The Extra Pass: Gerald Green doesn’t regret moment of his winding journey to NBA stardom

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LOS ANGELES — Gerald Green won the 2007 NBA Dunk Contest.

Doc Rivers, then Green’s coach in Boston, regrets letting him even enter.

“He’s just young and winning a dunk contest at 18 in the NBA, I don’t know how healthy that is,” Rivers said (Green was actually 21 at the time). “You get all this stuff. He had a lot on his plate. I always say the biggest mistake I made with him was letting him do the dunk contest. I know that sounds crazy but it’s tough when you get all this stuff and you’re trying to get him in footwork drills and he’s like ‘Wait a minute I’ve got a commercial tomorrow.’ Now he’s fought his way back and is terrorizing the league with his skills and it’s great.”

Drafted straight out of high school the last year any player could be, then bouncing around the NBA — and Russia and China — Green is back in the Association and has truly arrived at age 28, starring with the Phoenix Suns. He and his game have matured. He is averaging 15.7 points per game — having scored 33 recently against Atlanta and 41 against Oklahoma City — and is a leader on team that is the biggest surprise in the league.

Green also is pointed to by some as the poster boy for raising the age limit to 20 — he wasn’t ready for the NBA on or off the court when he entered the league straight out of high school, at least so goes the argument. He’s always had the athleticism, the question was him knowing how to use it, how to be a professional.

“It was more maturity with Gerald, he just needed time to grow up,” Rivers said Monday night before his Clippers took the court against Green and his Suns. “That doesn’t mean he was a bad guy, he was just young. So young that he was eventually out of the league young. The fact that he fought his was back was great. There are cases where you would love guys to go to college, but I still side on the other side, I still think you have a right. You have a right to make a mistake.”

Green doesn’t think he made a mistake — he doesn’t think he’d be the player he is now without the experiences he had, good and bad.

“If I had the choice I would do the same thing over again, come out of high school” Green said. “There’s no better preparation than going straight to the NBA… I think the NBA is the best teacher.”

Green spent a couple of years under Rivers’ tutelage, then was traded to Minnesota as part of the Kevin Garnett trade.He ended up in Houston and Dallas, never really finding his game and confidence, never fitting in at an NBA level. He then went to Russia and after that played in China — in those stops where he was the best player on the team and was relied upon to put up a lot of points he really grew up. He matured into the guy helping spark the Suns.

If you think time in college — Green was likely to go to Oklahoma State University — would have helped Green grow up faster, well, Green thinks you are wrong.

“A lot of guys that go to college then go to the NBA and aren’t successful,” Green said. “College doesn’t make you become a better pro. You being a pro makes you become a better pro. You got to put in the work, you got to be professional when you get to the professional level, you got to do all the little things, you got to watch film, you got to lift weights, you got to do all the little things that make you a better player.”

That is the argument Mark Cuban made recently saying guys should consider the D-League over college. However, Green said if he could not have gone straight to the NBA he likely would have gone to college, saying to him it was the same thing as the D-League.

At the root of the argument about raising the age limit is maturity — on and off the court. The NBA wants its players to develop more before they land in the league and would prefer they did it on somebody else’s dime.

“We see it, a lot of guys who play one year in college and then they come out, it’s tough. You have to teach these guys a lot of things,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. “We look at the game and things we think are common sense as coaches, as guys who played in the league before, we saw that as rookies… but back then only a handful of guys came out early, guys played college three, four years. They got a pretty good idea of how to play the game before they came in the pros. Now we have to do a little more teaching, be a little more patient with mistakes they make. So raising the age might not be a bad deal.”

A lot of coaches, pretty much every owner and general manager feels the same way.

New commissioner Adam Silver has made raising the age limit a priority, although he has to negotiate that with the players union and that body still lacks an executive director. When the time comes, Silver and the owners are going to have to give up a little something to the players to get them to sign off on the new restriction.

Green is a poor poster child for the argument. First off, he was 21 when he won the dunk contest — maturity is not simply a matter of chronological age, it is a lot of factors that come together at different times in different ways for people. Certainly college can help that maturation process, but it can also happen outside that environment — on the court players would mature faster in the NBA with no restrictions on practice hours and a higher level of competition to challenge them. It just takes NBA coaches being more into player development (and look at the best teams in the league, ones like San Antonio and Indiana, and you see great player development focus).

It’s not a one-size-fits-all answer. For some, college is perfect. For others the D-League makes the most sense. For a handful of others playing in Europe might be the call.

There is not one path to maturity. And there is not one path to NBA stardom.

Certainly not for Gerald Green.

What happened to Willy Hernangomez’s minutes with Knicks?

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When talking about the Knicks’ young core going forward, Willy Hernangomez was one of the names that got mentioned by the front office (alongside players such asFrank Ntilikina and Tim Hardaway Jr.). The Knicks are crowded at the center spot — Enes Kanter got the start in the opener Thursday night, and Kristaps Porzingis should get minutes there (it’s ultimately going to be his NBA position), and this isn’t even mentioning Joakim Noah — but Hernangomez looked like a developing young player who needed some run.

He got just 3:46 minutes in the opener, and that was during fourth quarter garbage time. Kyle O'Quinn got nearly 22 off the bench at the five. That follows a preseason where Hernangomez saw his minutes drop seemingly game-to-game.

What gives? Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News asked the same question.

“We have a lot of bigs,” Hornacek said. “(O’Quinn) and Enes earned the minutes in training camp. Willy’s not far behind. He’s got to keep working. When you got that many bigs, you can’t play them all. The other guys earned the minutes. I told all three of them it doesn’t matter if you’re in the rotation or out of rotation. If you’re in it, you’ve got to earn it to keep it.”

“I can score. It’s not difficult for me. I think the coach wants to see my effort on defense. That’s why I have to keep working hard everyday,” said Hernangomez, who is also Kristaps Porzingis’ best friend on the Knicks.

Without question, Hernangomez needs to work on his defense, but then again this is a Knicks team starting Kanter so it’s obviously not a requirement.

Hornacek needs to find a balance here — it’s early in the season, he wants to win games, he wants to put his best foot forward. But the Knicks are not a playoff team this season, and they are in the player development business. That means Hernangomez — as well as rookie point guard Ntilikina — need to get minutes, need to be thrown to the wolves a little, and need to learn from their mistakes. Hornacek needs to be coaching for a few years down the line… the problem is he knows he may not have this job that far down the line, so he’s coaching to get wins now.

Patrick Beverley talks a lot of smack, taunts Lonzo Ball in opener

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LOS ANGELES — Welcome to the NBA Lonzo Ball. Guys are gunning for you.

“He’s a great talent, but he’s got to go through the tough times. I just had to set the tone,” the Clippers’ Patrick Beverley said of his physical play on Ball from the opening tip. “I told him after the game, due to all the riffraff his dad brings he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. He’s got to be ready for that, and I let him know after the game…

“(I had to) welcome his little young a** to the NBA.”

Beverley said a lot more than that.

Beverly is known as a physical defender who talks a lot and tries to get under the skin of opponents. Throw in an overhyped rookie — one who other players feel hasn’t earned his place yet, one with a Facebook reality show, one with a father who talks a lot — and you get the full Beverley treatment from the opening tip.

Maybe Snoop Dogg put it best, as he often does.

Both Lakers coach Luke Walton and team president Magic Johnson said they warned Ball what was coming, but words don’t always do justice to the reality of a guy in your grill all night.

In the second quarter, Beverley stole the ball from Ball from Ball shouted “first team!” three times while holding up his index finger — a reference to him being First Team All-Defense last season.

Thing is, it wasn’t just Beverley. When he sat Austin Rivers had the Ball defensive assignment, and on a couple of occasions Ball tried to drive past Rivers but couldn’t. All night long a Clippers team that always prioritizes getting back in transition took away the look-ahead passes that Ball was known for over the summer (he had a couple, but there were few opportunities).

Ball sat the entire fourth quarter and finished the night 1-of-6 shooting with four assists and nine rebounds. The Lakers were blown out by Beverley’s Clippers 108-92, a game the Clippers led by 30 at one point.

To his credit, Ball handled it well.

“He plays 94 feet,” Ball said of Beverley. “That’s what you’re supposed to do. He’s a good defender. I just tried to do what I can.”

“It was good for (Lonzo),” Walton said of the rough first night. “Beverley is as good as anyone, if not the best, at the point guard position of getting into other people and getting under their skin. I thought Zo kept his composure.”

Ball is going to need that composure over a long season — Beverley is right, other guys will come at him. Lonzo’s father LaVar wrote a lot of checks with his mouth this summer — he called out LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and others — that will come due on Lonzo. There are more learning experiences ahead for the rookie, especially on a young Lakers team without nearly enough shooting around him to create the space he needs for his passing to thrive.

However, hold his own this season, improve, and keep that composure and he will win over NBA players. Respect is earned in the league, and Ball is just starting that process as far as other teams are concerned.

 

Former Celtic Justin Reed passes away from cancer at age 35

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This is depressing.

Justin Reed, a second-round pick of the Celtics back in 2004, the former Ole Miss star, has passed away from cancer at the age of 35.

Angiosarcoma is an aggressive form of cancer of the inner lining of blood vessels, his happened around his spine.

Reed played in 136 NBA games, both for Boston and then the Timberwolves after he was traded in 2006. He had played four years at Ole Miss and led the school to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

Our thoughts are with Reed’s family and friends.

NBA Three Things to Know: Russell Westbrook is back to triple-double ways

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Every night in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, and that was certainly true on the first TNT Thursday night games of the season. Every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Another game, another Russell Westbrook triple-double — but this time he had two 20+ point friends to help. If all you saw was the box score, you’d think this was the perfect opening night for the Oklahoma City Thunder — they won by 21 (105-84), their defense looked dominant in stretches (allowing 17 points in the third quarter), and their stars had big nights. Russell Westbrook had 20 points, 16 assists and 10 rebounds for another triple-double, Paul George had 28, and Carmelo Anthony 22.

However, if you watched the game, you saw a very good team that had some work to do. The Thunder big three combined for 71 points, yet they were just a +8 when on the court as a trio. The Thunder halfcourt offense wasn’t impressive, there was still a lot of them playing next to each other — “you take a turn in isolation, now I go” — and not the ball switching sides into quick action that they need. It’s not all bad, these are three very good isolation players, but to make the whole more than the sum of the parts that’s the next step. But the Thunder got a lot of transition buckets, the three of them played well, and Stephen Adams was able to set a physical tone. The OKC bench is a bit of a concern, but it’s not like the Knicks could exploit that.

It was a good start for OKC fans, they got a win and their stars racked up impressive numbers. Nothing wrong with that.

For New York, Kristaps Porzingis looked good scoring 31. Beyond that… just watch some Kristaps Porzingis highlights, that’s the best we’ve got for Knicks’ fans.

2) Blake Griffin, Patrick Beverley bring a dose of reality to Lonzo Ball, Lakers’ hype machine. I live in Los Angeles, and I had a Lakers’ fan friend trying to pitch to me how they were good enough to be a playoff team in the West. I just shook my head at the idea, but the Lakers and Lonzo Ball hype machine had been in overdrive all summer, and some Lakers’ fans were not just drinking the Kool-Aid, they were chugging it.

Blake Griffin, Patrick Beverley, and the Los Angeles Clippers woke Lakers fans up to reality Thursday night. They showed those Lakers’ fans what a playoff team in the West looks like. The Clippers cruised to a 108-92 win that wasn’t that close, the Clippers led by 30 at one point.

Griffin had 29 points and played as moved as well as we’ve seen him in a year (get to No. 3 on our list). Patrick Beverley was physical and in Lonzo Ball’s face from the opening tip, ““(I had to) welcome his little young a** to the NBA.” DeAndre Jordan had 24 rebounds, 14 points, and owned the paint. The Clippers defended while the young Lakers struggled on every front on that side — they don’t have a lot of talented defenders, their young players often don’t know where to be, and there was a real lack of effort on that end.

Griffin did a good job protecting the rim (the most active I have seen him down there in years), that was in addition to Jordan’s usual efforts in that phase of the game. Lou Williams did what he does and gave the team a dozen points off the bench. Danilo Gallinari struggled a little with his shot (3-of-11) but played hard on the defensive end. The Clippers got solid bench games from Austin Rivers and Willie Reed.

The Lakers are still a young team learning to play. Ball has to become more comfortable scoring to open up the passes he wants to make in the half court, but he was just 1-of-6 as a reluctant shooter (and admitted after the game he needs to be more aggressive). More concerning, Brandon Ingram was 3-of-15 shooting, he continues to struggle from everywhere — he was just 1-of-5 at the rim, 1-of-7 in the paint overall, and 2-of-8 outside it. As a team the Lakers shot 35.4 percent in the first half, and for the game were 11-of-42 outside the paint.

As young teams will do, the Lakers let their missed shots effect their defensive effort, and that’s what did them in.

It’s going to be a long season filled with some harsh lessons for the young Lakers. The Clippers were just happy to provide the first one.

3) If you think Blake Griffin doesn’t dunk anymore… we suggest you ask Julius Randle about that. Or, just watch this video. Maybe he doesn’t throw it down as often, but he still brings the power when he goes to the rim.