With every agonizing tick of the clock, Shaka Smart—the Virginia Commonwealth University head coach—saw his team’s bid at a conference championship looking all the more improbable.
The directive to double-team senior guard Langston Galloway and force the ball out of his hands made all the sense in the world, especially since Galloway had hit the go-ahead three-pointer for his Saint Joseph’s Hawks on the prior possession.
When the double-team came five feet behind the three-point line, Galloway drove right and then left, desperately trying to evade Juvonte Reddic and Jordan Burgess, but to no avail.
Out of the corner of his eye, Galloway saw the surprisingly dependable freshman on the wing, and when Galloway whipped a line-drive pass to DeAndre Bembry, without hesitation, the freshman executed a picture-perfect pass into the interior to Ronald Roberts, Jr.
As Roberts, Jr. rose and threw down a thunderous dunk, the Hawks pushed their lead to five points in the game’s waning moments.
At that moment, Bembry and Roberts, Jr. embraced at half court. They knew that, as a fourth seed, they were pulling off an improbable upset here at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
And as the St. Joseph’s Hawks walked away from the 2014 A10 Championship game having emerged the victors over the conference’s second seed, Bembry knew that his team had overcome the odds.
For the Charlotte-born prospect, though, this was nothing new—Bembry had been defying expectations for quite some time.
* * * * *
Entering play on January 31, Bembry, now in his third year at St. Joseph’s, is averaging 16.9 points, eight rebounds and 4.5 assists for the 18-3 Hawks. After the aforementioned Langston Galloway went undrafted after declaring for the NBA back in 2014, he has slowly but surely chiseled a place out for himself in the NBA.
Indeed, 30 teams passed up on Galloway two years ago, and it can’t help but to make you wonder whether many of those teams will make the same mistake again with Bembry, who is currently projected as a late second round pick.
“I do feel that I’m very underrated, but it makes you work harder and it pushes you, especially if you’re playing a player that they have ranked in front of you or something like that,” Bembry told Basketball Insiders. “I’m already motivated to play the game of basketball by myself, but little things like that can just add on to your passion for the game or why you actually wanna succeed.”
And as Bembry ran off a list of players who entered the league with little fanfare, attention or expectations of greatness—a list that includes Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard and Draymond Green—he takes it all in stride.
“You gotta get it how you have to,” Bembry said. “Draymond Green, he’s a great player, he has a very high basketball I.Q. and he can do a lot of things. He can defend, shoot the ball and pass the ball and I feel like if you have a good head on you, you should be alright.”
For Bembry, Green represents a contemporary whose story is remarkably similar. Green wasn’t the hottest recruit, and at just 6’7, questions arose about whether and how he would succeed at the next level. Though versatile, the fact that Green didn’t fit into the traditional mold of a positional basketball player proved detrimental to his draft stock. He was famously chosen with the 35th overall pick of the 2012 NBA Draft. Today, he happens to be a near maximum-salaried player who is deemed one of the most important pieces of the defending NBA Champions.
Green has always kept a cool head about it, though, and so is DeAndre Bembry.
Citing Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, James Harden and Larry Bird as players whose moves he tries to emulate, Bembry stresses that making what he calls “winning plays” is the highest priority—not the chase for empty numbers.
“Some people may not agree, but I really feel like that’s the way you should play basketball, making the winning plays,” he said. “I always had this type of I.Q. with basketball where I just like making the winning play, I don’t have to score it. If I’m out there just playing my game and not having to force 14 shots or anything like that, that’s when I’m at my utmost comfortable position on the court. When I can take my time, make the right play, take my time to get the right shot that I want to take—not what the defense wants me to take—that’s when I play my best.”
Still, success at the next level, the junior knows, will only be achieved if he continues to toil and improve every facet of his game. What may separate him from his peers, however, is his willingness to play a role—just like he has at St. Joseph’s—in the pursuit of winning. In today’s NBA, where advanced statistics and wins and losses determine value more than simple statistics, he seems to be a rare breed—a promising young player who sees the bigger picture.
“I know how to play a role and a lot of people don’t know how to play roles,” Bembry told Basketball Insiders. “A lot of people just know if they’re a scorer, then all they’ve gotta do is shoot. That’s why I’m so different from a lot of players. A lot of players can only do one thing but I feel like I have all types of keys to my game where you can throw me out there… I feel like just playing a role and knowing your role is something that a lot of college guys and people in general just can’t do, but I feel like that’s something that I can.”
Anyone who has a conversation with Bembry will recognize his confidence fairly quickly. Over his three years playing for head coach Phil Martelli at St. Joseph’s, he has been asked to play different roles and has already proven to be a somewhat versatile player.
Going from being an auxiliary piece to a primary scorer to a mixture of the two has been a challenge for Bembry, but it pales in comparison to the challenge that the young guard face around his 17th birthday—relocating from the quiet South to the congested North.
* * * * *
“The pace was a lot faster,” Bembry recalls of his family’s move from North Carolina to New Jersey prior to his third year of high school. “Especially being from down South and from the country, it was a much faster pace.”
And back then, back in 2011, is when Bembry first began to believe that he could succeed at the highest level. It seemed that fairly quickly, he went from playing AAU basketball to dominating older varsity players as a sophomore at Rocky River High School in Mint Hill, North Carolina. In the blink of an eye, Bembry suddenly found himself working out at the storied Oak Hill Academy in Virginia before rubbing shoulders and playing hoops with the likes of Kyrie Irving and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at St. Patrick’s in New Jersey.
“Where I’m from, I went to a normal, regular public school and then switching over to a St. Patrick’s was one of those types of things, it was just something I wasn’t used to,” he said. “It was the first time I was seeing so many players who are so good on one team instead of it just being all about me.”
“It was really just a good experience,” Bembry said of those early workouts. “When I came to St. Patrick’s, Kyrie Irving was there playing with us and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist came back and played with us… It was just another thing that was eye opening for me,” he said.
And since then, Bembry has dedicated himself to developing both the mindset and skill set of a player who prides himself on making, again, what he refers to as the winning basketball play.
Deeming himself a point guard, Bembry’s impressive size—he stands about 6’6’—would give him an immediate advantage over most of his opponents if he were to play lead guard in the NBA. However, some scouts would caution that his position at the next level is still not set in stone. There were once similar reservations about Draymond Green, though, and as the NBA has moved toward position-less basketball over the past five years or so, Bembry’s prior experience of playing all five positions in high school should continue to pay major dividends.
* * * * *
With the calendar turning to February, the NCAA Tournament and Conference tournaments are rapidly approaching. St. Joseph’s enters play on January 31 as the third seed in the conference and head coach Phil Martelli and senior Isaiah Miles do so knowing that Bembry will be out there with them.
They also will have the comfort of knowing that when it all comes down to a split second decision in a decisive moment—as Bembry proved to Langston Galloway and Ronald Roberts, Jr. in the 2014 A10 Championship game—he can be counted upon to make the winning play.
From North Carolina, to New Jersey and to Pennsylvania, Bembry has long made a habit of not seeking personal accolades. Even as he continues to pursue his career goals and prepares to make a probable declaration for the NBA Draft, he always puts his team first.
In today’s NBA, perhaps more than ever, that’s bound to get noticed, sooner or later.
Results-Based Mental Performance: Plan B
Jake Rauchbach breaks down how players can improve their on-court games with off-court tools during this hiatus
For players looking to remain sharp, getting in on-court work right now can prove to be a challenge. Considering the social distancing and lockdown currently in effect, players and teams alike may be forced to look outside the box to employ other sorts of ways to maintain an edge.
Integrated player development tools that touch upon the deeper level of the mind could provide the answer.
With limited skill development time, mental tools that aim to maintain and refine player’s instincts, habits and routines could hold the key to producing improvement during this on-court hiatus.
In this column, we are going to highlight four different ways to train the mind (And Game) to remain sharp.
Science has shown that there is a direct connection between thoughts, emotions and the body. This means when players are relegated to primarily off-court activities, there could be no better way to train, than visualization.
Players that I have worked with in the past who have employed visualization, have often produced mirror-like on-court results.
For instance, during my time at Temple University, there was a player who pictured himself stealing the ball in the full court and then going down to dunk the ball. Before visualizing this, he had not completed this play during the game. After doing so, he began to repeatedly complete this play during the games. This is just one example, of how powerful visualization can be, and there are many more. This type of phenomenon has become the new normal for the community of MindRight Pro community players. What we are finding, is there is a direct connection between internal picturing and external outcomes.
This is one of the reasons why, visualization is such a beneficial tool to use, especially when players are not able to get-in adequate court-time. At this point, making this apart of the player’s daily routine should be a no brainer.
Affirmations have long been used as a way to affirm mindset. For players, whose seasons have abruptly come to an end, and where on-court time has been limited, training mindset to stay sharp is VITAL.
Consistent use of affirmations helps players hone their very own personal mission statement. If players can stay on a mission now, they can perceivably do so through any future experience.
Regular check-ins help to keep players on a mission, and headed in the right direction.
Leveraging breath as a way to increase awareness and performance is a pillar of virtually every type of self-help and high-performance modality.
Being aware of one’s breath is very powerful. Breathwork has also long been used as a vehicle to bring people into the present moment. The present moment is where high-performance lives. For players, there may be nothing more important for their game than this.
This is a big-time opportunity for athletes to train on-court performance via present moment awareness. We are talking about training breath as a proxy for improvement.
Ultimately, on-court performance all boils down to present moment awareness. Without a strong handle on this aspect of consciousness, players will hold themselves back from the best version of themselves. For players, training this aspect now could reap big-time rewards when basketball resumes.
Of course, we can provide this list without talking about meditation. Meditation is like the anchor for all other mind-based methods. With the increasing number of options for meditation, players should have no problem finding resources in this regard.
This being said, there are a ton of different types of meditation. It does not matter which one a player chooses, the most important thing is that he/she is consistent.
Consistency moves the dial, and that is super important right now. Players who consistently train the mind during their time off the court; Give themselves an edge once they’re cleared to be back on the court in the full.
Check out Jake Rauchbach’s High-Performance Mindfulness podcast here.
NBA Daily: The Hot Seat – Western Conference
Matt John takes a look at head coaches and general managers in the Western Conference whose jobs might be on the line.
Back on Monday, Basketball Insiders took a look at which personnel from the Eastern Conference could be in danger of losing their jobs. In case you missed it, check it out here.
Previously, we discussed the notion that there’s always one guy you’d never suspect to lose his job to get hit by the Hot Seat – Kenny Atkinson’s mutual parting a few weeks back was just that.
Before we dive into the jobs on the line in the Western Conference, there’s something else that must be pointed out about the Hot Seat. It’s true that when it comes to job performance in the NBA, most of what determines your fate stems from the question: “What have you done for me lately?”
Joe Dumars’ time as the general manager of the Detroit Pistons is a good example of this. Outside of infamously drafting Darko Milicic over Carmelo Anthony in 2003, Dumars had a near-perfect track record after taking over from 2000 to 2006. Following the departure of franchise icon Grant Hill, Dumars did the following:
– Acquire Ben Wallace in a sign-and-trade with Orlando for Hill. Wallace then went on to become one of the best rim protectors of his era and all-time
– Brought in Chauncey Billups on a cheap deal just before Billups became Mr. Big Shot
– Traded Jerry Stackhouse for Richard Hamilton, who became a perfect complement next to Billups in the frontcourt
– Drafted Mehmet Okur, Tayshaun Prince, Amir Johnson and Jason Maxiell, all productive players that were taken after the lottery
– Replaced Rick Carlisle with Larry Brown
– Basically stole Rasheed Wallace mid-season
Naturally, this created a great era of basketball for Detroit. They won a championship, went to two consecutive finals, and went to six consecutive conference finals from 2003-08. Not many can say they were able to win a championship after losing a superstar and failing to draft one when they had the chance, but Dumars can.
But then came the fall of 2008: That bred the awful Billups-for-Iverson deal. Paying top dollar for the ill-fated Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva contracts. Putting together a frontcourt of Josh Smith, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. If Dumars didn’t have an incredible run earlier as general manager, how long would he have lasted after putting the team in mediocrity?
Given the massive amount of franchise success to his name, he kept his job long after things nosedived for Detroit. It’s that same sort of success that guarantees leaders like Gregg Popovich and Rick Carlisle will keep their job for as long as they want, even if they are sitting at home when the playoffs start.
The following people are on the hot seat not because they haven’t necessarily experienced success with their team — but because they haven’t had enough to keep their job should they fail in the situation they find themselves in now.
“Figure It Out… And Quickly Now”
Mike D’Antoni — Houston Rockets
D’Antoni has a lot of success both with the Rockets and as an NBA head coach in general. So much so that if he retired right here and now, he’d make a case for the best coach to never win a championship. Even so, the pressure on him to get Houston over the hump is stronger than it’s ever been.
Obviously, going to the small-ball lineup is something D’Antoni has no issue deploying. In fact, he embraces that gameplan. But even this may be too tall of a task for him. In the past, he used perimeter guys to soak up minutes at the power forward and center spots, but he usually had at least one pure big in his rotation. Now he doesn’t.
With Robert Covington and Clint Capela out, the Rockets don’t have any rotation players taller than 6-foot-8. In fact, the only one who’s actually measured at that height is Jeff Green, who was not only cut from Utah mid-season but spent most of the year riding the pine before Houston inquired about his services. Can you really call it small-ball if you have no bigs to begin with?
D’Antoni wouldn’t be here if this experiment was definitively working — they’re in the mix, but certainly not full-on contenders at this moment. For a while there, it looked like it was. Houston won seven of its first eight games, coming with notable wins coming against the Lakers, Boston (twice) and Utah. They then followed it up with a four-game losing streak with losses at the hands of New York, Charlotte and Orlando.
A record of 8-5 honestly isn’t too bad with such a drastic mid-season change, in retrospect. Russell Westbrook was playing some of the best basketball of his career, while James Harden was a little more off than usual. Still, the mixed results were scary given what the Rockets have ahead of them if the playoffs eventually come.
If Houston doesn’t get to the championship round or, at the very least, go further than they did last season, D’Antoni might get the lion’s share of the blame. Either way, D’Antoni’s contract extension talks with owner Tilman Fertitta didn’t go… smoothly either. As bad as that all may sound, with his reputation, he wouldn’t have much trouble finding another job.
“We Cannot Lose Another Franchise Player… We Just Can’t”
Ryan Saunders/Scott Layden – Minnesota Timberwolves
First, some props are due for both Saunders and Layden. In Layden’s case, he should get the credit for stealing Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez away from the Denver Nuggets. Then as a follow-up, he acquired D’Angelo Russell to appease Karl-Anthony Towns and give him the best scoring guard he’s ever had.
For Saunders, he’s integrated them pretty well mid-season. Beasley and Hernangomez are both playing excellent basketball right now for the Timberwolves. Russell is doing his usual thing. Appearances, finally, are on the rise for the talented squad.
Has that changed Minnesota’s fortunes one bit? Nope! Since the Timberwolves made their mid-season roster shakeup, they’ve gone 3-10, which puts them at 19-45, good for second-worst and only ahead of the injury-decimated Golden State Warriors.
It’s numbers like those that make the Wolves’ promising start back in October feel like an eternity ago. It wouldn’t matter if the season resumed or not, the Timberwolves weren’t making the playoffs. Worse, Towns was not happy with the team’s lack of success for most of the season. What Minnesota has to ask themselves is how long will he be willing to put up with such a lack of progress.
Bringing Russell aboard was the smart, obvious, and let’s face it, inevitable move. Pairing your franchise player with his friend has brought his spirits up, but the continued losing might not indefinitely postpone these feelings forever.
The real pressure on Layden and Saunders doesn’t come from only how the Timberwolves do, but how they fare against their competition next year. Excluding the conference’s top seven, their younger competitors — New Orleans, Memphis, Sacramento, Phoenix — are further along in developing their team than Minnesota. Worse, Golden State and Portland are also going to be much healthier next season. Making the playoffs in the Western Conference is going to be quite the mountain to climb, especially for Minnesota.
If they can’t get over that hump, Minnesota will have to do something to keep Towns happy. That might start with getting rid of Layden and Saunders.
This list may be short, but that’s because it’s hard to see other coaches and general managers being put on the hot seat right now. Ether because their seasons have gone well, their seasons have gone badly for reasons that were out of control, or there’s too much loyalty there for anyone to get fired.
The one coach who might eventually be on the hot seat is Quin Snyder. He’s done an excellent job for Utah over these past several years, so his one hiccup shouldn’t be enough to put his job in jeopardy. That’s more of a wait-and-see situation. Even if it doesn’t get better, it took several years for Toronto to dismiss Dwane Casey because he did so much for that organization.
Oklahoma City’s season has gone so surprisingly and enjoyably well that Billy Donovan’s job should be just fine. Some will blame Neil Olshey for what happened to Portland this season, but with all that happened with Jusuf Nurkic and their other injuries, what were his options?
Alvin Gentry would have made this list, but it wasn’t his fault that Zion Williamson missed most of the season. Now that the generational prospect is back, New Orleans has most definitely turned a corner and went 11-8 since his debut. It might be too late both due to the injury bug and COVID-19, but their improvement over the last few months should make Gentry’s job safe for now.
Luke Walton or Vlade Divac would also be prime candidates for this list, but who knows what’s going on in Sacramento’s collective head?
Right now, it looks like a lot more jobs in the Western Conference are safe than not at the moment. That can all change in a short amount of time, but we don’t know anything, really. Here’s to hoping that no one will lose their job in this league – especially at a time like this.
NBA Daily: Under The Radar – Western Conference
David Yapkowitz takes a look at players from the Western Conference that deserve their due for stepping up this season despite receiving less attention.
NBA basketball is on an indefinite hiatus for the foreseeable future, but here at Basketball Insiders, we’ve still got some content to keep you entertained.
We kicked off last week with a look at some of the top upcoming free agents around the league, started this week with coaches and executives who could be on the hot seat, and we’re transitioning into looking at players who may have been flying under the radar this season.
There are various reasons why a player could be flying under the radar. Playing in a small market, not being on a playoff team, etc. Whatever the reason may be, here’s a look at some of the players in the Western Conference who have been under the radar this season.
Chris Paul – Oklahoma City Thunder
With all the attention Chris Paul has gotten throughout his career, it’s funny to think of him being on an under the radar list. But he really hasn’t gotten his proper due for this season he’s putting together. At the start of the season, the Thunder looked like a fringe playoff team at the absolute best. Thanks to Paul’s leadership, they were in contention for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs and surely would have given anyone a tough opening series.
In his 15th season, Paul’s numbers are right around his career averages. He was putting up 17.7 points per game, 4.9 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 1.6 steals. His 48.9 percent shooting from the field is the third-highest mark in his career. As of publishing, the Thunder were actually ahead of the Houston Rockets in the standings; the team that traded Paul last summer.
Torrey Craig – Denver Nuggets
Craig is in third NBA season, all with the Nuggets. He went to a small NCAA Division 1 school (University of South Carolina Upstate) and spent the early portion of his career overseas in Australia and New Zealand. He originally began his NBA career on a two-way contract, earning a standard contract after his first year and now becoming a mainstay in the Nuggets rotation.
His numbers have gone up every year he’s been in the NBA. This season he was shooting career-bests 46.2 percent from the field and 33 percent from the three-point line. What has really stood out about him, however, is his defensive ability. He’s quietly become one of the better perimeter defenders in the league. On a team full of offensive firepower like the Nuggets, his skill-set is a much-needed asset.
Ben McLemore – Houston Rockets
There was a time when McLemore was a lottery pick and supposed to be one of the future building blocks for the Sacramento Kings. That didn’t end up panning out and when he joined the Rockets on a non-guaranteed contract this past offseason, it was widely seen as his last shot to prove himself as an NBA rotation player.
He has certainly answered the call this season. He emerged as an invaluable member of the Rockets rotation. He established himself as a legitimate 3&D player. Early in the season when his shot wasn’t falling, he was still contributing on the defensive end. As of now, he’s shooting 44.5 percent from the field and 39.5 percent from three-point range. He’s been a starter for Houston and he’s come off the bench. He’s certainly done enough to earn himself another contract in the offseason.
De’Anthony Melton – Memphis Grizzlies
Melton played in a total of 50 games last season as a rookie for the Phoenix Suns. This season, he was on pace to surpass that. In his second year in the league, he’s become a key piece for a Grizzlies team that was hanging on to the eighth spot in the West. He has a versatile skill set and he can play multiple positions.
Melton was putting up 8.1 points per game, 3.7 rebounds, and 3.0 assists. He’s a legit combo guard. He’s comfortable with the ball in his hands and running the offense. He is also a strong defensive player. There is a lot of young talent on the Grizzlies and Melton is perhaps the most underrated one.
Landry Shamet – Los Angeles Clippers
Shamet had an immediate impact as a rookie last season, especially in the Clippers entertaining first-round playoff series against the Golden State Warriors. Last season, he started 23 of the 25 games with the Clippers after the trade with the Philadelphia 76ers. He began this season as a starter, but has since transitioned into a bench role.
His numbers and minutes have dropped off since the arrival of Marcus Morris and Reggie Jackson, but he still is a valuable part of the team. He’s averaging 9.7 points per game and shooting 39.2 percent from the three-point line. He can play both on and off-ball. He is especially adept at moving without the ball to get open.
Georges Niang – Utah Jazz
Niang started his time with the Utah Jazz on a two-way contract and has gradually worked his way into the Jazz rotation. When Utah waived Jeff Green back in December, Niang was the beneficiary of increased playing time. He has fit in well as a small-ball four-man who can space the floor.
He’s shooting a career-best 41.6 percent from the three-point line and earlier this year was among the top three-point shooters percentage-wise in the league. He comes into the game, plays his role and doesn’t try to do too much. A key utility guy who does what is asked of him and can contribute to winning.