Alright folks, we’ve got a bit of a surprise for you this week as we are going to welcome our first special guest into the ‘Shop. Jamieson Welsh (Fox Sports Radio, BelieveTheHypeNBA) is kind enough to take a seat in the chair for today’s discussion. We certainly appreciate you joining us, Jamieson. Let’s jump right into the mix.
Jabari: We’ll welcome the guest in first this week, and start with the Eastern Conference this time around. How real are the Hornets and can they be the challenge we’re all hoping the Cavaliers receive in order to at least make the Eastern Conference race interesting come next spring?
Jamieson: First of all thanks for having me, I definitely appreciate it. When I think of the Hornets I think of a tough team that plays hard but is a piece or two away from being a serious contender. Kemba gets better every year and he’s their leader but he’s not enough to get by the Cavs. In order to be able to compete with the Cavs you need to have multiple all stars and the Hornets don’t have that right now. Right now the best bet would be to get to the second round first before we take on much bigger challenges. It’s good to see MKG back and Kaminsky looking like a lottery pick, but in order to be a contender they must make a big move.
Lang: Good to have you in the ‘Shop, bro. I think you nailed the current state of the Charlotte Hornets. They remind me of … the 2009-2014 Atlanta Hawks. A team with a nice collection of parts, but not good enough to get past the second round of the playoffs. I think Kemba is a fantastic player and has a big heart. I also absolutely love Steve Clifford and how he gets guys to buy-in. He obviously cares about his relationships with players and their productivity shows it. But against a team like the Cleveland Cavaliers, as currently constructed at least, the Hornets are nothing more than roadkill. Against Cleveland, my nickname for them is “five and out” because that’s how long their series would last.
Jabari: #CavsIn5 is hilarious, Lang. Speaking of the Cavs, well, LeBron specifically. I have to admit to having mixed feelings about the whole “posse” situation Phil created. I want to say, for the record, I don’t think Phil Jackson is some diabolical racist or anything of that nature. That said, I still say he “created” the issue because he decided to needle LeBron and his associates without cause. He essentially opened the door for this scrutiny, seemingly just to throw a little shade.
While I’ve always viewed Jackson as a progressive thinker and someone devoid of racial bias, I do see where Maverick Carter and James are coming from in that his tone and message were very dismissive, so I see why the conversation about the verbiage is necessary.
Jamieson: The conversation is definitely necessary because of the context of the word Phil used. If the situation was different it wouldn’t have created a stir but, Phil being Phil, he knew what he was doing. A lot of credit has to go to Lebron and his people on the business decisions they’ve made. He’s empowered people who wouldn’t have normally gotten a chance to get that opportunity.
The biggest problem I have is why is Phil commenting on other teams situations and not his own. At the end of the day people in the front office and high ranking jobs in the league are fearful of Lebron and the rest of LRMR because of how powerful they are and how quickly they’ve made a mark in that industry. With that being said, when’s the last time Phil has been relevant in a basketball situation? Because the Knicks aren’t relevant at all.
Lang: Think about this … after all of the hype the Knicks had coming into the season, the biggest storyline surrounding the team right now has been generated by Phil Jackson, a 71 year-old clad in a suit far away from the on-court action. How sad is that? Really. This is the state of the Knicks?
But I’ll go deeper here … his star player, Carmelo Anthony, has been very vocal speaking out on minority inequality the past few months. Very vocal. How could you miss it? You would think Phil would be a bit more cautious with his words from that fact alone. Team executives know what kind of civic activities their stars are involved in … they’re asked about it all the time. Especially in a place like New York. Where is the self-awareness?
Do I think he’s racist? Nah. But the word he chose to use, and he knew exactly what he was doing, is filled with all types of code. As a minority I’ve heard them before; posse, entourage, gang, mob, cronies, bandits, etc. He could have just said “LeBron’s crew” and no one would have raised an eyebrow. It would have been as quiet as a mouse relieving itself on a piece of cotton. He could have said “L.eBron’s inner circle” or “LeBron’s clique” for instance. I don’t think it was racist. I think it was typical old man – these young guys move differently than my generation and I can’t understand it – type of talk. But since we have a country right now dealing with a lot of racial issues, it is perfectly normal for people to question Phil’s angle on this. He was born in 1945 … he was about to turn 19 when the Civil Rights Bill passed in 1964. For him to be so careless with his words is downright disappointing – especially with his background.
Jabari: Excellent points by each of you, so I won’t belabor the subject any further beyond saying, in contrast, how refreshing it has been to see head coaches like Gregg Popovich, Stan Van Gundy and Steve Kerr being so progressive, open and honest about recent events, issues and some of the difficult conversations others are either uncomfortable or unwilling to have. In fact, each of them is not only invited to the cookout, but they can have the last few ribs.
Ok, Jamieson, the last topic of the week will be the point guard position. With Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul playing so well for their respective teams, let me get you to rank the following group and let me know which you’d go with if you were starting YOUR squad: Westbrook, Paul, Steph Curry, Damian Lillard, Kyrie Irving?
Jamieson: Man that’s a great question and tough, but give me Steph at number one. He’s the MVP and the guy who is changing how the game is played. My number two guy is Dame because of what he’s doing on the court and his leadership abilities. Let’s face it, he probably has the worst supporting cast of all the guys listed. Next is Russ, he’s the guy that’s must see TV and most capable of getting a triple-double on any given night. I don’t know how this season will turn out but I do know we’ll see a modern record for triple-doubles in a season for him.
This is a very tough list but putting Kyrie at four is really intriguing because you can make a case he’s the number two guy. Even though he doesn’t facilitate the offense he’s found his spot in that offense and is as confident as ever. Last but not least the face of the point guard position over the last decade is CP3. His body of work has been extremely impressive over his career and he is still an elite point guard.
The PG spot is a young man’s position and the other guys are in the prime of their careers more so than Paul is. Still, no one has been the face of a position over the last decade like Chris Paul and he’s also the guy who has displayed the best balance between distributing the basketball and scoring.
Jabari: I’ve always been of the opinion that when you are dealing with the top three or four players at a given position, you really can’t go wrong in terms of ranking. It often comes down to what type or style of player you prefer, so I can certainly appreciate your reasoning there. On behalf of Sir Greene, thanks again for joining, Jamieson.
Folks, that will wrap it up for this week, but make sure you keep providing your feedback via Twitter with the new hashtag: #ShopTalk. Our own Alex Kennedy will pay the ‘Shop a visit next week, so make sure you share your topics with @AlexKennedyNBA, @LangGreene and @JabariDavisNBA.
NBA Daily: Shamet Comfortable With Steady Self Going Into Draft
With a natural feel for the game, Wichita State guard Landry Shamet has more than enough of a chance to carve his own path of success in the NBA.
No matter what professional field a person wants to work in, there are multiple ways to show why they belong.
A positive attitude is everything, confidence goes a long way and honesty truly is the best policy.
Speaking with Wichita State product Landry Shamet this past week at the NBA Combine in Chicago, it’s clear that he has all three boxes checked off.
“It’s been great,” Shamet said of the event. “Just trying to absorb everything, soak everything up. It’s a big learning experience for sure. A lot of knowledge to be attained (at the Combine). With interviews and playing on the court, being coached by NBA guys, it’s been cool so far.”
During his three years with the Shockers, the 6-foot-4, 188-pound guard accomplished quite a few feats, but his junior season was arguably the most spectacular. Not only did Shamet lead his team in multiple ways, but he also topped out in four statistical categories in the American Athletic Conference—the school’s first year there after moving on from the Missouri Valley.
Shamet’s 166 assists (5.2 per game average) were the most in the AAC by far. In addition, his true shooting percentage (65.5) and three-point percentage (44.2) ranked number one among his peers.
From entering the program in 2015 to now, he feels that he’s grown dramatically as a player—but in what areas, specifically?
“I would say being a point guard honestly,” Shamet said. “I was recruited in as a two. But just kinda that leadership role, that accountability. Knowing that you’re gonna get a lot of scrutiny (after) a loss and you’re gonna be responsible for a win. Regardless of how the game goes, it’s your responsibility.”
Much of his development at Wichita State was courtesy of a hands-on approach with Gregg Marshall, one of the most revered head coaches in college basketball. Thanks to his guidance, Shamet feels ready, even aspects outside of his offensive ability.
“On the defensive end, I feel comfortable with my positioning,” Shamet said. “Obviously, need to get better. You can always get better on the defensive end. That’s one thing I’ve been focusing on. Trying to get more athletic. Just be better defensively. He gave me the groundwork for sure. 100 percent.”
Shamet has kept in touch with Marshall throughout the entire pre-draft process. He was told to be “smile and relax” in interviews and to be confident, which he’s certainly followed through with.
A similar message has come from Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet, two former Shockers who have each made their mark at the professional level.
“Just be yourself, you know,” Shamet said of VanVleet’s pointers. “That’s really what it boils down to I think. He’s been great to have him in my corner—a guy like that who’s been through a lot of adversity on his way to the NBA, so I’m gonna listen to him 10 times out of 10.”
VanVleet’s career is already taking off with the Toronto Raptors as a part of their young and hungry bench. But with four more inches of height and a similar feel for the game, Shamet has more than enough of a chance to carve his own path of success in the NBA.
And it won’t require flash or making a daily highlight-reel to do so.
“I’d like to just say versatile,” Shamet said of his game. “Just try to stay solid. I don’t ever try to make spectacular plays all the time. Try to just do what I feel I can do—play multiple positions, both positions, on or off the ball. I’m comfortable at either spot, honestly. Whether it’s facilitating, scoring, whatever the case may be.
“I feel like I have a high IQ as well. Just a cerebral player. Not gonna ‘wow’ you with crossing people up and doing things that a lot of the guys in the limelight do all the time. But I feel like I’m a solid player. Pretty steady across the board.”
However, just because he rarely shows off on the court doesn’t mean he doesn’t have the ability to do it.
“I feel like I’m a little more athletic than I might get credit for,” Shamet said. “I think I’m a better athlete than I get credit for.”
Shamet is projected to go anywhere from the middle-to-late first round of the draft in June. Whoever lands the Kansas City native will be getting a tireless worker who does things the right way and is all about the team.
But for now, he’s soaking in everything he possibly can before that night comes.
“I don’t have all the answers,” Shamet candidly said. “I’m a 21-year-old kid, man I guess. So just trying to learn as much as I can, gain some knowledge, get good feedback—because at the end of the day, I’m not a perfect player. I know that.”
The Lakers Have Finally Stabilized
After a tough five-year period filled with loss and disappointment, the Lakers have finally put themselves back in a position to succeed.
On paper, missing the playoffs for the fifth year in a row would rarely be considered impressive, but for the Los Angeles Lakers, a team that’s suffered pretty much nothing but misery over the last half-decade, this season was a sign of progress.
Leading up to this past season, the previous four years overall were anything but easy on the Lakers. Besides consistently being one of the worst teams in the league, some of the team’s high lottery picks, such as D’Angelo Russell, did not pan out as well as they had hoped, and management baffled the fanbase when they signed both Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov to approximately $140 million combined over four years.
This season, things finally took a turn for the better. The team’s youngest players, particularly Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Julius Randle and Lonzo Ball, started to yield positive results. The team’s new acquisitions, specifically Brook Lopez, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and briefly Isaiah Thomas, made a notable impact on the season. Second-year head coach Luke Walton proved himself to be up for the job with improved personnel at his arsenal. That may have led to only 35 wins, but compared to the previous four seasons’ final results, 35 wins is about as good as the Lakers could have hoped for.
And it should only get better from here. The biggest positive is that the team’s long-term outlook is now the brightest its been since Dwight Howard skipped town in 2013. Their impending return to the glory days is still up in the air, but the Lakers can finally look forward to a promising future for two reasons.
When the Lakers replaced Mitch Kupchak with Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson to run the team, the two of them went to work right away. Pelinka and Johnson knew that if the Lakers were going to attain relevance again, they had to undo the franchise’s previous mistakes, even if it meant getting rid of some of their young talent.
It’s as the old saying goes, “You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.”
Making said omelet started with getting rid of their albatross contracts. The Lakers found a taker for Mozgov when they traded him to Brooklyn for Brook Lopez’s expiring deal, but that deal also required trading Russell. Mid-season, the Lakers found a taker for Jordan Clarkson when they traded him to Cleveland, but that deal also required trading Larry Nance Jr.
Losing Russell and Nance Jr, and to some degree Clarkson, may have been tough cheese to swallow, but with Mozgov and Clarkson off the payroll, the Lakers have a ton of cap space at their disposal. In fact, this summer, the Lakers have only $34.5 million in guaranteed contracts, which will be the lowest payroll in entire NBA. This is a much bigger deal now that it’s been in the past for one simple reason: Hardly any teams will have cap room this summer.
The NBA salary cap’s drastic rise in 2016 caused many teams to overshoot their mark over the past two off-seasons. Because of that, quite a few teams will be paying the luxury tax while others will do everything in their power to avoid the luxury tax. This means that only a select few teams will have cap room to add a free agent on a max deal. The Lakers, on the other hand, have the cap room to add two.
Their situation only gets better given the competition in free agency. Most of the other teams that have cap room are in rebuilding mode, so the Lakers shouldn’t expect many competitors in their chase for marquee free agents ie LeBron James and Paul George this summer. The only other team that will be competing for their services with available cap space is Philadelphia, who only has $44 million on payroll this summer. Houston will also be in the race, but they will have to get creative if they hope to add a max free agent this summer plus keep Chris Paul AND Clint Capela.
Even if the Lakers whiff on LeBron and George, it isn’t the end of the world. They can afford to re-sign Thomas and/or Caldwell-Pope to one-year deals worth over $10 million because hardly anyone else can do the same. Even if absolutely nothing goes their way this summer, they’ll have flexibility again next season. While having cap space does not automatically mean free agents will come to the Lakers’ door next season, it’s better to have money available to offer than having to spend it on Clarkson and Mozgov.
Promising Youth Movement
Many knew the Lakers’ young core was nothing to sneeze at, but for the first time since they’ve started their rebuild in 2013, their youth movement’s talent finally translated into wins. They didn’t do it all on their own, but nothing makes a team’s future brighter than their young players starting to reach their potential.
That starts with Brandon Ingram. Ingram was the textbook example of raw his rookie season, but his sophomore year, he started living up to his billing as the second overall pick in his draft. Across the board, he improved his numbers, but his shining moment came when the Lakers turned to him to run the point with Lonzo Ball out in late-January. During that stretch, the Duke alum averaged 18.4 points on 52 percent shooting including 46 percent from three, 5.4 assists, and 5.5 rebounds. Ingram struggled mightily with injuries after that, but his vast improvement should be very beneficial in the long run.
Then there was the biggest surprise of the season: Kyle Kuzma. When the deal was first agreed to, Kuzma was originally a throw-in when the Lakers traded Mozgov and Russell for Lopez, but knowing Brooklyn’s luck, Kuzma may wind up being the best player in this deal. Kuzma wowed the fans at the Staples Center, as he averaged 16.1 points and 6.3 rebounds while shooting 45 percent from the field. Since Kuzma is only 22 years old, there’s no telling what his ceiling might be.
Then there’s the first lottery pick the Lakers drafted in their rebuild: Julius Randle. Randle got himself in the best shape of his life in preparation for this season, and it paid off on the court. Randle averaged career-highs in both point average (16.1) and field goal percentage (58 percent), but his best stretch came in February through March. In that time, Randle averaged 21.2 points on 57.6 percent shooting, 9.5 rebounds, and 3.3 assists. Randle is a restricted free agent this year, but with the lack of available money this summer, his best option may be to stay in LA.
Finally, the biggest wild card of the Lakers’ young talent: Lonzo Ball. Ball was both injury-riddled and inconsistent his rookie year, but he showed flashes every now and again of the player his humble father said he would be. While he had his issues putting the ball in the bucket, Ball’s much-hyped passing translated in the NBA, averaging 7.2 assists a game, and his rebounding was terrific given his size, as he averaged 6.9 rebounds a game. The jury is still out on Ball, but he should be given a full season before anyone comes to judgment.
In short, the Lakers’ cap flexibility and promising youth movement give them stability that not many believed they would have had at the end of last season. Inadequacy and incompetence have plagued the Lakeshow for the past several years, but now that they’ve brought the right people aboard, they are now pointed in the right direction.
NBA Daily: Meet Chimezie Metu, A Versatile Big Man
Chimezie Metu could end up being one of the steals of this year’s draft.
Each year when it comes to the NBA draft, there always seems to a few players flying under the radar a bit. Players who are underrated or overlooked for whatever reason. This year, one of those players is Chimezie Metu from the University of Southern California.
In early mock drafts, Metu was projected to go anywhere from mid to late first-round. In some of the more recent mocks, he’s fallen out of the first-round altogether and into the second-round. If those projections hold and he does end up being selected in the second-round, then some team is going to get a huge steal.
Metu is a versatile big man who impacts both ends of the floor. He is an agile shot blocker who can control the paint defensively, and on the other end, he can score in the post while being able to step out and knock down mid-range jump shots. He is confident in what he’ll be able to bring to an NBA team.
“I think being versatile and being able to make an impact on defense right away,” Metu told reporters at the NBA Draft Combine this past week. “Being able to switch on to smaller players or guard the post, and just being able to knock down shots or make plays when I’m called upon.”
In his three years at USC, Metu blossomed into one of the best players in the Pac-12 conference. This past season, he led a solid Trojans team in scoring with 15.7 points per game on 52.3 percent shooting. He also led the team in rebounding with 7.4 per game and had a team-high 59 blocked shots.
He’s taken note of some of the best big men in the NBA, some of whom he’s tried to model his game after. He told reporters at the combine that some of his biggest influences are Anthony Davis, Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid. He knows that there may be misconceptions about his game, or those that doubt him, but he isn’t worried about that at all.
“I don’t really worry about what other people are saying about myself. I just go out there and play hard, and try to help my team win games,” Metu said. “My strength is being versatile, being able to impact the game in multiple ways. Not being one dimensional and being able to have fingerprints on different parts of the game.”
It’s been busy past few days for Metu. He’s had 13 interviews with NBA teams to go along with workouts, medical testing and media availability. Although it’s been a hectic time, part of what has made it so worthwhile is all of the NBA personnel he’s been able to interact with. What really has stood out to him being at the combine is the difference between college and the NBA.
“I can just go up to the owners and the GMs and just talk to them,” Metu said. “Coming from college you basically have to act like they’re not there, cause of the rules and stuff. Just the fact that they can come up and talk to you, you can talk to them, that’s probably the most surprising part for me.”
Aside from all the front office personnel he’s interacted with, Metu has also had the opportunity to meet with some of the most respected names in NBA history. Among the former players who he’s had a chance to meet with, Magic Johnson and Bob McAdoo have definitely stood out to him.
While he’s grateful just to have been able to meet NBA royalty, he’s used it as an opportunity to pick their brains. He’s also been able to showcase his game in front of them. He is confident that he’s been able to impress them and hopefully make an impact on their decisions come draft night.
“Just coming out here and having fun, there’s a lot of basketball royalty,” Metu said. “Being able to get a chance to shake their hands, being able to take stuff from them and what helped them become great. I’m just trying to take their advice. It feels great because never in a million years did I think I’d be here. It’s fun just going out there and showing what I can do.”