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NBA PM: Oladipo Making Huge Strides

Victor Oladipo has made significant progress during his rookie season as he adjusts to the NBA and a new position … Milwaukee Bucks change ownership

Alex Kennedy

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Oladipo Making Huge Strides

Victor Oladipo can’t believe his first NBA season is already coming to an end. Eighty-two games is a lot, but it flies by during a player’s rookie campaign as they’re adjusting to a new league and lifestyle.

“It’s crazy, seems like yesterday I was in the NCAA Tournament, about to play at home in front of my family and friends in the Sweet 16,” Oladipo told Basketball Insiders. “Now, I’m in the NBA. Time really does fly. We definitely can’t take every day for granted.”

The Orlando Magic guard has had an eventful year. Not only did he face NBA competition for the first time, he had to transition to a new position since the Magic have him spending a lot of time at point guard, a position he had never played prior to this year. Until this year, Oladipo had always been a shooting guard. It’s the position he played growing up and throughout his three-year collegiate career at Indiana. Now, he’s being asked to play the role of floor general for Orlando, starting at point guard in half of the Magic’s games and backing up veteran Jameer Nelson in the other half.

The experiment has had its ups and downs, and it remains to be seen if Orlando will keep Oladipo at point guard moving forward. This season, the 21-year-old has averaged 13.9 points, 4.1 assists, 4.1 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 3.2 turnovers. His perimeter defense has been stellar and he has done a great job of getting to the basket, either to score or dump the ball off to a teammate. He must work on protecting the ball, reading defenses and making the right play, but those are areas where a first-time point guard is expected to struggle. It has been a learning process for Oladipo, but he has made huge strides throughout the season and gained confidence as a playmaker.

“He’s improved; I think he feels comfortable with the ball in his hands right now,” Magic head coach Jacque Vaughn said. “I think he looks forward to the ball being in his hands and that’s a huge step. To be able to get guys in the right place, that’s a tough thing to do in this league. Telling a guy I’m not coming to you this time and this is what should be done, he’s getting more comfortable at that. I think the true sign is that he wants the ball in his hands. That shows maturation right there.”

“I’ve never played the position before,” Oladipo said. “This is my first time playing it full-time and, if you look at it, I don’t even play it full-time all the time except when Jameer is out. It’s a whole learning process; I’m just going to continue to keep getting better. … [Building confidence] is a huge part of it. The game in general, no matter what position you play, a lot of the game is mental. As your mind goes your body goes, I truly believe that. I just go in there and try to play with confidence.”

Oladipo’s chemistry with his teammates, particularly center Nikola Vucevic  – another potential cornerstone for the Magic – has significantly improved since the start of the season.

“You should have seen us, even in practice, pocket passes and pick-and-rolls, we couldn’t read each other for nothing,” Oladipo said of his chemistry with Vucevic early on. “Definitely, [it has improved]. It can even get better as we continue to build the chemistry. Not only with him but with all of these guys, learning their favorite spots on the floor, where they like the ball and just studying film. The more we play together, the more chemistry we build, the better we get.”

Oladipo has played in all but two games this season, starting in 43, while averaging 31.3 minutes per night. Vaughn has been impressed with how Oladipo has held up throughout the year and dealt with Orlando’s 58 losses.

“You give him a lot of credit this year for being able to keep his body in a condition to play, guys just aren’t used to [the schedule],” Vaughn said. “And also for keeping his mind right, having some good days and bad days and fighting through it.

“I think we have taken a smart approach, whether it was the amount of minutes he played or just keeping a close eye on how he is feeling. Our conversations are always pretty honest; I trust him and what he has to say to me. Also, having a feel and seeing on tape and seeing him in the game, you get a feeling, a read on him. But we’re always communicating.”

Oladipo has tried to block out his fatigue, bringing energy and intensity whenever he’s on the floor. This was one of the reasons why Hennigan drafted Oladipo with the second overall pick in the 2013 draft – he felt Oladipo would set a great example for others and help build a winning culture in Orlando. So far, Oladipo hasn’t disappointed the front office; he’s giving maximum effort and expecting the same from others.

“I’m playing hard on both sides of the floor, making fatigue not a factor and not worrying about how tired I [am],” Oladipo said of adjusting to the schedule. “We have to build great habits of playing hard every night. We’re just going to continue to keep getting better. Playing hard is one big thing we need to do, we can live with the outcome if we do that.”

When asked if Oladipo will be Orlando’s point guard long-term, Vaughn won’t say one way or the other. Magic general manager Rob Hennigan has given similar answers when asked if Oladipo will remain at the one. It seems that Oladipo’s position will depend on what other players are added to the team going forward. For example, if Orlando drafts  a player like Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker this summer, perhaps the Oladipo-at-point-guard experiment continues. If Orlando adds a point guard prospect like Dante Exum or even Tyler Ennis with their additional first-round pick (from the Denver Nuggets), Oladipo would likely move back to shooting guard.

“We’ll continue to address that as an organization as we go forward,” Vaughn said when asked if Oladipo will remain at point guard. “As we add different pieces to our team, that will be an ongoing conversation to our team. Right now, we don’t have to have an answer.”

It remains to be seen what the future holds for Oladipo, but he has a legitimate chance of winning the 2013-14 Rookie of the Year award. It seems that voting will come down to Oladipo and Philadelphia 76ers point guard Michael Carter-Williams. Whether he wins the award or not, there’s no question that Oladipo has made huge strides this season.

Bucks Announce Ownership Change

Milwaukee Bucks president and owner Herb Kohl today announced that he has entered into a signed purchase agreement to transfer ownership of the Bucks to Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry. Under the terms of the agreement, Edens and Lasry have agreed to buy the team for a total purchase price of approximately $550 million.

Senator Kohl has pledged a $100 million gift for the development of a new arena for the team.  In addition to honoring Kohl’s requirement that the team be kept in Milwaukee, the new owners have committed to contribute at least an additional $100 million toward the development of a new arena in the city.

“My priority has always been and will continue to be keeping the Bucks in Milwaukee,” Kohl said. “This announcement reinforces that Milwaukee is and will continue to be the home of the Bucks.  Wes and Marc agree, and they share my commitment to the long-term success of this franchise in Milwaukee.”

“We would like to thank Senator Kohl and his team for their support and cooperation throughout the purchase process,” Edens and Lasry jointly stated. “The Senator has provided the Bucks with nearly 30 years of dedicated stewardship, and we are very excited to join Bucks fans, the city of Milwaukee and the NBA to build the long-term success of this franchise.  Having attended various sporting events in Milwaukee and Green Bay over the years, it is easy to see why the greater-Milwaukee area is such a storied sports atmosphere.

“We are lifelong basketball fans who are committed to the success of the Bucks and the identity of the team as a part of the city of Milwaukee.  It is our vision for this franchise to be admired both locally and nationally for its success on the court, the quality of its organization and the loyalty of its fan base.  Having each built competitive teams in the business world, we will apply that same intensity and determination as owners of the Milwaukee Bucks.  We are as passionate and energized as Bucks fans are about bringing home an NBA championship to Milwaukee.”

The parties will proceed to closing following review and approval by the NBA Board of Governors.

“Today’s announcement signals the start of a new, exciting era for the Milwaukee Bucks,” said Kohl.  “Now, with a long-term commitment from the new owners and major components of the funding in place for a new arena, we need to come together as a community to develop plans for a new sports and entertainment facility that will host more than 200 events a year, including Bucks games.  I am confident we will do this.”

“Our leadership of the Milwaukee Bucks will not be limited to the basketball court,” Edens and Lasry said. “We are eager to become active contributors to the greater-Milwaukee community, and plan to establish a presence in the city.  Furthermore, we are committed to spending a significant amount of personal resources, including a contribution of at least $100 million, to work alongside the community and Senator Kohl to develop a new state-of-the-art sports venue in Milwaukee.  We want to provide fans with the best sports experience imaginable, and we believe a new arena and the development of the surrounding downtown area will immensely benefit the game-day atmosphere as well as the city of Milwaukee. We would like to convey our appreciation to Commissioner Adam Silver and the entire NBA organization.  It will be an honor and a privilege to be the new owners of the Milwaukee Bucks and a part of the NBA.  We look forward to playing an integral and active role in the future success of the Bucks on and off the court, with the organization’s operations and talent as well as through the development of a new arena in Milwaukee.  Fear the Deer!”

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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A Few Good Free Agents Left

David Yapkowitz looks at several free agents still remaining on the market ahead of the season.

David Yapkowitz

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The start of the 2017-2018 NBA season is finally here, and teams are required to have their 15-man roster (plus two possible two-way contacts) finalized. Every year there are players that are left off a roster. Some are younger guys who maybe haven’t proven they belong in the league just yet. Some are older veterans looking for that one final hurrah.

A few of these players might take open gigs in the G-League or overseas in hopes of attracting the attention of NBA front offices as the year goes on. Others remain at home, working out and waiting for that call that might never come. And sometimes, the waiting and anticipating pays off as playoff teams come looking for veteran help and tanking teams are on the hunt for unrealized potential.

For most of the veteran guys, their opportunities will likely come later in the season when teams gear up for the playoffs. Here’s a look at a few of the top veteran free agents left that could certainly help a team at some point during this season.

David Lee

Since being traded from the Golden State Warriors to the Boston Celtics three year ago, Lee has adapted to his new role as a veteran big man helping to anchor second units. He is no longer the automatic double-double machine and borderline All-Star he once was, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have anything left in the tank.

He didn’t really fit quite right in Boston, but in his stops with the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs, he still showed he can be a solid contributor off the bench. In 25 games with Mavericks in the 2015-2016 season, Lee put up 8.5 points per game on 63.6 percent shooting while pulling down seven rebounds per. With the Spurs last year, he averaged 7.3 points on 59 percent shooting to go along with 5.6 rebounds. For a playoff team that needs a little big man depth, he is a solid option.

Deron Williams

Much was made about Williams’ disappearing act in the Finals last year, and rightfully so, but lost in all the chatter was the actual solid job he did with the Cleveland Cavaliers leading up to that point. Once in the conversation for best point guard in the league, injuries and poor play in Brooklyn sort of made Williams a forgotten man. The Nets bought out his contract and he joined his hometown Dallas Mavericks.

After a so-so first year in Dallas, Williams looked rejuvenated last year to the point that he actually drew some interest around the trade deadline. With the Mavericks looking to get younger and head closer to that rebuilding path, they cut Williams and allowed him to join a contending team. Over the final 24 games of last season, including four starts, he averaged 7.5 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting, 41.5 percent from the three-point line, and 3.6 assists. Of course, his Finals performance is all anyone cares to remember, but if a team needs a veteran backup point guard, they could do a lot worse.

Monta Ellis

Last season in Indiana, Ellis posted some of the lowest numbers of his career since his rookie season. Heading into a rebuilding year, the Pacers waived Ellis and his name barely came up in free agent rumors during the summer. At his best, Ellis was a borderline All-Star talent who could put up points in a hurry. Despite his reputation as a gunner, Ellis was a bit of an underrated playmaker and was never as bad defensively as most made him out to be.

He never really seemed to find his groove in Indiana. In his first year with the Pacers during the 2015-2016 season, he posted 13.8 points per game, down from 18.9 the previous year in Dallas, and his shooting dropped from 44.5 percent from the field to 42.7 percent. His playoff numbers with the Pacers were down even more than his regular season numbers, despite exploding in the postseason a few years before with Dallas. His starting days are almost assuredly behind him, but as a sixth man type scorer bringing energy off the bench, he’s probably better than a lot of the players currently in that role.

Leandro Barbosa

The Brazilian Blur’s best days are behind him, but similar to Ellis, he can still help a team in need of additional scoring punch off the bench. It was only two years ago that he was a key contributor off the Warriors bench. Firmly on the rebuilding track, the Suns waived Barbosa during the summer. Despite still being a capable player, his name also rarely came up in the free agent rumor mill.

He didn’t play all that much last season for a Phoenix Suns team that is clearly rebuilding, but he still was able to average 6.3 points per game in only 14.4 minutes per. His role on a rebuilding team would be a veteran mentor, but for a playoff team, he’s not a bad option. He showed that he can still play at the NBA level despite losing a step or two. Perhaps later on in the season when teams start looking for playoff help is when he may find his phone starting to ring.

Derrick Williams

The former No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations that come with being drafted that high. He’s only averaged double figures (12.0) in scoring once in his career and that was during the 2012-2013 season. When he came into the league, he didn’t really have much of a set position. He was a tweener, somewhere in between small forward and power forward. That was prior to the changes occurring in today’s NBA with more of a premium on stretch big men.

During Williams’ time in Cleveland last season, he played in 25 games and averaged 6.2 points per game. What stood out most, however, was his shooting. He shot 50.5 percent from the field, including 40.4 percent from the three-point line, both career-highs. Shooting from long range was always a bit of a weakness for him and prior to last season, he had never shot higher than 33.2 percent from downtown. He also didn’t register much chatter by way of free agent rumors, but if he can reproduce shooting percentages like that, he fits right in with the direction of the league.

With league rosters pretty much set, there likely won’t be much roster movement, if any at all, for the next few months. Teams are looking to see how their new summer acquisitions work out. But after a few months of real game action, other roster needs start to become more apparent. Don’t be surprised if come the new year, teams start knocking on a few of these player’s doorsteps.

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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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NBA Opening Night Storylines

Hours before the 2017-18 season gets set to tip off, here are some storylines to follow for Tuesday’s games.

Dennis Chambers

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The long summer is over. We finally made it. NBA opening night is upon us.

Rejoice, hoop heads.

Because the NBA is a perfect concoction of chaos at all times, Tuesday’s opening night slate has some can’t-miss built in headlines that the entire league is going to be glued to.

With a new year set to begin, everyone is on the same page. Whether that page includes the likes of Kevin Durant and Steph Curry or Doug McDermott and Tim Hardaway Jr. is a different story. But still, Tuesday marks day one for all teams and as it stands they’re all equal.

As we get set to sit down and dissect these opening game matchups on Tuesday, let’s highlight the most intriguing storylines that will be followed for the rest of the season. There’s nothing like watching a story grown in the NBA from its inception, right?

Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers — 8 p.m. ET (TNT)

This is the game we’ve all been waiting for since late June, when Kyrie Irving let it be known to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert that he wanted out from under LeBron’s shadow.

Three years of NBA Finals appearances, the greatest comeback in basketball history, and a ring to show for was all Irving wanted to walk away from. For him, he felt it was his time to shine.

And because the NBA is the perfect mix of beautiful insanity, it would only make sense that Irving would get dealt to the very team that is jostling for position to unseat the Cavs and King James.

The Irving-led Boston Celtics will have to wait a grand total of one second in the new NBA season to begin their matchup with their point guards old teammates and the team that stands in between them a Finals appearance. With Gordon Hayward and Irving together for the first time against meaningful competition, there’s no better way than to check their fit from the jump than by challenging the conference champions in their building.

But Irving’s homecoming isn’t the only storyline heading into the first game of the season. There are some changes on Cleveland’s end as well.

While the main return for Irving — Isaiah Thomas — won’t be suiting up for the Cavs anytime soon due to injury, there are still plenty of new faces to keep an eye on Tuesday night. First and foremost, Flash is in town. After having his contract bought out by the Chicago Bulls, Dwyane Wade joined forces with his buddy in The Land in hopes of recapturing some of the magic that led them to two championships in South Beach.

By teaming up once again, James and Wade provide some of the best chemistry in the league. Yes, Wade isn’t the player he once was when he and James were winning rings. But something is to be said for knowing exactly where someone will be on the court at all times, and that’s the trait exactly that Wade and James share.

Along with Wade, James and the Cavs are hoping to get some type of resurgence from Derrick Rose and Jeff Green off of the bench. Once Thomas returns to the court for Cleveland, this is arguably the deepest team James has ever been around in Cleveland.

Even with Irving and Hayward on board, Boston will be relying on some role players of their own — namely Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The back-to-back third overall picks will occupy most of the time at the forward spots opposite of Hayward. As the season moves on, the development of both of these wings will be crucial to how dangerous the Celtics can be past their two star players.

Tuesday night will be must-see television at Quicken Loans Arena. New eras for the Eastern Conference heavyweights are about to begin.

And as James told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, “The Kid” will be just fine.

Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors — 10:30 p.m. ET (TNT)

On the Western side of the basketball landscape Tuesday night, the potential conference finals matchup will see its first act when the revamped Rockets head to the Bay Area.

Last season at this time, the basketball world was bracing for what the Warriors would look like after adding Kevin Durant to a 73-win team. And as expected, they dominated. Not even LeBron James could put a stop to them, managing just one win in their finals bout.

This year brings in more of the same questions. Can anyone stop the Warriors? Will Golden State just steamroll their way to another championship, effectively sucking the fun of competition out of the entire league?

Well, a few teams this offseason did their best to try and combat that narrative. One of them being the Rockets, who they added perennial all-star point guard Chris Paul to their backcourt.

Putting Paul in the same backcourt as superstar James Harden has the potential to create some of the biggest headaches for opposing teams. The constant ball movement and open looks the two star guards can provide are nearly endless.

While the league swoons over the Warriors’ ability to hit shots from well beyond the arc, it should be noted that it was Houston last year that led the NBA in three-point shooting, not Golden State. It’s certainly not wise to try and go toe-to-toe with the Warriors at their own game, but if there’s ever a team equipped to do it, it’s Houston. Tuesday night will provide a nice preview look at how things in the Western Conference could shake out in the coming months.

Aside from the barrage of scoring that will take place in this matchup, what would a big game be for the Warriors without a little Draymond Green trash talk?

After Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni told ESPN that, “You’re not gonna stop them. It’s just not gonna happen. They’re not gonna stop us, either,” Green clapped back with a comment of his own, as he always does.

“I don’t know how serious they take defense with that comment,” Green said. “But they added some good defensive players.”

It’s true, the Rockets aren’t considered a defensive stalwart by any means. Last season, Houston was 26th in points allowed, compared to second in points scored. Green may be onto something when it comes to questioning how serious his opponents take defense.

That being said, last year’s Rockets didn’t feature Paul. Even at the age of 32, Paul is still one of the league’s best on-ball defenders. And no matter his age, he’ll always possess that competitive fire he’s been known for over the last 12 years.

Going up against the Warriors at Oracle is usually nothing short of impossible, but if there’s going to be a team to challenge their supremacy this season, we’ll get a good look at how they stack up on night one.

With all of this in mind, let’s not forget that the world’s best league is finally back in action. Give yourself a pat on the back, you made it. Now, go enjoy some basketball.

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