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NBA Sophomores With The Most To Prove

Which second-year NBA players have the most to prove as they enter their sophomore season? Here are three top picks who must step up.

John Zitzler

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Undoubtedly, in every draft there will be players who fail to fulfill expectations. This is especially true for top picks, as expectations are exponentially raised the closer to the top of the draft a player is chosen. Each year we see lottery picks flame out and never reach the heights that were expected on draft day. The 2013 draft class is no different; these three players in particular, more than any other at the top of 2013 draft, still have work to do to prove that they deserved to be chosen so high.

Anthony Bennett

The Cleveland Cavaliers shocked many around the NBA when they made Anthony Bennett the first overall pick in the 2013 draft. Bennett had a strong freshmen campaign at UNLV but certainly wasn’t considered a sure-fire prospect. He was viewed as a bit of tweener, who needed to get better defensively and had questions surrounding his level of fitness. Despite those concerns, the Cavs pulled the trigger.

The concerns voiced by scouts throughout the league quickly came to fruition, almost from day one. Right away it became apparent that he lacked the stamina to play big minutes, and worse, in the minutes he was given, he was grossly inefficient and unproductive. Bennett played in just 52 games and averaged under 13 minutes per game in those contests. His field goal percentage in his rookie season was a woeful 35.6 percent. Although his career is still in the early stages, there are already some folks ready to label him bust.

Bennett doesn’t appear ready to accept that label quite yet. This summer, he impressed with the Cavs in the Las Vegas Summer League, particularly with his physique as he looked noticeably trimmer. It is evident he has worked tremendously hard to get his conditioning up, which should allow him to play longer and more consistent minutes. Last offseason, Bennett was injured for a long stretch and missed summer league, which may have contributed to his struggles. Now, Bennett is healthy, in shape and set to get a fresh start in Minnesota this upcoming season following the Kevin Love swap. As the young Timberwolves began to move on from Love, there will be plenty of opportunities for minutes and shots. This is an ideal situation for Bennett to step into and continue to grow as a player.

Otto Porter

Unlike Bennett, Otto Porter appeared to be a relatively safe pick when he was chosen by the Washington Wizards third overall in 2013 draft. He has prototypical size for a small forward, great length, is a solid passer and showed improvements in his shot. Not to mention he’s a Georgetown product, giving the Wizards the chance to snag a local guy right out of their backyard. With Trevor Ariza entering the final year of his contract prior to the start of the 2013-14 season, it appeared Porter may be poised to inherit the starting small forward position. It seemed like a perfect fit for both parties.

His rookie season got off to a rocky start before he ever played his first game. Porter was diagnosed with a hip flexor, which sidelined him until early December and put him even further behind the eight ball than the average rookie. When he was finally able to get on the court, he looked uncomfortable and wasn’t playing with the same confidence that had shot him up draft boards. Despite the improvements in his shot, it remained a concern. In his rookie season those questions about his shot quickly surfaced, as Porter made only 36.3 percent of his shots from the field and a dreadful 19 percent from three. As he continued to struggle, his role continued to diminish. With the Wizards in the middle of a playoff hunt, there were many nights were head coach Randy Wittman couldn’t risk putting Porter in, as the games were just too important.

Ariza did end up leaving through free agency, heading to the Houston Rockets, but Porter didn’t show nearly enough during his rookie year to warrant consideration for the starting gig. The Wizards went out and signed veteran Paul Pierce to fill the void left by Ariza. Porter, like Bennett, looked much better playing in the Las Vegas Summer League than he did during his first NBA season. Of course, that shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the disparity in talent in the Summer League compared to an average NBA roster. But nonetheless it’s still a positive sign. However, he wasn’t the only Wizards player to excel in Summer League. Glen Rice Jr. played outstanding, and it now appears that Rice and Porter will be locked up in a battle for minutes at the back-up three spot this upcoming season. The future at small forward for the Wizards is still very much up in the air. Pierce is 37 years old and signed to just a two-year deal, so a bounce back year from Porter would go a long way in restoring the Wizards’ faith in him as the best long-term option for the future.

Ben McLemore

McLemore, who was selected seventh overall by the Sacramento Kings last year, actually slipped slightly in 2013 draft. Going into draft night, he looked to be almost a surefire top-five pick.His incredible athleticism, great size for his position and ability to shoot the ball figured to make him one of the more tantalizing prospects in the rather weak draft class. His slide to the seventh pick even prompted a comment from LeBron James who tweeted: “They sleepin on Ben McLemore. Just watch…” After watching McLemore for a year, he has yet to fulfill James’ prophecy, and it certainly wasn’t due to a lack of time on the court.

Out of the three players listed, McLemore was given the most minutes by far, starting in 55 games. The Kings were eager to see what their young guard could do and didn’t hesitate to throw him right into the fire. McLemore got the chance to play extended minutes early on and the opportunity to put up his fair share of shots. The problem was that, for the most part, those shots weren’t falling. He had some games where he got hot and hit three or four three-pointers, but overall he shot just 32 percent from deep on the year. For comparisons sake, Bradley Beal, a guy who had a very similar reputation to that of McLemore out of college, shot 38.6 percent as a rookie.

McLemore surely isn’t the first player to struggle with his shot as a rookie but when your reputation is as a shooter, 32 percent from three isn’t going to cut it. McLemore won’t be the only shooter in Sacramento this season, as the Kings selected Nik Stauskas eighth overall in this year’s draft. That’s not exactly a vote of confidence for McLemore. McLemore now will have some competition for time at two-guard rather than being gifted minutes as before. If he can’t right the ship, he may find himself watching Stauskas from the bench.

This is John's second year with Basketball Insiders, after spending last season working as an intern. Based out of Milwaukee, he covers the NBA with a focus on the Milwaukee Bucks and the Central Division.

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener

Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.

Jesse Blancarte

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“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”

That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.

While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.

Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.

While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.

Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).

While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.

Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.

Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).

“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”

Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.

Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.

“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.

For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.

“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”

Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.

The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.

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Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics

Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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Returning just one starter from last year’s top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics underwent wholesale changes this past offseason.

Gordon Hayward signed a super max contract. Danny Ainge pried Kyrie Irving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. Jayson Tatum was selected with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.

In early July, though, there was an under-the-radar trade executed that hasn’t been mentioned much. Surprisingly, Celtics guard Avery Bradley was sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, a heady wing with size and versatility to add to a revamped core of players.

Bradley was a mainstay with the franchise for seven years and played a vital role as a part of Brad Stevens’ system, but Boston decided to move in a different direction. As for the man they got in return, he’s thrilled to be there.

“It makes me feel good,” Morris told Basketball Insiders of Ainge dealing one of his best former players for him. “It makes you feel wanted.

“This is my first time since I’ve been in the NBA I’ve been on a team with a bunch of guys that [are] All-Stars. With the maturity of the team being this high and having them high expectations on us, I’m excited to get the season going and see how far we can take this.”

The Detroit Pistons likely wanted to keep him, but the organization clearly felt Bradley’s skill set was too good to pass up. For Morris, he insisted there was no indication that his old team would send him away, but he hasn’t been bashful about talking up his new home.

“Had no idea that I was gonna be a Boston Celtic, but I’m ready for the challenge, you know?” Morris said. “I’m excited. Boston, being a Celtic—it’s something that growing up you don’t really see happening, but when it happens it’s an amazing thing.

“It’s like playing for the Patriots, you know what I mean? One of the most heralded teams and most heralded franchises, and Boston is one of those.”

Entering the seventh season of his career, Morris has remained a steady part of the league. During his time in Detroit, he started nearly every game for the Pistons and found a comfort zone that he believes will carry over in Boston.

“Just continue to be consistent, continue to build on my last past couple of years,” Morris said of his personal goals. “I really felt like I carved my spot in the NBA the last two years—averaging 14 a year and helping my team get to the playoffs one of those years, so I really think I’ve carved a niche in this league.”

The success has come thanks to his versatility and the NBA’s current direction pointing towards that type of game. All of a sudden, not having a defined position makes a player more valuable, something Morris is thankful for as he continues to bring a little bit of everything to the table.

“For guys like me, it’s great,” Morris said. “Coming into the league, I had this ‘tweener’ thing on my back and now it’s like [freaking] great to be a ‘tweener’ at this time. I’m actually happy that it’s switching to my position and guys that can do multiple things are being utilized more in this league.”

Putting the ball in the basket has come fairly easy for Morris, who averaged 14.1 points per game on 42.6 percent from the field over 159 games with Detroit. He’s able to stretch the floor and provide solid spacing offensively, and he envisions doing more than that for this Celtics group.

“And leadership,” Morris said. “I’m not too much of a vocal guy, but I’m a passionate guy on the court. I think that’ll rub off on guys. I love scoring. I love shooting the ball. But that’s not the only thing I do.

“I’ve been a tough defender around this league for the last past years and I’m really looking forward to hanging my hat on that again and just doing whatever it takes for my team to get to that next level.”

Stevens is aware of the impact Morris can bring in the locker room and on the floor. When he returns from a sore knee to make his debut for Boston, that’ll show through his play.

“He’s a guy that can stretch the floor at the four,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that can guard two through four. He’s tough. He’s smart. He works the right way. We’ll be better with Marcus Morris for sure. The versatility is a very important part of what we want to be.

“Whether he is starting in a couple of weeks or whether he’s coming off the bench, at the end of the day he’s gonna be a critical, critical part of our team.”

While he’s waited to come back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped up in his absence. With Hayward likely sidelined for the rest of the season, that success will have to be sustained. Morris is a big believer in this promising duo and sees how grounded they are to make that happen.

“They’re mature guys for their age,” Morris said. “Jaylen, I think he’s 20. He’s definitely a lot more mature than I thought. Jayson, too. He’s way more mature than your average 19-year-old.

“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I think those guys, they’re ready for the challenge. They love the game. They always in the gym, so I think it’ll be easy for ‘em.”

Part of Morris’ role is guiding those two and the other younger pieces that Boston has as they try and establish themselves as professionals. He’s kind of a coach per se, which is somewhat fitting considering what he did this summer.

Most basketball fans are aware of “The Basketball Tournament” that takes nationwide. For those that aren’t, it’s a single-elimination competition between 64 teams in which the champion receives a $2 million prize. Morris was the head coach of Team FOE—standing for Family Over Everything.

Along with his fellow Kansas alums, including his brother Markieff and Thomas Robinson, Morris coached his team to the final game. Team FOE was in front most of the game but ultimately fell to Boeheim’s Army, a squad filled with former Syracuse Orangemen.

“I was on my way man,” Morris said of coming close. “I actually liked it. I’m a smart guy. Me and basketball stuff, I can put it together real well. I was kinda upset we lost in the fashion that we lost, but we’ll be back next year.

“I’m a smart player,” he said regarding a potential future on the sidelines. “I know the game really well. Coaching comes easy for some guys and I’m just one of those guys.”

You could hear “Coach Morris” down the line, but for now and for years to come, Marcus is focused on his first year with Boston. It’s a team that surely has the talent to be the top team in the East it’s pegged to be. Stevens is a basketball savant with great leadership.

Even without an All-Star like Hayward and a 0-2 start, the Celtics should still be a force to be reckoned with. There’s an even greater demand for them to achieve their potential, especially knowing eyes will be on them, but Morris welcomes the challenge.

“Man, it’s pressure on every team,” Morris said. “It ain’t like it’s just all on the Boston Celtics. It’s pressure on every team. What’s a game without pressure anyway?

“Pressure makes it the best thing. That’s what we need to do anyway. I enjoy the pressure. Me personally.”

Shouldering the load won’t be easy, but if it comes down to it, Morris will be swimming instead of sinking. When all is said and done, he shares the same aspirations as most players do—raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer.

“I want to the win the championship,” Morris said. “You put this type of team together to get to those positions. I’m looking to be playing in June and trying to get to a championship.”

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