Hedrich Files

Analyzing our pop culture footprint one jump shot at a time.

Category: Articles (Page 2 of 7)

The Future for the Heat is Chilly, But Not as Cold as Pat Riley

2015-16 brought lots of promise for the Miami Heat, they pushed the Raptors to seven games in the Conference Semi’s, were cautiously optimistic about the potential of signing Kevin Durant, but had a few question marks heading into the offseason, namely what would happen with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.

Pay Riley really blew it with this Wade situation. The Heat weren’t going to truly contend for the Eastern Conference Championship with or without Wade, so why not give him a legacy deal ala Kobe Bryant and let him ride off into the sunset with Coach Spoelstra and Riley while still, likely, making the second round of the playoffs?
——————————————————–

Reasons the Heat had to be excited for the future, especially Summer 2016:

-Hopeful that Hassan Whiteside stays put for less than the max

-Bosh would get cleared to play in 2016-17

-Knew they had found steals in Josh Richardson and Tyler Johnson, wanted to keep both for reasonable salaries

-Promising rookie year from Justise Winslow

-Stability in the front office and with Eric Spoelstra as coach

-Looking towards 2016-17 to be a top 4 seed in the East

…And keeping Wade would be a no-brainer

What transpired in the Summer 2016 for the Heat:

-Lost Assistant Coach David Fizdale to the Grizzlies

-Announced Chris Bosh would never play again for the Heat

-Signed Hassan Whiteside to 4 year, $98 million max contract

-Signed Josh Richardson to a three-year contract off their taxpayer mid-level exception

-Matched Brooklyn’s offer sheet to Tyler Johnson to a 4 year, $50 million poison pill type contract. (Year 1, $5.6, Year 2, $5.8, Year 3, $18.8, Year 4, $19.6)

-Lost Luol Deng to the Lakers

-Signed Derrick Williams to 1 year, $5 million

-Signed Dion Waiters to 2 year, $6 million

-Did not sign Kevin Durant

-Let Dwayne Wade sign with the Chicago Bulls

That last one still hasn’t set in, for the Heat, Wade, or the fans in Miami. After an emotional return to South Beach last week, Wade himself said it was the weirdest game he’s ever been a part of and couldn’t wait for it to end.

Summer 2016 will be remembered by Wade finally asked to trade in his chips he’s been holding on to for the last 2 free agencies he’s been through with Miami. He was asked on two separate occasions to take massive pay cuts, during the tail end of his prime, to allow for the Heat to surround him with one of the greatest rosters ever assembled.

The kicker? The divorce between Wade and the Heat took place so late in this past summers free agency period that it decimated the rest of the roster for this upcoming season, only allowing themselves to sign low end, spare parts type players. While the Waiters and Williams deal may end up looking good down the line, do they really replace the massive vacancy left by the franchises greatest player?

There is only one way for the Heat to truly salvage this situation, and the South Beach faithful aren’t going to like it.

tank_commando_2_shape_3307

The Heat have been notorious for never tanking and trading away their first round picks in lieu of developing young talent (Wade’s career notwithstanding), BUT they do have their first round draft pick in 2017, and it made be extremely beneficial for them to tank. Miami owes second-round picks in 2017, 2019, 2020 and 2021, so they can’t expect to find any steals in the near future, but considering the abundance of a solid supporting type players on the roster, tanking for a top 3 pick and a potential superstar could be a sneaky way to vault themselves back in the title picture.

The final factor of contending in the East is the timeline of the Cavaliers and how it coincides with the future of the Heat. If Winslow and their top pick become stars in 4-5 years (looking at 2021-22) that should be far beyond enough from this current iteration of the Cavaliers that the Heat may have the best young core in the league.

Obviously this plan doesn’t account for where Whiteside’s career trajectory fits in, and Whiteside still looks great, Hassan is already 28. He’s quickly turning into the best defensive big man since Dwight Howard in his prime, but there’s no way he can maintain this type of consistency beyond 2019.

whiteside-photo-rocky-w-widner-nbae-getty-images

The Wade debacle is a two fold failure, because not only do they lose Wade, but they also lose the ‘Heat Familia’ legacy, one that Riley has spent years nourishing. The idea being that once you are part of the Heat family, they take care of their own, even if it is a detriment to their long term success. Udonis Haslem has a lifetime pass with the Heat, and although there was a rocky part of the Mourning relationship, he was eventually taken care of as a Heat lifer. The Heats best player in franchise history was expected to receive any deal he desired, especially given that he’s already sacrificed money twice in the past to ensure short term success with ‘The Big Three’. Chris Bosh even got a second max contract before Wade did, and he was only on the Heat a few years. (Granted Bosh was younger and has a better overall game, but isn’t loyalty Riley’s signature?) This final decision to let Wade walk may be the lasting legacy that Riley leaves on the Heat, given that people are assuming he won’t stick around for too many more years.
——————————————————–
Below is a pull from HoopeHype.com:
It’s not a stretch to say Wade made the biggest salary sacrifices in the history of basketball, turning down tens of millions of dollars in two contracts to help the Heat facilitate signings of James and Chris Bosh in 2010 while also keeping longtime teammate Udonis Haslem. “You do things because you want to do them. All those things I did to stay in Miami was because I wanted to do them,” Wade said. “When I made the sacrifice, when I could’ve gotten $127 million and I took $110 million to make sure LeBron and Chris (come) but I also have UD (Haslem) stay, those were things I wanted to do. I didn’t want to be in Miami and enjoy the success and not have UD there.”
– via CSN Chicago
——————————————————–
Those are the words of someone who never wanted to leave the team that drafted him.
While the Heat may have been smart in not wanted to hitch their franchise to an aging star whose reliance on athleticism and lack of a consistent jump shot raises many red flags for a 33 year old shooting guard, the alternative wasn’t the prettiest or most intriguing path. Whiteside as number one option? A core of Dragic-Winslow-Whiteside? The Heat are a perennially contending type of franchise, much like the Lakers, and while Los Angeles has gone through the rebuilding process the right way, Heat owner Micky Arison and Pat Riley must decide the future of the Heat ASAP if they want a jumpstart on becoming contenders again, because with the current roster construction they are looking at being mired in mediocrity for years.
——————————————————–
Check out the latest episode of the podcast:

This Week in Sports- BRIANS AMP RADIO RECAP

Brian is now writing for Amp Radio, hit the link below to see his latest recap in the Los Angeles sports scene:

Los Angeles Lakers

Hey NBA, do you hear that roar from the back of the pack getting louder and louder? Yup, the Lakers are back!

Sorry, not sorry Clippers fans, but you had your 15-minutes of fame. The purple and gold are back and it’s all because of new head coach Luke Walton. Walton, the youngest coach in the NBA at 36-years old, has a group of youngsters and veterans believing and buying into his system…

Click here for the rest of the article!

What it’s going to cost for the Lakers to acquire Paul George

With the rumors flying that the Pacers are interested in a total franchise tear down, the vultures are beginning to circle the roster with offers for Indy’s top talent. Frank Vogel has no certainty about his future with the team, and the Pacers greatest asset, Paul George, could bring back a king’s ransom.

The Lakers have been looking to land their next great star for the last 4 offseasons, their only successful transaction being the acquisition of Dwight Howard, but that scenario fell flat on its’ face when Howard opted for Houston. However, the Lakers have kept their nose to the grind and drafted high upside, young assets that have shown promise, and the rest of the league has taken notice. But what would it take to get Paul George to Los Angeles? Lets take a look at some potential trades:

Lakers first round pick (IF slotted 3) and D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Bass, and Lou Williams for Paul George

This is the type of hefty return the Pacers expect to get back for their 26 year old superstar Paul George. George currently has 2 more years on his contract and a $20 million player option at the end of the deal, which he would likely opt out of if his play on the court continues its’ upward trajectory. Bass and Lou Williams are throw ins to help balance the salaries, and would help the Pacers tank next season if they give heavy minutes to both role players. The biggest incentive for the Pacers making this deal is they receive both a solid point guard for the future, and a top 3 pick in the draft, both of which will be on extremely team friendly contracts for the near future. The selection of players available at 3 will likely be Dragan Bender, Buddy Hield, Jamal Murray, and a slew of other high upside prospects that could help them ensure a top 5 pick for the 2017 draft, if that is the direction the Pacers choose to go in. The Lakers have to gut nearly half of their roster and send away their draft pick, but with the acquisition of George, luring free agents would make Mitch Kupchak’s job that much easier.

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 1.21.50 PM

Lakers first round pick (IF slotted #1 overall), Larry Nance, and Jordan Clarkson for Paul George

Although the ‘Trade Machine’ didn’t send this one through, it’s simply because Clarkson is a Restricted Free Agent, and his salary will obviously be much larger than the $845K he made last season. This deal would require Clarkson to agree to be sent to Indy in a sign and trade deal, which may put a major snag in the process, but if the Pacers agree to pay him his max salary, that could be the trigger to send this trade through. The Lakers can offer Clarkson a four-year contract up to $88.9 million, while other teams can only offer him a max of $57.8 million over four years or $34.1 million over three years. The incentive is built in for Clarkson to sign his deal with the Lakers, even if he winds up playing in Indy. The Pacers receive two nice pieces that are ready for heavy minutes, and get their choice of Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram with the first overall selection in the draft. The Lakers may be paying an exorbitant price, giving up Clarkson AND the number 1 pick, but they receive their desired superstar and don’t have to overpay to keep Clarkson, freeing up a massive amount of salary space to potentially sign another max free agent.

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 1.31.25 PM

D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, and Julius Randle for Paul George and C.J. Miles

This trade failed in the ‘Trade Machine’ for the same reasons as above, Clarkson must agree to a max salary sign and trade to Indy, and the salaries balance out. The Lakers would be giving up all three of their high upside prospects, but would be receiving a borderline superstar, and a solid starter to help spread the floor for him. The Lakers also get to keep their draft pick (if indeed they still own it after the draft lottery), but should they lose the pick on lottery night and remain desperate to make this deal, there is a scenario where PG can still start the 2016-17 season as a Laker. The Pacers would land themselves 3 very young players, two of which are cost controlled, and would have Clarkson as the featured player in their offense (on a long term contract).

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 1.37.14 PM

There is no easy way for this deal to go down without the Lakers giving up a king’s ransom, especially when dealing with the savvy Larry Bird, but if the Lakers are dead set on finally landing that elusive superstar, they must be willing to part with some combination of their high draft pick and their young, upcoming stars. Your move, Indy.

cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznptywnwiyymjjowuymjjimdy4odljmzvmotg0mwy4njk4-e1413939753207

Kobe Bryant: Villain or Hero? by Brian Bernstein

  • Villain or hero? A seemingly simple question, but the more you dive into it, the harder it gets. However, I bet that most of you, especially those not from Los Angeles, would answer villain.

If you were ever in the way of this competitor from accomplishing his mission, odds are your dreams were shattered. I can’t imagine having my soul crushed time and time again by this one man, so I’ll give you a second to swallow the pain…….better now? If not, maybe the fact that you’re not alone will lift your spirits.

The worst part of it all? He lived for the rush of being the outlaw, extinguishing the glimmer of hope in his opponent’s eyes over and over. He is of course the greatest Los Angeles Laker of all time, and his name is Kobe “Black Mamba” Bryant.

kobebryantfarewell1404b

As you read this, and you’re remembering Lakers games of the last 20 years, is he the hero or villain in your story?

In 2001, he was absolutely the villain and possibly more hated than Ivan Drago in his hometown of Philadelphia, Pa. The Lakers were facing off with the 76ers in the NBA Finals, and Bryant being Bryant, yelled to a heckler in the stands, “I’m going to cut your heart out.”

He was the last of a dying breed that is now sadly extinct. He would sell out his teammates for another ring. Some would argue he already did that with Shaquille O’Neal.

There are no more players who literally see red when they look at their opponents. His desire to win was second to none. In a world where we measure greatness by success, no matter what Kobe Bryant was to you, hero or villain, he should be respected as one of the greatest competitors ever, one of the greatest players ever, and a role model of success.

For the people who bleed purple and gold, who call this man a hero, we take our hats off to him and salute him in the most respectful way possible.

Where were you when he crossed up Portland Trail Blazers’ Scottie Pippen and threw a lob pass to Shaq over Brian Grant and by Rasheed Wallace to complete the 15-point fourth quarter comeback that ultimately lead to their first of three championships? Where were you in 2002 when he helped beat the Sacramento Kings in Game 7 at Arco Arena after suffering from food poisoning the night before at the hands of the hotel’s room service? How about his 81-point game? Or the time he demanded to be traded which forced the front office’s hand to shuffle the roster that ultimately landed them Pau Gasol? What about when he sought revenge against the Boston Celtics in 2010?

There’s truly too much to write about, and about both sides of the spectrum. He was a villain during his sexual assault case and again when he required Dr. Jerry Buss to trade away Shaq. Then, he reemerges as a hero for winning five titles, and giving his blood, sweat, tears, and soul to the Lakers nation.

6a00d8341c630a53ef0154386708cb970c-640wi

Loved or hated, you have to give respect where respect is deserved, and Kobe Bryant earned it over his 20 year career. You cannot deny the sacrifice and hard work he put in during games, after games, before games, during the season, the offseason, when the lights were on, and when the lights were off.

He was known for having the most intense workout regimens in the league. His hard work and dedication consistently paid off. He studied the tapes of his predecessors and stole pieces of their game and made them his own. He was a student of the game turned master.

If you still consider him a villain, and are seething while reading this, come away with one thing about Kobe, he is a person who loved the game and did whatever it took to be a champion.

Not many players start their workouts at 4 in the morning. Not many had a complete pre-practice workout before practice. Not many players could literally carry a team on their back night after night.

Let’s be absolutely clear about this, no one played hurt like he did. It didn’t matter if he rolled his ankle to the ground, dislocated fingers, got sick, he still played. If he could walk, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind he was playing. And then there’s the unprecedented walking on his own power and shooting two free throws with a torn left achilles.

He was a warrior. A champion. He was a ruthless son-of-a-bitch on the court if you were not a Laker, and he was that same ruthless teammate if you didn’t have the same mindset or work ethic as he did. He wanted to be the best, and all he wanted from his brothers in arms was to give it their all to succeed. To put it simply, play with a winning attitude.

Did he do everything the right way? No. Could he have handled things differently? Of course. But then again, would they have worked? Besides the Shaq scuffle, which both men have since admitted fault to, Kobe’s method produced five banners. It was the only way he knew how to do it.

I don’t care what side of the fence Kobe falls on for you, villain or hero, if you can’t respect the way he trained, studied, and approached the game, you are simply a hater of greatness, or severely jealous.

hi-res-6a5f258537f00c7ec884699318a3aa99_crop_north

After 20 years in the NBA, one MVP, five championships, two Finals MVP, third on the all-time scoring list, and countless other accolades, Kobe Bryant is the greatest player of his generation.

As a Lakers fan, basketball fan, and sports fan, I salute you, Kobe Bryant, in the highest way possible. You’ve thanked this city and your fans for everything they’ve done for you and your family. Well, we first say thank you to your family for giving us you, and then to you for giving us everything you had inside as a competitor.

It was an honor watching you and rooting for you. You are the definition of a champion, and a Laker for life.

-Brian Bernstein

NBA End of Season Awards Roundtable

MVP:

Logan: One of the highest PERs of all time. 400+ three pointers. Winningest season in NBA history. Improved on every aspect of his game, including on the defensive end. It difficult to truly fathom how Curry exponentially expanded his game. We all witnessed one of the, if not the sole, best offensive seasons in NBA history. Critics will say he doesn’t reach a level on the defensive end like Leonard, and that the Warriors system fits his game perfectly, but Curry is the reason the system works. Give him the awards, give him all the awards. Stephen Curry

Brian: Stephen Curry backed his MVP season with an even better year. He lead his team to a NBA record 73-9 season, shattered his NBA record for most 3-point baskets made in a single season by over 100, and is completely unstoppable right now. He is the best player in the league today and deserves this award. Stephen Curry

Dave: The guy transcends the game.  Every time he has the ball its must watch television.  He’s capable of putting up 40 a night, and the Warriors posted the best regular season record of all time.  I’m honestly not sure who else is in the conversation for me.  LeBron, maybe, but he’s about 100x less likable than Curry so it’s hard for me to vote for him. Steph Curry.

Rookie of the Year:

Logan: While props must be given to Devin Booker, Kristaps Porzingis, Emmanual Mudiay and a few others, Towns has stood head and shoulders above the rest of his class. After not even starting during his lone season at Kentucky, Karl-Anthony has shown he would be the number one pick in any of the last three drafts, maybe even beyond. Really, the only stat you need to know is that he claims the 14th highest PER in the league. The only players above him on that list are either superstars, high efficient role players, or Boban Marjanovic. Karl-Anthony Towns.

Brian: KAT and Jahil Okafor both got out to hot starts, and Phoenix Suns SG Devin Booker came on strong in the second half. KAT became a force to be reckoned with as the season went on. He succeeded all expectations and then some even as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft. Karl-Anthony Towns.

Dave: Towns looks like Anthony Davis 2.0 with way less unibrow and a better jump shot.  He’s incredibly coordinated for his size and age and will only grow into his body more and more.  If he develops physically (but dear god, hopefully not mentally) like Dwight Howard did, he will be a tremendous player and could potentially make the Wolves relevant again. KAT.

Coach of the Year:

Logan: As much as I believe all the awards should be given to the Warriors to commemorate their historic season, what Stotts has done in Portland is nothing short of remarkable. Taking what was universally considered a lottery team to the playoffs is an accomplishment in itself. The fact that this team didn’t have to bottom out to regain a level of dominance may speak more to GM Neil Olshey’s brilliance, but Stotts still had to implement a system with 4 new starters. Terry Stotts

Brian: I know Steve Kerr coached his team to an NBA best 73 regular season wins, but look at the talent he has on his team. That’s not taking anything away from him because Mark Jackson couldn’t come close to this feat with the same team. But Brad Stevens surpassed everyones expectations on the Celtics season and has them as a clear contender in the East. He has his team believing in his system, believing in each other, and playing strong. He was also one of the 9 coaches to beat the Warriors this year, and almost beat them twice. He has the Celtics on the rise and prime to be a true title contender with one offseason signee. Brad Stevens.

Dave: Lets talk for a second about how hard it must have been to deal with the Lakers locker room and that scenario for a year.  Big Ang (D’Angelo Russell) is out here snitching on Nick Young (a thirty year old man who refers to himself as Swaggy P) on Snapchat, the Kobe farewell fellatio tour is in your face every day, and your job is to guide the team directly into the 6-month long mountainside plane crash that the Lakers needed in order to keep their top 3 protected pick.  That’s not an easy job and he accomplished it with flying colors.  By that, of course I mean it was a spectacular failure.  P.S. are the Lakers still paying Mike Brown?  He gets an honorary mention for coach of the year too if so, he was ruining the Lakers before it was cool (or intentional). Byron Scott.

Most Improved:

Logan: One of the only times I will give out co-awards, I’m am fully admitting to copping out for such a ridiculous and asinine award. Who deserves it? The guy who was gifted 20 extra minutes and their efficiency actually went up? Or the guy that was already the MVP and improved his stats across the board. Pointless award deserves a ridiculous answer. C.J. McCollum/Stephen Curry.

Brian: Whether he had the talent in him all along, not many people can sustain a 20 minute jump in playing time throughout an entire season and not hit a wall. McCollum shot about 45 percent while averaging 21 points per game as the Blazers second leading scorer on a team that lost 4 of their 5 starters last season. He was a key contributor on helping a team reach the playoffs when everyone expected them to have a 20 win season. C.J. McCollum.

Dave: Is it fair to say Curry again? I’m sure there are other younger, more deserving players but I want to harp on Curry’s season for a second.  It’s hard to say he ‘’improved’ the most of anyone after a record-breaking, title winning year (how do you go up from the top?), but this kid went out and beat his own season long 3 point record by 42%. He set the record last year at 286.  He broke it this year with 402. 402!!!! There are no capital numbers on the keyboard to indicate I was yelling, but one more time for good measure… 402!!!  A 42% increase in total 3’s made with every team in the league giving the Warriors their best shot, every day, every game and where he is matched up by the other team’s best defender doing everything they can to NOT let him shoot threes. And to boot he did it in a season where they won more games than any other team, ever.  That’s incredible. In my opinion this season Curry ascended from superstar to all-time legend.  There are lots of superstars in the league. There’s not a lot of all-time legends, and that was a big step to take, in my opinion. Stephen Curry.

Defensive Player:

Logan: Having to split hairs once again, the debate rages on regarding who is the best defensive player of the year, Leonard or Green. Both are incredibly versatile, with Leonard guarding down from his position and remaining the cream of the crop of wing defenders, while Green guards up from his position and remains one of the best post defenders. The truest sign of the best defender  is often when teams are too afraid to even to go at them.  Kawhi Leonard.

Brian: I may be bias as a perimeter player, but I believe that Kawhi Leonard, who typically goes up against his opponents best wing player deserves the small edge to win this award. In reality, this award should go to both him and Golden States Draymond Green. Leonard has to deal with chasing players around the court through screens, guarding around the three-point line and help side D. Both him and Green are the 2 best defenders in the game, and Greens ability to defend centers makes for a strong case, I however, firmly believe a primarily perimeter player should get the edge in this category. Kawhi Leonard.

Dave: Sorry, Draymond, I’m going with Kawhi. The guy is a physical specimen engineered to play defense. The only player that I saw give him buckets all year was Curry. Kawhi Leonard.

Sixth Man:

Logan: Voters are often blinded by the player posting the most points per game off the bench. What Andre Iguodala means to the Warriors far surpasses anything Jamal Crawford could ever dream of contributing to his team. Iguodala is a star, who willingly has taken a bench role and is really the only super-sub left in the league. He is consistently one of the highest IQ players in the NBA and because he won’t receive any votes for DPoY in a league that increasingly values perimeter defense, 6th Man of the Year should be all his. Andre Iguodala.

Brian: Clippers bench superstar Jamal Crawford does nothing but excite the crowd every time he has the ball in his hands. And while he did average his lowest point total as a Clipper, he has still time and again helped either extend the lead or gain it as the anchor of Los Angeles’ bench unit. He can go for 20+ on any given night and has bailed out the Clippers multiple times this season with clutch baskets late in the game. Jamal Crawford.

Dave: Gotta be Crawford.  He is the entire second unit for the Clippers.  The guy is a one man wrecking crew. It’s insane that he’s been in the league for 14 years and he still plays at the level that he does in terms of dribble drives and quick pull-ups. Jamal Crawford.

 

NBA Playoffs Round 1 Roundtable

Western Conference:

Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets:

Logan: A rematch of one of the most disappointing Western Conference Finals in years. The Rockets simply don’t show enough effort on the defensive end to win more than one game in this series. The Warriors want plenty of rest between series’, expect Harden to put the team on his back for one game, however. Warriors continue to show their dominance. Steph’s gonna Steph. Warriors in 5

Brian: When Houston wants to get down and dirty, Dwight Howard, Patrick Beverly, and Trevor Ariza are as tough of defenders as anyone. However in the end, the Warriors are too strong. The Rockets will steal game 3 or 4 in Houston, but that’s it. Warriors in 5.

Dave: These Rockets are pathetic.  I have no faith in Harden or Dwight to step up and lead that team against the most winning team in NBA history. Curry and Co will rain all over em. Dubs in 4.

Los Angeles Clippers vs. Portland Trailblazers:

Logan: This Blazers squad is already years ahead of schedule after losing four starters in the offseason. GM Neil Olshey has masterfully put this team back in a position to win, but this Clippers squad has reached another level of late. Blake Griffin is back, but not at full strength, this series may take a while for LA to figure out. Clippers in 6

Brian: Portland has strong shooters and 2 big bodies inside, Mason Plumlee and Meyers Leonard, and two high powered scoring guards in Lillard and McCollum but Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and J.J. Reddick, with Crawford off the bench will be too much. Portland is tough at home and will win one or two, but they fall in 6. LAC in 6.

Dave: CJ McCollum and Lillard go off and lock up CP3 on the defensive end.  Blake wanes in the spotlight, new blood takes over, and the Doc Rivers experiment in LA comes to a catastrophic end as Austin Rivers gets in a fight with the equipment guy and breaks his hand on his face. Rip City in 6. 

San Antonio Spurs vs. Memphis Grizzlies:

Logan: Optimal is not the word the Grizzlies would use to describe how the season ended. Falling from the 5 seed to a dreaded matchup with the Spurs, who’s only home loss came against the Warriors. At full strength, this is a perennially fascinating matchup. How it is today, the Griz don’t stand a chance. Spurs in 4

Brian: This is a cake walk for the Spurs. The Grizzlies are depleted without Mike Conley or Marc Gasol and will not be able to handle the Spurs. San Antonio in 4.

Dave: Spurs over the “10-day-contract Grizzlies”. Over in 4. Really just a formality. Spurs sweep.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Dallas Mavericks:

Logan: The more I look at this matchup, the more intriguing it becomes. I could see the Thunder sweeping, I could see the Mavs pushing it to 7. Thunder won the series matchup 4-0, and I just don’t see who on Dallas has a chance against Westbrook. Expect the Thunder’s death lineup to feast if Dirk is on the court. Thunder in 5

Brian: Westbrook and Durant are too much for the aging Mavs. Deron Williams and Chandler Parsons will be able to keep the games close, but the OKC duo will take it home. Thunder in 5.

Dave: Mavs don’t have the depth or athleticism to keep up with Westbrook and Durant. OKC over Mavs in 5.

Eastern Conference:

Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Detroit Pistons:

Logan: The Pistons have all the right pieces to compete with the Cavaliers: a dominant big man, a shot creator who can make Irving work on the defensive end, and an identity that they can fall back on down the stretch. (Drummond, Jackson, and a 1 in-4 out scheme, respectively). That said, LeBron still takes care of business in a series that goes longer than he wants. Cavaliers in 6

Brian: Lebron and Co. are too much for the Pistons. The Pistons are young and talented, but not experienced enough to deal with LBJ. Cavs in 5.

Dave: They are 4-1 against the Cavs this year if you count the preseason.  Witness my boy Reggie doing work on Kyrie and Dellevadova.  LeBron cries the whole time and it’s everything everyone wanted to see. Pistons in 6.

Atlanta Hawks vs. Boston Celtics:

Logan: Are the Celtics this years 2015 Atlanta Hawks? A team sans a superstar who play an excellent brand of team basketball, but can’t get over the hump in the playoffs? The Celtics have all the tools to upset the Hawks. This matchup is all about the meeting of the minds on the coaching front. Budenholzer vs. Stevens. Celtics in 7

Brian:  This is the best matchup of the first round. Hands down. Atlanta plays great team ball, but Brad Stevens has his guys playing at a high tempo. IT2 and Avery Bradley are a dangerous backcourt and Boston has the bench to win this series. Boston in 6

Dave: Brad Stevens and Isaiah Thomas are a hell of a duo.  They will lose in second round but this team will be a threat for a long time to come. Celtics in 6.

Toronto Raptors vs. Indiana Pacers:

Logan: Toronto is on the brink of making a deep playoff run for the first time in franchise history, will the Pacers show signs of life to spite them? Doubtful. Indiana is another team ahead of schedule in their rebuild plan, and despite a bunch of solid veterans, will get ran out of the building by Lowry and Derozan. Raptors sweep.

Brian: Although it’s great to see Paul George back in the playoffs, his supporting cast is no match for the raptors. Raptors in 5.

Dave: Indiana still has a team? Toronto in 5.

Miami Heat vs. Charlotte Hornets:

Logan: The Heat look poised to mount a deep run in the playoffs, and got the draw the desired in terms of seeding, having to not face the Cavs until the ECF. Hornets have been damn near brilliant in the last third of the season, but even operating without All Star Chris Bosh, the Heat take care of business despite Kemba Walker showing he belongs. Heat in 6

Brian: This should be a great matchup, however the experience of the Heat with Wade and Joe Johnson will be too much. Kemba will show the world why he is a top 10 scoring guard but he will not have enough to win the series. Mia in 5.

Dave: Aging Dwyane Wade carries them until his knees give out in second round. Heat in 6.

150415194757-2015-playoff-graphic-2-041515.1200x672

The Ideal Lakers Offseason

After the worst two season stretch in Lakers history resulting in a total of 37 wins, the Lakers are desperate for an entire franchise overhaul. With a few quality foundation pieces already in place (Julius Randle, D’Angelo Russell, and Larry Nance Jr.), the Lakers transformation to relevance needs to stem  from the top, with the front office. Let’s take a look at all the steps the Lakers must complete this summer to make their way back to playoff contender.

Trade Nick Young

The situation in Los Angeles went from toxic to nuclear when the Nick Young-D’Angelo Russell scandal hit. Without diving into the details, the bottom line is that these two cannot co-exist on the same team anymore. The obvious decision is to dispose of Young and keep Russell. D’Angelo still has tremendous upside and just finished a (slightly) disappointing season where he was still able to display why he was worthy of being picked second overall. Russell is under a team control for at least three more seasons, and while gaining the trust of his teammates may be a struggle, the situation is not unfixable, and the first step is to dump Young. Swaggy P perfectly embodied everything that was wrong with the Lakers over the last two seasons, overhyped, under producing, atrocious on defense, and perfectly ok with the results because of previous decisions made regarding draft picks. If the Lakers can’t find a taker for Nick Young, they need to buy him out before training camp begins to avoid any sort of controversy.

130521173949-draft-lottery-iso-image-052113.1200x672

Win the draft lottery, or at least keep their pick.

Everything else on this list the Lakers can actively pursue. The one action the Lakers do not get to decide is whether they keep their draft pick they so beautiful tanked for this season.  The Lakers have a 55.8% chance to keep their pick, which is absolutely no guarantee! Lakers management should be terrified that after suffering through the worst season in franchise history, they may not be able to keep their coveted high pick if the lottery balls don’t fall in their favor. Ideally, their 19.9% chance to win the lottery jumps them up a slot and management gets their choice of either Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram, both super prospects and potential franchise changing type players.

Jeanie Buss takes a back seat in basketball operations

Jeanie Buss has assumed the role of Lakers President after the passage of her father, the great Dr. Jerry Buss, as well as being the face of the ownership group for the team. She has the most power in the entire organization but for the greater good of the Lakers franchise, she must remove herself from personnel decisions. This may be the toughest pill to swallow for Jeanie and the Lakers, but what more harm can be done by taking a back seat and letting someone with a vision take full control of basketball operations? Results have been increasingly worse since Jeanie has been running the show. Time to let someone else have final say in the organization.

hi-res-5337d05b5018ad710fea294e207b9a87_crop_north

Fire Byron Scott immediately and Hire Luke Walton

Byron Scott has been an abomination since taking over the Lakers head coaching job. Going into this 2015-16 season, it was believed that at the very least the young guys would get lots of time to figure out the NBA game, this was not the case. Scott has proven himself to be neither a win-now, nor a developmental type of coach, so what is his coaching philosophy? His connections in the league have allowed him to remain employed after disastrous runs in Cleveland and part of his tenure as the Hornets head coach. Even with Kobe no longer on the roster in 2016-17, Scott would manage to continue to run out his low-upside veterans in an effort to win meaningless games in lieu of developing their stars of the future. The answer? Let Scott go and offer Luke Walton a godfather type contract that he simply cannot refuse. Walton is as close to a proven commodity as someone who technically has no wins as an NBA coach. The Lakers need a coach who is on board for a long term rebuild, and the first step is to let the young guys already on the roster learn the game on an NBA floor, regardless of results.

Fire Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak+ hire a real GM

Put the pitchforks down, Lakers fans. Kupchak had proven to be a competent GM under the tutelage of Dr. Jerry Buss. But now, given free range from Jeanie and Jim, Kupchak has shown the flaws in his philosophical approach to winning in the NBA. Kupchak banked too much on the allure of Los Angeles as a market and didn’t invest in the draft and creating a desirable team for free agents to join. The Lakers need to look outside their immediate family for their next GM, someone who fan stare the Buss family in the face, be bold, and be allowed to pursue their vision. I’m not suggesting bringing in Sam Hinkie, but making a massive offer to someone like Bob Myers should be on their list of things to do in the offseason. Other intriguing names include Travis Schlenk, an assistant in the front office in Golden State, Troy Weaver, who has been working under Sam Presti of the Thunder, or Jeff Weltman of the Raptors front office. If the Lakers want to swing the pendulum entirely in the opposite direction they can hire an analytics based GM and pursue Mike Zarren of the Celtics or Gersson Rossas of the Rockets. Both the Rockets and Celtics have found major success using an unconventional formula, and maybe it’s time for the Lakers to admit their previous model for winning is obsolete.

Keep Jordan Clarkson for under the max

Keeping Clarkson for anything less than a max contract may be the least important bullet point on this list, but they need to keep him, no matter the price. Clarkson has shown he was a steal on draft night, and although he is already 23 and close to his ceiling, he has proven to be a quality starter. Bottom line, match any external offer Clarkson receives, consistency is important, especially for developing young talent, and Russell needs his running mate.

Plan A+B for Free Agency

Free agency is where the Lakers like to flex their muscle in terms of pull in the NBA. Of late, the Lakers have epically struck out, but that doesn’t mean they can’t bounce back to vintage form this summer. An ideal offseason would look something like signing DeMar Derozan, Al Horford, and Hassan Whiteside, all for under the max. Derozan has ties to LA and will likely leave Toronto if they don’t make a deep playoff run this postseason, and Horford is as good as gone from Atlanta and can be had for a decent price, but the Lakers may need pay a premium to secure his services. Then there’s the conundrum of Whiteside. Is he worth the max? Probably not. But he is clearly going to sign with whoever offers him the most this summer, he’s been in the  league for 4 years and barely made $3 million. Again, the Lakers may need to pay a premium to land him, and he may simply being playing out of his mind in his contract year and regress closer to his averages with long term security, but Whiteside would be a smart risk for the Lakers to gamble on.

Back up plan for free agency: Nicolas Batum, Ryan Anderson, and Joakim Noah. All three are veterans who would bring much needed depth an experience to an otherwise veteran bare roster.

———————————————-

Check out the latest episode of the podcast:

https://soundcloud.com/pointsfromthekey/points-from-the-key-podcast-11-ncaa-championship-nba-news

2012 NBA Re-Draft: Forgot About Dray

Beyond the top four picks, the 2012 NBA Draft ended up being an extremely shallow class and the bottom of the lottery was filled with role players at best. Essentially the Anthony Davis sweepstakes, the rest of the teams having to pick and choose amongst the rest of his talented Kentucky class. However, there were more than a few late first round, and second round, picks that have turned out to be extremely talented and fell for various reasons on draft night. The clearest and most glaring of omission from the lottery being Draymond Green. Other players, like Andre Drummond, Khris Middleton, and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have been massive projects that are just recently paying dividends. Let’s take a look at where teams went wrong and re-draft the 2012 lottery:Mock_2012_670

  1. Anthony Davis- A clear cut, once in a decade type prospect. Taking him at number one in this draft was a no-brainer, but where does he rank amongst other great number one picks of the last thirty years? Possibly second to only LeBron James. Davis is still only scratching the surface of his potential, and with the recent news of The Brow playing the last 2+ years with a torn labrum, it is difficult to fathom how high Davis’ ceiling really is. Having added range to his jumper, and constantly improving his defense both on and off ball, Davis would have been picked by any team slotted in this number one slot in 2012.
  2. Andre Drummond- The most shocking fact about Drummond: he was the youngest player in the league in 2012-13 AND the second youngest in 2013-14. After forgoing his senior year of high school to join the UCONN Huskies, Drummond was still viewed as nothing but potential after a semi-lackluster freshman year, but GM’s must have forgotten that he was still only 17 during nearly his entire collegiate career. Free throw shooting is still an issue, but as of this season Drummond has shown tremendous upward trajectory in his career path. Universally viewed as one of the top two centers (only behind DeMarcus Cousins) in a league where that position is dying. Andre was an absolute steal at the 9th spot in the draft for the Pistons, who were desperate for a superstar and took the risk on this high-upside talent.
  3. Draymond Green- Obviously the biggest misstep made on June 28th, 2012, Green was passed on by every team once, the Cavaliers THREE times, and the Wizards & Bobcats twice, falling to the 35th overall pick. Only two teams showed any interest in the undersized forward from Michigan State, the Miami Heat, who were at the height of their dominance, who opted to trade their pick, and Green’s future team, the Golden State Warriors. A perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate, Green has burst through even the most optimistic of glass ceilings regarding how far he could make it in the NBA. But was he really the third best player in this class? When he came into the league, the criticism was the he didn’t have a defined position, couldn’t defend, and couldn’t shoot. He has turned all of those into positives in his game, so how can we judge what other detriments he will correct?
  4. Damian Lillard- The Rookie of the Year in the 6th slot of the draft, Lillard was a four year player at Weber State, and although it took a while for the NBA to come calling, the moment they did, Damian showed he belonged. Both the Cavs and Kings swung and missed on Dion Waiters and Thomas Robinson, respectively, while one of the best PGs of the future sat in green room waiting. His defense still leaves a bit to be desired, but guarding the perimeter is one of the hardest aspects of the game in today’s NBA. With nearly unlimited range, the clutch gene, and a pension for dunking on big men, Lillard may already be the closest to reaching his full potential in this draft, but if that means top 5 point guard in the NBA, Portland will be ecstatic having landed him at 6.
  5. Bradley Beal- A perplexing career thus far, Beal was worthy of his draft position at third overall by the Wizards, but hasn’t been able to stay healthy for much of his career. Having played only 241 of a possible 320 games in his four years in the league, much of the Wizards success depends on his health and ability to spread the floor for John Wall to slash to the basket. When he’s on the court, Beal is one of the sharpest shooters in the NBA, and with his size and strength, he still has the upside of being a plus defender. Perhaps because of how young he was drafted, and how much time he’s missed, Beal can still reach his full potential on the second stretch of his career, but being healthy is a skill, and this year definitely hindered his development.
  6. Festus Ezeli- The Golden State Warriors found another gem of a prospect on that fateful day in June in the big man from Vanderbilt. Having picked up basketball much later than other NBA prospects, Ezeli’s development took years to bear fruit, but after the Warriors took a gamble on him in the 30th slot (in a trade from the Spurs), Ezeli was brought into a perfect system to nurture his skills. For years, he didn’t need to do anything on the court outside of set hard picks and finish alley oops, and he got to learn from one of the best at setting barely legal screens, Andrew Bogut. Although Festus is currently 26, he has not reached his full potential, as it always takes big men years longer to fully adjust to the game at the NBA level. The Warriors were on fire late in the 2012 draft.
  7. Harrison Barnes- The only player on this list in the same slot they were taken on draft day, Harrison Barnes may be on his way out of Oakland in the offseason to show the league he is better than being a perpetual 4th option as he currently is on the Warriors. Barnes has little pressure to consistently post gaudy stats, but much of the Warriors success depends on Barnes both getting buckets and defending the post when the Warriors trot out their ‘small ball lineup of death’. With very desirable versatility to play both the perimeter and inside the paint, the Warriors will have a tough decision on their hands as to whether Barnes is worth the massive contract he expects.
  8. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist- MKG has been a bit of a project for the Charlotte Hornets (Bobcats at the time), his jump shot is still suspect, having one of the more unorthodox of shooting forms, and has also missed quite a bit of time due to a multitude of injuries. That said, his upside as an elite wing defender is as high as ever. When healthy, MKG may be the best perimeter, on ball, defender in the NBA, and if he could put together a 70+ game season, would be a strong contender for Defensive Player of the Year. Another member of that 2012 championship Kentucky team, at 22, MKG slips in this mock because of his atrocious shooting form (that is still begging to get fixed), and his injury history.
  9. Khris Middleton- Middleton was a second round selection by the Detroit Pistons (39th overall), and spent almost no time on the court, appearing in only 27 games, and even spent time in the D-League. Kris was a throw-in place run the Brandon Knight for Brandon Jennings trade between the Bucks and Pistons and began making an immediate impact in Milwaukee. Having gone from only a three star prospect in 2009, to signing a $70 million dollar contact in 2015, Middleton has undergone quite the journey to reach NBA relevance. Still only 24 years old, Middleton was obviously drafted into the whole situation, but thus is the case for many second round picks, he was fortunate to find himself on a franchise that needed wing scoring, and he fulfilled that role swimmingly. While he might not succeed in every franchise, he eventually landed on a team that suited his game.
  10. Dion Waiters- The Cavaliers selection of of Waiters in the fourth slot of the draft was perplexing, even more so in retrospect. Waiters started zero games for the Syracuse Orange over the course of two seasons, and although was viewed as the second best shooting guard in his high school class, the Cavaliers clearly were reaching for a specific position, and not settling for the best overall player. Waiters career has taken a nosedive since LeBron James came back to Cleveland, and is now toiling away on the bench in OKC. Obviously, he’s still a tremendously talented player, the biggest detriment to his game is all upstairs. Possessing one of the lowest IQ’s in the league, and pouting when he isn’t involved enough on offense are just a few reasons his stock has fallen league wide.
  11. John Henson- John Henson does one thing very well at an NBA level, block shots. This concept was known on draft night, and still stands true today. His offensive game is very slowly but surely coming around, but given the situation he’s in with the Bucks, he doesn’t need to score to have an impact on the game. The Bucks took him with the last pick of the lottery (14th overall) from a trade with the Rockets, and it’s hard to gauge just how effective he can be on offense, having been given no real responsibility outside of put-backs, finishing oops, and the occasional post up. Given the lack of talent in the 2012 draft, however, Henson is able to climb a few spots higher than his original selection.
  12. Kent Bazemore- The Baze-God took a long time to become a relevant NBA player, but after two+ years with the Warriors, a few stints in the D-League, and a cup of coffee with the Lakers after being traded for Steve Blake. Now, he has settled into his role as heir-apparent top wing defender on the Hawks after DeMarre Carol signed with the Toronto Raptors. At 26, he is closing in on his ceiling, but perhaps because the Hawks limit his offense role we haven’t gotten to see what he can truly achieve. When given the reigns to open up his offense during his brief time with the Lakers, he showed promise as both a creator and shooter. Going undrafted was a massive oversight by any team that could have used an elite wing defender (read all), and has scratched and clawed to cut out his niche in the NBA.
  13. Will Barton- A former five star prospect and once considered the best shooting guard in his class by Scout.com and ESPN, it took Barton almost four full seasons to figure out his role in the league. An extremely lanky, lengthy, and freakishly athletic guard, Barton’s play prior to Christmas has the Nugget getting Sixth Man of the Year consideration. Another case of possibly getting drafted by the wrong team, Barton was traded to the Nuggets from the Blazers in the Aaron Afflalo deal, and upon landing in the Mile High City, has flourished in his sixth man role under Michael Malone. Another overlooked talent, Barton fell to 40th overall on draft night and, despite a pretty stellar 2 year college career.
  14. Evan Fournier- Although Fournier is only 23, he has been playing professional basketball since 2009 for multiple teams in the French league. Picked with the 20th overall pick by the Nuggets, and then traded to the Magic for Aaron Afflalo on draft night 2014, Fournier’s career is still on an upward trajectory and he still has potential to become a solid second or third option on offense.

So there you have it! Clearly many teams swung and missed, especially early on, but there were many role player gems to be found beyond the lottery, second round and even one that went undrafted. A few more players that fell outside of this lottery re-draft that deserve a mention are Terrence Ross, Terrence Jones, Tyler Zeller, Austin Rivers, Meyers Leonard, Tony Wroten, and Mike Scott.  All of whom have carved out roles in the NBA, but were not worthy of being taken in the top 14.

——————————————–

Check out the latest episode of the podcast:

https://soundcloud.com/pointsfromthekey/points-from-the-key-10-ncaa-final-fourearly-nba-awards

How Nike let the superstar of a generation slip through their fingers by Brian Bernstein

What do Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Kevin Durant, and Michael Jordan have in common? They are players who are/were superstar athletes dominating the NBA, and they all have a major shoe/clothing endorsement by Nike.

Where does reigning MVP Stephen Curry factor in? The point at issue extends back to the summer of 2013, when Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry was a sneaker free agent, and Nike let him walk away to sign with the upstart brand, Under Armour.

During the offseason, Curry had a meeting scheduled with Nike who looked to keep the rising star signed to their brand. The only problem was Nike didn’t believe Curry had the ability to be a suitable endorsement who could carry a line by himself. Like so many others in his life, Nike underestimated Curry.

No one saw this astronomical rise coming. Here was a player making his mark in the league meeting with a company that owns the NBA, figuratively speaking. Nike is the brand that is supposed to sign all the game’s biggest and brightest stars, and yet seemed to epically swing and miss in this situation. “According to Nick DePaula of The Vertical, Nike has signed 68 percent of NBA players, more than 74 percent if you include Nike’s Jordan Brand subsidiary.”

635895792131897068-GTY-474896780

What went horribly wrong that this goliath was unable to keep a rising star who is now the face of the NBA? Sources have leaked that Nike walked into the meeting with Curry over-confident, and under appreciative of what they already had in Curry. They pitched him using storyboards with Durant’s name written on it. “I stopped paying attention after that,” said Dell Curry, Steph’s father who was present for the meeting. What major conglomerate reuses their storyboards in a pitch meeting? It shows a lack of professionalism and a non interest in keeping the sharp shooter.

Curry never felt welcomed or a high priority by Nike. In the same summer, Nike had their eyes set on building lines for Kyrie Irving of the Cleveland Cavilers, and Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans.

Chris Strachan, a friend of Curry’s, recalls the whole process. “That summer, when it was really decision time, [Nike] were looking at Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis coming up. They gave Kyrie a camp and they gave Anthony Davis a camp. They didn’t give Steph a camp.” Although this may seem unimportant to the laymen, for the cream of the crop of NBA stars, hosting camps is a symbol of pride as it’s about passing along knowledge to the younger generation.

It recently surfaced that Nike did not fully believe that Steph Curry, a non high flying, super athletic player, could be the face of the NBA and be a marketable candidate who was deserving of a monster deal of his own. Another factor that played into Curry’s decision not to sign with Nike was when a company’s official, who was present in the meeting, addressed him as “Steph-on” and not “Steph-en.” There is simply no excuse for this.

Under-Armour-Curry-One-3

Curry turned his back on the “swoosh” and found a new home in Baltimore, Maryland, with Under Armour. This was, and is, still the biggest move by a then up-and-coming brand that has now is trying to establish itself on the same level as Nike and Adidas. Boasting a roster that includes Cam Newton, Jordan Spieth, Bryce Harper, and Tom Brady, Under Armour is the sexy new brand in a world where mass appeal and exclusivity is king.

Curry is probably the most marketable athlete today because of the type of player he is. He isn’t ridiculously strong, freakishly athletic, or super tall. He is the first superstar player that an average Joe can say, “I could actually be like that professional athlete.”

He’s dominating the game today with his impressive ball handling skills and deadly accurate shooting from unthinkable range. But it’s not like it’s all natural born talent; he achieved it through practice and repetition, and Curry gives off an aura of being relatable. His popularity has grown to the point where fans arrive early for his games, home and away, just to watch his pre-game warm-ups. That’s unheard of.

How much did Nike actually lose? Stephen Curry not only had a career year in 2014-15 when he won his first NBA championship and league MVP, he is following it up with yet an even better season this year. He is set to not only be a back-to-back NBA Champion, but league MVP too. He also has his team on pace to break the record for most regular season wins–the record is 72 by MJ’s Chicago Bulls in 1995-96. Curry has also already broken his single season record for most three-point shots made in the regular season this year, and the season’s not over. There is almost no way to quantify how much he would be worth to Nike.

How bad did Nike swing and miss on this deal? On March 3, 2016, Business Insider made public a note by Jay Sole, a Morgan Stanley analyst, on Under Armor’s business prospects, and Curry’s potential worth to the company is estimated to be more than $14 BILLION! Yeah, you read that right.

Clearly Curry is more valuable to Under Armour than a huge conglomerate like Nike, he is the sole reason they have become the third major brand in NBA shoe discussions. The only question is, where do they go from here?

-Brian Bernstein

——————————————–

Check out the latest episode of the podcast:

https://soundcloud.com/pointsfromthekey/points-from-the-key-10-ncaa-final-fourearly-nba-awards

The Transformation of the #2 Pick, D’Angelo Russell By Brian Bernstein

He was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Lakers. He was shouldered with the burden to play savior to a drowning franchise before ever signing his rookie contract.

Fans gathered by the hundreds to watch his NBA “debut” in Las Vegas for the Lakers summer league games. The stadium was packed, the venue was set, the ball was tossed up, and bang, summer league ended with Lakers’ fans doubting their 19-year-old rookies talent.

Meanwhile, the third pick in the draft, center Jahlil Okafor, was having himself a solid performance for the Philadelphia 76ers, leaving the purple and gold nation questioning their organization’s methods and decision making once again.

However, that was summer. Flash-forward to present day and you won’t hear one word spoken negatively about the Lakers rookie point guard D’Angelo Russell. His teammates, his coaching staff, sports analysts, and most importantly the fans, love him. Although, ask most fans about his progression and they would say his rookie season has been full of ups and downs, and they’d be wrong in doing so. He’s done nothing but improve all year long, and if you don’t think so, just look at the numbers.

In the first two months of his NBA career, he shot roughly 42 percent from the floor and about 33 percent from behind the arc. Now, after 11 consecutive starts, he has bumped those numbers up to 47 and 43 respectively, with averages of 21 points, 4.8 assists, and 3.2 rebounds. This stretch also includes a night where he scored his career high with 39 points while knocking down eight three-point shots, also a career high, in a win against the Brooklyn Nets on March 1, 2016. Not bad for the player declared a bust in October.

If you’re a sports guru you’re probably saying to yourself that numbers don’t tell the whole story, and that you must observe a player when cameras are on. Relax, you’re right. Which is why with Russell, it’s been nothing but poise, confidence, composure, and in his own words, “ice in my veins.”

He’s neither the quickest player nor the most athletic on the court, and he never has been, nor will be, but he counters that with above average ball handling, quick change of pace, and unbelievable court vision and basketball IQ. The world is finally witnessing the talent this kid possesses. The only problem was the lack of patience fans showed to allow him to mature and adapt to the NBA game.

Understand this, any time a player transitions from one competition level to the next, most, not all, but most need time to acclimate themselves to learn the differences between each level. Not only was Russell trying to understand the speed of the game, but he had to get used to the strength of the rest of the league. There is no practice situation where you can simulate the strength, size, or speed that NBA players maintain. At 19, he needed to experience it first hand to comprehend what it would take to go up against someone who has had several years of NBA training.

Know this, it took Oklahoma City Thunder’s Russell Westbrook, Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul, and reigning NBA MVP Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors a few years to hit their stride, so give D-Russ some time too.

The question on everyone’s mind now is how good will he be in a few years? Well that’s hard to project. He is a student of the game and loves to learn. Just ask head coach Bryon Scott and he’ll tell you that Russell is playing with a chip on his shoulder trying to prove that he was worthy of the number two pick and the determination to learn.

“But I do think he’s a guy that works. He wants to get better. He’ll put in the work, but will he go the extra mile? I don’t know,” said Scott in an LA Times article.

Yes he clowns around from time to time, but he is not showboating or taunting. He is simply having fun. So any doubts about him not taking this game seriously should be put to rest. Scott has praised him to reporters about never being shy to speak his mind or ask questions. He has put in the work behind the scenes to get better and it has shown. He just needs to continue this upward trajectory every year.

Now, will he be Chris Paul good? Maybe, but lets not compare him to any other player but allow him to be his own force. What is apparent, is how the Lakers offense operates 10-times better when Russell is on the floor. He pushes the ball at the right times and makes sure he gets his teammates in the right positions to run their offensive sets. His assists are low but misleading, as his teammates don’t always convert his passes into buckets, and the emergence of a post game cannot go unnoticed.

At 6’5”, Russell has a height advantage over most point guards, and he has shown the ability to score with his back to the basket or convert points at the free throw line. The best aspect about this new set of skills, if he gets good enough where teams will be forced to double team him, is how he will pick opponents apart with his passing skills.

Russell’s defense was a very big problem at the beginning of the year, yet like everything else, that too has improved. He is no longer getting beaten on back-door cuts, his help-side rotations have gotten better, he is anticipating passes causing deflections or steals, and has shown the capability to stay in front of opposing point guards.

635878217856883756-2016-01-07-D-Angelo-Russell

When all is said and done, D’Angelo Russell, now 20, will be a solid, if not elite, point guard for years to come. The nay-sayers who were ready to throw a then teenager under the bus are eating their words as they have come to cheer him on with passion.

He and backcourt counterpart Jordan Clarkson have begun to build a beautiful chemistry together, and if the Lakers can find a super-star free agent this off-season, and keep their first round pick in the 2016 draft, they will be competing for their 17th title sooner than expected. It’s safe to say that they have found their point guard of the future in Russell, and if they re-sign Clarkson (who is a restricted free agent this summer), they will have a dangerous backcourt for years to come.

After watching just about every game Russell played last year at The Ohio State University, it is no surprise he is playing his best ball at the end of the year. There is no doubt he will continue to grow and be a dominant player. D’Lo is going to be a special player in the NBA.

-Brian Bernstein

—————————————

Check out the latest episode of our podcast:

https://soundcloud.com/pointsfromthekey/points-from-the-key-ep-9-ncaa-march-madness

Page 2 of 7

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén