In the months leading up to the 2012 NBA Draft, Ashton Gibbs was at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas running through intense two-a-day workouts alongside fellow draft prospects like Dion Waiters, Mike Scott and Kyle O’Quinn among others. Gibbs looked smooth on the court, hit ridiculously long threes with ease and played well in the group’s pick-up games. He looked like a pro and would leave his imprint on each game with his impressive skill set.
Gibbs’ shot is his biggest strength, as it has always been. He can knock down jumpers from just about anywhere on the court, usually hitting nothing but net. This was on display during his a junior season at the University of Pittsburgh, when he attempted 6.7 three-pointers per game yet still shot a remarkable 49 percent from beyond the arc (while averaging 16.8 points). It had also earned him a gold medal, which he won in 2009 when he represented Team USA during the FIBA U19 World Championship in New Zealand alongside players like Klay Thompson and Gordon Hayward.
Still, despite the impressive numbers and that translatable skill, Gibbs wasn’t selected on the night of the 2012 NBA Draft. Some teams felt his game was too one-dimensional, while others felt he wasn’t a traditional point guard, and too small to play shooting guard at 6’2. Also, the fact that he spent four years in college seemingly hurt him, as executives typically value potential over experience in the draft and seniors are perceived to have limited upside compared to the younger prospects.
After going undrafted, Gibbs weighed his overseas options and ultimately decided to sign abroad. Rather than signing in the NBA Development League – where players make $30,000 or less for a full season – he took his first professional basketball job in Europe. He spent the next three years traveling the world and playing in countries like Greece, Spain, Romania and Lebanon. The international stints went well – he was producing on the court, expanding his game and making good money.
His shot continued to be his money-maker, as it was just as unstoppable overseas as it had been at every other level. During a stint in Greece, he shot 50 percent from three-point range. In Romania, he hit 46.3 percent from long range. In Lebanon, Gibbs was very effective, averaging 16.2 points, 3.8 assists and 3.9 rebounds while shooting 41.4 percent from beyond the arc.
“I like it a lot,” Gibbs told Basketball Insiders of playing overseas. “It’s a different game depending on what country you’re in, but I actually like it, especially being a shooter you get valued a little more than you would in the NBA. I love the actual culture of it, and I get to say I lived overseas for months at a time so it’s just a great experience overall.
“At first it was a really tough adjustment, but now I am getting used to it. Not everybody on your team speaks English, which is difficult. You have to find your way around different places, even going to your house and coming back – just little stuff – is hard. Oh, and food is a big difference as well. You have to know what to eat and where to go for meals. It’s just little stuff like that, but they actually pair you up with a teammate or coach who speaks English so it’s not that tough once you get the swing of things.”
Gibbs was impressed with the competition level, as he was facing off against notable players he knew from college or individuals he watched growing up as a kid.
“The competition is, honestly, similar to college,” Gibbs said. “You have your big-time teams similar to, like, the Kentuckys and Dukes of the world, and then you have the mid-level and low-level teams. It is very similar to college and you’re playing against a lot of players that you played against in college. Some of the players I’m competing against are older than me and I’ve actually been watching them since middle school, so that’s a lot of fun.”
Because he was playing a big role on his international teams, Gibbs’ game was expanding as well.
“I definitely have grown in running the pick-and-roll, as a point guard and just reading defenses,” Gibbs said. “That’s probably where I’ve grown the most, just reading defenses and taking what they give me – whether it’s an open jump shot or it’s a pick and pop or I’m hitting the big man or hitting the open shooter. I’m better at just reading different things, and they value that a lot more than the U.S.”
He has also grown as a person. Living in four countries before your 25th birthday gives you plenty of life experience and causes you to mature quite a bit.
“I’ve matured, and I think that’s what helped me, honestly, even with my marriage,” Gibbs said. “Just being a lot more mature now than I used to be and really putting things into perspective. I’m making sure my family is right and making sure I take advantage of these opportunities in other countries. I’m not taking this for granted. I try to sight see wherever I’m at and make sure I actually see the country beyond the basketball court. I try to network, with my teammates and coaches and everyone, because you never know, these guys could be lifetime friends.”
After leaving Lebanon, everything in Gibbs’ life seemed to be going great. He was doing things that most people in their early 20s never even dream of, such as traveling the world, experiencing new cultures and signing lucrative contracts to play the game he loves.
To put it simply, life was great for Gibbs. Due to his success on the court, he had his pick of overseas offers. He was planning to sign with a new team for the 2015-16 season – likely going to yet another new country – and pick up right where he left off in his playing career.
That is, until Gibbs received horrible, gut-wrenching news that turned his life upside down.
Just before the start of last season, Gibbs and his wife discovered that their newborn daughter had a serious medical issue. She suddenly became very sick with a severe undisclosed illness, and she was so ill that she had to spend several months in the hospital to receive treatment.
Gibbs – a family man who values his loved ones more than anything else in the world – couldn’t imagine being across the globe while his daughter suffered from this illness and his wife tried to cope with the situation alone. He decided to take this past season off and focus all of his attention on his family.
“The reason I ended up taking last year off was because I now have a wife and a daughter, but my daughter ended up getting sick,” Gibbs said. “She was in the hospital for about two months. So I had to watch her and I had to make sure she was good. Even when she was out of the hospital, I wanted to be there. Family always comes first and I just wanted to make sure she was fine, so I took the year off.”
Fortunately, after that awful scare, his daughter made a complete recovery and is now 100 percent healthy.
And now that his family is doing well and has gotten past that difficult time, Gibbs is ready to return overseas and resume his playing career so he can provide for his wife and daughter.
“Now, I’m back and rejuvenated,” Gibbs said. “I’m feeling good now that my family is healthy and fine. Physically, I’m feeling really good, I’m shooting the ball well and I’m in good condition.”
A number of overseas teams have been in contact with Gibbs and his camp, and he’s currently weighing a number of offers. He will definitely be on a roster for the upcoming season – he just hasn’t decided where he’ll be heading yet.
Once overseas, he’ll keep in contact with his family using Skype and FaceTime, but he’s hoping that his wife and daughter can come live with him soon.
“It is tough not having anybody there; those Skype and FaceTime calls get old after a while,” Gibbs said. “Once I get overseas again, they’ll come for weeks at a time, which is good. My wife is actually just finishing up her last year of massage school, so after my wife finishes school they’ll probably come out and be with me even more.”
For now, while Gibbs waits for his next deal to be finalized, he’s working out in Pittsburgh to prepare for the upcoming season.
“Right now I’m working out twice a day, lifting, running and doing a basketball workout every day,” Gibbs said. “I actually run a training academy as well here in Pittsburgh, so I actually do that from time to time. It’s not every day, but I do stop by time to time just to make sure it’s running right.”
While Gibbs has had plenty of success overseas, he still would love to play in the NBA someday. He now realizes that he can live the life he wants and be successful without ever joining an NBA team, but he would certainly jump at the opportunity if it ever presents itself.
“I mean, if the opportunity came, I would definitely try to take advantage of it,” Gibbs said of possibly playing in the NBA. “But if not, I’m fine, my family is fine and I’m comfortable overseas. If the opportunity came, I would definitely try to take advantage of it because I still think I can play at the highest level. But again, if it doesn’t happen, I’m cool with being overseas, making money over there and doing something I love.”
Looking Toward The Draft: Power Forwards
Basketball Insiders continues their NBA Draft watch, this time with the power forwards.
We got some updated NBA draft news this week when the league announced that several key dates have been pushed back including the draft, the start of free agency and the beginning of the 2020-21 season.
The 2020 draft was originally scheduled for Oct. 16, but it will now likely occur sometime in November. Obviously, with the COVID-19 pandemic still wildly out of control in the United States, all of these potential deadlines are fluid and subject to change.
With that said, we’re continuing our position by position breakdown here at Basketball Insiders of some of the top 2020 draft prospects. We looked at the point guards and shooting guards last week, and this week we’re covering the small forwards and power forwards.
The power forward crop, like the draft overall, doesn’t appear to be as strong as recent years, that doesn’t mean there aren’t potential contributors and high-level NBA players available, as well as one who might just turn out to be a star-caliber player.
Onyeka Okongwu, USC – 19 years old
Okongwu is the player who just might develop into a star on some level. He was actually underrated in high school and was snubbed for a McDonald’s All-American selection his senior year. He established himself early on at USC as the team’s best player as a freshman and now appears to have turned some heads.
He’s been mentioned as a lottery pick and in some mock drafts, he’s top 4-5. He possesses a great all-around skill-set; he can score in the post, he can put the ball on the floor and attack and he can shoot. But perhaps his biggest attribute is his versatility on the defensive end. He’s got quick feet and mobility and can guard multiple positions.
Okongwu might actually play center in the NBA, especially in small-ball lineups, but he’s mostly played power forward and so he’ll probably see time there in the league. His skill-set fits perfectly with today’s game.
Obi Toppin, Dayton – 22 years old
Toppin is one of the older players in the draft, and in recent history, players that age tend to slip on draft boards. In Toppin’s case, it looks like the reverse might actually be true. He’s been projected as a lottery pick, and even going in the top 3.
He’s an incredibly athletic player who thrives in the open court. He looks like he’ll do well in an up-tempo offensive system that has capable playmakers who can find him in transition. He’s extremely active around the rim and he can finish strong. A decent shooter too, something he’ll need at the next level.
Toppin has the physical tools to be an effective defensive player, but that’s where the questions marks on him have been. In the NBA, he’s likely going to have to play and guard multiple positions. Whether or not he can adapt to that likely will answer the question as to what his ceiling can be.
Precious Achiuwa, Memphis – 20 years old
Achiuwa is another intriguing prospect. this writer actually got to watch him play in person while he was in high school and he was very impressive. He looked like a man among boys. He’s projected to be a late lottery pick.
He has an NBA-ready body and he’s got some toughness around the rim and in the paint. He was a double-double threat during his one season at Memphis and his knack for rebounding is something that should translate to the NBA. He’s a very good defender too, in particular, as a rim protector. He’s very quick and has the ability to guard multiple positions.
One of the main knocks on Achiuwa is his shooting ability. He didn’t shoot that well in college and power forwards being able to space the floor is almost a requirement in today’s NBA game. It’s something he can certainly work on and improve on though.
Paul Reed, DePaul – 21 years old
Xavier Tillman, Michigan State – 21 years old
Killian Tillie, Gonzaga – 22 years old
Looking Toward the Draft: Small Forwards
Basketball Insiders’ examination of the 2020 draft class continues with a look at the small forwards.
It was announced on Wednesday that the NBA Draft would be delayed from Oct. 16 to Nov. 18. The rationale is that the extra month gives the league and its players association more time to negotiate changes to the CBA. It also grants teams additional time to procure information on prospects and allows the NBA to establish regional virtual combines. But nothing is set in stone.
Still, draft prep must continue. This year’s draft class has more question marks than usual – which was complicated by the cancellation of the NCAA tournament (along with the NIT and a number of conference tournaments). There are incredibly skilled offensive players with limited offensive upside and jaw-droppingly talented defenders with incomplete offensive packages. But if (recent) history serves as a guide, there will be a few guys who make an immediate impact – and some of them very well could be small forwards.
The small forward position is key for the modern NBA. Want proof? Survey the league and you’ll find that most – if not all – contenders have an elite small forward – Milwaukee, Los Angeles (both), Boston, Miami, Toronto.
But the list of can’t miss small forward prospects feels smaller than usual. Scanning the numerous legitimate mock drafts (including our own by Steve Kyler), it becomes apparent that we lack a consensus on which small forwards will be selected (and in what order) after the top 3 or 4. Can any of them grow into a star? Maybe. Maybe not. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s identify what the top few bring to the table.
Deni Avdija, Israel – 19 years old
Avdija is a relatively well-rounded prospect who’s played professionally since he was 16. He boasts good height (6-foot-9) and uses it effectively to shoot over and pass around opposing defenses. Further, Avdija is an exceptional playmaker and he’s incredibly confident, enabling him to take chances many players would be apprehensive trying. Avdija is a high-IQ player. And what’s more, he’s a surprisingly strong defender. His height and above-average athleticism allow him to block shots, and he’s more physical than you’d expect him to be.
But there are drawbacks to Avdija, too. His main issue is around shooting. Avdija shot only 28% in the EuroLeague last season, and he shot only 60% from the free-throw line. Further, while he’s a decent athlete, he’ll struggle to secure a role in the NBA. He’s going to need to add speed to stay with modern wings, and he’ll also have to bulk up to bang with power forwards.
Still, Avdija’s upside is alluring. He’s only 19, and his smarts, confidence and grittiness should provide him cover for much of his rookie season. Avdija should be the first small forward off of the board.
Isaac Okoro, Auburn – 19 years old
Avdija might be the flashier name currently, but Okoro will give him a run for his money in terms of which small forward is first off the board. Okoro is built like a traditional NBA wing; he’s 6-foot-6 with good strength packed in his muscular frame (215 lbs). Okoro finishes well around the rim and he converts well through contact. He’s an exceptional athlete who excels catching the ball on the move. Like Avdija, Okoro has the poise and composure of a more experienced player. Also, like Avdija, Okoro looked the part of a high IQ player in his lone season at Auburn.
And while all that is great, the main allure of Okoro is his defense. He’s a fairly advanced defender given his age, and his athleticism and timing make him an effective weak side help defender.
While Okoro’s raw abilities are exquisite, his refined offensive skills leave something to be desired. Okoro shot 28 percent on three-point field goals and he struggled from the free-throw line (67.2 percent). His mid-range jump shot also needs work, and he struggles in isolation situations.
If Okoro can hone his offensive game, he could grow into an All-Star. He has the ability to guard multiple positions, and his strength and athleticism give him a leg up on most prospects. But even if he doesn’t become an All-Star, he possesses a fairly high floor given his defensive abilities — and the guy definitely fills the state sheet (12.9 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, .9 steals and .9 blocks). He has lockdown defender potential and he’ll put his stamp on the game beginning on night one.
Devin Vassell, Florida State – 20 years old
Vassell played two seasons at Florida State, but he came into his own in his Sophomore season. He averaged 12.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. He shot a more than respectable 41.5% on three-point attempts, and he demonstrated a strong stroke from the free-throw line (73.8 percent) and on two-point field goal attempts (53.2).
Vassell is an extremely athletic leaper, who can rise up for a highlight dunk and sprint down the floor with ease. He has good body control and demonstrated a strong mid-range game, especially his step-back jump shot. But Vassell must generate more free throws through decisive moves to the hoop, which would be bolstered by a more muscular frame. Additionally, he must improve his ball-handling to get more from isolations.
Vassell will have an adjustment period in terms of scoring the ball at the next level. Fortunately, his defense and shooting should get him by. If he can bulk up and improve his handling, Vassell could grow into a serious player.
Aaron Nesmith, Vanderbilt – 20 years old
Nesmith probably has a lower floor than any of the other top small forward prospects given that he’ll be 21 by the draft. Still, he looked quite good in his Junior year, averaging 23 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game on a scorching 52.2 percent shooting from deep. Nesmith is an incredibly gifted shooter who has impressive range. His ability to catch-and-shoot and create space with fakes makes him a promising prospect – for the right team.
Nesmith is a high IQ player who uses his smarts on the defensive end. He’s also quite strong, can get buckets in the open floor and demonstrates above average ball-handling skills, as long as he’s not taking the ball to the hoop.
But there are inherent limitations in Nesmith’s game. He’s doesn’t create for his teammates too effectively and he turns the ball over more frequently than one would like with. Further, Nesmith is plagued by robotic movements that limit his athleticism. His ball-handling breaks down when taking the ball to the rack – something he’ll certainly have to work on in the NBA if he wants to be a versatile scoring threat against the bigger and stronger competition.
Still, Nesmith’s positives give him an excellent chance at being selected in the first round. His range alone will intrigue teams in need of a shooter.
Saddiq Bey, Villanova – 21 years old
Jaden McDaniels, Washington – 19 years old
Robert Woodard II, Mississippi State – 20 years old
With the uncertainty around small forward prospects, expect to see a revolving door of names enter the discussion after the first four wing prospects are off the board prior to Nov. 16 – assuming the draft is held then. But regardless of how you have them ranked, all of the aforementioned prospects have question marks. But all have had far more time to improve than they would have in years’ past. Let’s hope that shows come next season.
NBA Daily: Opposite Plotlines for Today’s Matchups
With the two matchups going on today, Matt John examines the two teams who could be in the most trouble because of one of their individual stars for opposite reasons.
The second round of the NBA playoffs was hyped up to be one of the most entertaining we’ve had in years. So far, they haven’t fallen short of expectations. We knew that Houston and Los Angeles’ battle of opposite philosophies would make for some twists and turns. We knew that Boston and Toronto would duke it out in an Atlantic Division showdown. We knew that Miami would push Milwaukee to new heights. We didn’t really know if the Nuggets would give the Clippers a good series, but the fact that they have so far has made an intense postseason all the more gripping.
Anyway, today we’re getting two games from two series in completely opposite places. The Lakers and the Rockets will face off for the series lead, while the HEAT will try to finish off the Bucks once and for all. Below, we’re going to focus on two teams who have an individual star that either may be more flawed than we thought or one that may not be as flawed as we thought.
Bucks vs. HEAT: Giannis is great and all, but…
We all pretty much knew this was going to be a good series. We did not expect this.
The buzz surrounding Bucks v. HEAT was that Miami was going to make Milwaukee earn every win they got in this series. If that was the plan, then Miami has failed miserably, because until Khris Middleton went supernova on them on Sunday, Milwaukee had come up terribly short.
Let’s first give Miami the credit that they are due and more. With Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler alone, Miami was going to be a tough matchup for Milwaukee – but to see the Bucks all but roll over in this series is an unpleasant sight. Acquiring Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala has paid huge dividends and it’s showing. There are other factors involved, but Miami’s defensive efforts have limited Giannis to 21.8 points a game and that’s played a role in the HEAT being in the driver’s seat of this series.
Speaking of Giannis Antetokounmpo, this series has not been a good look for the Defensive Player of the Year. Especially since it looks like his second consecutive MVP (presumably) is right around the corner. So, to see both him and Milwaukee, once an unstoppable force without an immovable object in sight, get stopped by a sturdy but not immovable squad is saddening.
Nearly a year ago, Basketball Insiders compared these current Bucks to the Dwight Howard-led Orlando Magic from the late-2000’s/early 2010’s. To oversimplify things, both were contenders led by a superstar with a rare physique that made them tough to stop. To put the superstar in the best position, they surrounded them with playmakers and three-point shooters.
While the teams’ roster constructions weren’t exactly the same, their strengths as a team certainly were. Now we’re seeing the Bucks’ flaws just as we did the Magic 10 years ago. If you have the personnel to make the lone superstar uncomfortable, the team doesn’t function as well.
Giannis is near impossible to stop, but the one major flaw is that if you take away his ability to drive and force him into a jumper, he loses his rhythm. Even if his shot is on – never a guarantee – his opponents will let him beat them that way until he makes them pay. Hardly any team can pick on this, but the HEAT are one of them, and now they’re one win away from their first Eastern Conference Finals since LeBron James took his talents out of South Beach.
This ultimately is what puts Antetokounmpo below the likes of LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard for now. Those guys are rare physical specimens like him, but their elite games don’t revolve entirely around their natural gifts as he does or Dwight did. At 25 years old, there’s plenty of time for him to change that and, for all we know, he will, but to see him struggle at a time when the conference was supposed to run through him has ignited tons of questions.
Milwaukee’s technically not out yet, but they’ve shown their mortality against Miami. If this really is it for them, then they’ve got to find a quick fix for this problem because if they don’t, then the unspeakable may happen.
Lakers vs. Rockets: Westbrook has been bad and all but…
Shaking off the rust and recovering from a balky knee would be tough for anyone. For Russell Westbrook, it’s killing his productivity and, in turn, the Rockets’ playoff chances. He’s averaging 15.6 points on 39/16/47 splits with a most recent 10-point, 4-of-15 effort from the field which included seven turnovers and air balling wide-open threes sticking out like a sore thumb.
It also doesn’t help that he’s playing the Lakers of all teams. When Westbrook has been in, the Lakers have taken advantage of his shortcomings offensively and it shows both on the court and the stat line.
Most of Westbrook’s damage is hurting Houston on the offensive end. With the All-Star guard in the game, Houston is minus-13.7 with him on the court, the worst offensive rating on the team. The 12 turnovers he’s coughed up in this series probably have something to do with that.
With Westbrook’s struggles and his predecessor Chris Paul coming off of his best individual season since 2016, this, of course, has led to many second-guessing the swap last summer. Or let’s rephrase that: People have been second-guessing that trade since the moment it was announced and, in light of recent events, they’re piling on now more than ever.
Maybe they’re right. Even after playing in the NBA for over a decade now, Westbrook still hasn’t proven that he can control himself enough to reach his potential as a team player. We’ve seen glimpses. On the other hand, Paul showed that he can still pick apart defenses while holding his own on that end.
But replacing Paul with Westbrook was Harden’s idea. He didn’t want to play with Paul anymore and chose to play with one of his closest friends. You may think that the better fit is what’s best for the team, but we’ve seen the damage that can happen when your team’s best players have friction with one another. It hurt Utah this season. It hurt Boston last season. It destroyed the Lakers back in 2013. There’s no telling what it could have done to Houston this season.
Besides, we know that as bad as Westbrook has been, he’s capable of being better. Not a knockdown shooter, not even an efficient scorer, but he has done better in the past when the focus was on him. The more days he takes to shake off the rust from his knee, the more optimistic the Rockets ought to be.
The Rockets have to take the glass-half-full on this one because they don’t really have a choice otherwise.
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