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NBA teams paying closer attention to players’ wingspan

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Not until Nate McMillan began being fitted for custom-made suits a few years into his NBA career three decades ago did he understand just how far his arms reached.

When Bill Walton dominated at UCLA in the 1970s, no one ever measured his wingspan – from fingertips to fingertips and arms outstretched.

Neither knew their wingspans then, and they still don’t. That is not the case for young players.

“Yeah, I found that out once I bought my first suit,” the 6-foot-5 McMillan, a 12-year pro now coaching the Pacers, said with a chuckle, realizing his arms stretched more than 3 feet each.

Once limited to descriptions of birds, wingspan has become one of the most important measurements for basketball prospects over the past decade. Coaches marvel at players with long arms, figuring they will more easily grab rebounds, block shots, steal passes and shoot over defenders.

The average man has a wingspan about 2 inches more than his height. But several NBA players pop off the chart because of their long arms.

It’s no coincidence that Jazz center Rudy Gobert, who stands 7-1 and led the NBA in blocks last season, has the longest wingspan in the league at 7 feet, 9 inches.

The NBA playoffs begin Saturday, and an extra inch of reach can lead to a blocked shot or steal that might alter a series or a season.

Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo is nicknamed the “Greek Freak” in part because he stands 6-11 with a 7-3 wingspan and giant hands. The explosive Russell Westbrook is 6-3, with a wingspan of 6-8, which helps him be one of the best rebounding guards in history.

“Every asset that a player has might make up for something else. If somebody’s short, hopefully they’re quick. The wingspan sure helps a lot of people,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said . “You look at size of hands, wingspans. Look at John Stockton’s arms or Avery Johnson’s arms and they’re very long, and their hands are very big. They can control the basketball, they can do things with it.

“A wingspan always helps people, whether it’s blocking shots or deflections on defense.”

In recent seasons, Warriors high-scoring All-Star Kevin Durant has become more determined to use his 7-5 wingspan to make more of an impact on defense.

Durant, the reigning NBA Finals MVP , is quick to point out that his length allows him to make up for other areas, including being far leaner than most NBA players.

“You make up a lot of ground. I’m not as fast laterally, I’m not as athletic, I’m not as quick as guys up and down but I think I make up for it with my length,” said Durant, a defensive player of the year candidate. “There’s a lot of guys, Draymond (Green) is the same way, small, undersized power forward but can guard plenty of guys because of his length. His arms are long and he can block shots. We’ve seen him block guys at the rim and also get his hands on some basketballs off the dribble.”

Raised in France, Gobert kept growing from ages 15-19. He didn’t often hear the term wingspan, finally understanding how special his measurement is when he got to the NBA.

“I think it’s something that makes a big difference, especially defensively,” he said. “You’re able to deflect the pass or block shots.”

Warriors 7-foot center JaVale McGee went through only a handful of pre-draft workouts for NBA teams, hardly a prized prospect after a career at Nevada. Yet each visit he made, among the first things measured was his wingspan, 7-6.

One of the benefits is his ability to corral and slam home lob passes that are high and might be off target. Before he got to the NBA, McGee wasn’t even aware of his wingspan.

“I’ve always been tall. I was born tall,” he said. “It’s nothing that I heard about until I got to the league, or right before I got into the league, they’re like, `We’d like to measure your wingspan.’ They don’t really bring it up to us about that in college or high school.”

Walton is in the Hall of Fame, but he never had his arms measured end to end.

“At one time, they were long enough, and I can still put my own shoes and socks on,” he quipped. “It’s not how big you are, it’s how big you play. Any time you think you’re too small to make a difference in the world you’ve never spent the night alone in bed with a mosquito. But when you have the great game of basketball with all the ultimate winners of the genetic lottery … it’s not how high you jump, it’s where you are and when you jump.”

Wingspan is one detail Warriors coach Steve Kerr takes seriously and might consider when deciding on lineups and rotations for the defending champions. He has been going with a center by committee based on matchups.

Some of the best players Kerr faced had incredible reach.

“It’s legit. It’s much more important than your height,” Kerr said. “If your wingspan is more than your height, that’s kind of abnormal. Most of us have the same wingspan as our height. That’s kind of a rule of thumb. A lot of basketball players don’t, though, they have wider wingspans. And they’re able to get their hands on balls or shots or loose balls. … I’m a big believer in that.”

 

Report: Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer no longer considering Suns job

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There’s been a lot of talk as the coaching carousel ramps up, long before the NBA season is even over. Now, we know one coach won’t be heading to the Phoenix Suns: Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer.

Budenholzer was reportedly among one of the candidates for the Suns job, but according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi the Hawks coach has decided not to pursue the position after being given the opportunity to do so.

The Suns coaching search still includes current interim coach Jay Triano and former Memphis Grizzlies head man David Fizdale.

Via ESPN:

Budenholzer met with Suns general manager Ryan McDonough and owner Robert Sarver early this week, but there was never traction on reaching a contract agreement as the week wore on, league sources said.

As the Suns kept interviewing candidates — including David Fizdale and interim coach Jay Triano — Budenholzer informed the Suns on Thursday that he would no longer be a candidate for the job, sources said.

Phoenix fired Earl Watson just three games into the season. Budenholzer had a hefty resume to consider — he won 60 games in Atlanta in 2014-15, heading to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Suns need someone to guide their young star in Devin Booker. Who they choose will influence the direction of their franchise for longer than the next coach may even be around.

Warriors beat Spurs in glum Game 3

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The Spurs were playing with heavy hearts following the death of Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin. Kevin Durant and Shaun Livingston appeared to injure their left ankles on back-to-back plays late.

Everyone seemed ready for the Warriors’ 110-97 Game 3 win Thursday to end well before it did.

Soon enough, the first-round series will. Golden State is up 3-0, and all 127 teams to win the first three games of a best-of-seven series won it – most of them via sweep. Game 4 is Saturday in San Antonio.

There’s hope neither Durant’s nor Livingston’s injury is serious. Durant walked off on his own, though gingerly. Livingston shot his free throws before exiting.

Durant (26 points) and Klay Thompson (19 points) have carried the Warriors’ offense with Stephen Curry sidelined by his own injury. If Durant isn’t at full strength for Game 4, Golden State could really struggle to score.

But it still might not matter, as the Spurs are overmatched against the Warriors’ dialed-in defense. Draymond Green (10 points, seven assists, six rebounds, four blocks and two steals) led tonight’s effort.

After two losses in Oakland to start the series, returning to San Antonio didn’t do much for the Spurs, who were 33-8 at home and 14-27 on the road this season – the NBA’s largest home-road disparity in a half decade. It’s just had to see San Antonio – whether Popovich returns or Ettore Messina remains acting coach – finding enough sources of offense.

Pelicans move one game away from sweep after bashing Blazers in Game 3

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But for a moment, the Portland Trail Blazers felt as though they could turn the series. For half a quarter, the Blazers had hope. Then, Nikola Mirotic dropped a career-high 30 points, Anthony Davis added a double-double of 28 points and 11 rebounds, and the New Orleans Pelicans moved one game away from completing a sweep of the third seed after a big win on Thursday night, 119-102.

Under the guidance of Mirotic, the Pelicans unleashed a barrage of 3-pointers starting midway through the first quarter. The game was close to being a contest, but Jrue Holiday and Mirotic started to pour it in after being uncorked, with New Orleans taking a 16-point lead going into the second period.

Running up and down the court in a panic, Portland looked nervous in the spotlight. The Blazers racked up 12 turnovers by halftime, all while rattling 3-pointers off the back iron. Portland rushed its offense in the face of unlikely success by the Pelicans, who continued to rain down from deep. New Orleans hit four big shots in the final 1:47 of the half, including three from beyond-the-arc.

Never one to back down, Blazers star Damian Lillard tried to force the issue. He would finish with 20 points on 5-of-14 shooting, but most evidentiary of his night was Lillard lobbing up a wild 28-footer with 24 seconds left in the half as he tried to answer a gutshot 3-pointer from E'Twaun Moore from a moment before. It didn’t work, and the Pelicans took commanding 64-45 lead to start the third quarter.

So went the story of the rest of the game, as Portland couldn’t fully tamp down the New Orleans offensive attack for longer than a few minutes at a time. Even after one 10-0 run for the Blazers in the third, the Pelicans ended it in the most deflating way possible — a wide open dunk for Mirotic on a cut after Portland’s defense fell asleep.

It was an electric atmosphere at Smoothie King, and the sellout crowd that gave us a glimpse of what kind of homecourt advantage the Pelicans could have in the second round. The New Orleans fans were in a back-and-forth with the players, with Smoothie King working to such a fever pitch it felt as though every shot hoisted by the team in red and gold was destined for the nylon.

Demoralized, Portland battled — flailed, really — but the Blazers couldn’t make up any ground as the momentum continued for New Orleans. Finally Blazers coach Terry Stotts relented and waived the white flag for Portland with 7:55 left in the fourth quarter as he subbed in his bench.

Even with a 49-win season under its belt, the questions surrounding the Blazers become more serious. The team that had a 13-game win streak this season now will face rumblings about whether Stotts will remain with the team. An exit for Stotts would be unwise for Portland — he did wonders with a team that didn’t play up to its potential most of the year — but it’s not out of the ordinary for a team looking to break through to look elsewhere, especially after Lillard’s meeting with owner Paul Allen.

Although their work isn’t done yet, New Orleans looks as though it’s a team to be feared in the playoffs. What it needs to do is concentrate on sweeping the Blazers, not only to give themselves confidence heading into the second round but to show their second-round opponent (likely the Warriors) that they aren’t to be taken lightly.

How Porltand can counter in the deciding Game 4 isn’t clear. The Pelicans have looked like the better team for nearly every quarter of the series, and the Blazers clearly don’t have an answer for them on either side of the ball.

Happy New Orleans fans will pack Smoothie King on Saturday for Game 4 at 2:00 PM PST in Louisiana. Davis will look to win his first playoff series, and Portland will try to avoid their most embarrassing sweep since they lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the 1999 Western Conference Finals.

Steve Kerr, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili celebrate the life of Erin Popovich (VIDEO)

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The NBA community has been effuse in their thoughts and condolences to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich over the past 24 hours. Erin Popovich, 67, passed away on April 18, leaving behind her husband, Gregg.

Many were taken aback at the news, including players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, both of whom were emotional when they first heard the news of Erin’s passing.

Gregg Popovich was not with the team to coach them in their Thursday night matchup against the Golden State Warriors, as Ettore Messina took the reins for Game 3.

Meanwhile, those close to the Popoviches spoke about Erin, her influence on Gregg, and how much both mean to them. Steve Kerr, who played for Popovich in San Antonio for four seasons, told reporters that Erin was, “The sort of balance that Pop needed.”

Current Spurs Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker also voiced their support for the Popovich family.

Via Twitter:

Here’s hoping Popovich finds some solace in the support he’s received over the past day.