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Nets Finally Found Their Shooter In Allen Crabbe

Allen Crabbe could be the key to unlocking Kenny Atkinson’s fast-paced offense this season, writes Ben Nadeau.

Benny Nadeau

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After suffering a sprained ankle in training camp, Allen Crabbe was one of the last members of the Brooklyn Nets to make his debut this preseason. If the early indications are any sign, the year-long delay was definitely worth it.

Crabbe exploded for 14 points on 5-for-7 shooting from the floor while adding an assist, rebound and steal in just 11 minutes of play. The 6-foot-6 marksman made three of his four attempts from three-point range, quickly affirming the Nets’ decision to trade for the $75 million dollar man earlier this summer.

Of course, the Nets were the team that signed Crabbe to the massive offer sheet during free agency in 2016, but still, it’s clear how important he is to the franchise’s plan moving forward. Following the Nets’ 117-83 romp of the New York Knicks last night, Crabbe gushed about his new role with Brooklyn.

“Just watching the first two preseason games, watching all the shots, watching how this offense flows, it’s the perfect system for me,” Crabbe said. “I just came in with confidence. Like I said, it’s a different feel here. They’re telling you to do more, to shoot more, it’s like the ultimate green light.”

Crabbe isn’t embellishing about that so-called ultimate green light either as the Nets, a self-proclaimed three-point shooting team, were not particularly great from deep in 2016-17. Brooklyn attempted 33.6 three-pointers per game last season, the fourth-highest mark in the NBA, but converted on a basement-dwelling 33.8 percent of them. Needless to say, Crabbe’s first season with Brooklyn has a very well-defined role already: Shoot, shoot, shoot.

It remains to be seen if Crabbe will join Jeremy Lin and D’Angelo Russell in the starting lineup, but his high-volume efficiency can be a boon to the Nets’ fast-paced offense either way. As a role player for the Portland Trail Blazers, Crabbe put up just 8.2 shots per game in 2016-17, a total that was surpassed by Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic and Evan Turner. But the relegated role didn’t stop Crabbe from achieving one of the league’s most efficient seasons from behind the arc as he finished with a 44.4 percent mark, trailing just Kyle Korver in that regard.

“We targeted Allen and there’s a reason, we said this is a guy that’s really going to fit in our system,” said Kenny Atkinson, the Nets’ head coach. “Tonight is a good start and is exactly what we thought.”

Up to this point, Crabbe has yet to be completely unleashed in his young professional career. Due to his perimeter-based supporting role to the superstar duo of Lillard and McCollum, Crabbe was often limited to catch-and-shoot opportunities. His impressive efficiency from deep proved Crabbe’s worth at that position, but the Nets will likely ask him to carry a much larger responsibility in 2017-18 and beyond.

With Atkinson, however, there’s a precedent for turning an other-worldly three-point shooter into an offensive focal point. Before the Nets hired Atkinson, he was an assistant coach with the Atlanta Hawks, a franchise that shocked the league by winning 60 games in 2014-15 and embracing a team-first philosophy. Between Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague and DeMarre Carroll (now playing for the Nets), the Hawks had plenty of willing scorers, but the offense often revolved around the aforementioned Korver on most possessions.

Through a number of delays and screens, the Hawks would free up Korver to either shoot a three-pointer or pick apart an opposing defense when too much attention was funneled his way. As Zach Lowe deftly wrote back in 2014 for Grantland, Korver’s elite shooting and above average passing often made defenses pick their poison over and over again.

“[Hawks’ head coach Mike] Budenholzer also understands that the very best shooters don’t necessarily maximize their value by standing around. Great shooters have a gravitational pull, and they can shift the range of that force around the floor as they move,” Lowe said. “A defense can go haywire if that force collides with another object — a teammate screening for Korver, or a defensive player suddenly realizing that Korver has drilled him in the back with a nasty pick.”

So, Atkinson, a staunch disciple of Budenholzer, quickly put Crabbe to a work in a similar way.

The Nets’ preseason thumping of the Knicks gave us a sneak-peek at how Atkinson plans to use the newly acquired sharpshooter. Crabbe’s first bucket in black and white came in transition, but he often caught fire like that out in Portland. What’s worth noting was Brooklyn’s coordinated effort to get Crabbe open, even on a minutes restriction.

Take a couple of his three-pointers, seen both here and here, and check out the activity around Crabbe. On the first basket, Crabbe starts in the corner before cutting toward the top of the arc, immediately Doug McDermott is hit with screens from both Quincy Acy and Trevor Booker as he fruitlessly attempts to keep up. The second basket is similar, but the first screen comes from Russell before Booker’s dribble handoff sets Crabbe up with all the space he needs.

In between those baskets, Crabbe earned his sole assist by taking Damyean Dotson, who over commits on the close-out, off the dribble before kicking it out to Joe Harris. Even on three simple preseason plays, that gravitational pull was on full display, which is something the Nets will likely lean on all season.

Last year, Atkinson and the Nets tried to run these types of plays, but at no point did they have a shooter like Crabbe to facilitate through. The early injury that left the Nets without Lin for much of the season didn’t help, but Brook Lopez was the team’s leading three-point shooter with 5.2 attempts per game — obviously, these nuanced, quick-paced play calls weren’t a great fit given the center’s flat-footedness.

Before he was moved at the trade deadline, the Nets also tried to get Bojan Bogdanovic involved with some simpler handoff and screen variations, as seen here, but the Croatian forward was much better suited for catch-and-shoot opportunities. Still, even without the right personnel and an extremely inexperienced roster last season, Atkinson’s days in Atlanta had a clear influence on his first-year offense in Brooklyn.

From that Grantland piece once again, Lowe described the Hawks’ style of play in a way that Nets fans will find oddly familiar.

“The Hawks under Budenholzer are not going to pound the ball with isolations and stagnant pick-and-rolls in the middle of the floor. Budenholzer wants to build a sort of Spurs East, with the ball whipping from side to side in an unguardable blur of passes, handoffs, and picks.”

The Nets finished the 2016-17 season with the NBA’s worst record at 20-62, but they were undeniably playing a better brand of basketball with Atkinson at the helm. Gone were the plodding days of isolations courtesy of Joe Johnson and Deron Williams, replaced by a faster, more modern offense. But even with Lopez’s sudden development as a three-point shooter and the promising emergence of Caris LeVert, the Nets’ gritty performances were often undone by one of the league’s worst defenses and an inability to score late in games.

Other currently rostered players like Sean Kilpatrick, Harris and Acy made worthwhile contributions from three-point range, but the Nets are getting a major boost in offensive firepower this fall thanks to Crabbe, Russell and a healthy Lin. Even without much effort, Atkinson and Nets will start executing on the same plays they couldn’t quite finish off last season. Will opposing defenses help on Crabbe or choose to stay tight on the quick and crafty guards?

Ahead of Crabbe’s debut, Atkinson reflected on the Nets’ attempt to fix a glaring weakness.

“We knew shooting was an issue for us last year,” Atkinson said. “We felt like we got a ton of open shots but didn’t put them down. We knew we had to address shooting.”

So, with Atkinson’s offensive influences from his days with the Hawks, the question to be asked is this: Have the Nets found their version of Kyle Korver?

It’s silly to suggest that Crabbe could hold the same impact as Korver did during Atlanta’s impressive heyday, but his potential appears to have a high ceiling in Brooklyn. Of course, it’s also an extremely small sample size, but the Nets likely envisioned this role for Crabbe over a year ago in free agency. If Atkinson and the Nets truly commit to creating opportunities for Crabbe, the microwavable shooter could be a game-changer moving forward.

Crabbe’s debut finally came fifteen months after the Nets first attempted to lock him down long-term, but if last night was any indication, the delay will have been worth the wait.

Benny Nadeau is a Boston-based writer in his first year with Basketball Insiders. For the last five seasons, he covered the Brooklyn Nets for The Brooklyn Game.

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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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