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The ‘Shop: PG Heirarchy and The Karl Conundrum

In this week’s edition of ‘The Shop, the guys discuss George Karl’s comments, top East PGs, CLE-GS, etc.

Jabari Davis

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Welcome back to The ‘Shop for this week’s discussion. Jabari Davis and Lang Greene continue their NBA conversation with a few new topics from the headlines and are joined today by Josh Eberley of Hoop Mag (NBA.com) and Press Basketball:

Jabari: I hope the holiday treated you and the families well, Josh and Lang. Hopefully, a whole lot better than former NBA head coach George Karl is treating some of his ex-players with some of the excerpts coming from his upcoming book, ‘Furious George’ set to be released on January 10, 2017. “Tell-all” books are nothing new and, given the fact that Karl appears to have fizzled out of the NBA rotation of viable coaching candidates, I guess this should come as no shock.

My biggest issue with it wasn’t the fact that he went out of his way to heavily criticize some of the very players that helped him become the coach with the fifth-most wins in NBA history over the second half of his coaching career. My problem with it was the way in which he decided to personally attack these players using coded (and in some cases blatantly prejudiced) language to add the type of tone that was likely used to specifically sell books. Essentially, this has the feeling of selling the very people out that he experienced some of his greatest professional heights with, while tacking on the type of language and rhetoric that could only have been added to specifically hurt those individuals OR for the positive monetary benefits that can come from sensationalist commentary. First, did you have an issue with Karl’s decision to specifically call out Carmelo Anthony and Kenyon Martin by essentially calling them “fatherless” and criticizing them for things completely out of their control? Second, does this feel like a “final act” for Karl as a member of the NBA sidelines or could you see a path where he would be trusted by NBA players enough to be placed in charge at some point moving forward?

Josh: I love tell-all books, I really do. We’re all NBA junkies and of course I want the behind-the-scenes tour! That said, Karl didn’t have to take it there. Nothing he said about Carmelo Anthony’s game was unfair, it’s not stuff we all haven’t heard before on Twitter or wherever. But adding in his doctor’s notes on the impact of not having a father was probably out of line and overall unnecessary.

Karl put himself in a bad situation here; people will discredit him based on his lack of tact. The truth is there’s probably some great stuff in that book. Even if you hate the guy (as many players seem to), he was an NBA coach for a lot of years. I hope people can sort through the B.S. while still enjoying the nuggets, not for Karl, but for your own NBA fandom.

Oh, Karl is done. Who in the hell would ever want to play for this guy? Boogie, Melo, Martin, Allen, Iguodala, etc. Have all blasted the man. Now he’s writing a book throwing crap on the most prestigious players to ever suit up for him? Even if some of the strictly basketball-related criticism is fair, no one wants to play for a guy who’s going to crap on them publicly and privately.

Lang: What’s up Hoop Freaks? Strong welcome to J.E. I appreciate you stopping through, my man. Let’s rock.

When guys are trying to sell books, especially in today’s climate, I already know there will be some juicy nuggets to bring in readers. George Karl just followed the normal procedure for someone heading into retirement not looking for another check. I might be taking a different approach on this, but Karl has coached some guys that most in his profession would be shaking in their boots to lead. Let’s run down some names for the Freaks: Allen Iverson, DeMarcus Cousins, Rajon Rondo, Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony, Vin Baker, Gary Payton, Shawn Kemp, JaVale McGee, Ty Lawson, Chris Andersen, Reggie Evans, Julius Hodge, J.R. Reid, Sam Cassell and Anthony Mason. I mean, I can go on but you get the point.

My goodness. Most of the guys on this list are just headstrong alpha males without any off-court baggage. But some of these guys were (or are) dealing with alcohol issues and drug issues. Some were just blatantly immature and still are to this day. One of the guys got shot in the middle of the season for goodness sake. Quite a few were known to give their other coaches fits during their careers.

I found his criticism to be out of line, but maybe the man was just fed up after having to play the “bigger man” all these years while keeping things internal.

Lastly, the fatherless talk is definitely loaded in code. Make no mistake, it plays to an audience that have preconceived notions of young minority multi-millionaires. However, fatherless households in minority communities is without a doubt a big issue – a huge issue. I don’t want to dismiss that nugget, but I also feel Karl wasn’t trying to “lend a hand” or “raise awareness” when he was going after ‘Melo and Kenyon. Last thing, the exponential growth of fatherless households since the 1960s has increased in all ethnic groups in America. Just to be clear.

Jabari: I suppose we should wait for the rest of the material or perhaps a few more excerpts for additional perspective on what Karl is discussing in the book, but the first bit of information (while it will certainly snatch headlines and potentially sell some books) actually turns me off on the idea of the project, altogether.

Transitioning to a topic Josh actually brought up on Twitter, many of us came into the season with high hopes for what year-two of D’Angelo Russell might look like. The “fit” with head coach Luke Walton, his staff and the system is significantly better than last season, but Russell still hasn’t quite been able to turn the corner just yet.

Finding a consistent effort, not only on both sides of the court, but specifically when his shot is not falling, has been a challenge for Russell to this point. This is not an uncommon characteristic for young guards, but Russell was brought in under the guise of potentially being a “next-level” player among his peers and the hope has to be that he’ll at least be able to continue developing into an impact player at this level. Russell does enough on a regular basis (14.5 PPG, 4.5 APG, 3.3 RPG in 26.3 MPG) to still make you raise your eyebrows about his potential, but remains a sub-40 percent shooter from the field for the season (39.4 percent) and still turns the ball over at an alarming rate on some nights. His current Defensive Real Plus-Minus ranking is 39th among point guards that have started at least four games in 2016-17 just behind Russell Westbrook and ahead of Beno Udrih. When adjusted to determine Real Plus-Minus Wins among the same group, Russell ranks just 25th.

I’m covering him from within the market and will fully admit that I still believe he has the “it” factor that could make him special, but I’d be interested in hearing from each of you about what his potential looks like from the outside and whether he will ultimately live up to the hype many of us have placed on him?

Josh: The “it” factor is what scared me off this kid in what appeared to be a stacked draft. I remember watching him play against Arizona in the tourney and he just kept shooting and shooting. Frankly, it was ugly. He shot a woeful 3-of-19 (16 percent) while his teammates shot a combined 17-33 (52 percent). It was one game but that’s the downside of the “it” factor, it seems to come with a lack of self-awareness. His decision-making is at times, well, not ideal.

That comes off as wholly negative, but I don’t mean it to be. Not unlike Devin Booker and Justise Winslow, the hype of the class seems to drain some of the reality. The Lakers’ hot start was in spite of Russell and not because of him. Is he still incredibly talented? Absolutely. Could he still be an All-Star? Hell yeah, he could. However, his sophomore numbers leave a lot to be desired. Playing less minutes under Luke Walton than he did under Byron Scott doesn’t seem like a red flag to you?

I think he’s going to be a good player – he’s only just creeping up to 21 years old – but I don’t see him as the franchise player many hope he could be.

Lang: Way too early to say he doesn’t have “it” in my view. I remember watching Russell Westbrook during his first season and a half and thinking, “Man, this kid is going to be really good.” But I certainly didn’t see 32-11-11 type of potential.

Honestly, from the outside it seems D’Angelo might fall into the “too-cool-for-school” crowd. The jersey always looks just right, the movements textbook, picturesque jump shots when things are rolling for the Lakers, etc. But I did a YouTube search for “D’Angelo Russell hustle play” and came up with crickets.

I’m on record with you, Jabari, saying Russell has more upside than Devin Booker. This is based on “potential” and what I believe he can become. But here is the definitive D’Angelo Russell play for me up until now – from last Christmas:

Four-on-one fastbreak, two forwards on the wing (Julius Randle and Anthony Brown, I believe) and Nick Young spotting up from three. Oh, and old man Paul Pierce as the only defender on the break. Russell double dribbles after trying to go solo. But pay attention to his teammates’ reaction. Randle is in absolute disbelief. Nick Young is befuddled. The end of the Lakers’ bench is frustrated and have a mini huddle before clapping it up. Just look at Roy Hibbert and Robert Sacre.

But I say all this to say, I think the man has All-Star potential … but it’s much more than acting or looking the part. It’s about becoming that dude.

Jabari: The decreased minutes under Walton aren’t really a shock as you’ll notice everyone within the main rotation is playing somewhere right around 22-29 minutes. His minutes were also reduced for about a week following that knee injury that sidelined him for 12 games, but I anticipate them settling somewhere between 27-30 minutes by the end of the year. It seems like we are all on the same page when it comes to Russell, although, I still think he could be a star player at some point. He’s just nowhere near that place at this stage, and the jury is still out on whether he will ultimately reach it.

Continuing on to another story… can we please take a moment to appreciate just how phenomenal that Cavs vs. Warriors game was from Christmas? At the same time, can I now rescind my “let’s appreciate everything else aside from CLE-GS” stance on the season and start getting geared up for an eventual showdown? I know there are a ton of great storylines continuing to play out (Westbrook, James Harden, the Spurs, the Raptors, etc.), but after seeing “Game 8” the other day, I am ALL in, once again! IF we get a Part 3 from these teams, is Cleveland actually the favorite? Even with the addition of Kevin Durant? Even though the Warriors appear to have at least figured out some of their defensive issues that plagued them in the early going?

Josh: Let’s start with the obvious: It was a great game. I won’t lie, I was in the danger zone early Christmas day. The girlfriend spent Christmas Eve with my family this year so it was Christmas at her place.

Genuine fear creeped into my heart that I’d have to record and watch later. I was at the mercy of the girlfriend’s family, spending Christmas afternoon with them for the first time. I was unsure if NBA basketball on mute during present opening would fly. (My own family has long accepted it at my place.)

*Walk in hug everybody.

“Can I help with anything, No? Great, I mean, umm, hey, would it be cool if basketball was on mute while we did this.”

*Five pairs of eyes fixate on the new guy, how can he be so bold?

“Yeah, for sure, Josh. No problem at all.”

That was my 60 yarder and it was cash, my full court buzzer-beater  – nothing but net. Watching the game later after knowing the result would’ve been horrid.

Can we take a second to appreciate 36-year-old Richard Jefferson cramming all over the Warriors? I broke taboo just once during the present opening, jumping up and down and screaming when Jefferson drove his flag six feet into Klay Thompson.

What was the question again? Are the Cavaliers the favorites in the tiebreaker series? Ha. No. Hell no. Steph Curry was hurt, Draymond Green got suspended, Andrew Bogut got hurt, three all-time plays were necessary to win in seven. The Warriors have to be the favorites still. They added a former MVP to a 73-win team. I WILL NOT LET ANYONE FORGET THIS. If the Cavaliers win again, it’s the best NBA Finals ever. There’s never been a better team on the paper than this Warriors squad, they are still coming together. Wait, just wait, for their post All-Star run. It’s going to be savage.

Lang: Josh, props for standing in the pocket with the future in-laws my man. You set the tone early so the next 10-15 years should be a breeze. I remember those early days…

Let me ask this, though. Do I hear excuses? Do I hear a bunch of “What Ifs”? I think I do. Since we’re at excuses making, what about 2015 … what if Kyrie Irving wasn’t hurt in Game 1 of the Finals? What if Kevin Love wasn’t hurt? It’s sports, man. I always wonder what if Richard Steele didn’t stop the first Meldrick Taylor versus Julio Cesar Chavez fight with two seconds remaining in the 12th round. Would Taylor have become one of the all-time greats?

But we’ll never know so all we can deal with is what’s the reality and the reality is, as Ric Flair said, “To be the man, You’ve got to beat the man.” The Cavaliers beat the Warriors. Period. This we know. Then beat them again on Christmas. Cleveland is the favorite until I see something different. This isn’t to say the Warriors aren’t going to show up with a can, because they will, but the Cavaliers – at full strength – might have their number.  

Jabari: Part of me absolutely wants to believe what Josh is saying, but what we’ve seen over the last four times the two teams have faced one another makes me hesitant to put anyone ahead of LeBron, Kyrie and a productive Kevin Love so comfortably. The elephant in the room when it comes to these Warriors is the specific way that game ended, in my opinion. Heading in, one of the more intriguing aspects of Durant deciding to join the Warriors was the idea of seeing him play within a system and alongside a group of guys that have won before. Whether it was a foul on the final sequence or not, why did that look so similar to the way things would devolve down the stretch of OKC games year after year?

Josh: I don’t know if I’d go there, not yet. Though, I’m sure somewhere Reggie Jackson is tickled by that notion. The Warriors just aren’t who they are going to be – not yet anyway. Comfort and custom are parts of this game, teams with the least changes usually thrive early in the season. If the Warriors are still falling apart in April, it’s time to bring back this idea. Remember, Durant has actually seen his shooting percentages drop four straight years come the playoffs, I’ll be watching for that this year.

Lang: Still too early to tell, but maybe the problem in OKC in late situations wasn’t Russell Westbrook.

Jabari: The last topic for the week is related to something I actually saw Josh discussing via Twitter (@JoshEberley, @LangGreene and @JabariDavisNBA) the other day. Josh, you were talking about the great play of Kyrie Irving, John Wall and Kyle Lowry. The debate over the top point guards will rage on for another day, but I’d actually like each of you to rank these East guards in terms of which of these guys deserve to make an All-Star team aaaaand which do you think WILL make it: Irving, Wall, Lowry, Kemba Walker and Isaiah Thomas?

Lang:  Interesting question. Kyrie Irving is automatic from the standpoint of being on the East’s best team and defending champion. Isaiah Thomas has been hurt so I have him pulling up the rear, for now. I give John Wall the edge over Kemba Walker. The man has been everything to Washington and I believe Walker has a bit more help on a nightly basis. So if I were ranking right now, Kyrie then J-Dub, then Kemba and then I.T. (and that’s just because of the slight injury absence). I honestly believe Kemba, for all his goodness, will be snubbed again this season. LG out.

Josh: Kyle Lowry has been the best point guard in the East this year, I don’t think it has been close. He’s on the second-best team, he’s probably the best defender of the bunch and his shooting splits are out of this damn world.

A lot has been made of Kyrie Irving being the best he has ever been, or not developing to the level of a superstar, etc. It has been an ongoing conversation, but the simple answer is that Kyrie has been great. He’s an excellent complement to LeBron James, he’s shooting very well, the Cavaliers are winning. He should come off the bench in the All-Star game behind Lowry and Giannis Antetokounmpo, but he should be there.

It gets tricky here because everyone you listed is good enough to get in. John Wall is the next man up here, the Wizards are pushing at the right time and he’s having a career-year.

So chances are one of Isaiah Thomas and Kemba Walker are missing this year. I think it’s Walker’s turn to get in, he’s the better defensive player and they both mean similar to their teams offensively. I also don’t feel so bad because Walker was the last cut last year. Shouts to Goran Dragić, who is having a really good year but has no chance due to market coverage and team record.

Jabari: For me, Lowry has been the most consistent of the group thus far, but Kyrie will likely get voted in by the fans. As long as each of them make it, I’m fine with whichever (if any) of the other three-four candidates make it. After Wall, to Josh’s point, it could simply be a matter of which guy is up in the proverbial rotation.

Really good stuff from each of you gentlemen this week. Allow me to thank each of you for taking the time and I encourage the readers to continue providing the excellent feedback and topic suggestions in the comment section or on Twitter!

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NBA

NBA Daily: Ranking The Shooting Guards

Ben Nadeau kicks off a set of April rankings by tackling the shooting guards. Can anybody take James Harden down?

Ben Nadeau

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It’s April and, let’s face it, the world is starved for basketball-related content.

Less than a week ago, this space included the admittance of imaginary one-on-one rules and a wholehearted recommendation for a video game tournament. Literally, seriously, honestly: Anything to scratch that itch. And speaking of the aforementioned itches, it must be poison ivy season because the content rash is calling out once more – this time in the form of rankings lists. Generally speaking, these are often relegated into calendars during the sweaty days of August – perhaps even September should the mood feel right – but in April? That’s borderline unheard of.

On this list of shooting guards, there is an MVP, many All-Stars, some freakishly-good scorers and, in all likelihood, a fair share of future Hall of Famers. Putting them in order after 60-plus games of basketball feels a tad bit underwhelming – and you’ve probably got your own unshakable opinions at this point of the year – so we’re ranking them with three extra criteria in mind:

A. The best fun fact on their Wikipedia page
B. By facial hair
C. Is their coolest nickname objectively cool?

With that said, and on a 1-to-10 scale, it’s time to dive in and chat about the NBA’s very best shooting guards, their top achievements and whether or not they’ve known Nelly for 20 years.

1. James Harden, Houston Rockets

In any true-to-the-genre ranking, James Harden would be the undisputed champion because of his other-worldly scoring ability, playmaking chops and influence on the game of basketball as a whole. Back in 2017-18, Harden took home a well-deserved MVP award by notching 30.4 points per game and somehow followed that up with 36.1 during the next season and didn’t win – thus launching a widely-casted net on narratives and whether or not the NBA media succumbs to them.

Aside from leading the league in points per game for three consecutive seasons, Harden has also done so in assists once as well (11.2, 2016-17) and hasn’t missed an All-Star Game in almost a decade.

Before the season began, ESPN’s Kirk Goldsberry reported that Harden, 30, is already the NBA’s all-time leader in unassisted three-pointers, a downright insane footnote, and, of course, there’s the 30-plus points streak over 32 consecutive games in 2018-19. By Harden’s standards – which, in case you’re living under a rock, are now firmly in the best-shooting-guard-of-all-time territory – this shortened campaign fell on the slightly disappointing side but no Western Conference team wanted to face him in the postseason.

On the fun fact front, Harden became the first player in NBA history to score 30 or more points against all 29 teams in a single season – a list that topped out with two 60-point efforts for good measure. Without much discussion either, Harden’s facial hair is marketable, recognizable and the face, literally, of a candy spin-off – the beard is untouchable magic.

WFF: 8 | FH: 10 | COOL: 7
TOTAL: 25

2. Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards

Bradley Beal is a bad dude… but if an All-Star shooting guard averages 30 points per game in Washington, does anybody hear it? Snubbed from the big midseason exhibition, Beal has toiled away with the Wizards and continued to grow exponentially in each passing season. At 30.5 points per game, Beal only trails Harden in that category and, of note, doesn’t have a Hall of Fame-worthy partner in Russell Westbrook to pry away the constant defensive pressure either. Cooler, the 26-year-old sharpshooter was coming in hot toward the top 50 for most made three-pointers in NBA history (60 away) and has shown zero signs of slowing down.

Thanks to Beal’s daily heroics, Washington found themselves in 9th place for the Eastern Conference – 24-40, sure, but 9th nonetheless – a consideration made even more notable by noting the Wizards’ fourth- and fifth-highest scoring leaders on the year: Jordan McRae, who was moved at the trade deadline, and Isaiah Thomas, who was moved at the trade deadline. If not for Harden, a historic, one-of-a-kind player, Beal would lay serious claim to the league’s best shooting guard title. And although his facial hair is nothing to write home about, Beal’s Wikipedia Factoid is.

Nelly – yes, that Nelly – used to walk Beal to school. Of the nicknames listed for Beal on Basketball Reference, it’s quite the smattering: Real Deal, Big Panda, Blue Magic, Brad. While the latter bunch doesn’t bring much to the table, Real Deal, then often followed by Beal, is a quality nickname. Who doesn’t love a good rhyme? Real Deal Beal, nearly nickname bliss.

WFF: 10 | FH: 4 | COOL: 8
TOTAL: 22

3. Paul George, Los Angeles Clippers

Year after year, Paul George continues to be one of the NBA’s most consistently underrated. Despite top-three finishes in both MVP and DPotY in 2018-19, George is hardly ever mentioned in the same breath as LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard or Giannis Antetokounmpo. Still, that hasn’t stopped George from crushing opponents on either side of the ball – a reliable, healthy leader since he began to ascend the league-wide rankings in 2013. Teamed up with Leonard, George and the Clippers were poised for big things and a potential L.A.-L.A conference finals looked tastier than almost any other playoff series out there.

George has averaged over 20 points in six consecutive seasons – barring the year that must-not-be-named – and led the league in steals (2.2) last year. Back in 2013, George recorded his first-ever career playoff triple-double – 23 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists – and it was Indiana’s first since Mark Jackson notched one during the 1998 postseason. It’s not exactly the Most Fun of all Fun Facts – yet, being the first to do something since an NBA legend did it is undeniably cool.

The PG-13 moniker may sell jerseys and tickets, but not my heart. Clever, sure, but inspirational? Deadly? Fear-inspiring? That’s a question better suited for every underwhelming PG-13 horror movie out there – but for a future Hall of Famer, however, it could be better.

WFF: 7 | FH: 7 | COOL: 7
TOTAL: 21

4. Jrue Holiday, New Orleans Pelicans

Like George, Holiday remains in the running for the basketball’s most underappreciated title. Dependable and heady, New Orleans’ long-term leader has reached back-to-back All-NBA Defensive Teams, opted to stay post-Anthony Davis and, at the age of 29, is having another career-year. At 21.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 7.7 assists and 1.6 steals per game, the stat-stuffing Holiday is an on-ball menace, while pairing excellently with Lonzo Ball thus far. Although the addition of Zion Williamson, complete with a late-season surge, may not ultimately find its own conclusion, Holiday’s veteran presence and timely contributions steered the ship until the generational talent could make his debut.

One might mistakenly believe that Holiday’s fun fact would involve his brothers – Justin and Aaron – and that the trio shared the court in late December, the first time in NBA history, but that’d be incorrect. Instead, Holiday is married to the USWNT’s Lauren Holiday, formerly Cheney, and the two met at a UCLA game in 2013 – when Lauren accidentally mistook him for Darren Collison. The rest, eventually, was history. Since Holiday broke into the team in 2007, the USWNT has won two Olympic gold medals, took silver in the 2011 Women’s World Cup and then, of course, got revenge with a first-place finish four years later.

Their daughter, Jrue as well, has some seriously-tight shoes to fill down the road.

WFF: 10 | FH: 4 | COOL: 5
TOTAL: 19

5. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

Booker is part of the generation’s new school: Icy cool from the arc, but even cooler off-the-court. The Suns’ franchise cornerstone appears to only be scratching the surface of his true potential lately, but the 23-year-old finally reached his first-ever All-Star Game before the shutdown. His elite scoring ability makes Booker a nightmare for opposing defenses and it’s legitimately exciting to imagine a playoff-ready roster around the playmaker. Three years earlier, Booker hung 70 points on the Boston Celtics on the road, becoming the youngest player ever to score 60-plus, and quickly smashed many other age-related records in his path as well.

To wit, Booker is already signed up on a maximum contract worth $158 million with Phoenix and was on course to repeat his incredible 2018-19 – 26 points, 4.1 rebounds, 6.6 assists per game – but on even better efficiencies.

Admittedly, Book is not the greatest nickname, nor does his facial hair strike fear into the opponent’s heart… but his icebreaker contribution certainly would. Back on Jan. 2, 2016, when Booker was just 19 years old, he scored 21 points in a loss to the Sacramento Kings. For a superstar that now regularly drops 40, half that as a rookie seems skippable at first sight. But the only people to score more than that at his age: Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, Dwight Howard, LeBron James and Kevin Durant – all bonafide locks for the Hall of Fame.

Not bad company, not at all.

WFF: 9 | FH: 3 | COOL: 5
TOTAL: 17

6. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz

After going at No. 13 overall three years ago, Mitchell continues to take the NBA scene by storm. Mitchell, a cool, calm and collected rim-rattler, was the franchise cornerstone that Utah so desperately needed to fall into their laps. Although their campaign hadn’t gone exactly to plan so far in 2019-20, Mitchell was having a career-year with 24.2 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game. A fierce competitor, the 23-year-old is often ready to tear down the hoop with every electric dunk or go-ahead bucket. Always ready to attack the paint, Mitchell’s rapid-fire footwork and above-average jump shot keep defenders guessing .- and generally to no avail.

Best, of all, Mitchell may be young, but he, without a doubt, sports the best nickname of the shooting guard bunch – Spida – and these days, the first-time All-Star seems destined for greatness. Likewise, in 2018, Mitchell revealed that he was at LeBron James’ famous Boys and Girls Club ceremony. Mitchell, he says, wanted James to head to Miami and get his first championship ring. A decade later, he’s not only competing on the same level as James – but Mitchell is absolutely holding his own.

WFF: 5 | FH: 2 | COOL: 10 
TOTAL: 17

7. CJ McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers

Every superhero needs a sidekick.

And, sure, maybe McCollum isn’t as prolific as Damian Lillard, but this is a deadeye marksman that puts the shooting in shooting guard. At 22.5 points per game, McCollum was nearing a career-high in that category, playing his part to keep the Trail Blazers in a tight postseason picture in spite of vast roster injuries. In fact, the 28-year-old had knocked down three or more three-pointers in 34 of Portland’s 62 games thus far, providing half the firepower in one of the NBA’s most dynamic backcourt partnerships.

Via Lehigh, McCollum took the road less traveled to the NBA, even opting to return to college for his senior year – even though he already ranked high on most draft boards. Noting his passion for Journalism and Sports Broadcasting, two facets of McCollum’s off-the-court persona today, the three-point destroyer stayed in school when 99 percent of the world would’ve taken the money. Oh, if that wasn’t enough, dropping 50 points – joining Brandon Roy, Andre Miller, Clyde Drexler, Damon Stoudamire, Geoff Petrie and Lillard in Blazers’ franchise history to do so – isn’t a minor accomplishment either. While McCollum is docked for having no remarkable nickname but makes up for it with an often fantastic mustache and goatee combo and his love for learning – both on and off the court.

WFF: 9 | FH: 5 | COOL: 1
TOTAL: 15

8. Victor Oladipo, Indiana Pacers

Although the campaign was halted before Oladipo could truly shake off the rust, the warning signs were certainly there: The All-Star guard was back, baby.

After a gruesome injury ended Oladipo’s rise into stardom over a year ago, questions of his eventual return – and if he’d even be the same player again – remained and lingered ominously on the surface. Thankfully, the 6-foot-4 bucket-scoring machine had the Pacers looking like a fearful postseason matchup as the calendar turned to March. During Indiana’s final game pre-quarantine, he dropped 27 points on 5-for-7 from three-point range – Boston, Philadelphia, Toronto, it doesn’t matter: Nobody wants to go toe-to-toe with a hungry (and healthy) Oladipo.

To round out our foray into fun facts, unsurprisingly, Oladipo has already managed to reach mainstream recognition as a singer, his passionate side hustle. In 2018, the 27-year-old released his first-ever album, V.O., and has been featured at the NBA All-Star Game and on The Masked Singer – so if this whole basketball thing doesn’t work out, Dipo will be juuuuuuuuust fine.

WFF: 7 | FH: 1 | COOL: 6
TOTAL: 14

Honorable Mentions: Caris LeVert, Jaylen Brown, Gary Harris, Buddy Hield

In the end, the new-fangled criteria didn’t change too much on the sliding scale, but Harden’s greatness was too powerful to ignore. While Beal, George and others may lay claim to the throne, the shooting guard position brings a ton of confidence and consistency to the sport – top to bottom, it’s a list of absolute competitors and tide-changing athletes. It remains to be seen if this season will resume safely and effectively at some point, but, if it does, these eight sharpshooters can pull their weight (and then some) in a big way.

For more quarantine-ready content, stay tuned to Basketball Insiders’ feed, we’ve got you covered.

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Results-Based Mental Performance: Plan B

Jake Rauchbach breaks down how players can improve their on-court games with off-court tools during this hiatus

Jake Rauchbach

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For players looking to remain sharp, getting in on-court work right now can prove to be a challenge. Considering the social distancing and lockdown currently in effect, players and teams alike may be forced to look outside the box to employ other sorts of ways to maintain an edge.

Integrated player development tools that touch upon the deeper level of the mind could provide the answer.

With limited skill development time, mental tools that aim to maintain and refine player’s instincts, habits and routines could hold the key to producing improvement during this on-court hiatus.

In this column, we are going to highlight four different ways to train the mind (And Game) to remain sharp.

Visualization

Science has shown that there is a direct connection between thoughts, emotions and the body. This means when players are relegated to primarily off-court activities, there could be no better way to train, than visualization.

Players that I have worked with in the past who have employed visualization, have often produced mirror-like on-court results.

For instance, during my time at Temple University, there was a player who pictured himself stealing the ball in the full court and then going down to dunk the ball. Before visualizing this, he had not completed this play during the game. After doing so, he began to repeatedly complete this play during the games. This is just one example, of how powerful visualization can be, and there are many more. This type of phenomenon has become the new normal for the community of MindRight Pro community players. What we are finding, is there is a direct connection between internal picturing and external outcomes.

This is one of the reasons why, visualization is such a beneficial tool to use, especially when players are not able to get-in adequate court-time. At this point, making this apart of the player’s daily routine should be a no brainer.

Affirmations

Affirmations have long been used as a way to affirm mindset. For players, whose seasons have abruptly come to an end, and where on-court time has been limited, training mindset to stay sharp is VITAL.

Consistent use of affirmations helps players hone their very own personal mission statement. If players can stay on a mission now, they can perceivably do so through any future experience.

Regular check-ins help to keep players on a mission, and headed in the right direction.

Breath Work

Leveraging breath as a way to increase awareness and performance is a pillar of virtually every type of self-help and high-performance modality.

Being aware of one’s breath is very powerful. Breathwork has also long been used as a vehicle to bring people into the present moment. The present moment is where high-performance lives. For players, there may be nothing more important for their game than this.

This is a big-time opportunity for athletes to train on-court performance via present moment awareness. We are talking about training breath as a proxy for improvement.

Ultimately, on-court performance all boils down to present moment awareness. Without a strong handle on this aspect of consciousness, players will hold themselves back from the best version of themselves. For players, training this aspect now could reap big-time rewards when basketball resumes.

Meditation

Of course, we can provide this list without talking about meditation. Meditation is like the anchor for all other mind-based methods. With the increasing number of options for meditation, players should have no problem finding resources in this regard.

This being said, there are a ton of different types of meditation. It does not matter which one a player chooses, the most important thing is that he/she is consistent.

Consistency moves the dial, and that is super important right now. Players who consistently train the mind during their time off the court; Give themselves an edge once they’re cleared to be back on the court in the full.

Check out Jake Rauchbach’s High-Performance Mindfulness podcast here.

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NBA

NBA Daily: The Hot Seat – Western Conference

Matt John takes a look at head coaches and general managers in the Western Conference whose jobs might be on the line.

Matt John

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Back on Monday, Basketball Insiders took a look at which personnel from the Eastern Conference could be in danger of losing their jobs. In case you missed it, check it out here.

Previously, we discussed the notion that there’s always one guy you’d never suspect to lose his job to get hit by the Hot Seat – Kenny Atkinson’s mutual parting a few weeks back was just that.

Before we dive into the jobs on the line in the Western Conference, there’s something else that must be pointed out about the Hot Seat. It’s true that when it comes to job performance in the NBA, most of what determines your fate stems from the question: “What have you done for me lately?”

Joe Dumars’ time as the general manager of the Detroit Pistons is a good example of this. Outside of infamously drafting Darko Milicic over Carmelo Anthony in 2003, Dumars had a near-perfect track record after taking over from 2000 to 2006. Following the departure of franchise icon Grant Hill, Dumars did the following:

– Acquire Ben Wallace in a sign-and-trade with Orlando for Hill. Wallace then went on to become one of the best rim protectors of his era and all-time
– Brought in Chauncey Billups on a cheap deal just before Billups became Mr. Big Shot
– Traded Jerry Stackhouse for Richard Hamilton, who became a perfect complement next to Billups in the frontcourt
– Drafted Mehmet Okur, Tayshaun Prince, Amir Johnson and Jason Maxiell, all productive players that were taken after the lottery
– Replaced Rick Carlisle with Larry Brown
– Basically stole Rasheed Wallace mid-season

Naturally, this created a great era of basketball for Detroit. They won a championship, went to two consecutive finals, and went to six consecutive conference finals from 2003-08. Not many can say they were able to win a championship after losing a superstar and failing to draft one when they had the chance, but Dumars can.

But then came the fall of 2008: That bred the awful Billups-for-Iverson deal. Paying top dollar for the ill-fated Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva contracts. Putting together a frontcourt of Josh Smith, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe. If Dumars didn’t have an incredible run earlier as general manager, how long would he have lasted after putting the team in mediocrity?

Given the massive amount of franchise success to his name, he kept his job long after things nosedived for Detroit. It’s that same sort of success that guarantees leaders like Gregg Popovich and Rick Carlisle will keep their job for as long as they want, even if they are sitting at home when the playoffs start.

The following people are on the hot seat not because they haven’t necessarily experienced success with their team — but because they haven’t had enough to keep their job should they fail in the situation they find themselves in now.

“Figure It Out… And Quickly Now”

Mike D’Antoni — Houston Rockets

D’Antoni has a lot of success both with the Rockets and as an NBA head coach in general. So much so that if he retired right here and now, he’d make a case for the best coach to never win a championship. Even so, the pressure on him to get Houston over the hump is stronger than it’s ever been.

Obviously, going to the small-ball lineup is something D’Antoni has no issue deploying. In fact, he embraces that gameplan. But even this may be too tall of a task for him. In the past, he used perimeter guys to soak up minutes at the power forward and center spots, but he usually had at least one pure big in his rotation. Now he doesn’t.

With Robert Covington and Clint Capela out, the Rockets don’t have any rotation players taller than 6-foot-8. In fact, the only one who’s actually measured at that height is Jeff Green, who was not only cut from Utah mid-season but spent most of the year riding the pine before Houston inquired about his services. Can you really call it small-ball if you have no bigs to begin with?

D’Antoni wouldn’t be here if this experiment was definitively working — they’re in the mix, but certainly not full-on contenders at this moment. For a while there, it looked like it was. Houston won seven of its first eight games, coming with notable wins coming against the Lakers, Boston (twice) and Utah. They then followed it up with a four-game losing streak with losses at the hands of New York, Charlotte and Orlando.

A record of 8-5 honestly isn’t too bad with such a drastic mid-season change, in retrospect. Russell Westbrook was playing some of the best basketball of his career, while James Harden was a little more off than usual. Still, the mixed results were scary given what the Rockets have ahead of them if the playoffs eventually come.

If Houston doesn’t get to the championship round or, at the very least, go further than they did last season, D’Antoni might get the lion’s share of the blame. Either way, D’Antoni’s contract extension talks with owner Tilman Fertitta didn’t go… smoothly either. As bad as that all may sound, with his reputation, he wouldn’t have much trouble finding another job.

“We Cannot Lose Another Franchise Player… We Just Can’t”

Ryan Saunders/Scott Layden – Minnesota Timberwolves

First, some props are due for both Saunders and Layden. In Layden’s case, he should get the credit for stealing Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez away from the Denver Nuggets. Then as a follow-up, he acquired D’Angelo Russell to appease Karl-Anthony Towns and give him the best scoring guard he’s ever had.

For Saunders, he’s integrated them pretty well mid-season. Beasley and Hernangomez are both playing excellent basketball right now for the Timberwolves. Russell is doing his usual thing. Appearances, finally, are on the rise for the talented squad.

Has that changed Minnesota’s fortunes one bit? Nope! Since the Timberwolves made their mid-season roster shakeup, they’ve gone 3-10, which puts them at 19-45, good for second-worst and only ahead of the injury-decimated Golden State Warriors.

It’s numbers like those that make the Wolves’ promising start back in October feel like an eternity ago. It wouldn’t matter if the season resumed or not, the Timberwolves weren’t making the playoffs. Worse, Towns was not happy with the team’s lack of success for most of the season. What Minnesota has to ask themselves is how long will he be willing to put up with such a lack of progress.

Bringing Russell aboard was the smart, obvious, and let’s face it, inevitable move. Pairing your franchise player with his friend has brought his spirits up, but the continued losing might not indefinitely postpone these feelings forever.

The real pressure on Layden and Saunders doesn’t come from only how the Timberwolves do, but how they fare against their competition next year. Excluding the conference’s top seven, their younger competitors — New Orleans, Memphis, Sacramento, Phoenix — are further along in developing their team than Minnesota. Worse, Golden State and Portland are also going to be much healthier next season. Making the playoffs in the Western Conference is going to be quite the mountain to climb, especially for Minnesota.

If they can’t get over that hump, Minnesota will have to do something to keep Towns happy. That might start with getting rid of Layden and Saunders.

This list may be short, but that’s because it’s hard to see other coaches and general managers being put on the hot seat right now. Ether because their seasons have gone well, their seasons have gone badly for reasons that were out of control, or there’s too much loyalty there for anyone to get fired.

The one coach who might eventually be on the hot seat is Quin Snyder. He’s done an excellent job for Utah over these past several years, so his one hiccup shouldn’t be enough to put his job in jeopardy. That’s more of a wait-and-see situation. Even if it doesn’t get better, it took several years for Toronto to dismiss Dwane Casey because he did so much for that organization.

Oklahoma City’s season has gone so surprisingly and enjoyably well that Billy Donovan’s job should be just fine. Some will blame Neil Olshey for what happened to Portland this season, but with all that happened with Jusuf Nurkic and their other injuries, what were his options?

Alvin Gentry would have made this list, but it wasn’t his fault that Zion Williamson missed most of the season. Now that the generational prospect is back, New Orleans has most definitely turned a corner and went 11-8 since his debut. It might be too late both due to the injury bug and COVID-19, but their improvement over the last few months should make Gentry’s job safe for now.

Luke Walton or Vlade Divac would also be prime candidates for this list, but who knows what’s going on in Sacramento’s collective head?

Right now, it looks like a lot more jobs in the Western Conference are safe than not at the moment. That can all change in a short amount of time, but we don’t know anything, really. Here’s to hoping that no one will lose their job in this league – especially at a time like this.

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