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.”

As expected, John Wall denies he cares what Beal, Harden, or others make

OAKLAND, CA - MARCH 29:  John Wall #2 of the Washington Wizards dribbles the ball during their game against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on March 29, 2016 in Oakland, California. 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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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This was as predictable as Trump mentioning his wall in a stump speech he feels going flat.

Thursday, the Ringer reported that Washington’s John Wall was unhappy when he saw the money thrown around this summer at James Harden and even Wall’s teammate Bradley Beal. The quote that summed it up from an anonymous source: “Wall’s got jealousy issues. He’s always upset with someone who makes more money than him.”

The second that story hit the web you knew Wall would deny it, and that came via ESPN’s The Uninterrupted (which has done well since it’s launch):

For both of you who hate video and prefer it written out:

“I just wanted to clear the air for all these people talking about how I’m watching other people’s pockets and I’m not worried about basketball and getting better. Listen, that doesn’t matter to me. If I produce like I’m supposed to on the basketball court and take care of myself and image, I’m going to be fine with making money. That’s not why I play the game of basketball.”

Two quick thoughts. First, talk to Wall for any length of time and it does become clear he loves basketball and plays the game with a passion. That shouldn’t be up for debate.

Secondly, everybody in the NBA compares salaries. Everybody knows what everybody is making. There’s another locker room measuring comparison equivalent, but I’m not going there. The reality is guys who were not free agents or up for an extension — and because of the length of Wall’s contract, that includes him — were shaking their heads at the money thrown around. Of course they wanted a piece of it. That’s different than jealousy, or lacking chemistry with a teammate because of it.

That said, Beal and Wall have never clicked like expected. Injuries are certainly a part of the issue, but it’s fair to question what else is going on, and if Scott Brooks as coach can change that.

Canadian Tristan Thompson took Larry O’Brien trophy to a Tim Horton’s

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 22:  Tristan Thompson #13 of the Cleveland Cavaliers cheers during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 NBA Championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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This is about the most Canadian thing ever.

Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson — who is Canadian, he was born in Toronto — is getting his day with the Larry O’Brien trophy and decided that meant he should take the gold statue to a Tim Horton’s. (If you’re not familiar, Tim Horton’s is a Canadian institution, the best comparison would be SAT style — Tim Horton’s:Canada as Dunkin Donuts:Boston).

Hat tip MethoxyEthane at Reddit NBA.

Deron Williams says again he wanted more than one-year deal to return to Dallas

ATLANTA, GA - FEBRUARY 01:  Deron Williams #8 of the Dallas Mavericks reacts after injuring himself against the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on February 1, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  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 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Deron Williams will be 32 years old this NBA season, and is coming off a sports hernia surgery. That said, at age 31 he was solid for the Mavericks, averaging 14.1 points and 5.8 assists per game. His efficiency dipped from previous years, but he played well for Dallas.

Williams had hoped his stats would have earned him a multi-year contract and some security in Dallas, but instead he ended up with a one-year, $10 million deal. He’s not thrilled about it — something he has said before — but he’s optimistic about the next season with the Mavericks, he told DallasNews.com (at Williams’ annual charity golf event).

“I’d have liked to be here for a little longer,” Williams said of the one-year deal. “We’ll see how it goes. It is what it is. For sure, I wanted to be back. I felt like I had some unfinished business at the end of last year the way things ended and I wasn’t able to be on the court. Hopefully I’ll stay healthy because I’m excited about this team.”

I can’t blame him for wanting more years, but I think the short contract offer was the right move by Dallas. This team needs flexibility going forward.

Williams sees the additions of Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut as upgrades over Chandler Parsons and Zaza Pachulia (and he’s right).

“We’re definitely going to miss Chandler, but Harrison stepping in, that’s not a downgrade,” Williams said. “It’s going to be great to see how he handles being a go-to guy. He’s kind of been in the shadows (at Golden State). We’ll see what he can do now with the ball in his hands. And I’m looking forward to playing with big Bogut. I’ve been a fan of his for awhile. He’s definitely a player point guards like to play with.”

Dallas is once again going to be a good team battling for one of the final playoff spots in the West. How healthy Williams is and how well he plays — and can set up the quality scorers on that roster — is going to determine what the Mavs are doing in late April.

Nike produces limited-edition – emphasis on limited – Craig Sager shoe (photo)

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 13:  Honoree Craig Sager accepts the Jimmy V Award for Perserverance onstage during the 2016 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 13, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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I once saw Craig Sager wow a just-drafted Andre Drummond with his shoes made of ostrich.

These are even cooler

DJ Khaled (?):

Only 2 made for now … Thank u Craig Sager and Reggie saunders #SAGERVISON @jumpman23

A photo posted by DJ KHALED (@djkhaled) on

 

It’s probably good for my bank account that only two of these exist.