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NBA PM: Meet Top 2015 Recruit Ivan Rabb

Ivan Rabb, the top prospect in the class of 2015, discusses his game, college decision and much more … Does Stephen Curry want to sign with his hometown Charlotte Hornets?

Alex Kennedy

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Basketball Insiders catches up with Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky at the 2014 adidas Nations.

Meet Ivan Rabb, 2015’s Top Recruit

It’s likely only a matter of time until Ivan Rabb is a household name. Talent evaluators are already drooling over Rabb, who is an ambidextrous 6’10.5 power forward with a 7’3 wingspan.

Rabb was named the top recruit in the 2015 high school class by ESPN, and he averaged approximately 27 points, 14 rebounds and seven blocks per game as a junior at Bishop O’Dowd High School while continuing to improve his jump shot, ball-handling and strength throughout the year.

Now, entering his senior year, Rabb is receiving interest from just about every major program in the country, with offers from Arizona, California, Duke, Georgetown, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville, North Carolina, N.C. State, Ohio State, UCLA and USC among others.

“The schools I’m considering the most right now are Cal, UCLA, Kentucky, Kansas, Georgetown, Duke, Arizona and North Carolina,” Rabb told Basketball Insiders. “The most important thing for me besides basketball is a good business [program]. I want to go to school that will set me up for my business degree that I’m going to do after basketball or during basketball. Other than that, on the court I want to go to a school that’s going to utilize my full potential by me moving around the court, allowing me to pass the ball and score inside and score outside, a good team that is going to defend, rebound in a family atmosphere. That is the biggest thing for me.”

While he’s capable of finishing at the basket – with power and finesse – Rabb chooses not to take many shots. Rabb has excellent court vision for a big man and is extremely unselfish. His highlight reels feature just as many no-look passes as poster dunks. When asked what his biggest strengths are, Rabb mentions his passing first. He really enjoys being a distributor and making his teammates better.

“It makes your teammates want to play with you,” Rabb said. “I like to be known as a guy other people like to play with. If people like to play with you, then they’ll want to facilitate for you too. It makes your job easier and it makes their job easier.”

Rabb also takes pride in his shot blocking. His outstanding athleticism and terrific instincts help him as a rim protector. He has had multiple games with double-digit blocks, and it’s not uncommon to see him reject several shots in a single possession. His blocks are memorable, as he often swats the ball off the backboard or simply catches it out of midair with two hands.

“I’ve always had the gift of blocking shots and staying out of foul trouble as well,” Rabb said. “That’s not really natural from what I know now, a lot of people can’t do that to keep the ball in play and get a block in the same possession. I just like taking pride in getting blocks and getting rebounds at the same time.”

Rabb lists his strengths as “passing, rebounding on both defense and offense, and scoring from the block” and he studies game film of Kevin Garnett, LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Bosh and Carmelo Anthony among others to improve his game.

“I think the biggest thing for me is to gain weight and get stronger,” Rabb said when asked about areas where he needs to improve. “I’ve gained weight since last year in the USA trials. I’ve gained about 10 pounds; I’m 215 now. I think that’s the biggest thing in my game that I need to improve on. And as I’m doing that, I’m going to continue to work on my shooting from all areas of the court just so I can stretch the defense more and make the game easier on myself.”

Rabb is competing in the 2014 FIBA U17 World Championships as a member of Team USA. Previously, he donned the red, white and blue jersey as a member of USA Basketball Men’s U16 National Team that won the gold medal at the 2013 FIBA Americas U16 Championship in Maldonado, Uruguay. He was also named to the 2013-14 USA Basketball Men’s Developmental National Team in March. Rabb is honored to be part of the USA Basketball program.

“It’s been a really fun experience,” Rabb said. “The best thing about it is everyone is really good so you can’t take a play off, you can’t take a practice off, you have to go hard all of the time and it just makes everybody better. You create relationships with people that you want to know for many years so I really enjoy that. It’s really cool. I never thought that I would have the opportunity to do this. I’m blessed and happy about it, that’s all I can really say. It means a lot to represent the country and also my city.”

As the top recruit in the 2015, Rabb has been in the spotlight. He went from being relatively unknown to having all eyes on him. He admits that his life has changed since he has started to fly up recruit rankings.

“It’s just everything got really hectic,” Rabb said. “There has been a lot more attention on me and in everything I do, I have to always represent my family, my school and now my country. I have to always be on the right path. Sometimes I don’t really get to be a kid all of the time. When I’m at home somebody always wants to talk to me and things like that. I never really get to chill out with friends. I just have to grow up quicker and it just comes with the territory.

“[To deal with the pressure], I keep in touch with a lot of players from the USA team and things like that. We always talk about some of the bad things and some of the good things that happen too. It helps to have people who are in the same position as I am, so I’m not the only one.”

Rabb has played with some excellent players as a member of the Oakland Soldiers AAU program, including Aaron Gordon, Nick Johnson, Stanley Johnson and Brandon Ashley among others.

“Every time they see me they just make sure my head is on the right track and that I’m doing what I’m supposed to do in the class and on the court,” Rabb said.

All of those players went on to play at Arizona, which has some people believing that Rabb will be the next player to go from the Soldiers to the Wildcats. Rabb said that this assumption annoys him and insists that he’s still weighing all of his options.

“It annoyed me a lot more when I was younger because I had to hear all of the time because I went to the same school as Brandon and things like that, [I was going to go to Arizona],” Rabb said. “I kind of got used to it and just because all of those guys went there doesn’t mean I will go. But it also doesn’t mean because people were annoying me about it that doesn’t mean that I won’t go there either. I’m just trying to make the best decision for myself in the long run. That may be the right destination, but at the same time it might not.”

Rabb says he doesn’t have a timetable to make his college decision. One thing that he has discussed is possibly teaming up with fellow top prospects Diamond Stone and Malik Newman, who Rabb describes as his best friends. He has talked to them about this and it’s definitely a possibility. All three players are considered five-star recruits by ESPN, with Rabb ranked No. 1, Newman ranked No. 3 and Stone ranked No. 4 among all players in the 2015 class.

“We’re definitely talking about that,” Rabb admitted. “Those are my best friends. For the last two years, we’ve been [close]. Even when we’re not with each other – because we’re all from different places – we could text, we could make phone calls, we could FaceTime and things like that. They’re just like my best friends back home; we talk a lot all of the time about not just basketball but anything.”

If all goes as planned, Rabb will play for a top college program and then go on to be a top pick in the NBA Draft. When asked what it would mean to hear NBA commissioner Adam Silver announce his name, he says it would be a dream come true.

“It would mean a lot; I never thought I’d be in this position,” Rabb said. “I’m going to stay humble and keep working on my game. I’m really excited about that, but I can’t let it get to my head because I’m not there yet and there’s a possibility that it won’t happen. But I’m really confident that it will and I’m just going to continue to improve.”

Rabb is certainly a player to keep an eye on in the coming years, and you’ll likely be hearing his name more and more very soon.

Curry Interested in Playing for Hometown Hornets?

LeBron James made headlines when he signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers this offseason, explaining the decision by saying he wanted to return home.

Now, there has been speculation that other NBA stars may decide to sign with their hometown team. Some insiders have already started to wonder if Kevin Durant will seriously consider joining the Washington Wizards in 2016.

Now, Stephen Curry is the latest star to get people thinking about a homecoming.

The 26-year-old Golden State Warriors star was actually born in Akron, OH, like James, but he grew up in Charlotte, where his father Dell played for 10 seasons. Curry added fuel to the fire with these rumors, admitting that he would consider joining the Hornets when his contract expires.

“I’ve always had thoughts about playing at home, what it would be like,” Curry said on The Doug Gottlieb Show, according to the Bay Area News Group. “My dad played there for 10 years, and people around the Greater Charlotte area in North Carolina have done a lot for my family growing up, so you always think about it.

“Right now, I feel like I’ve got three years left on my deal, so this isn’t going to be an issue for me for a while. I love the Bay Area and where we are as a team trying to win a championship, and that’s what it’s all about. Of course everybody dreams about or thinks about what it’s going to be like to play at home. Obviously if that opportunity comes along it’s a different discussion.”

Curry touched on the possibility of a homecoming again during a Tuesday interview on The Dan Patrick Show. He admitted that he was surprised to see James return to Cleveland, but that he understood.

“I’m sure there’s no better feeling than going home,” Curry said.

As Curry pointed out, he has three years left on his contract. He will become an unrestricted free agent during the summer of 2017.

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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Sooner or Later, Everyone Will Realize LeBron Is Chasing Kareem

If LeBron continues at this rate, it’s only a matter of time before he surpasses Kobe, Karl and Kareem.

Moke Hamilton

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As he stood at half court, the shot clock ticked downward from 10.

His nimble center set a high screen for him, and he wisely utilized it.

With Al Horford guarding him, LeBron James sized up the big man before taking a step back three that had just too little muscle behind it.

With the Celtics trailing by three points, rookie Jayson Tatum grabbed the rebound and wisely handed the ball off to Kyrie Irving, who instinctively (and surprisingly) tossed it ahead to Jaylen Brown.

As Brown brought the ball up the floor, he noticed that he had the numbers—there were three Celtics and only one Cavalier.

LeBron, however, was the one Cavalier.

In a split second, Brown took inventory and wisely decided to take his chances with a pull-up, game-tying three pointer.

Brown’s three was a tad long and James, who was out of position, couldn’t stop Horford from tipping the ball out. As it caromed off the rim, it made a beeline toward the courtside seats. Poetically, magically, the ball ended up in Kyrie Irving’s hands.

Irving turned toward the basket to fire the shot his team needed, but, to nobody’s surprise, James was in his face.

Irving necessarily took one escape dribble to his right and forced an off-balance three-pointer that caught nothing but air.

In 41 minutes, James scored 29 points, grabbed 16 rebounds and had nine assists and two blocks. During the game’s final 20 seconds, he was everywhere he needed to be and everywhere necessary to thwart everything the Celtics tried to do.

And to think, he had the nerve to call himself out of shape.

* * * * * *

Sure, the 102-99 victory that the Cavs earned over the Celtics on opening night is meaningless in the grand scheme of things, but it serves as a stark reminder as to just how truly dominant James can be. As he enters his 15th season, its beginning was quite appropriate.

As written about in this space before, as James attempts to win the Eastern Conference for the eighth consecutive year, the arguments over his place among the game’s greats persist. Some say he’s one of history’s top five players, while some say he’s the greatest ever.

Others don’t think he’s better than Kobe Bryant.

Regardless where you stand on LeBron, something that was written in this space last season warrants revisiting: if he continues to be as durable, as skilled and as talented as he has been over the course of his career, we may eventually be calling James’ name not alongside Kobe or M.J., but Kareem.

Entering his 15th NBA season, James had accrued 28,787 total points—seventh in history.

He trails only Dirk Nowitzki (30,270), Wilt Chamberlain (31,419), Michael Jordan (32, 292), Kobe Bryant (33,643), Karl Malone (36,928) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387), who rank sixth to first, respectively.

What has been most startling about James’ climbing through the ranks of the game’s best scorers, though, has been that he’s seemingly done it naturally.

All six of the greats ranking ahead of him were deemed “scorers” more than anything else. Meanwhile, James has always ranked behind the likes of someone—Kobe, Carmelo, Durant, Curry or Harden—when the deserver of that title was argued.

Meanwhile, slowly but surely, James entered his 15th season on Tuesday night trailing Kareem by 9,571 points. Most would deem him too far away from to be able to challenge for that top spot, but if LeBron stays healthy, he will have a serious shot.

Through 14 NBA seasons, James has played in 1,061 of a possible 1,132 games—93.7 percent. As the only other contemporary player to crash the top five, it is Bryant who remains his measuring stick.

Through his first 14 NBA seasons, Bryant played in 1,021 of a possible 1,116 games—91.5 percent. During those 14 seasons, Bryant scored a total of 25,790 points. James scored 28,787.

What made Bryant special was that he was able to continue to be an elite scorer right up until he tore his Achilles tendon at the age of 34. The miles eventually got the best of him, and during his last three seasons, he managed to score just 18.9 points per game.

Consider this about the top three scorers in NBA history, though: Kobe and Kareem each played 20 seasons. Malone played 19.

James’ first 14 seasons have resulted in more total points than Bryant, and only about 150 less than Malone’s (28,946).

Unsurprisingly, through 14 years, Kareem was far away from James, having scored about 1,100 more for a total of 29,810, but over the final six years of Kareem’s career, he averaged just 18.2 points per game.

Kareem turned 34 years old right as his 12th season ended. From there, he showed his age and began to slow down considerably.

To this point, LeBron has done no such thing.

* * * * * *

The discussion as to where James truly belongs in the eyes of history will persist.

Those that see the glass as half-full will reason that the mere fact that he’s been able to sustain his greatness for so long—much less the fact that he has made it to the NBA Finals eight times—will resonate.

Others will point to his record in those Finals (3-5) as evidence of his inferiority to the likes of Jordan (6-0) or Kobe (5-2).

Those are arguments for a different day.

What is fact is that seemingly without even trying, LeBron is one of the greatest scorers in the history of the NBA. And if he manages to play 19 years like Malone or 20 years like Kobe or Kareem, at the end of the day, he’ll be the greatest one of them all.

Whether he continues to score the 27.1 points per game he has over the course of his career, scores 25 per night from here on out or, for some reason, becomes merely a 20 point per game scorer, it’s only a matter of time.

And as we saw on opening night, particularly in the game’s final 20 seconds, LeBron still has plenty of it.

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NBA PM: Frank Kaminsky’s Massive Opportunity

The potential frontcourt pairing of Frank Kaminsky and Dwight Howard should make for an exciting season in Charlotte.

Benny Nadeau

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With both highs and lows to account for, it’s been an incredibly eventful offseason for the Charlotte Hornets. From trading for Dwight Howard and drafting Malik Monk to the news that defensive stalwart Nicolas Batum would be out for the foreseeable future, the Hornets will start the 2017-18 season off looking considerably different. Still, it’s difficult to see Charlotte stepping into the conference’s upper echelon alongside the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers, among others, without some major internal growth.

Down those lines, there may be no better candidate for a breakout season than Frank Kaminsky, the team’s modernly-molded stretch big man. Heading into his third NBA season, Kaminsky struggles at times but has generally affirmed why the Hornets passed on the Celtics’ huge offer and selected the former collegiate stud with the No. 9 overall pick back in 2015. Combined with the more defensive-steady force of Cody Zeller, the Hornets quickly found themselves with a solid, if not spectacular 1-2 punch at the center position.

Unsurprisingly, Kaminsky’s best nights statistically last season came when he hit multiple three-pointers. There were games like his 5-for-9 barrage from deep en route to 23-point, 13-rebound effort against the Sacramento Kings in late February, but his inconsistencies often got in the way just as much. In 2016-17 alone, Kaminsky tallied 41 games in which he converted on one or less of his three-point attempts — and the Hornets’ record? 13-28. Perhaps a tad coincidental for a franchise that finished at 36-46, but the Hornets ranked 11th in three-pointers with an even 10 per contest, so when Marvin Williams (1.6) Marco Belinelli (1.4), Kaminsky (1.5) and Batum (1.8) weren’t hitting, it was often lights out for an ultimately disappointing Charlotte side.

With his 33.1 percent career rate from deep, there’s certainly room to improve for Kaminsky, but his 116 made three-pointers still put him in a special group last season. Of all players at 7-foot or taller, only Brook Lopez made more three-pointers (134) than Kaminsky did — even ranking four ahead of Kristaps Porzingis, one of the league’s most talented unicorns. Once that category is expanded to include those at 6-foot-10 or taller, the list gets far more crowded ahead of Kaminsky, but it’s noteworthy nonetheless.

On that lengthier list of three-point shooting big men is Ryan Anderson, one of the strongest like-for-like comparisons that Kaminsky has today. Drafted in 2008, Anderson has been an elite three-point shooter for quite some time and his 204 makes last season ranked him ninth in the entire NBA. In fact, Anderson’s 2012-13 tally of 213 ranked only behind Stephen Curry; the year before that, his 166 total topped the rest of the field for a first-place finish. Coming out the University of California, Anderson was solid late first-round pickup by the New Jersey Nets and he knocked down one of his 2.9 attempts per game as a rookie.

Then, Anderson was traded to the Orlando Magic in the summer of 2009 and found out that true basketballing nirvana is playing on the same team as prime Dwight Howard. For three seasons, they were a near-perfect fit for each other as Howard averaged 13.9 rebounds and Anderson hit two three-pointers per game over that stretch. Howard deftly made up for Anderson’s defensive shortcomings while the latter stretched the floor effortlessly on the other end.

Although Howard is now considerably older, he’s never recorded a season with an average of 10 rebounds or less over his 13-year career. Howard’s impressive rebounding rate of 20.8 percent — the third-highest mark in NBA history behind Dennis Rodman (23.44) and Reggie Evans (21.87) — has made it easy for his partners to stay at the perimeter or bust out in transition. Other power forwards that have flourished next to Howard also include Rashard Lewis (2.8 three-pointers per game from 2007-09) and Chandler Parsons (1.8 in 2013-14), so there’s some precedent here as well.

Simply put, Howard still demands attention in the post, and Kaminsky is the Hornets’ best possible fit next to him. As Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Williams will likely slide up a position at times to help navigate Batum’s injury, throwing Kaminsky into the fire seems almost too logical.

An improved sophomore season for Kaminsky saw rises in every major statistical category outside of his percentages due to an increase in volume. However, that 32.8 percent mark from three-point range is considerably lower than the league average and it’ll need to improve for somebody that spends much of the offensive possession ready to fire away. Regardless, Kaminsky’s 11.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game in 2016-17 are a bright sign moving forward, but with Howard, he’s about to be gifted his best opportunity yet.

Whether he’s operating in transition, out of pick-and-pops or catch-and-shoots, Kaminsky has the tools to join the elite stretch forwards in the near future and stay there permanently. Kaminsky’s growing chemistry with All-Star point guard Kemba Walker has made the pair difficult to defend out on the perimeter. From the aforementioned pick-and-pops to a slightly more complicated dribble hand-off, trying to guard the two three-point shooting threats is enough to make your head spin. When he’s not firing from behind the arc, Kaminsky has also exhibited a soft touch and an ability to score among the trees as well.

As he continues to grow and expand his skill set, Kaminsky just needs to find some much-needed consistency as a shooter. If Kaminsky can raise his three-point percentage up closer to the league average this season, he’ll be an invaluable asset for the Hornets as they push for a playoff berth. Over his two full NBA seasons thus far, the Hornets have never had somebody like Howard to pair with Kaminsky and past results for those shooters playing with the future Hall of Famer are promising. Of course, head coach Steve Clifford is a defensive-minded leader — Charlotte’s defensive rating ranked 14th in 2016-17 at 106.1 — so Kaminsky will need to improve there to take full advantage of the available minutes. Fortunately, Howard’s savvy rim protection should make it a palatable experience on both sides of the ball.

When the Hornets rebuffed the Celtics’ massive draft day offer in order to select Kaminsky two years ago, it would’ve been impossible to predict Howard falling right into their lap as well. Between his expanding game and the new frontcourt combination, there’s potential here for Kaminsky to take the next big step in 2017-18.

If and when they do indeed pair him with Howard, the Hornets will be both maximizing his talents as a perimeter threat and minimizing his weaknesses as a defender. While Clifford leaned on Zeller in the past, Howard’s decorated history surrounded by court-stretching shooters should make the decision even easier. Kaminsky’s got all the workings of a modern offensive big man, the faith of the front office and the perfect paint-clogging partner — now it’s up to him to put it all together and become one of Charlotte’s most indispensable players.

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NBA PM: The Wizards Are “More Than Ready” For A Big Year

Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal says his team is “more than ready” for the start of the NBA season.

Buddy Grizzard

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With several teams in the Eastern Conference taking a step back, the Washington Wizards will be one of the beneficiaries due to roster continuity. Shooting guard Bradley Beal, one of several key Wizards signed to a long-term contract, said the team is “more than ready” for the season and has large expectations.

“This is going to be a big year for us,” said Beal after a Monday practice. “We’re healthy. There’s no excuse for us [not to] get off to a good start.”

Beal added that, while health is a key for the entire roster, it’s especially important for him after struggling with injuries in the past.

“It’s really a confidence booster, realizing my potential, what I can be, the type of player I can be when I had a healthy season,” said Beal of last year’s campaign. “That’s probably what I was more proud of than anything, playing 70-plus games and then playing in the playoffs every game.”

In Basketball Insiders’ season preview for the Wizards, we noted that Beal was Washington’s most efficient ball handler in the pick and roll last season. Beal said that creating for teammates is something he’s worked on in the offseason and will continue to be a point of emphasis.

“That was great for me and the strides I made throughout the year, working on my ball handling, working on creating for other guys and getting my own shot,” said Beal. “Those are the primary things I’m focused on … being able to create better, getting guys easier shots than before, getting more assists and improve everywhere.”

Wizards coach Scott Brooks said after Friday’s preseason finale in New York that he’s been encouraged by the ball movement he has seen since the start of camp.

“I thought a lot of good things happened in training camp,” said Brooks. “The ball movement was outstanding. Guys were sacrificing for one another on the offensive end.”

One thing that should help the ball movement of the second unit is the arrival of backup point guard Tim Frazier, who missed most of the preseason due to a strained groin. Frazier had nine assists and no turnovers in his preseason debut against the Miami HEAT.

“I feel very comfortable with Tim,” said Brooks. “He finds corner threes, which we like.”

Beal added that one area he hopes to improve, both individually and as a team, is rebounding.

“I think I only had like three rebounds [per game] last year,” said Beal. “I obviously love scoring the ball. That’s something I never worry about. I want to continue to fill up the stat sheet a little bit more and contribute to the game in different areas. I think rebounding was something that hurt us a little bit last year.”

The Wizards host the Philadelphia 76ers to open the season Wednesday, and Brooks said it will take a team effort to defend emerging star Joel Embiid.

“He’s a problem,” said Brooks after Sunday’s practice. “His athleticism is off the charts. We’re going to have to do a good job of staying in front of him. You’re talking about a guy that can put the ball on the floor, that can get to spaces and spots that normally a 6-10 guy doesn’t.”

With a revamped bench, roster continuity and good health entering the season, the Wizards look like a team that could challenge the Cavaliers, Celtics and Raptors for supremacy in the East. Beal certainly seems to think so.

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