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Peers Believe Crawford is Sixth Man of Year

A survey of NBA players reveals an overwhelming number believe Jamal Crawford should win Sixth Man of the Year.

Alex Kennedy

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This is a strange year when it comes to the NBA’s end-of-season player awards.

Typically, there is a lot of debate over who deserves each honor. There are 129 sportswriters and broadcasters who make up the voting panel, and they receive their ballots two weeks before the regular season ends. Some years, voters will wait until the absolute final moment (after the final regular season game) to cast their ballot because the competition is that intense and they want to have as much information as possible before making up their mind.

However, this season’s award races will be relatively anti-climactic because the results seem rather obvious. Stephen Curry will be Most Valuable Player, Karl-Anthony Towns seems poised to be Rookie of the Year, C.J. McCollum will likely be Most Improved Player and Defensive Player of the Year seems like it’ll once again come down to Kawhi Leonard or Draymond Green.

There doesn’t seem to be many wide-open award races this year. That is, except for Sixth Man of the Year. The award is obviously given to the most productive reserve and, in order to be eligible, a player must come off of the bench in more games than he starts.

The top two vote-getters from last season are currently ineligible, so it’ll be interesting to see who the media turns to now. Last year, Lou Williams and Isaiah Thomas finished first and second in the voting, but both players used their successful 2014-15 campaign as a springboard to an increased role.

The veterans who are typically mentioned as possible Sixth Man candidates, such San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili, Houston Rockets guard Jason Terry and Golden State Warriors forward Andre Iguodala, seem like long shots now. Each of these players have seen their production dip significantly as they’ve gotten older and all three are averaging single-digit points.

JamalCrawford_Inside4The only “usual suspect” left in the race is Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford, who is competing with a host of new candidates such as Oklahoma City Thunder center Enes Kanter, Denver Nuggets guard Will Barton, Charlotte Hornets guard Jeremy Lin and New Orleans Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson among others.

But while it seems there isn’t a clear-cut frontrunner, NBA players see the Sixth Man of the Year race very differently. Basketball Insiders talked to a long list of NBA players and almost every single one said that Crawford deserves the award.

Obviously Crawford’s teammates were quick to campaign for him, but players from all around the NBA voiced their support for the 36-year-old guard as well.

If Crawford is named this season’s Sixth Man of the Year, he’ll become the first player in NBA history to win the award three times. He also earned the honor in 2010 (with the Atlanta Hawks) and 2014 (with the Clippers), joining Kevin McHale, Ricky Pierce and Detlef Schrempf as the only two-time winners.

“When you win games, those individual honors have a way of working themselves out,” Crawford told Basketball Insiders. “You can’t be in the conversation for any of those things if you’re not winning. To be recognized again would be a great honor! But obviously winning is the most important thing, especially this season. We revamped our team to start the season and then lost our big gun, Blake Griffin, for a while. No one thought we would be in this position now – fourth in the Western Conference – but here we are. It’s taken a collective effort from the coaches and players to get here. And we’re not satisfied with where we are because we still have a long way to go. There’s so much more work to be done.”

This season, Crawford is averaging 14 points in 26.8 minutes off the bench. He stepped up significantly once the Clippers lost Griffin due to injury. Since Dec. 25 (the last time that Griffin played), Crawford has increased his average to 15.5 points per game and he has scored 15 or more points in 27 contests, which is the most of any bench player during that span. He has scored in double figures in 54 games this season. Many players who felt Crawford deserved the award mentioned how he’s helped keep the Clippers’ offense performing at it’s usual high level in Griffin’s absence. L.A. currently has the NBA’s sixth-best offense, scoring 106 points per 100 possessions.

Crawford has also played well when his team needs him most: in the fourth quarter. This season, he leads the Clippers in total points scored in the fourth quarter with 319. He may not start games for Los Angeles, but he often finishes them and makes an impact in the final period.

The fact that Crawford is putting up these numbers on a legitimate contender helps his case for the award too. In the past 20 seasons, every Sixth Man of the Year winner came from a playoff team. Crawford is the leading reserve scorer among all postseason-bound teams.

But perhaps the biggest reason Crawford is so universally respected among opposing players is his ability to create his own shot. He ranks seventh in the league in isolation points (223) behind only stars James Harden, Carmelo Anthony, Damian Lillard, LeBron James, DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Durant.

Crawford does some amazing things with the ball in his hands, and he’s excellent in one-on-one situations. Even the best defenders in the NBA admit that they hate guarding Crawford because he has so many different weapons in his offensive arsenal and he’s completely unpredictable. Fouling him is pointless too since he is ranked first in the NBA in free throw percentage this season, hitting 90.9 percent of his shots from the charity stripe.

Crawford certainly doesn’t look like a 36-year-old on the court. In fact, as SLAM recently noted, he’s the first NBA player in history to average over 13 points while playing fewer than 27 minutes per game in at least his 16th NBA season. Crawford found that stat amusing. He also laughed when he learned that he’s averaging 18.5 points per-36-minutes this year, which is actually higher than his per-36-minutes scoring average from over a decade ago when he was in his prime with the New York Knicks.

On many teams, Crawford would be starting. However, he has embraced the sixth-man role and enjoys leading the second unit. Still, if asked to start, Crawford will rise to the occasion. In his three starts this season for the Clippers, he averaged 28 points, five assists and four rebounds while shooting 45.2 percent from the field, 43.5 percent from three-point range and 94.7 percent from the free throw line.

Crawford has had a number of signature performances this season too.

He had 37 points, eight assists and six rebounds in a November win over the Detroit Pistons (numbers that only Stephen Curry, James Harden, LeBron James, Kemba Walker and Russell Westbrook have matched this season). Crawford had 32 points (including 6-9 three-pointers) and five assists to beat the Orlando Magic in December. Later that month, he led the Clippers to a win over the Washington Wizards by scoring an efficient 21 points on 9-12 shooting from the field. In January, the veteran guard contributed 26 points (on 11-15 shooting from the field) and three assists to defeat the Chicago Bulls. Last month, Crawford had 26 points in 25 minutes – hitting 10-17 shots, including 3-4 three-pointers – to beat the Brooklyn Nets.

For an example of Crawford getting hot and helping lead L.A. to a victory, look no further than last night’s 25-point performance against the Portland Trail Blazers.

Some NBA decision-makers also believe Crawford is the obvious choice for the award.

“Jamal is worthy of the award almost every year, but he has to get it this year,” said one rival Western Conference executive who spoke under the condition of anonymity. “Without Jamal, they’d have been sunk by the Blake Griffin injury. He is definitely one of the elite sixth men in the league and somehow he still remains underrated. He not only comes off the bench and scores, he does it in a way that helps them win games.”

“Jamal has been amazing; he provides the type of spark off the bench that can be the difference between a team having an early exit in the postseason and making a deep playoff run,” said an NBA assistant coach, who spoke under the condition of anonymity. “His instant offense really comes up big in games where game plans are thwarted early and you simply need to get buckets. In my opinion, he deserves Sixth Man of the Year honors.”

It’s clear that there’s an overwhelming number of NBA players who are adamant that Crawford is the NBA’s best sixth man. Many players – young and old, short and tall, East and West – all have a lot of respect for Crawford. Here’s what players told Basketball Insiders:

Sacramento Kings forward Caron Butler: “He’s the greatest sixth man in NBA history. He should win the award this year, and that would solidify him as the best sixth man ever. He was a great teammate [on the Clippers] and an even better person. I’m happy to call him a friend. He has the respect of all of his peers. As athletes, that’s what we all shoot for: winning, being respected and having a solid legacy.”

Indiana Pacers point guard Ty Lawson: “[Winning three Sixth Man awards] has never been done. It would be a big honor for him to win that award three times because he’s one of the best players to have ever come off a bench. You never know what he’s going to do. He might come down and just pull up for a three, or he might give you a hesitation move (which he normally does right before he pulls up for a three) or he just blows by you. It’s so hard to guard him. Even in the lane, he knows how to throw up floaters and he always seems to make them.”

Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin: “Jamal is not only a huge part of our bench, but also our team. I’ve never seen a guy be able to come off the bench and consistently score and carry a second unit the way he does while accepting his role. As good as he is on the court, he’s even better off of it. He’s a terrific locker room guy. He should win Sixth Man of the Year this season. And I think he should have won the award two more times than he already has, in my opinion.”

Five-time All-Star Chauncey Billups: “Of course Jamal should be the Sixth Man of the Year this season – again! He’s a guy who deserves a tremendous amount of credit for accepting a reserve role while knowing that he could be a top-five scorer in the league if put in that position. He’s extremely valuable to the Clippers. They depend on his production every night. He’s the best in the league at what he does.”

Two-time All-Star Baron Davis:I love Jamal Crawford. He is one of my favorite players to watch. He has always been stellar and consistent. He is a player that every team wishes they had coming off the bench. I think he is a key to the Clippers making a run this year. He deserves Sixth Man of the Year because of the impact he has on the team.”

Orlando Magic guard Elfrid Payton: “He deserves to win Sixth Man of the Year. He’s so important to that team because he’s instant offense off of the bench. He’s somebody who can come in and bring energy and get the crowd into the game. Also, when it comes to closing games, he’s someone who can create his own shot, so he’s very important to the Clippers. He’s tough to guard because he is so good at making tough shots. No shot is a bad shot for him. I remember watching him when I was younger – four-point play after four-point play.”

Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas: “He’s in the conversation every year. He does for his team what other guys try to do and can’t. And it happens to be year 16 in his NBA career! It says a lot about the type of player he is. He could easily start around the league, but he’s a guy who doesn’t care about that and cares about doing what’s best for the team. It’s a blessing to play against Jamal because he is a big brother to me and I’ve known him for so long. Going against him is like playing in his pro-am in the summers; we battle and have fun at the same time. He’s very important to the Clippers. I watch all of their games when I’m not playing and it seems like if Jamal doesn’t play well, then they don’t play well. He’s a big part of their team and when he plays well, they usually win. I believe he should be high up in the conversation about another Sixth Man of the Year award. He deserves it, and his team is winning.”

Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard: “He’s a game-changer for them. They could be having a bad night and he can take over. He makes big shots, tough shots, and draws fouls if you’re too physical.”

Washington Wizards forward Jared Dudley: “Jamal Crawford is one of the most unique players in the NBA. His shot-making ability off the dribble and his uncanny way to get to the free throw line makes him dangerous. He’s the Benjamin Button of the NBA. He’s simply not aging at all.”

Seven-time All-Star Grant Hill: “Aside from his impressive shot-making ability and his vast array of illusory skills, what’s impressed me most about Jamal is his longevity and durability. To be able to dominate off the bench in now his 16th year in the league is quite remarkable.”

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert: “He is, for sure, one of the frontrunners. You know he can go off anytime, so you cannot relax against him.”

Los Angeles Clippers guard J.J. Redick: “Jamal is one of a kind – both as a player and a person. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know him and playing with him the past three seasons. He’s the epitome of what a sixth man should be: someone who instantly changes the flow and dynamic of the game with his skill set. For Jamal, that is scoring the basketball. There are few players, if any, like him.”

Nine-year NBA veteran Mo Evans: “Jamal Crawford is a prolific scorer with a high basketball IQ and a knack for hitting big shots. He did this for our Atlanta Hawks team over and over again in 2010, when he won his first Sixth Man of the Year award. His game is proving to be timeless. He is still equally impactful at 36 years old as he was in his younger years. He has heavily contributed to the Clippers’ success this year, especially with Blake Griffin out of the line-up. He’s a big reason L.A. is fourth in the Western Conference. All things considered, I believe he deserves a historic third Sixth Man of the Year award.”

Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum:Jamal is one of the toughest covers in the league. His ability to shoot off the dribble and manipulate ball screens makes him a unique guard. [He] also gives the Clippers a secondary ball handler. … Jamal could potentially win [the Sixth Man award] every year.”

Miami HEAT center Hassan Whiteside: “When he has the ball, you never know what he is going to do with it. [Until this interview], I didn’t know he was 36 years old. Wow. That’s crazy.”

Brooklyn Nets point guard Shane Larkin: “I think Jamal Crawford has a good chance at winning Sixth Man of the Year because he is crucial to the Clippers’ success. He comes into the game for J.J. [Redick] most of the time and immediately makes them more dangerous because he can do everything with the ball offensively and pretty much carries the second unit for them. Whenever you’re playing against him, you have to respect his jumper but he also keeps you on your heels because at any moment he can cross you over and make a mid-range pull-up or get all the way to the bucket. He is the one guy on their second unit who consistently gives other teams problems and produces starter-like numbers. For a team that has been without their leading scorer in Blake Griffin for a long time, he has been huge for them. He finishes a lot of ball games for the them alongside of Chris Paul and it is very difficult to guard them both in multiple pick-and-roll actions with DeAndre [Jordan] rolling to the rim. I think JC has a good chance of winning the award for the third time and it would be pretty cool to see it happen.”

New York Knicks center Kyle O’Quinn: “It would be nice for him to make history by winning his third Sixth Man award. Not only does he deserve it, that will separate him as the best sixth man ever, which he is. Every time people talk about sixth men, his name comes up and people compare themselves to him. He means a lot to the Clippers. He’s that spark that could really push the lead against teams. And honestly, he’s scouted more than a lot of starters.”

Brooklyn Nets center Willie Reed: “I definitely think Jamal deserves to be Sixth Man of the Year. What he’s done in the absence of Blake [Griffin] to help the Clippers keep rolling has been amazing. Playing against him, you definitely have to shrink your defense. He can shoot the ball and draw contact to get to the line, where he shoots over 90 percent. Also, he has the handles to get wherever he wants on the floor. He’s so difficult to defend.”

Former NBA player and current Providence assistant coach God Shammgod: “I think he should win the award every year, and there’s no doubt that he’s the best sixth man ever. He would start on most teams. As an assistant at Providence, I’ve worked with guards like Kris Dunn and Bryce Cotton and I make sure they study Jamal’s game. They study everything from how he breaks defenses down to his pull-up jumper. Every guard can learn from him.”

Portland Trail Blazers forward Ed Davis: “He is super important for that team. He’s a guy who you have to game plan for, otherwise he’ll beat you. He can produce instant offense. He’s the kind of player who can easily go for 16 points in a single quarter.”

Cleveland Cavaliers D-League affiliate player Quinn Cook: “Did Jamal influence my game growing up? Hell yes! I’ve watched every single video of his and I still watch them to this day. He should be Sixth Man of the Year. He’s the primary scorer for their second unit and he’s in the game when it matters. He’s more important to his team than any other sixth man in the league.”

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: Darius Adams, Around The World In Seven Years

CBA superstar Darius Adams talks to Basketball Insiders about dominating in China, playing with Andray Blatche and trying to prove himself.

Ben Nadeau

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Darius Adams is just like every other professional basketball player.

Every year, he works hard, tries to improve and be the best teammate possible. One day, Adams would like to earn his first-ever NBA contract, but after seven long years, he’s always fallen just short. Adams is just like you and me too — forever chasing his dreams even when the outlook is at its bleakest. But Adams’ worldwide journey has taken him from Indianapolis to China and nearly everywhere in between.

Now with a chunk of money saved up, Adams is ready to bet on himself and finally make this at-home ambition come true. Ahead lies a summer of grueling workouts and undetermined futures, but eventually, you learn to stop betting against Adams. From Los Prados to Laboral Kutxa Baskonia, Adams has made a habit of proving the naysayers wrong. As if dropping 38 points per game in China wasn’t difficult enough — Adams still must undergo his toughest challenge yet: Changing the mind of an NBA front office.

But before you can know where Adams is going, it’s just as important to understand where he’s been.

*****

Darius Adams got a late start to basketball. He never played AAU, the so-called holy grail for teenage prospects, and told me that he learned the game by watching streetball in Decatur, Illinois. So by the time he fell in love with basketball, Adams was forced to take alternate routes to the top. He spent two years in the NJCAA with Lincoln College, a small, private liberal arts school approximately 33 miles away from home. During that second season, Adams averaged 18.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.2 steals per game on 44 percent shooting from the floor — but it wasn’t enough to make the jump to a Division-I school.

After transferring to the University of Indianapolis, Adams continued to improve in each successive campaign. As a senior, he topped out with a 41-point effort against Illinois at Springfield and tallied 23.2 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. Nevertheless, Adams still went undrafted in 2011, officially setting off a globe-spanning adventure that would make Phileas Fogg blush.

From China to Ukraine, Adams has played in seven different countries in as many years, also adding stops in Venezuela, Dominican Republic, France, Germany and Spain along the way. Adams may have turned 29 years-old this week, but he’s never considered giving up his dreams of playing in the NBA.

“That’s the goal, that’s always been my motivation,” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “I just played my hardest and kept progressing, that was my thing — I didn’t want to be content with: ‘OK, you’re playing pro.’ I want to play at the highest level, I feel like I have the talent to play at the highest level.

“At the end of the day, I just need that opportunity.”

Opportunity is a word that has come to define Adams in many ways.

Beyond that, it’s something that has constantly eluded him, even as he began winning in bigger and better leagues. Despite all his international successes, including a EuroLeague Final Four appearance and a CBA championship, Adams has been unable to turn that into an NBA contract. As far as he can tell, it’s a matter of both perception and timing.

The perception of overseas athletes, particularly those that compete in China, has always been a hot-button issue. For as long as Americans have played in the CBA, there’s an unspoken expectation that they should dominate. Generalizations abound, if you’re from the United States and not dominating in China, there’s a low chance of earning an NBA deal. But sometimes, even topping the CBA charts still isn’t enough. This season, Adams averaged a league-leading 38.7 points and added 8.4 assists (2nd-best), 6.8 rebounds and 2.5 steals (3rd-best) per contest for good measure. On one hand, there’s the stat-padding, empty type of scoring and then there’s this: Absolute annihilation.

But those misconceptions about Chinese basketball often remain an unforgiving roadblock for many. Heck, even Adams had them before he signed with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers two years ago.

“It’s different, my perception was that there would be a lot of short guys that couldn’t play,” Adams said. “Actually, I was probably one of the shortest guys out there, as far as basketball players, and they got skills. They don’t get tired and they’re going to guard you tough, maybe they’re not as skilled as [Americans] are — but they got heart.

“I thought it was going to be easy, but they impressed me.”

And although Adams experienced his fallacies in real-time, he’s still waiting for the rest of the NBA to catch up.

Of course, Adams wasn’t the only American to tear up the CBA this season. Three other Americans, Brandon Jennings, Jonathan Gibson and MarShon Brooks, earned NBA deals this month. That trio of players all put up gaudy statistical lines as well, but none nearly as high as Adams’. Then there’s the case of Stephon Marbury, a former NBA All-Star that moved to China back in 2010, transforming his fringe-status career into a rejuvenated international icon. Marbury’s off-the-court philanthropy and three CBA championships speak for themselves, but Adams is often left wondering why it can’t work the other way around.

“You start questioning yourself, like: ‘What’s the reason why you’re not getting this opportunity?’” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “Some of the teams [I’ve worked out for] come back and say, ‘Well, he hasn’t had NBA experience.’ But when am I going to get my NBA experience if I never get my chance?”

*****

The other frustrating factor for players like Adams to navigate is timing — and as he put it, timing is everything.

To his credit, Adams has never shied away from a challenge or attempted to outmaneuver anybody on this long-winding journey. When he goes to workouts, Adams tells franchises that he’d be more than happy to go against their top guys — however, whenever, or whatever it takes. He’s impressed during private workouts before, but his most recent chance came just as Adams was getting ready to fly back to China for another season. Timing, again, had failed him.

Between workouts too late in the offseason or contracts that needed to be honored, the timing just hasn’t quite worked out for Adams. And it’s not for a lack of trying either — Adams has played two years of summer league (one with the Nets, one with the Mavericks), initially tried his hand at the D-League in 2011 and spends every offseason carefully deciding where to go next.

But when he made the all-important choice to jump from Spain to China in 2016, it wasn’t without a plan.

“Honestly, when I left Spain, I was nervous to go to China because the fans were like, ‘You’re gonna hurt your career, basketball is not as good [there] as it is in Europe,’” Adams said. “So I had that in the back in my mind. Me and my agent had a plan that I’d go to China — the CBA season is way shorter than the European leagues — and then I’d come back in six, seven months and hopefully get on a roster before the end of the season.”

It’s difficult to measure the merits of a big-time scorer overseas, particularly so in China, but Adams has now undoubtedly smashed through his ceiling. For a kid that once started out at a tiny college in Illinois, Adams followed up his Finals MVP-winning campaign in 2016-17 by nearly averaging a 40-point double-double this year. And although he challenged himself to diversify his game between those back-to-back Chinese seasons, he never once thought he would do… well, that.

“I didn’t go into the season wanting to be the leading scorer, I just wanted to win games and another championship,” Adams said. “We had a lot of adversity this season because my teammate, Andray Blatche, got injured early and the offensive role changed to me. Going against double-teams, triple-teams, that was the challenging part, because I knew my team needed me. Dealing with the adversity, it was challenging — but if you put me up to the test, I’m always going to prove myself.”

Although Andray Blatche isn’t a name heard often these days, he’s certainly well-remembered for his time in the NBA. Over his nine-year career, Blatche played for the Washington Wizards and Brooklyn Nets before heading overseas to China in 2014. While he, too, was part of the winning squad that brought the Flying Tigers their first-ever championship in 2017, Adams has also used the 6-foot-11 power forward like a soundboard. Frequently peppering him with questions about life in the NBA, Adams has nothing but adoration for Blatche, whom he now considers a close friend.

“I asked him what it was like to play with DWill, KG, how were the locker rooms, what were the practices like — but he also helped me see different things on the court,” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “Or, like, OK, I might be frustrated and in a bad place, he’d be like, ‘OK, D, you gotta let it go, you’re the leader of the team’ and things like that. Whenever I was down, he was there — he helped me out with being in China, adjusting to the food, where to go, he treated me like a little brother, actually.”

In order to make that second season in China count, Adams decided to focus on his untapped playmaking side, increasing his assist tally from 5.9 to that aforementioned 8.4 per game. For a while, he even thought that might’ve been why he hadn’t earned a 10-day contract yet, so into the grinder it went. Additionally, Adams dared himself to become a locker room leader, the kind of vocal, lead-by-example veteran that any franchise would value.

If the jaw-dropping statistics weren’t going to pave his path to the NBA, Adams was convinced he could find another way to grab front office attention.

“Right now, I’m already developed and can help [teams] win,” Adams said. “I haven’t reached my peak, I can still learn new things and keep progressing the same way. I’m already starting higher in the learning curve [than most young players] — but I’m also a good leader. I can be a scorer, I can be a defensive guy, I got all those qualities — I’m not just a one-dimensional player, I can help.”

*****

But as his season drew to a close in March (the sixth-seeded Flying Tigers were knocked out in the quarterfinals) Adams was, once again, without an NBA contract. In what Adams is now deeming one of the most important summers of his life, he’s going all-in on himself. Previously, Adams couldn’t ignore those lucrative million-dollar-plus deals, he had a family to look out for, after all. To him, it was a risk that he couldn’t take until this very moment. Sure, he could hit the G-League again — although he tried out for two teams, the Iowa Energy and Canton Charge, after going undrafted and was not selected — but there’s little money in that method.

Granted, Adams has always been motivated and hungry, but he’s got an extra push this time around.

“I’m going to all these different countries, I’m playing in their country — so why can’t play in my country?” Adams told Basketball Insiders. “If I’m one of the top players, how come I can’t get an opportunity in my country? Staying home, so my family can see me. My family has never seen me play overseas, only videos. You see all these other stories, like the guy that just played for the Lakers [Andre Ingram] — it took him ten years! It shows you to just never give up — all you need is an opportunity.

“I always tell my mom, my family, my kids that this year is gonna be the year. I’m gonna get my opportunity and I’mma be playing at home — daddy’s gonna be playing at home.”

Adams has always been a late bloomer — he’s forever the product of a once-raw teenager with no AAU experience. He’ll always be the barely 6-foot point guard that jumped into the NCJAA, quickly validated himself and then excelled in Division-II as well. But if you’re looking for a reason to disparage Adams’ hopes and dreams, you need not look further than this. How could somebody with those glaring blemishes ever play at the NBA level and against the best the sport has to offer?

Lest you forget, however, Adams is also the guy that will never stop fighting or believing in himself. Adams is the one that averaged 18 points in Ukraine and Germany and didn’t settle. The higher he climbed, the better he got. When he aced the test in France, he went to Spain and then got all of this. When Adams needed to adapt and change his game depending on the surrounding roster or culture — he did that too. But most importantly, Adams is tired of playing from behind and tired of missing his young family’s most key moments.

And now, with a whole offseason ahead of him, Adams is ready to do something about it once and for all.

“I’m staying prepared for whenever they have an opportunity, I’m betting on myself this whole summer and really taking a chance,” Adams said. “This year, I have enough saved up to really bet on myself. So, the goal is to just go to these workouts, get in front of these guys and show ‘em what I can do.

“That’s all I’ve ever needed, I don’t want anybody to just hand over a contract — I want to prove myself. I feel like I can make an impact — if you don’t think so, put me up against your guys and I’ll prove it.”

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NBA Daily: This Might Be the Spurs’ Final Stand

The bizarre Kawhi Leonard situation won’t resolve itself cleanly, which means the Spurs may have to pull the plug, writes Matt John.

Matt John

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“All good things must come to an end.” – Chaucer in 1374

If there is one team that has been the closest to replicating the Boston Celtics’ dynasty from the Bill Russell days, it has been the San Antonio Spurs. Over the past two decades, the Spurs have established a consistent model of winning thanks to Hall of Fame talent, legendary coaching and other-worldly scouting.

The only other team in the entire world of sports that has rivaled the Spurs’ prolonged success in the 21st century has been the New England Patriots. However, much like the Patriots, there have been more and more reports recently of dysfunction behind the scenes, with superstar Kawhi Leonard front and center to all of it. If things really are as bad as they appear to be, then Kawhi’s days as a Spur are numbered, and by the same token, so are the Spurs’ days of contention.

No one knows what exactly is going on with Leonard at the moment. There have been reports that, physically, the two-time Defensive Player of the Year is fully capable of returning to the floor, but he chooses not to. Now, his rehab is expected to sideline him for the entirety of the playoffs. Leonard technically isn’t doing anything against the rules, but his actions have made both his team and the league take notice.

Leonard and the Spurs could hypothetically reconcile and put this all behind them, but given all that’s happened throughout the course of the season, that ship seems to have sailed a long time ago. Through the duration of the season, Kawhi’s teammates have called him out, his coach has been steadfastly candid when asked about what’s going on, and now, players around the league are already predicting who his next team will be.

This all spells out a potentially ugly divorce between the Spurs and their franchise player.

So, the Spurs’ obvious next move would be to trade Kawhi for as much value as they can get this off-season. Unfortunately, given the circumstances, the Spurs won’t be able to acquire nearly as much value for Kawhi now as they could have in years’ past. It is true that when Leonard is 100 percent healthy, he is one of the league’s best players. But this bizarre situation, along with his player option after next season, has demolished his trade value.

These days, teams don’t give up valuable assets for star players if there’s a risk that said star player could leave the team after only one year. Teams saw what happened to the Lakers after the Dwight Howard trade blew up in their face, and they saw how crippled the Nets became after they gave away the farm for Paul Pierce among other Celtics that they acquired. If a superstar whose contract is potentially expiring goes on the market, teams will lowball in trade discussions for him.

Case in point: last summer, pretty much everyone agreed that the Thunder acquired Paul George for peanuts when they traded Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for him. That may have worked out for the best for Indiana, but that was sheer luck because Oladipo’s and Sabonis’ value was much lower than it is now. Kawhi could fetch a half decent player and maybe a late-lottery pick given his reputation, but that would probably not fill the large void that he would leave behind.

It’s for that reason that the Spurs’ reign may be coming to an end. If they trade Kawhi this summer, they’re not going to get equal value for him, which means they won’t be able to remain among the best in the Western Conference. It’s quite a shame, because Leonard’s apparent fall-out with the Spurs has overshadowed one of the better under-the-radar stories in the league: The Spurs’ perseverance.

The fact that the Spurs still made the playoffs in the Western Conference, which required 47 wins this season, is remarkable. Thanks in large part to LaMarcus Aldridge’s rejuvenation, who has averaged his best numbers as a Spur this season by far, and Coach Pop’s brilliance among other reasons, the Spurs have kept the ball rolling without Kawhi. Alas, without him, the team is firmly not in the title discussion, and the Spurs can’t do much about it.

The Spurs could ride it out by keeping the rest of the core together along with what they would bring back for Leonard, but there wouldn’t be much point. Guys as impactful Leonard are not easily replaceable in this league, and the Spurs’ competition in the West will be as strong as ever next season. As unappealing as it might sound, the Spurs may have to just start over.

That wouldn’t necessarily be the worst thing in the world. Aldridge’s phenomenal season has probably skyrocketed his trade value, so the Spurs would get a good haul for him. The Spurs aren’t in a bad salary cap situation either. Besides Pau Gasol, the team doesn’t have any bad contracts. Tony Parker’s deal is up after this season while Rudy Gay and Danny Green have player options, but both are likely to opt-in given the lack of money on the open market this summer. The team even has some intriguing young talent, such as Dejounte Murray and Bryn Forbes. Re-building wouldn’t be the worst option for San Antonio.

With all of that considered, it would still be very disappointing to see such a glorious era end so anticlimactically. Kawhi Leonard was supposed to lead the new era of Spurs basketball, but now it looks like he may be the Spurs’ undoing, which they may have no choice now but to accept.

Many were looking forward to San Antonio’s demise, but for a team that has remained in the title discussion since the days of President Clinton, the Spurs didn’t deserve an ending like this.

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NBA

Thibodeau Takes Big Gamble by Putting Ball in Derrick Rose’s Hands

Basketball Insiders takes a look at Tom Thibodeau’s decision to heavily feature Derrick Rose in Game 1 against Houston.

James Blancarte

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The Minnesota Timberwolves are in the playoffs after an exciting victory over Denver Nuggets in their regular season finale. Despite barely slipping into the postseason, the Timberwolves are no pushovers. In Game 1, they put pressure on the Houston Rockets in a game that was close down the stretch.

“This isn’t your normal eighth seed, they got a couple of All-Stars that are pretty good down there. Well coached, we know how tough it was going to be,” Rockets superstar James Harden said after the game, speaking of the Timberwolves.

The Timberwolves have been buoyed all season by the strong play of Karl-Anthony Towns and the leadership of Jimmy Butler, both All-Stars and the first for the franchise since Kevin Love in 2013-14. In addition, the team continues to be encouraged by the continued growth of forward Andrew Wiggins.

So, why exactly are the Timberwolves relying on backup guard and former Chicago Bulls player Derrick Rose so much? It was no surprise when rumors began to circulate late in the season that Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau had interest in acquiring Rose after an unsuccessful brief stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers. In nine games with the Timberwolves this season, Rose put up a career lows of 5.8 points, 1.2 assists and .7 rebounds (12.4 minutes per game). Per 36, this translated to 16.7 points, 3.5 assists and 1.9 rebounds, all at or around career lows. In addition, his PER, true shooting and assist percentages were at or around career lows adding up to an unimpressive showing.

Thibodeau, formerly the Bulls head coach, is well known to place trust in former Bulls players. He engineered a trade for Butler and the signing of Taj Gibson in the offseason. In the Timberwolves first playoff game, Rose played 24 minutes (nearly double his regular season average) and scored 16 points on 50 percent shooting to go along with four assists and two rebounds, far above his season averages.

Rose didn’t just cover backup type minutes either as he was inserted into key stretches in the third and fourth quarters as the game went down the stretch. He scored on a catch and shoot three-pointer, on the break, out of the pick and roll, off the dribble, while cutting to the basket and moved the ball around in key spots for other players.

Thibodeau mentioned Rose briefly and spoke positively of his contributions.

“I thought Derrick gave us a good lift off of the bench,” Thibodeau said.

Speaking to the media. Rose related this key stretch to his previous playoff experiences with the Bulls.

“I remember the playoff games when we played against Miami and the only thing you want to do is stay close until the fourth quarter. Or if you get the lead before then, sustain it and try to make it larger for the bench and for your team,” Rose said.

Unfortunately, not everything was so sunny for Rose who has a penchant for taking difficult shots. He sported a -6.1 net rating for the game, indicating his play may have been detrimental to the team. To end the second quater, he missed a 21-foot step back jump shot in isolation. He also turned the ball over to end the third quarter with his team down one leading to a three-point play for Harden. This resulted in the Timberwolves going down four to start the fourth. Rose’s play contributed to the end of quarter difficulties, which Thibodeau touched on after the game.

“We didn’t finish quarters the way we would have liked,” Thibodeau said.

For the game, Rose’s usage percentage was a whopping 30.8 percent, showing that at this stage of his career, he still insists on controlling the ball. For reference, this is in line with his career playoff numbers. Besides Rose’s rookie year, his lowest playoff usage percentage was 29.1 percent, putting this in line with his postseason career. Of course, Rose isn’t close to the player he used to be after numerous injuries. This high usage can also come at the expense of key Timberwolves players. For comparison, Butler had a 15.6 percent usage and Towns a 14.2 percent usage.

In addition, Rose talked about the role he sees for himself as a key defender matching up with MVP favorite Harden.

“I’m doing the best I can. He’s MVP right now. My job is just to irritate him, try to get under his skin, pick him up full court but at the same time just compete. That’s all I’m doing out there,” Rose said.

Rose is not a noted defensive stopper and having him also attempt to slow James down is a risky proposition when combined with his high usage on offense. Rose’s play also comes at the expense of those who might play in his place. Third-year backup point guard Tyus Jones played all 82 games this season with a drastically lower usage percentage. Unlike Rose and starting point guard Jeff Teague, Jones can be successful playing off the ball. While Rose showed poise in this first playoff game, Jones might have served as a better complement to a team with two stand-out wings and a big man who ideally should be leading the team in usage instead. Basketball Insiders spoke to Jones before the Rose acquisition where he explained why he thought he could contribute more this year.

“This being my third year, I think I’m starting to settle more into the NBA game a little bit more. Things are starting to slow down for me,” Jones stated and while explaining how he saw his role on the team. “Just trying to do whatever is needed out of me, whatever coach needs I’m willing to fulfill that role.”

Jones did play seven minutes this game and actually found Rose on the break who converted a contested lay-up. In this game, both Teague and Rose had difficulty finding Towns in the post. The Rockets focused on Towns, sending both double teams and aggressive switching. The switches, at times, presented mismatches down low that the Timberwolves’ guards weren’t always able to capitalize on.

Going forward, Thibodeau put the onus on Towns, stating that he would have to be able to adjust. All signs point to Thibodeau continuing to trust Rose and putting him in this key position. Rose can put up numbers, as he did on Sunday, but it’s not clear that he’s actually helping Minnesota in a series where they need all the help they can get.

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