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NBA PM: Willie Reed Enjoying His Opportunity with Brooklyn

Willie Reed made his NBA dream come true. Now, he’s working hard to improve all aspects of his game.

Cody Taylor

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Willie Reed Enjoying His Opportunity with Brooklyn

Over the past few seasons, the D-League has produced some of the NBA’s best up-and-coming players. As the NBA’s minor league system, the D-League has become a legitimate avenue for players trying to make it in the NBA.

Each year, teams are able to sign players to 10-day contracts beginning in January. Most of those 10-day contracts are used to sign players out of the D-League. Last season, a record 47 players received call-ups to the NBA, while 30 players have been called up this season.

It seems like each year we’re talking about which players should be called up. Most of the time, players who put together successful runs in the D-League will earn their way up to the NBA. Other times, we’re left wondering why some players haven’t yet received their opportunity.

One player that took full advantage of the D-League was Brooklyn Nets big man Willie Reed. After going undrafted in 2011, Reed spent the better part of the next three seasons in the D-League as he would go on to play for four teams during that stretch (and he would even have one stint in the Dominican Republic).

It was clear that Reed was by far one of the most talented players in the D-League during his three years with the Springfield Armor, Reno Bighorns, Grand Rapids Drive and Iowa Energy. He posted career averages of 15.3 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 145 games in the D-League while boasting a 21.3 PER.

Perhaps the most impressive part about Reed’s stint in the D-League was he was earning the respect of his opponents. It’s one thing to impress fans or those watching at home, but to earn the praise of guys they’re battling against each night is another thing.

“Man, Willie Reed was on a bus or flight for like eight hours,” former Canton Charge forward Tristan Spurlock told Basketball Insiders. “He hopped off and played us and I think he might have had 35 points — something crazy. I was like, ‘Who in the hell is this?’

“I was inactive that game, but I was like he is amazing. Who is this? He looked like Willis Reed. He killed everyone out there. He’s hitting jumpers. Everything around that basket you may as well have counted it. Willie was one of those guys where I knew he wasn’t going to be down there long.”

Fast forward one year later and Reed is nearing the end of his first full season in the NBA. Reed was signed last summer by the Nets in free agency after having a successful run with the Miami HEAT’s Summer League team. Reed showcased his full arsenal with the HEAT as he became a focal point on the offensive end, while remaining a key part of their interior defense.

It was a game against the Nets in Summer League that likely proved to be the pivotal performance that got him into the NBA for good. He finished that game against the Nets with 17 points and nine rebounds. He signed his NBA contract that week with the Nets and joined them for the remainder of their time in the Summer League.

Now that Reed has nearly a full season in the NBA under his belt, he knows there is more work to be done in order to have success. He’s spent the past several years trying to make a dream become reality and knows his NBA career is in only the beginning stages.

“I know I have a lot to work on,” Reed told Basketball Insiders. “Obviously, I have to work on my offensive game – I have to get stronger. I’ve always been pretty strong, but it’s a totally different level here. The D-League was a little different, but the NBA I think that all of the things that I did in the D-League pretty much translated over to the NBA. My rebounding translated, rim protection translated and pick-and-roll offense. I’m just thankful to be here and I think that as I continue to learn the game more on an NBA level, I’m only going to get better and better.”

Reed’s start with the Nets began a bit rocky. He missed the first 18 games of the regular season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb. He suffered the injury after making his preseason debut with the Nets. He joined the team a few months later and made his NBA debut on December 11 against the New York Knicks.

Reed’s playing time with the Nets has been up and down, but he’s shown that he can be productive when given an increased role. He’s appeared in 39 games this season, while earning the start in two of those contests. He averaged 13.5 points, seven rebounds, three blocks and 1.5 assists per game in the starting lineup.

Per 36 minutes, Reed is posting averages of 15.4 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. He posted his best game of the season on March 5 against the Minnesota Timberwolves after recording 14 points, eight rebounds, four blocks and three assists.

“It’s definitely tough when you don’t know how many minutes you’re going to play,” Reed said. “You try to find a way to make sure that you’re always ready no matter how much you play. If I’m not playing, I’m trying to make sure that I’m cheering my teammates on because I know that where I was last year when I was working a side job in [my family’s] warehouse and in the D-League that I was just dreaming of being here so I’m thankful for every moment that I get the opportunity to be here, even if it’s just cheering for my teammates.”

With just five games remaining on the schedule for the Nets, Reed and the rest of the team will be trying to end the season on a high note. This summer for Reed is going to be huge as he can become a restricted free agent once the Nets extend him a $1,215,696 qualifying offer.

Although he’s missed some time this season due to injury, he’s put together some good performances on tape, which help his chances of re-signing with the Nets this summer or getting a deal with a new team.

“You continue to do what you do best and don’t worry about the season coming to an end,” Reed said. “You just enjoy the moment and live in the moment. Play as hard as you can for as long as you’re out there and everything else will take take care of itself.

“This is going to be a huge offseason. I know that and that’s why every day when I come out here and I step on the floor – whether it’s practice, shootaround or games – I try to make the most of it so they know that I’m working as hard as I can and they believe in me enough to bring me back or another team believes in me enough that I’m an NBA player. I’m just going to continue to go out there and fight.”

With the salary cap set to rise to about $90 million this summer, a lot of teams are going to have money to spend. The Nets can have about $41 million in salary cap space, so this roster could change drastically by the time next season starts.

As things stand now, Brook Lopez, Thaddeus Young, Bojan Bogdanovic, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris McCullough and Sean Kilpatrick are the only players on guaranteed contracts for next season.

The team introduced a new general manager earlier this year, and they’ll likely end up hiring a new coach at some point this summer. They’ll be tasked at improving through free agency as they currently have no picks in June’s draft.

The team does have some intriguing young players on the team in Hollis-Jefferson, Thomas Robinson, Reed and Kilpatrick. With such a busy offseason ahead for Brooklyn, it remains to be seen if those players are in the team’s long-term plans, but Reed would welcome the opportunity.

“I definitely think that this is a good situation,” Reed said. “The new general manager and the assistant general manager are bringing great life to this city and this team. They’re getting the right type of game style together – passing the ball, cutting and they’re very defensive-minded.

“I think this is a great opportunity for me. Everybody here is really in the trial period where they’re trying to show that they should be here so we’re all in the same place and I’m just trying to prove that I belong.”

Podcast: More From Willie Reed

Check out the latest installment of the Basketball Insiders Podcast, which featured the aforementioned Willie Reed. Listen below:

 

Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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NBA Daily: Rookie Contributors Lifting Playoff Teams

This year’s impressive rookie class has translated their regular season performances to the playoff stage.

Dennis Chambers

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This past NBA season had the luxury of an incredibly entertaining and high-powered rookie class. Every other day it seemed like the feats of either Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Lauri Markkanen, Dennis Smith Jr., Kyle Kuzma, or Ben Simmons were dominating the discussion about how advanced the league’s crop of newbies appeared to be.

As a result, the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year race was a much more heated discussion than the year before.

With the impressive campaign these NBA freshmen put together, it should come as no surprise that on the on bright stage of playoff basketball, three of the aforementioned crop are helping lead their team’s in tight first-round battles.

Donovan Mitchell has been the leading scorer for the Utah Jazz through two games in their series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Jayson Tatum is stepping up for the Boston Celtics to help fill in the void of Kyrie Irving as they take on the Milwaukee Bucks. Ben Simmons is nearly averaging a triple-double through three games for the Philadelphia 76ers in their matchup with the Miami HEAT.

Lottery pick talents are expected in today’s NBA to come in and have some level of impact for their clubs. Usually, they play the role as a foundational building block that shows flashes of promise with an expected up-and-down first season. While these three playoff contributors haven’t been perfect all year long, under the pressure of the postseason, they’ve stepped up their play and appear to be avoiding the learning curve.

With that, let’s highlight further what Mitchell, Tatum, and Simmons have been able to do thus far in the postseason.

Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

All season long Mitchell threw the entire scoring load of Salt Lake City on his back for the Jazz and helped carry them to a 5-seed in the Western Conference when early season projections suggested they should head towards in the wake of Rudy Gobert’s injury.

However, the 13th pick out of Louisville had no intentions of missing out on the postseason. And from the looks of his production so far, who can blame him?

Through the first two games of the Jazz-Thunder series, Mitchell yet again placed his name in the same breath as Michael Jordan. Mitchell’s 55 points in his first two playoff games broke Jordan’s record of 53 for most points scored by a rookie guard in that scenario.

Mitchell’s 27 points in Game 1 and 28 points in Game 2 led the Jazz to even the series and steal home court advantage from the Thunder. While he hasn’t been responsible for setting up the team’s offense, tallying just five assists through those two games, Mitchell is fulfilling the role of Gordon Hayward as the team’s primary scorer.

In a series against a team that features the likes of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony, Utah needs Mitchell to go out there and get as many buckets as he possibly can.

So far, he appears to be welcoming the challenge.

Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics

When it was announced that Kyrie Irving would be lost for the entire postseason due to injury, the Boston Celtics’ hold on the 2-seed seemed a lot less intimidating than it once was in the Eastern Conference.

However, three games into the first round series against the Bucks, the Celtics hold a 2-1 lead. A lot part of that has to do with the role Tatum has been able to step in and play right away with the Celtics down their main scorer and playmaker.

Throughout the first three games of the series, Tatum 12.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 2.3 steals. The third overall pick in the 2017 draft started the series off with 19 points, 10 rebounds, and three steals to help Boston start off the matchup with a 1-0 lead.

At just 20 years old, Tatum is matching his age number with his usage percentage thus far against Milwaukee. For some perspective, Jaylen Brown managed just 12 minutes a night for the Celtics last season as a rookie when the playoffs rolled around.

Granted, injuries and missing players are helping in Tatum being on the court as much as he has, but the rookie is earning his time out there on the court.

Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers

The perceived frontrunner for Rookie of the Year, Ben Simmons has taken control in his first ever playoff series.

For starters, Simmons is averaging nearly a triple double over his first three games against the HEAT; 20 points, 10 rebounds, and 9.7 assists.

On top of his triple double ways, Simmons has upped arguably his biggest weakness so far in the playoffs, shooting 75 percent from the charity stripe. During the regular season, Simmons struggled from the line, hitting only 56 percent of his attempts.

With the offensive prowess of Simmons obvious, it’s the job he’s doing on the defensive end of the court against an aggressive and tough Miami squad that’s elevating his play to the next level.

Simmons’ ability to switch all over the defensive end of the court has placed his responsibilities from Goran Dragic to Justise Winslow to James Johnson, and seemingly everywhere in between.

Now with Joel Embiid back in the fold for the Sixers and Simmons, the rookie point guard has his defensive partner on the floor to help ease the workload on that end. A two-way performance each night will be imperative for Simmons in helping lead the young Sixers past the experienced HEAT team.

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Pelicans Role Players are Key to Success

The supporting cast in New Orleans is a big part of their playoff surge, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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The New Orleans Pelicans have taken a commanding 3-0 lead in their first-round playoff series again the Portland Trail Blazers. While surprising to some, the Pelicans only finished one game behind the Blazers in the standings. The Pelicans have the best player in the series in Anthony Davis and the defensive duo of Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday have stifled Portland’s backcourt.

The truth is, the Pelicans have been a good team all season long. A lot of attention and recognition has been given to Davis, Rondo and Holiday this season and playoffs, and rightfully so. But New Orleans wouldn’t be where they are without the important contributions of some of their role players.

Take E’Twaun Moore, for example. Moore bounced around the NBA early in his career, with stops in Boston, Orlando and Chicago before finding long-term stability contract wise with the Pelicans. He’s primarily been a bench player with them before this season, his second in New Orleans, his first as a full-time starter.

He’s given the Pelicans a huge boost, especially from the three-point line. He’s put up 12.5 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting from the field, both career-highs. He’s shooting 42.5 percent from three-point range.

“I think it’s just our style of play,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “We play fast and open. Coach [Gentry] gives us a lot of freedom, a lot of confidence. That’s why my game is up, my shooting is up.”

It’s not just offensively though. Moore has always been one of the more underrated defensive guards in the league. Paired up alongside Rondo and Holiday, the trio form a solid wing defensive unit. They’re a big reason for Portland’s offensive struggles.

Moore is the type of role player that every playoff contender needs to succeed. He knows that his role may change from game to game. Some nights he may be asked to score a little more. Other nights his defense is going to be called upon. Whatever it may be, he’s always ready to do what’s asked of him.

“I bring the energy. I bring a spark,” Moore told Basketball Insiders. “It’s knocking down shots, playing defense, getting out in transition. Just trying to be a spark.”

The Pelicans bench has also been a huge factor all season long. Their depth took a major hit early in the season with the injury to Solomon Hill. Hill has since returned to the lineup, but his absence paved the way for other players such as Darius Miller to step up.

This is Miller’s second stint with the Pelicans after spending two years overseas. Drafted 46th overall in 2012, he didn’t play much his first three years in the NBA. In 2014, he was cut by the Pelicans only about a month into the season. This year was different, he was thrown into the rotation from the get-go.

“This is a huge opportunity,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I just come in and try to work every day, try to get better every day. My teammates have done a great job of putting me in situations where I can be successful.”

Miller has given the Pelicans a capable stretch four in the second unit who can slide over to small forward if need be. He’s averaging a career-best 7.8 points per game, the most out of any of New Orleans’ reserves. He’s their best three-point shooter off the bench, connecting on 41.1 percent of his long-range attempts.

While he acknowledges that he’s enjoying his best season yet as an NBA player, he’s quick to praise his teammates for allowing him to flourish.

“I just try to bring a spark off the bench. I come in and try to knock some shots down,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “My teammates do a great job of finding me when I’m open, I just try and knock down shots and compete.”

Sometimes time away from the NBA helps players grow and mature. The NBA game is fast paced and it can take awhile to get used to it. While some players have begun to use the G-League as a means of preparing for the league, Miller took an alternate route of heading to Germany.

For him, it’s a big reason why he’s been able to make an easier transition back to the NBA. His contract for next season is non-guaranteed, but he’s probably done enough to warrant the Pelicans keeping him around. He’s a much different and much-improved player. If not, he’s sure to draw interest from other teams.

“It was a lot to learn for me personally,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I had to learn a lot of different things like how to take care of my body, how to manage my time, a whole bunch of stuff like that. The time overseas really helped me to mature and grow up and learn a few things.”

These Pelicans have most certainly turned quite a few heads since the playoffs began. We shouldn’t deal too much with hypotheticals, but it’s interesting to wonder what this team’s ceiling would’ve been had DeMarcus Cousins not been lost for the season due to injury.

This is a confident bunch, however. They’ve beaten both the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets during the regular season. They’ve already shattered a lot of expert predictions with their performance in the first-round. The Pelicans feel like they can hang with anyone out West.

“As far as we want to go,” Miller told Basketball Insiders. “I feel like we’ve competed with all the best teams in the league this whole season. We just got to come out, stay focused and do what we do.”

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Is LeBron Enough For Cavs To Get Through The East?

Cleveland’s offense has struggled through the first two games of the playoffs. Can the four-time MVP consistently bail them out? Spencer Davies writes.

Spencer Davies

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After a less-than-encouraging series opener versus the Indiana Pacers, LeBron James responded emphatically and led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a bounce back 100-97 victory to even things up at one game apiece.

Scoring the first 13 points of the game itself, The King was a one-man wrecking crew out of the gate and carried that momentum throughout all four quarters of Game 2. His 46 points were James’ second-highest scoring mark between the regular season and the playoffs. In addition, he shot above 70 percent from the field for the sixth time this year.

The four-time MVP pulled down 12 rebounds total, and but all but one of those boards were defensive—the most he’s had since Saint Patrick’s Day in Chicago a month ago.

What James did was another classic instance where LeBron reminds us that through all the injuries, drama, and on-court issues, whatever team he’s on always has a chance to go all the way. But having said all of that—can the Cavaliers realistically depend on that kind of spectacular effort for the rest of the postseason? It’s a fair question.

Kevin Love is a solid secondary go-to guy, but he’s struggled to find his rhythm in the first two games. He’s done a solid job defensively between both, but he’s getting banged up and is dealing with knocked knees and a reported torn thumb ligament in the same hand he broke earlier in the season.

Love has admitted that he’d like more post touches instead of strictly hanging out on the perimeter, but it’s on him to demand the ball more and he knows it. But finding that flow can be challenging when James has it going and is in all-out attack mode.

Kyle Korver came to the rescue for Cleveland as the only shooter that consistently converted on open looks. Outside of those three, and maybe J.R. Smith, really, there hasn’t been a tangible threat that’s a part of the offense during this series.

We all pondered whether or not the “new guys” would be able to step up when their respective numbers were called. So far, that hasn’t been the case for the most part.

Jordan Clarkson looks rushed with tunnel vision. Rodney Hood has had good body language out there, but seems reluctant to shoot off dribble hand-offs and is second-guessing what he wants to do. The hustle and effort from Larry Nance Jr. is obvious, but he’s also a good bet to get into foul trouble. Plus, he’s had some struggles on an island against Pacer guards.

As for George Hill, the good news is the impact on the floor just based on his mere presence on both ends (game-high +16 on Wednesday), but he hasn’t really done any scoring and fouled out of Game 2.

Maybe these things change on the road, who knows. But those four, the rest of the rotation, absolutely have to step up in order for the Cavaliers to win this series and fend off this hungry Indiana group, which brings us to another point.

Let’s not forget, the offensive issues aren’t simply because of themselves. After all, the Cavs were a team that had little trouble scoring the basketball in the regular season, so give a ton of credit to the Pacers’ scheme and McMillan’s teachings to play hard-nosed.

Unlike many teams in the league, the strategy for them is to pressure the ball and avoid switches as much as possible on screens. The more they go over the pick and stick on their assignments, the better chance they have of forcing a bad shot or a turnover. That’s what happened in Game 1 and in the majority of the second half of Game 2.

Cleveland has also somewhat surprisingly brought the fight on defense as well. In the first two contests of the series, they’ve allowed under 100 points. Lue’s said multiple times that they’re willing to give up the interior buckets in order to secure the outside, and it’s worked. It doesn’t seem smart when there’s a yellow-colored layup line going on at times, but it certainly paid off by only allowing 34 percent of Indiana’s threes to go down.

Still, looking ahead to what the Cavaliers can do in the playoffs as a whole, it doesn’t bode well. They’re not only locked in a tug-of-war with Indiana, but if they get past them, they could have a Toronto Raptors group chomping at the bit for revenge.

If they’re having this much trouble in the first round, what should make us believe they can barrel through the Eastern Conference as they’ve done in the past?

It’s not quite as obvious or as bad as Cleveland’s 2007 version of James and the rest, but it feels eerily similar for as much as he’s put the team on his back so far. The organization better hope improvement comes fast from his supporting cast, or else it could be a longer summer than they’d hoped for.

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