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Two-Way Contracts Offer New Path to NBA

The CBA’s new two-way contracts have already impacted the way teams are working out prospects, writes Benny Nadeau.

Ben Nadeau

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Every June, 60 prospects are snatched up in the NBA Draft — few are transcendent, some are budding stars and most are just looking to find their way in the sport’s most competitive league. For the rest of pack, those that go undrafted are left with less than conventional methods to reach their ultimate goal. Avenues like Summer League and the soon-to-be-rebranded G-League are often the only way to gain admittance into the NBA, aside from taking a more lucrative deal overseas in hopes of proving their worth on another continent.

However, an addition to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) has introduced another path to join the NBA ranks, and it’s already changed the dynamic of many pre-draft workouts. Two-way contracts will allow a team to essentially carry two more roster spots that won’t count against the salary cap. These players, who must have less than four years of NBA experience, can be swapped between the professional level and the G-League for up to 45 days in a season.

Since the NBA Combine last month, teams have gotten creative with their workouts, bringing in players that will, in all likelihood, go unchosen in next week’s draft. Even back in March, Basketball Insiders’ Steve Kyler noted that teams had already started inquiring about the availability of currently unsigned players for summer league rosters. With the offseason now officially in full swing, it’s never too early to start scouting for the dog days of summer.

For example, the Brooklyn Nets, who haven’t been shy about signing players out of the D-League over the last two seasons (Spencer Dinwiddie, Quincy Acy, Archie Goodwin and Sean Kilpatrick, among others), own just one second round pick in this year’s draft (No. 57), but that hasn’t stopped them from working out any and all intriguing prospects.

As our own Michael Scotto and Cody Taylor have reported, the Nets have brought in a slew of candidates for workouts, including Iowa’s Peter Jok, a 23-year-old sharpshooter that hasn’t shown up on either of the major mock draft boards as of late. While the Nets may not opt to use an important second rounder on a wildcard like Jok, having the ability to secure his potential on a two-way contract could be a game-changer. Of course, these deals are to incentivize young players to hone their skills in America rather than overseas by way of increased wages, but it will undoubtedly benefit the NBA franchises as well.

The Washington Wizards currently hold just the No. 52 selection in the NBA Draft, but they’ve been extremely busy with workouts in that late second round and undrafted range as well. Candace Buckner of The Washington Post summed the situation up succinctly in a column last week:

“Instead, the Wizards have attracted many players who will likely become free agents after June 22. Of the 18 players who participated in three known workouts, only two are projected in the top 60 by the leading website draftexpress.com. For every Frank Mason III (Kansas) and Tyler Dorsey (Oregon), there has been a parade of little-known names such as Justin Robinson (Monmouth) and Daniel Dixon (William & Mary).”

For a team that’s already way over the salary cap before matching any restricted free agent offer sheets for Otto Porter Jr. and Bojan Bogdanovic, these two-way contracts will allow Washington to mold a flier without taking up a valuable roster spot. But it doesn’t end with just the Wizards and Nets either. Day after day, it seems as if a new list of intriguing workouts is revealed — whatever your team needs, this draft may just have it.

There are four-year seniors like Villanova’s Kris Jenkins, Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig and Gonzaga’s Przemek Karnowski, all looking for an opportunity with their mature, seasoned savviness. There are those that have fallen from grace in recent years like Maryland’s Melo Trimble, or mid-major prospects like Southeast Missouri State’s Antonius Cleveland and Kent State’s Jimmy Hall — the running list goes on and on. Whether they’re working out for the Nets, who need all the help they can get, or a playoff-ready franchise like the Los Angeles Clippers, it makes no major difference. In today’s evolving NBA landscape, taking advantage of every opportunity to scout a potential piece isn’t just a privilege, now it’s a necessity.

The road to the NBA after going undrafted is difficult, but it’s not impossible. Jeremy Lin, now the Nets’ starting point guard, went undrafted in 2010 after an outstanding career at Harvard. Following a solid performance that summer — which included a thrilling head-to-head battle with the No. 1 overall pick, John Wall — Lin accepted an offer to join the Golden State Warriors. Of course, Lin averaged just 9.8 minutes in 29 games in 2010-11 and was waived before the next season began in December, but that set the stage for Linsanity, his unforgettable red-hot streak with the New York Knicks that would guarantee him a paycheck for years to come.

Franchises have always looked to unearth future options late in the draft, but roster sizes and other roadblocks haven’t allowed for experimentation with unchosen prospects very often. Even with the 10-day contract, which gives NBA teams the ability to test drive a D-League player for up to 20 days before signing him permanently, it’s still been tough for undrafted players to break through and stick around.

Just ask Yogi Ferrell, who was waived twice by the Nets before landing a multi-year deal with the Dallas Mavericks in February. While Ferrell will have no qualms about his landing spot in Dallas — the Indiana senior went undrafted in 2016 — the Nets could’ve easily held onto to the speedy point guard if the two-way contracts existed last winter. At the time, the Nets were struggling after long-term injuries to both Greivis Vasquez and the aforementioned Lin, but general manager Sean Marks had to act after his first 10-day deal was up.

As both our Eric Pincus and Larry Coon have pointed out, it’s hard to believe Ferrell would be anywhere but Brooklyn if the changes to the CBA came a little earlier.

While only a sampling of the NCAA’s best players will be selected on June 22, a slew of two-way contracts should quickly follow. Whether these fringe second round selections impress during their group workouts or shine brightly in a forthcoming summer league, it presents a favorable situation for every type of team. Underperforming franchises will get two more rolls of the dice in their never-ending pursuit of the rebuild, while overachieving franchises won’t have to sacrifice a potential future piece in the name of a veteran contributor while in win-now mode.

Of course, getting signed to a two-way contract is far from a guarantee of success in the NBA, but this will open the door for an extra slate of jobs right out of the gate this summer. These contracts will give franchises across the league the opportunity to grow an NBA-worthy rotation player without the worry of another team snatching them away. As the pre-draft workouts have already shown, franchises will leave no stone unturned as they search to fill these new roster spots.

Often times, athletes, particularly those that go undrafted, just need to find the right spot and, most importantly, somebody that believes in their skillset. With the extra roster spots, improved wages and the ability to be as patient as needed with a raw prospect, the two-way contracts have already proven to be a win-win for all parties involved.

Ben Nadeau is a Boston-based writer in his first year with Basketball Insiders. For the last five seasons, he covered the Brooklyn Nets for The Brooklyn Game.

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NBA

Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 11/17/17

Spencer Davies updates the list of names to keep an eye on and who’s in contention for DPOY.

Spencer Davies

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We’re exactly one month into the season now, as the NBA standings have started to take shape headed into winter.

A couple of weeks ago, Basketball Insiders released its first Defensive Player of the Year Watch article to go in-depth on players that could compete for the prestigious award. Since then, there have been injuries keeping most of the household names out of the picture.

Guys like Rudy Gobert (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (ankle) have been or will be sidelined for weeks. Kawhi Leonard has yet to make his season debut recovering from a bothersome right quad.

While that isn’t the best news for fans and the league at the moment, it’s likely that those players will be just fine and return with the same impact they’ve always made. In the meantime, there are opportunities for others to throw their names in the hat as elite defenders. With new names and mainstays, here’s a look at six healthy candidates.

6) Joel Embiid

Trusting the Process in Philadelphia was worth the wait. As polished as the seven-footer is with the ball in his hands on offense, he might be even more dangerous as an interior defensive presence.

One of ten players in the NBA averaging at least a block and a steal per game, Embiid makes a world of a difference for in limiting opponents. Through 14 games, the Philadelphia 76ers are allowing just 96.4 points per 100 possessions with him playing. Furthering that, he’s the only one on the floor who dips the team’s defensive rating below 100 and has the second-highest Defensive Real Plus-Minus rating (3.03) in the NBA.

5) Kristaps Porzingis

Like Embiid, it’s been an incredible season for the one called The Unicorn. Before the season started, Porzingis stated it was a goal of his to accomplish three things—an All-Star game appearance, Most Improved Player, and Defensive Player of the Year.

So far, he’s on the right track. Outside of being the league’s third-highest scorer (28.9 points per game), the Latvian big man is hounding and deterring shot attempts nearly every time inside. According to SportVU data, Porzingis is allowing his opponents to only convert 35.1 percent of their attempts at the rim, which is the lowest by far among his peers seeing at least four tries per game. Oh, and when he’s off the floor, the Knicks have a 112.4 defensive rating, which is 9.3 more points per 100 possessions than with him on.

4) Nikola Jokic

At the beginning of the season, it looked like the same old story with the Denver Nuggets defense, but their intensity has stepped up on that end of the floor for the past couple of weeks. Playing next to new running mate Paul Millsap has taken some getting used to, but it seems like the two frontcourt partners have started to mesh well.

Though it might not have been the case a season ago, the Denver Nuggets are a net -12.4 per 100 possessions defensively without Jokic on the court as opposed to a team-best 100.1 defensive rating with him on. A huge knock on the Serbian sensation last year and before then was his inability to defend. He’s still got things to work on as a rim protector with his timing, but the progress is coming. He’s seventh in the league in total contested shots (168) and has been forcing turnovers like a madman. Averaging 1.6 steals per game, Jokic has recorded at least one takeaway in all but two games.

3) Draymond Green

In the first DPOY watch article, the Golden State Warriors had been better off defensively with Green sitting. That right there should tell you how much we can really put into data in small sample sizes. It’s changed dramatically since that point in time.

Without Green playing, the Golden State Warriors have a defensive rating of 105.4 as opposed to 98.4 on the same scale with him on the floor. His matchups are starting to grow weary of driving on him again, as he’s seen less than four attempts at the basket. Currently, in DRPM, he ranks eighth with a 2.60 rating.

2) Al Horford

The Boston Celtics are still the number one team in the NBA in defensive rating. Horford is still the straw that stirs the drink for Brad Stevens. If you didn’t see that watching that knockdown, drag-it-out game against the Warriors on Thursday, go back and watch it.

He has the highest net rating on the team among starters and is leading the team by altering shots and grabbing rebounds with aggressiveness we haven’t seen since he played for the Atlanta Hawks. Ranking fourth in Defensive Box Plus-Minus and in DRPM, Horford is continuing to make his presence felt.

1) DeMarcus Cousins

Dominance is the word to describe Cousins’ game. With a month-long absence of Gobert, he has a real chance to show fans and voters that his defensive side of him is no façade.

Next to his partner Anthony Davis, Boogie has kept up the physicality and technique of locking up assignments. The third and final member of this list averaging at least a block and steal per game, Cousins is at the top of the mountain in DRPM with a 3.13 rating.

The New Orleans Pelicans significantly benefit with him on the hardwood (102.3 DRTG) as opposed to him on the bench (112.7 DTRG). He’s one of six players in the league seeing more than six attempts at the rim, and he’s allowed the lowest success percentage among that group. He’s also contested 193 shots, which is the second-most in the NBA.

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Gregg Popovich Continues To Be The Gold Standard For Leadership

There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and Gregg Popovich.

Moke Hamilton

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There are three guarantees in life: death, taxes and the San Antonio Spurs.

Okay, let’s be honest, it’s probably not the first time that you’ve heard that one, but it also won’t be the last.

Behind the genius of Gregg Popovich, the Spurs have qualified for the NBA Playoffs 20 consecutive years. In hindsight, they appear to have been the only team to legitimately frighten the Golden State Warriors during their 16-1 playoff run last year, and this season, well, they’ve been the same old Spurs.

That’s been especially amazing considering the fact that the team has been without Kawhi Leonard. Although Popovich recently said that Leonard would return “sooner rather than later,” he himself admitted to not being certain as to what that meant.

Best guess from here is that Leonard will return within the next few weeks, but at this point, it’s entirely fair to wonder whether or not it even matters.

Of course, the Spurs don’t stand much of a chance to win the Western Conference without Leonard thriving at or near 100 percent, but even without him, the Spurs look every bit like a playoff team, and in the Western Conference, that’s fairly remarkable.

“A team just has to play in a sense like he doesn’t exist,” Popovich was quoted as saying by Tom Osborn of the San Antonio Express-News.

“Nobody cares if you lost a good player, right? Everybody wants to whip you. So it doesn’t do much good to do the poor me thing or to keep wondering when he is going to be back or what are we going to do. We have to play now, and other people have to take up those minutes and we have to figure out who to go to when in a different way, and you just move on.”

In a nutshell, that’s Popovich.

What most people don’t understand about Popovich is what makes him a truly great coach is his humility. He is never afraid to second-guess himself and reconsider the way that he’s accustomed to doing things. Since he’s been the head coach of the Spurs, he’s built and rebuilt offenses around not only different players, but also different philosophies.

From the inside-out attack that was his bread and butter with David Robinson and Tim Duncan to the motion and movement system that he built around Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, the latest incarnation of Popovich’s genius isn’t only the fact that he has survived without Kawhi Leonard, it’s what could fairly be considered the major catalyst of it.

There are many head coaches around the league that take their roles as authority figures quite seriously, and that’s why a fair number would have been threatened by one of their star players requesting that things be rebuilt in a way to maximize his potential.

So when LaMarcus Aldridge proactively sat down with his coach to discuss the ways that he felt he was being misused in the team’s schemes, it wouldn’t have come as a shock for Popovich to meet him with resistance.

Instead, he did the opposite.

“We have talked about what we can do to make him more comfortable, and to make our team better,” Popovich acknowledged during Spurs training camp.

“But having said that, I think we are mostly talking about offense. Defense, he was fantastic for us. Now, we have got to help him a little bit more so that he is comfortable in his own space offensively, and I haven’t done a very good job of that.”

Just 11 days after those comments were printed, the Spurs announced that they had signed Aldridge to a three-year, $72 million extension.

Considering that Aldridge’s first two years as a member of the Spurs yielded some poor efforts and relatively low output, the extension seemed curious and was met with ridicule.

Yet, one month later and 15 games into the season, the Spurs sit at 9-6. They’ve survived the absence of Kawhi Leonard and the loss of Jonathon Simmons.

Behind an offensive system tweaked to take advantage of his gifts, in the early goings, Aldridge is averaging 22 points per game, a far cry above the 17.7 points per game he averaged during his first two years in San Antonio.

Coincidence?

I think not.

Death, taxes and the Spurs.

So long as Gregg Popovich is at the helm, exhibiting strong leadership while remaining amazingly humble, the Spurs will be the Spurs.

Sure, Kawhi Leonard will be back—at some point.

But until then, the Spurs will be just fine.

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NBA AM: Atlanta’s Dewayne Dedmon Is Letting Shots — And Jokes — Fly

Dewayne Dedmon’s emergence has been an unexpected positive for the rebuilding Atlanta Hawks.

Buddy Grizzard

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It’s been a brutal season for the Atlanta Hawks, they’re just already 3-12 with the worst record in the Eastern Conference.

Wednesday’s franchise-record 46-point win over the visiting Sacramento Kings was a rare chance for Atlanta to have a laugh in the postgame locker room and reflect on things that have gone well, including hot shooting for the team and a potential breakout season for center Dewayne Dedmon.

The Hawks trail only the Golden State Warriors in three-point shooting at just over 40 percent. Prior to joining the Hawks, Dedmon had attempted only one three-pointer in 224 career games. As a Hawk, though, Dedmon is shooting 42 percent on 19 attempts. Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer explained after Wednesday’s game how his staff decided to encourage Dedmon to extend his range.

“You do your research and you talk to friends around the league, you talk to people who have worked with him and you watch him during warmups,” said Budenholzer. “We had a belief, an idea, that he could shoot, he could make shots. We’re kind of always pushing that envelope with the three-point line. He’s embraced it.”

Dedmon is currently averaging career-highs in points, rebounds, blocks and minutes, and set season-highs in points (20), rebounds (14) and assists (five) against the Kings. He’s also brought an offbeat sense of humor that has helped keep the locker room loose despite the struggles. It became apparent early on that Dedmon was a different type of dude.

At Media Day, when nobody approached Dedmon’s table and reporters instead flocked to interview rookie John Collins at the next table, Dedmon joined the scrum, holding his phone out as if to capture a few quotes.

“This guy’s going to be a character,” said a passing Hawks staffer.

Those words proved prophetic, as Coach Bud confirmed after Wednesday’s win.

“He brings a lot of personality to our team, really from almost the day he got here,” said Budenholzer. “I think he’s getting more and more comfortable and can help the young guys and help everybody.”

Dedmon took an unconventional path to the NBA. Growing up, his mother — a Jehovah’s Witness — forbade him to play organized sports. Once he turned 18, Dedmon began making his own decisions. He walked on to the team at Antelope Valley College, a two-year school in Lancaster, Ca., before transferring to USC and eventually making it to the league.

His personality, which formed while Dedmon forged his own path, shone through in the locker room after the Sacramento win. Asked about conversations he’s had with Budenholzer about shot selection, Dedmon turned to teammate Kent Bazemore at the adjacent locker.

“What’s the phrase, Baze? LTMF?”

“Yep,” Bazemore replied.

“Yeah, LTMF,” Dedmon continued. “Let it fly. So he told me to shoot … let it go. I’m not going to say what the M means.”

Amidst laughter from the assembled media, he explained that ‘LTMF’ is Budenholzer’s philosophy for the whole team, not just part of an effort to expand Dedmon’s game.

“Everybody has the same freedom,” said Dedmon. “So it definitely gives everybody confidence to shoot their shots when they’re open and just play basketball.”

With the injury bug thus far robbing Atlanta of its stated ambition to overachieve this season, Dedmon’s career year and team success from three-point range are two big positives.

Rebuilding or retooling can be a painful process. But with a unique personality like Dedmon helping keep things light in the locker room, Atlanta should make it through.

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