After his first regular season at the NBA level, Basketball Insiders sat down with Cleveland Cavaliers guard John Holland to discuss the experience, his road to the league and more.
Basketball Insiders: The regular season is over. The playoffs are here. How do you feel about the guys’ chances?
Holland: I feel good. I think we’re in as good of a position as any team to win.
BI: There was a brief time in Boston a few years back in the playoffs, but for you, this was your first taste of the NBA life. The experience overall, how would you describe it?
Holland: It’s been great. It’s been such a crazy year. You basically see two different teams almost. That first half of the year where you got everybody—this whole big super team coming together—and now you have the second half of the year where it’s a whole different type of team. So it’s been a crazy year, fun ride.
BI: Nonetheless, being teammates with the best player in the world in LeBron James had to be an amazing way to come into your rookie year, right?
Holland: I mean, yeah…(pauses) He’s—when it’s all said and done—probably gonna be the best player to ever play the game, so to be able to say you were teammates on the same court, same floor is something I’mma look back at probably. It’s gonna be an experience.
BI: Do his accomplishments leave you in awe? You’re seeing this night-in and night-out from this guy.
Holland: It’s pretty amazing. He finds a way to amaze you every single time you see him play. Especially with the things he’s accomplished this year. I don’t know what it’s been like. I haven’t seen him day in and day out in years past. This year, it’s been really amazing.
BI: Have you studied how he goes about things on a daily basis?
Holland: You can learn so much by just being around him. It’s crazy how much you can learn just from being around him and this whole basketball culture right here. It’s amazing. I’ve learned so much just from watching.
BI: What about the Cleveland Cavaliers organization’s culture stood out to you?
Holland: Just how they do things. Just about the professionalism, the approach and how they handle things. Because you know it’s no easy task to have the media scrutinizing literally every single game every single day. From the smallest thing to the biggest thing, it’s under scrutiny. It’s a lot.
It’s a lot of pressure on the guys. It’s a lot of pressure on the coaches. It’s a lot of pressure on everybody around. So just to be able to see how they deal with that is impressive.
BI: Is there anybody in the locker room you got particularly close to this year?
Holland: All the guys are cool. Cedi [Osman]. Obviously the guys that were down in Canton a lot. Ante [Zizic]. Before they left—obviously I spent some time in Boston—so Jae [Crowder] and [Isaiah Thomas]. I knew them a little bit. And just now, everybody’s close. It’s not like one particular person. It’s the team.
BI: The NBA introduced the two-way contract before the season. Was it beneficial to you in your eyes?
Holland: I think so. I mean…if you could stop me at the beginning of the year and say, ‘You’re gonna play this many games. You’re gonna have an opportunity to be up [in Cleveland] and experience this,’ I’d do it again.
BI: You’ve spent three years in the G-League. Before that, four years overseas. That’s a long time to get to the pros. Is that something you take pride in?
Holland: Yeah! It’s something that I made the conscious decision to come back from overseas and try and pursue it. I’m not all the way there (laughs), but I’m making progress. It’s better than nothing. The first year I was in the G-League, I was able to get called up to Boston. Second year, didn’t nothing happen. I went back one more year for this two-way and I think it worked out.
BI: The world saw the opportunity that Andre Ingram got and the success he had in his NBA debut with the Los Angeles Lakers. Do you know him? Have you played against him before?
Holland: I believe I may have played against him…like maybe once. I didn’t really know him, but seeing the story…It’s just such a great story because it’s about perseverance. Like, who knows? I don’t know if I could’ve done it for 10 years. G-League is…three years felt like 10 (laughs), you know?
For 10 years, to deal with it day-in and day-out and be able to persevere through that and then finally get your opportunity? It’s a great story. And then to do what he did with that opportunity in that game—I was rooting for him, I know. It’s hard not to root for somebody like that that’s been through so much.
BI: That’s my next question as it relates to you—do you ever stop and think about how you gutted it out for those three years down there and the time before that?
Holland: Listen, everybody—the thing about it is, everybody has a journey they go through. To get to this level, you gotta persevere through something. There’s nobody out here on this court, whether it be from LeBron to anybody to me, they’ve gone through challenges to even be where they are.
It’s a great story. It’s a story that a lot of people have. They have to persevere through things to get what they want and that’s just…it’s life, really. But it’s good—to be able to see it on this level, it’s clearer when you see somebody that’s been [in the G-League] for 10 years and then they have this opportunity and they take advantage of that opportunity. It’s so clear how much [Ingram’s] had to overcome.
Maybe it’s not as clear as how much LeBron had to overcome or how much another player has to overcome. You don’t really see it because you think, ‘Oh they’re here. They’ve been here.’
BI: That’s true. So let me ask this: Through your journey personally, how many guys have you seen come and go because it was too much or too tough to get to the next level?
Holland: I think the G-League is one of the hardest routes to take to get to the [NBA]. There’s a lot of opportunity, but there’s a lot of people that want that opportunity.
BI: There’s what, 26, 27 teams next year. You’ve got to think at least 12 players on each roster…
Holland: Exactly. It’s really a dog eat dog world down there. And thing about it is, in college you have four years. You’re competing with everybody in the G-League. It’s about winning and it’s about being able to show what you can do to help a team win or help a team in any type of way. So it’s tough, it’s tough. You see guys that don’t make it.
But also, honestly in my time in the G-League, Quinn Cook was my roommate for two years. We had that guys that I saw that went through that and that put in the dues and they made it. Eric Moreland was my teammate last year. He’s up in Detroit. So like, you see these stories where people make it, but then you don’t see some stories. There’s teammates all around that don’t make it, that don’t have that same story—but they’re still playing. They’re still doing something.
BI: Which in that case, in the end, it’s worth it, right? You got the opportunity this year.
I know it’s not under the greatest circumstances because it’s the very last game of the year and a lot of guys are resting, but you went out there and had yourself a career-high. That had to feel good at least.
Holland: It always feels good to get that type of opportunity and to try and do at least something. I wish we could’ve won, but the only thing could do is the best I could do you know what I’m saying? That’s my only mindset, to go out there and not be timid, not be shy, just play my game and do the best that I could do. That’s the only thing that I could bring to the table. And the position I’m in, that’s all I try and do.
BI: On the six-game road trip on the west coast, you guys were battered by injuries and that led to some huge experience for you.
You got an opportunity to play big minutes in Portland, for example. I remember you had to match up with C.J. McCollum for a good chunk of time.
Holland: Listen, it’s all part of the experience. Everything I learned here, in the G-League, all my years overseas—it all’s gonna add up to getting better and better and experience, and when it’s all said and done, a career. It was fun. Actually getting to play and feel like…getting those meaningful minutes, somewhat meaningful minutes (laughs). It’s a good feeling because this is the level I wanted. This is what I wanted, so it’s just that opportunity alone is worth it.
BI: With the year as a whole—playing with Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Kevin Love, IT—guys that have left their mark, is that wild to you? That you’ve gotten to that point where you were teammates with these guys and you shared the floor with them?
Holland: Can I be honest? It’s not wild. ‘Cause I’ve always believed that I could play at this level, to be honest. It’s surreal in the fact that that I used to look at Dwyane Wade and LeBron and look at their highlights and be like, ‘Wow. These guys are amazing.’ I used to watch them before games, watch their highlights and wanna be like that. But as far as me, I always believed in my ability to be able to play at that level. Even if nobody else did, I think that’s something that, me personally, I believe. So when I’m doing it, I try not to be like, ‘It’s crazy’ because…
BI: Because you belong.
BI: That’s awesome. Alright, last one. What are your goals moving forward in the summer, after this playoff run of course and watching the guys?
Holland: My goal is just to get better as a player. Come back next year better than I was this year, learn, grow and watching this whole run just to try and absorb it. Try and learn and see what it’s like as they make this run. Just try and help any way that I can.
BI: What does getting better entail for you as far as on the court?
Holland: Well I wanna get better at…probably ball-handling, shooting, decision-making, defending, rotations. That’s stuff that you could get better at every year, I think. It’s always something that you can work on. And also just like working on my body, trying to come back better physically than I was this year.
It’s a process. Anything you try and get better at every single year, and when you can’t, that’s when it’s over. Always gotta try and keep developing. I don’t believe that there’s anytime where you could stop developing, any age. If you’re still playing, you could still get better at something. There’s still something you can get better at. Your game’s gonna change, but you still can develop and get better, and that’s the fun of it, for me at least.
NBA Daily: Keldon Johnson Is Next In Line
Keldon Johnson, a prototypical 3-and-D prospect, will have plenty of franchises clamoring to get a look at Kentucky’s next 19-year-old star-in-waiting, writes Ben Nadeau.
The life of a potential non-lottery first-rounder is not easy, make no mistake.
And for Keldon Johnson, a wild final month may be just beginning.
Johnson, 19, is one of three players from the University of Kentucky expected to be drafted in the opening round next month — but where exactly is anybody’s guess. At 6-foot-6, Johnson is an athletically-gifted guard, above average in both the open court and from behind the arc. His overlying statistics — 13.5 points, 5.9 rebounds, 38.1 percent from three — might not scream can’t-miss, but the freshman is ready to get after it and prove his worthiness during the springtime workouts.
“I’m fine with competing, I did it all year and I’ve been doing it all my life,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders during last week’s NBA Draft Combine. “All I gotta do is just keep working hard. I think if I keep working hard and stay in the gym, I’ll be fine.”
So far, Johnson has received strong marks — both during the collegiate season and during these most recent tests — for his passion, athleticism and effort on defense. Given his height and lengthy wingspan, it’s possible that Johnson could slot in at the small forward position at the next level too. Basically, Johnson kind of spring-loaded rotation-worthy asset that every franchise could use, whether rebuilding or as a yearly powerhouse.
Thankfully, that’s a position that Johnson finds himself settling into one month before the draft.
As is customary for the back half of the first thirty picks — the odds are high, barring a trade, that Johnson lands on a team that reached the postseason this year. In fact, the only team that didn’t have a playoff game with a current selection between Nos. 14 and 30 is Cleveland at 26. The possibilities, particularly so given Johnson’s modern skill-set, are endless.
Whenever he ends up, though, Johnson just wants to make a good impression.
“I definitely want to play my first year, but if I get in a situation where I won’t get as many minutes and they still develop me, I’ll be fine,” Johnson said. “I definitely want to play, but if that’s not the case, then I just have to keep working.”
Prestigious franchises like Boston, Golden State and San Antonio decorate Johnson’s perceived pick range, with perennial postseason contenders in Milwaukee, Portland, Oklahoma City, Utah and Philadelphia finishing out the round. Johnson, like most young prospects, will have to work at improving his deficiencies — to some, that includes his free throw percentages and playmaking — but what he could eventually offer far outweighs everything else.
A defensive-minded athlete that can stretch the floor? Check. A multi-position shooter that wears those impassioned emotions on his sleeve? Sign him up. Understandably, Johnson wants to land with a franchise that can help him hit the ground running as a rookie, both on and off the floor.
“Just having a great relationship with the whole organization,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “Coming and fitting in right away, them developing me and getting me ready to play at that level.”
One look at Johnson’s stellar freshman year highlights, however, and it’s hard to see how the former Wildcat won’t fit in. For as much as things change — what with the need for floor-stretching unicorns and seven-foot point guards these days — sometimes, other matters stay exactly the same.
The desire for 3-and-D contributors in the NBA will never die and Johnson seems to fit that mold exceedingly well. And, if anything, that may just be his floor.
On seven occasions in 2018-19, Johnson tallied 20 or more points, even hitting at least one three-pointer in six of them. During a mid-season contest against Utah, Johnson went a blistering 6-for-7 from deep before notching 4-for-7 against the much tougher North Carolina a week later. If the pressure wasn’t high enough then, Johnson certainly lived up to the hype during the NCAA Tournament as well.
Although he struggled against Houston, Johnson was solid in Kentucky’s narrow loss to Auburn in the Elite Eight, tossing down 14 points, 10 rebounds and three assists on 4-for-6 from the free throw line. Time and time again, giving the ball to Johnson resulted in wins for the eventual No. 2-seeded Kentucky.
According to Johnson, he believes he’s a more-than-capable passer too — an opinion he’s set out to cement during upcoming private one-on-one sessions.
“I really just shoot the ball — [but] I can handle the ball a lot better than what they think,” Johnson told Basketball Insiders. “Once I go into workouts, I’ll be fine.”
Since 2010, more than 20 players from Kentucky have been chosen in the NBA Draft and their list of former superstars needs little introduction — Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns and John Wall to name a few — but their continued success with prospects under John Calipari cannot be understated. Just last year alone, four Wildcats were selected, including Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox, the former of which was just named to the All-Rookie Second Team earlier this week.
But with his silky smooth stroke, Johnson’s mechanics and release have potential franchises simply excited about the type of two-way scorer he could be in the near future. Against stiff competition like LSU’s Naz Reid and teammate Tyler Herro– two other likely first-rounders in June — Johnson still finished the season as the SEC Freshman of the Year for good reason.
In a month, somehow, everything and nothing will change. Fundamentally, Johnson will be drafted to an eager team somewhere in the first round, a franchise that will want to feature his NBA-ready qualities — whether that be on the defensive end or from behind the arc. Johnson’s name may not be mentioned in the same breath as Zion Williamson or Ja Morant — two other freshman standouts — but the marathon has only just started.
With everything other than the interviews and individual workouts now officially out of his hands, Johnson’s trying not to sweat the small stuff.
“[I’m] just enjoying the process, just having a great time,” Johnson said. “I mean, really enjoying it, to be honest, don’t take it for granted and enjoy the whole thing.”
NBA Daily: Luguentz Dort – A Different Kind of Point Guard
The point guard position is a clearly-defined one – perhaps the most defined – in the modern NBA.
At the one, you are either an elite shooter (both inside and on the perimeter), ala Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard, an elite passer, ala Chris Paul, Ben Simmons and Russell Westbrook, or some combination of the two.
Luguentz Dort doesn’t exactly fit that bill.
The 20-year-old combo-guard out of Arizona State University didn’t shoot the competition out of the gym – Dort managed a field goal percentage of just 40.5 and hit on a meager 30.7 percent from downtown. And he wasn’t exactly the flashiest passer, as he averaged just 2.3 assists per game in his lone season with the Sun Devils.
He’s different. But, according to Dort, he has what it takes to run the point at the next level.
“I know that I can become a really good leader on the court and create for my teammates,” Dort said at the 2019 NBA Draft Combine.
Confidence and an “I-will-outwork-you” competitive attitude are at the center of Dort and his game. Those two aspects drive the engine that has made Dort one of the more intriguing prospects in the back end of the first round. He may not be the most talented player in this class, but Dort is hyper-competitive and can out-hustle anyone on any given night.
“When I play,” Dort said, “I’m really going at people to let them know it’s not going to be easy.”
There is a hunger in Dort – a desire to win that is evidenced in his game. An aggressor on both offense and defense, Dort’s motor is always going. His primary selling point is his defensive ability; built like an NFL defensive end, Dort can bring energy and effort to any defense. He has more than enough speed to stick with smaller guards on the perimeter and more than enough strength to bump with bigger forwards in the paint.
Dort has also shown a knack for jumping passing lanes to either deflect passes or outright steal the ball; Dort was fourth in the Pac-12 as he averaged 1.5 steals per game and 1.9 per 40 minutes.
Dort has made it a point to put that defensive ability and intensity on full display for potential suitors. At the Combine, Dort said he wanted to show teams “how tough I play on defense” and “how hard I play and the type of competitor I am.”
Offensively, Dort is an impeccable cutter. At Arizona State, Dort averaged 1.289 points per possession on cuts, according to Synergy Sports. When he goes to the rim, Dort used his size and power to his advantage in order to get to the basket and either drop it in the bucket or draw a foul. He isn’t Irving with the ball in his hands, but Dort can make a move with the ball to create space as well.
Dort isn’t a superb passer, but he has a solid vision and can make, and often made while at Arizona State, the right pass as well.
But can Dort overcome the inconsistencies that plagued him at Arizona State? Dort was, at times, reckless with the ball in his hands. Whether he drove into a crowd just to throw up an ill-fated shot attempt or forced an errant pass, Dort’s decision-making must improve. His shooting is suspect and his touch around the rim – two skills critical to the modern point guard – weren’t exactly up to snuff either.
There were lapses on the defensive end as well. Sometimes Dort would fall asleep off the ball or he would be too aggressive one-on-one. If he is too handsy or unaware, NBA veterans will take advantage of every chance they get against him.
But, according to Dort, he has worked on those issues.
“My decision making got a lot better,” Dort said. “My shot, my free throws, everything. I really worked on all that this season.”
But in order to truly make an impact at the next level, he’ll have to continue to work and refine those skills further.
More work has never been an issue for Dort. However raw he may appear, he has the look of and the work-ethic required of NBA-caliber talent. Dort’s ultimate goal for the Combine, other than draw interest from NBA teams, was simple: “learn about everything, get feedback and go back to Arizona and continue to work on my game.” Whether or not teams view him as a point guard, shooting guard or something else entirely is a matter for debate, but, standing at just over 6-foot-4, 222 pounds with a 6-foot-8 wingspan and high motor, Dort has the versatility and ability to stick at, and is willing to play, a variety of different spots on the floor.
“I want to play any position a team would want me to play,” Dort said.
He may not be the prototypical point guard, but with that kind of willing, team-first attitude, Dort, at some point or another, is almost certain to make it to and have an impact at the next level.
NBA Daily: Brandon Clarke Working From The Ground Up
Because of the unusual path he’s taken to get here, Brandon Clarke has established himself as one of the more unique prospects in the 2019 NBA Draft, writes Matt John.
When the draft time comes along, teams who have the higher picks usually look for guys who have the highest ceiling. Because of this, they usually decide to take players on the younger side because they believe those who have less experience have more room to improve.
This puts Brandon Clarke at a slight disadvantage. Clarke is 22 years old – and will be 23 when training camp rolls around – and only just recently came onto the scene after an excellent performance for Gonzaga in March Madness this season.
Competing for scouts’ attention against those who are younger and/or deemed better prospects than him would be quite the challenge, but because of what he’s been through, said challenge didn’t seem to faze him one bit at the combine.
“It was a different path for me,” Clarke said. “ I’m 22 and there are some guys here that are only 18 years old. With that being said, I’m still here.”
The Canadian native has clearly had to pay his dues to get to where he is. Clarke originally played for San Jose State, a school that had only been to the NCAA Tournament three times in its program’s history – the most recent entry being 1996 – whose last alum to play in the NBA was Tariq Abdul-Wahad. Props to you if you know who that is!
Playing under a program that didn’t exactly boast the best reputation wasn’t exactly ideal for Clarke. In fact, according to him, it was disheartening at times.
“There were definitely times that I felt down,” Clarke said. “When I first went there, I was kind of freaking out because I was going to a team that had only won two or three games prior to me getting there.”
No tournament bids came from Brandon’s efforts, but the Spartans saw a spike in their win total in the two seasons he played there. The team went from two wins to nine in his freshman year, then went from nine wins to fourteen his sophomore year. Clarke’s performance definitely had a fair amount to do with San Jose State’s higher success rate, but the man praised the program for the opportunity it gave him.
“We did some really big things for that college so I’m really grateful for the stuff I could do for them,” Clarke said.
After spending two years at SJS, Clarke then transferred to Gonzaga where he redshirted for a year before getting himself back on the court. When he did, he put himself on the map.
Clarke dominated in his lone year with the Bulldogs, averaging 16.9 points and 8.6 rebounds – including 3.1 offensive boards – as well as 3.1 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. The man clearly established himself as a high-energy small-ball center at 6-foot-8 ¼ inches, and it paved the way for Gonzaga to get a one-seed in the NCAA Tournament and go all the way to the Elite Eight.
Brandon loved the experience with the Bulldogs, both for the opportunity they gave him and for what he was able to do for them on the court.
“It was a great year,” Clarke said. “I got to play with some of the best players in the country… It was everything that I ever dreamed of. I’m going to miss it a lot. From a personal standpoint, I was just really blessed that I was able to block shots… I felt that I was really efficient too and I really helped us on the offensive end taking smart shots.”
Both his age and the small sample size, unfortunately, go hand in hand so that it’s hard to pinpoint where exactly Brandon Clarke will be taken in the draft. The latest Consensus Mock Draft from Basketball Insiders has all four contributors disagreeing where he will be selected, ranging from being picked as high ninth overall to as low as 21st.
Where he will get selected will all depend on who trusts what could be his greatest weakness – his shotty jumper.
In a league where spacing is so very crucial to consistent success, Clarke’s inability to space the floor hurts his stock. His free throw shooting at Gonzaga saw a drastic improvement from San Jose State, as he went from 57 percent to almost 70. That’s not as much of a liability but not much of a strength either. His three-point shooting in that time took a dive in that time, going from 33 percent to almost 27, which definitely does not help.
To be a hotter commodity at the draft, Clarke had to prove he could shoot the rock from anywhere, which is what he set to do at the combine.
“That is my biggest question mark,” Clarke said. “I’ve been working really hard on it. So I’m hoping that they can see that I can actually shoot it and that I have made lots of progress on it, and that they can trust me to get better at it.”
The journey that Clarke has been on to get to where he is had made him all the wiser as a player. With him expected to enter the NBA next season, he had a simple yet profound message to aspiring young ballers everywhere.
“Trust yourself. Trust your coaches. Trust everybody around you that you love… Make the best out of the situation that you are in.”
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