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The ‘Shop: The Process, The Beard & More

In this week’s The ‘Shop, the guys discuss the rise of Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid, and James Harden’s dominance.

Jabari Davis

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Welcome back to The ‘Shop for another week of hoops talk. Our Jabari Davis and Lang Greene will continue last week’s point guard discussion with a few new players, take a look at how some of the youth movements from around the league are going and examine hometown fans actively recruiting opposing players.

Jabari: Good to be back in the mix with you, Lang. I wanted to continue with one of last week’s topics because I’ve really noticed a shift surrounding the top point guard debate. I won’t ask you to necessarily to rank a top-10, but has James Harden ascended to the best at the position? 

Lang: Happy New Year, JD! Good to be back in the ‘Shop my man. Personally, I still consider James Harden a shooting guard but what he’s doing is ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous. I can’t think of another player that takes the volume of shots he does and still functions as a high-level playmaker. Stop and think about that for a minute. Someone asked me on Twitter a few days ago who my early season MVP candidate is and right now I am rolling the Beard. I know what Russell Westbrook is doing in Oklahoma City is insane, but Beard has the Rockets with the FOURTH-best record in the league.

Jabari: What’s crazy about it is this is absolutely NO disrespect to the Steph Curry or Kyrie Irving (or any other top player at the position) – it’s really just a testament to how incredible Harden and Westbrook have been this year. Folks may not be in love with his style, but at a certain point, 28.4 PPG, 11.9 APG, 8.2 RPG while shooting 45/36/85 from the floor/3pt/line simply has to be acknowledged for as great as it truly is. Shout out to my guy Kofie Yaboah (SBNation) for pushing the “Harden is the best point guard” narrative from the start.

Speaking of great point guard play, let’s take a moment to circle back to John Wall and the Washington Wizards. Like Harden, Wall was the Kia Player of the Month for December. Beyond putting up impressive numbers, his Wizards seem to have finally gotten things going in the right direction, having just completed their first 10-win (10-5) month since December 2014. Not only did Wall drop 52 (career high) in Orlando, but he shot 49.1 percent from the field and 81.4 percent from the free throw line over that stretch

His Wizards are also now tied with the Bulls in the loss column for what would be the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference, so I have to ask if your thoughts on what they should be looking to do moving forward have changed? Not to be the downer of the week, but shouldn’t they should STILL be looking to upgrade or make significant changes to that roster? Part of me feels like we’ve seen how this story ends, but could I be wrong about it THIS season. Might these Wizards be able to maintain this pace (6-4 over the last 10) and make another serious push for the playoffs come April and May?

Lang: My view on teams close to the playoffs might differ from a lot of folks. My view is if you’re close to the playoffs, then push the gas and try to secure a seed. I think making the playoffs, even as an eight seed, is better than eating popcorn on the couch watching the festivities as a fan. I use the Atlanta Hawks as an example. Do you know how many times over the years I’ve answered the question on whether the Hawks should just blow things up? Remember, this team was at one point led by Joe Johnson, then Josh Smith and then Al Horford. Joe is battling Father Time, Josh is out of the league and Al is no longer in Atlanta. The team has adjusted on the fly and have kept up the winning, and could be staring at 10 consecutive trips to the playoffs.

Back to your Wizards question. I think they should go full speed ahead, but I do have my doubts on the Bradley Beal and John Wall combination winning at a high level together. At first, I thought they complemented each other well … Beal’s shooting to Wall’s prowess at slashing, but if I’m Washington I would entertain trades for everyone on that roster not named John Wall (and maybe Marcin Gortat).

Jabari: I can definitely appreciate where you are coming from and would like to see them eventually find a way to be competitive (together) again. Otto Porter Jr’s breakout year has been great to see, and while I’ve doubted Coach Brooks’ ability to make in-game and in-series adjustments in the past, his track record in helping with the development of young players is impressive.

We’ll keep an eye on their progress of course, but let’s shift gears and take a look at some of the progress of the youth movements from around the league. I’ll throw a few quick-hitters at you.

I absolutely love the fact that Joel Embiid has finally been able to get on the court and show all that he can do. All the social media stuff has been fun these last couple years, but it’s great to see Embiid go to work. He’s still every bit as entertaining on Twitter, but the man is also putting up 19.2 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 2.4 BPG, 46/38.9/77 from the floor/3pt/line in 25 minutes per contest. Is he your leader in the Rookie of the Year race at this point?

Lang: There’s no other rookie worth mentioning at this point. The guy is averaging almost 20 and 8 on sheer athleticism and energy alone. Just imagine when he really knows how to play the game- when he’s really learned how to use his size, to gain that extra leverage and to work the refs. The kid is an absolute beast and I am very happy for the Philadelphia fan base who had to endure enough over the past few seasons. Now it’s time for the Sixers front office to surround their big men with some talented perimeter players. That is the area that Philadelphia is severely lacking. No offense to Gerald Henderson and Jerryd Bayless, but those guys aren’t going to get the Sixers over the hump. They need some young gunners out there handling the rock.

Jabari: Keeping it rolling…The Lakers appear as though they are figuring it out after a rough stretch (1-11 after a 10-10 start) that followed a rash of injuries. Julius Randle continues to impress (second triple-double of the year vs the Grizzlies), Brandon Ingram is developing and Nick Young is back to doing this:

https://vine.co/v/5V7e1xgjn0J

The question mark for me remains whether either one of the young players can ascend to being an All-Star player at some point?

Lang: I’m impressed by the Lakers’ young core. The kids are maturing before our eyes, even if the wins aren’t there. If I had to bet my bottom dollar, at this moment, I’m going with D’Angelo Russell becoming the All-Star out of the trio. It’s tough to get a read on Brandon Ingram at times because offensively there are possessions when he gets the rock and doesn’t even look at the basket for a shot … even as a bluff. Julius Randle is starting to put up some monster stat lines, but you have to wonder if a healthy Larry Nance Jr. would be stealing some of his time like last season. And that brings me back to Russell. There’s no reason on this Lakers squad that he shouldn’t be averaging 32-34 minutes per game. The fact he’s still below 30 minutes, like we discussed in last week’s edition, is truly a head scratcher.

Jabari: I still think the limited minutes for Russell are a result of the staff trying to even things out with that core 8 or 9 guys (when Larry Nance Jr. is healthy), but we could always see more from him over the next 45 games.

The Denver Nuggets (14-21) are currently just a game out of the 8th seed in the West in the loss column, and while we’ll tackle the suddenly easier path to the Western Conference postseason in an upcoming week, let’s take a moment to talk about the stretch their 21-year-old big man is on. Although the streak started about 15 games ago, over his last 5 games, Nikola Jokic is averaging 20.8 points, 9.0 rebounds and 5.8 assists with shooting percentages of 58.6/44.4/81.8. The Nuggets may have lost their last three games, but prior to that Denver had won six of nine. Can the Nuggets make the playoffs for the first time since 2012-13?

Lang: I love Jokic, man. But one thing the young fella has to get under control is his penchant for fouling. Just check his Per 36 minute foul rate. My goodness. But the more I see him, the more it looks like the man is going to cause havoc on the interior for a very long time.

To your question on playoffs …everything is in play out West. The Nuggets have some solid pieces but their issue of consistency. How long can Jokic stay on the floor? Can Emmanuel Mudiay cut down on the turnovers and improve his efficiency from the floor? What are the Nuggets going to do with Kenneth Faried come trade deadline? Do I think they can make a run? Yes. Do I think they secure a berth? No.

Jabari: We’ll end on a fun one: did you see what happened in Boston when the Jazz came to town earlier in the week? Did Jae Crowder have a reason to feel disrespected by the crowd in Boston for showering Gordon Hayward with so much love in that game earlier this week?

Lang: Hell yes. The Boston Celtics aren’t some team struggling and looking for a lottery pick. So for the fans to go all googly-eyed about a guy like Gordon Hayward who hasn’t led the Jazz to the playoffs, I believe is disrespectful. It is absolutely disrespectful and I believe Jae Crowder should feel some type of way, especially since Hayward plays the same position as him. If this was something like the Philadelphia 76ers, devoid of talent, then I would understand the fans trying to do a little early recruiting. But since the Celtics are ready to win to a certain degree then I believe what the fans did there was a bit out of line.

Jabari: I can actually see both sides on this one. For one, I do understand Crowder’s disappointment. It has to be tough to hear the crowd (essentially) openly recruit someone to replace you. Ultimately, paraphrasing a great 21st-century philosopher named Omar Little (The Wire), these players know “it’s all in the game” when it comes to these situations. Hopefully, as appeared to be the case the other night, Crowder can simply use these slights as motivation to play his best basketball. If he continues to play at a high level, whether in Boston or somewhere else, someone will appreciate what he can bring to the table moving forward. Word to Andrew Bynum and his bank in every city. That’s all for this week, folks.

We continue to appreciate all of your feedback and topic ideas. Feel free to shoot them our way via Twitter (@JabariDavisNBA and @LangGreene) or right below in the comments section!

Jabari Davis is a senior NBA Writer and Columnist for Basketball Insiders, covering the Pacific Division and NBA Social Media activity.

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NBA DAILY: Victor Oladipo Gets His Opportunity With The Pacers

The NBA is an opportunity league and Victor Oladipo has found the right mix of role and surrounding talent to break out with the Indiana Pacers.

Buddy Grizzard

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It’s a cliche because it’s true: The NBA is an opportunity league. And nobody personifies that statement like the Indiana Pacers’ Victor Oladipo, who languished in a rebuilding situation in Orlando before languishing in Russell Westbrook’s shadow for a season in Oklahoma City.

It can now be said without controversy that the Magic’s trade of Oladipo, a potential All-Star, 378-game starter Ersan Ilyasova and former first-round pick Domantas Sabonis for a 56-game rental of Serge Ibaka was one of the worst trades in recent NBA history. After the Pacers lost by a point at home Monday to the Celtics, the East’s best team, Boston coach Brad Stevens gushed about Oladipo’s complete offensive package.

“He’s so good,” said Stevens. “We didn’t do a great job on him. I thought we went under too much. But he’s a hard guy to guard because he gets going downhill. He’s playing at an unbelievable level.”

How did the Magic fail to see what it had? Oladipo came out of college with a reputation as a two-way wing, one of the NBA’s most valuable commodities. His three-point shooting in his first three seasons hovered just below league average, which showed potential. But during his time with the Magic, Oladipo played out of position at point guard at times and was paired with Elfrid Payton, who struggled terribly as a long-range shooter in his first three seasons.

Payton’s inability to stretch the floor allowed opposing teams to sag in the lane to cut off driving lanes Oladipo has since been able to exploit. And that’s how Oladipo’s opportunity came to fruition. In Orlando, the Magic organization failed to surround him with complementary talent to help him reach his potential. In OKC, Oladipo was an afterthought behind Westbrook. In Indy, Oladipo has the right mix around him for his complete package of talents to shine through. As he stated recently, confidence was never the problem.

“My confidence is always the same,” said Oladipo after scoring 26 in a win Sunday in Brooklyn. “No matter what is going on — lose, win — my confidence is always high. It doesn’t waver. I stay even-keeled the entire time.”

Confidence hasn’t been an issue and the mix of talent on the Pacers’ roster has allowed Oladipo to emerge as a focal point. His steadying influence has been observed and appreciated by his teammates.

“I think he’s playing amazing,” said shooting guard Lance Stephenson. “He’s living up to the high expectations. He’s here early at practice, being a leader and showing it on and off the court. He’s playing awesome and I feel like, when I’m on the court with him, we’ve got great chemistry.”

There was no guarantee that chemistry with Stephenson would emerge since Oladipo plays the same position. The Magic made a valuable addition in Evan Fournier during Oladipo’s time in Orlando. But Oladipo’s struggle to convert to point guard — the NBA’s toughest position — limited his effectiveness while sharing the court with Fournier. Opportunity is everything, and the Pacers — by sheer luck or underrated genius — were able to bring Oladipo into the exact right dynamic for a breakout season.

One player who has been able to observe Oladipo’s progression over the last two seasons is Sabonis, who accompanied Oladipo to Indianapolis in the trade that sent franchise centerpiece Paul George to the Thunder.

“I think this year his confidence is on another level,” said Sabonis. “He’s shooting the ball great. He’s making the right decision, passing, rebounding. He’s doing a bit of everything — steals, blocks — so that’s just helping us in a major way.”

The signs were there if you know what to look for. The NBA’s elite wings are hyper-athletic, able to get stops and make opponents work on the defensive end, and have versatile games on the offensive end. Because Oladipo was asked to play out of position early in his career and was surrounded by talent that was either redundant or not complimentary, his true potential remained hidden.

In Oklahoma City, Oladipo’s pairing with Westbrook produced the most efficient offensive season of his career. With Westbrook as the primary ball handler, Oladipo shot career-bests of 36 percent from three and 44 percent from the floor. But now, with an expanded role in Indy and surrounded by complimentary pieces, Oladipo has been ridiculous. He’s currently shooting nearly 43 percent from three and over 48 percent from the floor. His field goal shooting is four percent higher than any previous season.

Despite his current success, Oladipo doesn’t disparage opportunities he had with previous teams and recognizes that he needed to grow to get to where he is now.

“My first couple of years was a little roller coaster but everything happens for a reason,” Oladipo told NBA TV after his career-high 47 points in an overtime win over the Nuggets. “I learned a lot in Orlando and I learned a lot in OKC that I’m applying to my game even now.”

But there’s no question that the Pacers presented the right mix of role, surrounding talent and budding chemistry to make his breakout possible.

“I think the chemistry right now is unbelievable,” said Oladipo. “We have great men and great personalities and people who genuinely care about each other. And when you have a group of guys who do that, the chemistry kind of comes pretty fast. We’ve only been together for three, four, five months, if that. I feel like our chemistry is growing every day.”

The Pacers are currently fifth in the East, and within range of home court advantage despite a youthful roster and the loss of franchise cornerstone George. Surrounded by the right personalities and talent, Olidipo has become a textbook example of how opportunity is everything in the NBA.

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NBA DAILY: Hield a Bright Spot in Tough Season for Kings

Buddy Hield has been a bright spot in a tough season so far for the Sacramento Kings, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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The Sacramento Kings have made a number of moves going back to last season. The franchise sought to continue a rebuild following last season’s trade of disgruntled franchise cornerstone, DeMarcus Cousins. This past offseason the franchise chose to spend much of its available cap space to bring in new players. The decision was made to bring in capable veterans and supplement a talented but young team that is not quite ready to compete at a top level.

To effectuate the above plan, the Kings signed George Hill, Zach Randolph and Vince Carter to contracts of varying length (three, two and one year, respectively). These vertans joined a young core featuring De’Aaron Fox, Willie Cauley-Stein, Bogdan Boganovic and Buddy Hield, among others. The goal was to have the veterans help guide the younger players, show them how to be true professionals and win more games than the youngsters could on their own.

Unfortunately, the plan hasn’t worked out so far as the team is falling out of contention quickly. The team hasn’t given up as they’re 4-6 in their last 10 games, but they have much better odds of winning the lottery than they do of making the playoffs at this point.

Despite the disappointing record, one bright spot this season has been the continuing development of Hield. At the time of the trade, both the Kings general manager Vlade Divac and owner Vivek Ranadive made it clear they thought highly of Hield.

“He’s [a] talented guy,” Divac said. “His work ethic is exactly what we want here.”

Around the same time, Ranadive reportedly said that he believes Hield has “Steph Curry potential.”

It’s not fair to compare Hield to a player of Curry’s caliber (a champion, MVP and probably the greatest three-point shooter of all time and a future hall of famer). However, Curry’s teammate, shooting guard Klay Thompson, who has played directly against Hield and also comes from a Bahamian background, spoke highly of Hield.

“He’s the next great,” Thompson said of Hield after an early season game. “I’m really proud of Buddy. People don’t realize he has a whole country [The Bahamas] watching. That’s a lot of responsibility and he’s not going to disappoint because he works so hard.”

In a recent podcast, Hield confirmed that he works hard on developing his game, which helps generate confidence in himself.

“You willing it and putting yourself in situations to make yourself better. You can go to everybody and ask them for advice. All of that is good but you got to put the work in,” Hield said. “You got to make yourself believe. I got to go out there and make stuff happen. Because if you don’t make stuff happen, nothing is going to happen.”

In spite of Hield’s potential and work ethic, it’s not hard to notice that his statistics don’t jump off the computer screen. His scoring average is actually down to 12.3 points per games after averaging 15.1 points last season. This can be attributed mostly to the fact that he playing roughly seven minutes less per game. Per 36 minutes, his scoring, rebounding, assists are all up from last year. In addition, his three-point and free throw shooting percentages have also improved, although his two-point shooting has dropped. Hield was asked about what he thinks about his statistics recently.

“When it comes to numbers and how I’m playing, I just don’t like to really talk about it. You know I don’t like to be too high or too low or overconfident. I want to keep that same mindset every day,” Hield stated. “Let my work stand for itself.”

The drop in playing time can be explained by the infusion of veterans and competition at the two guard spot from Garrett Temple (who has been starting at shooting guard recently), Fox and Bogdanovic. Hield spoke highly of Bogdanovic.

“He’s been one of the few that really helped me to like expand my game, on how I can get open better,” Hield said.

Now in his second season, Hield has again bounced back and forth between a starting and bench role. This season he has settled into a more consistent bench role after beginning the season as a starter. When asked whether being a starter or a bench player mattered, Hield didn’t mince words.

“It doesn’t matter,” Hield stated.

Hield elaborated on his mindset as a bench player and how to be successful in that role.

“When you come in, just ball. Have the mindset, just ball. And don’t worry whether I’m starting or not,” Hield stated. “Just go out there and do your job, do everything you can do to help your team.”

As a second-year player, Hield made it clear that the way he sees the game has changed and that he has benefited from this.

“[T]hings start to slow down. You start to understand the game more,” Hield stated. “You start to pick and choose where you’re going to score in spots and be a better player in the league.”

Finally, Hield boiled down the keys to being successful.

“You can make sure you can guard and defend. I feel like you’re going to be on the court longer,” Hield stated while adding. “And the ability to score.”

The franchise took a risk by signing multiple veterans to come in and help create a winning environment in Sacramento. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened yet and the team has suffered through far too many blow-out losses. When the team will turn things around is not clear but Hield’s work ethic, attitude and development is a bright spot in a tough season so far for the Kings.

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NBA Daily: Clippers Looking Forward to Teodosic Return

Clippers hanging on and looking forward to Teodosic return, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte

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The Los Angeles Clippers have had a season of twists and turns. While the season is still young, they’ve dealt with setbacks, mostly in the form of a multitude of injures. In fact, the team’s misfortunes began almost immediately. On Oct 21 (the NBA season started earlier this year), Clippers guard Milos Teodosic went down with a plantar fascia injury. This stands as the first bump in the road for the Clippers, who have seen a number of key players go down.

Following the loss of Chris Paul this past offseason, the Clippers appeared to have salvaged their immediate future through a number of offseason transactions. Under the direction of the front office, which includes Lawrence Frank, VP of Basketball Operations, and Jerry West, a Clippers consultant, the Clippers traded Paul, which helped to remake the roster. West spoke of his approval of the Paul trade before the season started.

“The Clippers feel comfortable that we made out really well. We could have lost him for nothing,” West stated of the Paul trade. “I think it was kind of a win myself.”

The Paul trade brought in Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, Sam Dekker and helped to eventually bring in Danilo Gallinari. A big part of the offseason makeover was the acquisition of European star Teodosic. Losing Paul meant that the Clippers were going to be without a highly talented, pass-first point guard for the first time since Paul’s acquisition during the 2011-2012 season.

Part of the strategy called for replacing Paul with both Beverley, who could match Paul’s defensive tenacity, and Teodosic, who could match Paul’s vision and passing. While neither player could match Paul’s overall brilliance (and Paul has been brilliant this season for the Rockets), the team hoped to create a winning environment around these two players.

Unfortunately, Teodosic went down quickly. Then Beverley experienced issues with his knee, culminating with season-ending microfracture surgery on his knee in late November. Combine this with Gallinari missing nearly a month with injuries and Blake Griffin going down for the next few months with an MCL sprain of his left knee recently, and the Clippers have struggled to stay competitive with lineups that have often included only one of the team’s opening day starters (center DeAndre Jordan). The franchise shouldn’t be completely surprised by the rash of injuries, as their offseason plan banked on players with questionable injury histories such as Griffin and Gallinari.

To fill in, the Clippers have also made use of a number of young, inexperienced players (not at all common in the Doc Rivers era), including playing 2017 second round pick, guard Sindarius Thornwell. Thornwell has benefited from the opportunity as is averaging 16.2 minutes a game and has even started in seven games (of 24 played).  Thornwell confirmed the obvious regarding injuries.

“We’ve been playing without a lot of our core guys,” Thornwell stated.

Clippers head coach Doc Rivers also made it clear that injuries have affected the team.

“It’s not just Blake [Griffin]. If it was just Blake, we’d be OK,” Rivers stated recently. “But you miss [Danillo] `Gallo,’ Milos [Teodosic], Patrick Beverley.”

Currently, the team is well below .500 with a 9-15 record, good enough for 11th in the Western Conference. And while the team is ahead of a number of teams destined for the NBA lottery such as the Dallas Mavericks and Sacramento Kings, they aren’t too far removed from the eighth seed, currently held by the Utah Jazz, who are below .500 (13-14 record). It’s not reasonable for a team that has already suffered a nine-game losing streak and is only 4-6 in the last 10 games to expect another playoff berth, and the team has not yet signaled they have given up on the season.

The Clippers have stayed afloat by being extremely reliant on the individual offensive output of guards Austin Rivers and Lou Williams. Give Williams credit, as he has been brilliant recently including a game winning shot against the Washington Wizards on Saturday. Over the last 10 games, he is averaging 23.2 points on 62.7 true shooting percentage and 6.2 assists in 34.5 minutes per game, per nba.com. For reference, Williams has a career true shooting percentage average of 53.3 percent, per basketball-reference.com. However, this doesn’t scream long-term winning formula, nor should it — the team hasn’t recently had reliable offensive output outside of these guards who were originally expected to come off the bench for the Clippers.

Gallinari has since returned and played well in his second game back, an overtime win against the Wizards. Now the team has upgraded Teodosic’s condition to questionable and are hopeful that Teodosic makes his return Monday night against the Raptors.

“He’s ready. He’s close,” Rivers stated, speaking of Teodosic at a recent Clippers practice. “And that will help. In a big way.”

In addition to possibly helping their increasingly remote chances at making the playoffs, the Clippers have other goals. Teodosic is signed to a two-year deal, but the second-year is a player option allowing the European guard to leave after the season. Should Teodosic find that the Clippers are somehow not a good fit or a place where he can find success, he may opt out of the second year. If the team wants to ensure that the 30-year-old guard sees a bright future with the Clippers, they should hope that his return leads to the Clippers playing winning basketball.

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