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NBA Saturday: Will Kobe Bryant Return to Form?

Will Kobe Bryant return to superstar form and carry the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2014-15 season? He’s confident he will. … A closer look at the NBA players competing in the FIBA World Cup.

Alex Kennedy

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Will Kobe Bryant Return to Form?

“You can always just be average or do what’s normal. I’m not in this to do what’s normal. It’s a decision you’ve got to make if you want to accomplish anything that’s significant and have a serious impact. You’ve got to make those sacrifices. You have to make that choice. I made that choice a long time ago.” – Kobe Bryant

That’s what Bryant says in the trailer for his new documentary, which is titled “Kobe Bryant’s Muse.” The short trailer shows Bryant going through a rigorous workout and he’s clearly determined to bounce back in the 2014-15 NBA season.

A torn Achilles prematurely ended Bryant’s 2012-13 campaign and then a fractured left kneecap ended his comeback after just six games in the 2013-14 season, so it’s been awhile since we’ve seen The Black Mamba in elite form.

KobeBryantInsideImage1He’s hoping to change that soon. Bryant has spent this offseason training hard, determined to silence his critics who say that he has nothing left in the tank. At 36 years old, Bryant knows that his career is winding down and that he only has a few more years of basketball left in him, but he’s optimistic that he can return to form and still be one of the league’s stars before he walks away from the sport for good.

Bryant has two years remaining on his contract with the Los Angeles Lakers, and he intends to dominate every time he steps on the court during those two seasons. That’s the only way Bryant knows how to approach the game that he loves.

“I’m going to max [my last two years] out too, to do whatever I can,” Bryant said in an in-depth interview with Sports Illustrated. “Leave no stone unturned, no water left in the sponge.”

Bryant acknowledges that he has certain physical limitations at this point in his career, but he doesn’t believe those will affect his overall productivity.

“There are certain things that my body can’t do that I used to be able to do, and you have to be able to deal with those,” Bryant said. “First, you have to be able to figure out what those are. Last year when I came back, I was trying to figure out what changed. And that’s a very hard conversation to have.

“So when I hear the pundits and people talk, saying, ‘Well, he won’t be what he was.’ Know what? You’re right! I won’t be. But just because something evolves, it doesn’t make it any less better than it was before. I’ll be sharper. Much sharper. Much more efficient in areas. I’ll be limited in terms of what you see me do, versus a couple years ago. But very, very methodical, very, very purposeful.”

In an effort to further evolve his game and make up for those physical limitations, Bryant has been studying fellow 36-year-old Paul Pierce and is focused on being “more efficient” going forward.

Many people don’t realize the hard work that Bryant puts in during the summer and the season in order to stay on top of his game. He is one of the hardest working players in the NBA. His all-night workouts are legendary and there’s nothing scarier than a motivated Kobe.

Right now, it’s safe to say that Bryant is hungry, after suffering two serious injuries and watching the Lakers finish last season with a franchise-worst record of 27-55. As if he didn’t have enough fuel in his fire, ESPN recently released a list of the top shooting guards in the NBA and Bryant didn’t even make the top 10. Instead, he was listed as an honorable mention, alongside two-guards like Danny Green, Wes Matthews and J.R. Smith.

Meanwhile, Bryant just continues to work and prepare for the season.

“It’s the journey,” Bryant said. “These are the difficult times. I think it’s important to show that. Because it’s very easy for the public to look in October and November and say, ‘Oh, Kobe’s back to the way he was.’ Kids look at that and say, ‘It was just voilà!’  No, it wasn’t just voilà. It wasn’t.

“It was a lot of self-doubt and self-conversations and coming up with a plan, a strategy, trying to find the best people in their fields, nutrition and training and bringing them in and coming up with a plan and working at it day by day. It’s the journey. The journey excites me. I like doing the work. This is my passion. Love doing it. It’s not a job to me. And that’s 90 percent of it.”

Ask any of Bryant’s opponents and they believe he’s going to be back in superstar form in the 2014-15 season. They know better than to bet against Bryant. Tony Allen and James Harden believe that Bryant will be back with a vengeance and ready to put the Lakers on his shoulders, as he has done so many times in the past.

“Even 75 percent Kobe, you got to be wary of,” Allen told SI. “I’m not playing him any different. … He’s the closest thing to Michael Jordan in my era. His game is limitless. Not just a slasher or a shooter. He’s gonna get his. There’s no saying, ‘You’re going to stop Kobe.’ You got to not get discouraged.”

“I want to know what he’s going to come back like; I know he’s been working,” Harden told ThePostGame. “We talked a few times and he’s ready. He’s 20-year-old Kobe [again]. It should be a crazy environment. I’m ready for the upcoming season, it should be a good one.”

Allen and Harden may be right. Keep in mind, before tearing his Achilles in 2012-13, Bryant was having a monster season in which he averaged 27.3 points, 6.0 assists, 5.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals. His efficiency rating was an impressive 23.1, which was ranked ninth-best among all NBA players. He was incredibly productive and didn’t seem to be showing any signs of decline.

KobeBryantInsideOnly2The question is, can he return to that level of play after these injuries? One of the worst things about an Achilles injury is that it makes the body vulnerable to many other injuries. Just ask Chauncey Billups. The veteran point guard hasn’t been the same player since he tore his Achilles with the Los Angeles Clippers back in 2012, mainly because various other injuries kept nagging him long after his Achilles was healed.

“The thing that held me back a lot last season was my peroneal tendon on the side of my foot and bottom of my Achilles,” Billups told InsideSoCal.com last November. “That is what ailed me. My Achilles was fine. My Achilles,  I had no issues. I had a successful rehab with that. It was other things with that peroneal tendon that set me back and enabled me to play 20 something games. It was no issue for me. It wasn’t the Achilles at all.

“I think it was all [related]. You have so much time off from that foot and that side of your body. Of course your leg is not as strong and your left leg. Mine wasn’t that strong as my right leg when I first came back. You have to deal with that and compensating a little bit because it’s not as strong. That’s probably what led to my peroneal tendon being overworked. That’s how I can relate those. It all stemmed from my Achilles.”

Bryant’s health will obviously determine just how productive he can be. He’s hoping that his injuries are behind him, so he can walk away from the game on his own terms rather than being too hurt to continue playing.

In the past, Bryant had said that these last two years would be his final seasons in the NBA. However, now he admits that he could change his mind and he’s leaving open the possibility of continuing his career beyond this current contract.

“Yeah, if something inside of me changes and I want to play some more, and go after it some more… yeah [I’ll keep playing],” Bryant said. “But where I sit right now, I don’t know if I want to do that.”

As long as Bryant is able to play at a high level, he’ll likely be on the court. He’s unsure how long he’ll continue playing, but it’s hard to imagine Bryant retiring if he can still contribute to a team since basketball is his life and he’s so obsessed with the competition.

As one general manager told Sports Illustrated: “You know how it’s been hard for Jordan in retirement? It’s going to be way worse to be Kobe. He has fewer friends and the same competitive drive. At least MJ likes to golf and play cards.”

Over the final years of Bryant’s career, one thing is certain: Bryant is going to push his teammates and never hold back. He expects them to work just as hard as he does and his expectations are always lofty (and sometimes unrealistic). For example, Bryant is entering this season with championship aspirations, despite the fact that the Lakers would be lucky to make the playoffs in the loaded Western Conference with their roster as currently assembled. But that’s just how Bryant is and he’s not shying away from it. He says that his title within the franchise is ‘asshole in chief’ and it’s something he embraces.

“You can’t afford to placate people,” Bryant said. “You can’t afford to do that. You’re a leader. You’re not here to be a social butterfly. You’re here to get them to the promised land. A lot of people shy away from that because a lot of people want to be liked by every­body. I want to be liked too. But I know that years from now they’ll appreciate how I pushed them to get us to that end result.”

Nobody wants to think about it, but Bryant’s retirement is just around the corner. With five championships, two Finals MVP awards, one NBA MVP trophy, 16 All-Star selections, 15 All-NBA nods, three gold medals and 31,700 points scored (the most of any active player and fourth all-time), Bryant has had a hell of a career.

Let’s hope that he can return to superstar form so that he can keep dazzling us and dropping our jaws until the curtain falls. Bryant’s days in the NBA are numbered, so let’s enjoy the show while it lasts.

Record Number of NBA Players Competing in World Cup

The 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup gets underway today in Spain and a record 45 current NBA players will be featured on national team rosters, which is up from 44 in 2010.  The tournament features a record 75 players who have played in the NBA.

The World Cup will showcase 17 former NBA draftees whose rights are currently held by NBA teams, bringing the total number of current NBA players, former NBA players and NBA draftees participating in the tournament to a record 92.

Twenty-one of 24 national teams feature at least one current NBA player, former NBA player or NBA draftee, and 22 NBA teams are represented on national team rosters.

The Cavaliers and Rockets each have four current NBA players in the tournament, while the Bulls, Jazz, Nets and Timberwolves each have three.  The Grizzlies, Kings, Knicks, Pacers, Pelicans, Raptors, Spurs, Trail Blazers and Warriors each have two current NBA players in the tournament.

Outside of the United States, Spain has the most current NBA players with six.  France and Australia feature four current NBA players, while Brazil and Greece each feature three.  Argentina, Croatia and Lithuania each feature two current NBA players.

Here’s a list of current NBA players on 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup rosters:

COUNTRY NBA PLAYER NBA TEAM
Argentina Luis Scola Indiana Pacers
Argentina Pablo Prigioni New York Knicks
Australia Cameron Bairstow Chicago Bulls
Australia Matthew Dellavedova Cleveland Cavaliers
Australia Dante Exum Utah Jazz
Australia Brock Motum Utah Jazz
Brazil Anderson Varejao Cleveland Cavaliers
Brazil Tiago Splitter San Antonio Spurs
Brazil Nenê Washington Wizards
Croatia Bojan Bodgdanovic Brooklyn Nets
Croatia Damjan Rudez Indiana Pacers
Dominican Republic Francisco Garcia Houston Rockets
Finland Erik Murphy Cleveland Cavaliers
France Evan Fournier Orlando Magic
France Nicolas Batum Portland Trail Blazers
France Boris Diaw San Antonio Spurs
France Rudy Gobert Utah Jazz
Greece Kostas Papanikolaou Houston Rockets
Greece Nick Calathes Memphis Grizzlies
Greece Giannis Antetokounmpo Milwaukee Bucks
Lithuania Donatas Motiejunas Houston Rockets
Lithuania Jonas Valanciunas Toronto Raptors
Mexico Jorge Gutierrez Brooklyn Nets
Puerto Rico J.J. Barea Minnesota Timberwolves
Senegal Gorgui Dieng Minnesota Timberwolves
Slovenia Goran Dragić Phoenix Suns
Spain Pau Gasol Chicago Bulls
Spain Marc Gasol Memphis Grizzlies
Spain Ricky Rubio Minnesota Timberwolves
Spain José Calderon New York Knicks
Spain Serge Ibaka Oklahoma City Thunder
Spain Victor Claver Portland Trail Blazers
Turkey Omer Asik New Orleans Pelicans
United States Mason Plumlee Brooklyn Nets
United States Derrick Rose Chicago Bulls
United States Kyrie Irving Cleveland Cavaliers
United States Kenneth Faried Denver Nuggets
United States Andre Drummond Detroit Pistons
United States Stephen Curry Golden State Warriors
United States Klay Thompson Golden State Warriors
United States James Harden Houston Rockets
United States Anthony Davis New Orleans Pelicans
United States DeMarcus Cousins Sacramento Kings
United States Rudy Gay Sacramento Kings
United States DeMar DeRozan Toronto Raptors

 

Here’s a list of NBA free agents on 2014 FIBA World Cup rosters:

COUNTRY NBA PLAYER MOST RECENT NBA TEAM
Australia Aron Baynes San Antonio Spurs
Brazil Leandro Barbosa Phoenix Suns
Mexico Gustavo Ayon Atlanta Hawks
Philippines Andray Blatche Brooklyn Nets
Serbia Miroslav Raduljica Los Angeles Clippers

 

Here’s a list of former NBA players on 2014 FIBA World Cup rosters:

COUNTRY NBA PLAYER MOST RECENT NBA TEAM
Argentina Walter Herrmann Detroit Pistons
Argentina Andres Nocioni Philadelphia 76ers
Australia David Andersen New Orleans Hornets
Australia Nathan Jawai Minnesota Timberwolves
Brazil Alex Garcia New Orleans Hornets
Brazil Marcus Vinicius New Orleans Hornets
Croatia Oliver Lafayette Boston Celtics
Croatia Damir Markota Milwaukee Bucks
Croatia Roko Ukic Milwaukee Bucks
Finland Hanno Möttölä Atlanta Hawks
France Mickael Gelabale Minnesota Timberwolves
Greece Andreas Glyniadakis Seattle SuperSonics
Iran Hamed Haddadi Phoenix Suns
New Zealand Kirk Penney San Antonio Spurs
Puerto Rico Carlos Arroyo Boston Celtics
Puerto Rico Renaldo Balkman New York Knicks
Puerto Rico Daniel Santiago Milwaukee Bucks
Senegal Hamady N’Diaye Sacramento Kings
Serbia Nenad Krstic Boston Celtics
Slovenia Uroš Slokar Toronto Raptors
Spain Rudy Fernandez Denver Nuggets
Spain Juan Carlos Navarro Memphis Grizzlies
Spain Sergio Rodriguez New York Knicks
Ukraine Pooh Jeter Sacramento Kings
Ukraine Slava Kravtsov Phoenix Suns

 

Here’s a list of draftees whose rights are held by NBA teams on World Cup rosters:

COUNTRY NBA PLAYER RIGHTS HELD BY
Australia Brad Newley Houston Rockets
Brazil Raul Neto Utah Jazz
Croatia Dario Saric Philadelphia 76ers
Croatia Ante Tomic Utah Jazz
Finland Petteri Koponen Dallas Mavericks
France Joffrey Lauvergne Denver Nuggets
Greece Georgios Printezis Atlanta Hawks
Iran Arsalan Kazemi Philadelphia 76ers
Lithuania Renaldas Seibutis Dallas Mavericks
Serbia Nemanja Bjelica Minnesota Timberwolves
Serbia Bogdan Bogdanovic Phoenix Suns
Spain Alex Abrines Oklahoma City Thunder
Spain Sergio Llull Houston Rockets
Turkey Cenk Akyol Los Angeles Clippers
Turkey Furkan Aldemir Philadelphia 76ers
Turkey Emir Preldzic Dallas Mavericks
Ukraine Sergii Gladyr Atlanta Hawks

 

Check back throughout the week for more World Cup coverage from Basketball Insiders.

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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NBA Daily: Let The NBA Trade Chatter Begin

More than 95 NBA players become trade-eligible this week. Steve Kyler breaks them down.

Steve Kyler

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Let The Trade Chatter Begin

While NBA teams are always talking, whether aggressively or casually, the date most teams circle on the calendar to start really exploring trade options is December 15.

That’s mainly because that’s when the bulk of trade restrictions on players signed during the offseason to free agent deals lifts, but also because most teams have played 25 or more games.

While it’s easy to talk about trades, especially for teams that get off to a slow start, it’s also important to realize teams put in mountains of works assembling their rosters. That includes weeks and weeks of development and planning work, so rushing to tear it all up after a slow start isn’t always smart. Take the Cavaliers as a perfect example. The Cavs were 3-4 entering November looking dreadful, since then, the Cavs have gone 17-4.

Most teams want to give the roster they built a chance because change does not always equal improvement. However, as teams get to the 30-game mark, there is enough of a sample size to know where you stand, which is why trade talk tends to be lower until mid-December.

With more than 95 players becoming trade eligible tomorrow, trade talks are going to start to heat up.

NBA teams are prohibited from trading players signed during the offseason for 90 days or December 15th, whichever is greater.

Players who re-signed with the same team and received more than a 20 percent increase in salary from last season, are further restricted until January 15th.

Players that signed one-year deals with the same team, also gain the ability to veto trades, as do rookie scale players that signed a Qualifying Offer.

Equally, players who had free agent offer sheets matched, like Washington’s Otto Porter Jr., also gain veto rights for the first calendar year of their deal.

With all of that said, here is how the 2017 free agent trade eligibility breaks down:

Atlanta Hawks

Luke Babbitt
Dewayne Dedmon
Ersan Ilyasova (Veto Rights)
Mike Muscala (Veto Rights) 

Trade Eligible January 15th

None

 

Boston Celtics

Aron Baynes
Gordon Hayward
Shane Larkin
Daniel Theis 

Trade Eligible January 15th

None 

Brooklyn Nets

Tyler Zeller 

Trade Eligible January 15th

None 

Charlotte Hornets

Michael Carter-Williams
Julyan Stone 

Trade Eligible January 15th

None 

Chicago Bulls

Justin Holiday

Trade Eligible January 15th

Cristiano Felicio
Nikola Mirotic  

Cleveland Cavaliers

Jose Calderon
Jeff Green
Kyle Korver
Derrick Rose

Trade Eligible January 15th

None  

Dallas Mavericks

Maxi Kleber
Jeff Withey
Nerlens Noel (Veto Rights)
Dirk Nowitzki (Veto Rights)

Trade Eligible January 15th

None  

Denver Nuggets

Paul Millsap 

Trade Eligible January 15th

Mason Plumlee 

Detroit Pistons

Reggie Bullock
Langston Galloway
Eric Moreland
Anthony Tolliver 

Trade Eligible January 15th

None 

Golden State Warriors

Nick Young
Omri Casspi
Zaza Pachulia (Veto Rights)
Kevin Durant (Veto Rights)
David West (Veto Rights)
JaVale McGee (Veto Rights)
 

Trade Eligible January 15th

Andre Iguodala
Shaun Livingston 

Houston Rockets

Tarik Black
Nene
Luc Mbah a Moute
P.J. Tucker
Troy Williams 

Trade Eligible January 15th

None 

Indiana Pacers

Bojan Bogdanovic
Darren Collison
Damien Wilkins 

Trade Eligible January 15th

None 

Los Angeles Clippers

Danilo Gallinari
Marshall Plumlee
Willie Reed
Milos Teodosic 

Trade Eligible January 15th

Blake Griffin 

Los Angeles Lakers

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
Tyler Ennis
  

Trade Eligible January 15th

None 

Memphis Grizzlies

Mario Chalmers
Tyreke Evans
Ben McLemore
Wayne Selden
 

Trade Eligible January 15th

JaMychal Green 

Miami Heat

James Johnson
Jordan Mickey
Kelly Olynyk
Dion Waiters
Udonis Haslem (Veto Rights)

Trade Eligible January 15th

None  

Milwaukee Bucks

None

Trade Eligible January 15th

Tony Snell  

Minnesota Timberwolves

Jamal Crawford
Jeff Teague
Marcus Georges-Hunt
Taj Gibson
Shabazz Muhammad (Veto Rights)

Trade Eligible January 15th

None   

New Orleans Pelicans

Tony Allen
Ian Clark
Darius Miller
Rajon Rondo

Trade Eligible January 15th

Jrue Holiday  

New York Knicks

Ron Baker
Michael Beasley
Tim Hardaway Jr.
Jarrett Jack
Ramon Sessions

Trade Eligible January 15th

None  

Oklahoma City Thunder

Raymond Felton
Patrick Patterson
Nick Collison (Veto Rights)

Trade Eligible January 15th

Andre Roberson  

Orlando Magic

Arron Afflalo
Khem Birch
Shelvin Mack
Jonathon Simmons
Marreese Speights

Trade Eligible January 15th

None  

Philadelphia 76ers

Amir Johnson
J.J. Redick
Phoenix Suns
Alan Williams

Trade Eligible January 15th

None  

Phoenix Suns

Alan Williams

Trade Eligible January 15th

None   

Portland Trail Blazers

None 

Trade Eligible January 15th

None

 

Sacramento Kings

Vince Carter
George Hill
Zach Randolph 

Trade Eligible January 15th

None

 

San Antonio Spurs

Pau Gasol
Rudy Gay
Manu Ginobili
Joffrey Lauvergne
Brandon Paul 

Trade Eligible January 15th

Patty Mills

 

Toronto Raptors

Alfonzo McKinnie
C.J. Miles
  

Trade Eligible January 15th

Serge Ibaka
Kyle Lowry 

Utah Jazz

Jonas Jerebko
Royce O’Neale
Thabo Sefolosha
Ekpe Udoh 

Trade Eligible January 15th

Joe Ingles

 

Washington Wizards

Jodie Meeks
Mike Scott 

Trade Eligible January 15th

Otto Porter (Veto Rights) 

Tracking all of these details is pretty tedious, which is what makes Basketball Insiders’ salary cap guru Eric Pincus so amazing. If you want to know more about each teams’ cap situation, make sure to check out the team links here for a detailed break down of every team’s cap position and restrictions.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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NBA Daily: One Year Later, Yogi Ferrell Continues To Rise

One year after a turbulent start to his NBA career, Yogi Ferrell is still thriving with the Dallas Mavericks.

Ben Nadeau

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It was never going to be easy for Yogi Ferrell.

At just 6-foot-0, there were major concerns about Ferrell and his ability to effectively contribute at the professional level, so the 24-year-old was a near-lock to go undrafted despite his impressive haul of collegiate honors. In 2016, he did not hear his name called on draft night — but for a gamer like Ferrell, pushing on was always the only option.

However, on this particularly cold mid-season evening, Ferrell sits at his locker and studies film on a tablet. He looks comfortable and focused as if he knows that this moment cannot be ripped away from him once again. Today, Ferrell is the Dallas Mavericks’ backup point guard and is settled into a consistent, steady role amongst a currently crowded backcourt. For Ferrell, he now finally has the life of an everyday NBA player.

But just over one year ago, Ferrell had to take the road less traveled to reach professional basketball for good.

“It was actually about this time [last year] when [the Nets] decided to waive me and I went back to Long Island,” Ferrell told Basketball Insiders. “I didn’t know I’d be here. I’m just thankful for the opportunity the Mavericks gave me and I’m just still trying to be here in Dallas.”

To be exact, the Brooklyn Nets waived Ferrell on December 8th, 2016. 365 days (and counting) later, Ferrell has earned his guaranteed contract but he’s still playing like he has something to prove.

* * * * * *

In order to fully understand Ferrell’s winding journey, it’s necessary to go back to where his story really kicked off: Summer League. Following a solid audition in Las Vegas — 8.8 points, 1.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game — Ferrell was shifted to Brooklyn’s G-League affiliate, the Long Island Nets. With the offseason signings of Jeremy Lin and Greivis Vasquez, plus the addition of rookie point guard Isaiah Whitehead, there was no room for Ferrell and he was the last man cut in training camp.

Before the Nets could even blink, Vasquez re-injured his problematic ankle just three games into the campaign, an ailment that would eventually require season-ending surgery. Lin, of course, lasted just two more games before a hamstring injury derailed the key free agent acquisition until deep into the season.

Out of nowhere, it was time for Ferrell.

After waiving Vasquez, the Nets signed Ferrell on November 9th — the same day as his NBA debut, where he logged five points and three assists in a 14-point loss to the New York Knicks. But as the Nets continued to free fall without their veteran point guards, Ferrell grew more confidently into his role and was a solid fit in head coach Kenny Atkinson’s three-point heavy rotation. Over 10 contests with Brooklyn, Ferrell tallied just 5.4 points and 1.7 assists in 15 minutes per game. Nonetheless, for a suddenly talent-deficient roster, it appeared as if the point guard was poised to stick around through the winter.

In a surprise twist of fate, the Nets waived Ferrell to sign Spencer Dinwiddie to a partially guaranteed three-year deal, opting to tie their future to a different G-League point guard instead. Just like that, it was back to Long Island for Ferrell — but surprisingly, it wasn’t something that he hung his head over for too long.

“I knew my next opportunity was going to come — I didn’t know when, but I just wanted to make sure I was ready for it,” Ferrell said. “I had a great coach — coach [Ronald] Nored — and he told me to still go about my business as if I was still in the NBA. I didn’t get all the luxuries, but if you treat yourself like a pro, like you’re there now, once you get there, it’ll make it easier and you can make a splash.”

Upon returning to the G-League, Ferrell continued his hot streak and ended up averaging 18.7 points and 5.8 rebounds over a total of 18 games — both before and after his NBA call-up with the Nets. Ultimately, it wasn’t long before another franchise took notice of the enigmatic guard and the Mavericks capitalized, signing Ferrell to a 10-day contract while both Deron Williams and Devin Harris were hampered by injury. His debut with Dallas saw Ferrell tally nine points and seven assists in a win over the San Antonio Spurs and future Hall of Famer Tony Parker — but somehow, that was only the beginning

Affectionately nicknamed Yogi-Mania — a play on Linsanity, Lin’s historic stretch with the Knicks back in 2012 — Ferrell re-joined the NBA red-hot, even leading Dallas to back-to-back wins over the Cleveland Cavaliers and Philadelphia 76ers. Quickly thereafter, Ferrell signed a multi-year deal with Dallas and then promptly torched the Portland Trail Blazers for nine three-pointers and a total of 32 points. Over his initial two-week stretch with the Mavericks, Ferrell scored 10 or more points in seven of his first nine games and made a serious claim for a permanent spot in the rotation.

Of course, the multi-year contract offered Ferrell something else he hadn’t yet experienced in the NBA: Job security. After Ferrell’s team option was picked up last June, he was happy to have a role with the Mavericks once again, no matter how big or small. Without the worry of being on borrowed time, Ferrell was able to train, learn the system and embrace of the city of Dallas during the offseason.

“The offseason was pretty good, I played summer league with some of the young guys,” Ferrell said. “It was great to work every day and get to know the coaches better, the area of Dallas better. Headed into training camp, I just wanted to work on my game and I had lot more confidence.”

One of those coaches he’s gotten to know better is Rick Carlisle, an old-school guard that has found success as both a player and coach. Under Carlisle, Ferrell has averaged 28.3 minutes per game so far as a sophomore, good for the third-highest total on the entire roster. Ferrell, who was in the G-League at this time last year, has merited more playing time than any other point guard on the team — a list that includes rookie sensation Dennis Smith Jr. (28.1), J.J. Barea (22.5), and the aforementioned Harris (18.9). For Ferrell, much of his second-year successes have come from simply putting Carlisle’s words of wisdom into action.

“He’s just always telling me to be a threat,” Ferrell told Basketball Insiders of Carlisle. “First of all, be a threat to score because that’s what opens up everything else. If you’re pushing the pace and getting in the paint, attacking, especially for somebody like myself in my position. You want to just cause 2-on-1s and kicks and find whatever the defense gives us.”

While Yogi-Mania was built off of an electric career-altering hot streak, Ferrell has been a contributor this season in a more consistent, experienced way. Building off the All-NBA Rookie Second Team berth Ferrell earned in just 36 games with Dallas last season, the point guard is now often one of the first guards off the bench, a role that Barea has long excelled in. The comparisons between Ferrell and Barea are all too obvious, the latter being another 6-foot-nothing guard that has carved out a 12-year career after going undrafted in 2006.

During the Mavericks’ championship-winning playoff run in 2011, Barea averaged 8.9 points and 3.4 assists, including massive back-to-back 15-plus point outings in Dallas’ series-defining Game 5 and 6 victories. These days, Ferrell is just thankful to have teammates like Barea and Harris to learn from on and off the court.

“I always say that I like watching them, especially how they play,” Ferrell said. “I try to mimic the older guys, Devin and J.J., they’re so synced together when they play, it’s something special to watch. I just try to go out there and mimic what they do, they’ve been successful at it and been in this league for a long time, so I’m just trying to learn from guys like them.”

* * * * * *

Precisely, it’s been 370 days since Ferrell was first waived by Brooklyn and found success at the NBA level that little believed was possible. Not one to let an obstacle get in his way, Ferrell went undrafted and still managed to earn a multi-year contract before he even hit 20 career appearances. For his dominating stretch in the G-League last season, Ferrell was named an All-Star — although he was too busy with Dallas to attend the festivities — and he still went on to earn a spot with the All-NBA Rookie Second Team as well.

Overcoming roadblocks and adversity at every turn, it’d be easy to now exhale and relax — after all, his contract is currently guaranteed and he’s got a solidified role in an NBA rotation — but Ferrell, forever hungry, isn’t ready to stop there. Staying motivated isn’t difficult for Ferrell because he knows that much of his journey is still left in front of him and he’s ready to keep climbing upward.

“I’m a winner, I came from a winning program,” Ferrell said. “My mentality is still to prove that I belong here. I just want to win, that’s it.”

For Ferrell, this isn’t the end of an underdog story — this is just the beginning of something even greater.

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NBA

Rookie of The Year Watch – 12/13/17

Shane Rhodes checks back in on what’s become a relatively consistent Rookie of the Year race.

Shane Rhodes

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It has been a pretty ho-hum Rookie of The Year race so far in the 2017-18 season, with the top rookies staking their claims to this list at the beginning of the season and, for the most part, staying there. While there has been some movement up and down over the season and since our last installment, for the large part those who were on the list remain on the list.

Those players have earned their spots on this list with their play, however. This rookie class is one of the better, more exciting classes in recent memory. These players have just managed to remain at the top of the hill.

Let’s take a look at this week’s rankings.

stockup456. Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls (Last Week: Unranked)

By virtue of John Collins missing time due to injury, Markkanen jumps back onto this list. However, that’s not to say Markkanen has played poorly this season. On the contrary, the former Arizona Wildcat and current Chicago Bull has played very well; it’s just hard to get recognized when you are on the worst team in the league.

Markkanen is averaging 14.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game, third and second among rookies, respectively, while adding 1.3 assists per game as well. Athletic enough to get his own shot and big enough to be a mismatch when he’s on the floor, Markkanen is probably the best (healthy) offensively player the Bulls have. While his defensive game isn’t great, his defensive rating of 106.4 still ranks ninth amongst rookies.

Perhaps most importantly, Markkanen inspires hope for a brighter future in Bulls fans that have watched the team plummet from the 50-win team it was just three seasons ago.

stockup455. Dennis Smith, Jr., Dallas Mavericks (Last Week: 6)

His shooting percentages continue to underwhelm and the Dallas Mavericks still have one of the worst records in the NBA, but Dennis Smith Jr. has been one of the Mavs’ bright spots this season while averaging 14.4 points, four rebounds and four assists per game.

While he hasn’t been a great shooter overall, Smith Jr. has managed to be a big contributor on offense for the Mavs, with an offensive rating of 101.4, ninth among rookies, and an assist percentage of 25.2 percent, fourth among rookies. He is second on the team in scoring behind Harrison Barnes’ 18.4 points per game as well. He is still a work in progress, but Dallas has found a keeper in Smith Jr.

stockdown454. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers (Last Week: 3)

While the Lakers have stumbled over the past few weeks, Kuzma continues to play well when he is on the floor. He still paces the Los Angeles Lakers in scoring with an average of 16.1 points per game, third among rookies, while also dishing in 6.6 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game.

Kuzma is now second among rookies in double-doubles with eight on the season and three in his last five games. With a diverse offensive game, the power forward should continue to impress as the season goes along.

stockup453. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz (Last Week: 4)

Donovan Mitchell has been electrifying in recent weeks. Second in scoring among rookies, Mitchell is averaging 17.3 points per game to go along with three rebounds and 3.2 assists. As his confidence has grown, so to have his field goal percentage and three-point percentages. Mitchell has led the Utah Jazz in scoring in 11 of their 27 games, and is second on the Jazz in scoring too, behind Rodney Hood’s 17.7 points per game.

Mitchell became the second rookie ever, first since Blake Griffin in 2011, to score more than 40 points in a single game after going for 41 against the New Orleans Pelicans. Coupling that with his high-flying athleticism, Mitchell has been one of the best rookies to watch this season.

stocknochanges452. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics (Last Week: 2)

Jayson Tatum is on pace to be only the second rookie ever to lead the league in three-point percentage. In over 38 years, the only other player to do it was Anthony Morrow, who shot 46.7 percent on 2.7 attempts per game during the 2008-09 regular season. Tatum is currently shooting 50 percent on over three attempts per game.

The 19-year-old forward has also made a near seamless transition from the isolation-dominated basketball that he played at Duke, and has flourished as the third, fourth and sometimes even fifth option on offense, having scored in double digits in 25 of 29 games and averaging 13.8 points per game on the season. His defense continues to be better than advertised as well.

Tatum has been Mr. Clutch among rookies as well. In the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, Tatum has 14 field goals on 21 attempts, seventh in the entire NBA and tops among rookies. In fact, Tatum is the only other rookie in the top 15 in clutch field goals.

While Mitchell has been on fire recently, Tatum has performed well enough to this point where he is still in control of the number two spot among rookies. But the race for this second spot is close and will continue to be close throughout the season. The race for the number one spot on the other hand? Not so much.

stocknochanges451. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers (Last Week: 1)

It would make for a very boring race if Ben Simmons remained at the top of this list for the entire season. And it looks increasingly likely that that is going to be the case.

Try as they might, the other rookies just can’t hang with Simmons; none of them have the right combination of production and physicality to keep pace with the point-forward. Tatum has been better than advertised while Mitchell and Kuzma have exceeded all predraft expectations, but none of them can produce what Simmons has. With averages of 17.5 points, 8.9 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game, Simmons would be just the second rookie in NBA history, the first since Oscar Robertson during the 1960-61 season, to finish the season with that stat line.

So, unless they combine their powers to become a being with superhuman basketball skills, the other rookies don’t stand a chance against Simmons in the race for Rookie of the Year.

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