2012 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot

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.

Report: Raptors to begin contract extension talks with coach Dwane Casey

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25:  Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors looks on from the sideline in the first quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Entering the season, Dwane Casey’s seat was a little warm. He was not hired by the GM now in charge, and last season the Raptors had taken a step back, especially defensively.

After Toronto just ended the greatest season in franchise history — 56 wins and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals — Casey’s job is safe. In fact, the Raptors want to make sure he sticks around a while longer, reports Marc Stein at ESPN.

The Raptors and coach Dwane Casey are expected to soon begin talks on a contract extension, league sources said Friday night after Toronto’s season ended with a 113-87 loss to the Cavaliers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals.

Casey has one season left on his current contract at the Raptors’ option for $4 million next season.

Both sides want to get a deal done, which usually means things happen quickly.

This is a smart move by the Raptors, clearly Casey connects with this team and knows how to get the most out of them, and he adapted well in the playoffs looking for rosters and lineups that worked. He’s the right coach for this team.

Pelicans’ rookie guard Bryce Dejean-Jones has died at age 23

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 04:  Bryce Dejean-Jones #31 of the New Orleans Pelicans drives to the basket during the first half of a game against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Smoothie King Center on February 4, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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This is a sad and stunning development.

Bryce Dejean-Jones, the rookie guard of the New Orleans Pelicans, has died, the Dallas, Texas, County Coroner has confirmed to NBC Sports. Travis Hines of the Ames Tribune broke the news.

Dejean-Jones was just 23.

“It is with deep sadness that the Pelicans Organization acknowledges the sudden passing of Bryce Dejean-Jones,” the Pelicans’ organization said in a statement. “We are devastated at the loss of this young man’s life who had such a promising future ahead of him. Our thoughts and prayers are with Bryce’s family during this difficult time.”

The coroner’s office would not give a cause of death, but Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports had the tragic detail.

The account of him being shot has been confirmed by multiple sources, including the Dallas Police Department, which released an incident report to the Dallas Morning News. Here is that report:

“On May 28, 2016, at approximately 3:20 a.m., Dallas officers responded to the 2500 block of Bennett Avenue regarding a shooting. Upon arrival officers found one individual had been shot. The resident of the apartment reported that an individual had kicked open the front door and entered his apartment. The resident, who was asleep in the bedroom, heard the individual enter and retrieved a handgun. He stated he called out to the individual, but was not answered. As the individual kicked the bedroom door, the resident fired his gun. The individual left the apartment and collapsed in the breezeway. The individual was transported to a local hospital where he died from his injuries. This offense is documented on case number 127685-2016 and Dallas Police Homicide is conducting an investigation.”

As someone who spent years as a crime and police reporter, let’s just say come at these initial police reports of incidents — and what people tell the police — with a critical eye.

Understandably, players who knew Dejean-Jones are greiving.

Dejean-Jones was undrafted out of Iowa State, he was picked up on a 10-day contract by New Orleans this season, but the rash of injuries the Pelicans suffered pushed him into a starting role for 11 games. He averaged 5.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game, and to his credit did shoot 37.5 percent from three. On Feb. 19 he took a hard fall and fractured his wrist, which eventually required surgery and ended his season. He was a guy known for attitude problems at the start of his college career at USC the UNLV, but had seemed to mature and his game had as well. He looked like someone who could stick as a reserve guard in the NBA.

Our thoughts go out to his family and friends.

LeBron James first player to reach six straight finals in 50 years

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It speaks to an incredible level of talent — talent that was honed in countless hours in the gym.

It speaks to an amazing durability.

It speaks to leadership.

LeBron James has a long resume of accomplishments — two titles, four MVPs, and he hasn’t missed an All-Star Game or an All-NBA team for a decade — but he reached one of his more impressive milestones in leading the Cavaliers past the Raptors to the NBA Finals on Friday night.

LeBron has reached six straight NBA Finals.

He’s the first player to do so in 50 years.

The last guys to do this were Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn, K.C. Jones, Bob Cousy and other members of the 1950s-60s Celtics dynasty. Nobody since has done it — not Magic, Bird, Jordan, Wilt or the rest.

Yes, it helps cement LeBron’s legacy as one of the all-time greats, but more than that it’s something we need to step back and appreciate. These were all LeBron-led teams — he has been the leader on and off the court, setting the tone. That requires incredible talent and skill on the court, plus knowing how to make those guys better not just drag them along on your coat tails. It also takes incredible physical durability. It’s an amazing accomplishment.

“There’s only one LeBron James,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said after his team was eliminated by James and company. “He makes a difference on whatever team he plays on.”

I can feel the typing in the comment section already: “But he’s 2-4 in the Finals, Jordan was 6-0” or “But he’s done it in a weak East” or “He keeps just jumping teams to where he has the most help.” It’s all just sad. Because LeBron James is the first NBA superstar of the social media age he faces a volume of criticism that past stars did not. It’s not that LeBron hasn’t brought some criticism on himself, but there is a need to tear him down that the mythologized Jordan never dealt with. We savored Jordan at the time; LeBron has never gotten that. Jordan took 13 NBA teams to the playoffs, six made the Finals; LeBron has taken 11 and seven are in the Finals. The thing is, it’s difficult to compare across eras in the NBA:

All of this is not to say LeBron’s record is better than Jordan’s, you and your buddies can debate that while sitting on bar stools until last call, but LeBron has been on an epic run through the peak of his career the likes we haven’t seen in a long time. If you’re a fan of the game, you should appreciate that, not try to tear it down (as if Jordan’s legacy somehow needs protecting).

What LeBron has done is a stunning accomplishment. If you’re in the same sentence with the legendary Russell Celtics teams, you’re doing something right.

Warriors/Thunder Game 6: Four things to watch as Oklahoma City tries to close out series

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For the Thunder, it is a chance for validation and an opportunity to get the ring Kevin Durant (and Russell Westbrook, and the rest of them) crave. For the Warriors, it is their biggest test of the last two seasons. Game 6 is Saturday night in Oklahoma City, here are four things to watch.

1) Dion Waiters and Andre Roberson need to play better for the Thunder. After a couple of series where Waiters suddenly has been reborn as a quality NBA player who is the third playmaker the Thunder need, and after Andre Roberson dropped a career playoff high of 17 points the game before, both were MIA in Game 5. Roberson was 2-of-5 shooting and had as many points as fouls (six). Waiters didn’t hit a shot all night. This was tied to the Thunder returning to the bad habits of too much Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant taking on the world and OKC not enough ball movement in the halfcourt. The Scott Brooks Thunder of the past few seasons showed up in Game 5, if the Thunder fall back to those bad habits again, they will lose again.

I expect the Thunder to treat this like their Game 7 and play much better. They will have a real sense of urgency; their defense will again be energized. The question becomes can the Warriors match it?

2) Can Andrew Bogut keep the Thunder from scoring in the paint?
In Game 5, the Thunder were 8-of-18 shooting in the restricted area, and 7-of-19 in the rest of the paint. That’s not going to get it done. A lot of that was the impact Bogut had in the paint — plus he got help, the Warriors switched pick-and-rolls more, they packed the paint more and took away driving lanes. It all worked, in part because Bogut and Draymond Green played with much better energy than in previous games. Steve Kerr said he didn’t play Bogut as many minutes in the first four games due to foul trouble, he has to trust the veteran to play through fouls in this game. The Warriors have simply been better with him on the court this series and they need close to 30 minutes from him this game.

Tied to Bogut’s play…

3) Golden State defense needs to show up on the road. As noted above, the Warriors went back to a more traditional defense in Game 5 — they started guarding Roberson (rather than having a big “guard” and ignore him to protect the paint), they switched, they stayed home in the paint, and they just trusted each other and played their system better. It was a marked improvement. However, they did it at home — now they need to do it on the road, where Green, in particular, has been more prone to mistakes and frustration.

One key here worth emphasizing is the Warriors got back to switching most pick-and-rolls — that’s what they did all season, that’s part of why the “death lineup” is so successful defensively, yet in this series they increasingly went away from it (in part because of how they guarded Roberson). Switching is part of who the Warriors are, and while it will create some mismatches teams don’t want to stray too far from their core identity.

4) Stephen Curry needs to be MVP level Curry. Draymond Green needs to be his All-NBA self.
I’m not saying the same thing about Durant and Westbrook because I have no doubt they will show up with urgency in their games Saturday night. However, Curry and Draymond have been shadows of themselves in the two previous games in Oklahoma City, and if that happens again only one team is flying back to the Bay Area postgame.

Curry finished his drives a little better in Game 5, and at moments he blew by bigs switched onto him off of picks, something we have seen far less of this series than during the season. Green played well defensively in Game 5, he hit the boards hard, but he made some head-scratching offensive decisions. If the Warriors are going to force a Game 7, those two guys have to be elite in this game. The Warriors best players must lead. It’s that simple.