It’s All About Having An NBA Skill At D-League Showcase

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The eighth annual NBA Development League Showcase is officially halfway over with the conclusion of Tuesday night’s games, but there’s plenty of talent still hoping to standout in front of the bevy of decision makers that made the trip to Reno, Nev., for the D-League’s premier event of the season. In order to get their attention, it’s been proven in the past that having one transferable skill is all that is absolutely necessary.

Having a certain amount of upside is one way to get  a call-up — as Malcolm Thomas with the Spurs proved earlier this week and fellow rookie prospects like Greg Smith, Edwin Ubiles and  Frank Hassell will likely prove as the season progresses — but it certainly isn’t the only way (Grantland’s Jonathan Givony noted earlier Wednesday that it isn’t even completely on-the-court talents that matter to when teams look to call up a player).

A player can average 25 points per game in the D-League and get lots of attention, but it’s the players that are able to do just one thing at an NBA-level — rebound, defend on the paint or in the wing, shoot consistently from beyond the arc, run an offense without turning the ball over — who garner the most attention when it comes to the executives in attendance.

The players that have been able to carve out a long-term niche in the NBA by way of the D-League prove this, too, because it isn’t often that guys like Chris Andersen, Lou Amundson, Matt Carroll, Anthony Tolliver and Greg Stiemsma are the most talented players on an NBA court. They’re all able to do one thing very well, however, and that’s what allows them to find themselves on a big league roster.

The D-League wasn’t created for making stars, after all, but rather helping develop players into NBA contributors. There are plenty of players on NBA rosters already that can put a ball in a bucket.

One of the best examples of a player exemplifying the role-playing role, as it were, is Greg Ostertag. Ostertag’s NBA comeback has been well-publicized and, even though it looked like it might be a disaster at first, the longtime center for the Utah Jazz seems to have a solid plan for working his way back to the NBA.

“Teams know what I can bring to the table – putbacks, clogging the paint, rebounding and that’s it,” Ostertag told Pro Basketball Talk on Tuesday. “It’s more just a matter of getting into shape enough to go out and play 10 minutes or 20 minutes or whatever an NBA team wants me to play.”

The 38-year-old told the Legends that he wants to play role player minutes in the D-League, too, to prove that he can still be effective in that role … even if he is slightly past his prime.

Some of the top role players can be identified simply by looking through the D-League’s statistical leaders: Booker Woodfox is shooting 46 percent from beyond the arc, Marcus Lewis of the Tulsa 66ers is averaging an impressive 14.2 rebounds despite not showing a lot of other discernible NBA skills, journeyman point guard Walker Russell is averaging two more assists than the next any of his D-League counterparts and 7-foot-5 center Will Foster is blocking more than three shots per game at the rim.

There isn’t a column in the box score that measures a player’s ability to do the little things, however, why is why scouts from all 30 NBA teams showed up in Reno this week to watch 160 off-the-radar players in person. It’ll be interesting to see which players stood out as call-ups begin to come in full-force during the upcoming weeks.

Jimmy Butler hits contested deep buzzer-beating 3-pointer (video)

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Shooting buzzer-beaters is especially difficult because the defender knows your deadline to release the shot. The threat of a pump fake, drive to another location or pass disappears as the seconds tick down.

On the other hand, Jimmy Butler is very good.

Wizards’ interior defense, transition buckets earns them 103-98 win, 3-2 series lead over Hawks

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It’s one of the core tenets of the NBA analytics movement that aligns well with old-school thinking — get your buckets from the places it’s easiest to score. The ones where teams shoot the highest percentage, where they are most efficient. Basically, shoot close to the basket or corner threes.

Feeling comfortable back home, Washington took those shots away from Atlanta Wednesday night — the Hawks shot 43.6 percent inside eight feet of the rim, were just 18-of-41 in the paint (43.9 percent) and were 0-of-6 on corner threes.

Combine that with 27 points from Bradley Beal, 20 points and 14 assists for John Wall, and some transition baskets (20 fast break points) and you get a 103-98 win for the Wizards. Washington now has a 3-2 series lead with Game 6 in Atlanta Friday night (if necessary, Game 7 would be Sunday).

Washington always seemed to be the better team in this one, but they could never get a comfortable lead — when Washington would get up double digits, the Hawks would close the gap again and hang around.

A lot of credit for that goes to point guard Dennis Schroder, who had 29 points on 10-of-18 shooting, and was 5-of-6 from three, to lead the Hawks. As it has been all series, the Wizards game plan with Schroder was to go under every pick and dare him to beat them with his jumper — and he almost did. Schroder also had 11 assists on the game.

While he played well and Paul Millsap was his usual impressive self inside (21 points, although on 8-of-19 shooting), the Hawks wings were a mess. Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince, and Tim Hardaway Jr. combined to shoot 13-of-41 (31.7 percent) and they were 3-of-18 from three (Hardaway had all the makes).

Meanwhile, Beal had one of his best games of the playoffs, and he deserves some credit for the struggles of the Hawks’ wings.

“I think (Beal) is one of the best two-way players in the league,” Brooks said. “He’s not going to tell anyone he’s a great defender, but his coaching staff, his teammates know he locks up defensively.”

Washington also got some help from Otto Porter (17 points) and Bojan Bogdanovic off the bench with 14 points. Both of them made some clutch shots.

Scott Brooks threw some new wrinkles at the Hawks that worked for stretches — using Wall to double Millsap at times, or going for a stretch with Markieff Morris at the five. Morris still had foul trouble despite the help, the veteran Millsap knows how to get calls. Still, the tweaks worked well enough to get Washington some buckets, and the win.

The question becomes will the Wizards be able to do that on the road — the home team has won every game this series. If the Hawks’ wings feel more comfortable and hit some shots, if Atlanta can get some more easy points inside Friday night, we will be watching Game 7 of this series on Sunday.

No. 1 pick in WNBA draft LAUNCHES shirt deep into stands at Spurs-Grizzlies game (video)

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If the Cleveland Browns are still considering a quarterback with the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft tomorrow, maybe they ought to take Kelsey Plum.

Plum, the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft, will play for the San Antonio Stars. First, she went to San Antonio for last night’s Spurs-Grizzlies Game 5 and showed off her arm by launching a shirt far into the crowd.

And she’s witty:

Owner: Hawks will ‘make every effort imaginable’ to re-sign Paul Millsap

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Hawks general manager Wes Wilcox called re-signing Paul Millsap this summer the team’s “priority.”

Hawks owner Tony Ressler went a step further.

Ressler, via Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

“We love Paul Millsap,” Ressler told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week. “We are trying to re-sign him. We want him to stay here. We think he is a really special player and a special person that we want on our team and in our locker room and we are going to make every effort imaginable to keep him.”

There’s certainly one effort I can imagine: Offer Millsap a max contract, which projects to be worth $205 million over five years.

That’s not necessarily a wise investment. As excellent and underrated as Millsap is now, he’s 32. He’ll be hard-pressed to maintain anywhere near this level of production over the next five years. And what’s the upside for Atlanta enduring such risk, especially late in his contract? A chance at a playoff-series victory each of the next couple years? The trade-off would make more sense for a team that can accomplish something more meaningful now.

The Hawks seem conflicted about their direction. In the last year, they’ve traded Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver but also signed Dwight Howard. Atlanta’s starting lineup is split by a glaring age divider – Millsap (32) and Howard (31) on one side, Tim Hardaway Jr. (25), Dennis Schroder (23) and Taurean Prince (23) on the other.

Do the Hawks want to rebuild or win now? It almost depends when you ask, and by the offseason, there might be a different answer. But the owner so strongly endorsing re-signing Millsap speaks volumes. Everyone in the organization, including president/coach Mike Budenholzer, answers to Ressler.

Of course, Millsap will hold the cards as an unrestricted free agent. He might prefer to leave Atlanta for a team closer to title contention or any other reason.

But the Hawks can make offer that would be darned hard to refuse.