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NBA PM: Lin Ready for Fresh Start With Lakers

Jeremy Lin is thrilled to join the Lakers. He’s excited for the fresh start and the opportunity to thrive on the NBA’s biggest stage.

Alex Kennedy

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Lin Ready for Fresh Start With Lakers

It is 2 a.m. on July 12 and Jeremy Lin is asleep in his Beijing hotel room. He’s in the midst of his annual Asia tour, which spans several weeks and features basketball clinics and publicity events across China and Taiwan, so he’ll take every moment of shuteye he can get. The trip is going well, allowing Lin to escape from all of the drama back home – the constant trade rumors, the controversy over the Houston Rockets using his jersey number to recruit Carmelo Anthony and the comments from Daryl Morey hinting a Lin trade was inevitable because “it’s just math.”

Here, thousands of miles away, Lin can relax and not worry about all of that.

At least, that’s what he had hoped.

Moments later, Lin is awakened. His cell phone starts ringing and buzzing non-stop. He knows it could only mean one thing. He recognizes his agent’s number and answers the phone. Just as he had suspected, the Rockets have traded him. Lin had seen the writing on the wall for quite some time, he just wasn’t sure when the move would be finalized or which team would acquire him. His agent tells him that he is being dealt to the Los Angeles Lakers. Lin proceeds to wake up his family, friends and associates to share the news. By the next morning, he is on a flight to Los Angeles to take a physical.

JeremyLinInsideonlyWhile it’s never fun to get that kind of life-changing phone call at 2 a.m. on the opposite end of the world, Lin couldn’t contain his excitement when he heard he was L.A.-bound. The 25-year-old had no idea where Houston was going to ship him, but he was ecstatic when he found out that his next team would be the Lakers. He would get to return to California, where he was born and raised, and learn from future Hall of Fame guards like Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash. He also recognized that he would have an excellent opportunity to contribute in Los Angeles, since Nash’s injuries have left the team searching for a starting point guard. Throw in the franchise’s incredible history and the national exposure that comes with donning purple and gold and it seems like the perfect landing spot for Lin.

I was extremely excited,” Lin told Basketball Insiders in a phone interview. “I thought it was great for me to have a new opportunity and a new situation, and I thought that would be an awesome start. I thought it would be cool, obviously, going to L.A. since I’m from California and I have a lot of friends and family out there. I thought it would be a great opportunity playing-wise too, so I was really excited and ready to get out there.

I mean, it’s by far the most prestigious organization I’ve ever been a part of, obviously with all of the championships and just the level that it’s traditionally been known to be at. I think it’s a challenge for us to get the team back to where it was before and I think we have an opportunity to really surprise people this year. I think people aren’t expecting too much from us, and maybe they shouldn’t, but we’re hoping that we obviously do a lot better than anticipated.”

People often forget that Lin is just 25 years old and that he has only started 140 games throughout the course of his four-year career. Linsanity – his epic run with the New York Knicks – made him a household name, but it’s important to realize that he’s still a young player whose best basketball is likely still ahead of him. He’s looking forward to continuing his development in Los Angeles.

“I definitely don’t think I’m close to my prime yet,” Lin said with a laugh. “I’m 25 years old and I think because of the way things have happened, people always think I’m older or I’ve been around longer than I really have. I’ve played two full seasons in the NBA – two full seasons and those 25 games in New York. I guess people have been very quick to write me off just because they saw how it started and then they saw what I was like in Houston, but I have to just keep reminding myself it’s a marathon. If, God willing, I can still play another 10 years, I think it’s just the beginning for me.”

As he continues to expand his game, he’ll have two Hall of Fame guards alongside him in the backcourt, which should do wonders for his development. Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant have been injured in recent years, but Lin is hoping to pick their brains and learn as much as he can from his legendary teammates.

“It’s really exciting,” Lin said of playing with Bryant and Nash. “What can’t you learn from them? People have been asking that question a lot, and it’s kind of, like, I want to learn everything. Kobe is a little different just because he’s a different position, but there’s just so much from a mental aspect and from like a recovery standpoint and so many different things like footwork [that he can teach me]. There are things that both of them can teach me, so I’m actually really, really excited. I’m hoping our team gets out there early or something before camp so I can start spending more time with them right away.”

Last season, Lin averaged 12.5 points and 4.1 assists in 71 games for the Rockets. He came off of the bench behind Patrick Beverley for much of the season, but was serviceable when put in the starting lineup, averaging 14.2 points and 4.5 assists in 33 starts. He had several monster games that got the fans dreaming of Linsanity 2.0, such as a back-to-back in November in which he had 34 points, 11 assists and 5 rebounds against the Philadelphia 76ers, just one game after he poured in 31 points on 10-17 shooting against the Toronto Raptors.

However, even though he experienced some success in Houston and emerged as a contributor, he’s not surprised that his time with the Rockets came to an end. He realized that he wasn’t part of their long-term plan and now he’s just happy to move on and be out of the rumor mill.

“The writing was kind of on the wall,” Lin said of his time in Houston. “For me, I just felt like they were heading in a different direction, which is okay and I totally understand it from a business standpoint. They want to get that third superstar and so I think guys like me, Omer [Asik] and Chandler [Parsons], we knew that they wanted a third superstar, that was no secret, and we knew it would be hard to keep us if they were to do that. I think maybe the thing I was most shocked by is that they didn’t get the third superstar, but they lost what they traded away anyway. I thought for sure they would get a third superstar, I just didn’t know who. I kind of felt like the writing was on the wall for me and that my time in Houston was winding down.”

The Lakers recently named Byron Scott the team’s new head coach, and the two men can’t wait to work together. Scott has worked with a number of star-level point guards throughout his coaching career, including Jason Kidd on the Nets, Chris Paul on the Hornets and Kyrie Irving on the Cavaliers.

“The thing I like about Jeremy is that he’s feisty,” Scott said. “He’s tough. He competes. I’ve coached against him in a number of games, so I know how he is. He’s a competitor. The point guard position in this league today, on the defensive end, is vital. Guys don’t have to be great one-on-one defenders, but they have to go after you. They have to just continue to be persistent at that end of the floor. I think Jeremy is like that, and offensively, obviously he can shoot the ball, he can push the ball up and down the floor, he gets to the basket and he’s a very, very intelligent basketball player. After coaching against him for a few years, it’s going to be fun to coach him.”

“I think it’s great,” Lin said of the decision to hire Scott. “I think the first thing that he talked about from a public standpoint was reestablishing the franchise, the team and the emphasis on defense. I think that’s great, and I think that’s how you have to win games. If you look at the top four teams, the top two from the East and the top two from the West, they’re always top five, top 10, in the NBA in defensive efficiency. I know that’s been one of my weaknesses in the past, but I truly believe I’m a much better defensive player now and I think I’ll be able to contribute a lot to this team.”

Lin has made the playoffs over the last two seasons with the Rockets, and he’s expecting to do the same with the Lakers even in the insanely competitive Western Conference. He knows it will take a huge leap in the standings considering L.A. is coming off of a franchise-worst 27-55 record, but he’s optimistic that the pieces are in place for a postseason run. When asked if making the playoffs is his top goal entering the 2014-15 season, Lin doesn’t hesitate.

“Yeah, it is, for me,” Lin said. “I haven’t spoken with my teammates about what our team goal is, but I don’t ever go into a season not expecting to fight for a playoff spot, and I think we have the pieces. I think Carlos Boozer is just, like, really good. I don’t know; people seem to be [doubting him]. Maybe his stock has fallen over the last couple of years, but people forget he’s a career 18 and nine guy. He puts up numbers like that. And I heard Kobe is healthy, so I think we’ll be just fine.”

Lin’s life has been a whirlwind since his breakout 25-game stint with the Knicks back in the 2011-12 season. His ascent to stardom was so unique because it basically happened overnight. One day, he’s the undrafted kid out of Harvard who is riding the Knicks’ bench and being stopped by security on the way into Madison Square Garden. Then, all of a sudden, he’s one of the most recognizable faces on earth and everybody’s favorite underdog. He still has to pinch himself sometimes to confirm that this is all real.

“Does this ever feel surreal?” I asked him.

“Yeah, every day. Every day,” Lin said with a laugh. “Every day it’s something a little different, you know I might just be walking around and there might be someone who’s just like over-the-top excited, or I might go on an Asia trip and fans are going crazy, or it might just be like me at home on a computer and I might look and see all the adidas stuff that I have and just the fact that I have an endorsement. There are just so many reminders of how crazy this journey has been. There are definitely times when I still have to remind myself like, ‘Wow, this is real.’

“It’s a journey. I’m going through it together with my family and friends because I’m not the only one affected. My family and my friends, they are all affected and we’ve all had to go through similar things in terms of learning how to navigate this world and being able to figure out who to trust and how to put ourselves in good positions versus risky positions. I think we all are going to go through this journey, this process, together and we’re all learning together and I think that makes it easier because it’s not really squarely on my shoulders. I do think, in a sense, my family and close friends still see me the same, they still see me as more like kid Jeremy, or whatever, so I don’t think they see me that differently. They’re not like, ‘Oh wow, we’re going to treat you differently because of this or that.’”

Early on, Lin would get very stressed out trying to juggle all of the demands and pressure that come with being in the spotlight. Everyone wants a piece of his time. At one point, during the height of Linsanity, club promoters were offering a ridiculous sum – over $1,000 – to anyone who could pass along Lin’s phone number.

Speaking of ridiculous, consider this. There’s a chance that Lin may be voted on to the Western Conference All-Star team this season as a starter. That may seem crazy when you look at some of the other guards in the conference, but he racked up 883,809 votes last year – third behind only Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul. Now, with the combined support of Lakers Nation and the international audience, Lin may be able to get the necessary votes to be an All-Star.

As crazy as things can get, Lin has gotten used to the lifestyle and grown accustomed to these previously-unfamiliar situations.

“I think being overwhelmed is just part of it,” Lin said. “Theoretically, I like to say, ‘Make sure I never get overwhelmed,’ but the fact of the matter is that’s going to happen. It’s going to happen quite often. I think it’s more just how you deal with it and building a support network around it, and being able to deal with certain situations. I’m not always going to control the situations, but how I handle those situations, I think I’m getting better at it, growing and I think that’s where the spiritual aspect of things helps me a lot, just being able to deal with the stress and the pressure.”

Lin’s laid-back attitude helps him decompress. He doesn’t worry about critics or things that are out of his control, and that has removed a lot of unnecessary stress from his life.

“I used to get pretty upset [at haters] or maybe not understand where the hate was coming from,” Lin said. “It didn’t seem like it made sense to me. I felt like the reasons for hate weren’t anything necessarily related to, like, a bad decision or anything from my end, it was just maybe more because of the attention. But again that’s one of those things where it’s kind of like, it happened, it is what it is and that’s just part of life. I’m not really going to talk about that anymore.”

Now, Lin seems to block out critics and not worry about what they think. When asked if he feels he has proven that he’s a starting-caliber point guard in the NBA, Lin’s answer is somewhat surprising.

“You know what, that’s a good question; I don’t know and I don’t think I actually care anymore, and I think that’s just where I’m at in my life,” Lin said. “I don’t care to figure out what the answer to that question is anymore. Before I [had] kind of like a chip on my shoulder, things to prove, people to prove wrong. Now, I’m just like when I get out there I’m going to play and everyone’s going to formulate their own opinion and it’s going to change every single day. I don’t think my own opinion of myself has ever changed. I still believe I am capable of that. But that’s just me, that’s if you ask me. I’m not really worried about what everyone else is thinking anymore.”

Lin is focused on things that he can control. He’s training every day in Palo Alto, which is where he works out every offseason.

“I’m here every summer,” Lin said. “I’m just working on my floater, my defense, my three-point percentage and my left hand. Those are the top four things.”

When he’s not working out, he spends some time watching film and breaking down his game. I asked him if he ever watches footage from those 25 Knicks games when Linsanity blew up.

“Rarely,” Lin said. “Every once in a while, but not very often. Sometimes I go back to kind of look at things I did well, or different things, different moves, certain things that I’ve kind of gotten away from. More like when I create my summer workouts, or me and my trainer, we kind of talk about what we want to work on, and every once in a while I’ll go back and take a look to see if there’s anything I used to do that was really effective that I’ve gotten away from. But no, I’m not really sitting there reliving the past, re-watching my film.”

Lin is focused on the future, and for good reason. He’s nearing his prime and entering a perfect situation. He’ll get minutes, playing for the NBA’s most prestigious franchise on basketball’s biggest stage. He’ll be on national television consistently and have the opportunity to prove that his past success wasn’t some fluke. All eyes will be on Lin this season and he’s determined to make the most of the opportunity that he’s been presented.

Lakers Work Out Michael Beasley

The Los Angeles Lakers worked out Michael Beasley at their El Segundo, California, practice facility on Wednesday afternoon, sources close to the situation confirm. The workout was first reported by Dave McMenamin of ESPNLA.com.

The Lakers had been expressing interest in Beasley for several days, but nothing is imminent between the two parties. Beasley is also receiving interest from several other franchises and continues to weigh his options, according to sources.

Even though the former No. 2 overall pick’s career hasn’t gone exactly as planned, he’s still intriguing to executives. He’s only 25 years old and remains incredibly talented.

Teams were also impressed with Beasley’s stint with the Miami HEAT in the 2013-14 season, during which the forward played efficient basketball (shooting a career-best field goal percentage and finishing top 10 among small forwards in efficiency rating) and displayed maturity when asked to handle a reduced role on the contending team.

Beasley is currently working out in Los Angeles with his childhood friend Kevin Durant. He continues to field interest from teams and weigh his free agency options.

The Lakers currently have 12 players under contract for the 2014-15 season, with $67,361,996 in guaranteed commitments.

Dahntay Jones Shines at Open Workout

Several weeks ago, unrestricted free agent Brandon Rush scheduled an open workout during the Las Vegas Summer League, hoping to temporarily draw some executives away from the Thomas and Mack Center and display his skill set at the nearby Impact Basketball facility.

The workout was a huge success, with over 15 teams in attendance, and Rush ultimately inked a new contract with the Golden State Warriors that evening.

Now, Dahntay Jones is hoping for similar results. The 33-year-old held an open workout for teams this afternoon and looked good, according to league sources.

A number of teams were in attendance for Jones’ workout, including the Sacramento Kings, Cleveland Cavaliers, San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Washington Wizards among others.

Jones has appeared in nearly 600 NBA games over the course of his 10-year NBA career, averaging 5.6 points. He has had stints with the Memphis Grizzlies, Sacramento Kings, Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, Dallas Mavericks and Atlanta Hawks.

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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What We Learned: Eastern Conference Week 4

What did we learn about the Eastern Conference this week? Jonathon Gryniewicz takes a look in the most recent edition of Basketball Insiders’ “What We Learned” series.

Jonathon Gryniewicz

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It’s not even a month into the NBA season, but the 2020-21 Eastern Conference has already looked super competitive, with 14 teams within six games of each other. There’s bound to be some separation in the coming weeks, don’t expect any team to go down easy.

But which have paced the East? Who’s flopped? Let’s take a look.

The New Look Brooklyn Nets

The Brooklyn Nets big three of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and the newly acquired James Harden recently played their first game together against the Cleveland Cavaliers.  The back-and-forth game ended in a double-overtime, 147-135 Nets loss. The three of them had plenty of time on the court together and divvied up the scoring; Durant scored 38 points on 25 shots in 50 minutes; Irving 37 points on 28 shots in 37 minutes; and Harden 21 points on 14 shots in 51 minutes.

But, outside of the box score, what did we learn about this team from their first performance?

You never want to jump to conclusions, but it’s easy to see that their offense could be dominant. When those three were on the court together, Harden served as the de facto point guard while Irving and Durant took their turns in isolation situations. Of course, in such an iso-based offense, there wasn’t much player movement beyond the trio, but they are so good at taking their own man off the dribble they can always get a good shot. What should make them even harder to guard is the fact that they’re all prolific three-point shooters; two can space at the three point line, while the other can use that extra space to either score themselves or collapse the defense and kick it outside.

Of course, there’s some work to be done. Harden and Irving combined for nine of the team’s 16 turnovers, while each of the three took their fair share of shots maybe just a bit too early in the shot clock. Defensively, Brooklyn is a major work-in-progress. Their closing lineup of Harden, Durant, Irving, Jeff Green and Joe Harris would appear to be solid but doesn’t offer much in terms of switchability and consistent rim protection. Beyond that, there isn’t much to be excited about.

Depth could also be an issue. They recently added Norvel Pelle to compete with two-way rookie Reggie Perry for backup center minutes. The team may have to look into an addition on the wing, too; while they currently roster Bruce Brown, Landry Shamet and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, the three are young and, so far this season, have proven inconsistent at best. A veteran that could provide some bench stability should be the priority.

Kendrick Nunn is Emerging for the Miami HEAT

In recent days, Kendrick Nunn has played his best basketball in nearly a year.

The 2020 Rookie of the Year runner-up, Nunn struggled in the Orlando Bubble last season as he saw a continually diminished role in Miami’s run to the NBA Finals. He started this season on a similar note, as he averaged only 5.5 points and played in just six of the HEAT’s first 12 games.

But, with Jimmy Butler and other key players dealing with injury, Nunn has seen a resurgence. In Miami’s last six games, not only has he played heavy minutes, but Nunn has flourished to the tune of 17.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists. He’s also shot 37.8 percent from three and 50 percent from the floor.

Of course, there’s the question of the competition. Nunn’s success has come against the Nets aforementioned suspect defense, as well as the Detroit Pistons and Toronto Raptors, two teams that have struggled mightily to start the year. Still, the spark he’s shown should help him maintain a role going forward, even after Butler and the rest return to the court.

If he can maintain hold down a role, or at least a bit of that spark, Nunn could prove a massive boon for Miami, whose offense has been pretty mediocre in the early going.

The Indiana Pacers Injury Woes 

Under new head coach Nate Bjorkgren, the Pacers’ 2020-21 season has seen a terrific start. Through 12 games, Indiana is  8-4 and have played a fun, up-tempo brand of basketball.

That said, they’ve had to deal with a lot on the injury front. After they netted Caris LeVert in the four-team blockbuster that sent Harden to Brooklyn, a mass was found on one of LeVert’s kidneys and he has since been ruled out indefinitely.

Myles Turner, meanwhile, just returned from a two-game absence due to an avulsion fracture in his right hand. In his absence, the Pacers’ defense just didn’t look the same, giving up 129 and 124 points to the Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas Mavericks, respectively. The team started the season without Jeremy Lamb and has since lost T.J. Warren to a foot injury that is expected to hold him out for most of the season as well.

No team can lose two starters and expect to continue playing at the same level. If they can’t get healthy, expect it to play a major role in their standing and playoff position at the end of the season.

It will be interesting to watch the East over the next month to see which teams can separate themselves. Be sure to check back for the next part of our “What We Learned” series as we continue to keep an eye on the NBA all season long.

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Miami’s Struggles About More than One Player

Drew Maresca assesses the Miami HEAT’s early-season struggles and their statistical slide from the 2019-20 campaign.

Drew Maresca

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The Miami HEAT appeared to successfully turn the corner on a quick rebuild, having advanced to the bubble’s 2020 NBA Finals. It looked as though Miami took a short cut even, rebounding from the LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh era incredibly quickly. Ultimately, they did so through smart drafting – including the selections of Bam Adebayo, Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro – plus, a little luck, like the signing of Jimmy Butler and smartly sticking with Duncan Robinson.

But despite the fact that they should have improved from last season, the tide may have turned again in South Beach.

Through 15 games, the HEAT are an underwhelming 6-9 with losses in each of their last two games. Miami is also scoring fewer points per game than last season – 109.3 versus 112  – while giving up more – 113.1 against 109.1.

Miami has played the 14th-toughest schedule in the NBA, and there are some embarrassing and noteworthy loses thus far. They lost by a resounding 47 points to the Milwaukee Bucks earlier this season, with extra harsh defeats of 20 points to the lowly Detroit Pistons and the mediocre Toronto Raptors.

What’s to blame for Miami’s woes? Unfortunately for the HEAT, it’s a number of things.

First of all, they need more from a few of their stars – and it starts at the very top. Jimmy Butler was Miami’s leading scorer in 2019-20, posting 19.9 points per game. But this season, Butler is scoring just 15.8 points per game on a sub-par 44.2 percent shooting. While Butler shot poorly from three-point range last season, too (24.4 percent), he hasn’t connected on a single three-pointer yet in 2020-21. This, coming from a guy who shot 34.7 percent from deep in 2018-19 and 35 percent in 2017-18.

But it’s not just his lack of scoring that’s hurting. Butler is also collecting fewer assists and rebounds as well. He’s averaging only 5.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game, down from 6.7 ad 6.0 last season.

However, Butler’s main struggle this season has nothing to do with any statistic or slump. Butler has missed seven straight games due to COVID-19 protocols. Although to go-scorer wasn’t playing particularly well prior to isolating from the team – scoring in single digits twice – the HEAT are always in better shape if their leader takes the floor with them.

It’s not just Butler either. Tyler Herro also needs to regain his bubble form, at least as far as shooting is concerned. After connecting on 38.9 percent on 5.4 three-point attempts in 2019-20, he’s sinking only 30.2 percent of his 5.3 three-point attempts per game this season.

While Herro is scoring more – 17.2 points per game this season – and doing so more efficiently, he’s doesn’t pose the same threat from deep this season. So while he’s sure to pick it up sooner than later, he must do so to put more pressure on opposing defense.

It’s fair to assume Herro will solve his long-distance shooting woes, but the fact that he’s also struggling from the free throw line is concerning because it speaks more to his form. Herro is still well above the league average, connecting on 76.5 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe, but he shot a scorching 87 percent on free throw attempts last season.

So what’s behind the slump? More importantly, which Herro can the HEAT count on for the remainder of 2020-21? As much as Herro is on track to grow into an incredible player, Miami needs his efficiency to return to last season’s form if they expect to compete. But like Butler, a major part of Herro’s struggles are off the court.

Herro is currently dealing with an injury, having missed the last five games with neck spasms. Coach Erik Spoelstra noted that giving the injured Herro so many minutes before his big layoff likely exacerbated his injuries.

“There’s no telling for sure if this is why Tyler missed these games,” Spoelstra told the South Florida SunSentinel. “But it definitely didn’t help that he had to play and play that many minutes. We didn’t have anybody else at that point. If he didn’t play, then we would have had seven.”

But the HEAT’s struggles are about more than any one player – and that’s a big part of what makes Miami, Miami.

Still, their team stats are equally puzzling, like that the Miami HEAT currently ranks 20th in offensive rating and 23rd in defensive rating. In 2019-20, they were 7th in offensive rating and 11th in defensive rating. Obviously, something isn’t translating from last year, but what is it that’s missing?

Firstly, the HEAT are only the 18th best three-point shooting in terms of percentage. Last season, Miami was 2nd by shooting 37.9 percent. Herro returning to his old self should help quite a bit, and Butler making at least a few threes should improve spacing, too.

But it’s not just three-point shooting as the HEAT ranked last in field goal attempts last season, tallying just 84.4 attempts per game. And while they’re last again this season, they’ve managed to average even fewer attempts per game (81.7) despite maintaining nearly all of their roster.

The HEAT are also last in offensive rebounding, which translates to fewer field goal attempts and fewer points. And while Miami was 29th in offensive rebounds last season, they’re corralling 2.1 fewer rebounds this season (6.4) than in  2019-20 (8.5). What’s more, Miami is now last in total rebounds with only 40.9 per game. A number that also represents a fairly significant change as the HEAT were 17th a season ago with 44.4 per game – whew!

Lastly, Miami is turning the ball over more often than nearly any other team – sorry, Chicago – in 2020-21. During the prior campaign, the HEAT were barely middle of the pack, turning the ball over 14.9 times per game, a mark that left them 18th-best in the league. This season, they’re 29th and turning the ball over 17.7 times per game – dead last in terms of turnovers per 100 possessions.

It’s not all bad news for the HEAT, though. Bam Adebayo looks great so far, posting 20.3 points, 8.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. Second-year stud Kendrick Nunn is averaging 21.5 points on 56 percent shooting through the past four games; while Duncan Robinson is still a flame thrower, shooting 44.4 percent on 8.4 three-point attempts per game.

The HEAT’s upside is still considerable, but it’s easy to wonder if they captured magic in a bottle last season.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Lonzo Ball Presents Difficult Decision For Pelicans

Lonzo Ball is struggling early in his fourth NBA season, leaving the Pelicans questioning whether he will be a part of the team’s long-term plans moving forward.

Garrett Brooks

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Lonzo Ball and the New Orleans Pelicans failed to reach an extension prior to the deadline entering the 2020-21 NBA season – which made this season an important year for the former second overall pick to prove his worth.

But things have not gone according to plan for Ball. Originally acquired by the Pelicans in the Anthony Davis trade, Ball has failed to get going early in the current season. After a few years of what seemed like positive progression in the guard’s shooting stroke, this 2021 has brought up the same questions that surrounded Ball in his earlier scouting reports.

In his first three seasons, Lonzo saw his three-point accuracy increase each year. It started at a 30.5 percent accuracy rate and had jumped to an impressive 37.5 by his third NBA season, 2019-20.

Now well into his biggest campaign yet, he sits below 30 percent for the first time in his career, though there is a lot of time left to see that number increase. If Ball expects to be part of the Pelicans’ long-term plans, improvement is absolutely vital.

Obviously, shooting is a key part of the NBA game today, especially as a guard. Simply put, a player needs to give his team the proper floor spacing needed to maximize their scoring output in an offensively driven league.

That point is especially true for Ball, who needs to prove he can play alongside franchise cornerstones Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson. Both players are showing the skillset to be a dominant one-two punch for years to come, and the biggest need around them is proper floor spacing.

So even with all the positives Ball brings to the defensive side of the floor and as a playmaker, he cannot fit alongside Williamson and Ingram unless he’s a threat to hit shots from behind the arc. He’s obviously trying to prove himself in that regard as he has never averaged more three-point shots per game than he currently is – and yet, the result has been concerning.

When the two sides failed to reach an extension this offseason, it was abundantly clear that the Pelicans needed to see consistency before they’d tie long-term cap space to the guard. In the early going of the season, Ball is perhaps playing his most inconsistent basketball since his rookie campaign with the Los Angeles Lakers.

But will the Pelicans benefit from not signing Ball prior to the season? Maybe even by getting him to agree to a team-friendly contract if his struggles continue all year?

That seems highly unlikely. First off, not all teams are as desperate for a good shooting guard as the Pelicans are. As previously stated, Williamson and Ingram are in place as the franchise cornerstones. That means every player brought in on a long deal from here on out is brought in with the plan to fit alongside the forward combination.

Most teams with cap space don’t have the luxury of already having two franchise cornerstones in place. That means they are more likely to build around a player they sign – that’s especially true for a player that will hit free agency at a young age as will be the case with Ball.

While there’s almost no way the Pelicans won’t make a qualifying offer to Ball this offseason, it becomes a whole different question when pondering if they’ll match any contract he signs, depending on the financials involved.

He’ll offer significantly more value to another franchise than he might to the Pelicans because of the fit. The New York Knicks, for example, will be among the teams with cap space this offseason, they could see Ball as a player they can build things around moving forward.

That instantly makes him much more valued by the Knicks than he currently would be by the Pelicans. Of course, New Orleans would maintain their right to match the contract, but what good would it be if he isn’t going to fit next to the stars of the team? At no point will he be prioritized over the likes of Williamson and Ingram, which means he’s on a ticking clock to prove he can play alongside them as the team continues its ascension.

The first step could be adjustments to the rotation that sees Ball play more of the traditional point guard role with the rock in his hands. This isn’t easy for head coach Stan Van Gundy to do though as Ingram and Williamson thrive with the ball in their hands.

In all likelihood, Ball’s future in New Orleans will hinge on his consistency as a shooter, which, contrary to popular belief, he has shown the ability to do in the past. First off, confidence and staying engaged are keys; while Ball has struggled with both of those things in his early NBA seasons.

The second is an adjustment to his tendencies. Instead of settling for the spot-up opportunity every time it is presented, Ball would benefit from attacking the closeout more often and maximizing the chances that come from doing so.

Those options are in areas like finding the next open man for a three-pointer, getting to the free-throw line and finishing at the rim instead of hitting the deep shot. If he does these things, he’ll quickly find himself facing less aggressive closeouts and will be more confident in his game. Naturally, those things could lead to a more successful shooting number as the season continues on.

Ball is as talented as they come and it’s understandable why the Pelicans want to slide him in behind the two franchise forwards they have. The unfortunate reality is that time is running out on pass-first guard’s big chance to prove it’s the right move for the Pelicans moving forward.

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