For many prospects, it may be hard to believe that the day they’ve dreamed of for their entire life is almost finally here. Dreams will come true for 60 prospects on Thursday night as they hear their name called.
These prospects have put in countless hours at the gym in order to have a chance to one day play in the NBA. In recent weeks, players have worked out in front of NBA executives and coaches to prove why they should be drafted tomorrow night.
One player who expects to hear his name called Thursday night is Jaron Blossomgame. After averaging 17.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists this season at Clemson, Blossomgame established himself as one of the top seniors in this year’s class. He has excellent athleticism and possesses great physical tools that figure to translate well at the next level.
Blossomgame is currently projected by Basketball Insiders’ Steve Kyler to be drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers at No. 46.
Basketball Insiders recently caught up with Blossomgame to discuss the pre-draft process, his expectations for draft night, how he stayed ready during all of his workouts and more.
Cody Taylor: How many workouts have you done?
Jaron Blossomgame: 12 or 13 workouts.
Taylor: Were there any that stuck out that were the toughest?
Blossomgame: Houston was pretty bad. It was a full two hours on the court. Every workout has been the same thing: play 1-on-1, 2-on-2, 3-on-3 and do some shooting. They’re all high-level workouts. They were really fast paced. The basketball part is the easy part. The hard part is the travel.
Taylor: A couple guys have mentioned Utah as being pretty tough. Did you work out with them?
Blossomgame: I went to Utah last year. They were my first workout last year. I remember the altitude was a factor a little bit.
Taylor: How was it working out against a lot of the same players?
Blossomgame: It was pretty good. We all kind of know each other through this whole process and meeting at the Combine. Once we’re all on the court, it’s very competitive. I remember working out against [Kyle] Kuzma in San Antonio and Philadelphia. It’s just high-level basketball. You have six guys total in a workout and they’re all trying to take your head off. You gotta be on your toes at all times and be really sharp. It’s a really fun process. I love it. Obviously, seeing these guys a lot, you kind of build tendencies and understand what they like to do. If they get the best of you in one spot, you’ll see them again.
Taylor: Do you prefer an individual workout or a group setting?
Blossomgame: I’m pretty good at 1-on-1, but I can also play 3-on-3. It doesn’t really matter. I like competing in a setting like that in a workout. It doesn’t really matter to me, to be honest.
Taylor: What are some things you’re hearing from teams during workouts?
Blossomgame: I’m very aware of my game and who I am as a player and my role. Everything that I know I need to work on is really consistent with what teams are telling me. I think the two areas I really want to improve on is just continuing to work on my ball handling and continuing to shoot at a high level. My shooting was a little inconsistent last season. I shot 45 percent from three my junior year and 25 percent my senior year. Just finding a balance. I’m somewhere in between that but I’m trying to find out where it is. Just staying in the gym, getting up shots and continuing to work on my ball handling is the two things I really want to get better at.
Taylor: After having been through the pre-draft process last year, have there been any surprises this year?
Blossomgame: It’s been pretty smooth sailing this year. The Combine was all the same this year. I did seven workouts [last year] so I got a good feel how the travel can be. Just learning how to take care of your body. Every workout now, you’ve got guys saying they’ve had [up to] 15 workouts in different places. Down the stretch it can get tough for guys; some guys have back to back workouts and even three in a row. Just taking care of your body; cold tub after every workout. Get some treatment. Nutrition is very important also. Just doing the right things and taking care of your body.
Taylor: Do you feel like all of the travel can prepare you for an NBA season?
Blossomgame: Definitely. The NBA season plus the playoffs could be like 90-something games. Travel can be very hectic. This process you learn some tips and stuff that you will take with you the rest of your career. Speaking for myself, as far as nutrition and recovery, I really wasn’t a big fan of icing and doing the cold tub but now I have to do it.
(Note: This interview was recorded last Friday. Blossomgame departed Indianapolis after his workout with the Pacers Thursday night at 8:25 p.m. and landed in Atlanta at 9:58 p.m. Due to numerous delays, he didn’t leave the airport in Atlanta until 12:30 a.m.)
Today was a back to back. I was in Indiana yesterday and didn’t get in until 12:30 a.m. and woke up this morning at 7 a.m. and had to be dressed and ready to go on the court at 9 a.m. Just doing things to take care of your body and find different ways to sleep. Stretch. Stay hydrated. Just prepare yourself for play the next day. It’s a long season. The travel experience right now is definitely benefitting other players as well.
Taylor: What’s Draft Day going to be like for you?
Blossomgame: I’m actually going to the draft. I’ll be there in New York City. I’m going to sit in the crowd. So I’ll be there waiting for my name to get called.
Taylor: What are your expectations for Draft Day?
Blossomgame: I am definitely expecting to be drafted, for sure. As far as where, I have no idea. You know how the draft goes. I remember watching last year and I think DraftExpress or somebody had Demetrius Jackson at like 16 and he ended up going 45. Some guys had Taurean Prince at 28 or 31 and he ended up going 12. Through this process, I really don’t pay attention to mock drafts; it’s just distractions. That’s an easy way to get sidetracked from the main goal and that is winning each day and just going out here and having fun. I think one thing we fail to realize and do during this process is understanding the opportunity we have and have fun with it. Not many people get to do this and not many people get workouts. So we just got to give thanks and be appreciative we’re right here. Not many people have this opportunity so just soak it in and take it all in and be very appreciative of it.
Taylor: Are you going to be with anyone in particular at the Draft?
Blossomgame: Probably my family and my AAU coach and then some family friends.
Taylor: Once you get drafted, will it be a relief for you know that you can finally lock in with just one team?
Blossomgame: I’ll definitely be relieved, that’s a great way to put it. I’m sure a lot of people will be relieved. This three and a half week period that we’ve been through with all of these workouts have been very tough. Guys are ready to hear their name called. I’ve been counting down every day. I look at my calendar every day. It’s definitely going to be a special night. For myself and a lot of my friends, this process has put a lot of hard work into, it’s definitely going to be great to see my dreams come true and also theirs.
Johnson Is Leading By Example In Philadelphia
Amir Johnson may not be a star player, but his impact on the locker room is a constant in Philadelphia.
After every home win, the Philadelphia 76ers have a miniature liberty bell in their locker room that gets rung by a selected player, usually the who had the biggest impact on the game.
On Monday night, Amir Johnson got to the ring the bell after the Sixers beat the Utah Jazz 107-86 to secure their ninth win of the season. Johnson turned in his best performance since joining Philadelphia this offseason, with eight points, 13 rebounds and four blocks in 21 minutes of playing time as Joel Embiid’s substitute.
Up until about 45 minutes before the 7 p.m. tipoff, Embiid’s status was unclear due to knee soreness. Johnson would’ve been tasked with the starting role had his teammate been unable to perform. Instead, he fulfilled his backup role to perfection, which has been the status quo for Johnson so far this season.
When the Sixers signed Johnson to a one-year $11 million deal in July, it was for the purpose of shaping a young roster with some veteran leadership. Management wanted to ensure there would be a professional in the locker room to help navigate the likes of Embiid and Ben Simmons through a full NBA season, with hopes of making it to the playoffs.
“When we looked to build our roster and sort of identify people we started talking about Amir Johnson,” Brett Brown said. “And Bryan was way more familiar with Amir — this is to Bryan’s credit — than I was, because of his Toronto background. And I started digging in and calling his teammates. I’ve been in the league for a long time, so you follow him, and you speak to people like Evan Turner. You know, tell me about Amir when you were in Boston and so on.”
While Brown was doing his research on Johnson, he came across an impressive level of continuity when it came to how others viewed the center.
“It’s amazing to a man how consistent the reviews were,” Brown said of Johnson. “People skills, work his butt off, could handle swinging a towel or coming in and making a difference. He’s a good person and he’s a pro. To be able to bring him in the game and now worry about is he happy, is he fresh, is he in shape, does he need 10 shots? It isn’t ever on my mind with Amir.”
The Sixers’ head coach seems honest in his assessment, and Johnson’s fluctuating level of productivity and use reflects that. Prior to his big night against Utah, Johnson logged a combined 21 minutes over the team’s previous four games — including two DNP’s, both coming against the Golden State Warriors.
Still, just barely over a month into this new season, the Sixers are trying to iron out the kinks in their lineup. With injuries to Richaun Holmes, Markelle Fultz, Jerryd Bayless and Justin Anderson over the course of the season so far, finding a set group of guys and defining their roles has been a tricky situation to maneuver.
Last season, Johnson started 77 games for the Boston Celtics during their campaign that ran all the way to the Eastern Conference finals. His one start in 14 games this season, with a cut in minutes per game, is a far cry from the level of use Johnson experienced just one year ago. But coming into this season, that was known. Johnson’s role would be to help guide his junior counterparts and chip in where he could.
So far, the deal is paying dividends on both ends.
“It’s huge for us,” Simmons said. “Having a guy come off the bench and play a role like that. As a vet, he’s one of the leaders. He comes in, plays hard, doesn’t ask for more minutes or anything like that. He’s a great player.”
In a game that featured the absence of Jazz star center Rudy Gobert, Johnson was able to make his presence more prevalent during his reserve minutes. Along with his four blocks, Johnson had a game-high 15 contested two-point shots. As a team, Utah shot just 35.3 percent from the field.
Backing up a superstar in the making in Embiid, Johnson has limited time to let it be known that he’s still around. That situation is magnified on nights that Holmes is seeing extended run as well. But in his 13th season in the league, Johnson knows a thing or two about finding ways to be effective and efficient.
“Finding my way on the floor, knowing the amount of time I have, just finding ways I can help my teammates,” Johnson said. “I watch a lot of film. Just for me to find open spots, set screens, and the biggest part that I can help this team out, is just play defense and grabbing rebounds.”
On the nights where Johnson doesn’t get his number called — a la games against the Warriors and other small-ball teams — the veteran just continues to do what he was brought in to do in the first place, lead by example.
“Just sticking to my routine,” Johnson said. “Being mentally prepared, getting my teammates ready, just being a professional, doing all kind of things to prepare for a game.”
After being around the come up in Boston, Johnson knows there are bigger things at stake for the Sixers than a few minutes here and there on the court. To him, winning is the only thing that matters.
“When you don’t play and you win, man it’s like and that’s all that matters,” Johnson said. “We’re here to try and do one goal, and that’s win games and make the playoffs, and go from there on.”
Whether he’s on the bench waving a towel, or on the court making a play, Johnson will continue to lead a young group of talented players by example, hopefully culminating in a trip to the playoffs.
“He is a legitimate pro, on and off the court,” Brown said. “He’s a wonderful teammate.”
NBA PM: Marcus Morris’ Return Bolsters The Celtics
With the Boston Celtics riding high with a league-best 16-game win streak, the return of forward Marcus Morris has provided a lift.
Boston Celtics GM Danny Ainge made a huge personnel gamble this summer that changed four starters from a roster that reached the Eastern Conference Finals. One of the less-heralded among the new starters — forward Marcus Morris, who arrived from the Pistons in a surprise trade for starting shooting guard Avery Bradley — has proven to be a key component in Boston’s early success.
After missing the first eight games of the season due to lingering knee soreness, Morris has scored in double figures in six of nine appearances. Following Saturday’s win over the Hawks in Atlanta — the 15th of the current 16-game win streak — Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Morris’ contributions have been vital, even as Stevens continues to monitor his minutes.
“We need Marcus quite a bit,” said Stevens. “We’re still managing his minutes appropriately as he comes back. Hopefully, that continues to be more and more and more.”
Morris was plus-18 against the Hawks, 10 points better than any other starter, despite being the only starter with single-digit shot attempts. Stevens added that Morris’ offense has been a boost despite few plays being run for him.
“He brings us scoring, he brings us defense [and] he brings us toughness,” said Stevens. “I think we really need his scoring, like his ability to shoot the ball both off broken plays and off movement.”
Morris’ emergence as an offensive threat was noted in the offseason by an Eastern Conference forward in an anonymously-sourced piece on underrated players by HoopsHype’s Alex Kennedy.
“I think Marcus Morris is really underrated,” the forward told Kennedy. “He can play multiple positions and he went from being a role player to someone who scores the ball really well. When other players have made that leap, they got more attention. Take Chandler Parsons, for example. When Chandler made big strides, he got a ton of attention and a huge contract. Marcus hasn’t gotten the recognition or the payday that he deserves.”
While some questioned the wisdom of trading Bradley, a starter for a team that had a lot of success and remained on the rise, Celtics center Al Horford — the sole remaining starter from last season — said he was looking forward to playing with Morris once the trade was announced.
“He’s one of the guys that really excited me once we got him this offseason, just because of everything he’s going to be able to bring,” said Horford. “I don’t think he’s at his best yet. He’s doing okay. But he’s just going to keep getting better. So that’s a good thing for us.”
With the knee injury that lingered after the start of the season, Horford said the team is still getting accustomed to the diverse set of tools Morris brings to the court.
“Marcus is great,” said Horford. “Defensively, his presence is felt. On offense I think he’s finally starting to get into a rhythm. He’s getting more comfortable [and] we’re getting more comfortable with him. It’s a matter of time.”
While Stevens and Horford both feel that we haven’t seen Morris at his best, his return to action was timely as it bolstered the lineup during the current win streak. Horford, who was part of a 19-game win streak for the Hawks during the 2014-15 season, was asked how Boston is approaching its current prosperity. Horford said that, like his former Hawks team, the Celtics are avoiding the subject in the locker room.
“We’re not honestly really talking about it much,” said Horford. “That winning streak here was pretty special. We were playing at a high level. We didn’t talk about it here either and we’re taking that type of approach. We’re just playing and enjoying the game out there.”
With Boston carrying the current streak into a Wednesday visit to Miami, Ainge’s surprising trade for Marcus Morris is looking more and more prescient. If his best is yet to come, as his coach and teammates maintain, the recognition that has elluded Morris could be just around the corner.
Have the Cavaliers Flipped the Switch?
Are the Cavs flipping the switch much like the early-2000s Lakers?
During the Los Angeles Lakers’ three-peat years from 2000-2002, the team often talked about “flipping the switch.” During the regular season, they sometimes appeared bored or disinterested and routinely found themselves in tight games against lottery teams, even losing some of those games. The basketball world would then wonder if the team had run its course; if the tension between Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant was too much; if other teams had caught up with them.
But when the Sacramento Kings or San Antonio Spurs came to town, we would see a completely different team — team that looked like they wanted to remind the entire NBA just who they were. And then everyone from Phil Jackson to Shaq to Kobe and on down would talk about “flipping the switch,” and how they knew they’d show up when necessary.
The rest of the league seemed to understand that as well. Each year it seemed as if some pseudo-contender would sprout up only to buckle under the might of Shaq and Kobe in the playoffs, arguably the top two players in the league during that time span.
It appears as if the same thing might be happening with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Sure, the situations are a little bit different. The Cavaliers have been without their second-best player in Isaiah Thomas as he recovers from a hip injury. The Lakers were just bored. But since the season began, despite the Cavs struggles, they’ve gotten up when they’ve needed to.
In the season opener in Kyrie Irving’s return to Cleveland with the Boston Celtics, a team that many have predicted to be a legit threat to the Cavs for Eastern Conference supremacy, they were impressive as they sent an early message in a 102-99 win. Later on that week, in the second game of the season against the upstart Milwaukee Bucks, another team some have thought could challenge Cleveland, the Cavs took care of business in a blowout road win.
It was then that the struggles really started to hit. Cleveland went on a stretch that saw them lose five out of the next six games, including a four-game losing streak. However, taking a look at some of those teams they lost to, they will not see the New Orleans Pelicans, Brooklyn Nets in the playoffs. Despite the current standings, it’s just as likely the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks miss the playoffs than make it.
Right after that stretch, prior to a highly publicized matchup between the Cavs and the Washington Wizards, John Wall talked about smelling blood when asked about Cleveland’s struggles. The Wizards were another team that some thought could give the Cavs a legitimate challenge in the East. By the time the game was over, the Wizards never knew what hit them. Lebron James went off for a season-high 57 points in another Cavs statement win.
Since then, they’ve looked like they might be turning the corner a little bit. In their most recent win on Monday night against the Detroit Pistons, a team that coming into the game was tied for the second-best record in the East, the Cavs put on a dominating performance as they cruised to what might have been their most impressive win of the season.
There is a bit of a lesson here, however, a warning so to speak from the same Lakers team. During the 2002-03 season, immediately preceding the three-peat, Shaq missed the first 12 games of the season after delaying foot surgery in the offseason. The team struggled mightily without him, getting off to a 3-9 start. When he returned, they continued to struggle and didn’t end up turning things around until the new year. They didn’t have a record over .500 until Feb. 6, 2003.
They did eventually win 50 games and get into the playoffs, but they struggled there as well. They needed six grueling games to put away the Minnesota Timberwolves before having their title run ended by the Spurs in the second round.
At this point, the Cavaliers have shown up for every statement game this season. They’ve sent the message that no matter what kind of turmoil they might be going through, there isn’t a single team in the East that can beat them in a seven-game series. Once they get Thomas back, they’ll be that much stronger. It’s still extremely hard to see any team in the East actually mounting a real challenge to Cleveland.
They can’t get too complacent, however, lest they end up like the 2002-03 Lakers.