theoretically decided to ride the DeRozan and fellow All-Star guard Kyle Lowry duo until the proverbial wheels fell off.
But instead, Ujiri unexpectedly shipped their star player, who wanted to be in Toronto long-term, to acquire Leonard who reportedly has his eyes dead set on joining one of the Los Angeles franchises once he hits free agency in 2019.
Think about this for a moment.
While Toronto has served as LeBron James’ playoff punching bag as of late, make no mistake, Raptors basketball is undoubtedly experiencing the peak of its golden era.
Sure, the team’s former stars such as Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and Chris Bosh will likely go down in history considered better than DeRozan (and Lowry). But none of the aforementioned players led the franchise to a 50-win season while with the organization. None of those guys led the Raptors to a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. DeRozan was a vital cog in breaking new ground while with the team, defiantly re-signing with the Raptors despite overtures from his hometown Los Angeles Lakers in 2016.
Perhaps emboldened by the success the Oklahoma City Thunder recently had in taking a similar risk last summer, the Raptors took the gamble. The Thunder traded for All-Star forward Paul George, who also reportedly also had Los Angeles dreams, last summer, and were able to convince the wing to re-sign earlier this month to a long-term deal.
Toronto has never been a free agency hot spot and the aforementioned stars all forced their way out of town early in their careers. What if Leonard doesn’t buy the soup Ujiri is cooking? There are already some reports stating the forward has no desire to play with the Raptors at all.
Even if this is the case, Ujiri and company still have options. Leonard can still be dealt before next February’s trade deadline. Ujiri could theoretically create a bidding war between the Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers for Leonard’s services with an attractive.
At the bare minimum, the Raptors are all-in this season for a championship run in an Eastern Conference no longer facing the talents of LeBron James. If things don’t work out, DeRozan’s $54 million owed after this season is off the books. Lowry will be owed $33 million in 2020 but could potentially be an attractive expiring contract. All of this to say, the Raptors are simultaneously preparing for a title run and bracing for a rebuild of their current roster.
Far too many teams become content with just making the playoffs and not rocking the boat. Ujiri took his shot to boost the Raptors up the league’s hierarchy. The ultimate risk. Much respect for taking it.