The NBA season is over, which means diehard basketball fans must go without the game they love for quite some time. For a long time, summer league was the only option for a basketball fan craving some action featuring professionals. Now, there’s another alternative.
The Basketball Tournament is back for the second straight year, and it features a ton of former NBA players, old college teams reuniting, a $1 million prize and nationally televised games on ESPN and ESPN U. The opening round of TBT starts on July 10, and games will be played in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia. Games will be on ESPN, ESPN U and live-streamed online, and tickets are available as well.
For complete details about The Basketball Tournament, check out my in-depth article on the competition from April. The short explanation is that anyone can put a team together and the winning squad splits the $1 million prize however they decide. This is the first year that TBT will be televised and feature a seven-figure prize, which has attracted a ton of talented players. Contract restrictions prevent current NBA players from playing in TBT, but former NBA players and free agents are free to participate. The following players will be competing in TBT this year:
Nate Robinson, Mike Bibby, Jason Williams, Jamaal Tinsley, Brian Scalabrine, Dominique Jones, Josh Selby, Jamario Moon, Hakim Warrick, Donte Green, Michael Sweetney, Royce White, Smush Parker, Fab Melo, Jermaine Taylor, Von Wafer, Sam Young, Terrence Williams, Pooh Jeter, Damien Wilkins, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Ike Diogu, Josh Boone, Marcus Banks, Luke Harangody, DerMarr Johnson, Willie Reed, Xavier Silas, Ryan Gomes, Renaldo Balkman, Chris Wright, Tyshawn Taylor, Bobby Brown, Earl Barron, Sundiata Gaines, Dijon Thompson, Stephen Graham, Derrick Caracter, Alex Kirk, Rob Kurz, Mardy Collins, Scotty Hopson and Hamady N’Diaye among others. Other players may still be added too (rumor has it Rasheed Wallace and Jermaine O’Neal are being pursued).
While current NBA players cannot take the floor, they can serve as a team’s general manager, coach or booster and Ty Lawson, Jamal Crawford, C.J. McCollum, Nick Young, Frank Kaminsky and Matt Bonner have decided to do just that.
With The Basketball Tournament right around the corner, we caught up with some of the participants to get their thoughts on the tourney, their respective team and their strategy entering the competition. Each of the individuals we talked to has played in the NBA. Check out our roundtable Q&A:
How did you hear about The Basketball Tournament?
Jamario Moon, Player, “Team Trained To Go”: “I got an email asking if I wanted to play and then I was put in contact with [my general manager]. At first, I had never heard of the tournament. I thought it was just another small basketball tournament that organizers put together in a city and they try to get some guys to play so they can generate some money. I thought it was just another one of those. But then once I heard the details –the $1 million prize money, games being on ESPN – I thought, ‘This could be pretty big right here, and a nice opportunity to make some money.’ You can’t beat that. Go out there and play basketball for a month, have some fun and possibly make some money? You can’t beat that! I’m looking forward to it. It definitely won’t be my last time playing in TBT.”
Dominique Jones, Player, “Team BDB”: “The first time I heard about the tournament was when Josh Selby, who is on the team and also our general manager, hit me up about it. He told me about it and it seemed like a great opportunity to play some high-level basketball and potentially earn some money doing it. That’s what I love doing, so I was in.”
Smush Parker, Player, “Team Big Apple Basketball”: “I played last year and I actually first heard about TBT through my coach, Jason Curry, from Big Apple Basketball. I was working out in New York and had just gotten back from playing overseas. He reached out to me and asked if I wanted to run with them in the tournament and I did. It was an incredible experience last year. It was really organized, it was well run, the teams were competitive (for the most part) and the games were exciting. I enjoyed myself and I felt like I was 16 years old again playing AAU basketball.”
Michael Sweetney, Player, “Team City of Gods”: “I actually heard about it from a really good friend of mine, Joe Connelly, who used to be a player development coach for the Washington Wizards the year before last. He’s a good friend of mine and we’ve been working out together for a while and he said, ‘Why not put a team together with guys from this area and try to win this tournament?’ So that’s how I found out about it. This whole tournament is just such a great idea. And not even just the money part of it, just the way that it allows guys to come together and form a team to play together, it’s great.”
C.J. McCollum, Booster, “Team The Wrecking Crew”: “I think I initially saw something about it on social media. I clicked on some links and found out more information about it.”
DerMarr Johnson, Player, “Team City of Gods”: “I heard about the tournament through some friends and even had some guys I didn’t know who were reaching out to me trying to get me on their team.”
Alex Kirk, Player, “Team Armored Athlete”: “When I was up at the D-League Showcase, I heard from a couple buddies that they were participating. I’m not doing much around that time of the summer, so why not play? It’s the closest thing to an AAU tournament I’ve been able to compete in since high school.”
Willie Reed, Player, “Team BDB”: “Well, I heard about it last year, but I wasn’t sure if it was something that was real or legit. Then, when I did confirm that it was for real, I found out a little bit too late so I wasn’t able to play. This year, I wanted to give it a go and Josh Selby asked me to play for Team BDB (also known as Brothers Dat Ball).”
Xavier Silas, Player, “Team City of Gods”: “I heard about it from Joe Connelly too, and I was really interested.”
Who is on your team and how did your roster come together?
Jamario Moon, Player, Team Trained To Go: “Actually, I live in Atlanta so I got with a group of guys here and we’ve been playing basketball together for a while. We have [former NBA players] Damien Wilkins, Kevin Murphy and Garret Siler. We have some guys who played overseas too.”
Dominique Jones, Player, Team BDB: “I’ve known Josh Selby for a long time. We met through my trainer, who used to work with Josh back when he was younger. Once Josh and I met, we just immediately became close and cool. We always kept in touch, even though our careers have taken us in different directions. I joined his team and he just kept adding guys like [Jermaine Taylor, Willie Reed, Aquille Carr, Durand Scott and Ibrahima Thomas].”
Smush Parker, Player, Team Big Apple Basketball: “I’m playing with the same team as last year, but there are some new guys added on this year. Last year, we had 10 guys on our roster, but only five players showed up so we have the same nucleus, but we wanted to make sure we filled out the team with other guys who could show up. [Former NBA players] Sam Young and Derrick Caracter are on the team with me.”
Michael Sweetney, Player, Team City of Gods: “Joe Connelly pretty much put the whole team together. We have DerMarr Johnson, who is a former NBA player. We have David Hawkins, who plays overseas. We have Pops Mensah-Bonsu, who played in the NBA. We have Xavier Silas, who played in the NBA. We have Hamady N’Diaye, who played in the NBA. We have James Gist, Phil Goss, Omar Strong, Devin Sweetney, Lafonte Johnson. We have a number of guys who played in the NBA or played at a high level overseas. We have a pretty stacked squad. … There are some other really talented teams with former NBA players too though. Dominique Jones is playing, and I know he can go. He should be on someone’s [NBA] roster, but he’s probably just looking for the right chance. For sure, he’s one of the most talented players that I know of in the tournament. Josh Selby too, he can go and he’s very talented. [Team BDB] has some really good guys who can play.”
C.J. McCollum, Booster, Team The Wrecking Crew: “Holden [Greiner], Jordan [Hamilton], Mackey [McKnight] and some other Lehigh alumni are locked in on our roster, to my knowledge. Lehigh had some solid teams over the years and guys have stayed in contact post-graduation. Holden is one of the guys who’s really involved in orchestrating the team and reaching out to different players.”
Alex Kirk, Player, Team Armored Athlete: “Most of the players on our team played in the Midwest and a number of the guys played at Indiana such as Christian Watford, Will Sheehey and Jordan Hulls. We also have Mark Lyons from Arizona. They found a sponsor in Armored Athletes and then found a good group of guys.”
Willie Reed, Player, Team BDB: “I knew I wanted to join this year and then when Josh Selby asked me to play, I figured what better way than to team up with the guy who I became friends with during my pre-draft training? Josh and I built that relationship during the pre-draft process, working out together in Las Vegas, and we had chemistry on the court. We always had fun together and played well together. I’m looking forward to reuniting with him. We have a lot of other talented guys as well. I feel like I’m a guy who can fit in on anybody’s team just because of the way I play, and we have a lot of good players who I’ve worked out with or watched over time.”
Xavier Silas, Player, Team City of Gods: “Our team has Pops Mensah-Bonsu, DerMarr Johnson, James Gist, Phil Goss, Hamady N’Diaye and Michael Sweetney, just to name a few. Joe and his team put it all together.”
How is your team preparing? Will you all practice beforehand?
Jamario Moon, Player, Team Trained To Go: “We work out every day together in Atlanta, so we’re going to practice for the tournament and put some plays in place. Actually, we already have some simple sets that we can call. We just played in a $5,000 tournament a few weeks ago and we won, and we ran some basic stuff. We’ll use that, but we’ll also practice more before the tournament. We’re going to turn some of our daily workouts into practices, but it’s great that we already know each other and have chemistry.”
Dominique Jones, Player, Team BDB: “We don’t have any set plans [to train together] yet, but I’m down here in Tampa just working out individually at USF, doing what I do.”
Smush Parker, Player, Team Big Apple Basketball: “We are all in the gym, doing individual workouts. I don’t think we’ll be able to get the whole team together to practice plays and defensive schemes and things like that, but we’re all in the gym individually and getting ready and working on our individual skills. I’m working out in New York.”
Michael Sweetney, Player, Team City of Gods: “I think we’re going to set up something so we can start getting together and practicing soon, but we still have a few guys who are finishing up their season overseas. Once those guys are free, we can all get together. But right now, the guys are pretty much working out with Joe and he already has a game plan for what we’re going to do and how we’re to play. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. We’re all excited about it.”
C.J. McCollum, Booster, Team The Wrecking Crew: “I think the guys will begin practicing as it gets closer. Obviously, I’m in the gym doing my offseason training so I won’t physically be involved as much as I would like, but I can still keep up and stay in contact with guys, due to the advancements in technology (laughs).”
DerMarr Johnson, Player, Team City of Gods: “I’m not positive if we are getting together for practice, but I think we will try to do something like that. It’s tough because I know some guys are still playing right now.”
Alex Kirk, Player, Team Armored Athlete: “This part will be interesting because I know a few of them are trying to meet up during the summer before the games start so that they can practice together. I think that would be great to work out together (and play some golf). But my summer is going to be pretty busy playing summer league with the Memphis Grizzlies and New York Knicks, training at IMG Academy and hosting a couple of my own camps in New Mexico.”
Willie Reed, Player, Team BDB: “Josh [Selby] had talked about meeting up in Baltimore for practices or getting together before the tournament, but I’m not sure what we’re going to do yet. I’m sure we’ll go over some things, put some plays in, discuss pick-and-roll situations and figure out our defensive strategy and then go from there.”
Xavier Silas, Player, Team City of Gods: “I think we will get together beforehand and get some chemistry going, for sure. We’re still figuring it out though.”
What are your team’s strengths and what’s your strategy going in?
Jamario Moon, Player, Team Trained To Go: “I think our biggest strengths our ability to play [unselfishly] together and our experience together. Some guys can really score the basketball, some guys can really shoot it, but then they just want to take all of the shots. If we see an open guy, we’re going to hit the open guy. With the seven-footer Garett, we can just dump the ball to him down low and we get him cooking first. Then, if they start doubling Big G, he kicks it out to our shooters. If they don’t double him, well, guess what? He’s going to eat.”
Dominique Jones, Player, Team BDB: “I look at our roster and I just think we’re an all-around good team. We have a lot of talent at every position, all of our bigs and guards can hold their own. We have guys who can score and then play great defense against their opponent on the other end too. We’re going to be a two-way team, that’s going to be what we’re known for and that’s obviously a great strength to have.”
Smush Parker, Player, Team Big Apple Basketball: “Based on what I know from last year and what I know about the players we’ve added, we have guys who can make plays. We have playmakers who can create for others as well as themselves. We can get into the paint and finish, and we have a lot of outside shooting as well.”
Michael Sweetney, Player, Team City of Gods: “Honestly, it sounds crazy, but I think our biggest strength is that just about our entire team grew up in the D.C. area and we’ve all known each other 10 to 15 years. From a chemistry standpoint, we all know each other as players and as people and I think that’s huge for us. Also, we have so many guys with experience at different professional levels, whether it’s in the NBA or overseas, so we have guys who know how to play smart basketball.”
C.J. McCollum, Booster, Team The Wrecking Crew: “I think our strengths are obviously the fact that these guys have played together in years past and understand each others’ games. They will need to play unselfishly, hustle and shoot well to compete at a high level.”
DerMarr Johnson, Player, Team City of Gods: “We just have a well-rounded team of guys who really know how to play and we will just try to play together and play smart.”
Alex Kirk, Player, Team Armored Athlete: “I’m not 100 percent sure yet, to be quite honest, but I think we will have a nice mix of shooters and athletes. I think it will just be a game-by-game decision on what’s working because you can’t really scout your opponents for this. We’ll see what works each game.”
Willie Reed, Player, Team BDB: “The thing about Team BDB is that we have so many talented players that even if one guy doesn’t play well, we have a ton of really talented guys who can pick him up. We have so many guys who can play at a high level and contribute to the team. We have a lot of athleticism, so we can switch a lot. We have a lot of size, so we should out-rebound most teams. And we have excellent guards in Josh Selby, Dominique Jones, Jermaine Taylor and others who can break down their defender and finish. We also have strong leaders. I think that’s a great combination of players.”
Xavier Silas, Player, Team City of Gods: “Defense and rebounding are our strengths, I think. I look at this team and I see rim protectors and rebounders first. Then, I see people who are dogs and who don’t mind getting gritty on defense. Then, of course, we have offensive weapons. Putting all of that together could make us real scary. Also, we all have been playing at a high level overseas, so we will be able to connect in that way on the court as well.”
Does your team have what it takes to win it all and why?
Jamario Moon, Player, Team Trained To Go: “Of course we have what it takes. We have some guys who can really go. They play overseas, but it’s not like they aren’t good enough to play [in the NBA]. Our guys can play and, most importantly, they know how to play the right way. There’s a difference. They know the game and they know how their teammates play so they get the ball to them in their spots. It’s basically like we’ve put together our own little pro team here in the city.”
Dominique Jones, Player, Team BDB: “Oh yeah, I think we have it takes to win the whole tournament. Psh, if I didn’t think we had what it takes to win, I wouldn’t be playing in it.”
Smush Parker, Player, Team Big Apple Basketball: “I felt like we could’ve won the entire tournament last year with just five guys, but a lot of us were 30+ years old so playing three or four games in three days was hard on our bodies. Last year, we just ran out of steam. This year, I definitely feel like we can make it to the finals and win the whole tournament.”
Michael Sweetney, Player, Team City of Gods: “I mean, of course. Going in, we’re definitely confident. But we also know that there are a lot of other teams that are also thinking like us, so we just need to take things one game at a time. I’m sure every team is going in thinking, ‘Hey, we’re going to win this thing.’ But I do think we have a good squad here talent wise and it’s great we all know each other personally. We just need to take it one game at a time though. All it takes is one bad game and you’re going home – that’s the hard thing about a single-elimination tournament like this.”
C.J. McCollum, Booster, Team The Wrecking Crew: “In order to win it all, I think it’s more about playing together and executing. Every team in the tourney has talent, but not all have cohesion and chemistry.”
DerMarr Johnson, Player, Team City of Gods: “We just have an experienced, talented team. I’m sure a lot of other teams feel that they do as well, but [we’re confident]. That’s why we feel we can win.”
Alex Kirk, Player, Team Armored Athlete: “I think we have a good mix of players, which will make it difficult to beat us.”
Willie Reed, Player, Team BDB: “The only goal is to win it all. With our competitive nature and the team that we’ve built, the only goal we have is to win it all and take home that prize. There’s no feeling good about making it to the final game or ‘getting close.’ We joined this tournament because we want to win it all. That’s the only goal we have in mind.”
Xavier Silas, Player, Team City of Gods: “I think there are a lot of fighters and hungry guys on this team with really high talent levels. I think management has done a good job of putting us together and if we can get things right on the court, we can take [the $1 million].”
Which opponents are scarier: The reuniting college teams with chemistry or the teams with veteran NBA players that are very talented on paper?
Jamario Moon, Player, Team Trained To Go: “If there’s a team in the tournament that has jelled and has played together every day and understands how to play together as a team, I think they have the best shot at winning it all as opposed to the teams that were just thrown together for this tournament. I haven’t looked at all of the rosters, but I think our team has the best shot because I don’t think there are a lot of teams [with our talent] that are playing together like we have been. I mean, we play every day, so that’s really going to help us.”
Dominique Jones, Players, Team BDB: “I think the NBA talent is scarier. Chemistry is obviously really important, but I think that it’s easy to develop chemistry when everyone has the same goal. A team’s chemistry can be bad when people have ulterior motives and stuff like that, but everybody on our team has the same goal and knows what we need to do to win and get this money, so our chemistry will be great.”
Smush Parker, Player, Team Big Apple Basketball: “I’m going to go with the college teams on this one. I believe in team basketball. It’s a team sport and, in college, they harness that concept that everyone works together as a team – defensively and offensively. I’m more afraid of the college teams reuniting than certain teams that may have a few NBA players on their roster.”
Michael Sweetney, Player, Team City of Gods: “The alumni teams from Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Virginia and other schools are probably our biggest challenge. Those guys played in college together and spent so much time together so you know they’re going to be ready to play and have a system they can run. Chemistry is so important. Not to make a direct comparison, but look at a team like the San Antonio Spurs. Those guys have amazing chemistry and have the system down to the point that they know each other so well and always know where they’re going to be on the floor. It is almost automatic, and it’s amazing to watch as a basketball fan. Those teams that have chemistry and can run plays, they definitely have an advantage – even over a team like us since we have never played together like that. We are getting ready, but some of those teams played together for four-plus years. That experience will really help them, but we’re going to play hard and do our best. Honestly, the other scary rosters are the ones where you don’t know anybody. You know nothing about their team entering the game, so you can’t really prepare. There’s no real game-planning, you’re just going out there and playing. I think that’s one of the hardest things about this. The college teams are scary, but the teams you can’t scout or prepare for are tough too.”
C.J. McCollum, Booster, Team The Wrecking Crew: “I don’t think any of them are scary. There are solid players on all teams, but it’s more about competing and just going out there and hoopin’. At the end of the day, it’s still basketball, regardless of who’s out there.”
DerMarr Johnson, Player, Team City of Gods: “I’m really not sure who are on the other teams, to be honest. I haven’t looked at any of that.”
Alex Kirk, Player, Team Armored Athlete: “The college teams are scarier by far. This will be very similar to the old high school AAU tournaments where the most talented teams rarely win. The teams that play together and play defense, AKA play San Antonio Spurs basketball, will always win. I think that the NBA players will dominate [individually], but I don’t think they will ultimately win the tournament.”
Willie Reed, Player, Team BDB: “The college teams are always going to have the chemistry advantage. My old college team [from Saint Louis] is actually playing too. We know those teams will have chemistry from playing together for so long. But when you have a lot of NBA-caliber players, we know what it takes to be successful in the league, to play at the highest level and to work together. I think the San Antonio Spurs are a great example. If we can play somewhat close to what they do – playing on both ends with everyone knowing their role and jelling together – then we’ll have a shot to win. We’re just worried about our team and how we will play every night. If we do that, we don’t have to worry about any other teams in the tournament because we’ll go out there and handle our business.”
Xavier Silas, Player, Team City of Gods: “They are both scary, but I think the reunited college teams with actual veteran NBA players [such as Syracuse with Hakim Warrick and Donte Greene] pose the biggest problem. We’re focused on our own team though, making sure we don’t beat ourselves.”
If you do win, what will you do with your portion of the $1 million prize?
Jamario Moon, Player, Team Trained To Go: “I don’t really spend a lot of money. Oh, I have been collecting remote controlled cars. It’s a little hobby of mine. I like collecting them and getting them all souped up to go fast and then going to race them against other cars. That’s probably what I would do with my money, man. I’d get myself some new motors and gears and RC sets. I’ll go crazy with it.”
Dominique Jones, Player, Team BDB: “I’m not sure yet. I have a baby coming soon, so maybe I’ll start a college fund or something. I think that’s a good idea.”
Smush Parker, Player, Team Big Apple Basketball: “I haven’t decided yet, but it will definitely go toward something related to my future and what I’ll do after I’m done playing basketball.”
Michael Sweetney, Player, Team City of Gods: “Honestly, I don’t even know. That’s a good question. When we first all came together and talked about the tournament, we decided how we were going to split the potential prize money up and all of that, but that’s the last time we talked about the money. I haven’t thought about it at all. I have three kids so I would probably put it toward paying for college or something related to them.”
C.J. McCollum, Booster, Team The Wrecking Crew: “I haven’t even thought that far ahead yet. I’ll probably do some charity work – make donations – and invest some depending on how much is left after the split.”
DerMarr Johnson, Player, Team City of Gods: “If we win, the money will just go in the bank.”
Alex Kirk, Player, Team Armored Athlete: “I would put most of the money in my foundation to help sponsor my camps back in New Mexico. With the rest, I’d just invest it and maybe live off it until the next contract kicks in next season.”
Willie Reed, Player, Team BDB: “If we win and get that money, I’m just going to continue to take care of my family. I’m getting married this summer, so I’m sure my wife will have a lot [of say] in how the money is spent (laughs).”
Xavier Silas, Player, Team City of Gods: “I’m looking to buy a home next year so it will be going toward that, and paying off my law school debt.”
For more information on The Basketball Tournament, check out this article. Only July 1, the tournament’s bracket and official game schedule will be released.
NBA Daily: Biggest Disappointments — Southeast Division
Chad Smith breaks down the Southeast Division in the latest installment of Basketball Insiders’ Biggest Disappointments series.
Over the last few weeks, Basketball Insiders has highlighted the biggest surprises of the young NBA season. And, breaking down each division, there seemed to be a fantastic story about to unfold around every corner.
But, now, has reality finally started to settle in?
The pleasant surprises throughout the season are always welcome, but there have been plenty that aren’t so spectacular. Whether expectations were just too high, or unforeseen circumstance led to an awkward shift, some players or teams just haven’t had the greatest time to start the 2019-20 season.
It’s important to remember that the season is but weeks old, November its first full month. And things can change very quickly in the NBA. Still, there are a few situations of note to keep an eye on. That said, here are three of the Southeast division’s biggest disappointments so far this season.
Orlando’s Not So Magical Offense
After they were the darling team of the Eastern Conference last season, the 2019-20 iteration of the Orlando Magic have struggled to find that same consistency.
Orlando has proven especially bad on offense, as they currently rank 30th in total offense, 30th in field goal percentage and 30th in three-point shooting. The fact that they are dead last in every category is even more baffling when you consider the fact that they returned largely the same roster from a year ago.
The Magic were the last team to score 100 points in a game this season and, as of this writing, they average a league-worst 99 points per game. Terrence Ross and Evan Fournier have struggled to find a groove, while DJ Augustin has dropped back into a reserve role. Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic have looked mediocre-at-best.
Case-and-point, it isn’t difficult to pinpoint why the Magic have struggled to a 5-7 record to start the season, no matter how disappointing it may be. There is hope, however; Orlando has put forth a strong defensive effort, while their schedule is expected to lighten up after contests against the Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks, Denver Nuggets and Toronto Raptors, among others.
They also have some nice young pieces that have thus far yielded positive results: Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac.
After such a fun postseason run, it’s incredibly disappointing to see Orlando’s 5th ranked offense from a season ago stumble to such depths. We can’t say for sure whether it’ll turn up at some point but, fortunately for the Magic, they have another 70 games to figure it out.
John Collins Suspension
The 2019-20 season has been a roller-coaster for the Atlanta Hawks. Trae Young has looked like a star, but missed time due to an ankle injury. And, despite their 4-7 record, the team has, at times, looked strong on both ends of the court.
But, now, they face a 25-game stretch without John Collins, lost to suspension.
Collins is a remarkable talent, and it’s easy to see how his absence has hurt Atlanta on the court. In the midst of a road trip, Atlanta has struggled against the Bucks, Los Angeles Clippers and Lakers, teams with solid options at the five-spot Collins used to occupy.
As spectacular as he is, it’s unfair to expect Young to carry the day for the team on his own. And, like other teams — see Aron Baynes behind Deandre Ayton in Phoenix — the Hawks just don’t have the depth at the position persevere through the loss of Collins.
If they’re to turn it around, Atlanta will need Jabari Parker, Cameron Reddish, De’Andre Hunter and others to step up and make a big impact. Unfortunately, given their lack of experience (or, in Parker’s case, the fact that he’s a known commodity) it’s hard to imagine that that’ll be the case.
At the very least, it’ll take some time for those players to grow into their game and help turn the season around, time the Hawks may not have given such poor start
Where’s Miles Bridges’ Breakout?
On the whole, things have actually been better than expected in Charlotte, as the team has carried a 5-7 record through 12 after many expected them to be one of the worst in the NBA. But, after a rookie season where he flashed, the 2019-20 regular season was set to be Miles Bridges’ introduction to the national NBA audience.
With Kemba Walker gone, and veterans like Nic Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams populating the roster, Bridges was supposed to establish himself as the Charlotte Hornets’ best player and lead the team into the next phase of their rebuild.
And, to be fair, Bridges hasn’t been horrible this season. He just hasn’t been what many had hoped for or expected.
Through Charlotte’s 12 games, Bridges has averaged 12.6 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 2.3 assists. His shooting percentages — 47.6 percent from the floor, 39.2 percent from three — are good as well. But Bridges has yet to really take the bull by the horns and assert himself as the Hornets’ top-dog. Of course, there is plenty of time for him to change that, but the fact that he hasn’t already is disappointing nonetheless.
Bridges is vocal on the floor and can communicate with others on Charlotte’s roster, both the veterans and the up-and-comers. He could prove exactly the leader this team needs as they transition into the post-Walker phase of their franchise.
Again, the season is young, and these disappointments could quickly flip on their heads and become surprises. But not every team can be so lucky, and these teams may just have to accept them and adjust.
NBA Daily: Aron Baynes’ Three-Point Revolution
Aron Baynes took just six three-pointers over the first five years of his career. But he’s an elite floor-stretcher now, though, a development that’s changed everything for both him and the Phoenix Suns.
Aron Baynes attempted a grand total of six three-pointers over his first five years in the NBA.
When he first ventured beyond the arc in 2017-18 — during his debut campaign with the Boston Celtics — Baynes’ newfound stretch seemed more like a novelty than a development that could significantly alter the course of his career. He took just 21 triples, but 13 of them came from the corners — a spot at which more and more players experimented with the long ball as the league’s emphasis on space reached a new zenith.
The evolution that initially pushed Baynes and other non-shooters like him to the perimeter is ongoing. Thirteen teams are taking at least 35 percent of their shots from deep, up from nine last season, while the number of teams with a three-point rate above 30 percent has jumped from 23 to 27, per Cleaning the Glass.
The NBA’s three-point revolution, obviously, is still in its heyday. But more frequently and easily identified with that reality is a player like James Harden — an annual MVP-worthy candidate — whose three-point rate has risen to a ridiculous 57.2 percent. Or, take Andrew Wiggins, who has revitalized his career by launching 6.7 triples per game – a number that would have ranked among the league’s the top-10 as recently as 2015-16, but currently sits outside its top-20.
Still, it would be foolish to overlook the influence of role players that continue pushing their personal boundaries as long-range shooters, a group for which Baynes has become the poster boy.
Any chance that the three-ball would be a more complementary aspect of his game as opposed to a driving force behind it vanished last season. Baynes shot a solid 34.4 percent from three-point range, just below league average and nearly double his accuracy from the previous season. But his shot chart hinted at even further growth to come as 50 of Baynes’ 61 three-point tries were from above the break. He wasn’t just a stationary safety valve to make opponents pay for ignoring him in the corner — but a shooter with numbers indicated that needed to be guarded all over the floor.
Baynes’ red-hot start to 2019-20 has ensured that defenses must treat him with the respect he deserves, and the Phoenix Suns are taking full advantage.
It’s safe to say Baynes won’t shoot 46.8 percent on three-pointers all season long. Danny Green and Joe Harris were the only players in basketball to connect on even 45 percent of those attempts last season, and it’s not like Baynes has been shy getting them up, allowing for the possibility of a small sample size to artificially inflate his numbers. He’s launching 4.3 triples in only 23.8 minutes per game, hunting them with the vigor of a veteran frontcourt marksman.
Baynes doesn’t care where he is, how quickly he needs to set his feet or how much time is on the shot clock. Only three of his long-range efforts last season came as a defender was within six feet of him. Less than a month into 2019-20, Baynes has doubled that total, even taking three shots from deep when being closely defended, per NBA.com.
He doesn’t just get his shots in pick-and-pop or scramble situations, either. The Suns believe so much in Baynes’ viability as a three-point shooter that they sometimes run a baseline out-of-bounds play to get him an open look from the wing.
Baynes has been one of the best screeners in basketball for years. He’s massively built with broad shoulders and a thick chest, thus allowing him to make contact with defenders trying to avoid a pick when most bigs couldn’t. His keen understanding of angles and timing regularly provides unencumbered runways for ball handlers that otherwise wouldn’t exist.
Even so, Baynes is far more dynamic as a screener now that he’s an imminently-dangerous three-point shooter. He mixes in a steady diet of dives to the rim with more frequent pops to the arc, and Phoenix ball handlers have increasingly made a habit out of drawing two defenders by creasing the paint, only to kick back out to Baynes for an open triple. The result is Baynes averaging 1.56 points per possession as a roll man, fourth-best in the league, on the strength a 77.8 effective field goal percentage, per NBA.com.
Monty Williams hasn’t just empowered Baynes as a three-point shooter, either. The Suns’ head coach consistently takes advantage of the mere threat of Baynes’ presence, too, producing easy scoring opportunities elsewhere on the floor. Phoenix loves clearing the lane for quick Booker post-ups at the charge circle against overmatched defenders and Baynes, an underrated passer, routinely finds others with backdoor dimes when the defense overplays dribble hand-offs.
The Los Angeles Lakers, sporting the league’s best defense, were eventually so spooked last week by Baynes, Dario Saric and Frank Kaminsky raining threes that they resorted to switching across five positions. While Los Angeles hung on for a hard-fought win in a delightfully hostile environment, it still speaks volumes about the Suns’ offensive attack that a defense led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis felt the need to junk-up its scheme.
Baynes isn’t a high-usage post player and never will be. But when defenses feel compelled to switch to combat the long-range shooting of he and other bigs, the Suns should remember that he was able to exploit James on the block with ease.
Baynes is no star, even if there’s data suggesting otherwise. Phoenix’s offensive rating is almost 15 points better with him on the court, but that number aligns closely with that of other starters. His presence makes almost no affect on the Suns’ team-wide shot chart, either. But any sweet-shooting, screen-setting, backdoor-passing big man would be an abject offensive plus, and it’s telling that Phoenix’s effective field goal percentage ticks up 6.3 percent with Baynes in the game, according to Cleaning The Glass.
Deandre Ayton will take Baynes’ place in the starting lineup upon his suspension ending and rightfully so. But if the Suns take a step back offensively with Ayton active, don’t be surprised.
Baynes isn’t quite the engine behind the league’s third-best offense, but he’s certainly a crucial cog – and his rapid growth as a shooter is the reason why.
NBA Daily: Biggest Disappointments — Atlantic Division
Basketball Insiders’ Biggest Disappointments series continues with Drew Maresca examining the Atlantic Division’s start to the 2019-20 season.
The NBA season is still very young, but some disappointing starts are just that – disappointing. Meaning that they can exist on their own without knowing the end result. Certain players and teams around the league surprised us with their unexpectedly strong play, and others have left us scratching our heads and wondering what’s went wrong.
And with that being said, let’s continue our series on early-season disappointments, shifting our attention to the Atlantic Division. The Atlantic is always home to controversy thanks to its large media markets and (mostly) historic franchises. So let’s examine who has underachieved thus far and how they can turn it around.
Nets Surprising Defensive Struggles
Defense is presenting early problems for the new-look Brooklyn Nets; they’re 4-7 after entering the season with fairly high expectations. Now, this writer was burned last season after forecasting a Nets’ demise following a poor start, so we won’t be making any kind of long-term predictions. But it’s been problematic enough to get Kenny Atkinson’s attention in recent postgame press conferences.
Sometimes their defense has lapses in the final minutes of close games (e.g., a five-point loss to the Jazz this past Tuesday), and other times it fails them earlier in the game (e.g., a blowout loss against the Suns on last Sunday).
But one way or the other, the Nets have to improve defensively. They are allowing 119.5 points per game, which is good for 27th in the Association. And sure, they’re averaging the seventh-most points per game in the league (116.8), but they’ve posted the sixth-worst defensive rating in the league so far and a -2.4 net rating. That’s not going to cut it for a team with aspirations of making a deep postseason run.
The bright side is that it’s never surprising when a team struggles to find continuity on defense after an offseason of turnover. The Nets returned only seven players from 2018-19, and each of their three most frequently used lineups features multiple new players. There is plenty of time left for the Nets to build synergy and improve their defense. And Atkinson is an incredible motivator, so there is little reason to worry about long-term implications. But as far as this season is concerned, they should get to it quickly because every win (and loss) affects their seeding and/or chances of making the playoffs.
Knicks Offensive Woes
The Knicks’ lack of success is well-documented. And despite the team signing a number of established veterans who many felt would propel them to respectability, the losing has continued.
And much of the reason for their continued disappointments is their offensive struggles. NBA teams are getting more shot attempts and scoring more points than ever before. The Knicks never received that memo. Through 11 games (not including their game Thursday night vs. the Mavericks), the Knicks are one of only two teams averaging less than 100 points per game, and they rank dead last in points per 100 possessions. And what’s worse — they are tied for the third-least assists per game (20.3) and their coach recently kind of, sort of defended their isolation-heavy offense by mentioning the Houston Rockets proclivity to play isolation-heavy basketball (although he later acknowledged that the Knicks don’t have the same level as do the Rockets and that they must move the ball to succeed).
Looking ahead, someone is going to pay for this. Franchise owner James Dolan recently met with the team president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry to articulate his frustrations. That prompted an unexpected press conference from the two to discuss their dissatisfaction with the early failures. Ultimately, this is going to fall on Fizdale, whose coaching seat has become white-hot. But Perry, and maybe even Mills. could both be looking for work, too. Dolan is rumored to be smitten with the idea of luring Masai Ujiri to New York, again — potentially with the goal of signing Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2021.
But regardless of what happens in the future, it looks like there’s no way out of the current mess this season. But one thing the Knicks can do to soften the blow is move the ball. Too often, the Knicks settle – or prefer – to isolate with their opponent while the four other Knicks stand idly by and watch. They must move without the ball and screen away from it. More pick-and-roll action would benefit them, too. Getting back to the basics is the best recipe for a team that has appeared to lack an offensive system, or at least an understanding of it.
The Struggles of Dennis Smith Jr.
Since a midseason trade from the Dallas Mavericks last year, Smith Jr. has had a difficult time adjusting to New York, at least on a consistent basis. And before going into this, experiencing a personal tragedy such as what he just went through takes a strong person to push on.
Strictly from an on-court perspective, however, beginning with his first three games of the season, Smith Jr. totaled only three points and three assists on 0-for-3 shooting from beyond the arc in 26:12 of play.
Now, he tweaked his back sometime prior to the beginning of the preseason, which caused him to miss preseason games, a number of practices and – in turn – threw off his timing and conditioning. It’s understandable how that affects a player. It’s also understandable that his mental state could’ve been significantly affected by personal matters. Why was Smith Jr. playing, then? Was it out of fear of losing his place in the rotation? Was it pressure from the team? Was it his own stubbornness?
On the bright side, Smith Jr. looked more like his old self last night in a victory over the Mavericks. Smith Jr. posted 13 points and 8 assists on 5-for-12 shooting in 29:58 minutes of action. While Smith Jr. has been far-less effective through the Knicks’ first 12 games than they’d hoped he would be, they can take some solace in his most recent performance.
But more importantly, they must demand that he rehab fully so he can demonstrate exactly what he’s capable of doing; Smith Jr. could be seen occasionally limping around the court as recently as last game. Otherwise, the Knicks are not only hurting Smith Jr. and his future earning potential, but they’re also hurting themselves by not getting a clean look at a talented young player. Sure, they exercised his fourth-year option for 2020-21, so they have next season to evaluate, too; but every game is important in assessing a young player’s potential output, and you’d prefer to do so by examining healthy performances.
Celtics’ Continuous Injury Bug
This one hasn’t necessarily affected the team’s play since the Celtics entered Thursday night with the league’s best record (9-1). But still, the Celtics – and more specifically, Gordon Hayward – have had some bad luck as far as injuries are concerned in recent seasons.
Hayward suffered a devastating foot injury two seasons ago. He spent the entirety of last year getting back his confidence and rhythm. He came out this season and looked dangerously close to his old self, averaging 18.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists in eight games.
And then, the unthinkable happened – Hayward suffered another injury that would ultimately require surgery.
Fortunately for Hayward and the Celtics, the broken hand — which required surgery — shouldn’t be season-ending. Also fortunate is the fact that Boston maintained its depth at the wing this offseason, opting to hang on to Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart.
Still, it must be incredibly frustrating for Hayward, the Celtics and their fans to see the team’s fourth-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder miss extended time – again – to another injury. Hopefully, this is the last major injury Hayward suffers, and hopefully the Celtics’ entire roster can remain relatively healthy for the foreseeable future – because no one wants to see seasons decided by injuries.
We are only slightly more than 10 percent of the way through the 2019-20 season, so every team and player mentioned above has a chance at redemption. Still, each of the above disappointing starts is a cause for concern. And every player and team should begin preparing countermeasures to combat the possibility that the above-mentioned disappointing trends linger longer than expected.
But one thing’s for sure: When we’re talking about teams from the Atlantic Division, each and every aforementioned storyline will play out as loudly as possible.