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Willie Reed May Be a Free Agency Steal

Willie Reed discusses his year with the Nets, unrestricted free agency, growth as a player and more.

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The NBA’s free agency period gets underway tonight after midnight, and Willie Reed is free to sign wherever he wants. The Brooklyn Nets decided not to extend a qualifying offer to the 26-year-old big man, making him an unrestricted free agent who should have no shortage of options.

This past season in Brooklyn, Reed averaged 4.7 points, 3.1 rebounds and .8 blocks in 39 games while shooting an efficient 57.1 percent from the field. These numbers may not jump off of the page, but that’s because Reed was playing just 10.9 minutes per game. His per-100-possession numbers were terrific: 21.5 points, 14.4 rebounds and 3.5 blocks. It wasn’t uncommon to see Reed score in double figures with a handful of rebounds and blocks despite playing just a few minutes.

But the team’s stats show that Reed made the most of his time on the court, as he was one of the Nets’ most productive players when given minutes. He led all Brooklyn players in net rating (+8), offensive rating (116), true shooting percentage (57.9 percent), field goal percentage (57.1 percent), block percentage (5.7 percent) and win shares per 48 minutes (.134). He finished second on the team in PER (19.2), total rebound percentage (16.1 percent) and offensive rebound percentage (12.7 percent).

Reed earned just $947,276 this past season, which was a huge raise from his days in the D-League when he struggled to support his family. Now, after putting some positive game film together and showing what he can do when given an opportunity to play, Reed should be in for another nice pay day (especially with the salary cap spiking to $94 million). It’s clear that he still has untapped potential and he could elevate his game if put in the right situation with some guidance.

While there’s certainly a small sample size here, it’s worth noting that Reed has shined every time he has been given an opportunity. In March, when his minutes with the Nets increased to 15.9 per game, he averaged 7.3 points, five rebounds and 1.6 blocks while shooting 55.6 percent from the field. In his two starts for Brooklyn this season (against Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns, respectively), he averaged 13.5 points, seven rebounds, three blocks and 1.5 assists.

And remember, it was Reed’s outings in the D-League and Summer League that led to his opportunity with the Nets. Prior to signing with Brooklyn, Reed averaged 16.4 points, 12.1 rebounds and 1.9 blocks (while shooting 60.3 percent from the field) in the D-League during the 2014-15 campaign. Then, one year ago, he contributed 13.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game (while shooting 60 percent from the field) on the Miami HEAT’s Summer League team. These performances turned heads, particularly in Brooklyn, and Reed showed he has the potential to be a two-way contributor.

“Willie is solid, long, athletic and he’s always going to play hard no matter what,” Portland Trail Blazers big man Ed Davis told Basketball Insiders about Reed. “Once he gets his opportunity, people will see.”

“Willie is a really good dude,” Nets point guard Shane Larkin said about his teammate. “He’s family oriented and has worked very hard to get to where he is now. Obviously we didn’t have the best season and it could have been easy for anybody on the team to pack it up, but Willie was constantly working at the gym early and even after practice. He was always getting good work in. But I think the best thing about Willie that I can remember is him as a teammate. He is always supporting the team. Whenever anybody makes a play – whether it is a steal, a charge, a three or a dunk – he is the first person to stand up and wave his towel in the air or do his signature three-point celebration. And on the court, he is huge competitor and a very confident guy. He has great timing on help-side defense and he works very hard on the offensive glass. I’m happy he got his chance in the league this year and hopefully he can find himself on another roster come next season.”

A number of teams have already started showing some level of interest in Reed, especially now that they know he’s unrestricted as opposed to restricted. He has put enough on film to intrigue executives around the NBA, and now it just remains to be seen which team signs him for the 2016-17 season.

Basketball Insiders recently caught up with Reed to discuss his continued development as a player, his stint with the Nets, what he can bring to an NBA team, how he’s approaching unrestricted free agency and more.

What did you learn throughout this past season with the Brooklyn Nets? This was your longest stint with one NBA team, so what were some of the takeaways?

Willie Reed: “The biggest thing that I learned was that I belong in the NBA. That was the question that I had for myself before I actually played a game or [wondered] the reason why I wasn’t there before. I learned that I belonged. I learned that I could play at a high level and I could contribute. I think that was the biggest thing for me; it was a confidence builder.”

For people who may not know much about your game, what are your biggest strengths? What do you bring to an NBA team?

Reed: “I think my biggest strength is my energy. I always play with a high energy. Other than that, I think the defensive end is where I’m at my best, especially at this point of my career and when it comes to protecting the rim. I think rim protection is my biggest thing. I averaged almost a block a game in only 10 minutes. I was able to be efficient blocking shots while also staying out of foul trouble. Changing shots, blocking shots and getting steals… I think defense is my strong suit. And I’ll always fight for offensive rebounds too. That’s where I am right now.”

How nice is it to see other defensive, high-energy big men like Toronto’s Bismack Biyombo and Miami’s Hassan Whiteside excel? Do you think their success helps you?

Reed: “Definitely, it just shows that if you’re put in the right position, you can succeed. Obviously, Bismack Biyombo was huge during the playoffs after Jonas Valanciunas went down. Then you have a guy like Tristan Thompson, who was excellent in the Finals with his rebounding and guarding everyone. He even did a great job guarding Steph Curry at times. Being versatile, being a really good defender and being a strong rebounder are important. I think that I could help a team – any team – who is looking for that guy who is a high-energy player off of the bench.”

You mention versatility. That has become so important in today’s NBA. How many positions can you guard and what separates you from others at your position?

Reed: “I think I’m a guy who can guard positions three through five. I think I’m a guy who can contain a guy or at least follow the scouting report enough to be able to see what teams need defensively and be efficient at it. I think that’s my big thing. Coming up, I always played for coaches in college and high school who were very defensive-minded, which helped me translate my defense to the NBA. I think focusing on that allowed me to be successful on the defensive end. Now, I can hedge out on pick-and-rolls, I can switch, if the guy is a shooter then I can make them drive, things like that. I will know the scouting report and that only helps my defense.”

How much have you matured and grown as a person in recent years?

Reed: “I think that I’ve grown tremendously. I think that’s due to my family and my maturity. My family allows me to go put in that extra work. Right now, we’re in California. I’ve been here working out and they make sure I stay focused. They know that I’m in the gym three times a day and they know there are going to be times where they don’t get to leave the house, but they sacrifice that and come here and be with me just so that I’m comfortable while I’m training and see a familiar face and be happy. They understand the reason I’m doing this for.”

Like you said, you’ve been working out several times a day in California. You also trained in Cleveland prior to that. What aspects of your game are you focused on improving?

Reed: “Out here, I’m working on the offensive part of my game: post moves, reading the defense, catching the ball off of the pick-and-roll and being able to avoid traffic. I think that’s the biggest thing for me. Obviously, I excelled on the defensive end, but understanding that now it’s a faster-paced game in the NBA than in the D-League, I have to figure it out offensively and be able to grasp that. I’m excited about the transformation and I just can’t wait for what this next season brings.”

How much untapped potential do you feel like you have?

Reed: “I think I still have a lot of room to grow. Obviously, being in the D-League, I got better every single year. I think I took that next step and being in the NBA this past season, I think I took a huge a step. I went from being a guy who was injured at the beginning of the season and wasn’t really playing much to being a rotational guy. I think that me proving that I belong just shows that I’m making improvements and I think I could even take my game to another level. That’s why I’m here in Los Angeles, trying to figure out what that next level is.”

You had the chance to play against some dominant big men this year. Who did you learn the most from matching up against?

Reed: “When I got the opportunity to match up against DeAndre Jordan, I think that was big for me, especially being the type of player he is. That’s who I kind of want to model my game after as far as defensively and controlling the paint and offensive rebounding. I think that’s the key. I also want to add offense to my game and I think playing against Karl-Anthony Towns and Chris Bosh helped me. I think they allowed me to see offensively what it is that I need to go to and work on. Obviously, my game isn’t going to be what their game is, but I think that if I can contribute by catching and avoiding the defense, making the extra pass and finishing in the post, I think that makes me a lot more valuable.”

What’s your approach to free agency? Some guys love it, some guys hate it. How do you feel entering this process?

Reed: “I’m definitely just trying to make sure that I continue to work hard. It is something that I think about a lot, and I just want to make sure that I’m in the right position to be able to succeed. I understand that free agency is going to take time. It’s going to be a process. I’m going to do my part by continuing to get better every single day and give myself the best chance to be successful once I do find out what team I’ll be on.”

What factors will you consider as you look for your next team? Is there a specific thing you’re looking for as you talk to teams?

Reed: “I think the biggest thing is trying to get on an up-and-down, faster-pace team. I think that I really excel in that. I’ve done well in that kind of system, especially in Summer League last year when I played on a fast-paced Miami team and I was able to succeed. I think the biggest thing for me is getting in a position like that, where the point guard pushes the basketball and we play at a fast pace. I really feed off of that, turning defense into offense. I think that’s a big thing for me. I’m not really worried about the destination. I just want to make sure it fits me and gives me the best opportunity to succeed. I think that if I can do that, then I can really push and make a name for myself here in the league.”

Basketball Insiders’ Cody Taylor contributed to this article.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: Wiggins The X-Factor for Warriors

Stephen Curry will always be the face of the Golden State Warriors, and for good reason. Draymond Green spearheads their defensive attack but the key to their postseason fate lies in the hands of a guy that many people had already given up on.

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The 2020-21 regular season was a strange one for many reasons, but especially for the Golden State Warriors. Shortly before the NBA Draft, the team’s championship aspirations took a major hit with the injury to Klay Thompson. The best backcourt in the league would not be on full display this season, but they still had two-time MVP, Stephen Curry, to put on a show.

Curry did just that, dazzling basketball fans on a near-nightly basis. The sensational shots, ridiculous plays and high-drama situations were must-see TV that kept the Warriors in the national spotlight. To that end, Curry captured the scoring title for the second time in his career, averaging 32.0 points per game this season.

With limited options available to fill Thompson’s void, the team managed to add Kelly Oubre Jr to the roster, although it came at a steep cost. His salary is $14.4 million this season but because of Golden State’s luxury tax bill, ESPN’s Bobby Marks noted that adding Oubre would cost an additional $82.4 million, bringing their total to $134 million.

After a career year in Phoenix, Oubre struggled mightily trying to fit in with this group. Sometimes players in new situations can try to do too much at first, or sometimes pass on open shots in order to not seem selfish. Neither of these was the case for Oubre, who simply could not put the ball in the basket. His early-season shooting struggles had the Warriors pegged for the Draft Lottery.

Oubre eventually turned it around and began playing like himself. Another new face in the Bay area was rookie James Wiseman. He too struggled at the beginning of the season, which is to be expected for someone in his situation. The seven-footer from Memphis only played a handful of games in college and was trying to learn the NBA game on the fly. A season-ending injury cut short his rookie season, but he showed promise for the future.

The future is not something that Curry has on his mind. He and Draymond Green are playing to win now. That starts on Wednesday with their highly-anticipated showdown with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers. The league has quite the matchup to cap the new Play-In-Tournament.

Amid all of the highlight plays from Curry and all of the noise surrounding Green, one player sits in the shadows and is rarely mentioned. Andrew Wiggins was all the rage when he was selected number one overall in the 2014 NBA Draft. The former Kansas Jayhawk earned Rookie of the Year honors but ultimately struggled to find his place in Minneapolis.

After more than five seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Wiggins was traded to the Warriors in February of last season. Now having played a full season in a Warriors uniform, Wiggins could be their x-factor in the postseason.

One of the knocks on Wiggins has always been his drive, and his passion to reach his full potential. He has all of the physical tools and attributes to be one of the most prolific two-way players in the league. Sometimes the effort just isn’t there, but that narrative seems to have gone out the window. Wiggins has been playing excellent on both ends of the floor, which has translated to wins for the depleted Warriors.

While many people point to his scoring slightly declining, he still scored 19 points per game despite playing the fewest minutes of his career. He finished inside the top 40 in scoring this season. The real story for Wiggins is his efficiency, which has been incredible. He shot a career-high 48 percent from the floor this season and a career-best 38 percent from three-point range. His 54 percent effective field goal percentage is also the highest of his career.

As they prepare to battle the Lakers for the 7th seed in the Western Conference, Golden State must find ways to get stops on the defensive end. Stopping the likes of James, Davis and Dennis Schroder on the perimeter will be paramount to their success. It is easier said than done, but this is where Wiggins’ value can be felt. The Toronto native will be called upon to match up against James often, with Green defending their big men.

Wiggins finished fourth in Defensive RPM (2.72) this season at his position, 21st among all players in the league. That is by far the best of his career, as he ranked 85th last season among small forwards. He also finished inside the top five in the league in terms of contested three-point shots. That is important for the Warriors going forward, should they face the Phoenix Suns or Utah Jazz in the first round. Utah was the top three-point shooting team in the league and Phoenix was seventh-best in terms of percentage.

As if facing James and Davis weren’t difficult enough, the Warriors will have their hands full no matter which opponent they face next. Both have dynamic backcourts with Mike Conley/Donovan Mitchell in Utah and Chris Paul/Devin Booker in Phoenix. Wiggins will be tasked with trying to slow them down as well. There is elite talent everywhere you look out West.

Golden State finished the regular season with a 110.1 defensive rating, which was top five in the league. They managed to do that despite having a depleted roster and having the third-highest pace (102.2) in the league. Much of the credit will go to Green and Oubre but Wiggins has been a major factor in their defensive schemes.

Curry and Green have combined to play in 235 playoff games during their careers. Wiggins has only appeared in five playoff games, so this will be a new experience for him. The pressure always goes up in the postseason, and the Play-In Tournament is no exception.

Shortly after acquiring Wiggins, Steve Kerr put All-Defense expectations on him. “Defensively, we will ask him to take on the challenge of what that position entails. Guarding some of the best players in the league and adapting to our schemes and terminology.” To his credit, Wiggins has done just that.

Wiggins will not win the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award this season. He isn’t going to win the Defensive Player of the Year either. While those accolades matter to a lot of players, Wiggins is just focused on improving and winning games. The Warriors hope to do the same as they return to postseason play.

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NBA Daily: Examining Michael Porter Jr.’s Ascension

Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. is averaging over 25 points per game and looks like a future All-NBA player. Bobby Krivitsky examines Porter’s ascent and the questions that come with it.

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Since Jamal Murray’s season-ending knee injury, Michael Porter Jr. has taken his game to new heights.

In the wake of Murray’s ACL tear in mid-April, Porter’s playing time has gone from 30.6 minutes per contest to 35.7, while his shots per game have risen from 12.6 per game to 16.5. The increased responsibility has fueled his ascent. He’s knocking down 56.3 percent of those attempts. He’s taking 8.2 threes per game and making a blistering 50 percent of them. As a result, Porter’s gone from averaging 17.5 points per game to 25.1. He’s also grabbing 6.1 rebounds and blocking almost one shot per contest.

At the time of Murray’s injury, the Denver Nuggets were in fourth place in the Western Conference. They remain there now, 9-4 in his absence, and they boast the eighth-highest net rating in the NBA.

The only way for the Nuggets to fall from fourth would be if they lost their four remaining games and the Dallas Mavericks won their final five contests because the Mavericks have the tiebreaker since they won the season series. On the more realistic end of the spectrum, Denver sits just 1.5 games back of the Los Angeles Clippers, who occupy the third seed in the West. The Nuggets won their season series against the Clippers, meaning they’d finish in third if the two teams ended the regular season with the same record.

There’s a bevy of questions surrounding Porter’s recent play that need to be asked but cannot get answered at the moment. That starts with whether this is anything more than a hot streak. While it’s impossible to say definitively, it’s reasonable to believe Porter can consistently and efficiently produce about 25 points per game. He was the second-ranked high school prospect in 2017 and entered his freshman year at Missouri firmly in the mix for the top pick in the 2018 NBA draft. That was thanks in large part to his offensive prowess as a 6-10 wing with a smooth shot that’s nearly impossible to block because of the elevation he gets when he shoots. 

A back injury cost him all but 53 minutes of his collegiate career and caused him to fall to the 14th pick in the draft. He ended up in an ideal landing spot, going to a well-run organization that’s also well aware of its barren track record luring star players looking to change teams, making it vital for the Nuggets to hit on their draft picks. 

Porter’s first year in the NBA was exclusively dedicated to the rehab process and doing everything possible to ensure he can have a long, healthy and productive career. Last season, finally getting a chance to play, he showed off the tantalizing talent that made him a top prospect but only took seven shots per game while trying to fit in alongside Nikola Jokic, Murray, Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant.

More experience, including battling against the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, an offseason, albeit a truncated one, to prepare for a more substantial role with Grant joining the Detroit Pistons and Millsap turning 36 this year, helped propel Porter. 

But for the Nuggets, before Murray’s injury, the perception was that even though they weren’t the favorites to come out of the Western Conference, they were a legitimate title contender. How far can they go if Porter’s consistently contributing about 25 points and over six rebounds per game while effectively playing the role of a second star alongside Jokic? 

It seems fair to cross Denver off the list of title contenders. But, if Porter continues to capably play the role of a second star alongside Jokic when doing so becomes more challenging in the postseason, the Nuggets can advance past a team like the Mavericks or Portland Trail Blazers. And at a minimum, they’d have the ability to make life difficult for whoever they had to face in the second round of the playoffs.

Unfortunately, the timing of Murray’s ACL tear, which happened in mid-April, means there’s a legitimate possibility he misses all of next season. Denver’s increased reliance on Porter is already allowing a young player with All-NBA potential to take on a role that’s closer to the one he’s assumed his whole life before making it to the sport’s highest level. If the Nuggets are counting on him to be the second-best player on a highly competitive team in the Western Conference next season, it’ll be fascinating to see what heights he reaches and how far they’re able to go as a team.

Theoretically, Porter’s growth could make it difficult for Denver to reacclimate Murray. But given Jokic’s unselfish style of play, there’s room for both of them to be satisfied by the volume of shots they’re getting. Unfortunately, the Nuggets have to wait, potentially another season, but Jokic is 26-years-old, Murray 24, Porter 22. When Denver has their Big Three back together, they could be far more potent while still being able to enjoy a lengthy run as legitimate title contenders.

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NBA Daily: D’Angelo Russell Back on Track

D’Angelo Russell lost much of the 2020-21 season to injury. Drew Maresca explains why his return will surprise people around the league.

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D’Angelo Russell was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves last February, just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the entire season. But we’ve yet to see what Russell can really do in Minnesota.

The Timberwolves acquired Russell in late February in exchange for a future first-round pick – which transitions this season if they pick later than third – a 2021 second-round pick and Andrew Wiggins.

Sidenote: For those keeping score at home, the Timberwolves currently have the third-worst record in the league with five games remaining. It would behoove Minnesota to lose as many of their remaining games as possible to keep their 2021 pick. If the pick does not transition this season, it becomes unrestricted in 2020.

Trying to turn an owed pick into an unprotected future first is usually the wrong move; but in this instance, it’s better to keep the high first-rounder this year with an understanding that your 2022 pick will probably fall in or around the middle of the lottery.

The thinking around the deal was that Minnesota could qualify for the playoffs as soon as this season by swapping Wiggins’ contract for a young, talented lead guard in Russell. It has not played out as planned.

COVID resulted in a play stoppage shortly after the deal, robbing Russell of the opportunity to ramp up with his new team. When the NBA returned to finish the 2019-20 season, the Timberwolves failed to qualify for bubble play – and considering the US was still battling a global pandemic, Russell couldn’t easily practice with his new teammates and/or coaches.

The 2020-21 season began weirdly, too. The NBA proceeded with an abbreviated training camp and preseason. And while this impacted all teams, Russell was additionally hindered by the decision.

Ready or not, the season began. In 2020-21, Russell is averaging a near-career low in minutes per game (28.2) across just 36 games. He’s tallying 19.1 points per game on 43.6% shooting and a career-best 38.8% on three-point attempts. He’s also he’s posting a near career-best assist-to-turnover ratio (5.7 to 2.8).

Despite Russell’s contributions, the Timberwolves have failed to meet expectations. Far from the playoff squad they hoped to be, Minnesota is in contention for the top pick in this year’s draft. So what has gone wrong in Minneapolis?

Russell’s setbacks are fairly obvious. In addition to the lack of preparation with his teammates and coaches, Russell was diagnosed with a “loose body” in his knee, requiring arthroscopic knee surgery in February. As a result, he missed 27 consecutive games. Russell returned on April 5, but head coach Chris Finch revealed that he’d been on a minutes restriction until just recently.

Minnesota is clearly being cautious with Russell. Upon closer review, Russell has been restricted to under 30 minutes per game in all of his first 10 games back. Since then, Russell is averaging 31 minutes per game including an encouraging 37 minutes on May 5 in a four-point loss to Memphis.

Since returning from knee surgery, Russell is averaging 27 minutes per game across 16 games. Despite starting 19 of the team’s first 20 games, he hadn’t started in any game since returning – until Wednesday.

On the whole, Russell’s impact is about the same as it was prior to the injury, which should be encouraging to Timberwolves’ fans. He’s scoring slightly less (18.8 points since returning vs. 19.3 prior), shooting better from the field (44.9% since returning vs 42.6%% prior) and has been just slightly worse from three-point range (37.4% since vs. 39.9 prior). He’s dishing out more assists per game (6.5 since vs. 5.1 prior), too, and he posted three double-digit assist games in his last five contents – a feat achieved only once all season prior to his last five games.

Despite playing more and dropping more dimes, there’s still room to improve. Looking back to his career-bests, Russell averaged 23.1 points per game in 2019-20 in 33 games with Golden State (23.6) and 12 games with Minnesota (21.7).

But his most impactful season came in 2018-19 with the Brooklyn Nets. That season, Russell averaged 21.1 points and 7.0 assists per game, leading the Nets to the playoffs and earning his first trip to the All-Star game. He looked incredibly comfortable, playing with supreme confidence and flashing the ability to lead a playoff team.

At his best, Russell is a dynamic playmaker. The beauty of Russell is that he can also play off the ball. He has a quick release on his jumper and impressive range. His game is not predicated on athleticism, meaning he should stay at his peak for longer than guys like De’Aaron Fox and Ja Morant.

And while he’s been in the league for what feels like ever (six seasons), Russell just turned 25 approximately two months ago. Granted, comparing anyone to Steph Curry is unwise, but Curry wasn’t Steph Curry yet at 25. Former MVP Steve Nash hadn’t yet averaged double-digits (points) at 25. Twenty-five is also an inflection point for Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook. And the list goes on.

To be fair, Russell was drafted at 19 so he’s more acclimated to the league at this age than most, but his game will continue expanding nonetheless. He’ll develop trickier moves, become stronger and grow his shooting range. And a good deal of that growth should be evident as soon as next season since he’ll be fully healed from knee surgery and have a full offseason and training camp to finally work with teammates and coaches.

So while Minnesota’s 2020-21 season was incredibly bleak, their future is quite bright – and much of it has to do with the presence of Russell.

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