Orlando Magic guard Arron Afflalo talks about participating in the Three-Point Contest during the 2014 All-Star Weekend.
The Development of Avery Bradley
Not that long ago, when Avery Bradley was a rookie on the Boston Celtics, he was completely star struck and nervous around the team’s veteran players. At the time, Bradley was only 20 years old and understandably shy since he was playing alongside future Hall of Famers like Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Shaquille O’Neal. Bradley was scared of being subbed in during practices because he didn’t want to mess up. He was content sitting on the sidelines, so that he wouldn’t get yelled at by Garnett or embarrass himself in front of the stars that he had watched on television for years.
Now, just three years later, Bradley is one of Boston’s most important players. The team has ushered in a youth movement, and the 23-year-old guard is their most productive, experienced youngster. Early in his career, Bradley earned a reputation for being an excellent perimeter defender, capable of terrorizing guards from one end of the court to the other. But this season, Bradley’s role has expanded and he has the opportunity to show that he’s a two-way player.
While this is Bradley’s third season as a starter with the Celtics, it’s his first campaign as one of the team’s focal points. He’s no longer just the lockdown defender who was a complementary piece to Garnett, Pierce and Allen. Now, in addition to playing his tenacious defense, he’s also leading the Celtics in shot attempts per game and handling the ball much more than ever before.
Entering this season, Bradley realized that he needed to step up and do more for the Celtics. While he has battled an ankle sprain throughout the year, he has furthered his development this season and put together a career-year. He’s currently averaging a career-high in points (14.6), rebounds (4.0) and efficiency rating (12.81). In his first three seasons in the NBA (playoffs included), Bradley played in 161 games, but scored 20 or more points just six times. This season, he has already had 10 games with 20 or more points through 45 contests.
“I think [I’ve developed] a lot because I have worked on my game and I got a chance to learn from a lot of great players,” Bradley told Basketball Insiders. “Even though I didn’t play as much, it was big for me to get a chance to learn from Ray [Allen] and Paul [Pierce] and all of those guys. I feel like that helped my development a lot. I would watch everything they did, every single day. Like, literally. The days that I didn’t want to work out, those guys would motivate me. The stuff that I would see them do, it’s no coincidence why they are who they are.”
While Bradley has had some games where he has struggled to shoot the ball, he has also had a number of impressive outings that were incredibly efficient. He had 21 points on 9-11 shooting against the Cleveland Cavaliers in late November, 26 points on 11-19 shooting versus the Washington Wizards in December, and 24 points on 10-15 shooting against the Orlando Magic in November. While Bradley’s offense has been on display this season, he stresses that he still considers himself a defensive-minded player.
“First, I’m a defensive player,” Bradley said. “I’ve always known that if I got a chance I would be able to make shots for my team, but that wasn’t my role. Defense was my role, and that’s still my role now. But now I also get a chance to be able to show both ends of the floor and that means a lot, for my teammates to have confidence in me and for my hard work to pay off.”
Boston’s new head coach, Brad Stevens, is the one who has given more responsibilities to Bradley. Stevens, who spent the last six years coaching at Butler University, is adjusting to the NBA game in his first season as an NBA coach. Bradley believes he has done an incredible job with the young Celtics, and says Stevens’ NCAA-to-NBA transition has been very smooth.
“It’s been amazing,” Bradley said of playing for Coach Stevens. “I feel like he’s done a great job. Obviously this is a different game, but I feel like he has adjusted so well, and he gives us all confidence. To have a coach that believes in you and wants to see you do well and succeed, that’s big and important, especially for a young team.”
When Rajon Rondo and Bradley have started together in the backcourt for Boston, the team is 2-0. Stevens hopes the duo can stay healthy going forward because he loves playing them together.
“It’s huge,” Stevens said of being able to play Bradley and Rondo together. “It’s a huge priority for me. They seem to be on paper really good fits, but it’s even better to see them in person. Their strengths fit each other well on both ends of the floor, and so hopefully that can continue to be accentuated as we get further along.”
Bradley enjoys playing alongside Rondo as well. The Celtics started the season without Rondo, who was recovering from a torn ACL, and it made Bradley and others realize just how important the veteran point guard is to the team.
“I feel like it changed things for everybody,” Bradley said of having Rondo back in the lineup. “He brings a different look to the game, and he’s a very smart player on both ends of the floor. He makes it easier on everybody because of how smart he is and how much he knows the game.”
Earlier this season, the Celtics and Bradley’s camp weren’t able to agree to an extension, which means that Bradley will become a restricted free agent this summer once Boston extends a $3,581,302 qualifying offer to him. Bradley will likely receive interest from a number of teams, and it remains to be seen how much Boston is willing to spend to retain him. Bradley is trying not to focus on any of that, just like he didn’t pay attention to the extension negotiations when they were taking place.
“Just like any other process, you try not to worry about it – it’s just like the trade deadline and all that stuff,” Bradley said. “You just don’t worry about it. You can only control your play and your attitude, and that’s all I am focused on.”
The biggest question about Bradley is how much more will he improve in the years to come? He’s only 23 years old, so it’s safe to say that his best basketball is ahead of him. Coming out of high school, Bradley was considered the top recruit in the country because of his potential, ranked ahead of players like John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Favors, John Henson, Lance Stephenson and Kawhi Leonard among others. How much more room for development does he have?
“A lot,” Bradley said, without hesitation. “I continue to learn every single day. I learn from Coach Stevens every day. I learn from Rondo every day. I learn from all my teammates. I know that if I continue to work, I can continue to improve. Like this summer already, I have some things that I know I need to work on, that I’m going to put in my game. I’m starting to work on those things already. I’m not going to get specific, but every part of my game I feel like I can improve – defense and offense.”
The sky seems like the limit for Bradley. He has come a long way from the kid who was scared to participate in an NBA practice, and he’s just getting started.
Pacers Over Blazers is Signature Win
The Indiana Pacers got a signature win on Friday night, defeating the Portland Trail Blazers in overtime, 118-113. A win over Portland is nice, but this Pacers victory was even more impressive for several reasons: Indiana was without Lance Stephenson, Paul George struggled throughout the evening (17 points on 5-23 shooting) and the Pacers had to come back from down eight with a little over six minutes remaining in the game.
Even when Indiana isn’t at full strength, they’re a very scary team, which is why it isn’t hard to imagine them hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy behind their balanced attack and great defense. George Hill had the best game of his career with 37 points, nine rebounds, eight assists and two steals and David West chipped in 30 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks as well.
“That was a heck of a basketball game, very intense,” head coach Frank Vogel said following the win over Portland. “Our guys exhibited great will.”
“This was a big win for us,” West said. “Against the top teams, you’ve got to get wins throughout the year. This is a good win for us. We talked about finishing strong before the All-star break. We prepared well yesterday for this and just came in and had an overall good game.”
“Regardless of the circumstances in the game, I’ll take a win anytime,” George said. “They are a great team, a great organization. It was a great team win. They really battled. We had to gut it down. We really just manned up defensively, and offensively I thought we made huge plays. It was fun. Those are the games you want to be a part of, playing against the highest competition in a game where you’ve got to grind it out. It’s the most fun games in this league.”
The Pacers overcame the eight-point deficit thanks to big shots from Hill and West. The duo scored 28 of Indiana’s final 37 points.
“We were just making sure we stayed in it and stayed aggressive,” West said. “Ultimately we made enough plays defensively against the top offense in the NBA to come up with a big win at home.”
“We always say it’s a long game and we’re never out of it with the defense we play,” Hill said. “Even with the deficit we had, we knew we’d continue to keep grinding. It was fun. We knew Lance was out. He’s a big part of our energy and things like that. We always say when a guy is down, the next guy has to step up. I just tried to be as aggressive as I could tonight.”
Hill was extremely productive, and drew praise from his coach after the game.
“He’s a special player, probably our most underrated guy,” Vogel said of Hill. “To have a break out game like that offensively with Lance out was good to see. It was his individual mind set. He gets slack because his assists and rebound totals aren’t all that high. But he’s capable of doing what he did tonight.”
“When I first walked in here I was yelling at everybody that I had a lot of energy today,” Hill said. “From 5 o’clock when we came here to start shooting, I don’t know what it was, I just felt different today.”
The Pacers are 39-10, which is the NBA’s best record.
NBA Daily: Jaylen Brown Set To Return For Celtics
The Celtics finally got some good news on Thursday. Jaylen Brown’s return is imminent.
Finally, some good news for the Boston Celtics.
Jaylen Brown is set to return to action.
Brown has been M.I.A. since sustaining a concussion during the team’s 117-109 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves back on March 8, but has traveled with the team to Portland and is expecting to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Celtics do battle with the Sacramento Kings.
As the Celts gear up for a playoff run, which they hope will result in them ending LeBron James’ reign atop the Eastern Conference, they’ve picked the wrong time to run into injury issues. Along with Brown, both Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart have each been conspicuous by their absences, and the team could certainly use all of their pieces as they attempt to enter the postseason on a high note.
Fortunately for Boston, with the Toronto Raptors leading them by 4.5 games in the standings and the Celts ahead of the Cleveland Cavaliers by a comfortable six games, Brad Stevens’ team is enjoying the rare situation of having a playoff seed that appears to be somewhat locked in.
Still, with the team only able to go as far as its young rotation will carry it, Brown addressed the media on Thursday.
“I’m feeling a lot better. I’m just trying to hurry up and get back,” Brown said, as quoted by Celtics.com.
“I’m tired of not playing.”
Stevens is probably tired of him not playing, too.
As we head into the month of April, playoff-bound teams and conference contenders begin to think about playing into June, while the cellar-dwellers and pretenders begin to look toward the draft lottery and free agency.
What’s funny is that in the midst of the Raptors and their rise out East, the Celtics and their dominance has become a bit of a forgotten storyline. When Gordon Hayward went down on opening night, the neophytes from the Northeast were thought to be a decent team in the making whose ceiling probably wasn’t anywhere near that of the Cavs, the Raptors and perhaps even the Washington Wizards.
Yet through it all, with the impressive growth of Jaylen Brown, impressive rookie Jayson Tatum and the rise of Irving as a franchise’s lynchpin, the Celtics stormed out the games to the tune of a a 17-3 record. What made the strong start even more impressive was the fact that the team won 16 straight games after beginning the season 0-2.
Although they weren’t able to keep up that pace, they began the month of February having gone 37-15 and turned a great many into believers. With their spry legs, team-first playing style and capable leader in Irving, the Celtics, it was thought, were a true contender in the Eastern Conference — if not the favorite.
Since then, and after experiencing injuries to some of its key cogs, the team has gone just 11-8.
In the interim, it seems that many have forgotten about the team that tantalized the Eastern Conference in the early goings of the season.
Brown’s return, in one important respect, will signify a return to Boston’s prior self.
With Marcus Smart having recently undergone surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb, he is expected to be out another five weeks or so, meaning that he’ll likely miss the beginning of the postseason.
As for Irving, although reports say that his ailing knee has no structural damage, everything the Celtics hope to accomplish begins and ends with him. FOX Sports 1’s Chris Broussard believes that it’s no slam dunk that Irving returns to action this season, but he’s in the minority. This team has simply come too far to not give themselves every opportunity to compete at the highest level, so long as doing so doesn’t jeopardize the long term health of any of the franchise’s cornerstones.
Make no mistake about it, the Celtics are far from a finished product. With their nucleus intact and flexibility preserved, they will have another offseason with which to tinker with their rotation pieces and plug away at building a champion.
But here and now, with what they’ve got, the Celtics are much closer than any of us thought they would be at this point.
And on Sunday, when Jaylen Brown rejoins his team in the lineup, to the delight of the Boston faithful, the Celtics will be that much closer.
Winslow and the Miami HEAT Are “Believing in Each Other”
Justise Winslow discusses the all-around team effort of the Miami HEAT with Basketball Insiders.
The days of LeBron James in Miami are over. Chris Bosh isn’t there anymore, either. No more Ray Allen or Shane Battier. Dwyane Wade is back, but he’s not “Flash” nowadays.
Actually, check the entire Miami HEAT roster; there’s no superstar. They have an All-Star in Goran Dragic, even if he was the third alternate. But during this most recent playoff push, the HEAT don’t have a worldwide household name to plaster all over billboards as a reason for their success.
With 10 games remaining until the playoffs, Miami doesn’t have a player averaging more than 33 minutes per game. Instead, they have 11 players who average at least 20 minutes a contest. Their approach is that of a deep rotation, and its led them to a 39-33 record and the 7th seed in the Eastern Conference. All while the rest of the league is star-driven.
One of those key cogs to the Miami machine is third-year wing, Justise Winslow. A former top-10 pick out of Duke, Winslow is enjoying most efficient season so far for the HEAT. To him, the fact that his squad isn’t littered with names like LeBron and Steph doesn’t make a difference.
“I think our team is extremely confident in each other,” Winslow said. “I think that’s a big thing is that we all believe in each other. We play to each other’s strengths, and most importantly we’re a defensive-minded team. We hang our hats on the defensive end, and that’s really what gets us going as a team.”
Winslow isn’t exaggerating. The HEAT is seventh in the NBA in defensive rating. Head coach Erik Spoelstra harps on the team’s defensive scheme and preparation. Without a go-to scorer capable of getting the team 30 any given night, Miami needs to do their job as a collective unit on the defensive end of the floor night in and night out.
“Each night the coaching staff preaching to us that we have enough, no matter who is in the lineup,” Winslow said. “So it’s just about going out there and executing and putting together a good game of 48-minute basketball. I think our belief in each other that we have enough to get the job done is key.”
In the current NBA landscape, a lot of the playoff contenders are centered around players with big resumes and bigger names. As a result, the HEAT get lost in the shuffle of the national conversation from time to time. Their culture of togetherness and slight from the media outside of their city could make for the perfect “chip on the shoulder” recipe. Or so you would think. Winslow doesn’t believe the chatter, or lack thereof, matters any to Miami.
“We don’t pay too much attention to that,” Winslow said. ‘We’re so focused, and locked in on our team, and each other, and trying to win each game. For us, it’s about having the respect of your peers, of the other team. I think every night no matter who we have or who’s healthy, I think teams know we’re going to be a tough, physical team. Guys in this league don’t want that, you don’t want to have to play against a Miami HEAT team that’s going to be physical, that’s going to get into your body, that’s going to make you play a hard, 48-minute basketball game.”
Because of the HEAT’s brand of basketball, an 82-game season can be grueling. For Winslow, keeping his body right throughout the grind is important to him. After dealing with a few injuries last season, and ultimately being shut down for the year last January to undergo right shoulder surgery for a torn labrum, Winslow was determined to make sure he kept his body in check throughout his comeback so he would be available for a long playoff run.
While his numbers aren’t flashy, Winslow is showing improvement. His 49.3 true shooting percentage is the highest of his career, along with shooting nearly 43 percent from beyond the arc, Winslow made strides in arguably the biggest knock against his game since coming out of college.
Because NBA players have the freedom to form partnerships with whichever companies they’d like, Winslow made the choice to strike up a partnership that he felt would not only help him off the court but more importantly, on it as well.
“My partnership with MET-Rx has been great,” Winslow said. “They’ve really helped take my game to the next level with all their nutritional supplements, and the Big 100 bar. So, for me, I’m always looking for ways to stay off my feet, but also get in the best shape possible and this was just a great way to help.”
The grind of the NBA season is also eased for playoff teams by a veteran presence. So, when the HEAT brought back franchise legend Wade at the trade deadline, their locker room suddenly had a face and feel of someone who’s been there before. A player who reached the pinnacle, with the very team that traded for him nonetheless.
Getting Wade back to Miami was crucial for the team’s playoff run down the stretch, and more importantly for Winslow, who benefited greatly from his time with the future Hall of Famer when he was fresh out of college.
“First and foremost, it was great to get him back,” Winslow said. “Just the role that he played in my career as a rookie, and everything I learned from him. But then also, just the energy and positivity that he brought to the locker room, and also the community of Miami, the city of Miami as a whole. It was a much-needed energy boost, and good vibes that he brought back for that post All-Star break push for playoffs. So, it’s just been great having him back, and it’s kind of rejuvenated the team and the locker room, and just the city in general.”
Wade is the MVP-caliber player he once was this time around, though. But that’s okay. This version of the Miami HEAT is charging toward the postseason with a team-first mentality.
NBA Daily: The Road Ahead for Michael Porter Jr.
Michael Porter Jr. is an elite prospect, but questions surrounding his back will determine his landing spot in the NBA.
The Road Ahead for Michael Porter Jr.
While some of the highly thought of college players have made their intentions on declaring for the 2018 NBA Draft known, Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr still hasn’t made his proclamation. Most people in NBA circles believe he’ll be in the 2018 NBA Draft class—you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t think he’s in.
Back in November, the Missouri staff was somewhat vague and guarded about Porter’s condition until it was announced that he’d have back surgery on a couple of problematic discs in the lumbar area of his spine. The procedure is called a microdiscectomy and by all accounts was a success.
Porter missed virtually all of his college season but opted to play in the post-season for Missouri, who got eliminated fairly quickly.
There were certainly a lot of ugly things about Porter’s game. He looked out of shape, and certainly wasn’t the overwhelming dominating force he’d been in high school. Some executives applauded his decision to play, even though he wasn’t at a 100 percent. Some pointed to that fact that too many college players play it safe and that’s not always viewed positively. Almost no one Basketball Insiders spoke with was holding the less than stellar outing against him. In fact, most had far more positive things to say than negative. There was one resounding theme from the NBA executives who spoke about this situation—none of it matters until they see his medical.
Assuming Porter does as expected and hires an agent and enters the draft, the next challenge he’ll face is how open he wants to be to teams looking at drafting him.
In recent years, NBA teams have not shied away from using high draft picks on injured or recently injured players. Once a team can get a sense of how the player is recovering, they can make a value judgment.
Agents often use this information and access to the player to help steer their client to the situation they deem most favorable. While fans and outsiders often get caught up in the pick number a player ultimately lands at, more and more agents are concerned with fit, especially for a player that may need time to get back to 100 percent.
Most agents would want to steer their client to a team with favorable medical staff, a team with a proven track record of patience or more importantly, a team with the best chance at a long and fruitful career.
This won’t be good news for some team that could end up in the top 10, as it’s more likely that Porter isn’t made available to everyone. NBA executives will tell you, they can certainly draft him if they wanted to, but most teams won’t draft a player if their medical staff doesn’t sign off, and without information and access how can they do that?
There is a significant financial difference in going third in the draft ($5.47 million) and 10th ($2.964 million) – but several agents commented that the short-term money shouldn’t drive the long-term decision, especially if the player isn’t 100 percent. The fit and situation typically trump everything in these situations.
Another concept to consider is while Porter did play, there are questions about whether he’ll host a pro-day, take part in private team workouts or simply let his body of work drive his draft value.
Almost no one who spoke about this situation believed Porter would take part in the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago, as he’d have to subject himself to the medical testing that’s part of that event.
The common perception on Porter is he’s a top-five talent, although it seems more likely that his camp is going to try and work the process to ensure he lands in a favorable situation. That could mean he falls out of top-five selections, simply because he and his agents choose to.
There is still a lot that needs to play out for Porter, including his announcement that he will enter the draft. But given where things stand with him, it’s more likely than not he’s coming into the draft, and it’s more likely than not he’ll have a lot of questions NBA teams will want to understand before his real draft position is clear.
The NBA Draft Lottery will be held in Chicago this year and is scheduled for May 15th. The annual Draft Combine, also in Chicago, gets underway on May 16th.
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