Consider this the first of a bunch of award Damian Lillard could be racking up.
The Portland Trailblazers celebrated rookie won the All-Star Saturday Taco Bells Skills Competition. He seemed to embody the old John Wooden mantra of “be quick, don’t hurry.”
“I think the biggest thing for me is to try to be too cool and speed through it, but take my time with the passes and shots,” Lillard said.
Lillard seemed to move more quickly than many of the competitors through an obstacle course where the guards had to make some layups, some chest passes, a bounce pass, and dribble around some cutout defenders.
Some guys had good nights and good times, like Brandon Knight who had a time of 32.2 seconds through the course, but he fell to Jrue Holiday’s 29.3 that was best in the East (and that got Holiday in the two-man finals). Jeff Teague struggled his way to a 49.4 second result. It wasn’t pretty.
For the West, hometown boy Jeremy Lin didn’t rush or hurry and ended up with a time of 35.8 seconds, playing at an under control pace. Defending champ Tony Parker missed all five of his shots from the top of the key and looked terrible, a 48.7 seconds. I mean, better than Teague, but unimpressive.
Lillard had a time of 28.7 to easily advance to the finals. Where he pretty much trashed Holiday who missed a few of the top of the key shots.
“I’ve played basketball a long time and I grew up in a tough city,” Lillard said after his win. “I’ve always been comfortable with myself and confident with myself. So coming into this season I was confident and coming into this competition, also.”
Lillard gets a trophy. The future Rookie of the Year is going to rack up some more in the next few months.
He’s right. And Philadelphia management knows it.
At the center position, the Sixers have the athletic and defensive minded Nerlens Noel, the offensive-minded Jahlil Okafor, and the untested player who may be the best of the group in Joel Embiid. Elton Brand is on the roster as well.
That’s a lot of talented young players and not enough minutes to go around. Nerlens Noel called the situation out as “silly” speaking to the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Keith Pompey. At least he didn’t go so far as to request a trade.
“I think it’s just silly . . . this situation that we are in now with three starting centers,” Noel said on the eve of the Sixers’ media day. “With the departure of [former general manager and president] Sam Hinkie, I would have figured that management would be able to get something done this summer…
“I feel like it definitely needs to be figured out,” he said. “I think at the end of the day, again, you have three starting-caliber centers. And it’s just not going to work to anybody’s advantage having that on the same team. That’s how I’m looking at it. I’m not opposed to anything, but things need to be situated….
“Don’t get me wrong. We all get along great on the court and off the court,” Noel said. “But at the end of the day, it’s like having three starting quarterbacks. It doesn’t make any sense.”
We saw last season that Okafor and Noel can’t play together, and now the Sixers need to see which ones of these three can play well with No. 1 pick Ben Simmons
, who will be a point-forward much of the time.
Expect a deal to get done to move one of the three centers — and it very well could be Noel, he drew the most interest from other teams. It could happen during training camp, or maybe closer to the trade deadline. Maybe this stretches into next season.
But the Sixers know this doesn’t make sense, they just haven’t been able to remedy the situation. Yet.
As of tomorrow, training camps around the league open, and all the focus goes to the 2016-17 season.
For fun, let’s look back one more time at last season — the 50 top circus shots of last season.
Stephen Curry driving the lane and throwing up prayers once he draws contact (and hitting them), there is Russell Westbrook throwing the inbounds pass off an opponent’s back, and so much more. Enjoy. Then let’s get on with next season.
Kevin Garnett intimidates people. In the machismo-fueled world of professional sports nobody comfortably admits they were intimidated, but in the wake of Garnett announcing his retirement, a number of players stepped forward to say exactly that. And that KG trashed talked them fearlessly.
Oklahoma City’s Steven Adams found a way to avoid that — tell KG he didn’t speak English.
Adams was lucky, KG had a reputation for going harder at foreign-born players with his trash talk and intimidation. Then again Adams is not the kind of guy prone to be intimidated.
Athletes are injecting themselves into the needed national conversation about race, violence, and policing in this nation. That has taken some very public forms, including LeBron James, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony speaking at the ESPYs, and Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem and leading others to do so. Some NBA players likely will follow Kaepernick’s lead.
Pistons coach/GM Stan Van Gundy likes seeing players speak out.
A couple of his Detroit players — Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris — said they backed the 49ers quarterback. Here is what the never shy Van Gundy said about all of it, via Vincent Ellis of the Detroit Free Press.
“I’m encouraged by the fact of what some of those guys stood up and did at the ESPYs and had a conversation,” Van Gundy said. “I’m really proud of the fact that we have guys that not only see the problem, but want to try to do something about it…
“To me, in some ways, (police brutality is) just the most visible to focus on and it goes to deeper inequities in our criminal justice system, our education system so there’s so much to focus on,” Van Gundy said. “I think it’s great that we have players that want to be part of that conversation, and a lot of players that want to go beyond the conversation and be part of the solution.”
Van Gundy has been telling his players part of that solution is to vote.
The players union and NBA sent out a release saying they wanted to work together to create positive change, but details are still vague on what that might be. The only thing we know for sure as we head into the NBA season — with as divided a nation and election as anyone can remember as a backdrop — is that some NBA players are going to try and keep the conversation going.