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Willie Reed May Be a Free Agency Steal

Willie Reed discusses his year with the Nets, unrestricted free agency, growth as a player and more.

Alex Kennedy



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The NBA’s free agency period gets underway tonight after midnight, and Willie Reed is free to sign wherever he wants. The Brooklyn Nets decided not to extend a qualifying offer to the 26-year-old big man, making him an unrestricted free agent who should have no shortage of options.

This past season in Brooklyn, Reed averaged 4.7 points, 3.1 rebounds and .8 blocks in 39 games while shooting an efficient 57.1 percent from the field. These numbers may not jump off of the page, but that’s because Reed was playing just 10.9 minutes per game. His per-100-possession numbers were terrific: 21.5 points, 14.4 rebounds and 3.5 blocks. It wasn’t uncommon to see Reed score in double figures with a handful of rebounds and blocks despite playing just a few minutes.

But the team’s stats show that Reed made the most of his time on the court, as he was one of the Nets’ most productive players when given minutes. He led all Brooklyn players in net rating (+8), offensive rating (116), true shooting percentage (57.9 percent), field goal percentage (57.1 percent), block percentage (5.7 percent) and win shares per 48 minutes (.134). He finished second on the team in PER (19.2), total rebound percentage (16.1 percent) and offensive rebound percentage (12.7 percent).

Reed earned just $947,276 this past season, which was a huge raise from his days in the D-League when he struggled to support his family. Now, after putting some positive game film together and showing what he can do when given an opportunity to play, Reed should be in for another nice pay day (especially with the salary cap spiking to $94 million). It’s clear that he still has untapped potential and he could elevate his game if put in the right situation with some guidance.

While there’s certainly a small sample size here, it’s worth noting that Reed has shined every time he has been given an opportunity. In March, when his minutes with the Nets increased to 15.9 per game, he averaged 7.3 points, five rebounds and 1.6 blocks while shooting 55.6 percent from the field. In his two starts for Brooklyn this season (against Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns, respectively), he averaged 13.5 points, seven rebounds, three blocks and 1.5 assists.

And remember, it was Reed’s outings in the D-League and Summer League that led to his opportunity with the Nets. Prior to signing with Brooklyn, Reed averaged 16.4 points, 12.1 rebounds and 1.9 blocks (while shooting 60.3 percent from the field) in the D-League during the 2014-15 campaign. Then, one year ago, he contributed 13.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game (while shooting 60 percent from the field) on the Miami HEAT’s Summer League team. These performances turned heads, particularly in Brooklyn, and Reed showed he has the potential to be a two-way contributor.

“Willie is solid, long, athletic and he’s always going to play hard no matter what,” Portland Trail Blazers big man Ed Davis told Basketball Insiders about Reed. “Once he gets his opportunity, people will see.”

“Willie is a really good dude,” Nets point guard Shane Larkin said about his teammate. “He’s family oriented and has worked very hard to get to where he is now. Obviously we didn’t have the best season and it could have been easy for anybody on the team to pack it up, but Willie was constantly working at the gym early and even after practice. He was always getting good work in. But I think the best thing about Willie that I can remember is him as a teammate. He is always supporting the team. Whenever anybody makes a play – whether it is a steal, a charge, a three or a dunk – he is the first person to stand up and wave his towel in the air or do his signature three-point celebration. And on the court, he is huge competitor and a very confident guy. He has great timing on help-side defense and he works very hard on the offensive glass. I’m happy he got his chance in the league this year and hopefully he can find himself on another roster come next season.”

A number of teams have already started showing some level of interest in Reed, especially now that they know he’s unrestricted as opposed to restricted. He has put enough on film to intrigue executives around the NBA, and now it just remains to be seen which team signs him for the 2016-17 season.

Basketball Insiders recently caught up with Reed to discuss his continued development as a player, his stint with the Nets, what he can bring to an NBA team, how he’s approaching unrestricted free agency and more.

What did you learn throughout this past season with the Brooklyn Nets? This was your longest stint with one NBA team, so what were some of the takeaways?

Willie Reed: “The biggest thing that I learned was that I belong in the NBA. That was the question that I had for myself before I actually played a game or [wondered] the reason why I wasn’t there before. I learned that I belonged. I learned that I could play at a high level and I could contribute. I think that was the biggest thing for me; it was a confidence builder.”

For people who may not know much about your game, what are your biggest strengths? What do you bring to an NBA team?

Reed: “I think my biggest strength is my energy. I always play with a high energy. Other than that, I think the defensive end is where I’m at my best, especially at this point of my career and when it comes to protecting the rim. I think rim protection is my biggest thing. I averaged almost a block a game in only 10 minutes. I was able to be efficient blocking shots while also staying out of foul trouble. Changing shots, blocking shots and getting steals… I think defense is my strong suit. And I’ll always fight for offensive rebounds too. That’s where I am right now.”

How nice is it to see other defensive, high-energy big men like Toronto’s Bismack Biyombo and Miami’s Hassan Whiteside excel? Do you think their success helps you?

Reed: “Definitely, it just shows that if you’re put in the right position, you can succeed. Obviously, Bismack Biyombo was huge during the playoffs after Jonas Valanciunas went down. Then you have a guy like Tristan Thompson, who was excellent in the Finals with his rebounding and guarding everyone. He even did a great job guarding Steph Curry at times. Being versatile, being a really good defender and being a strong rebounder are important. I think that I could help a team – any team – who is looking for that guy who is a high-energy player off of the bench.”

You mention versatility. That has become so important in today’s NBA. How many positions can you guard and what separates you from others at your position?

Reed: “I think I’m a guy who can guard positions three through five. I think I’m a guy who can contain a guy or at least follow the scouting report enough to be able to see what teams need defensively and be efficient at it. I think that’s my big thing. Coming up, I always played for coaches in college and high school who were very defensive-minded, which helped me translate my defense to the NBA. I think focusing on that allowed me to be successful on the defensive end. Now, I can hedge out on pick-and-rolls, I can switch, if the guy is a shooter then I can make them drive, things like that. I will know the scouting report and that only helps my defense.”

How much have you matured and grown as a person in recent years?

Reed: “I think that I’ve grown tremendously. I think that’s due to my family and my maturity. My family allows me to go put in that extra work. Right now, we’re in California. I’ve been here working out and they make sure I stay focused. They know that I’m in the gym three times a day and they know there are going to be times where they don’t get to leave the house, but they sacrifice that and come here and be with me just so that I’m comfortable while I’m training and see a familiar face and be happy. They understand the reason I’m doing this for.”

Like you said, you’ve been working out several times a day in California. You also trained in Cleveland prior to that. What aspects of your game are you focused on improving?

Reed: “Out here, I’m working on the offensive part of my game: post moves, reading the defense, catching the ball off of the pick-and-roll and being able to avoid traffic. I think that’s the biggest thing for me. Obviously, I excelled on the defensive end, but understanding that now it’s a faster-paced game in the NBA than in the D-League, I have to figure it out offensively and be able to grasp that. I’m excited about the transformation and I just can’t wait for what this next season brings.”

How much untapped potential do you feel like you have?

Reed: “I think I still have a lot of room to grow. Obviously, being in the D-League, I got better every single year. I think I took that next step and being in the NBA this past season, I think I took a huge a step. I went from being a guy who was injured at the beginning of the season and wasn’t really playing much to being a rotational guy. I think that me proving that I belong just shows that I’m making improvements and I think I could even take my game to another level. That’s why I’m here in Los Angeles, trying to figure out what that next level is.”

You had the chance to play against some dominant big men this year. Who did you learn the most from matching up against?

Reed: “When I got the opportunity to match up against DeAndre Jordan, I think that was big for me, especially being the type of player he is. That’s who I kind of want to model my game after as far as defensively and controlling the paint and offensive rebounding. I think that’s the key. I also want to add offense to my game and I think playing against Karl-Anthony Towns and Chris Bosh helped me. I think they allowed me to see offensively what it is that I need to go to and work on. Obviously, my game isn’t going to be what their game is, but I think that if I can contribute by catching and avoiding the defense, making the extra pass and finishing in the post, I think that makes me a lot more valuable.”

What’s your approach to free agency? Some guys love it, some guys hate it. How do you feel entering this process?

Reed: “I’m definitely just trying to make sure that I continue to work hard. It is something that I think about a lot, and I just want to make sure that I’m in the right position to be able to succeed. I understand that free agency is going to take time. It’s going to be a process. I’m going to do my part by continuing to get better every single day and give myself the best chance to be successful once I do find out what team I’ll be on.”

What factors will you consider as you look for your next team? Is there a specific thing you’re looking for as you talk to teams?

Reed: “I think the biggest thing is trying to get on an up-and-down, faster-pace team. I think that I really excel in that. I’ve done well in that kind of system, especially in Summer League last year when I played on a fast-paced Miami team and I was able to succeed. I think the biggest thing for me is getting in a position like that, where the point guard pushes the basketball and we play at a fast pace. I really feed off of that, turning defense into offense. I think that’s a big thing for me. I’m not really worried about the destination. I just want to make sure it fits me and gives me the best opportunity to succeed. I think that if I can do that, then I can really push and make a name for myself here in the league.”

Basketball Insiders’ Cody Taylor contributed to this article.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.


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NBA AM: Calderón’s Late NBA Start

Jose Calderón might be the only player in the league who didn’t grow up dreaming of playing in the NBA.

Joel Brigham



There are a lot of different ways to get to the NBA, but most of them involve lifelong scouting and an unceasing dream to play in the world’s premier basketball league.

Cleveland Cavaliers guard José Calderón didn’t really have either of those things.

“I never even thought of the NBA when I was a kid,” Calderón told Basketball Insiders. “I grew up in a small town in Spain, and I played basketball because my dad played and I loved it. I was having fun, always playing with the older guys because I was good at that age, but I never really even thought about playing any sort of professional basketball.”

Having grown up in Villanueva de la Serena, Spain, Calderón watched his father play for Doncel La Serena, which was his hometown team as a child. He was something of a prodigy, having attended practices and games with his father from a young age, and as burgeoning teenager he left home to play professionally for the lower-level Vitoria-Gasteiz team.

“They wanted to sign me at 13 years old, and we didn’t even know that they could sign people that young,” Calderón remembers. “So I did that, and I tried to get better. I tried to advance into the older clubs, but I never really did think about the NBA at all, honestly.”

That changed as he got older, though, especially after Spain finished 5th in the 2002 FIBA World Championship and Calderón started to get some stateside recognition.

“After that summer, [my agent and I] got a call from Milwaukee asking about my situation, and asked would I think about coming to play over here. It was sort of a let’s-see-what-happens sort of situation, but I couldn’t at that time because I was under contract. That was the first time I was really approached.”

As his teammates from the Spanish National Team made their way to the NBA, Calderón grew increasingly intrigued.

“Pau Gasol obviously opened a lot of doors for us,” he said. “Raul Lopez came, too. I was just playing basketball, though. I didn’t know anything about scouts. Later, when we started to get the calls from Toronto, I started to realize how possible it really was. That’s when I thought, ‘Hey, why not?’”

Despite being eligible for a few drafts in a row, Calderón never did get drafted, which was fine by him. Growing up the way he did, Calderón never had any dreams of his hearing his name called by Commissioner Stern, so playing his way through most of his deal with TAU Vitoria was no big deal for him. He could take or leave the NBA.

“Not getting drafted was the perfect situation for me,” he said. “In my satiation, coming from Europe, I was already playing professionally for a good team and making some good money. That was perfect for me at the time, and I was happy to be a free agent at 23, choosing where I was going to sign instead of going in the second round and having to play for one team.”

He signed with the Raptors in 2005 since they were the most aggressive in recruiting him to the NBA. As a 23-year-old rookie, he wasn’t overwhelmed physically the way a lot of rookies are, but he did find his new league challenging in other ways.

“The hardest part was just having to start over,” he said. “You start over from zero. It doesn’t matter if the other players know you or don’t, you have to prove yourself all over again. You could be the MVP of Europe, but to get respect in the NBA you have to gain it on the court.”

The talent differential was immediately noticeable, as well.

“There are so many guys out there that are better than you. It’s not just like a guy or two; there are six, seven guys on the floor any given time that are better than you.”

That meant making some changes in the way that Calderón played. He was asked to do a lot more offensively for his EuroLeague team. Playing with so many talented scorers completely changed his approach.

“I went from taking 20 shots a game to doing something else, and as a point guard in the NBA I had to approach that point guard role even more, to make those guys respect my game, to make them want to play with me. I had to be able to pass the ball, to do something different from all the other players, so I became a fast-first point guard to make sure we always played as a team. That’s how I get to where I am as a professional.”

Now 36 years old, Calderón is one of the league’s oldest players, making it easy for him to look back at where he came from to transform into the player he is today.

“I’ve grown so much, but I was lucky to be given the opportunity,” he said. “When you arrive from Europe, whether you’re good or bad, it doesn’t always matter if you don’t have the opportunity. Toronto gave me the opportunity to play 20 minutes a night, and that’s a lot. I made a lot of mistakes, but they let me play through those mistakes. All those little things added up for me, and I learned a lot.”

He owns two silver medals and a bronze in the three Olympics he’s participated in over the course of his career, as well as gold medals in FIBA World Cup and EuroBasket, but he’s never won an NBA championship. Joining up with LeBron James improves those odds, but that’s the thing that would really put an exclamation point on an excellent career.

Calderón could have stayed in Spain and been fine. He jokes that while the NBA has been very good to him, he and his family could have stayed in Europe and he could have made good money playing basketball there. He’s been happy with his career, though, however unorthodox his journey here, and he hopes his most prestigious accolades are yet to come.

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Emeka Okafor Impacting 2018 Western Conference Playoff Race

Sidelined for several years with a neck injury, Emeka Okafor is back in the NBA and helping the Pelicans fight for a playoff seed.

Jesse Blancarte



When DeMarcus Cousins ruptured his Achilles tendon, most people in and around the league assumed the New Orleans Pelicans would eventually fall out of the Western Conference Playoff race. It was a fair assumption. In 48 games this season, Cousins averaged 25.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.6 blocks while shooting 47 percent from the field and 35.4 percent from beyond the arc.

Anthony Davis and the Pelicans had other plans. Davis put the team on his shoulders, played at an elite level and, arguably, has forced his way into the MVP race. Behind Davis’ efforts, the Pelicans are currently 39-29, have won 7 of their last 10 games and hold the sixth seed in the Western Conference.

While Davis has been carrying the team since the loss of Cousins, he has received significant help from his teammates, including Emeka Okafor.

More recent NBA fans may be less familiar with Okafor since he has been out of the league since the end of the 2012-13 season. For context, in Okafor’s last season, David Lee led the league in double-doubles, Luol Deng led the league in minutes per game and Joakim Noah made the NBA All-Defensive First Team. However, Okafor entered the NBA with a lot of excited and expectations. He was drafted second overall, right behind Dwight Howard. Okafor played in 9 relatively successful NBA seasons until being sidelined indefinitely with a herniated disc in his neck prior to the start of the 2013-14 season.

Okafor was medically cleared to play in May of last year and played in five preseason games with the Philadelphia 76ers but was ultimately waived in October, prior to the start of the regular season. However, with the injury to Cousins, the Pelicans were in need of help at the center position and signed Okafor to a 10-day contract. Okafor earned a second 10-day contract and ultimately landed a contract for the rest of this season.

Okafor has played in 14 games so far for the Pelicans has is receiving limited playing time thus far. Despite the lack of playing time, Okafor is making his presence felt when he is on the court. Known as a defensive specialist, Okafor has provided some much needed rim protection and has rebounded effectively as well.

He has been [helpful] since the day he got here,” Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry said about Okafor after New Orleans’ recent victory over the Los Angeles Clippers. “I think his rim protection has been great. But, he’s capable of making a little jump shot and you can see that today. But just having him in there, his presence there has been great.”

Okafor has never been known as an elite offensive player, but he did average 15.1 points per game in his rookie season and has shown glimpses of an improved jump shot in his limited run with the Pelicans.

“You know, I’m happy it’s falling,” Okafor said after he helped seal the victory over the Clippers. “Kept in my back pocket. I was invoked to use it, so figured I’d dust it off and show it.”

Okafor was then asked if he has any other moves in his back pocket that he hasn’t displayed so far this season.

“A little bit. I don’t want to give it all,” Okafor told Basketball Insiders. “There’s a couple shots still. But we’ll see what opportunities unveil themselves coming forward.”

Okafor will never have the elite offensive skill set that Cousins has but his overall contributions have had a positive impact for a New Orleans squad that was desperate for additional production after Cousin’s Achilles tear.

“It’s impossible to replace a guy that was playing at an MVP level,” Gentry said recently. “For us, Emeka’s giving us something that we desperately missed with Cousins. The same thing with Niko. Niko’s given us something as far as spacing the floor. Between those guys, they’ve done the best they could to fill in for that. But we didn’t expect anyone to fill in and replace what Cousins was doing for us.”

Okafor is currently averaging 6.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game while shooting 54.5 percent from the field. While his averages don’t jump off the page, it should be noted that his per minute production is surprisingly impressive. Per 36 minutes, Okafor is averaging 13.4 points, 11.8 rebounds and 2.9 blocks. Those numbers are nearly identical to his averages from the 2012-13 season, though he is averaging twice as many blocks (up from 1.4).

The Pelicans have exceeded expectations and currently are ahead of teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers in the extremely tight Western Conference Playoff race. Okafor is doing more than could have reasonably been expected when he first signed with the Pelicans, though he would be the first person to pass the credit toward Anthony Davis.

When asked about Davis’ recent play, Okafor enthusiastically heaped praise toward his superstar teammate.

“It’s to the point where it’s like, ‘Alright, he has 40 doesn’t he?’ It’s impressive,” Okafor said about Davis. But it’s becoming so commonplace now.

He’s just an impressive individual. He gives it all. He’s relentless. And then off the court too, he’s a very, very nice kid. He really takes the leadership role seriously. I’m even more impressed with that part.”

There is still plenty of regular season basketball to be played and even a two-game losing streak can drastic consequences. But the Pelicans have proved to be very resilient and Okafor is confident in the team’s potential and outlook.

“I think we’re all hitting a good grove here and we’re playing very good basketball, said Okafor.”

Whether the Pelicans make the playoffs or not, it’s great to see Okafor back in the NBA and playing meaningful minutes for a team in the playoff race.

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NBA Daily: Nothing’s Promised, Not Even For The Warriors

The Warriors are wounded, and with Chris Paul, the Rockets may be equipped to take advantage.

Moke Hamilton



The Warriors are wounded, and for those that thought their waltzing into a four consecutive NBA Finals was a given, the Houston Rockets may have other ideas. Especially when one considers that the beloved Dubs are trying to buck history.

Steph Curry has ankle problems, Klay has a fractured thumb and Kevin Durant—the most recent of the team’s lynchpins to find himself on the disabled list—has a rib injury.

Sure, the Dubs might shake off their injuries and find themselves at or near 100 percent once the playoffs begin, but seldom do teams in the NBA get healthier as the year progresses.

Winning in the NBA is difficult. In order to take all the marbles, teams need a bunch of different ingredients, chief among them are good fortune and health. And in many ways, the two are entwined.

Simply put: the human body isn’t built to play as often and as hard as NBA players do. Those that we recognize as being among the greatest ever—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James among them—had one thing in common. They were all exceptionally durable.

Over the years, we’ve seen attrition and fragility cost the likes of Anfernee Hardaway, Yao Ming and Derrick Rose what seemed to be careers full of accolades and accomplishments. And the simple truth is that you never know which player, players or teams will be next to be undercut by injuries and progressive fatigue.

Just to keep things in perspective, the Warriors are attempting to become just the fifth team since 1970 to win at least three NBA championships in a four-year span.

The Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA Finals in 1985, 1987 and 1988 before Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls completed their three-peat from 1991-93. The Bulls would again do the same between 1996 and 1998, and Shaquille O’Neal and his Los Angeles Lakers accomplished the same from 2000 to 2002.

There are reasons why so few teams have been able to win as frequently as the Lakers and Bulls have, and health is certainly one of them. That’s especially interesting to note considering the fact that the Warriors may have been champions in 2016 had they had their team at full strength. Mind you, both Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala were severely limited in their abilities, while Andrew Bogut missed the fateful and decisive Game 6 and Game 7 of those Finals with injuries to his left leg.

At the end of the day, injuries are a part of the game. The best teams are often able to overcome them, while the luckiest teams often don’t have to deal with them. To this point, the Warriors have been both the best and incredibly lucky, but at a certain point, the sheer volume of basketball games is likely to have an adverse effect on at least a few members of the team.

We may be seeing that now.

En route to winning the 2015 NBA Finals, the Warriors turned in a playoff record of 16-5. In 2016, they were 15-9 and in 2017, they were 16-1. In total, the 62 playoff games would have worn a bit of tread off of their collective tires, just as their 73-9 regular season record may have.  In becoming a historically great team, the Warriors have expending the energy necessary of a team wishing to remain a contender, and that’s not easy.

As an aside, those that understand the difficulty in competing at a high level every single night are the ones who rightfully give LeBron James the respect he’s due for even having the opportunity to play into June eight consecutive years. Win or lose, in terms of consistent effort and constant production, James has shown as things we’ve never seen before.

Today, it’s fair to wonder whether the Warriors have that same capability.

We’ll find out in short order.

* * * * * *

As the Houston Rockets appear headed toward ending the Warriors’ regular season reign atop the Western Conference, there’s something awfully coincidental about the fact that the team seems to have taken the next step after the addition of Chris Paul.

Paul knows a thing or two about attrition and how unlucky bouts with injuries at inopportune times can cost a team everything. As much as anything else, it probably has something to do with why Paul continues to believe in the ability of the Rockets to achieve immortality.

On the first night of the regular season, mind you, in one horrific moment, Gordon Hayward and the Boston Celtics reminded us that on any given play, the outlook of an entire season—and perhaps, even a career—can change.

A twisted knee here, a sprained ankle there, and who knows?

With just over three weeks remaining in the regular season, the Warriors—the team that everyone knew would win the Western Conference again this season—has some concerns. Their primary weapons are hurting, their chances of securing home court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs are all but nil and their road to the Finals may end up being more difficult than they could have possibly imagined.

If the season ended today and the seeds held, the Warriors would draw the San Antonio Spurs in the first round and the Portland Trail Blazers in the second round before squaring off against the Rockets in the Western Conference Finals.

Of all teams, the Spurs are probably the last team the Warriors would want to see in the playoffs, much less the first round. While the outcome of that series would be determined by the health of Kawhi Leonard, there’s no doubt that Gregg Popovich would at least be able to effectively game plan for Golden State.

While the Blazers might not provide incredible resistance to the Warriors, the Oklahoma City Thunder will enter play on March 18 just two games behind the Blazers for the third seed out West. With the two teams squaring off against one another on March 25, it’s possible for Russell Westbrook and his crew having the opportunity to square off against the Dubs in the playoffs.

For Golden State, their path to the Finals having to go through San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Houston would absolutely be a worst case scenario. The only thing that could make it even more terrible for Steve Kerr would be having to do it with a platoon that was less than 100 percent.

Funny. In yet another season where everyone thought that it was the Warriors and everyone else, there are quite a few questions facing the defending champs heading into the final few weeks of the regular season.

Indeed, the Warriors are wounded. And whether they can be nursed back up to full strength is perhaps the most interesting thing to watch as the calendar turns to April and playoff basketball draws nearer.

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