Justise Winslow’s winning paradox

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NEW YORK – The feeling of success has followed Justise Winslow everywhere he’s been on his road to the NBA. In his freshman season at St. John’s he led the high school to their first Texas state championship since 1979 and then added two more championships to the school’s trophy case before heading to Duke.

In his only season in Durham, Winslow tasted the sweet flavor of championship glory as he helped guide Coach K and the Blue Devils to their fifth championship in school history, but when a player shows the flashes Winslow has shown throughout his life on the AAU circuit through college, a paradox is created when the player decides to head to the NBA.

When a high school kid displays a certain level of excellence, elite college programs will send letters and swag to try and acquire their services. When the kid continues to display a similar level of success at the college level, it’s time to try your luck in the NBA, but the Spurs, Warriors, and Clippers aren’t sending letters or cute little stuffed mascots in order to swing a player’s choice regarding a place to continue their career. It’s the bottom feeders in the NBA food chain that are chomping at the bit to obtain a player that can help them climb back up to the top.

The process puts someone like Winslow in a somewhat awkward spot, because if he ends up landing anywhere in his current draft projection (anywhere between the Knicks at four and the Heat at 10) he’s going to head to a team that has and will likely continue feeling a sensation that Winslow has avoided for most of his basketball life.

Losing.

“Yeah it’s not a concern, but it’s just something that you have to understand. It’s a process. I won a lot,” Winslow said during the pre-draft interviews. ”For me to be able to deal with losing it’s something that I’m going to have to understand. Part of the maturing process is being able to take those losses and get better from them.”

When you watch film of Winslow, it’s easy to understand how he’s put himself in this position. He has the potential to become an elite defender along the lines of Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard. His 6’ 6”, 222 lb frame gives him the ability to switch off of a guard onto a big in a pick-and-roll, a key in this era of the NBA and his 6’ 10.25” wingspan helps him contest shots at the rim just in case a guard does get by him.

So what is it about his defense that makes him so tantalizing on that end of the floor? “I think my ability to use my hands and use my lower body to stay in front of guys,” Winslow told NBCSports’ ProBasketballTalk. “I’m just too physical and athletic that I just wear guys down by the end of the game.”

His offensive game has drawn comparisons to James Harden and when you watch him drive to the hoop or pull up from deep it’s hard to not see a younger, less hairy version of Harden. Winslow and Harden were almost identical in their freshman seasons in terms of threes attempted and made (Harden made 44 out of 108 and Winslow made 46 out of 110). Harden did get to the line much more than Winslow did during their freshman campaigns (270 compared to 156).

Winslow has received some criticism regarding the mechanics of his shot, specifically the trajectory of his shot, but it’s not something Winslow is concerned about, “I haven’t changed any mechanics,” Winslow told ProBasketballTalk. “I’ve just been putting up more reps and building up muscle memory.”

When you’re being compared to Harden on offense and Leonard/Butler on defense, your future is pretty bright to say the least. Justise Winslow just has to make sure the darkness of losing doesn’t gobble up the light of glory that has guided him to this spot.

Twitter – @ScottDargis

Stephen Curry, Danilo Gallinari trade halfcourt buzzer-beaters (video)

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Warriors star Stephen Curry drained a halfcourt shot to end the first quarter. Not to be outdone, Clippers forward Danilo Gallinari hit a halfcourt shot to end the second quarter.

I’m just marveling how much less of a heave Curry’s shot was, even if it was slightly closer. His range is incredible.

Golden State won, 134-127, behind 44 points from Curry.

Report: Markelle Fultz, Kyle Kuzma among NBA players who received agency money while in school

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Details are emerging in the FBI’s probe into college basketball – specifically how former NBA agent Andy Miller distributed money (through college coaches) to players, i.e., potential clients.

Pat Forde and Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports:

An ASM balance sheet in the hands of federal investigators shows accounts through Dec. 31, 2015, with the subheading, “Loan to Players.” It listed several who were in high school or college as receiving four-figure and five-figure payments from ASM Sports. Among the largest listed loans:

  • Dennis Smith, who would go on to play at North Carolina State in 2016-17, received $43,500 according to the documents. Another document headed “Pina,” for ASM agent Stephen Pina, says Smith received a total of $73,500 in loans, and includes notes about “options to recoup the money” when Smith did not sign with ASM.
  • Isaiah Whitehead, at the time a freshman at Seton Hall, received $26,136 according to the documents. The “Pina” document says Whitehead received $37,657 and was “setting up payment plan.” Whitehead signed with ASM but later left the agency for Roc Nation.
  • Tim Quarterman, at the time a junior at LSU, received at least $16,000 according to the balance sheet.
  • Diamond Stone, at the time a freshman at Maryland, received $14,303 according to the documents.
  • A listing that refers to “BAM” for $12,000 is later identified in the documents as Edrice “Bam” Adebayo, who would go on to play at Kentucky in 2016-17. He did not sign with ASM. There’s a later reference to Adebayo that says he received $36,500. “Bad loan,” reads the document.
  • Markelle Fultz, who would go on to play at Washington and become the No. 1 pick in the 2017 draft, received $10,000 according to the documents. He did not sign with ASM.

Former Utah star Kyle Kuzma received at least $9,500 while in school, according to the documents.

Former Wichita State player Fred VanVleet. Documents show he received at least $1,000.

Apples Jones, the mother of former Kansas player Josh Jackson, received $2,700 according to documents.

Images attached to the article also show more NBA players, dating quite far back.

My simple reaction: Good for these players. They have a marketable skill, and they deserved to be compensated by the open market for it. It’s a shame the NCAA’s cartel system prevented that.

As Kevin Pelton of ESPN put so well:

Big nights for Ben Simmons (32 points), Joel Embiid good sign for Sixers

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It was a dramatic win — because Philadelphia’s two best players stepped up.

Down one with eight seconds left and Chicago having the ball, Joel Embiid forced a turnover, Ben Simmons scooped up the ball and was fouled, then drained a pair of free throws with 5.6 seconds to play and the Sixers got their sixth straight victory, 116-115.

It wasn’t just that play. Simmons had a career-high 32 points, along with 11 assists and eight rebounds, while Joel Embiid had 30 points and 13 rebounds. Coach Brett Brown said after the game the pair carried Philly on the night — and the Sixers are going to need more of that to end their playoff drought.

Check out their highlights above.

Three Things to Know: Russell Westbrook was clutch; Curry was vintage Curry

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The NBA is back, and every day around the league there is a lot to unpack, so 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) Russell Westbrook rescues Thunder with game-winner vs. Kings. It wasn’t just averaging a triple-double for a season, when it came time to vote for MVP last season one of the reasons Russell Westbrook came out on top was how clutch he had been. He hadn’t just willed his team into games they probably should have lost, he got them the wins — in the final three minutes of games within three points last season (something that happened 32 times for the Thunder), Westbrook averaged 4.4 points scored (best in the NBA of anyone who played in more than five such games) and shot 38.7 percent from three.

That Westbrook was back on Thursday. With the game tied 107-107 and one second left, the Thunder ran an out-of-bounds play where Westbrook got surprisingly open coming off a double screen and had room for a clean look catch-and-shoot three. Do we need to tell you what happened?

OKC needs the wins for playoff seeding through its final 22 games — the Thunder are now just 1.5 games out of being the three seed in the West, or 2.5 games away from falling out of the playoffs entirely. The West is that bunched up. They should make the playoffs (fivethirtyeight.com gives them an 89 percent chance of being in) but where they fall will determine how tough a run through the playoffs they will face.

2) Stephen Curry was hitting Stephen Curry shots, drops 44 on Clippers. If Stephen Curry’s shot chart looks like this, it’s going to be a long night for the opposition.

Curry had 44 points on 19 shots and just could not seem to miss, even nailing a buzzer-beater from the center-court logo.

Credit the Clippers here, who put up points (22 from Tobias Harris) and made this a contest, falling 134-127. Los Angeles is fighting for a spot in the playoffs (they are currently one game back of New Orleans for the eight spot) and have found ways all season despite a rash of injuries and Blake Griffin being traded. They should be appreciated for their play this season. There’s just not much you can do when Curry and the Warriors are going off.

3) New look Cavaliers suffer first loss, fall to Wizards. The newfound energy was there in Cleveland. LeBron James was playing at an MVP level. The versatility of the new-look Cavaliers roster was on full display.

Cleveland just couldn’t shoot Thursday night. To be more specific, Cavaliers not named LeBron James (32 points on 18 shots) couldn’t buy a bucket. Cleveland was 8-of-35 from three and in the final nine minutes of the game the non-LeBrons were 0-of-10 shooting. The Wizards went small and were +17 with that lineup as the Cavs had no answers (the lineup was Bradley Beal, Tomas Satoransky, Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre, Markieff Morris). The Wizards got the win 110-103.

Cleveland can chalk this up to an off night, and it was. It was also a reminder of why this Cleveland team isn’t as good as a year ago — they don’t have a reliable second shot creator and scorer who can just get buckets and lift the team up. Kyrie Irving is an elite scorer, but he’s in Boston. George Hill, Jordan Clarkson and the new guys are not on that level. Some nights that will be an issue.

The Wizards are now 8-2 since John Wall went down and are scoring 4.2 points per 100 possessions above their season average in that stretch. The ball is moving and the players are moving off it, Beal has been brilliant, Satoransky has stepped up, and the Wizards are securing their spot in the top half of the East. When Wall returns he has to figure out how to fit in with this offensive style, not come in and dominate it with the ball in his hands.

The Wizards need more wins like this as they enter a tough stretch of their schedule (14 of the next 16 are against teams currently in the playoffs).