Summer League guy to watch: Lance Stephenson

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lstephenson.jpgLance Stephenson tried to tell us he was “born ready,” the nickname he picked up at the legendary Rucker Park playground games in New York.

Pacers coach Jim O’Brien tried to tell us he was ready.

But until we saw it for ourselves, we weren’t convinced. We’re stubborn like that.

We’re convinced. Lance Stephenson is ready and going to get some burn for the Indiana Pacers this year.

Most people projected him as a two guard, a slasher — the guy has been able to create his own shot since he was a high school sensation in New York. He was a top recruit who went to Cincinnati and… faded. He was a strong 6’5″ guard who just overpowered people in high school, then seemed to struggle with that in college. He didn’t look like a great athlete. That’s why he fell to the second round.

But in the run-and-gun Pacers system, O’Brien saw Stephenson playing the point, getting the ball in his hands as a scorer in transition.

One Summer League game counts about as much as the Electoral College votes from North Dakota, but if that is a bellwether it looked like O’Brien was right. And Stephenson was right about himself. Stephenson had 21 points on 8 of 10 shooting, plus he got to the line eight times.

He’s a scorer, but he made some smart passes as well. A guy who could come in off the bench and provide a scoring spark and quickly become a fan favorite. A guy who still has a little of that Rucker Park flash to his game (which also led to a couple poor decisions, you can bet O’Brien is not going to tolerate many of those moves).

But in a Summer League game – where guys should be busting it hard as they are playing to get noticed by scouts, both NBA and from Europe — Stephenson’s energy stood out.

Being a Summer League star is no indication of success. But it’s something, a sign of potential. And Stephenson has that. He could be a big boost to a Pacers team that lacked much spark at all last season.

Report: Rockets lure assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik out of retirement with ‘significant raise’

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After a slow start, the Rockets got assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik to come out of retirement.

How?

The usual way employers attract someone to a job.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

Fertitta was alarmed enough to personally recruit defensive guru Jeff Bzdelik, who retired just before training camp, to return, offering what sources say was a significant raise that pushed his salary to a range that ranks among the NBA’s highest-paid assistant coaches.

Good for Bzdelik using his leverage. He looked like a defensive whiz last season, and Houston slipped without him. Of course, personnel matters, too. There’s no guarantee these Rockets – minus Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute – reach last year’s defensive level.

Bzdelik has been back around the team, but isn’t working full-time yet. It’ll take a while to assess his impact on Houston.

And good for Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta paying up. Fertitta is still trying to determine the right amount for him to spend, but the team is better off if he’s willing to pay what’s necessary to attract the most desirable coaches.

Charles Barkley addresses Draymond Green-Kevin Durant dynamic (video)

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Want to hear an entertaining guy address an entertaining topic? Here you go.

Trae Young: I’ll be better than Luka Doncic

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Trae Young and Luka Doncic will be forever linked by their draft-night trade.

The Hawks took Doncic No. 3 then traded down with the Mavericks for No. 5 pick Young and a future first-round pick.

Young, via Andrew Sharp of Sports Illustrated:

“The thing with Luka,” Young says, “he’s a great player. I don’t understand why it can’t work out for both situations. I hear [Atlanta made a mistake] all the time. Luka’s a great dude, and I think he’s going to be a really good player. But at the same time, I’m going to be a better player. Just because of my ability to stretch the floor, get others involved, I think I’ll be better.”

Of course, Young was never going to say Doncic would be better than him. But Young didn’t have to address this so directly at all. By going out of his way to make such a bold statement, Young puts more pressure on himself.

So far, both Doncic and Young have impressed. I’ll still stick with Doncic, though. Enough to justify Dallas surrendering that extra first-round pick? That’s a far tougher call and the one the Hawks will be judged by.

Young doesn’t want that leniency, though. He’s aiming to be better than Doncic straight up and unafraid to say so publicly.

Markelle Fultz’s new free throw stroke is… different.

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Philadelphia’s Markelle Fultz is in his own head with his free throw stroke now. (And, likely much more than that, but we’ll stick with the free throws for now.)

Earlier this week Fultz double-clutched a free throw attempt and his stroke was a mess.

Each game that stroke seems to change and the latest one is… different. Very different.

As Vecenie notes, this is actually an improvement in terms of the release, but that doesn’t make it good. Fultz was 1-of-2 in his one trip to the stripe (as of this writing).

Still, I have never seen someone pass the ball back-and-forth between their hands as they go into their shooting motion like that. Very, very odd.