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NBA PM: Joel Embiid, Trusting the Process

After winning six of eight, everyone in Philadelphia has put their faith in The Process, writes Moke Hamilton.

Moke Hamilton

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Before he knew it, suddenly, Jason Terry found himself trapped in the corner. By the time Ersan Ilyasova managed to come away with the loose ball, he took a look up the floor and recognized one of his teammates ahead of the pack.

Without hesitation, Ilyasova channeled his inner Aaron Rodgers and hurled a bomb. Joel Embiid received it just beyond the center circle, took a few dribbles, eluded Malcolm Brogdon, rose majestically and threw down a thunderous dunk that sucked the life out of Milwaukee’s Bradley Center.

Twenty-two points, 12 rebounds and five blocks later, the Philadelphia 76ers had won their sixth game in their past eight contests.

This is The Process.

Back in 1999, Jeff Van Gundy had famously fallen out with New York Knicks general manager Ernie Grunfeld. In attempting to help Patrick Ewing and Van Gundy get the Knicks over the hump, Grunfeld determined that the Knicks needed some new blood and made a few moves to make the team younger and more athletic. Among the moves was a trade completed on June 25, 1998. Grunfeld agreed to send franchise favorite Charles Oakley to the Toronto Raptors in exchange for Marcus Camby.

With the Knicks struggling during the lockout-truncated 1998-99 season, Grunfeld was demoted. Camby and Latrell Sprewell—one of Grunfeld’s other prized acquisitions—would help lead the Knicks to the 1999 NBA Finals and be productive players for the franchise for many years. He just wasn’t around to see it all come to fruition.

The Knicks organization, apparently, wasn’t willing to trust the process. Neither were the Philadelphia 76ers.

Former general manager Sam Hinkie currently resides in Palo Alto, California, but his fingerprints remain on the Sixers as if he resided on Broad Street. His players, his decisions, his guts and, above all, his former draft pick, Joel Embiid.

Make no mistake about it, the Sixers have turned a corner, and it’s mostly because the Cameroonian center has proven to be worth the wait. Embiid, to this point, has delivered on every bit of his promise. His per-36-minute averages of 28 points, 11 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 3.5 blocks become all the more impressive considering when one considers that Embiid is effectively playing in his rookie season. Although he has had time to train under the rigors of NBA conditions and with its technology, his rapid ascent and production give him a very real opportunity of earning a spot as an Eastern Conference All-Star this season, which was absolutely unfathomable entering the season.

Obviously, there is no telling how good Embiid may end up being in the long run, but he has already helped carry the Sixers franchise to places it hasn’t been in several years.

With the aforementioned victory against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Sixers enter play on January 18 having won six of their past eight games. After winning a combined total of 47 games over the past three seasons, one would have to go all the way back to November of 2012 to find such a stretch.

What’s most encouraging about Embiid, however, is something that’s intangible: his spirit.

Those who have spent time around the young center often come away from him being encouraged by and positively attracted to his attitude. Evidenced by his jovial nature on social media, Embiid strikes the difficult balance of not taking himself too seriously but approaching his preparation with maturity and a business-like focus. According to some close to the organization, he has never had trouble taking the long view and understanding that some of the minor frustrations he experiences today are in his future best interests.

What’s been most noticeable about Embiid, however, has been his impact on his teammates and on the culture in Brett Brown’s locker room. For the past few years, the Sixers have been going about their business almost like a rudderless ship. There’s only so long that young men can hear about “patience” and “process” and remain steadfast to a vision without seeing any return on their investments. But when Embiid shows up and plays, he gives both his head coach and the vision that Brown has for his team a credibility that could only be bought by using incremental success as its currency.

So that’s where we are. Embiid has lifted an entire team and fan base and has improbably risen as the chosen one of the triumvirate of Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor and himself. With Ben Simmons inching toward his own debut and the young Sixers suddenly believing in their ability to compete, in Philadelphia, finally, trust abounds.

Sure, the road back to contention will be long. Entering play on January 18, the Sixers find themselves trailing the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference by six games. Qualifying appears unlikely, but that may not be a bad thing. The 2017 NBA Draft is believed to be one of the deepest drafts in recent memory, and the Sixers appear to have an inside track to another two, potentially franchise-altering picks. Aside from owning their own, they may end up with the pick of the Los Angeles Lakers, which is top-three protected.

Although there still may be a bit of losing in the immediate future of the Sixers, it’s obvious that Embiid has already done wonders for the franchise. So long as he can stay healthy, it is safe to say that the corner is being turned.

Across the country, even Sam Hinkie can see that.

Back in 2014, in selecting Embiid with the third overall pick of the draft, Hinkie took a monumental risk as he was embarking down the path of rebuilding the Sixers into a respectable franchise.

Back then, he began the process. And now, finally, the process has started to turn things around for the 76ers. His name is Joel Embiid.

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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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