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NBA PM: Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot’s Progression

Jake Rauchbach breaks down the incremental progression of 76ers rookie Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot.

Jake Rauchbach

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When the Philadelphia 76ers selected Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot with the 24th pick in the 2016 draft, they knew that they were getting a young player with raw skills and great potential. The organization was set to bring Luwawu-Cabarrot along slowly, allowing him to cut his teeth in the D-League. For the first 32 games of the season, this scenario held true, with Luwawu-Cabarrot recording 12 DNPs and averaging around 7.5 minutes per game.

Since the first of the year, due in part to the Sixers’ injury woes and a lineup re-shuffling by Coach Brett Brown, Luwawu-Cabarrot’s minutes have increased to over 17 per game, with only one DNP. With the increase in minutes, the rookie has employed the strengths that enabled him to be drafted by Philadelphia and has also been hard at work improving other areas of his game. The 21-year-old Frenchman seems to be flattening his rookie learning curve. Luwawu-Cabarrot’s unexpected progression could mean even more opportunity to showcase his ability, and for the Sixers, a dependable energy guy coming off of the bench.

Philadelphia has posted a respectable and improving 19-22 record since January 1. During this span, Luwawu-Cabarrot began to show signs that he may be further along with his maturation as a player than previously expected. Luwawu-Cabarrot has earned playing time in spurts over this stretch, with his minutes per game increasing from 9.1 to 24.3 from December to March. Luwawu-Cabarrot’s scoring is also up from 2.06 per game to 8.06 per game, with his free throw percentage increasing from 67 percent to 87 percent in the new calendar year as well.

Game action, such as contests against Houston on January 27th and versus the Lakers on March 12th, help to re-enforce the theme that TLC is moving in the right direction. Against Houston, Luwawu-Cabarrot scored 12 points on 5-of-5 shooting from the field and 1-of-1 from behind the arc in only 13 minutes of play. Against the Lakers, TLC posted a career high 18 points on 7 of 11 shooting, while also posting three assists and only one turnover. Luwawu-Cabarrot seems to be building momentum with this improved play, while also making a statement that when his number is called, he can be ready to contribute.

Luwawu-Cabarrot is also displaying a good sense for how to facilitate for teammates in pick and roll situations. Thus far this season, Luwawu-Cabarrot has efficiently set up teammates for scoring opportunities via P&Rs. He ranks as the 33rd best player in the league in scoring efficiency when facilitating for teammates in P&R action, averaging 1.2 points per possession. This being said, Luwawu-Cabarrot’s sample size on these types of plays is small. Increased volume in this area of his game will reveal how good Luwawu-Cabarrot’s P&R facilitation skill set actually is at this stage of his career. However, early indications could be showing that Luwawu-Cabarrot is improving a part of his game in which he struggled prior to coming into the league. (All Statistics are courtesy of Synergy and Basketball-Reference.com and are current as of March 28th, 2017)

Take a look at how, with poise, he comes off of the pick set by Jahlil Okafor and hits Okafor on a roll to the basket. Along with T.J. McConnell, Luwawu-Cabarrot could give the Sixers another guard who is adept at setting teammates up for scoring situations. It is too early to tell for sure, but the rookie could be already showing signs of maturing into one of the more solid players when setting up teammates out of P&R action.

Luwawu-Cabarrot has also impressed Coach Brown with his ability to make the right read at the basket.

“He plays downhill, and the decisions he makes once he’s at the rim have been more sophisticated than I thought,” Brown told Brian Seltzer of Sixers.com. “He’s always had that athleticism, but now he’s learning how to drive that car in traffic. He is our most gifted runner, our most athletic wing, and we want to play fast. All of those things matter.”

As Brown alluded to, Luwawu-Cabarrot is steadily progressing and beginning to calibrate his downhill attacking mentality with his ability to make the right basketball reads. Again, Luwawu-Cabarrot’s sample size in these situations is small, but initially, TLC has shown promise finishing around the rim. Through the middle of February, Luwawu-Cabarrot ranked in the 52nd percentile in the league in scoring efficiency off of cuts to the basket, averaging 1.25 points per possession, and in the 58th percentile when driving to the rim for scores off of spot up opportunities. Since that time, Luwawu-Cabarrot’s numbers have fallen off slightly but still remain solid, averaging 1.19 points per possession on cuts to the basket and 1.03 points per possession when driving it to the rim for scores off of spot ups.

Additionally, when scoring the ball coming off of screens, Luwawu-Cabarrot has been excellent, ranking in the 75th percentile in the league in scoring efficiency and shooting 38 percent from the field in these situations.

On the other side of the ball, Luwawu-Cabarrot has employed solid ball pressure, especially when guarding the opposition coming off of screens. Using his 7-foot wingspan and superb lateral quickness, he is allowing just .83 points per possession, holding opposing teams to 31 percent from the field when guarding this action. He is also showing that he is a solid pick and roll defender, especially when he gets switched onto big men.

Throw in Luwawu-Cabarrot’s ability to effectively contest spot up shooters – he ranks in the 79th percentile in the league in this category – and the Sixers may well have themselves a perimeter defender that they may be able to consistently rely upon. If he can continue his strong defensive play, it will give Coach Brown yet another reason to find minutes for Luwawu-Cabarrot moving forward. Check out Luwawu-Cabarrot’s activity, as he crowds Jason Terry off of a pick and roll screen, switches onto Giannis Antetokounmpo, sprints out to run Matthew Dellavedova off of his three-point shot, and then recovers to corral the defensive rebound.

Lastly, Luwawu-Cabarrot looks to be improving his ability to break defenders down off of the dribble. Luwawu-Cabarrot came into the league with a suspect handle, and although TLC still doesn’t yet possess a consistent change of direction skill-set, he is beginning to show signs of expanding this part of his game. Take a look at how he probes the defense and then uses his left-to-right crossover to get downhill at the rim on the Knicks’ Courtney Lee for the finish.

Despite the small sample sizes, signs are indicating that Luwawu-Cabarrot is progressing nicely in his first year in Philadelphia. By continuing his solid play and upward trajectory as a player, Luwawu-Cabarrot could potentially be poised to play a far greater role in the team’s collective success moving forward. Don’t be surprised to see TLC’s contribution increase, especially heading into his sophomore season.

After playing four years of college basketball at Drexel University, Jake Rauchbach coached at the collegiate level, founded The MindRight Pro Program and trained numerous professional and Olympic athletes. Now, Rauchbach writes about the NBA and college basketball for Basketball Insiders and serves as the Player Performance Specialist for Temple University's men's basketball team.

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NBA

Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 11/17/17

Spencer Davies updates the list of names to keep an eye on and who’s in contention for DPOY.

Spencer Davies

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We’re exactly one month into the season now, as the NBA standings have started to take shape headed into winter.

A couple of weeks ago, Basketball Insiders released its first Defensive Player of the Year Watch article to go in-depth on players that could compete for the prestigious award. Since then, there have been injuries keeping most of the household names out of the picture.

Guys like Rudy Gobert (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (ankle) have been or will be sidelined for weeks. Kawhi Leonard has yet to make his season debut recovering from a bothersome right quad.

While that isn’t the best news for fans and the league at the moment, it’s likely that those players will be just fine and return with the same impact they’ve always made. In the meantime, there are opportunities for others to throw their names in the hat as elite defenders. With new names and mainstays, here’s a look at six healthy candidates.

6) Joel Embiid

Trusting the Process in Philadelphia was worth the wait. As polished as the seven-footer is with the ball in his hands on offense, he might be even more dangerous as an interior defensive presence.

One of ten players in the NBA averaging at least a block and a steal per game, Embiid makes a world of a difference for in limiting opponents. Through 14 games, the Philadelphia 76ers are allowing just 96.4 points per 100 possessions with him playing. Furthering that, he’s the only one on the floor who dips the team’s defensive rating below 100 and has the second-highest Defensive Real Plus-Minus rating (3.03) in the NBA.

5) Kristaps Porzingis

Like Embiid, it’s been an incredible season for the one called The Unicorn. Before the season started, Porzingis stated it was a goal of his to accomplish three things—an All-Star game appearance, Most Improved Player, and Defensive Player of the Year.

So far, he’s on the right track. Outside of being the league’s third-highest scorer (28.9 points per game), the Latvian big man is hounding and deterring shot attempts nearly every time inside. According to SportVU data, Porzingis is allowing his opponents to only convert 35.1 percent of their attempts at the rim, which is the lowest by far among his peers seeing at least four tries per game. Oh, and when he’s off the floor, the Knicks have a 112.4 defensive rating, which is 9.3 more points per 100 possessions than with him on.

4) Nikola Jokic

At the beginning of the season, it looked like the same old story with the Denver Nuggets defense, but their intensity has stepped up on that end of the floor for the past couple of weeks. Playing next to new running mate Paul Millsap has taken some getting used to, but it seems like the two frontcourt partners have started to mesh well.

Though it might not have been the case a season ago, the Denver Nuggets are a net -12.4 per 100 possessions defensively without Jokic on the court as opposed to a team-best 100.1 defensive rating with him on. A huge knock on the Serbian sensation last year and before then was his inability to defend. He’s still got things to work on as a rim protector with his timing, but the progress is coming. He’s seventh in the league in total contested shots (168) and has been forcing turnovers like a madman. Averaging 1.6 steals per game, Jokic has recorded at least one takeaway in all but two games.

3) Draymond Green

In the first DPOY watch article, the Golden State Warriors had been better off defensively with Green sitting. That right there should tell you how much we can really put into data in small sample sizes. It’s changed dramatically since that point in time.

Without Green playing, the Golden State Warriors have a defensive rating of 105.4 as opposed to 98.4 on the same scale with him on the floor. His matchups are starting to grow weary of driving on him again, as he’s seen less than four attempts at the basket. Currently, in DRPM, he ranks eighth with a 2.60 rating.

2) Al Horford

The Boston Celtics are still the number one team in the NBA in defensive rating. Horford is still the straw that stirs the drink for Brad Stevens. If you didn’t see that watching that knockdown, drag-it-out game against the Warriors on Thursday, go back and watch it.

He has the highest net rating on the team among starters and is leading the team by altering shots and grabbing rebounds with aggressiveness we haven’t seen since he played for the Atlanta Hawks. Ranking fourth in Defensive Box Plus-Minus and in DRPM, Horford is continuing to make his presence felt.

1) DeMarcus Cousins

Dominance is the word to describe Cousins’ game. With a month-long absence of Gobert, he has a real chance to show fans and voters that his defensive side of him is no façade.

Next to his partner Anthony Davis, Boogie has kept up the physicality and technique of locking up assignments. The third and final member of this list averaging at least a block and steal per game, Cousins is at the top of the mountain in DRPM with a 3.13 rating.

The New Orleans Pelicans significantly benefit with him on the hardwood (102.3 DRTG) as opposed to him on the bench (112.7 DTRG). He’s one of six players in the league seeing more than six attempts at the rim, and he’s allowed the lowest success percentage among that group. He’s also contested 193 shots, which is the second-most in the NBA.

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NBA

Gregg Popovich Continues To Be The Gold Standard For Leadership

There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and Gregg Popovich.

Moke Hamilton

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There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and the San Antonio Spurs.

Okay, let’s be honest, it’s probably not the first time that you’ve heard that one, but it also won’t be the last.

Behind the genius of Gregg Popovich, the Spurs have qualified for the NBA Playoffs 20 consecutive years. In hindsight, they appear to have been the only team to legitimately frighten the Golden State Warriors during their 16-1 playoff run last year, and this season, well, they’ve been the same old Spurs.

That’s been especially amazing considering the fact that the team has been without Kawhi Leonard. Although Popovich recently said that Leonard would return “sooner rather than later,” he himself admitted to not being certain as to what that meant.

Best guess from here is that Leonard will return within the next few weeks, but at this point, it’s entirely fair to wonder whether or not it even matters.

Of course, the Spurs don’t stand much of a chance to win the Western Conference without Leonard thriving at or near 100 percent, but even without him, the Spurs look every bit like a playoff team, and in the Western Conference, that’s fairly remarkable.

“A team just has to play in a sense like he doesn’t exist,” Popovich was quoted as saying by Tom Osborn of the San Antonio Express-News.

“Nobody cares if you lost a good player, right? Everybody wants to whip you. So it doesn’t do much good to do the poor me thing or to keep wondering when he is going to be back or what are we going to do. We have to play now, and other people have to take up those minutes and we have to figure out who to go to when in a different way, and you just move on.”

In a nutshell, that’s Popovich.

What most people don’t understand about Popovich is what makes him a truly great coach is his humility. He is never afraid to second-guess himself and reconsider the way that he’s accustomed to doing things. Since he’s been the head coach of the Spurs, he’s built and rebuilt offenses around not only different players, but also different philosophies.

From the inside-out attack that was his bread and butter with David Robinson and Tim Duncan to the motion and movement system that he built around Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the latest incarnation of Popovich’s genius isn’t only the fact that he has survived without Kawhi Leonard, it’s what could fairly be considered the major catalyst of it.

There are many head coaches around the league that take their roles as authority figures quite seriously, and that’s why a fair number would have been threatened by one of their star players requesting that things be rebuilt in a way to maximize his potential.

So when LaMarcus Aldridge proactively sat down with his coach to discuss the ways that he felt he was being misused in the team’s schemes, it wouldn’t have come as a shock for Popovich to meet him with resistance.

Instead, he did the opposite.

“We have talked about what we can do to make him more comfortable, and to make our team better,” Popovich acknowledged during Spurs training camp.

“But having said that, I think we are mostly talking about offense. Defense, he was fantastic for us. Now, we have got to help him a little bit more so that he is comfortable in his own space offensively, and I haven’t done a very good job of that.”

Just 11 days after those comments were printed, the Spurs announced that they had signed Aldridge to a three-year, $72 million extension.

Considering that Aldridge’s first two years as a member of the Spurs yielded some poor efforts and relatively low output, the extension seemed curious and was met with ridicule.

Yet, one month later and 15 games into the season, the Spurs sit at 9-6. They’ve survived the absence of Kawhi Leonard and the loss of Jonathon Simmons.

Behind an offensive system tweaked to take advantage of his gifts, in the early goings, Aldridge is averaging 22 points per game, a far cry above the 17.7 points per game he averaged during his first two years in San Antonio.

Coincidence?

I think not.

Death, taxes and the Spurs.

So long as Gregg Popovich is at the helm, exhibiting strong leadership while remaining amazingly humble, the Spurs will be the Spurs.

Sure, Kawhi Leonard will be back—at some point.

But until then, the Spurs will be just fine.

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NBA

NBA AM: Atlanta’s Dewayne Dedmon Is Letting Shots — And Jokes — Fly

Dewayne Dedmon’s emergence has been an unexpected positive for the rebuilding Atlanta Hawks.

Buddy Grizzard

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It’s been a brutal season for the Atlanta Hawks, they’re just already 3-12 with the worst record in the Eastern Conference.

Wednesday’s franchise-record 46-point win over the visiting Sacramento Kings was a rare chance for Atlanta to have a laugh in the postgame locker room and reflect on things that have gone well, including hot shooting for the team and a potential breakout season for center Dewayne Dedmon.

The Hawks trail only the Golden State Warriors in three-point shooting at just over 40 percent. Prior to joining the Hawks, Dedmon had attempted only one three-pointer in 224 career games. As a Hawk, though, Dedmon is shooting 42 percent on 19 attempts. Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer explained after Wednesday’s game how his staff decided to encourage Dedmon to extend his range.

“You do your research and you talk to friends around the league, you talk to people who have worked with him and you watch him during warmups,” said Budenholzer. “We had a belief, an idea, that he could shoot, he could make shots. We’re kind of always pushing that envelope with the three-point line. He’s embraced it.”

Dedmon is currently averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, blocks and minutes, and set season-highs in points (20), rebounds (14) and assists (five) against the Kings. He’s also brought an offbeat sense of humor that has helped keep the locker room loose despite the struggles. It became apparent early on that Dedmon was a different type of dude.

At Media Day, when nobody approached Dedmon’s table and reporters instead flocked to interview rookie John Collins at the next table, Dedmon joined the scrum, holding his phone out as if to capture a few quotes.

“This guy’s going to be a character,” said a passing Hawks staffer.

Those words proved prophetic, as Coach Bud confirmed after Wednesday’s win.

“He brings a lot of personality to our team, really from almost the day he got here,” said Budenholzer. “I think he’s getting more and more comfortable and can help the young guys and help everybody.”

Dedmon took an unconventional path to the NBA. Growing up, his mother — a Jehovah’s Witness — forbade him to play organized sports. Once he turned 18, Dedmon began making his own decisions. He walked on to the team at Antelope Valley College, a two-year school in Lancaster, Ca., before transferring to USC and eventually making it to the league.

His personality, which formed while Dedmon forged his own path, shone through in the locker room after the Sacramento win. Asked about conversations he’s had with Budenholzer about shot selection, Dedmon turned to teammate Kent Bazemore at the adjacent locker.

“What’s the phrase, Baze? LTMF?”

“Yep,” Bazemore replied.

“Yeah, LTMF,” Dedmon continued. “Let it fly. So he told me to shoot … let it go. I’m not going to say what the M means.”

Amidst laughter from the assembled media, he explained that ‘LTMF’ is Budenholzer’s philosophy for the whole team, not just part of an effort to expand Dedmon’s game.

“Everybody has the same freedom,” said Dedmon. “So it definitely gives everybody confidence to shoot their shots when they’re open and just play basketball.”

With the injury bug thus far robbing Atlanta of its stated ambition to overachieve this season, Dedmon’s career year and team success from three-point range are two big positives.

Rebuilding or retooling can be a painful process. But with a unique personality like Dedmon helping keep things light in the locker room, Atlanta should make it through.

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