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The Next Frontier in Basketball: Results-Based Mindfulness

Jake Rauchbach outlines how training the mind through leading-edge mindfulness techniques is the next frontier in basketball.

Jake Rauchbach

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Science is now showing that the brain has the ability to affect physiology and improve motor skill sets without lifting a finger.

For example, through visualizing desired outcomes, a person can rewire new neuro-networks (or pathways) in the brain, requisite for acquiring optimal motor function skills. This is based upon contemporary brain-based research.

The implications of these developments on the player development and performance space could be massive. Before we dive further into how, let’s first cover some foundational brain mechanics.

The Brain’s Neuro-Networks

According to some of the latest Epigenetic and neuroscience work by Dr. Joe Dispenza, the brain is comprised of a multitude of neuro-networks.

Neuro-networks are informational highways that transfer both information and commands. These networks are wired and rewired based upon our most consistent habits and behaviors.

According to Dispenza, people can upshift physiology by applying mind-based methods that rewire the brain’s neuro-networks.

Employing consistent visualization helps to fire and/or rewire these neuro-networks to more efficiently execute the specific task at hand. Additionally, employing leading-edge High-Performance methods takes this one step further by supercharging the process.

Current Approaches

The current player development landscape generally leaves out likely the most important element of unlocking human potential and high-performance, the impact that systematically firing and rewiring neuro-networks in the brain has on performance.

This approach is much like honing habit in a very specific, weeding out unproductive routines while installing productive programs, which has the effect of boosting physiology and mental performance.

Probably, the most leading edge and powerful way to do this is through the implementation of Brain-Based – Player Development methods. These methods can be applied to help players focus better.

Empirical Evidence

High-Performance tools addressing mental hurdles have been shown to quickly and effectively eliminate leftover elements from past injuries, but that is not all.

Take, for example, a study published in the Journal of Neurophysiology in 1992, where three test groups were used. Group No. 1 employed five, one-hour physical workout sessions per week for four weeks to improve arm strength. The second group just mentally rehearsed the same arm exercise that Group 1 did, without physically lifting a finger. Control groups did not exercise their arm or mind.

As you would expect, at the end of four weeks, Group 1 exhibited a 30% increase in muscle strength. But get this, the group that purely mentally rehearsed the exercise without any physical training, displayed a 22% increase in muscle strength!

Fascinating stuff, right? Another study, performed by Harvard researchers, took a group and divided it in half. One group practiced a five-finger piano exercise, two hours a day for five days. The other group’s members mentally rehearsed the exercise as if they were sitting at the piano without physically moving their fingers in any way.

Brain scans of both groups after the exercise revealed that they created a significant amount of neural activity. The group’s brain scan that only visualized the outcome was very similar to the group that had physically rehearsed.

There is big-time relevance here in regards to helping players improve.

Science continues to show that there is a tangible progression that takes place by Rep’ing the mind in a certain way.

Optimizing Load Management

Efficient workflows are valued over old paradigm, sheer workload routines like never before. This is part of the reason why Load Management has become a priority. Career longevity and injury prevention have moved to the center.

Brain Psychology Player Development, which allows players the chance to improve on-court performance and physiology without increasing repetition of physical wear and tear, is an extremely valuable organizational asset.

Methods that optimize mental focus, emotional dissonance, and statistical performance, without increasing the physical load on the body, are at a premium. For these reasons, combined with the scientific efficacy mentioned above, there could be a perfect storm brewing for massive market disruption.

The work-harder-for-longer model of player development is not resonating with the players as it once did. Combine this with leading-edge techniques now coming on-line, and standard practices of improving performance could change quickly. Players such as Aaron Gordon, LeBron James, Kevin Love and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are infusing their routines with mind-based methods.

Considering that very few teams currently employ these methods in a systematic or customized fashion, there exists a HUGE opportunity for those forward-thinking organizations.

In Closing

For players and teams looking to gain a distinct edge in the development space, the most efficient way to do this is through employing processes that fire and rewire neuro-networks.

Mind-based methods have been shown time and time again to facilitate this.

Based on growing empirical evidence, results and social proof, the next frontier in basketball could be mindfulness methods mentioned herein.

Jake Rauchbach is an Integrated Player Development Coach, specializing in High-Performance Mindfulness. He has coached professional and Division-1 basketball. He is the founder of The MindRight Pro® Program and consults on the Olympic, collegiate and professional levels. Follow him on Instagram @mindright_pro and twitter @mindrightpro

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NBA Daily: Why These Suns Could Be Special

The Phoenix Suns have the second-best record in the league at the midpoint of the season. Obviously, the addition of Chris Paul is one reason for their rise but there is much more to the story of this special team.

Chad Smith

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After a strong 8-0 finish to close out last season, the Phoenix Suns have picked up right where they left off. Offseason additions have paid major dividends, too, as they own the second-best record in the league at the All-Star break having won 16 of their last 19 games. It has been more than a decade since Phoenix found its way to the postseason, but that drought should soon end.

But what has changed? And how have they turned things around so quickly?

The easy answer is Chris Paul. The veteran point guard was acquired in a trade just before Thanksgiving, with the Suns essentially only having to surrender a 2022 first-round draft pick and two rotation players in Kelly Oubre Jr and Ricky Rubio. The fit on paper was perfect and the chemistry on the court has proven to be the same.

But, there is another key factor here: head coach Monty Williams.

After taking over head coaching duties for the Suns last season, Williams has left his imprint on this team. Their unblemished record in the “bubble” last season is a microcosm of just how good he has been. Monty is no stranger to the game. Once his playing days were over, Williams became an assistant coach for the US Men’s National Team under Mike Krzyzewski.

It has been quite the turnaround for this franchise, who was statistically (87-241 record) the worst team in the NBA from 2015-16 through the 2018-19 season. Suns owner Robert Sarver had finally had enough, hiring James Jones as the VP of basketball operations in 2017 before becoming the team’s general manager in 2019. Searching for high-character individuals, it didn’t take Jones long to hire Williams as the new coach.

In Monty’s first season as an NBA head coach, he guided the New Orleans Hornets to the playoffs with a 46-36 record, where they lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games. Monty also helped develop James Borrego and Mike Malone during his time in New Orleans, both of whom have moved on to become successful head coaches in their own right.

Williams and Paul were only together for that first season in New Orleans, but have reunited a decade later. Their relationship never took a pause though and they clicked from the moment Paul landed in Arizona. These two share a lot of experience and have seen many things during their time in the league. For Paul, the leadership that he brings seems to elevate whatever team he finds himself on.

While Paul’s leadership is highly valued, so too are his basketball ability and intelligence. The game-winning play in Dallas earlier this season was one that Paul drew up specifically for Devin Booker in that situation. The savvy veteran admitted after the game that he learned that play during his time with the Los Angeles Clippers. He is essentially a head coach on the court, giving the Suns yet another advantage over their opponent.

Phoenix made another addition to their roster in the offseason that didn’t garner as much spotlight as the trade that landed Paul but has been instrumental to their success. Now in his ninth season, Jae Crowder has played for seven different teams over the course of his career, only missing the playoffs once. He has been the same guy at every stop, playing unselfish basketball that has contributed to winning.

After helping the Miami HEAT reach the NBA Finals last season, Crowder signed a three-year deal to join Paul in the desert. The versatile forward has 72 playoff games under his belt and, like Paul, has a high basketball IQ. Another thing these two share is the thirst to win a championship — and they have been the catalysts spurring the maturity of the young Suns’ core.

The foundation for this franchise, however, lies with their newest All-Star, Booker, as well as big man Deandre Ayton. Both have elevated their play alongside Paul, though that may be difficult to see just by looking at their statistics. The numbers don’t always tell the story, which is the case here.

Booker’s scoring, rebounding and assists have dipped from last season, but he is much more efficient, no longer having to carry the load on offense alone. It also allows him to save some energy for the defensive end of the floor, an area where he has significantly improved this season and a development that should prove to be even more beneficial when the playoffs roll around.

Ayton was expected to make a massive leap this year with the addition of Paul. Through the first half of the season, the top overall draft pick has not had an uptick in scoring or blocks but he has greatly improved his shooting percentage, in addition to ranking seventh in rebounding. He is also taking fewer shots per game but, like Booker, has been far more efficient with them, getting easier baskets at the rim. Much of the credit goes to Paul for creating those opportunities, but Ayton has been working on his game and it shows.

The emergence of Mikal Bridges has been another notable difference this season. The Villanova product has been tremendous in all facets of the game, but his play on the defensive end of the floor has been particularly impressive. He has the physical tools to be one of the best perimeter defenders in the league and, undoubtedly, is a solid candidate for the Most Improved Player Award this season.

Bridges is averaging career highs in scoring, rebounding, assists, blocks, and shooting percentage. But it’s his percentages that really stand out, as he is hitting 42 percent of his three-pointers, 62 percent from inside the arc and 53 percent overall from the floor. His free-throw shooting is the only thing keeping him from joining the illustrious 50-40-90 club, but he is still shooting it at a solid 84 percent clip.

Like most top-notch teams, the starters will get most of the spotlight. But this is where Phoenix has a real edge over their competition, as the Suns have arguably one of the best second units in the league. Comprised of a mixed bag of talent, ranging from recent draft picks like Cameron Johnson and Jalen Smith to reclamation projects like Cameron Payne, Jevon Carter, Frank Kaminsky and Dario Saric, the Suns’ bench has thrived this season.

In fact, those guys have all been so good that established veterans like E’Twaun Moore and Langston Galloway are unable to get on the floor. They have provided a spark and have developed incredible chemistry that is on full display every night.

Jones has done a masterful job with this group. Despite being the second-slowest team in terms of pace, they are still a top-12 scoring offense and have the eight-best offensive rating in the NBA. They make the magic happen on defense though, where they rank third in opponents scoring, third in defensive rating and have the second-best net rating in the league.

The fun doesn’t stop there. The Suns are top-five in the league when it comes to field goal percentage, top-ten in three-point shooting, second in free-throw shooting, third in assists and sixth in turnovers per game. To be near the top in one or two of these categories would be one thing, but the proof is in the pudding with this team.

The seven-seconds-or-less Suns are a thing of the past, while Booker has matured quite a bit from his 70-point performance that was celebrated by the team, despite losing the game. None of those players besides Booker are even on their roster this year. Ayton himself has acknowledged his lapse in judgment from his 25-game suspension last season for taking a banned diuretic. This nucleus is still very young, yet has the maturity and experience needed to make some serious noise in the playoffs.

Both Ayton and Bridges will hit free agency after next season. Paul has a $44.2 million player option for next season, where he will turn 37 years old in May. Paul has reiterated that he came to Phoenix because of Booker. Everyone in the organization shares the same desire to not just be good, but to be great. Looking at their timeline going forward, the window of opportunity for Phoenix is right now.

The Suns have gone through eight head coaching changes since their last sustained success with Mike D’Antoni. It would appear they finally found the right guy, but Williams is just one of the many puzzle pieces that have been put together in Phoenix. The front office has made the right moves, the players have bought in and their team-first approach has them on the path to something special.

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NBA Daily: Post All-Star Breakouts

Many teams were getting into rhythm before the All-Star break, with several set to make big splashes at the trade deadline. Tristan Tucker breaks down which teams are in position to make dynamic runs to the postseason.

Tristan Tucker

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With the first half of the NBA season under wraps, some teams have taken longer to come out of their shells than others. The trade deadline is rapidly approaching, currently set for Thursday, March 25, and is sure to define the course of action for several teams. Let’s take a look at which teams are poised for big second-half runs as the regular season ramps up then winds down.

Miami HEAT

Miami’s bad luck to begin the season is a combination of several factors, headlined by the shortest offseason in league history. Injuries to Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro and several others, along with the failure to recoup the skill lost when Jae Crowder departed for the Phoenix Suns, have also played a significant role in the rough early start.

Whatever the case may be, Miami has a chance to right the ship with ease. For starters, a fully healthy HEAT team is scary — Miami is 14-8 when Jimmy Butler plays and 4-10 when he sits. Furthermore, there’s reason to believe that the team will once again be aggressive at the midseason trade deadline, much like last season when it acquired Crowder, Andre Iguodala and Solomon Hill.

That isn’t to say the HEAT will make a big splash, but small moves around the edges help build contenders and sift through the pieces that will be around for a long run for Miami. An underrated aspect of success will come through the league’s lessened restrictions on two-way contract players, allowing coach Erik Spoelstra to clearly define his rotation as Miami has historically gotten significant production from its two-way players.

Brooklyn Nets

The Nets were already playing fantastic basketball, an offensive marvel if there ever was one. To add yet another offensive-minded piece in Blake Griffin — broken down extensively here at Basketball Insiders — adds another layer to an already fantastic basketball team.

Jeff Green and Kevin Durant have been dealing with injury while Nicolas Claxton and Reggie Perry aren’t quite ready for a consistent workload in the power forward rotation, though both should shine very soon. Adding Griffin made sense and, though he’s struggled thus far this season, he’s a high-level passer if nothing else. Keep in mind he’s only two years removed from an All-Star appearance while averaging 24.5 points per game.

If that wasn’t scary enough, Griffin signed for the minimum, meaning that the Nets have their full $5.7 million disabled player exception from Spencer Dinwiddie, Dinwiddie himself as a trade chip and the mid-level exception to use to fill out the roster. Perhaps Andre Drummond becomes available on the buyout market. Or, maybe, the team is able to snag a good and healthy player in exchange for Dinwiddie. The options are infinite, a painful realization for the rest of the league.

Dallas Mavericks

The Mavericks struggled to start the season but have quickly turned their year around, evidenced by winning three straight and eight of 10 entering the All-Star break. Luka Doncic is playing on another level right now, while Kristaps Porzingis has unlocked more of his offensive potential and Josh Richardson is becoming the wing the team thought they traded for in the offseason. The team will surely add more to its rotation, but it’s already beginning to click on offense.

Even Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jalen Brunson are playing at their peaks off the bench, while the team is playing excitedly in transition. If Dallas is able to add to that offensive punch while improving its defense, there’s no telling what kind of run the team could make in the postseason. It sure helps that Dallas has the second-easiest remaining schedule.

Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets have been sluggish to start the season, no doubt, but they’re tied for the longest win streak in the league with four-straight and have the potential to knock anyone off. That said, there are many questions surrounding this team, such as determining the trajectory of Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray or the play of Gary Harris.

Nikola Jokic, however, is playing at an MVP level and the team is getting nice contributions off its bench from rookies Zeke Nnaji, R.J. Hampton and Facundo Campazzo. Bradley Beal may be a pipe-dream acquisition, but those rookies could be part of a package that brings in some serious talent on the wings or gives the team a reliable backup center.

Look for Denver to be aggressive in the trade market with all of its assets. But with or without a trade, Murray’s improved play in the last couple weeks gives Denver the means to make a post-All-Star run.

Sacramento Kings

One of these teams is not like the others. But the Kings have an opportunity to get right back into the mix of things, especially considering the play-in games for the No. 9 and No. 10 seeds for each conference. Sacramento is 14-22, 2-8 in its last 10 games, but don’t forget that it was right in the thick of the playoff mix earlier in the season.

The Kings are the owners of the seventh-easiest remaining schedule but have plenty of kinks left to sort out, especially if coach Luke Walton is still onboard. However, rookie Tyrese Haliburton is only getting better and there’s a significant chance that he joins the starting lineup sooner or later.

On the other hand, the team is set up to be a seller at the trade deadline, which might make it seem like the team would fall out of the playoff picture. But sometimes teams can experience addition by subtraction. The team could ship out any number of its veterans and earn young pieces in return while opening up opportunities for other young members on the roster.

There’s a significant chance that Sacramento doesn’t capitalize on this stretch but, along with teams like the Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards, it does have a legitimate shot at a play-in game.

Honorable mentions: Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards

A quick speed round, but both Atlanta and Washington have the means to make postseason bids. Saying that about the Wizards just a couple of weeks ago would have caused most to laugh, but Beal and company are on a roll, shockingly just 1.5 games out of a play-in game. The team can ride improved injury luck, better play from pieces such as Russell Westbrook and Davis Bertans and further growth from Deni Avdija and Rui Hachimura.

The Hawks have no excuse not to make a late run after the team gets healthy. The team recently returned Bogdan Bogdanovic and should return De’Andre Hunter soon. That doesn’t even touch on Kris Dunn’s upcoming debut for the team and strong play from Danilo Gallinari. The Hawks are 2-0 after firing then-head coach Lloyd Pierce and are seemingly having the most fun they’ve had on the court all season.

As teams are gearing up for postseason runs, more teams will define themselves as sellers or buyers in the coming weeks. Be sure to check back with Basketball Insiders for all the latest coverage of the NBA trade deadline!

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NBA Daily: This Time, MJ Got It Right

Michael Jordan has definitely earned his sour front office reputation, but Matt John explains why recent moves might turn that all around.

Matt John

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All it takes to flip the narrative is one stretch. One prolonged streak – whether good or bad – and suddenly, everything turns on its head. Then again, all it takes is one stretch to revert the narrative back to what it once was. Sacramento seemed well on their way to flipping theirs as the league’s laughingstock two years ago. Two years later, it panned out as one step forward and two steps back for them.

The Charlotte Hornets are often in a similar predicament. They can take pride in that there’s no depressing streak of decade-long playoff misses, but it’s not much better. Since Charlotte got the franchise back in 2004, they’ve made the playoffs three times, only have three playoff wins and haven’t moved past the first round.

In fact, the last time Charlotte moved past the first round of the NBA playoffs was before LaMelo Ball was even born. Every team goes through changes. Some years are better than others. Success and failure usually come in clusters. What goes up must come down, right? For the Hornets, they can’t really say they’ve come down if they’ve never really gone up much to begin with. That all starts at the top, with the most recognizable face in NBA history.

But to put it bluntly, Michael Jordan hasn’t been the best at running professional basketball teams. Both on and off the court, Jordan’s efforts never got Washington back into the playoffs as he ran the ship. Since taking over operations in Charlotte strictly as an executive, it’s been more of the same.

When a team underperforms, the executive gets blamed for generally poor roster construction. For a team to have to consistently underperform as Charlotte has, it requires a much deeper dive for what the executive did wrong, like:

Missing on high lottery picks
– Turning down deals that could have changed the team’s fortunes
– Giving bloated contracts to role players that kill cap flexibility
– Failing to sell high on the best player when the ceiling’s already been reached

Above, those are all sins that Jordan is very much guilty of committing during his time down south, and it has made for some pretty miserable times in Buzz City. That was, until now. Charlotte heads into the All-Star break with a record of 17-18, which has been good enough for the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Call it a so-so record, sure, but, boy, they’re fun to watch. A roster full of willing sharers, the Hornets dish it well – currently fourth in assists per game at 27.1 – while also consistently canning from deep, hitting on 38.5 percent from three, according to Basketball-Reference.

This might just be the most exciting Hornets team assembled since the days of Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson. And it’s all thanks to… Michael Jordan?!

As it turns out, yes. After years of draft flops, max contract flops and a revolving door of head coaches, Jordan’s work as an executive has given the Hornets newfound stability. As unlikely as it sounds, Jordan might just be building a case for Executive of the Year.

Free Agency

Jordan has a pretty bad history with free agents. Mainly because of the top-dollar he has paid to keep role players on the roster. Nicolas Batum, Cody Zeller, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams, Jeremy Lamb come to mind. The point of emphasis is that he pays a lot to keep his free agents – but bringing in free agents is another story.

Michael Jordan’s history of luring free agents to Charlotte actually isn’t that bad. Before 2019, his most prominent free agent acquisitions were Al Jefferson, who made the 2014 All-NBA Third Team the following year, and Jeremy Lin, who played a role in Charlotte’s most extensive playoff run (technically) on a cheap contract.

Signing up Gordon Hayward on a four-year deal worth $120 million after all that had gone down in Boston certainly left people scratching their heads. And stretching Batum’s massive contract to make room for him on top of that? That meant paying $40 million give or take for Hayward.

If they were getting Boston Hayward, that was another disaster in a laundry list full of them. If they were getting Utah Hayward, it might be another story. So far, they’ve been getting the latter. Hayward’s been putting up pretty much identical numbers those from that last year with the Jazz.

He’s not the only castoff Celtic to thrive in Charlotte. Remember when (almost) everyone trashed the Terry Rozier sign-and-trade? That had to do more with the Kemba fallout (which, in all fairness, made Jordan look really short-sighted) combined with Rozier’s crummy last year in Boston.

Honestly, Rozier wasn’t that bad his first year in Charlotte. Since they weren’t really much more than an afterthought then, it didn’t matter. The Hornets are a League Pass favorite, so Terry Rozier has evolved from ‘Scary Terry’ to ‘Very Scary Terry’ and ain’t that just merry?

Growing into one of the league’s most killer three-point snipers has fueled a career year for Rozier. Averaging 20.5 points on 49/44/82 splits has proven to be quite the rebound from Walker. Again, Jordan acquired Rozier believing that his production in the 2018 playoffs was no fluke. Much like Hayward, he’s been proven right.

And they’re not even Charlotte’s main course.

Draft Successes

If there’s one thing Jordan gets wrong more than who he extends, it’s who he drafts. Even the best executives get a dud every now and then. For Jordan, it seems like clockwork.

Adam Morrison, DJ Augustin, Bismack Biyombo, Frank Kaminsky weren’t exactly hailed as good picks at the time, and they’ve only looked worse in hindsight.

Some of his failed picks weren’t seen as such at the time. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Noah Vonleh were praised when they were selected, they just didn’t work out. Even if Cody Zeller hasn’t done enough to justify being picked No. 3 in his draft, it’s not like those picked right after panned out much better. So in Jordan’s defense, some of his bad draft histories can be attributed to horrible luck.

Under Jordan’s tenure, the only Hornets pick before 2020 that panned out incredibly well for them was Walker. From 2006 to 2015, Jordan had a pretty rough stretch. That should all be put squarely in the past now because the last draft pick to flop under Jordan was Kaminsky.

He was picked over two franchise cornerstones, but Malik Monk is quietly having his best year as a professional. Miles Bridges is playing much more efficient basketball, despite lower overall numbers. An improved three-ball and block percentage have pegged PJ Washington as another potential undersized small-ball five in a league that craves them more than ever. But enough putting off the obvious.

Jordan snagging LaMelo Ball wasn’t deemed a bad move. In fact, there was a strong belief that he was Jordan’s smartest selection ever. Though his long frame and excellent vision gave him strong appeal, the iffy jumper and foreign competition bred questions if he could do it on the NBA level. He had the highest ceiling out of everyone in the draft but there were no guarantees. No one knew if Ball was going to reach it – and if he would,  he’d need time to do it.

Since James Borrego moved Ball to the starting lineup at the beginning of February, he’s averaged 20.7 points on 46/44/85 splits to do with 6.7 assists, 6.2 rebounds and nearly 2 steals per game. In just half a season, Ball looks like he is the centerpiece of Charlotte’s future.

Ball has lived up to expectations and then some. He’s played so well that the man upstairs admits that he wasn’t expecting the kid to be this good. After years of trying and failing to get that young superstar, it appears MJ’s search is finally over.

Not every brilliant move an executive makes is a slam dunk from the get-go, especially when you’re managing a small market team. In order to be with the best of the best, there must be risks as means of aiming for a higher end.

Jordan hasn’t quite escaped his front office label but the Hornets’ roster construction no longer operates on the sunk-cost fallacy as it did throughout the 2010s. Simply put, for them, it has proven to be Jordan’s best work.

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