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NBA AM: Pacers Thriving Despite Roster Changes

The Indiana Pacers have been one of the season’s biggest surprises. Can they keep up the momentum?

Lang Greene

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Pacers are Relevant Again in the Eastern Conference

From 2012 to 2014, the Indiana Pacers emerged as an annual playoff thorn in the side of the Miami HEAT in that franchise’s quest to reach the NBA Finals. Those Pacers amassed an impressive 147-82 (.641) record and two trips to the Eastern Conference Finals before finishing the 2014-15 campaign a woeful 38-44 and missing the playoffs.

Last season’s demise was expected as former All-Star forward Paul George missed all but six games after suffering a gruesome leg injury while participating with Team USA the previous summer.

What wasn’t expected was the decision made by Indiana’s front office this past offseason to revamp the team’s personnel on the fly and usher in a new style of basketball. First was the departure of former All-Star and starting power forward David West, who opted for significantly less money to sign with the San Antonio Spurs. Next, the team decided to trade longtime starting center Roy Hibbert to the Los Angeles Lakers. Also out the door in free agency was rugged veteran forward Luis Scola, who ultimately ended up in Toronto.

The Pacers then surprisingly reached an agreement with high scoring guard Monta Ellis in free agency and openly stated their plan was to utilize George at power forward during the upcoming season. This made it extremely clear the team wanted to play smaller and at a more frenetic pace.

The results have been largely positive to start the 2015-16 season. The Pacers (12-8) currently sit fourth in the Eastern Conference standings and are only 1.5 games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers for the top slot. George has adapted well to his new role at power forward by averaging 27.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 1.7 steals per game.

The overall transformation has been impressive on the offensive end of the floor. Last season, the Pacers scored 97.3 points per game, ranking 24th in the league. This season, the club is scoring 104.2 points per contest and rank fifth, while keeping their defensive efficiency rating consistent with the 2014-15 campaign.

While Indiana is currently on a three-game skid, the team had won nine of their previous 10 contests. The Pacers return to action December 11 versus the HEAT.

Celtics’ David Lee Wants More Playing Time

Former All-Star. Two-time 20-point scorer over a full season. NBA champion. At 32, David Lee may be past his absolute physical prime, but he shouldn’t be considered end of bench fodder either. However, he’s averaging a career-low 15.4 minutes per game this season for the Boston Celtics this season. Lee was dealt to Boston from the Golden State Warriors this past offseason.

The Celtics have plenty of youth up and down the roster so the acquisition of Lee was meant to inject a veteran presence in the locker room and a proven producer in the rotation.

Lee has, for the most part, taken his role in stride – but he also isn’t content with the amount minutes head coach Brad Stevens is playing him on a nightly basis.

“That’s all I can do, is be ready to play 25, 30 but realize that’s not going to be the case most nights,” Lee said according to Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe. “I can choose to be frustrated by it or I can choose to make the most out of my time and make a positive contribution and find a way to do it in different ways.

“I don’t know where it’s going to be, but I know I’m going to be aggressive and I’m going to play with energy. That’s what I’m going to focus on.”

Not surprisingly, given the low minutes, Lee is also averaging the lowest points (6.6) and rebounds (4.0) since his rookie season in 2006.

“I don’t accept [it], it’s very frustrating, and the moment you start to accept it is when [you’ve] kind of stopped trying,” Lee said. “While Coach can make any decision whom he wants to start or bring off the bench, my goal is to be a guy who’s playing 20, 25 minutes, and I’ve had a meeting with Coach and told him that.

“And that’s no disrespect to any other big [man] we have. But as a player I think everybody wants to play more and that’s just having confidence in your own game.”

The Celtics (12-9) are tied with the Orlando Magic for eighth place in the improved Eastern Conference. The team features other capable big men such as Tyler Zeller, Amir Johnson, Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger so Lee’s playing time will likely continue to follow this current trajectory.

Lee, set to earn $15.5 million this season, will be an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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High-Performance Mindfulness: The Next Frontier In Basketball

Jake Rauchbach details down how leveraging Mindset to improve on-court statistical performance, player and team, could be the next breakthrough in basketball.

Jake Rauchbach

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The next frontier in basketball is exploring human potential through harnessing the power of the mind to unleash exponential statistical performance improvement for the individual player and for the collective team.

Over the last few years, players such as Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan have shed light on the mind and mental health, coming forward to share their personal experiences with anxiety and depression. On the college level, the NCAA recently enacted rules to provide mental health services for athletes across Power Five conferences.

Across basketball landscapes in the college, the NBA and overseas in Europe, more and more attention has been paid to the mind, mental health and player mindset. Players, coaches and teams have been slowly implementing player development-based processes with the goal of improving performance by working with the mind.

The Indiana Pacers, Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks are just some of the teams employing dedicated Mental Performance resources/departments. The Orlando Magic’s Aaron Gordon, Boston’s Jaylen Brown and Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons have all used Mindfulness and Mental Performance Coaches to raise their game.

Players are no longer being viewed – nor are they viewing themselves – as just robots whose physical gifts and basketball skill sets alone can consistently carry them to producing high-level performance. Rather, they are embracing the notion that they are multi-dimensional people, who often require both a physical and mental training component working in synergy to activate and sustain improvement on the court.

The bottom line is that basketball is now at a “rubber meets the road” sort of mindfulness serving as an entree into exploring the mind as it relates to the next frontier in unlocking human potential for the purpose of improving efficiency.

A great example of this is Aaron Gordon, who has been training his mind for years with the help of World-Renowned Elite Mental Skills Coach, Graham Betchart.

“You listen to (the mental strength tools) day-in and day-out and it guides you through the ways to stay focused and stay present and how to be concerned with the process and not the results,’’ said Gordon.

These recent developments in this space have cracked the door wide open and have raised questions among many regarding whether Mindfulness (High-Performance Mindfulness), when applied over a specific duration of time, can tangibly (statistically speaking) improve on-court basketball performance when compared to before versus after intervention.

By working through the mind, can players really affect measured positive change in performance?

For instance: Can High-Performance Mindfulness-based techniques effectively eliminate downtrending metrics such as a deteriorating free-throw percentage, inconsistent three-point percentage or a lackluster assist-to-turnover ratio over the course of a season?

The answer is yes – and repeatedly so.

Through my experience working with players, I have observed that implementing Mindfulness processes within the context of overall player development programs produces a chain reaction for the player.

Honing a stronger mental focus – while simultaneously clearing out the subconscious or muscle memory blocks of a player – has the direct effect of supercharging mind-body connection, ultimately influencing overall performance trajectory upwards. The byproduct of this phenomenon is that higher efficiency numbers, both on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor, occur over a certain period of time for the player.

Due to these recent developments, it is not a stretch to think that the next growth area in Sports Science and basketball player development will be finding ways to leverage the power of the mind for measurable performance improvement.

Moving forward, I am going to begin to pull back the curtain on everything pertaining to mental health and High-Performance Mindfulness. Come take this ride with me as I draw upon my experiences embedded as a High-Performance Coach within professional and college coaching staffs, and my time as a consultant working with Olympic, professional and college athletes.

I will break down and provide proposed solutions for how to facilitate improvement for players, especially the ones who have experienced chronic performance issues throughout their careers.

Additionally, we will also analyze the mechanics of the player mindset, break down why players experience slumps and why some players struggle during crunch time situations. Understanding peak performance states and processes for unlocking these exponential-type performance experiences will also be covered.

Basically, anything related to the mind, basketball and improving performance through the mind will be fair game in these columns.

This is meant to be interactive. As we begin to dive in with subsequent articles, please feel free to leave questions and thoughts in the “comments section below.” Don’t be afraid to share your experiences or observations!

The next frontier in basketball could quite possibly be unlocking the power of the mind through High-Performance Mindfulness. Stay tuned for insights, updates,and analysis on this area across professional, college and international basketball.

Jake Rauchbach is an Integrated Player Development Coach, specializing in High-Performance Mindfulness and has coached on the professional and Division-1 collegiate levels. He is the founder of The MindRight Pro® Program and consults for Olympic, collegiate and professional players and teams.

Follow Jake on Twitter and Instagram.

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NBA Daily: Grading The Offseason – Washington Wizards

Ben Nadeau continues Basketball Insiders’ “Grading The Offseason” series by analyzing the Washington Wizards.

Ben Nadeau

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Over the next couple of weeks, Basketball Insiders is grading all 30 NBA teams on their offseasons — additions, subtractions, draft picks, trades, etc — and their potential headed into the 2019-20 campaign. Between today and autumn, franchises will be tasked with figuring out how their roster pieces, both new and old, might mesh together on the floor.

For some, that will mean constructing a championship-worthy rotation, for others, however, that demands just creating a half-decent product. Unfortunately, in Washington, the outlook is cloudy and overcast already, casting doubt not only on the upcoming season but for future efforts as well.

Overview

Existing in basketball purgatory is a fickle fate, one that often befalls franchises despite their very best efforts to keep their heads bobbing above water. Within the Wizards’ organization, such a position has become an everyday reality, not a mere season-long pitstop.

Even worse, the merciful end is no closer than it was 365 days ago.

John Wall spent another year broken and hobbled — now out indefinitely — while the Dwight Howard Experiment, although no fault of his own, was an abject failure. Howard, who was supposed to help fill the Wizards’ big-time void at center, lasted just nine games before an ailing back knocked him down and out for the rest of the year. Wall, of course, would make it until Christmastime, injured his heel and then underwent season-ending surgery not long after. Later, it got even worse as Wall slipped at home and ruptured his left Achilles tendon.

As of July, there still no indication if he’ll be ready at all for 2019-20 — which would, more or less, stop any potentially bright Wizards outlooks right in their tracks. Without Wall, and given his insanely large contract, Washington is stuck as-is, toiling away sans hope or the ability to completely bottom out.

But beyond that, Bradley Beal continued his ascent to superstardom by dominating the Eastern Conference once again. Turning in another All-Star-worthy campaign, Beal embraced his no-debate role as the No. 1 playmaker in Washington, thriving and rising to the newest challenge. Beal averaged 25.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 2.5 three-pointers per game as the 26-year-old heroically tried to keep the Wizards alive in a weak postseason race.

Once Wall was shelved, Beal entered the trade deadline frenzied rumor mill — but owner Ted Leonsis shot that down unequivocably, a notion that appears to still be the case as of a few days ago. Next week, the Wizards can offer Beal an extension worth $111 million over three years — so, should he accept, the team’s future becomes much clearer. If not, expect those rumors to heat right back up ahead of training camps and the preseason.

Back in February, Washington acquired Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker, along with a 2023 second pick, from Chicago in exchange for Otto Porter Jr., a former cornerstone once thought to be the perfect third wheel to Wall and Beal. Following his trade to the Bulls, Porter Jr. averaged a career-best 17.5 points on 48.8 percent from three-point range. Then when free agency opened, the Wizards waved farewell to both as Portis signed with the New York Knicks and Parker inked a short-term deal with the Atlanta Hawks.

Eventually, the Wizards finished with a 32-50 record, a full nine games behind the final playoff seed and far away from owning any great lottery odds either. Or, in simpler terms: Purgatory, meet the Wizards. Washington, meet purgatory — you’re going to be great friends.

Naturally, a handful of those recent decisions had come without a permanent general manager as Leonsis fired Ernie Grunfeld, the longtime president of basketball operations, in April. Ahead of the draft and free agency, they attempted to lure in the Nuggets’ Tim Conley or the Raptors’ Masai Ujiri, but both stayed put in their slightly-less dysfunctional situations.

Just yesterday, the Wizards finally removed the interim tag from Tommy Sheppard — filling in for Grunfeld for the last three months — thus officially making him the full-time general manager.

Offseason

With the No. 9 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, the Wizards scooped up Rui Hachimura, a former standout on a well-ranked Gonzaga squad. As a junior, Hachimura averaged 19.7 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, an understated breakout season that would push him up as high as the top five on many draft boards. Given Hachimura’s elite prospects as a perimeter defender, his type of ball-hawking, game-changing potential fits well next to Beal, regardless of what the rest of their floormates looks like.

Of note, the Wizards were able to pick up Admiral Schofield with an acquired second-rounder pick too, a highly-regarded, hard-working forward from Tennesse. If his portfolio with the Volunteers is any indication, he’ll be loved in D.C. before long at all.

To their credit, the Wizards attempted to wrestle back some control of the current predicament by hopping into several small-sided trades too. First, they dealt Howard to Memphis for C.J. Miles, another strong three-point shooter for head coach Scott Brooks to tinker with. Washington then re-signed Tomas Satoranksy, a formidable backup that improved with minutes once Wall got hurt, and then dealt him to the Bulls for future draft considerations.

Shrewdly, the Wizards were able to sneak into a trade involving the Nets’ sign-and-trade of DeMarre Carroll with San Antonio, ultimately coming away with forward Davis Bertans.

The biggest one, however, came with the Wizards scooting into the mega-Anthony Davis deal. The Los Angeles Lakers needed to clear extra cap space in hopes of acquiring both Davis and, at the time, Kawhi Leonard, so Washington gladly added Moritz Wagner, Isaac Bonga and Jemerrio Jones for practically nothing. For those forever down on the Wizards’ front office, it’s exactly the type of move the franchise needs to make during their quest towards relevancy once again.

Elsewhere, they re-signed Thomas Bryant — coming off an excellent second-year rise that brought 10.5 points and 6.3 rebounds over just 20.8 minutes per game — to a new deal worth three years and $25 million. To circumvent the Wall-less hole at point guard, Washington added Isaiah Thomas (one year, $2.3 million) and Ish Smith (two years, $12 million) — two savvy veterans with plenty to left to prove.

All in all, it wasn’t exactly pretty, but the Wizards — without a non-interim decision-maker to boot — have done well to reset some of their past mistakes.

PLAYERS IN: Isaiah Thomas, Ish Smith, Davis Bertans, C.J. Miles, Isaac Bonga, Mortiz Wagner, Jemerrio Jones, Rui Hachimura, Admiral Schofield

PLAYERS OUT: Bobby Portis, Jabari Parker, Jonathon Simmons, Jeff Green, Tomas Satoransky, Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza

What’s Next

Well, what’s next is probably a repeat of 2018-19 all over again, sadly: Beal showing out, Bryant continuing to grow and wondering what could’ve been with a healthy Wall on the floor — but this time with the pleasant bonus of Hachimura’s development. All things considered, Washington has improved from where they started the summer but playoff contention still feels like an unlikely ending to this tale

Unless the Wizards decide to move Beal — Miami is on the prowl, reportedly — then firmly stuck in the Eastern Conference purgatory they shall remain. If Beal goes, the wheels could fall off quickly — but that’s OK too! Ever so often, franchises have to be willing to hit rock bottom before any redemption is possible. For years and year, Leonsis hasn’t been able to convince himself to hit that bright red self-destruct button and the Wizards have been worse off for it.

This season, perhaps, it will happen and better days will finally ahead.

Still, don’t expect them to find a suitor for Wall — that extension may become the ghost that haunts them well and far into the 2020s.

Offseason Grade: C

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NBA Daily: Grading The Offseason – Atlanta Hawks

Matt John continues Basketball Insiders’ “Grading The Offseason” series by analyzing the Atlanta Hawks.

Matt John

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Grading The Offseason - Atlanta Hawks

In case you haven’t been following along, Basketball Insiders has been running a new series called “Grading the Offseason.” So far, we’ve visited the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Chicago Bulls and the New York Knicks.

This go-round, we take a look at the baby Hawks that reside in the ATL. Things are looking up in Hotlanta. After kicking off a rebuild a mere two years ago, it looks like a new and promising era of Hawks basketball is forming before our eyes.

It may be a while before they see the playoffs again, but Atlanta has something to build off of here. The future may be bright for the Hawks, but how they handle that future depends on how they handle themselves over these next few offseasons.

How did they do in this one? Well, let’s take it from the top.

Overview

Seeing as they were in year two of a rebuild, not much was expected from the Hawks this season. Mike Budenholzer bolted for Wisconsin. Dennis Schroder was traded for Carmelo Anthony, who was promptly waived. The Hawks had now moved on from its previous “star-less” era.

The real headline coming into the season was the new kid in town, Trae Young. Hawks GM Travis Schlenk swung for the fences on draft night when he traded away the draft rights to Luka Doncic for Young plus an additional first-round pick from Dallas. Everyone was divisive on Young coming into the draft. The consensus on him was that he was a high-risk/high-reward player because of his inconsistent freshman season at Oklahoma.

Trading him for Doncic, who may have been the most hyped foreign prospect possibly ever, was a gamble for the ages. For a while, it looked like that gamble was going to come up snake eyes.

While Doncic was drawing oohs and aahs from the crowd from the very start, Young’s NBA career started a little rough. From October to January, Young put up a respectable 16.5 points and 7.3 assists per game, but doing so on 41/30/80 splits when he was taking 14 shots in almost 30 minutes a night? Not too pretty.

But his fortunes changed once February rolled around. With a slight uptick in minutes, Trae started finding his groove. From there on out, he averaged 23.2 points and 9.2 assists per game on 43/36/85 splits, highlighted by 49/16/8 stat line in a quadruple overtime victory over the Bulls on March 1.

Did that change anything? Not really. The Hawks were still one of the worst teams in the league, but the team could pride itself on that it was fun to watch the youngsters go to work.

Young wasn’t the only one having all the fun. John Collins throughout the season established himself as one of the NBA’s most promising bigs, averaging a near 20/10 on the season while showing a somewhat progressing three-point shot (almost 35 percent). Young and Collins together made for one of the most exciting alley-oop pairs in the league.

The centerpiece to the Hawks’ next generation seemed to have arrived, but the team may have also brought in its reinforcements as well. Kevin Huerter’s sharpshooting garnered some recognition for the All-NBA rookie teams. DeAndre’ Bembry showed progress in his third year. Omari Spellman showed he could stroke it from three as well as a nose for the ball.

The veterans also deserved some shoutouts. Dewayne Dedmon proved himself valuable for the Hawks. Alex Len was productive given the cheap contract he signed last summer. Kent Bazemore did what he usually does. Jeremy Lin was fine in his role as a backup before he was waived. And who can forget the guidance from good ol’ Vince Carter?

Atlanta’s 29-53 record may have qualified it for the fifth-worst record in the league, but it was clear that the seeds had been planted and a winning culture was sprouting. Many will still go back and forth on the Young for Doncic trade, but Schlenk got his guy in Trae. Lloyd Pierce has so far proven himself a worthy successor to Mike Budenholzer.

So far, things are going right in Atlanta that there really wasn’t much they could do wrong this summer. The best moves they could have made was continuing to build on the good foundation they already have.

Is that what they did? Let’s find out.

Offseason

The one ace in the hole for Atlanta in the Luka-for-Trae deal was the top-five protected 2019 pick that Dallas also agreed to trade to Atlanta. The Mavericks tried in the latter half of the season to retain the pick, but after the success the team had with Luka running the show, it was too little too late.

When draft time rolled around, the Hawks had the fifth-highest odds to get the number one pick, and Dallas’ ninth-highest odds made it appear likely that the pick would convey. While Dallas wound up forfeiting the pick to Atlanta, lady luck didn’t do the Hawks any favors. When the lottery ended, the Hawks wound up with the eighth and 10th picks in the lottery.

But that didn’t stop Atlanta from going to work. A week or so before the draft, the Hawks agreed to trade Taurean Prince and a 2012 second-rounder in exchange for Allen Crabbe, the 17th overall pick and a protected 2020 first-rounder from Brooklyn. Doing this may have helped Brooklyn open up the necessary cap space to bring in two players on max contracts, but Atlanta’s motive was more than rational – it was all about asset accumulation.

It didn’t take long for Schlenk to cash in on these newly acquired assets. On draft night, the Hawks traded the eighth pick and the 17th pick as well as the Cavaliers protected 2020 pick to New Orleans for the fourth pick, which they would use to select De’Andre Hunter and landed them Solomon Hill. With Hunter, the Hawks have a promising 3&D wing who should complement Young and Collins quite well for the near future.

Atlanta still had the 10th overall pick at its arsenal. With it, they selected Cam Reddish, another boom or bust prospect – sound familiar? With the lack of top-notch prospects in this last draft, rolling the dice with Reddish seemed worth it. When the draft ended, the Hawks came away with a prospect believed to produce right away (Hunter) and one that may take some time to groom (Reddish).

Following the draft, the Hawks offseason has been pretty ho-hum. They haven’t exactly lit the world on fire, but they haven’t made any particularly dumb moves.

The first move that was made post-draft was sending Bazemore to Portland for Evan Turner. By doing this, the Hawks are giving Baze the chance to play for a playoff contender while getting back a reliable second unit playmaker who can be a positive influence on the youngsters in the locker room. Turner’s been well-liked by teammates and coaches alike in his previous two franchises, so he should at worst only continue what Vince Carter did last season.

By acquiring Crabbe and Turner, the Hawks seemed to have formed a pattern of trading for some of the most handsomely overpaid players from the 2016 Free Agency. That only continued when the team traded Hill and Miles Plumlee for Chandler Parsons. Atlanta did this with the intent of opening up a roster spot, and if Parsons suits up for the team, then anything positive he does is a bonus.

The one quasi-peculiar move the Hawks made was trading Omari Spellman, who was solid his rookie season, for Damian Jones. The rationale behind it might be that they had too many guys who played Spellman’s position in Atlanta, compared to Golden State who is trying to find any depth it can get its hands on.

The last prominent move made by Atlanta was adding Jabari Parker on a contract much cheaper than the one he signed with the Bulls last summer. Parker may wind up being one of the better economical additions of the summer, but that’s only as long as he’s the Jabari we saw in Washington. Not the one we saw in Chicago.

Even though their state as a team hasn’t changed too drastically, the Hawks may have had the most unpredictable offseason this summer. A fair amount of the moves they made probably won’t lead to much, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that said moves, for the most part, came out of nowhere.

PLAYERS IN: De’Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish, Evan Turner, Allen Crabbe, Chandler Parsons, Jabari Parker, Damian Jones, Charlie Brown Jr. (Two-Way)

PLAYERS OUT: Dewayne Dedmon, Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince, Omari Spellman, Miles Plumlee, Deyonta Davis, Jaylen Adams

What’s Next

The Hawks are now entering Year 3 of their rebuild. Though their roster has gone through a fair amount of turnover over the past month or so – outside of the young kids who are still hitting their potential – this roster is about the same when it comes to boasting talent as it was last year.

One distinct difference though is that Parsons, Crabbe, Turner and Len are all expiring this season, which could affect how motivated they are to play at their best this season. It could become a real question if any of the aforementioned players finish the season in Atlanta should the Hawks either stay the same or take another leap forward.

The Hawks have plenty of young talent with high enough ceilings to get them there that it honestly wouldn’t be surprising if they did. They are also young and inexperienced enough that it wouldn’t surprise anyone if no progress is made. Considering that they were showing progress towards the end of last season should make fans a whole lot more excited for what’s in store this season.

This will be a year in which the Hawks will get to see what works and what doesn’t. What might be the best part about this rebuild going on for Atlanta is that there really is no pressure on the Hawks right now to produce right away.

The goal for Atlanta should have been to add talented players who will only add to its youth movement and adding veterans who will only continue the winning culture the Hawks have established.

From the looks of things, they did just that.

Offseason Grade: B+

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