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The NBA Comes At You Fast

Buddy Grizzard reacts to Paul Millsap’s move to Denver and its ripple effects around the league.

Buddy Grizzard

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Hawks observers had multiple opportunities to scout Paul Millsap prior to his arrival in Atlanta as a free agent in 2013. This included 25 points, 13 rebounds, and four assists in the infamous four overtime game in March of 2012 (Joe Johnson had a clinical 37). It also included January of 2013, when Millsap dropped by Atlanta and dropped 20, 13 and five. Millsap’s reported departure to the Denver Nuggets (per The Vertical’s Shams Charania) on a three year, $90 million deal is another example of how fast change can happen in the NBA.

Having seen him with the Utah Jazz, nothing Millsap brought to Atlanta was a surprise (except perhaps two years of around 35 percent three-point shooting). The Hawks knew they were getting a crafty player who could score inside and out, could create his own shot and would work tirelessly on the boards and defense. The Jazz being a high-level professional organization, Millsap’s leadership wasn’t a surprise. He was also tireless in front of a microphone, always going the extra mile for writers to get them what they needed.

Since those two good seasons from deep were followed by two at around 32 percent, Millsap hasn’t been in career-best form as a three-point shooter. The Nuggets did very well to get him at a number of years the organization was comfortable with since Millsap’s game should age well, as skill-intensive as it is. Who knows? Millsap could have career years in Denver. He’s a solid bet to be an exceptional player for all three seasons.

As renowned a worker as Millsap is, Nikola Jokic’s decision to forgo EuroBasket with Serbia reverberated among observers. In Jokic, Millsap has found a kindred professional who is also dead serious about the business of the NBA. Serbia is top flight among national teams outside of the US and Jokic is the centerpiece of that team. Such a decision was not taken lightly.

Meanwhile, rookie Hawks GM Travis Schlenk may have told the AJC’s Chris Vivlamore that he doesn’t like the word “rebuild,” but the impact of losing a veteran of the gravitas of Paul Millsap is not to be understated. Graham Chapple, then of ESPN TrueHoop but now with Peachtree Hoops, reported that the Hawks were raising season ticket package prices, ostensibly to help pay for extensive renovations to Philips Arena. There was some thought that the Hawks were thus obligated to put a competitive team on the floor. The silver lining is that the Hawks could be positioned to retool without bottoming out.

Millsap’s new chapter shows that the NBA never hits pause. Basketball Insiders previously explored how a defection to the Western Conference for Millsap would be yet another blow to the diminished East. Schlenk, coach Mike Budenholzer and the rest of Atlanta’s ownership and staff may look back and say it was the right decision not to go harder at Millsap. But Schlenk must now be acutely aware of the level of second-guessing his position invites. The NBA doesn’t wait for anyone to catch up.

Buddy Grizzard has written for ESPN.com and BBallBreakdown and served as an editor for ESPN TrueHoop Network.

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NBA

NBA Daily: Trae Young, the Burgeoning Star

A month into the new season, Trae Young has staked his claim as one of the league’s best up-and-coming players. Quinn Davis takes a look at where Young has succeeded this season, and where he could lead the Atlanta Hawks.

Quinn Davis

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Over the first two months of his NBA career, Trae Young struggled. Through October and November of 2018, Young shot 25 percent on three-point attempts and found it difficult to generate any offense for a bad Atlanta Hawks squad.  

Meanwhile, Luka Doncic — the player Atlanta traded out of taking in favor of Young — made an instant impact with the Dallas Mavericks and had the look of a future superstar.

Predictably, the trade and the chasm between the two players brought on a rash of media and fan criticism, both to the Hawks and Young. Doncic was a future champion and true franchise cornerstone, while Young, at the time, looked like a bust in the making, a streaky shooter that couldn’t defend at the NBA level.

But, as it turns out, 20-year-old NBA guards tend to require some patience.

After the All-Star break, Young rewarded the Hawks for that patience, and made it clear as to why they were so determined to draft him. As his long-distance shooting improved to a more respectable 35 percent, Young averaged nearly 25 points and 9 assists after the NBA’s marquee weekend.

In that time, Young also led Atlanta on a stretch as a .500 win percentage team, whereas they looked like a bottom-five unit prior.

Now in his sophomore season, Young has capitalized on that strong second half and proven a revelation in Atlanta. Young has almost effortlessly contorted defenses, thanks to his Stephen Curry-esque gravity, and has used that gravity to make plays that few other NBA players can.

Young’s impact is evident in the stats: with him on the court this season, Atlanta has posted an offensive rating of 109.1 points per 100-possessions, around a league-average figure. When he’s been on the pine, that number plummets to a dismal 94.3, a full six points lower than the New York Knicks’ league-worst outfit, per Cleaning the Glass.

His ability as a passer has seemingly revitalized the career of Jabari Parker as well. With John Collins suspended, Parker has stepped into a primary role alongside Young, and the pair have had their share of impressive performances.

Young’s ability to manipulate a pick-and-roll is beyond his years. Here, Young baits the San Antonio Spurs into a double team, only to find a wide-open Parker underneath for the bucket.

Young has seen some major improvements across the board this season, as his per-game averages have jumped to 27.3 points and 9.1 assists per. Meanwhile, his three-point percentage has ticked up to 38.6 percent, a number more impressive when you consider some of the shots he frequents behind the arc.

Young’s devastating pick-and-roll game has only been enhanced by his now-deadly floater. Per Cleaning the Glass, Young has hit on 51 percent of those shots from close or in the mid-range.

His mastery of that shot has made Young nearly unguardable in arguably the NBA’s most-often-used offensive set. If you trap him, Young has the ability to find the open man with a pass out of either hand. If you drop coverage, you leave him open to hit the floater.

Switching, of course, would be foolish as well. With his handle, quickness and small frame, Young could torture almost any big man that dare approach him on the perimeter.

Young has also further utilized the screen reject in his offense. He’s adept at feigning a move toward the screen before sharply cutting back the opposite way. If a defender cheats to get over the screen, they find themselves trailing as Young cuts through a clean lane for the layup.

Young’s best game the young season may have come in a win against the Denver Nuggets. The second-year pro dropped 42 points and 11 assists on one of the Western Conference’s top teams as he finished an impressive 8 for 13 from three and 13 for 21 from the floor.

Nikola Jokic was not equipped to handle Young’s pick-and-roll game.

Jokic was not the first lumbering big to be befuddled by Young’s quickness, however. Young had his way with the Spurs’ LaMarcus Aldridge on more than one occasion as well.

Those plays are prime examples as to why switching a big onto Young is a bad idea for the opposition; dribbling moves and quickness aside, the passes Young completes are gorgeous and nearly impossible to defend against.

That said, for all his offensive brilliance, Young still has a glaring flaw in his game: defense.

Young’s size — or lack-there-of — has played a major role in his defensive issues. While Young, on offense, can take advantage when switched onto a big, it’s an obvious mismatch for the opposition when a member of their frontcourt has the ball against the 6-foot-2, 181-pound guard. Young has also had struggled to remain vigilant off the ball, where he’s often lost track of shooters or beaten on backdoor cuts.

Per Cleaning the Glass, the Hawks are eight points per 100 possessions better, defensively, when Young is on the bench as well.

Still, while the defensive concerns are valid, Young can more than make up for those deficiencies on offense — they could also be somewhat excused because of the sheer burden Young has to carry on offense — while the Hawks can mask those deficiencies with players like Collins, De’Andre Hunter and Kevin Huerter.

Whether fair or not, Young and Doncic may forever be tied together. Doncic came into the league with a superstar amount of hype and lived up to it. But, now, Young is right there with him.

Not only is he incredibly fun to watch, but Young has proven one of those rare players that could “wow” spectators at any moment. Soon enough, as the Hawks continue to build a competent roster around him, Young will find himself leading his team to the postseason, and maybe beyond.

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When Is The Sample Size Big Enough?

A couple of weeks into the season, Matt John looks into some of the surprises so far and asks how long will it take until these unforeseen wrinkles can be considered more than just flukes.

Matt John

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*Small sample size

That’s always the disclaimer we media folk have to include when we take offer opinions or analysis early on in the season. The reason is justifiable. A lot can change between now and when the season comes down the homestretch that we can’t say that the success or lack thereof surrounding either a team or a player will continue in the long-run.

But there comes a time when the “small sample size” is no longer a factor in how the NBA season has turned out. At that point, the early subplots that no one saw coming can be considered something more than just a fluke. Now that the 2019-2020 season has entered the double-digit mark, we’re starting to see things take shape a bit, and the excuse “small sample size” is beginning to fade.

For now, it’s still too early to come to any drastic conclusions, but, for some of these early-season surprises, we need to ask: how long do they need to keep doing this until they’re taken seriously? Some probably will take longer than others, but the end result is still the same. That being said, let’s begin.

How long until Boston is considered an elite team?

The cliche answer has been “When they upgrade their frontcourt.” However, that’s going to be very difficult for them to do with their salary situation and they currently have the league’s best record in spite of a supposedly weak big rotation.

Boston hasn’t lost a game since falling in their season opener to Philadelphia and are currently on a nine-game winning streak. According to ESPN’s Relative Percentage Index, they’ve had the 18th-toughest schedule so far, so they haven’t exactly been facing the top teams on a nightly basis. However, in that time, they’ve beaten some of their toughest competitors in the East, such as Milwaukee and Toronto, as well as blown out other quality teams like San Antonio on the road.

They currently have the best offensive rating in the entire league, scoring 114.3 points per 100 possessions. Before they gave up 133 points to Washington the other night, they also had the seventh-best defensive rating, giving up 102.1 points per 100 possessions. Those 133 points they gave up can be alluded to them not having their two best defensive bigs – Daniel Theis and Robert Williams III – and Gordon Hayward.

At some point, the Celtics are going to lose again. At some other point, they’re going to go through a slump. For now, all they’re doing is proving that they shouldn’t be counted out. At full-health, they may have the most well-rounded offense headed by Hayward, Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. They’ve maintained a solid defense without Al Horford and Aron Baynes – sans against the Wizards – because of how they’ve managed their center rotation of Theis, Williams, Enes Kanter and, at times, Grant Williams.

If that isn’t enough, their 9-1 start is the best they’ve had since 2007-08, the last season they won the NBA title. Boston hasn’t established itself as the team to beat like their predecessor did at that time, but they have exceeded expectations enough that they shouldn’t be written off against the likes of Milwaukee or Philadelphia.

There was some temptation to ask the same question about the reigning champions, but instead, more focus should be put on their unquestioned, newly-appointed alpha dog.

How long until Pascal Siakam is in the running for MVP?

This writer already dove into how Siakam has proven himself to be a superstar in the early parts of the season. A week or so later, nothing has changed. Instead of starting with him, let’s start with Toronto.

Coming into the season, the Raptors already had enough personnel on the defensive side of the ball that even without Kawhi, they still should have been a great, possibly even elite team on that end. Offensively, there was supposed to be a significant dropoff with Leonard gone. So far, there has been some decline on that end, but not nearly as significant as originally feared. Defensively, they’ve been even better when you compare their defensive rating to last season, which has in part sparked their 8-3 start.

Let’s not kid ourselves here. Pascal Siakam’s evolution into a lead guy has kept Toronto among the best in the league. If you don’t believe that, look at his net-rating. The Raptors are plus-19.3 with him on the floor, and that’s not skewed because of how good he’s been one side. On both sides, he has been Toronto’s most effective player.

The Raptors are plus-12.5 offensively and minus-6.8 defensively when Siakam is on the floor. Offensively, he tops everyone on the roster while defensively, he’s third behind Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Stanley Johnson, neither of whom play close to the number of minutes that Pascal does.

Siakam’s numbers have come down a bit since his hot start – surprising no one – but they’re still about as fantastic as Toronto could have hoped for. He’s scoring 27.2 points a game on 49/37/82 splits as well as averaging 9.2 rebounds and 3.8 assists. If that doesn’t scream out “elite all-around player,” then what does? More importantly, those numbers are getting the Raptors’ positive results.

Think of it this way. If Toronto had the same Pascal Siakam from last year, they’d probably be somewhere between average and good right now. They’ve started this season firmly in the elite tier because of their fourth-year man taking another step in his career. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, and James Harden are probably going to garner the most MVP buzz, but Pascal’s impact should not be slept on.

How long until we realize that Cleveland’s not blowing it up?

Spencer Davies already wrote about how Cleveland has been a fundamentally solid team thus far this season on Wednesday. If you want a more thoroughly detailed look on why the Cavaliers are not as bad as people may have thought coming in, take a look.

It’s amazing how much different a team can look when their circumstances change for the better. Their best player has a clean bill of health. They have a head coach who knows how to run the ship. Their young guys are one year older and wiser too. A lot of their guys are on expiring deals, which means they’ll be playing their hearts out all season.

All of those factors have added up into the Cavaliers being a little more competitive than we may have anticipated. The Cavaliers are 4-7 because Kevin Love is playing more like his old self, Collin Sexton has taken some great strides this year, and Tristan Thompson is having a career year. With John Beilein running the show, we’re seeing not a greater, but a grittier team in “The Land.”

So why are outlets still putting Kevin Love in trade scenarios? Why are they labeling Tristan Thompson as a buyout candidate? Why are they still saying Cleveland’s best option is to start over?

There’s no need to tear apart something that, at the present moment, is proving itself to be promising. Haven’t we seen from Boston, Brooklyn and Utah over the last few years that if you have something good in the works, you should see where it takes you?

By no means are the Cavaliers a great team. They definitely have room for improvement on both ends of the floor. They’re mediocre, but *mediocre* is still better than *bad*, and this roster has the potential to improve in significant ways.

What’s getting overlooked is that they have both expiring deals and draft assets that can be used to acquire someone really good value on the trade market. Good character guys like Marcus Morris could probably be had, and who knows what stars could become available?

Cleveland could blow it up, but what are the odds that they get someone as good as Kevin Love in a trade? What are the odds that they’ll not only win the lottery but also get a franchise cornerstone there too? We’ve seen Cleveland possibly be the luckiest team ever with the ping pong balls, but the only superstar they grabbed in that time was Kyrie Irving.

The Cavaliers are nowhere near the team they were when LeBron was around, but they have the building blocks for a new era of good basketball. For now, they don’t have to go anywhere near the reset button.

How long until Andrew Wiggins is pegged as a “future star” again?

Have we ever seen something like this happen in the history of professional basketball? Or even professional sports?

Two years ago, Andrew Wiggins was supposed to be a franchise player in waiting. Less than a month ago, he was a bust. Since the start of November, he’s played some of the best all-around basketball of his career. Because of that, it seems that hope for Wiggins’ future is slowly being restored.

Many believed the Minnesota Timberwolves consisted of Karl-Anthony Towns and not much else coming into the season, but not if Maple Jordan had anything to say about it. Following a decent start to the season, Wiggins has torn it up so far in November. In seven games, Wiggins has put up 29.1 points on 50/43/69 splits. To add to that, he’s shown improved playmaking abilities, averaging 5.1 assists in that span. For more details, read Douglas Farmer’s piece on Wiggins.

The hot shooting will die down a bit, but there’s more to Wiggins’ progress than just hitting more shots. Offensively, he’s been a lot smarter. He’s cutting down his mid-range jumpers. He’s evolved as a playmaker. He’s turned his three-ball into more of a weapon. To summarize, he’s looking more like the Andrew Wiggins we thought the Timberwolves were getting when he first arrived. It’s the best stretch of his career, and it’s played a part in Minnesota starting out better than we thought they would.

No one knows why exactly this is happening now and not before. Maybe we expected too much from him early on. Maybe he experienced some fatigue after playing under Tom Thibodeau for over two seasons. Maybe the Jimmy Butler experience damaged his psyche a bit. Whatever the case may have been, Wiggins’ career now looks like it’s on an upward trajectory again.

In fact, if things keep going this way, there might not be any need to put “future” in “future star” for Wiggins when the All-Star break comes around.

As encouraging as some of these surprises have been, time will tell whether these questions will be worth looking into further. It may take a month, a week, or even just a game to make any of them look offbase.

For the record, there were plenty of other early-season surprises that were worth talking about. How long until Phoenix proves that they’re for real? How long until San Antonio realizes it is better off without DeMar DeRozan? How long until the top of the Eastern Conference is comparable to the top of the Western Conference?

These questions, as of now, arguably aren’t worth looking into because of the small sample size, but time will tell.

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High-Performance Mindfulness: Improving Free Throw Percentage

Jake Rauchbach breaks down the most powerful way to improve free throw percentage.

Jake Rauchbach

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Free Throw Components

In this article, we are going to break down how to revamp a player’s free throw percentage without changing free-throw mechanics or increasing repetitions. Holding these variables constant and keying in on Mental Focus and Emotional regulation, there exists the possibility of massive statistical improvement.

For many, this might sound crazy. But for players that have experienced these sorts of upward bursts in free-throw efficiency, this outside of the box approach has become a commonplace implementation.

Before we jump into the most POWERFUL way to improve free throw percentage, let’s first talk about the old model.

The Traditional Free-Throw Model

Repetition

In the traditional model, the central focus of improving free throw percentage is based around putting up physical repetition. Repetition is most effective when players are subconsciously open and ready to receive the muscle memory downloads of the physical/on-court free-throw reps. When a player’s conscious and subconscious mind (mind-body connection), is in alignment, practice reps equal In-Game Improvement.

Said in another way, when there is alignment on the unconscious level of the player, there is innately a positive correlation between practice repetition and in-game results.

However, in the case when a player’s psychosomatic baggage gets in the way, there is generally no amount of practice reps that will move the dial on foul-line improvement. Many times, shot repetitions, laden with psychosomatic trauma, will just belabor the problem for the player.

It is not until these deep psyche imbalances are neutralized that long-term improvement can take place. In my experience, every player has some level of subconscious baggage. Most players only approach free throw improvement, or the improvement in their overall game for that matter, from one or maybe two angles. This is a big-time oversight. It also a BIG-TIME opportunity. I will talk about this in a minute.

Game-Reps

Another way that players and coaches attempt to elevate free throw percentage is through mimicking in-game situations during practice. This is great if the subconscious mind of the player is receiving, processing and executing said outside stimuli. But like the example above, if there is deep trauma present for the player, generating free throw percentage improvement in this manner is generally ineffectual.

Film

Film study is also used frequently to critique form and show different parts of the mechanical process. Film can be beneficial, but usually only when players watch their MADE shots during past periods when they were shooting the ball well.  Analyzing shooting form, and mechanics generally, has been shown to not be beneficial. This hampers the player’s ability to move forward with free throw proficiency.

Tweaking Physical Mechanics

When coaches and/or the player begin trying to fix physical shot mechanics, that is probably the thing that sets players back the most when they are struggling with improvement.

The reason? 99 percent of the time the underlying reason for the free throw struggle is not found in the physical mechanics, but the much deeper energetic level of the athlete.

When shot mechanics are addressed without also focusing on the mental, emotional and energetic level, this tends to further throw a wrench into free throw efficiency.

Often, coaches will change a player’s mechanics out of season with the hope that repetition alone will fix the past shot struggles. This initially CAN have a positive effect on free throw shooting in non-stimulus-filled situations such as practice.

However, often you will see a player revert to old inefficient shooting patterns in-game.

An example of this, albeit from the three-point line, has been Ben Simmons. Great work was seemingly employed during the offseason to solve his long-range shooting challenges.

However, what wasn’t likely addressed was the psychosomatic level of his shot. Unfortunately, Simmons has not yet broken through his long-range shooting struggles, and the reason is most likely because the root cause of his shooting woes is not mechanically based. The root cause of his shooting struggles likely lies deeper than mechanics and just getting up more shots. More analysis on Simmons can be found here in a past column.

Historically, these are some of the most common ways that have been used to improve free throw percentage. Now, let’s discuss the next step frontier for improving free throw percentage.

The Free Throw Formula

Beyond Mechanics and Repetition

Addressing the psychosomatic energetic blocks held at the subconscious mind-level of the player has been shown time and time again to dramatically improve free throw percentage. Reread that.

Keeping all other variables constant, eliminating the mental baggage of a player moves foul-line percentage upwards. Nothing is guaranteed, but this has been the norm.

I have spoken about Nick Anderson’s example at length in previous columns. The reason Anderson’s story is so valuable for today’s player is it gives a real-life account of how past psychosomatic trauma, when left unchecked, can sabotage future performance. Anderson’s case was extreme.

However, from my experience, ALL players experience some level of subconscious limitation, which if addressed could unlock improvement.

All this being said, we are going to outline the most leading-edge way to improve free-throw percentage. This way of working is the next step in optimizing charity stripe efficiency, because, as you will see, it works to UNLOCK ALL levels of the player, and free throw, not just the physical, analytical mind or repetition side.

Off-Court Player Development

Through the use of Energy Psychology methods, players can eliminate the mental blocks obstructing free throw improvement. Through systematic and customized processes, generally facilitated by a High-Performance – Player Development Coach, a player can begin to create the mental shifts needed to move free throw percentage upwards.

Energy psychology works with the energy flow in the body, also known as Chi, Prana or life force. Techniques such as MRP™ Tapping, Reiki and muscle testing work with this energy flow, and when applied correctly, move the dial.

On-Court Player Development

The positive change of the EP work, combined with ownership of the mental and emotional process, has the effect of getting the player out of his/her way,  so that free throw percentage improvement can ensue.

On the energetic level, players will begin to experience a difference in how they FEEL. As this happens, the on-court player development curriculum should be instituted back into the equation.

For example, shooting sets of 10 shots while employing Energy Psychology methods as a part of the free routine is generally the best practice. This way, the player begins to combine both on-court player development with internal player development to exponentialize improvement.

Programs, shot volumes and techniques vary based upon what is best for the player.

Daily Mindfulness Routine

Off-court routines are also super important! Meditation in the morning and visualization at night help create strong psychosomatic foundations for the player. This is a superb way to help move the dial at the foul-line. Yes, the work does go that deep.

If a player wants to improve free-throw percentage in the most powerful way possible, the process to do so begins when they wake up and ends when they go to bed.

These routines are not meant to be arduous or cumbersome. Many times, players report that they very much like these techniques. It gives them a way to anchor into their day.

In-Game Free-Throw Routine

Of course, the game is where the rubber meets the road. As such, it is also important to incorporate customized and player-specific mental focusing routines that leverage the Off-Court player development work.

Focused routines at the foul-line help players own their mental and emotional processes and have been shown to decrease, and at times, altogether eliminate the fear, anxiety and jitters that they once experienced.

Closing

Supporting the player in the most efficient way is not complicated, but does take a willingness to step outside of the traditional box.

The result of making free throws at a better rate is not confined to physical repetition, game-reps or film study alone.

Improvement begins at the core level of the player. Once players recognize that, their energetic system is the KEY that drives improvement. The sky is the limit.

To learn more about the Next Step In Player Development, Please Click Here.

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