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NBA PM: Jameer Nelson is the Leader the Nuggets Need

Jameer Nelson has been a vital leader for the Nuggets this year, writes Cody Taylor.

Cody Taylor

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As players progress through their careers, some become clear candidates to earn head coaching positions after their playing days. History has shown that most of these players proved to be great leaders for their teams on and off of the court – former players like Jason Kidd, Earl Watson, Luke Walton and Tyronn Lue are all some of the recent examples of players becoming head coaches. All of those guys with the exception of Walton were point guards, often in charge of leading their teams.

If Jameer Nelson wants to eventually become a head coach one day, though, current coach Mike Malone jokingly advises him against it. Malone cautioned him on the idea not because Nelson wouldn’t be a great candidate, but because of all the headaches that come with the job.

Many people – both inside and outside the organization – believe Nelson has shown the necessary traits as a player that would translate well into becoming a head coach, however. At 34 years old, Nelson is the second oldest player on the Denver Nuggets behind only 36-year-old Mike Miller.

In just a little over two seasons with the Nuggets, Nelson has established himself as one of the most important players on the team. While he’s obviously not the leading scorer on a nightly basis, his leadership inside the locker room has become extremely valuable.

“Jameer is obviously a guy that is very valued within the organization as a player being a former All-Star [and] playing in the Finals,” Malone said. “He brings a lot to the table in terms of helping [the younger players]. Jameer has seen everything in the NBA that the league has to offer.

“Jameer is the leader of our team. It’s been important because we have so many young players on this team. It’s great to have a young guy that can look to a guy like Jameer and how to act on and off of the court.”

Over the course of his 13 years in the NBA, Nelson has experienced a lot. He spent 10 years with the Orlando Magic, was an All-Star in 2009 and was a member of the Magic team that went on to play the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2009 Finals.

Some players over the years have shown that they’re willing to embrace the role as the leader on the team. Watching Nelson interact with his teammates on and off of the court, it’s clear that he enjoys offering his wisdom to the team’s younger group of players and leading them on the court. He recently had the entire team over to his house for dinner in Philadelphia.

“It’s my personality,” Nelson said. “I’ve been a leader my entire career — in my life and all of the sports that I’ve played. It’s just natural. When you work hard and guys see that, they know you’re a student of the game and they come to you and ask you questions. For me, that’s a blessing to have guys that want to learn and ask me questions since I’ve been in the league [for 13 seasons].”

During his time with the Magic, Nelson and Dwight Howard helped lead the franchise to six trips to the postseason, highlighted by that run to the Finals in 2009. Nelson still ranks among the franchise’s all-time leaders in several categories, including first in assists, second in total games played and third in minutes played.

He was drafted in 2004 by the Nuggets and then later traded to the Magic on draft night. That was the same draft class that saw Howard taken with the first overall pick by the Magic. As Nelson and Howard entered the league as rookies, they were mentored by the likes of Grant Hill, Stacey Augmon and others. Nelson still credits those players for helping him that first year.

“One of the guys that took me under his wing was Grant Hill,” Nelson recalled. “Steve Francis [was another one]. Stacey Augmon was probably one of the biggest supporters of mine my first year. He made me stay in the gym and I appreciate it.”

After the Howard era ended in 2012, Nelson stayed on board with the team for another two seasons before he was waived during the summer of 2014. He signed that offseason with the Dallas Mavericks and was traded to the Boston Celtics after playing in just 23 games with Dallas. Less than a month later he was traded from the Celtics to the Nuggets, where he has played since.

Nelson is experiencing some of the best success of his career as a member of the Nuggets this season. He played sparingly last season during his first full year in Denver after suffering a wrist injury that sidelined him for about 16 games. While he attempted to recover from the injury, the Nuggets acquired D.J. Augustin through a trade and Nelson fell to the third-string at point guard behind Augustin and Emmanuel Mudiay.

Nelson has played a bigger role this season with a couple of players out injured – guards Will Barton and Gary Harris have each been sidelined due to various injuries already this season. With the increased role, Nelson has taken full advantage of it. In 24 games, he’s averaging 9.7 points, 4.5 assists and 2.9 rebounds in 26.9 minutes per game. He currently leads the team in assists.

Perhaps the biggest area in which Nelson has improved is his shooting. He’s currently shooting 38.6 percent from three-point range, the best he’s shot since the 2010-11 season in Orlando. His effective field-goal percentage, which adjusts for the fact a three-point field goal is worth one more point than a two-point field goal, is the highest it has been since his All-Star year in 2009.

Due to the injuries, Nelson has started seven games thus far this season. In those starts, he’s averaging 14 points, 5.9 assists and 3.3 rebounds per game. During a three-game stretch at the end of November, he had an outing with 17 points and back-to-back games where he scored 21 points each.

“Jameer is playing at a high level for us,” Malone said. “We’ve had so many injuries. We’ve been without Will Barton [and] Gary Harris for extended periods of time. I’ve been playing Jameer at the one [and] at the two upwards to 25 to 30 minutes a night. He’s taken full advantage of the opportunity he’s been given.”

Nelson was asked after the team’s win over the Magic on Saturday night about the work that he’s put in that has allowed him to continue playing at a high level, and he responded directly: “I’ve never taken a summer off. That’s all I can say.”

While many agree Nelson would make for a great head coaching candidate one day, it remains to be seen what he’ll do after he’s done playing. He still has another year left on his contract following this season and hasn’t said what his plans are after that.

While his own head coach advised him against coaching, he also finished up that same sentence by admitting that Nelson would make “a hell of a coach because he has a passion for it, he knows the game and he has a very good way about communicating with people.”

It sounds like Nelson has at least one endorsement waiting for him.

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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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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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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