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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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NBA

Resurgent Clippers Climbing in the Standings

Blow up the Clippers? Not so fast, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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The NBA’s trade deadline is rapidly approaching, and one team that has appeared quite often in trade rumors is the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers started out the season strong, and Blake Griffin was playing like an MVP candidate. Then they hit a rough patch of injuries and slipped all the way down in the standings.

Since then, DeAndre Jordan’s name has come up in trade chatter. The Clippers were in a free-fall and their franchise center reportedly could be had for the right price. Sixth Man of the Year candidate Lou Williams has also been mentioned, as playoff contenders could certainly use his scoring prowess as they gear up for a playoff run. And our own Michael Scotto reported that the Clippers approached the Minnesota Timberwolves at one point about a deal revolving around Griffin and Karl-Anthony Towns.

However, the Clippers have done an about-face recently. They’ve won 11 of their last 15 games. They’re currently on a five-game win streak that includes wins over the Golden State Warriors (on the road) and the Houston Rockets. Those teams weren’t at full strength, but neither were the Clippers.

The point is, as the Clippers have begun to get some of their injured players back, they’re playing much better basketball. Maybe all the talk about blowing it up should be put on hold for a moment.

As it stands, they sit in seventh place in the Western Conference and right back in the playoff mix. They’re 22-21; they haven’t been over .500 since back on Nov. 5 when they were 5-4. They’re only one and a half games back of the Oklahoma City Thunder for fifth.

A big reason for this resurgence has been the return of Griffin. Griffin sprained his MCL back on Nov. 28, and he didn’t return to the lineup until Dec. 29. The Clippers went 6-8 without him. He recently missed two games due to concussion protocol, but in the games he’s played since returning, the team has gone 6-2.

In those eight games, he’s put up 19.6 points per game on 44.8 percent shooting from the field, seven rebounds, and 6.1 assists. It’s not what he was doing early in the season, but his production has been a most welcome addition to the lineup. He had one of his better games of the season against the Rockets on Monday night, with 29 points on 50 percent shooting, 10 rebounds and six assists.

Another huge reason for the Clippers’ new success has been Williams. At age 31, Williams is having a career year. He’s averaging 23.3 points per game on 45.3 percent shooting, 41.6 percent from the three-point line, and 5.0 assists, all career-highs. He’s had games of 42 and 40 points this season, and he recently dropped a career-high 50 points last week in a win over the Warriors.

And yet another catalyst in the Clippers’ turnaround has been the overall play of their bench and their rookies. Both Montrezl Harrell and Sam Dekker were almost afterthoughts at the beginning of the season. They were key pieces at times for the Rockets last season, but seemingly couldn’t get off the bench with the Clippers.

The rash of injuries forced Doc Rivers to expand the rotation, and both players have responded accordingly. Harrell has seen an increase in minutes since Griffin initially got hurt at the end of November. In the Clippers first game without Griffin on Nov. 30, Harrell had 13 points on a perfect 5-5 shooting from the field. Since then, he’s put up 10.2 points on 55.4 percent shooting. He scored a season-high 25 points last week in a win over the Sacramento Kings, and he’s become the Clippers’ most dependable big man off the bench.

Dekker has also seen an increase in playing time since the beginning of December. His numbers may not jump off the charts, as he’s averaging six points per game during that time frame. But he’s given the Clippers another three-point threat on the floor, as well as the ability to play and guard multiple positions.

They’ve also uncovered a few gems this season. Jawun Evans, who was a second-round pick, as well as two-way players such as C.J. Williams, Jamil Wilson (who has since been released), and Tyrone Wallace have all made important contributions to the team.

Evans has started in four games recently, and in those games, he’s put up 9.0 points and 4.8 assists. Since Dec. 18, C.J. has been a permanent part of the starting lineup. As a starter, he’s averaging 9.0 points on 47.5 percent shooting. He had a career-high 18 in a win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Jan. 2. On Jan. 8 he had 15 points and the game-winner against the Atlanta Hawks.

Wallace is a relative newcomer after the Clippers cut Wilson, and he’s making a huge impression. He’s played in six games so far and scored in double-figures in all but one while shooting 52.8 percent. He had 22 points, six rebounds, and four assists in the Jan. 10 win over the Warriors.

On the injury front, the team welcomed back Milos Teodosic on Jan. 11, and since returning he’s averaging 11.0 points and 6.7 assists. DeAndre Jordan is expected to be out a couple more games after injuring his ankle on Jan. 11. Austin Rivers, who was having a career year prior to his ankle injury on Dec. 29, is supposed to be re-evaluated soon. There’s no new status on Danilo Gallinari who is out with a glute injury. Patrick Beverley is already done for the year.

These injuries have been a bit of a blessing in disguise, as they’ve allowed some of the Clippers’ young guys to get valuable experience — experience that will surely pay off if they do make a playoff run. It’s also allowed Rivers to utilize his bench more. When the others begin to make their return to the lineup, the Clippers will be that much more potent.

The Clippers still have a long road to go, and nothing is ever guaranteed in the NBA. But perhaps it’s best just to pump the breaks a little bit on all the tanking and blowing it up talk.

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G-League

NBA Daily: New Two-Way Players Worth Watching

The deadline for adding players on two-way contracts came and went on Monday, so which new signings have the potential to make a difference this season?

Ben Nadeau

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When the NBA created two-way contracts last summer, it not only produced a new path to the professional level, but it also added another intriguing wrinkle to roster building across the league. January 15th marked the deadline to sign players to two-way contracts during the 2017-18 season, so the transaction wire was mighty busy on Monday. In some instances, teams can utilize these deals to simply protect prospects as players on two-way contracts cannot be signed away by another franchise. But in other situations, these new additions could help fill some important roles and minutes for teams now currently entrenched in a playoff hunt.

Mike James was the first two-way player to make headlines while providing quality minutes within an injured backcourt for the Phoenix Suns — but that false start has recently led him to different horizons in New Orleans. While two-way players cannot compete in the postseason, there’s always the potential of a converted contract as well, just as the Milwaukee Bucks have done with Sean Kilpatrick. More than half of the NBA swapped out a two-way signee over the last 30 days, but here are five of them that could make a difference during the next few months.

Mike James, New Orleans Pelicans
With Phoenix: 10.4 points, 2.8 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.5 turnovers in 20.9 MPG

Mike James is the most recognizable name on the list for good reason — he’s already made it. James’ story has been well-documented at this point, but after toiling away overseas, the 27-year-old rookie wasted no time with the Suns earlier this season. In 32 games with Phoenix — including 10 starts — James averaged 10.4 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists in 20.9 minutes per contest. In fact, James’ play was so impressive that the Suns converted his two-way contract to a one-year regular deal in December, quickly looking like he’d be a regular mainstay in the rotation. But the sudden emergence of point guard Isaiah Canaan left James as the odd-man out and he was waived, sending him back to square one in his pursuit of a permanent roster spot in the NBA.

Thankfully, James wouldn’t have to wait long as the surging Pelicans scooped him up ahead of their playoff push. The backcourt situation in New Orleans is fluid, but it could be a fruitful opportunity for James to get back on the horse. All season, the Pelicans have run with a starting combination of Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday, leaving veteran journeyman Jameer Nelson (21.9 MPG) to mop up any needed bench minutes for the point guards. Snagging the 14-year veteran off the waiver wire was a shrewd move by New Orleans, but it wouldn’t be a shock for James to leapfrog Nelson before long.

The Pelicans rank dead last in bench points (23.3) and James is the type of dynamic scorer that can keep things going without the starters on the floor.

Amile Jefferson, Minnesota Timberwolves
G-League: 18 points, 13.1 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 2.1 turnovers in 34.1 MPG

At long last, somebody grabbed G-League star Amile Jefferson and now the Minnesota Timberwolves are set to reap the benefits. Just a few days after dropping 29 points at the G-League Showcase, Jefferson joins a crowded frontcourt — but his high motor could be an interesting option in spot minutes moving forward. Collegiately, Jefferson started 100-plus games over five years for the Duke Blue Devils and went undrafted despite averaging 10.9 points and 8.4 rebounds as a senior. Jefferson’s bright debut has seen him tally a healthy 18 points and a league-leading 13.1 rebounds per game, but his defense-first mentality is what might earn him some court time in the coming weeks.

Head coach Tom Thibodeau has a reputation for molding elite defenses — he reached the top five in defensive rating for four consecutive seasons back in Chicago — but he hasn’t quite reached that level in Minnesota. The Timberwolves have certainly looked better in that regard as of late, but their 106.4 rating on defense puts them in the bottom half of the NBA. For a young team looking to compete with the juggernaut powers of Golden State and San Antonio this spring, tuning up the defense remains an absolute must.

Additionally, the Timberwolves’ starters average 35 minutes per game, above and beyond the highest number in the league right now. If Jefferson can provide strong defensive minutes and allow players like Karl-Anthony Towns and Taj Gibson to grab some extra rest down the stretch, he’ll be a welcomed addition to this playoff-bound roster.

Markel Brown, Houston Rockets
G-League: 17.2 points, 35.8 three-point percentage, 4.2 rebounds and 1.5 turnovers in 31.4 MPG

Unlike many of the names on this list, Markel Brown has plenty of NBA experience already. After the Brooklyn Nets drafted Brown with the No. 44 overall selection in 2014, the hyper-athletic rookie started 29 games for an injury-riddled squad. Brown would eventually become a roster casualty and later joined Russian outfit Khimki for one season, but he’s always remained a player to keep an eye on. During his best moments, Brown was a stat-stuffing machine and he once racked up 10 points, 11 rebounds, two assists, two steals and four blocks with zero turnovers in 45 minutes of play as a rookie.

Athletic as they come, Brown showed defensive promise with the Nets, but he struggled to consistently convert from deep and his 29.7 three-point percentage over two seasons ultimately cost him his roster spot. Thankfully, Brown appears to have turned the corner and has made 2.9 three-pointers per game at a 35.8 percent clip over 22 contests with the Oklahoma City Blue. Of course, the Rockets attempt a staggering 43.6 three-pointers per game, nearly 10 more than the second-place Nets, so Brown could feel right at home here.

If Brown can bring some hard-nosed defense and contribute to Houston’s downtown barrage, there’s some definite potential in this two-way signing.

Xavier Munford, Milwaukee Bucks
G-League: 23.9 points, 46.5 three-point percentage, 5.3 assists and 3.6 turnovers in 35.8 MPG

As of publishing, the Milwaukee Bucks are one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the NBA, only knocking down 34.9 percent of their attempts. And at 23-20, the Bucks’ dismal showing from deep has been just one of many shortcomings for a team many expected to take the next step this season. Khris Middleton has led the way for Milwaukee with 1.9 three-pointers per game, but his 34 percent clip is his lowest mark since his rookie season. Furthermore, the only rostered player to surpass two made three-pointers per game is Mirza Teletovic (2.1), but he’s been sidelined since November due to knee surgery and the unfortunate reemergence of pulmonary emboli in his lungs once again.

Needless to say, the Bucks need some shooting help in the worst way — enter: Xavier Munford, one of the G-League’s best three-point assassins. The 6-foot-3 guard has been an absolute revelation for the Wisconsin Herd, tallying 23.9 points, 4.8 rebounds and 5.3 assists on a league-leading 46.5 percent from three-point range. Truthfully, it’s surprising that Munford hadn’t found a home before the deadline, but he’s been gifted the perfect opportunity now. Even in spot minutes, Munford could provide the Bucks with something they’ve sorely missed through the first half of the season.

Munford can get hot and stay hot too, perhaps best exhibited by the Player of the Week honors he earned two months ago after nailing 17 of his 24 attempts (70.8 percent) from three over a four-game period. It won’t come that easy at the NBA level, but Munford is an elite shooter on a poor-shooting team — so if his chance arises, this could be a quality signing for the Bucks.

James Webb III, Brooklyn Nets
G-League: 11.6 points, 36.6 three-point percentage, 6.7 rebounds and 1.6 turnovers in 27.3 MPG

The Nets are likely the only team on the list that won’t be headed to the postseason this year, but the addition of James Webb III is certainly an interesting one nonetheless. Before going undrafted in 2016, Webb III was a standout at Boise State, where he averaged 15.8 points and 9.1 rebounds per game. In spite of shooting just 24.8 percent from three-point range in that final collegiate season, Webb III has put together back-to-back seasons at 36 percent in the G-League. Naturally, this is where Webb III can make an impression with the chuck-em-up Nets.

In his second year at the helm, head coach Kenny Atkinson has his young roster shooting more three-pointers than ever. While backcourt players like Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris and Caris LeVert have all seen improvements from deep this season, the Nets still badly need a stretch four to open things up when Quincy Acy and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson aren’t on the floor. The latter, despite his best efforts, hasn’t turned into a consistent three-point shooter and Hollis-Jefferson still sports a subpar 24.1 percent career average from behind the arc.

Acy has been one of Brooklyn’s more recent G-League successes, plucking him away from the Texas Legends just over a year ago on a ten-day contract. Over 71 games for the Nets, Acy has become a valuable contributor in the Nets’ rotation and he’s currently averaging a career-high 19.3 minutes and 1.4 made three-pointers per game. Still, Acy is as streaky as shooters come and when he’s not chipping in from three-point range, the Nets really suffer. After Acy, there’s only Tyler Zeller, Timofey Mozgov and Jarrett Allen for three-point options in the frontcourt — so much for replacing Brook Lopez, right?

If Webb III can impress the coaching staff, he could have long-term potential on this three-point happy roster of castaways.

Breaking through from the G-League to the NBA is never easy, but these five players have taken the next big step in their professional careers. There’s no guarantee that two-way players will be given an opportunity to shine, but there’s still potential in all of these signings. Whether teams are looking to navigate injuries, rest their starters or uncover a diamond in the rough, two-way contracts have offered something new for both players and front offices alike.

Now it’s up to James, Jefferson, Brown, Munford and Webb III to make the most of their respective chances and hopefully stick around for good.

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NBA

NBA Most Valuable Player Watch — 1/17/18

Dennis Chambers updates the latest MVP watch rankings.

Dennis Chambers

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It’s been two weeks since we last checked in on the Most Valuable Player race in our beloved National Basketball Association.

Since then, the leader, James Harden, hasn’t played a minute of basketball. The man behind him, LeBron James, somehow having a career-year in his 15th go-around, even more surprisingly hasn’t completely blow Harden’s chances out of the water due to his Cleveland Cavaliers’ struggles as of late.

Steph Curry is back and better than ever for the Golden State Warriors, bolstering his chances at a third MVP award, while simultaneously hurting his teammate Kevin Durant’s chances.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is still a freak of the Greek variety, and DeMar DeRozan continues to be a master of the midrange.

Halfway through the NBA season, this race is getting as fun as ever. Let’s get into the current standings.

  1. Kyrie Irving

Since last checking in, Kyrie Irving hasn’t necessarily been knocking it out of the park with his performance, but the Boston Celtics are still winning, so that counts for something.

Despite being stuck in an obvious shooting slump over the last two weeks (36 percent from the field and 24 percent from beyond the arc), Irving has led the way to four straight Boston wins, along with a big come from behind victory against the Philadelphia 76ers over in London.

While Irving continues to put up dazzling performances, his slip as of late, coupled with the fact that Brad Stevens and Co. have found ways to win without him, have caused Irving to lose a bit of footing in the most recent update of the MVP race.

  1. DeMar DeRozan

Over the last two weeks, DeMar DeRozan has continued to put the Toronto Raptors on his back. Granted, the Raptors are just 4-3 during that span, but with one loss coming to the Golden State Warriors 127-125 after giving up 81 points in the first half. DeRozan was also left without Kyle Lowry for two of those contests.

With the continued evolution of DeRozan’s skill set, this season has been the star shooting guard’s best chance at an MVP trophy. Improved shooting from downtown turns DeRozan into a more modern version two-guard without sacrificing the midrange prowess that makes him nearly impossible to guard.

Toronto has morphed into arguably the second-best overall team in the entire league. With impressive showings on both ends of the court that result in top 10 ratings, the Raptors are quickly becoming the biggest threat to the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Eastern Conference crown. None of that would be possible without the big steps DeRozan has made in his game this season.

  1. Giannis Antetokounmpo

The Greek Freak’s drop in the current rankings aren’t necessarily an indictment of his play, but more of a tipped cap to how strong Steph Curry has come on since returning from injury.

That being said, Antetokounmpo is still very much a part of the MVP race with his 28.3/10.1/4.5 averages. As Milwaukee clings to a bottom half playoff spot — their 23-20 record and 7th place standing is just a three-game advantage over the Sixers, who are currently out of the playoff picture — Antetokounmpo will need to continue to put the Bucks on his back as he’s done throughout his breakout season so far.

While his season has been more than impressive and certainly puts him on the radar across the league as one of the best players in the NBA, Antetokounmpo is still getting lost in the shuffle behind the top-tier contenders due to his team’s lack of dominant success.

  1. Steph Curry

What a return it’s been for Steph Curry. Since last checking in on our MVP standings, Curry has played in six games for the Warriors and sat out one. Golden State is 6-1 in that seven-game span, and I don’t need to spell it out for you which game they lost.

During his return, Curry is averaging 30.8 points, seven assists, nearly six rebounds and two steals per game, while also shooting 45 percent from three-point land.

His on/off rating for the Warriors is higher than any of his teammate’s, even Durant. The Chef is the Warriors’ main catalyst on offense, and despite their star-studded cast, when he isn’t on the court you can tell the difference.

I’ve always been one to say that because they’re both on the same team, it would be hard for either Curry or Durant to win this award, but given the absurd affect Curry has been having on his team’s success and offensive continuity, he’s forced himself right into the conversation. Should he keep it up at this current pace for the second half of the season, he may be the favorite.

  1. James Harden

James Harden has missed the last seven games, and the Houston Rockets are 3-4 in that time frame. Granted, one loss is to the Warriors, a team the Rockets hope to be able to compete against when at full strength.

While being sidelined, Harden’s importance to Houston’s sustained success has become more apparent than it was was before he went down with an injury. His numbers, were his season to end today, would be MVP-caliber if not for the number of games played. But it’s hard to keep a grasp on a lead when you’re not participating, which explains Harden’s drop on the ladder this time around.

Once The Beard returns, however, fully expect him to be right back in the thick of claiming his first ever MVP award.

  1. LeBron James

Since Harden’s injury, LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers haven’t necessarily set the world on fire to their best player a clear distance in the MVP race.

Amid a serious slump that has the rest of the league questioning if this Cavs team is capable of returning to a fourth straight NBA Finals appearance, James is currently searching for his fifth MVP award. While there has been a slight dip in The King’s numbers over the last few games, with the slump and the reintegration of Isaiah Thomas to the squad, he’s still been on the court and dominating in his 15th year. Until Harden can return to put up a fight, James is the current frontrunner despite the recent decline. His full-season body of work, this late in his career, speaks for itself.

But with Curry hot on his trail, Harden set to return, and his team floundering more and more by the day, James’ chances to win his latest award are currently at their bleakest point.

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