Steve Clifford, Cody Zeller, Al Jefferson

The Al Jefferson Effect: Now that the Bobcats are playoff-bound, how they want their big man to help next

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BOSTON – Al Jefferson, then a rookie with the Celtics, arrived to work the day after the 2005 regular season ended. Immediately, he realized the vibe had changed as Boston prepared for its first-round playoff series.

“It was a different film session. It was a different practice. Everything was just different,” Jefferson said. “I was like, ‘What have I got myself into?’”

Two days later, he found out. Jefferson shot 3-for-3 in Game 1 against the Pacers, but he also learned a valuable lesson about postseason basketball.

“If you make a mistake, it was going to come back to get you,” Jefferson said.

Jefferson hasn’t won a playoff game since that series, getting swept with the Jazz in 2012. He spent the rest of his formative NBA years playing for some truly lousy teams.

It’s an experience the Charlotte Bobcats, Jefferson’s current team, don’t want for their developing players. After all, that’s why they signed Jefferson last summer – to ensure their young players get more-meaningful minutes rather than just more minutes.

At the time, the plan was viewed by many, myself included, as foolish. I believed Jefferson wasn’t good enough to lift Charlotte into the playoffs, but boy, was I wrong. Now that the Jefferson-led Bobcats are in the postseason (facing the Heat in the first round), the question becomes: Will his addition, and the winning it produced, help Charlotte’s young players?

“If you want to get into player development, you could argue all day,” Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said. “I think that one of the best things for young players is that they play in a role that they can play well in.”

For Clifford, the rationale is twofold.

1. Players learn best when they’re not overextended. “I’m a big believer that they should get what they’re ready for,” he said. “That teaches them how they have to play.” On bad teams, though, at least some players must take roles larger than they’re qualified for. If everyone could fill a role they were ready for, it’d be a good team.

2. Players getting appropriate roles prevent issues down the road. When teams with bad players add good players, either the current/bad players must accept lesser roles or the new/good players must. Either way, that’s problematic. The current/bad players often don’t want to relinquish responsibility they believe they’ve come to deserve, and new/good players shouldn’t take a backseat despite merit.

And that’s where Cody Zeller, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bismack Biyombo and Kemba Walker come in.

Zeller (21 years old, drafted No. 4 in 2013), Kidd-Gilchrist (20 years old, drafted No. 2 in 2012), Biyombo (21 years old, drafted No. 7 in 2011) and Walker (23 years old, drafted No. 9 in 2011) are not only the Bobcats’ youngest players, but they’re also the team’shighest-drafted players.

These four, based on how Jefferson affects them, will dictate Charlotte’s future.

Kemba Walker

Walker, who leads the team with 35.8 minutes per game, is the only one with a huge role already. He’s also the most-advanced and nearest his peak. Walker’s role is not over his head by any means.

The third-year point guard will likely still grow, but it’s difficult to see areas on his game primed for major positive overhaul. Walker entered the NBA relatively polished after three years at UConn, and his between-season growth has shrunk rapidly.  At this point, it’s about fine-tuning – setting up more easy shots for his teammates while still avoiding turnovers, stealing more balls while still playing sound positional defense.

If he tops out as a quality starting point guard, a tier he might have already reached, that would be a praiseworthy accomplishment. But at just 23, Walker probably has not quite plateaued

Bismack Biyombo

Biyombo, who’s especially raw given his lack of high-level basketball experience prior to entering the NBA, is much harder to gauge.

Among the 109 players who defend at least four shots at the rim per game, nobody – not even Roy Hibbert – holds opponents to a lower field-goal percentage on those shots than Biyombo (39.1). Here are the top 25:

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Biyombo is also finishing around the rim at a solid rate, a worrying spot last season.

When he plays, I see breakout potential, but it’s concerning his role has trended the wrong direction – all the way to the back of Clifford’s rotation. Eventually, Biyombo must parlay his inspiring flashes into his coach’s trust.

Also concerning, Biyombo and Jefferson don’t complement each other. As long as Jefferson keeps producing at All-NBA third team levels, Biyombo will have to prove himself in limited minutes. If he does, maybe he’d help the Bobcats most as a trade piece.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist

When Charlotte drafted Kidd-Gilchrist, I called him the perfect pick because he’s particularly well-suited to bring out the best in other good players. At the time, Charlotte lacked those, meaning Kidd-Gilchrist wouldn’t prevent the Bobcats from getting a much-needed high pick the next year.

Considering the Bobcats had the NBA’s second-worst record last season, that part of the plan worked.

Kidd-Gilchrist’s defensive development has similarly followed the desired progression. He’s both versatile and effective in the many responsibilities he takes.

Just look at the Bobcats’ roster and defensive ranking (sixth). Clifford has done a marvelous job, but Kidd-Gilchrist is the defensive centerpiece the coach has relied upon.

The success just hasn’t extended to the other end of the floor.

Kidd-Gilchrist’s shooting stroke has always been problematic, but now he’s just stopped trying. The only players who play as often as Kidd-Gilchrist and shoot less frequently outside the restricted areas are centers.

biyombo shot chart

As a result, Kidd-Gilchrist sits during crunch time, freeing the Bobcats’ ball movement. When opponents are forced to guard all five players on the floor – something they often don’t do when Kidd-Gilchrist plays – Charlotte has shown a proclivity for making the extra pass(es).

For Kidd-Gilchrist, who plays just 24.2 minutes per game, there’s no question his evolution requires better shooting. He needn’t be a great jump shooter, but if he can even join the lowest end of his fellow small forwards, that would allow him more playing time – meaning more minutes Charlotte gets its best defender on the floor.

In the meantime, as the Bobcats designed, Kidd-Gilchrist will get valuable growing experience in the playoffs. He’ll become the first top-two pick to make the playoffs within two years of being drafted since Derrick Rose, who was picked No. 1 in 2008.

Cody Zeller

Like Kidd-Gilchrist, Zeller is getting an uncommon learning opportunity. Not many top-four picks reach the playoffs as rookies. (Washington’s No. 3 pick Otto Porter, in a much lesser role, will also do it this year.)

Even before the postseason, Zeller showed how a young player can develop as games become more meaningful.

Zeller admitted, because he had no reference point, he didn’t realize before the year the Bobcats would make the playoffs. But as that goal became more and more evidently attainable, Zeller has steadily improved, especially as a shooter.

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As he’s established himself as a reliable shot-maker, the Bobcats can use him without their offense crumbling

  • Before All-Star break: 38 percent shooting by Zeller, 95.5 points per 100 possessions by Charlotte
  • After All-Star break: 50 percent shooting, 104.3 points per 100 possessions by Charlotte

Clifford said he’s seen Zeller’s defense improve too, but the rookie’s progress on that end is not as evident. Zeller is still prone to getting caught flat-footed and not providing enough physical resistance. There’s unquestionably significant room to grow.

All in all, Zeller doesn’t mind his limited role – for now.

“You always want to make a bigger impact,” Zeller said. “But as a rookie, playing 18 to 20 minutes on a playoff team is a good role for me. I’m going to play the 18 to 20 minutes to the best of my ability, and if more comes, then more comes. But I’m not too worried about it.”

Zeller knows he’s still learning, and he lists Jefferson first among the veterans who’ve helped him.

Jefferson is seizing that leadership opportunity – imparting wisdom to Walker, Biyombo, Kidd-Gilchrist and Zeller as the Bobcats prepare to enter the postseason.

“I hope to show them that, if we believe in ourselves and play together and work together and commit coach’s system, this could the first of many playoff appearances,” Jefferson said, pausing slightly, then adding five words that will determine just how well Charlotte’s experiment will go. “And advancing in the playoffs.”

Sixers’ Ben Simmons has clean scan on foot, “recovery progressing as expected”

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There is no timetable for Ben Simmons to step into the Philadelphia lineup, and the Sixers don’t want to put one on him. He’ll play when he plays, but the Sixers are rightfully going to take it slow and think long term with a guy coming off a Jones fracture in his foot.

That said, we could see him next month after the All-Star break. Maybe it will be March. But he seems to be on course to return this season.

Philly has won seven of their last 10, Joel Embiid looks like a franchise cornerstone, and after his impressive Summer League everyone wants to see what Simmons and Embiid look like together. Including coach Brett Brown. We’re impatient.

The Sixers are not. Nor should they be. We can see how they are handling things with Embiid still being on a minutes restriction and not playing back-to-backs — Philly is thinking about the team it could have in three or four years, not the one it has in March. Philly is not a playoff team this season, no need to push things.

However, with this latest clean bill of health, it looks promising Simmons will play this season.

Dwyane Wade says rest of Bulls season will influence his decision on player option

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When Dwyane Wade left Miami — the only team he had ever played for, the one where he won three titles — to come home to Chicago, he wasn’t thinking of being one-and-done. Already in his mid-thirties (35 as you read this), he was looking to finish his career as a Bull, however long that may be.

But Wade left himself an out, signing a two-year, $47 million deal with a player option for the second year.

With the Bulls 22-23 and barely clinging to the final playoff spot in the East, would Wade consider opting out and testing the free agent waters again? He told Nick Friedell of ESPN that how this season plays out will have a significant impact on his decision.

“I wouldn’t lie to you and say no (this season won’t impact his decision),” Wade said. “Of course. I can’t play this game forever. I just turned 35 and I have a number in my head how long I want to play. At the end of the day you want to be in a situation where it’s a competitor situation, whatever the case may be. It’s tough in this league as well because a lot of that also depends on how much money you’re willing to make. It depends on what city you’re willing to be in. So it’s a lot of variables to that, but no question about it, what happens throughout this year, as I go into my summer, I’ll definitely take a look at it. I take my career seriously and where I am and where I want to be. And I will do the same thing this summer.”

Come this summer, both Wade and the Bulls have decisions to make.

For the Bulls, in the wake of the Rajon Rondo signing that hasn’t panned out, they need to decide what kind of team they are trying to build around Jimmy Butler. Fred Hoiberg was handpicked by management because of his modern offense — spacing, shooting, ball movement — then that same front office goes out and gets Wade and Rondo, two guys opponents will let take jumpers all day. Is Nikola Mirotic part of that future? Bobby Portis? The Bulls need a long-term vision, but if they keep Wade at his current price then it likely is more stop-gap measures. Just hopefully ones that can shoot the three.

For Wade, he has to ask what he wants out of his final few years in the league. Chicago is not a contender and will not be for a few years at least. Does Wade want to stay in his hometown and be part of what is being built around Butler? Or, does he want to take less money to chase another ring with a contender? At this point in his career, what matters most to him.

My guess is Wade is back with the Bulls next season, whether he opts in or signs a new deal. And the Bulls will make more stop-gap moves. That’s what history suggests.

Grizzlies’ getting their own D-League affiliate

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Memphis Grizzlies will own and run the NBA Development League’s newest team starting with the 2017-18 season.

The Grizzlies and the NBA Development League announced the expansion team Tuesday.

The newest D-League team will play in Southaven, Mississippi, which is just 20 miles south of Memphis. The arena already hosts the Mississippi Riverkings in the Southern Professional Hockey League.

The move makes the Grizzlies the 19th NBA team owning and running a D-League affiliate, which expands the league to 23 teams for the upcoming season.

The Grizzlies have been affiliated with the Iowa Energy, whom were just bought by the Timberwolves. Memphis eneral manager Chris Wallace says the D-League team will practice at the Grizzlies’ facilities at FedExForum and allow Memphis to best develop young players.

Report: Kyle Lowry’s Philadelphia area home was burglarized by jewelry heist ring

Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry reacts after making a 3-point shot against the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017. The Toronto Raptors won 123-114. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
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Kyle Lowry is a gold medalist from Rio and a Toronto All-Star (and should be again this season), but at heart he is a Philly guy. He was born and raised in Philadelphia, and went to college right there at Villanova. He still has a home in the area.

A home that was burglarized recently, according to a report at CBS Philadelphia, who talked to local police.

A multi-million dollar jewelry burglary ring is cracked in the Delaware Valley as investigators are trying to recover all the jewels stolen from victims, including an NBA star player….

The Main Line home of Toronto Raptors’ Kyle Lowry was hit, police sources said.

Responding to an email from CBS3, a spokesman for the Raptors said Lowry, a former Villanova basketball standout, politely declined comment for this story.

Lowry was far from alone in being targeted, and a couple of people who fell victim to the ring lost more than $500,000, according to the report.

The crew had ties to a shop on “Jewelers’ Row” in the city, which served as a front for the ring tried to move millions of dollars in stolen jewelry, according to the report. Wasim Shazad, the owner of the shop, was arrested but is now out on bail as he moves through the legal process.