It’s often difficult for a player who is selected as one of the last 10 picks in the draft to make it in the NBA. The deck is definitely stacked against late second-rounders when it comes to making a roster and achieving longevity in the league. There are no guarantees. However, as he heads into his sixth NBA season, Indiana Pacers big man Lavoy Allen has found a way to beat the odds.
Drafted as the 50th pick in the second round of the 2011 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia Sixers, Allen has proven to be indispensable over his NBA career. Last season with the Pacers, Allen played in 79 games – starting in 28 of them. He averaged 5.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game, and shot a career-best 52 percent from the field. Allen’s +173 plus-minus rating was the best on the team last year, with Paul George coming in a distant second (+143).
Allen’s veteran leadership has provided the Pacers with production and experience off the bench. The big man’s do-whatever-it-takes-to-win mentality has enabled him to not only persevere, but also carve out a very specific niche for himself in the league, so much so that the Pacers signed him to a three-year deal worth $12 million in 2015. As Allen heads into the second year of his contract, expectations are high for not only him but also for the Pacers.
Basketball Insiders recently caught up with Allen to discuss the evolution of his professional career, the Pacers’ offseason moves, and how his approach to the game has helped him become the player that he is today.
Jake Rauchbach: At Temple, you were a 1,000-point, 1,000-rebound guy, and the school’s all-time leading rebounder. You had a great college career. What type of lessons from Temple did you take with you to make you successful in the league?
Lavoy Allen: “It’s hard work, really. I just tried to be really professional, be on time with everything and just work hard. Coach [Fran] Dunphy talked to us about how fortunate we were as college athletes; our school is paid for, our food is paid for, room and board. He always preached that. I really took that with me into the league, just to be grateful from where I came from to where I am now. I just try to continue to work hard, try not to complain too much, because there are a lot of people in the world who would rather be in my position than their’s. I work hard and try to be a good teammate.”
Rauchbach: Being selected as the 50th overall pick in the 2011 draft, nothing was guaranteed. What mentality did you take into your rookie year that allowed you to thrive?
Allen: “My mentality was to just to be ready for anything. Not a lot of second-rounders really make it in the league and have a long career. I got real lucky. Two of our bigs went down and my coach was pretty much forced to play me. When I got my opportunity I really performed well. That’s one of the things that older guys on the team like Andre Igoudala, Tony Battie and Elton Brand told me: ‘Be ready, stay in shape. You never know what’s going to happen.’ It’s not a good thing when two teammates go down, but I was real fortunate just to get the opportunity. And when my time came, I performed.”
Rauchbach: You signed a one-year deal your rookie season with the Sixers. Most rookies have more than a year to make their mark, but you only had one. Did that create a sense of urgency for you?
Allen: “Oh yeah, definitely. When I came in, that was the lockout year and I was over in France before that. So when I came in, I just tried to be real professional. I was always on time. Anything the veteran guys needed, I was trying to make them happy. I think it was about early February when they had a chance to cut me, and they didn’t cut me. By early February, my contract became guaranteed. So, I was doing everything I could just to keep everybody happy, just to stay on the team until after February.”
Rauchbach: You are going into your sixth season now, and you really have established yourself in the league. What do you think sets you apart, from a preparation and mindset point of view, from other late second-round picks who haven’t been able to carve out a niche in the league like you have been able to do?
Allen: “Really, I think my trainer helped me a lot. I have been working with a guy named Bobby Martin up in Boston ever since I was a sophomore in college, and I think he really prepared me for the journey. I went into my draft workouts in the best shape of my life. I pretty much was beating up on the guys that went in the first round. So, I knew I could play with those guys. It was just the opportunity. You know, once the opportunity came, I really tried to perform and be a hustle guy, get rebounds, dive on loose balls, things like that.
“Mentally, I think it’s just about becoming comfortable and being confident. Personally, I believe I can play with any of the guys, whether it’s starting or coming off the bench. I feel like, ‘Put me up against anybody and I will get the best of them.’ It’s just about being confident. Preparation wise, the game is changing. You have to run the floor and you have to be in really good shape. The Golden State Warriors pretty much messed up everybody else in the league. Every team is trying to be like them. So now, I gotta be in even better shape than I was the previous years, gotta drop some pounds and just be ready to play.”
Rauchbach: What are some things that you focus on when you’re going against the best big guys in the league?
Allen: “I just really think about my family. You know, this is my job so this is what puts food on the table and keeps a roof over their heads basically. It’s about my family. I got three young boys… my mother and father. My father, his health is depreciating, so I really think of him. I think of my older brother, who I lost when I was a senior in high school. I think those are things that motivate me to get me where I am at today.”
Rauchbach: What parts of your game have you been working on and developing this off-season?
Allen: “Putting the ball on the floor when I am the top of the key. I am not doing a bunch of crossovers, between the legs, stuff like that – just trying to score from the high-post.”
Rauchbach: What are your thoughts on what the Pacers have done with their offseason moves?
Allen: “I think they did a really good job. I probably would say out of all the teams, we probably will improve the most out of all the other teams in the league. We got a great point guard in Jeff Teague and backup point guard in Aaron Brooks – guys that are real accomplished in this league. Trading for Thaddeus Young, who is probably one of the fastest four men in the league, was great. Not many fours can keep up with this guy, I mean he runs like a guard. Myles [Turner] is developing; he is a great shot blocker, and a great shooter also. Having Big Al [Jefferson] come off the bench… he’s one of the best post players in the NBA. I think we did a lot of good things. I can see us being very successful this year.”
Rauchbach: Based on all those changes, how do you see your role changing this season?
Allen: “It’s not going to be too different. I started a couple games last year. I don’t think that will be the case this year. I’ll just do the same things – rebounding, running the floor, playing defense. You know, same stuff.”
Rauchbach: What are your individual goals for this season?
Allen: “If I get the opportunity, depending on how many minutes I get, just try to average a double-double. You never know what can happen. We could go small. You don’t know what can happen. But I think one of the things that I do best is rebounding, and I think I can rebound with the best of them. I just try to get a double double every time I get out there.”
Rauchbach: What is the outlook collectively for you guys this season?
Allen: “Deep playoff run.”
Rauchbach: What advice would you give other guys just like you who are late second-rounders or undrafted free agents trying to make it in the league?
Allen: “Just be ready. If you get the opportunity, just run away with it, but always be ready because you never know what can happen.”
NBA Daily: Khris Middleton Should Be The Bucks’ Closer
Bobby Krivitsky breaks down Khirs Middleton’s season and explains how the Milwaukee Bucks second star has earned more opportunities in crunch time.
For the Milwaukee Bucks, being one of the NBA’s best regular-season teams doesn’t mean much. In each of the last two seasons, the players and their fans have enjoyed this movie’s rising action but, as winning the title is the ultimate goal, left the theatre disappointed.
In order to get that satisfying conclusion, Milwaukee must make some changes. And, to start the 2020-21 season, they’ve tried to do just that. As expected, Mike Budenholzer is more flexible in his approach this season than in year’s past. They’ve reshaped their five-out offense, which now features someone, often Giannis Antetokounmpo, occupying the dunker spot. Those are the two areas just outside the paint along the baseline, where a player can catch the ball, take one or two steps, and dunk.
The Bucks are also pursuing their missed shots far more aggressively than they used to; two seasons ago, Budenholzer’s first at the helm, Milwaukee ranked 26th in offensive rebounding percentage, last year, they ranked 28th. But, through the first 16 games of this season, they’re snatching up 29.2 percent of their misses, good for the sixth-highest percentage league-wide.
Another meaningful difference, arguably the most meaningful, is how the team has allowed Khris Middleton to initiate the offense far more frequently at the end of games. In the final three minutes of games within five points, Middleton’s usage rate has spiked from 30.1 percent in 2019-20 to 40 percent this season.
Once again, Middleton has put together a fantastic season that’s receiving little fanfare. After he averaged a career-high 20.9 points per game last season, he’s improved to 21.8 points through the Bucks’ first 16 games. Middleton is also taking 5.9 three-point attempts per game (knocking them down at a 42.6 percent clip, the second-best mark of his career) and has increased the amount of two-point field goals he’s attempting to 9.8 per contest, making 58 percent of them.
That combination has produced an effective field goal percentage of 60.2 percent. Additionally, Middleton has shot 92 percent from the foul line on an average of 3.1 free-throw attempts per game, giving him a true-shooting percentage of 63.7 percent. Those shooting percentages mean Middleton has a legitimate chance to join the 50-40-90 club; only eight NBA players have accomplished that feat. Middleton’s also gone from averaging 4.3 assists per game the last two years to dishing out 5.8 dimes this season and has grabbed 6.3 rebounds per game.
Add it all up and you have a two-time All-Star that ranks fourth in the NBA in offensive win shares, fifth in total win shares and has delivered a compelling opening statement as to why he should make an All-NBA team for the first time in his career.
While it may not seem so noteworthy that one of the best wings in the NBA is off to a hot start, the way Middleton has responded to shouldering more responsibility in crunch time should serve as an ingredient to the elixir that can cure the postseason issues that have plagued them in recent seasons. Out of every player that has made more than one appearance in crunch time, which is defined as the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime of a game within five points, the sharpshooting Middleton is eighth in points per game. He’s also yet to turn the ball over in that span.
As the pressure mounts and the clock counts down, Middleton’s approach doesn’t change from how he’s played the game’s previous 43 minutes. Whether he’s attacking off a screen from Antetokounmpo or Brook Lopez, shooting off the catch, or using a jab step to create the necessary space for him to rise and fire, Middleton knocks down his shots with the same ruthless efficiency.
That said, he could stand to be a bit more assertive in the game’s waning moments. Yes, his usage rate has jumped in the fourth quarter, but there have been instances where Middleton has taken a backseat; in Milwaukee’s recent 112-109 win over the Dallas Mavericks, Middleton managed just two shots in the entire fourth quarter, back-to-back threes that turned a two-point deficit into a four-point lead the Bucks never relinquished.
Of course, there’s a balancing act that Budenholzer must work out between Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Jrue Holiday. Late in the game, Budenholzer can’t simply take the ball away from Antetokounmpo, the reigning MVP, and Holiday, a fantastic player in his own right, needs opportunities to have an impact.
But Middleton has done more than enough to show he’s deserving of even more opportunities than what he’s taken for himself this season. And, if the Bucks want to win a title in the near future, it may be in their best interest if Middleton’s the player primarily in charge of initiating their late-game offense.
NBA Daily: Gordon Hayward Realizing His Potential in Charlotte
No one envisioned Gordon Hayward joining the Charlotte Hornets in free agency. Not many people believed he could return to being an All-Star caliber player. Chad Smith puts the spotlight on Hayward’s resurgent season in Buzz City.
Many eyebrows were raised when Gordon Hayward decided to join the Charlotte Hornets this offseason. Most figured a return home to play for the Indiana Pacers was where the next chapter of his career would take place. But, when a potential deal with Indiana fell through, the Hornets became a reality. Maybe it was the lure of playing for Michael Jordan or just the opportunity for a fresh start where he could realize his full potential.
Either way, Hayward has proved himself to be the guy once again.
Shortly after Thanksgiving, Hayward signed a four-year deal with Charlotte for $120 million. At the time, it seemed like a heavy price to pay for a player in his 30’s that has endured so many injuries so recently in his career. Hornets fans went through this in 2019 with Terry Rozier’s sign-and-trade deal from the Boston Celtics for $56.7 million. The move for Charlotte almost felt desperate, like some sort of gamble they were willing to take.
But this signing has been different. Even before their deal, Hayward underwent a minor surgical procedure on his left foot to alleviate some discomfort he dealt with last year; the team was aware and still wanted to move forward with the deal, which speaks volumes as to how they felt about him as a player and how he would recover.
While Rozier was younger and seemed to have a high ceiling, Hayward is an established wing that has been an All-Star and the face of a franchise before. And, as we enter the quarter-mark of the 2020-21 season, it appears as though the team’s gamble has paid off quite nicely. Hayward is looked resurgent, averaging career-high numbers across the board after his injury-plagued stint in Boston.
With the Celtics, Hayward averaged 13.9 points per game, shot 36 percent from behind the arc, and got to the free throw line just 2.7 times per game. So far this season he is averaging more than 24 points per game, which is a career-best. His free throw attempts have nearly doubled and he is knocking down 43 percent of his three-pointers.
Hayward’s minutes have also increased significantly this year. And, in addition to his high percentage shooting, his 21.07 Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is a career-best.
The roster crunch at certain positions was a concern heading into the season, but head coach James Borrego has built a solid rotation that has allowed his team to maximize their potential. The Hornets have the ability to play big or go with a smaller lineup should the need arise. In fact, one of the major benefits of having Hayward is the ability to play him at multiple positions; having played alongside Jaylen Brown and Jason Tatum in Boston, Hayward is well versed in switching and matching up against both bigger and smaller opponents.
Charlotte’s defense has also been much better this year with Hayward on the floor. They rank in the top ten in terms of opponents scoring and top five in steals. Borrego has used various full-court press coverages, as well as an unusual zone defense in the half-court that eventually turns back into a man-to-man scheme.
Using different lineups, the Hornets have been able to utilize guys like PJ Washington and Miles Bridges who, in turn, have ignited their offense. If LaMelo Ball is not in the game, Charlotte can still play their two smaller guards, Rozier and Devonte’ Graham, with Hayward often serving as the primary ball-handler. With him running the offense, it allows those two to do what they do best: shoot the ball.
As a team, the Hornets aren’t exactly elite offensively. They are strong in certain areas, but they also rank near the bottom of the league in scoring, field goals made, field goal percentage and free throw percentage. In order to win close games, there are times where they need Hayward to just take over — and he’s proven on multiple occasions that he is still more than capable of doing just that. Hayward has actually been on quite a roll lately, scoring the ball at an incredible clip. Two weeks ago he put up 34 points in a blowout of the New York Knicks. Later, he had another 34-point performance against the Chicago Bulls. He also scored 39 points, including the game-winning layup, against the Orlando Magic. His season-high came earlier in the month where he posted 44 points in a victory against the Atlanta Hawks.
The individual scoring by Hayward has been impressive, but it hasn’t hampered their offensive rhythm at all. In fact, the Hornets currently average 28.3 assists per game, which is the best in the league.
It hasn’t all been sunshine and rainbows in Buzz City. The success on the court hasn’t necessarily translated to winning. After 17 games, their 7-10 record has them sitting in 12th place in the Eastern Conference standings. And, looking at their upcoming schedule, there could be some more bumps in the road.
Charlotte’s next two games are against the aforementioned Pacers. Later, the Hornets will host the Milwaukee Bucks and then head south to face the Miami HEAT, who should have their key pieces back on the floor. After that, they will have to face the Philadelphia 76ers, who own the best record in the conference. Following that game is a matchup with the red-hot Utah Jazz, who have won nine games in a row. Withstanding that rough stretch will be pivotal for this team, as they have now lost four of their last five games. These Hornets are a young group, but Hayward’s experience and the return of fellow Indiana-native Cody Zeller should allow them to win some of those games. Their season just might depend on it.
The Hornets are a fun team to watch. The jaw-dropping passes from Ball and the ridiculous highlight dunks by Bridges are must-see television, but their leader is proving he is worth every penny. Sure, Hayward has the massive contract, but he also has earned the opportunity to be a franchise player once again.
He isn’t the same All-Star player that he was in Utah. This version of Hayward is even better.
NBA Standout Player Watch – Jan. 26
Basketball Insiders releases its first standout player watch of the year for the Eastern Conference. Tristan Tucker highlights some of the players that have shown out but are still vastly underrated.
This season, the All-Star game will not be played, though players will still be able to receive the honor and go down in the record books all the same. While players like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant and many more are surefire All-Stars, Basketball Insiders wants to give credit to some of the players that are being overlooked around the league.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at Basketball Insiders’ first edition of its standout player watch from the Eastern Conference, in no particular order.
When the Detroit Pistons signed Grant, someone that averages 9.8 points across his career, to a three year, $60 million deal in the offseason, everyone around the NBA raised their eyebrows. It was then reported that the Denver Nuggets offered the same deal to try and keep Grant, but he took on a role that would see him be the feature offensive piece in Detroit.
That move has completely paid off and Grant is having a year that almost no one, other than himself, could have expected. The 6-foot-8 forward is averaging 24.3 points, 6.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists and .9 steals per game, all career highs.
Grant is also having his most efficient season beyond the arc, shooting 38.2 percent from deep on 6.9 attempts per game, a fairly high number.
The Pistons are bad, there’s no way to sugarcoat that, but Grant alongside other pleasant surprises in Josh Jackson, Wayne Ellington and Saddiq Bey have made the team enjoyable to watch. Grant is playing like a legitimate superstar and should be named to the All-Star team this year, in whatever form that may take.
Over the last three seasons, LaVine has continued to improve and this season is no different. Despite averaging 23.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists on 45.3 percent shooting from the floor and 37.4 percent from deep across his Chicago Bulls career, LaVine has yet to make an All-Star team.
Perhaps that will all change this season, as LaVine is averaging career highs in points, rebounds, assists and blocks, plus close to a 50/40/90 split. The Bulls are decent this season, currently at 7-9, but for LaVine to be an All-Star lock, they’ll likely need to be in playoff position at the time of All-Star selections.
Brown appeared on Basketball Insiders’ week one MVP ladder, and that was no mistake. There’s a reason Brown was never included in any potential James Harden trade chatter, no matter how much the Houston Rockets may have wanted him – and that’s because he’s the real deal.
This season, Brown is the seventh-leading scorer in the league and is putting up an astounding 27.3 points, 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals, shooting 43 percent from deep on nearly seven attempts per game.
The Boston Celtics haven’t been at full strength for much of the season, without Jayson Tatum as he deals with a case of COVID-19, but Brown has his franchise among the frontrunners in the Eastern Conference nonetheless.
Randle had a season to forget last year after signing with the New York Knicks on a three-year, $62 million contract in the summer of 2019, as he took a dip in scoring and efficiency across the board from his breakout season the year before with the New Orleans Pelicans.
Something changed in the 6-foot-8 power forward over the offseason, as he is having a career year with the Knicks and has the team firmly in the playoff picture with an 8-10 record. The main difference in Randle’s game has been his shift in playstyle, transitioning to a playmaking big instead of someone that’s primarily an undersized low post threat.
Randle is averaging career highs in multiple statistical categories, up to 22.7 points, 11.3 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game.
Vucevic is criminally underrated year after year and this season is more of the same. One of the only reasons the Orlando Magic is able to remain competitive in the face of huge injuries to key players like Markelle Fultz, Jonathan Isaac and Al-Farouq Aminu is the play of Vucevic.
Vucevic has been giving it his all this season, putting up a career-high in points per game with 23.2 and has put in the work necessary to improve his long-range game. He’s shooting 42.6 percent from three on 6.4 attempts per game, by far and away the best deep shooting performance of his career.
While Vucevic has been named to an All-Star team before, his name is rarely mentioned when discussing the best bigs in the league, a narrative that he’s doing his all to change.
Domantas Sabonis/Malcolm Brogdon/Myles Turner
So many players have been playing stellar ball for the Indiana Pacers that it was impossible to narrow this selection down to just one.
Sabonis has downright played his way into the MVP conversation, notching a double-double in every single game he’s appeared in this season. Sabonis was an All-Star last year, and his play has continued to improve as he’s averaging 20.9 points, 12.9 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game.
Brogdon has also played his way into the MVP race, having been included in Basketball Reference’s ladder in the first month alongside Sabonis. It’s not hard to see why as he’s averaging what is by far a career-high 21.9 points with 7.1 assists on 39.5 percent shooting from deep on 7.1 attempts per game. Brogdon has also improved his on-ball defense, averaging 1.6 steals per game, a career-high.
Meanwhile, Turner may just be the most overlooked of them all, as he’s the heart and soul of this Indiana defense. Turner should be firmly in the lead for the Defensive Player of the Year award, as he’s holding opponents to shoot below league average and has averaged a whopping 4.1 blocks per game.
Honorable mentions: De’Andre Hunter, Gordon Hayward
It was hard to narrow this list down in the first place, with so many notable performances coming out of the Eastern Conference on a nightly basis. OG Anunoby and Chris Boucher are showing out for the Toronto Raptors and are helping that team back into the playoff picture, Shake Milton looks like one of the best guards in the conference while Tobias Harris is revitalizing his career under Philadelphia 76ers’ head coach Doc Rivers.
However, our honorable mentions this week are De’Andre Hunter and Gordon Hayward, both of whom are playing at a near All-Star level.
Hunter made the jump into a lead wing for the Atlanta Hawks after a promising first season and is up to 17.4 points per game, upping his efficiency across the board and fresh off a 33-point performance versus the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Charlotte Hornets’ signing of Hayward to a huge deal was widely panned across the league but the Hornets were always going to have to empty their pockets to get a player of his caliber. Hayward is averaging 24.1 points per game and is eerily close to a 50/40/90 shooting split. Hayward, alongside teammate Terry Rozier, have the Hornets in contention for a playoff spot, with both players playing at extremely high levels.
With so many outstanding players in the league, this list will be sure to change on a weekly basis. Be sure to check back at Basketball Insiders to see which players continue to shine!