The Extra Pass: Rookie Report

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The Extra Pass is a new daily column that’s designed to give you a better look at a theme, team, player or scheme. Today, we ask you to put down your TPS report and pick up the Rookie Report:

Since we’re near the halfway point of the season, it’s time to revisit the rookie class and check on some of the bigger names. Who looks like a future All-Star? Which players should be starters going forward? We dissect below:

Sure-fire future All-Stars: Hornets F/C Anthony Davis, Blazers G Damian Lillard

Davis: Despite not having post moves or a reliable jumper yet, Davis has shown incredible instincts on the offensive end. As SI.com’s Rob Mahoney so wonderfully explained, Davis just has a knack for getting open, and his ability to finish on the move has made him a weapon to be dealt with. Davis is averaging nearly 16 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per36 minutes this season with a PER of 20, and that puts him in great company. Only David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon, Alonzo Mourning and Ralph Sampson averaged those numbers in their rookie seasons.

Lillard: He looks like the real deal already. His understanding and timing in the pick-and-roll is uncanny for a player his age, but it’s his ability to create space for himself that really separates him from other young point guards. According to Synergy Sports, Lillard is already the 14th most efficient scorer (points per play) in the league in isolation and 23rd in the pick-and-roll. With his separation ability and sweet shooting touch, Lillard’s scoring numbers should only ramp up from an already impressive 18 point per game average.

Borderline future All-Stars: Wizards G Bradley Beal, Orlando Magic PF Andrew Nicholson

Beal: This kid has one of the most beautiful jumpers in basketball. His mechanics are flawless — the elbow is in, the release is high, and his body is straight up and down. Don’t let the rough overall numbers fool you (38 percent shooting) — Beal is starting to figure out his role in the NBA. In the month of January, Beal has averaged 18.8 points a game and 61 percent (!) shooting from behind the arc with nearly three makes a game from deep. With John Wall pushing the pace and sucking in defenses, Beal could end up being the best pure spot-up shooter of this draft class.

Nicholson: Give him more minutes, Jacque Vaughn! Nicholson only plays about 14 minutes a night, but he’s been a killer scorer whenever he gets on the floor. Per36 minutes, Nicholson scores 18.4 points on 52 percent shooting thanks to a jumper that has been every bit as good as advertised. Nicholson has knocked in 33-for-72 (45 percent) of his shots from 16-23 feet, a number that puts him right there with the league’s elite stretch 4’s.

Future 6th Man of the Year candidate: Cavaliers G Dion Waiters

Waiters: What kind of shots does Waiters want to get? All of them. The explosive, burly scoring guard takes 17 attempts per36 minutes — a huge number for a rookie. Since the Cavs moved him to the bench nine games ago, Waiters has beaten up on second units with his big frame, totaling over 15 points in five of those contests. It may be a tad early to pigeon hole him, but turning Waiters into a scoring guard off the bench seems like a role perfectly suited for his skill and discretion.

Future Defensive Player of the Year winner: Pistons C Andre Drummond

Drummond: Let’s make something clear — Drummond is not skilled offensively. His jumper is a joke, his touch outside of the paint is laughable, and he shoots 39 percent from the free throw line. That’s what makes everything more insane, though. Drummond leas all rookies in PER at 22.4, and he’s averaging 13 points, 13 rebounds and 3 blocks per36 minutes. Those are numbers even the great Dwight Howard didn’t sniff in his first season. In league history, Shaq was the only rookie to post 13-13-3 per36 minutes with a PER of over 22. If Drummond can play this well with no discernible skills whatsoever, imagine how good he can be down the line.

Dependable long-term starters: Bobcats SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Warriors SF Harrison Barnes

MKG: He has a long way to go offensively, but Kidd-Gilchrist is still a self-aware plus defender who will be one of the best rebounding small forwards in basketball for a long time (8.5 boards per36). Yes, his jump shot is completely broken, but MKG does so many things well without the ball that he’ll always warrant heavy playing time.

Barnes: I’m not as bullish on Barnes as most. He plays with blinders on too often, focusing on beating just his man and not on what’s going on around him. That said, Caron Butler has made a nice career for himself playing much the same way. There are reasons for optimism here — Barnes has shown off a nice post game, and his 38 percent 3-point shooting is a nice number in limited attempts — but I just think his ceiling as an all-around player is capped.

First big off the bench: Cavaliers C Tyler Zeller, Celtics PF Jared Sullinger

Zeller: He’s just what everyone said he was — a 7-foot big man who can run the floor and shoot it a little bit. He’ll be a perfectly passable backup center for years to come.

Sullinger: Sullinger is almost like a Zach Randolph; a subpar athlete who gobbles up space and has a knack for pulling in offensive rebounds and finishing with creativity. Sullinger has been a surprisingly good defensive player as well — the Celtics are about 6 points better per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor.

Drafted to be a star, but a role player going forward: Kings PF Thomas Robinson 

Robinson: The big man from Kansas only does one thing great, and that’s offensive rebounding (3.6 per 36 minutes). Other than that, Robinson has no consistent way of scoring, and defensively, his desire to stay near the glass hurts him from defending bigs who can step away from the rim. He’ll clean the glass, but Robinson hasn’t shown he’s capable of doing anything else at even an average level.

Most likely to get overpaid one day: Blazers C Meyers Leonard, Warriors C Festus Ezeli

Leonard: By the time he figures out the game and develops some actual offensive skill, he’ll hit restricted free agency. Some GM will look at that giant frame and great athleticism and bet he keeps on developing.

Ezeli: It seems like he’ll get a little too much credit for the Warriors defense making the leap under Mark Jackson. He also seems like a player Mark Cuban would love to throw an absurd amount of money at (see: Desagna Diop, Erick Dampier, Brendan Haywood).

Second unit leaders: Wolves G Alexey Shved, Knicks F Chris Copeland

Shved: An extremely underrated athlete with good floor vision (5.8 assists per36 minutes), Shved should become a very good third guard once he’s free of the scoring burden that’s been placed on him due to Minnesota’s injury problems.

Copeland: The 28-year-old forward I lovingly refer to as  “created player” because he looks like he was made in NBA2k13 is a natural scoring talent. Per36 minutes, Copeland is averaging 19.6 points per game and is shooting 39 percent from behind the arc. He’s instant offense, even if he doesn’t do much else at all.

Role players that will stick: Mavericks F Jae Crowder, Warriors F Draymond Green

Crowder: A classic 3-and-D guy on the wing with a big motor. If he improves his 3-point shooting (32 percent this year) even more, he’ll be a regular in the league for another ten seasons.

Green: A defensive ace that can rebound very well, Green will continue to warrant playing time so long as he figures out what his role his offensively.

The late bloomer: Bucks PF John Henson

Henson: He needs to develop a much better mid-range jumper and he absolutely has to add strength, but Henson is a mobile, long-armed, shot-blocking big who is rebounding like crazy (12.3 rebounds per36 minutes). He may need to get out from under the shadow of Larry Sanders in Milwaukee, but I’d be shocked if Henson isn’t a successful starting power forward down the line.

Career Athlete: Raptors G/F Terrence Ross

Ross: He’s the best rookie dunker I’ve seen in years. Ross has ideal size for the 2 and a decent 3-point shot (32 percent), but he has no in between game to speak of. That said, Ross won’t be hard up for a home in the NBA — not with athleticism like that.

Out of the league soon: Hornets G Austin Rivers, Rockets F Royce White

Rivers: Pedigree can only take you so far. Rivers has been dreadful this year, and his shot selection and style of play has never meshed with his level of talent. He won’t be an NBA player until he stops taking bad shots, and I’m not sure that will ever happen.

White: Whether it’s fair or not, White represents too much of a risk for potential employers now. It’s a shame — White’s unique point-forward talents would have made him one of the league’s most interesting players. Instead, he’ll likely join the ranks of the “what-if” players that never seem to put it together.

Pacers erase 17-point deficit to take 2-1 lead over Cavs

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Bojan Bogdanovic scored 30 points, leading the Indiana Pacers back from a 17-point halftime deficit for a 92-90 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night for a 2-1 lead in their first-round series.

Cleveland was 39-0 during the regular season when leading after three quarters and kept that perfect mark intact with a Game 2 win.

The incredible second-half charge came exactly one year after Indiana blew a 26-point halftime lead in a historic playoff collapse against the Cavs.

This time, the Pacers delivered a devastating blow to the three-time defending Eastern Conference champs – on a night LeBron Jones joined Michael Jordan as the only players in playoff history to record 100 double-doubles. James finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Cleveland from losing its first game this season after leading following the third quarter.

The biggest reason for the collapse: Bogdanovic.

After charging back with striking distance, he completed a four-point play to finally give the Pacers an 81-77 lead with 6:10 left. Bogdanovic followed that with another to make it as seven-point game.

Then James answered with the next seven to tie it.

Bogdanovic came right back with a layup and another 3 before Thaddeus Young scored to give the Pacers a 91-84 cushion with 53 seconds left.

James knocked down a 3 to cut the deficit to four, and the Cavs got another 3 from Kevin Love with 7 seconds left to make it 91-90.

Darren Collison made 1 of 2 free throws with 5 seconds left, giving Cleveland one more chance. But J.R. Smith‘s long desperation heave came up short..

Shaq attacks verse in new TV series "Poetry in America"

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Shaquille O’Neal called himself “The Big Baryshnikov” and “The Big Socrates” in his days in the NBA. Now he can add “The Big Shakespeare.”

The basketball Hall-of-Famer, TNT TV analyst, commercial pitchman and onetime rapper is putting poetry on his lengthy resume as part of a new public television series.

He brings his best bard to a dramatic reading of a poem in his episode of the 12-part “Poetry in America ,” then discusses it with Elisa New, a Harvard English professor who hosts the show.

“I’ve always been into poetry,” O’Neal said in an interview with The Associated Press in a sunlit conference room overlooking the Los Angeles skyline. “I’ve been writing rhymes all my life.”

“Poetry in America,” distributed by American Public Television and presented by WGBH in Boston, is airing at various times on local public TV stations. Some episodes, including Shaq’s, are already available to stream.

On the show the 46-year-old former All-Star from the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat recites “Fast Break,” a poem by Edward Hirsch from his 1986 book “Wild Gratitude.” It describes some very imperfect players who manage to put together a perfect basketball play.

“A hook shot kisses the rim and hangs there, helplessly, but doesn’t drop,” the poem begins, “and for once our gangly starting center boxes out his man.”

O’Neal, whose 350-pound bulk would never be called “gangly,” still related to the center in the verse, but said he initially missed the poem’s point.

“The first mistake I made was thinking it was about basketball,” he said. “I read it real quick I said `fast break, shovel passes, sure, this is what I do.”‘

He said New, who sat next to O’Neal in the interview and like almost everyone is utterly dwarfed by him, gave him whole new insights that led to a fast friendship.

“When she broke it down intelligently for me, I was very astounded and very amazed,”

The poem is written for a close friend and playing partner of Hirsch’s who had just died. That’s easy to miss if you skip past the dedication at the top, as most readers do.

“It’s fun that only later as you’re reading, you look back at that dedication,” New said. “One line can change everything.”

Suddenly it becomes an examination of transcendent moments and human connections.

“It’s about friendship, it’s about caring, it’s about emotions,” O’Neal said. “I had missed that.”

His latest learning experience took O’Neal’s thoughts back to high school, where he had a 69 percent in English after blowing a test during the basketball playoffs, and needed a 70 to stay eligible for sports.

The teacher allowed him a retest, and suggested a tutor.

“This guy, his name was McDougal, he was a geek, he saved my academic life,” O’Neal said. “Everybody bullied him in school, except me.”

O’Neal said he took the work and “broke it down, made it seem so simple.”

“I retook the test, got an 80, and we won the state championship,” O’Neal said.

“Now,” he said, “I always tell kids I’m a geek.”

The professor had another name for him. “He’s a learner!”

O’Neal partly looked the poet during the interview in a polo shirt and jeans, having traded his basketball sneakers for a pair of slip-on Toms shoes, size 22.

When he wanted them, a company executive told him “it wouldn’t be worth it to make them in my size unless I bought 500 of them,” O’Neal said. “I told him to give me 2,000.”

 

Rumor: Grizzlies had to choose between Marc Gasol and David Fizdale

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David Fizdale has been linked to most of the NBA’s head-coaching vacancies.

He developed a legion of backers as lead a Heat assistant, and he did good things guiding the Grizzlies before they unexpectedly fired him. He deserves consideration.

But he also must explain his fractured relationship with Memphis star Marc Gasol. They weren’t speaking for a while.

And maybe the problem was even worse than that.

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

According to a source close to Fizdale briefed on the Grizzlies’ decision, it was ownership having to make a choice — trade their All-Star center Marc Gasol, who has fallen in love with its small-market city, or fire the coach. Their relationship had gotten that bad.

If Grizzlies ownership felt it had to choose between Gasol and Fizdale, it’s not clear why.

Fizdale benched Gasol down the stretch during the coach’s last game, and Gasol publicly expressed his frustration.

But Gasol denied issuing a me-or-Fizdale ultimatum. Fizdale said focus on his relationship with Gasol was “overblown,” adding he cared far more about whether he could win with a player than whether they got along personally.

Memphis obviously sided with Gasol – probably too strongly.

LeBron James bought Cavs teammates matching designer suits to wear to game tonight

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I’m still trying to decide if this is cool or a little too Stepford.

The Cavaliers rolled into the Bakers’ Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis tonight wearing matching designer suits, all paid for by LeBron James and custom fitted to each player.

If a college team rolled into a game in four-digit designer suits, the NCAA would have questions. And not about the vests.

The Cavaliers are LeBron’s team, and if he wants to buy his teammates suits and tell them to wear them it’s going to happen. Is it a bonding thing that helps bring them together? Sure. Is it in place to make sure LeBron remembers which ones are his new teammates? Probably not.

Do the suits help on the court? No. And the Cavaliers better bring it in Game 3 because if they go down 2-1 in this series — something that is a realistic possibility — the whispers of doubt are going to get a lot louder.