John Calipari comes to defense of John Wall

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Kentucky coach John Calipari is a consummate recruiter — a combination coach and father. A guy who in private might be tough on his guys, but in public will defend them. Even after they are flown from his nest.

Like John Wall.

The former Kentucky point guard and former No. 1 overall pick is about to enter his third season in the NBA and while he’s been good, he hasn’t been great. He hasn’t been the franchise anchor everyone expected. He was above average with a PER of 17.7 last season, but that is not the 20+, lock All-Star kind of level everyone expected.

Calipari had Wall’s back in a radio interview on ESPN 980 in Washington DC (which Mike Prada quotes at the fantastic Bullets Forever).

“What’s happened is, you took a 19-year old and put the weight of the world on him, saying to him, ‘We’re expecting you to drag this team to another level.’ Well, there are no young guys [who can do that]. [Even] Anthony Davis isn’t that guy,” Calipari said.

“Now, if you have a good team, Anthony and John will make you better. If you remember, I had Derrick Rose. But the way the [ping pong] balls dropped, he ended up playing on a pretty good team. So, all of a sudden, he’s an All-Star in two years, and all of a sudden he becomes the MVP of the league. But he’s on a good team. So, what’ll happen is, as [the Wizards] build that team, John will come out more.”

Um, yes and no.

I agree that Wall was thrown into a tough situation, coming into the Wizards in the wake of the Gilbert Arenas guns-in-the-locker room mess. Flip Saunders is a good coach of professional veterans, but the Wizards locker room was not that and the result was undisciplined play on the court and no focus off it. Asking Wall to walk in, change the culture and lead that team was too much.

But Wall also didn’t take a step forward last year — if anything, his jump shot regressed. He averaged 4.4 long two pointers (16 feet out to the arc) last season and shot 29 percent on them. He shot 7.1 percent from three and only took one every other game. Even with his quickness Wall can be defended in the half court.

Calipari admitted that Wall needs to step up his game. This season the excuses go away — Washington has brought in quality veterans like Nene, Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza and on down the line. Guys who understand about being a professional, about preparation.

Calipari isn’t totally wrong about Wall, but the excuses are now gone. This is the season we really learn about Wall, about how good he’s going to be. His time is now. Calipari knows it, too.

Russell Westbrook threw it down all over Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

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A rough night for the Thunder will not stop the Russell Westbrook highlights.

The Thunder had another poor game and fell to a Hornets. Westbrook tried to push the team back, but the Thunder defense that has kept them in games all season was not good enough against Charlotte, and the OKC offense was once again up and down.

Westbrook had 30 points on 22 shots on the night, and none of them were as impressive as this transition throwdown on Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

Jahlil Okafor excited about fresh start with Nets

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NEW YORK (AP) — Jahlil Okafor finally got the fresh start he wanted.

Okafor was the consensus No. 1 high school player in his class, won a national championship at Duke, and averaged 17.5 points and seven rebounds in his rookie campaign for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Then things changed drastically.

Okafor struggled with injuries and a logjam at his position in his second season.

“When I first got drafted there, we already had Nerlens (Noel) there, Joel (Embiid) was there, so we’re trying to have three starting centers on the same team,” Okafor said Monday at his introductory news conference with his new team, the Brooklyn Nets.

“It just never really was the right fit.”

The 76ers traded Okafor along with seldom-used guard Nik Stauskas and two draft picks to the Nets on Thursday. Philadelphia got forward Trevor Booker from Brooklyn.

Okafor also had off-court problems during his time in Philadelphia. He got a speeding ticket for driving 108 miles per hour and was suspended by the 76ers for two games after in an altercation outside of a Boston nightclub with a heckler.

“Speeding obviously is illegal,” Okafor said. “I know that’s not what you’re supposed to do. I guess you just learn how the page can turn on you and how everything can flip. I can’t really say I learned anything, because you know going in that’s not right. You just learn from your mistakes, but (it was) a tough thing that I went through, I got past, and I’m looking to better times now.”

Okafor, the third overall pick in the 2015 draft, joins D'Angelo Russell, the second overall pick in the same draft class, on the Nets.

“We’re just very excited to get on the court together,” Okafor said. “You never would’ve thought the number two and number three picks would be playing on the same team a few years after, but like I said, everything happens for a reason and I’m really excited.”

Russell also had problems on and off the court with the team that drafted him. He was criticized for recording a video of former Lakers teammate Nick Young that aired sordid details about Young’s private life. The Lakers gave up on Russell and drafted Lonzo Ball as his replacement.

“I feel like we’re similar in that we have a lot to prove,” Okafor said. “I know he’s working his (butt) off as well. Right now he’s rehabbing, trying to get back on the court. I think we both have a chip on our shoulder and we have a lot to prove. We’re definitely similar in that regard.”

Okafor understands he has areas to improve, mainly defense and rebounding.

“I’m not a perfect player,” Okafor said. “I’m 21. There are things that I need to work on, that I have worked on and that I’ll continue to work on.”

He’s excited about fulfilling his potential with a new team.

“I feel really motivated right now, but I’ve always been motivated,” Okafor said. “This is the first time where people are against me in a sense because I’ve always been the hyped-up guy. It’s something new for me to experience, so I’m glad that I am experiencing it.”

 

Report: Celtics’ Marcus Morris to miss “extended time” to let knee heal

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Marcus Morris missed the Celtics’ first eight games of the season in an effort to get healthy. Upon his return he’s been solid, first as a starter, then coming off the bench, but his left knee continued to be an issue.

Morris was out Sunday when the Celtics beat the Pistons, and he’s going to miss more time trying to get a troublesome left knee right, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

How much time is “extended time?” Probably at least a couple of weeks.

Morris has averaged 12.1 points and 5.5 rebounds a game this season, with a true shooting percentage of 52.5, which is right around the league average.

This could mean more run for rookie forwards Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theis, both of whom have played well in limited minutes.

Tristan Thompson expected to return to Cavaliers Tuesday, come off bench

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson could play for the first time since Nov. 1 on Tuesday against Atlanta.

Thompson has been sidelined with a strained left calf. The team initially said Thompson would be out for up to four weeks, but he said Monday that timeline was inaccurate and that his injury was more serious. Thompson did not divulge any other details about the injury.

Coach Tyronn Lue says Thompson will not start when he returns, meaning Kevin Love will remain at center. Thompson says he’s fine with a reserve role and made it clear he’s willing to do whatever Lue needs.

The Cavaliers have won 14 of 15 and their defense has improved dramatically over the past month.

Thompson says he’ll have the same mindset on the floor as always and “just be myself. Being myself has worked out pretty well for me.”