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The ‘Shop: MVP Talk & Scoring Outbursts

Jabari Davis and Lang Greene continue their weekly barbershop conversation about the NBA at large.

Jabari Davis

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Welcome back to The ‘Shop, folks. Always great to catch up and talk some hoops, so let’s go ahead and jump into the mix…

Jabari: Alright, Lang, good to back at it. Let’s start with OKC and specifically with Westbrook the Destroyer. The dude is currently averaging a triple-double (31 PPG, 11.3 RPG, 10.9 APG) and the team has gotten back into the winning side of things of late. Part of why I worried about OKC this year was because it looked like they would need Westbrook to essentially play like a madman and essentially average a triple-double all year. I didn’t think that would be fair to expect, nor realistic at the time… But here we are about a quarter of the way in and he’s doing exactly THAT. Can it last?

Lang: Dude, it’s good to be back in the mix. Don’t know about you but I had to gain at least five pounds over the Thanksgiving break. My goodness, man. The waistline doesn’t have the bounce back it used to have, but there was no way I was turning down that food, bro.

I absolutely believe Russell Westbrook’s play can last. The guy is a man on a mission. Taking no prisoners, no holds barred. Shooting first and asking questions later. I can go on and on. Remember, Kobe Bryant has been telling anyone that would listen over the past three years about Westbrook having a lot of Mamba in him. Let me say this: Kobe is a truth teller. No question about it.

Now here’s the deal. Do Sam Presti and the crew try to bring in reinforcements at the trade deadline to help Westbrook down the stretch? This is just my opinion, but a guy like Enes Kanter is owed big money and is averaging less than 24 minutes per night behind Steven Adams in the rotation. Dude is a scorer on the low block, but his defensive lapses keep him on the bench. You wonder if Kanter is truly part of OKC’s long-term plans, especially at that price tag and playing those limited minutes. What do you think?

Jabari: Bean was dead-on with that one, and I can certainly appreciate that mentality and approach. Westbrook is simply phenomenal and I’ll admit that it makes me chuckle a bit that so many folks continue to look for ways to question and criticize what he’s doing. The whole “he’s selfishly gunning for triple-doubles” narrative is annoying and ridiculous. It seems like it’s actually rooted in, “I just don’t like the guy or his style, so let me shift my complaint…” I love how everyone went into the year knowing he would play like a madman, but now you have folks essentially complaining that he’s trying to do more than he should. We, and I’m speaking generally, love to build athletes up simply to tear them down a bit too much at times.

You nailed it with that assessment of Kanter. He can be really good on the offensive end and particularly on the backboards when he wants to, but doesn’t seem to provide the same type effort consistently on the defensive end. I actually don’t mind them staggering the two big men all that much, but do agree that he is probably the team’s most tradeable asset and someone opposing teams would value. Not sure if  they end up electing to move him, but (along with continuing to develop the young guys) I do think Presti has to find a way to continue solidifying that roster over the course of this season and into the summer. What Westbrook is doing is phenomenal, but I shudder to think of what that team will look like if he were to go down or miss any significant amount of time at any point.

Transitioning to another topic, and even though I realize we’ve discussed some of these guys over the weeks, let’s bring it together with our own version of a “WAAAAAY too early” discussion about the MVP race. My top guys right now are Westbrook, LeBron James, James Harden, Kevin Durant (Yup, look at his numbers) and Kawhi Leonard. Any chance Ant Davis can truly sneak into the mix and at least get into the discussion if his Pelicans keep rolling? Anyone that didn’t get mentioned that deserves some shine?

Lang: I can’t believe there are people out there really trying to question what Russell Westbrook is doing. I mean, really? Come on. You lose one of the top five players on this green earth over the summer for nothing in return and people expect Westbrook not to be out here playing possessed right now? Give it a break. You might not like his TYPE of greatness, but as a basketball observer, you should at least be mature enough to RESPECT it.

I think your MVP list is accurate, bro. You have to throw Westbrook on the list as a frontrunner. But I love the fact you threw LeBron on the list because people have this false notion that he is “coasting” until the playoffs. If averaging 24-9-9 is coasting, then sign me up all day every day and twice on Tuesday nights. I absolutely love what James Harden is doing in Houston too. I remember arguing at length around the water cooler that Harden is the BEST two guard in the league with folks insisting it was either Jimmy Butler or Klay Thompson. Now those guys are better two-way players, but Harden is my pick out of the litter if I was starting a franchise. That might not be a popular pick, but he passes all of my eye checks with flying colors.

Durant is an interesting pick. But the numbers support consideration. He’s been the most consistent Warrior to start the season and when Draymond Green missed time, the man pumped in a double-double with SIX – I said six! – blocked shots. When I see Durant I see a man, come playoff time, that is going to have some Russell Westbrook type of performances. He knows what’s at stake if he comes up empty handed this season. I think Kawhi is a stretch, compared to the others, but the Spurs do have the second-best record in the league and that should count for something.

I love the Brow. I love his potential. But the Pelicans have to be north of .500 for me to even consider him. Check back with me come All-Star break and I’ll reassess. Ha!

Now let me ask you. Who do you think will be the first trade domino to fall? Nerlens Noel could be the odd man out in Philly. Brandon Knight could be a valuable asset for Phoenix with Devin Booker as their guy for the future. We’ve already talked about Enes Kanter in Oklahoma City. Who else do you have hearing their names on the trade market?

Jabari: The Nerlens rumors intrigue me because I honestly wonder whether they can get what they would probably consider a fair deal given his injury history. We can romanticize about potential and promise all we’d like, but at some point, the likelihood of player’s availability has to be factored in.

What about Bradley Beal? I know the Wizards have at least made it sound like they intend to keep their main pieces in town, but at 6-13 you just wonder how long before they are forced to make a significant move. I also wonder how much longer Orlando plans to keep paying Bismack Biyombo $18 million a year to split time with Nikola Vucevic? Vucevic has been solid and is actually signed to a very favorable contract (about $12.5 million for each of the next two years), but you wonder if GM Rob Hennigan has any plans to at least explore what options might be available on the market.

While I’ve heard absolutely nothing in terms of trade rumors involving Lou Williams, I also wonder if we’ll start to see teams actively trying to inquire about the former Sixth Man of the Year as the season moves on. He’s on what looks like an insanely cap-friendly deal at just $7 million for next season and is actually in the middle of his best year to date. Williams is averaging a career-high 18.4 PPG off the bench for the Lakers and shooting 39.3 percent from deep. I know he’s actually been a great fit with this group under Luke Walton and the Lakers have enjoyed a bunch of unanticipated success during the early going, but it still wouldn’t shock me to see GMs bidding for his services as they try to bolster their rotations in the second half.

How long before we say they need to consider another move in Indiana? I was intrigued by that mix when the season started, but things haven’t quite worked out the way many anticipated. Why are they so poor defensively?

Lang: I am on record saying I liked what Pacers team president Larry Bird was cooking over the summer by bringing in Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson. He said he wanted the Pacers to improve offensively and move away from their plodding style. What better way to do that than by adding three proven 15-19 points-per-game guys into the mix next to Paul George and once-high-scoring guard Monta Ellis. But the problem Indiana has faced is that head coach Frank Vogel’s calling card was defense and he’s now in Orlando – who have been playing very strong defense as of late, by the way. Secondly, Father Time has taken over Big Al, who is only two seasons or so removed from an All-NBA selection. My goodness. It also appears Monta Ellis is no longer capable of putting up huge scoring nights.

Lastly… and I know this may get me some heat… but maybe, just maybe Paul George isn’t the GUY we thought he was a few years ago when the Pacers were a thorn in the Miami HEAT’s side. Make no mistake, he’s a very good player, but NBA history is absolutely littered with very good players that were unable to lead their respective teams to paradise as the top dog (such as Paul Pierce before the 2007 reinforcements). We can look at T-Mac and his woes as the leading cast member during his prime. Heck, you might be able to throw Carmelo Anthony into this mix. Two of those guys are a lock for the HALL one day and the other could possibly get in – eventually. So Paul George as an individual player is the goods, but as a franchise player you can strap a load to his back and his recent play hasn’t justified our collective expectations.  

Jabari: Point taken on guys like ‘Melo and PG, although I would still like to see what George might look like when paired with another player of his level while in his relative prime. I think we, as writers, can fall victim to social media narratives at times as well. The truth is, no one wins in the NBA without a strong and connected supporting cast. Even if we “say” guys like LeBron or Jordan did this (they didn’t) those would be extreme outliers.

Speaking of outliers, I know you saw what Klay Thompson did the other night. 60 points. SIXTY points in about 29 minutes of action. I think there was a crazy stat about dude literally having the ball in his hands for less than 90 actual seconds of action. Calling that level of production “phenomenal” somehow seems like an understatement, and before we (speaking generally) find a way to tear down the performance and question “how open” all his looks were, let’s just take a few moments to appreciate a great night on the basketball court. How does that shooting exhibition rank among some of your favorite scoring outbursts over the last 10-15 years?

Lang: Man, Klay was smoking the other night. I think it’s criminal they didn’t trot him out in the fourth quarter for a few minutes. Let the man make a run at 70 because how often will he ever reach that level of a zone again in his career? He’s gotten hot before, but I mean making a run a 70-75 points type of heat is totally different. I get it, the Warriors were trying to be good sportsmen but let the man cook a bit more.

It’s funny you mention the critics. The man had just scored 60 points, in 29 minutes, and less than 10 hours later there are a plethora of YouTube videos dissecting the performance. Come on, man. Just enjoy one of the greatest scoring displays in NBA history.

Some of my favorite scoring outbursts are Reggie Miller’s eight points in nine seconds rampage versus the Knicks back in the 1990s. Also, in my top three is T-Mac’s 13-point barrage in 33 seconds versus the Spurs. If you want to visually see the impact of the absolute carnage T-Mac caused with that outburst check out the following link and fast forward to the 2:08-second mark and witness the look on Devin Brown’s face.

Jabari: Devin Brown’s expression was absolutely classic and I’m sure it was exactly how everyone in that arena felt. From 2000-2008, T-Mac was a serious problem for opponents. That’s kind of why I hate the way we (speaking generally) consume sports these days. Let Twitter or other forms of social media tell it, McGrady wasn’t great over that stretch. Have we become so jaded and lazily dependent upon the “yeah, but how many rangzzz did he have?” mindset that we can’t acknowledge a seven-time All-Star and seven-time All-NBA selection as one of the greats from his generation? Anyhow, I’ll hop down off my soapbox for now.

The last thing I’ll say about scoring outbursts is that if the conversation is going to be had, then you know I’m obligated to bring up Kobe, once again. I mean, folks may not have loved his personality or even may have had legitimate reasons to dislike his approach at times, but there hasn’t been a more explosive scorer over the last 20 years than Bean. Klay’s 60-point outbreak reminded me specifically of the 62 points in 32 minutes Bean put up against the Mavericks just about 11 years ago (December 20, 2005). I know we focus on the 81 he gave Jalen Rose, a young Chris Bosh and the Raptors, but that 62-point night was always slightly more impressive to me given the opponent (eventually a 60-22 team ranked seventh in overall opponent’s points against) and the fact that no other teammate reached double figures that night. Not sure some of the younger folks were able to fully appreciate that game, but dude outscored the entire opposing team through three quarters.

Anyhow, let Google/YouTube be your friends if you want to appreciate that performance for the first time (for perspective) or simply to revisit a pretty incredible scoring run. We’ll wrap things up on that note for the week, but want to remind you to continue offering your feedback and suggestions for upcoming topics via the comments section below or Twitter (@JabariDavisNBA, @LangGreene).

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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