Kurt Helin

Ricky Rubio, Kevin Garnett

Ricky Rubio loves Kevin Garnett as a teammate

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Minnesota brought Kevin Garnett back — and he waived his no-trade clause to come back — in part to mentor the young stars of the Timberwolves such as Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine.

KG has long been seen as a guy you love to have on your team but hate playing against — something Minnesota point guard Ricky Rubio confirmed, something Rubio confirmed speaking in the Philippines.

Rubio said he used to be intimidated by Garnett, as reported by rappler.com (hat tip NESN).

“When I was growing up, I watched a lot of KG’s games and I was a little afraid, so when he came to the team I was concerned but at the same time I was super excited, because I had a chance to play with him in 2012 locally,” Rubio said on Friday, August 21.

“I was working out in LA and we played some friendly games and he was over there and I had a chance to meet him,” recalls the 6-foot-4 point guard, who went on to say that the KG NBA fans see on their TV screens or on the court isn’t precisely the person he really is.

“He’s not that guy that it seems on the basketball court. He’s really a good guy, nice guy, and helps your teammates. He kills for you,” said Rubio, who’s about to play his fifth year in the NBA.

Garnett has lost a step on the court, but the mental part of the game is still there — and he’s willing to teach it if a player is ready to listen and take it seriously. Not every player takes their opportunities to learn from the greats seriously — *cough* Andrew Bynum *cough* — but Towns has said he already has started working with Garnett back around Summer League.

The goal with rebuilding — at least everywhere outside of Philadelphia — is to have a down season or two, draft good young players (maybe trade for another), then build back up with them at the core. It helps that process along to have a veteran the players will listen to on the way back up.

Garnett is perfect for that role — when he came to the Timberwolves last year he was still the first guy in the gym working out. Young players need to see that, need to see what it takes to be great. They need to see that drive. It’s going to make Minnesota better in the long run.

Sixers’ Nerlens Noel working on jump shot

New York Knicks V Philadelphia 76ers
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The words “Nerlens Noel” and “shooting range” were not used in the same sentence in scouting reports last season. Except with “has no” in between. As evidence, we present his shot chart from 2014-15:

source:

That’s a lot of red.

Noel is trying to change that; he’s been working on a jumper, he told the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Keith Pompey.

“I think it’s really going to help me as a basketball player overall, especially at [power forward],” Noel said of the daily workouts. “[It will] help space the floor with my ability and start hitting the jumper consistently and complement our whole offense. And, you know, just changing my whole game and how effective I am….

“It’s a pressure year for me to show what I am capable of and definitely show what I worked this hard for,” Noel said of the coming season. “So I think I’m in a good position to showcase it all. My ceiling will be better at the four position.”

source: Getty ImagesAs a practical matter, Noel has to develop some shooting range and step out as a four if he wants to be a Sixer. Rookie Jahlil Okafor is the guy who will be getting the majority of post touches next season, plus there is the possibility of true center Joel Embiid playing the season after that (if his foot heals). The five spot is pretty full in Philly. Noel has to play the four.

Big men considered one-dimensional can develop reliable jumpers, just ask Blake Griffin. The Sixers reconstructed Noel’s shot, and it’s something he worked on last season at practices and before games. But it was going to require more time and more intensive training, which is what he got this summer.

If he can start to step out to 15-18 feet and knock down shots, his entire game will change — and a Sixers team without enough shooting (Nik Stauskas here’s your chance) can certainly use it.

But everyone has seen that shot chart, Noel is going to have to prove it first.

(Hat tip Eye on Basketball)

Wizards’ Otto Porter says he is “definitely” ready to play some stretch four

Atlanta Hawks v Washington Wizards - Game Six
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The Wizards went big — with Marcin Gortat and Nene up front — and stayed that way most of the NBA season. Then come the playoffs, coach Randy Wittman finally broke out a small ball lineup with Paul Pierce at the four for long stretches, and it got the Wizards to the second round.

Pierce is now a Clipper, but the playoffs saw the emergence of Otto Porter as his ready replacement — he averaged 10 points a game, shot 37 percent from three and was making plays.

Is Porter ready to step into Pierce’s role as a stretch four? “Definitely,” he told Tom Byrne and Vinny Del Negro on SiriusXM NBA Radio.

“Definitely, because that’s who the NBA is transitioning, you know, to smaller lineups. So being able to stretch out as a four is going to be key, and that is something with our coaching we might end up doing. It’s definitely something I’ll be comfortable with.”

He better be, it will be one of the keys to Washington’s season. The Wizards are going to start games big still, but there will be more small ball with Porter and just signed Jared Dudley at the four. Wittman is not going to sit on this lineup all season.

Elsewhere in the interview, Washington entering the season with high expectations. They believe they are a team ready to challenge Cleveland atop the conference. 

Porter also said John Wall and Bradley Beal are the best backcourt in NBA. What else was he going to say? It is certainly near the top, although that duo out in Golden State has some hardware that backs up their case nicely. 

Hassan Whiteside, Draymond Green spar on twitter over small ball

Boston Celtics v Miami Heat
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Golden State won its NBA title this year going small — Draymond Green at the five was not something the Cavaliers had an answer for. The two years prior, the Miami Heat won a couple of titles playing Chris Bosh at the five, spacing the floor with his jumpers.

Small ball works. Not for everyone — Green allows the Warriors to go small and not get hurt defensively — but it has proven to work with the right lineups.

Just don’t tell Miami center Hassan Whiteside that.

The Warriors Draymond Green saw that tweet and fired back.

Then they exchanged a couple more barbs.

Whiteside may want to note that the Warriors beat the Memphis Grizzlies to get to the Finals, and last I checked Marc Gasol was pretty good at scoring inside. Same with Zach Randolph. Didn’t do them any good. To be fair, part of it is the Warriors are versatile — they can go small, play bigger, and they remain very effective on both ends of the floor. But their core identity is smaller and faster.

For two years prior, even Whiteside’s own team leaned small to win — Chris Bosh as the five and LeBron James at the four for long stretches. It’s what created matchup problems for opponents. It’s what worked.

There will always be a place for a skilled big man in the game, but the old basketball adage “tall and good beats small and good” doesn’t always ring true anymore. Not if you have the right smalls.

Why is Carlos Boozer still available? One exec says think defense.

Carlos Boozer
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Last season, Carlos Boozer averaged 11.8 points a game and shot 49.9 percent from the floor for the Lakers. He added 6.8 rebounds a night. He had a PER of 16.8, above the league average. His numbers are not gaudy, but you can see him as a scoring big off the bench who can run the pick-and-pop well.

So why is he still available as a free agent late in August? Defense, one exec told Michael Scotto of Sheridan Hoops.

“What Boozer scores on the offensive end, he quickly gives back on defense,” one NBA general manager told SheridanHoops.

No doubt. Boozer’s defensive lapses are obvious and frustrated Tom Thibodeau to no end, then had Byron Scott shaking his head at points last season in LA (of course, a lot of things with those Lakers should have had Scott shaking his head).

However, if a team can get Boozer for the bi-annual exception ($2.8 million) and use him as a scoring big man off the bench, isn’t he better than a lot of guys who have already inked deals? The guy can put up points.

Which is to say, if he stays in shape someone is going to come calling, likely early in training camp if not before. Of course, if he’s waiting for a contender, or even a playoff team, to call, he needs to be patient. Maybe very patient.

If not, there’s always China.