Three productive players who slipped through the cracks

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It’s not as easy for prospects to go under the radar as it once was. With improved technology, better analytics and easier scouting methods, productive players rarely go unnoticed anymore.

But that doesn’t mean every good NBA player gets drafted. An NBA GM once told me that his draft strategy in the second round was to, “absolutely to swing for the fences” and take a guy based on potential. While that makes sense, it also leads to teams whiffing on some capable role players. Although the paths of the following three players are different, they’re all providing productive minutes early on this season.

Brian Roberts, New Orleans Hornets

It’s understandable why Brian Roberts didn’t pass the eye test. He’s a 6-footer who weighs about 170 pounds, he’s not exceptionally quick, and he’s a fairly average athlete. If there’s one thing NBA teams are never hard up for, it’s small guards who score a lot but do little else. Those guys grow on trees.

But there’s something to be said for Roberts, who owns one of the purest strokes you’ll ever see. After hitting at least 41% from the 3-point line in four years at Dayton, Roberts went undrafted and played in Germany for three seasons with varying amounts of success. That’s not uncommon, but it didn’t scare Hornets GM Dell Demps off.

Roberts is the rare 27-year-old rookie, but he has a ton of polish to his game and he’s continuing to do what he always has at every stop. Roberts is scoring 17 points per36 minutes this year for New Orleans on 43 percent 3-point shooting, checking in with a solid PER of 16.2.

With fellow rookie Austin Rivers stinking up the joint (32 percent from the field), Roberts has been a pleasant surprise. He’s a responsible guard, but more importantly, he’s an instant source of offense for a team desperately in need of it on the perimeter.

P.J. Tucker, Phoenix Suns

You can safely call P.J. Tucker a journeyman already. After being named to the AP All-American team at Texas, Tucker played just 83 minutes in his rookie season with the Toronto Raptors way back in 2006. Immediately after that rookie year, Tucker went overseas and enjoyed a great deal of success, winning an MVP and bringing home a title in the Israeli league. Tucker continued to bounce around in Germany, Italy and elsewhere, before he landed back in the NBA with the Suns this season.

Tucker has always been a great defender and an incredibly hard worker, making up for his lack of height with a physical, relentless style. Similar to how Roberts is outplaying Rivers in New Orleans, Tucker has been more productive than Michael Beasley, who is somehow threatening to have more shot attempts than points scored this season.

It’s an overused cliché, but Tucker just seems to have a nose for the ball. 6-foot-5 small forwards don’t come around often, but Tucker uses his thick base incredibly well when carving out space under the rim. He’s kept a lot of possessions alive for a Suns team that needs all the chances they can get, and he might be their best individual defender.

Greg Smith, Houston Rockets

Keep an eye out on this kid. Although he lacks polish, Smith is a space eating big who has an offensive rebounding percentage of 14% this year, which would place him 11th among all NBA players had he played enough minutes this season. The second-year big man from Fresno State also has a PER of 20.9, and is scoring 16 points with 10 rebounds and two blocks per36 minutes.

Those are pretty impressive numbers for a guy who somehow went undrafted, and although he lacks an elite skill, Smith does have the biggest hands ever measured in Draft Express history, allowing him to snatch rebounds out of the air with ease, grab loose balls, and get his hands on a lot of shots you wouldn’t think he would.

Just 21-years-old with the physical tools and the glass eating demeanor to be successful, don’t be surprised see Smith continue to bloom in Houston, where Rockets GM Daryl Morey has seemingly once again found a diamond in the rough.

Dwyane Wade returns to Miami Heat after birth of child

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MIAMI (AP) — Dwyane Wade is back with the Miami Heat after missing nearly two weeks for the birth of his daughter.

Wade went through Miami’s gameday shootaround and will play Tuesday night against the Brooklyn Nets. He said his wife and their daughter are doing well, which allowed him to feel comfortable to resume his season.

“I’m going to obviously miss them,” Wade said. “It was tough leaving my little girl and my wife, but I’ve got to get back to work and I’ll see them again soon.”

Wade was away from the team for about two weeks because of the birth of his daughter. Wade and his wife Gabrielle Union-Wade welcomed Kaavia James Union Wade into the world on Nov. 7. Wade had been in Los Angeles with them since then, and flew back to Miami on Monday.

His return is most certainly welcome in Miami. The Heat went 2-5 in his time away, falling to 6-10 this season. They’ll play Tuesday without guards Goran Dragic (knee), Tyler Johnson (hamstring) and Dion Waiters (ankle recovery from last season).

“There’s a human element to this business and to the game and it is the most important thing,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “The connection, your spirit, your emotions, everybody getting on the same page, and just seeing Dwyane back here with the guys there was a tangible boost in the energy today in the shootaround.”

Wade is Miami’s third-leading scorer this season at 14.3 points per game. He was in his best stretch of the season when he got the call that his daughter was coming a few weeks earlier than planned.

He said he felt the frustration level his team was going through during their current slide, and he tried to keep in touch via texts and phone calls. Wade kept up conditioning while in Los Angeles, but knows it’ll take a little time to get back to the level of a few weeks ago.

“I was so excited for my daughter to come, but I was like, ‘Baby, you know, your dad was playing in a rhythm. You could have waited a little while,'” Wade said. “I was just getting my legs under me, but great things happened to make me miss time, and now I’m back.”

The baby was born via a surrogate, which is one of the reasons why Wade felt taking a brief paternity leave was necessary.

Parents of surrogate-carried babies are told the first few days after the birth are critical to forging deep bonds with their child. Lots of skin-to-skin contact and talking to the baby helps with the bonding.

So Wade needed time, and the Heat supported the plan.

“So much of this league is mood of the team and confidence,” Heat guard Josh Richardson said. “With him back, we’re definitely a lot more confident moving forward.”

Union-Wade – who revealed she had nine miscarriages in her 2017 book “We’re Going to Need More Wine” – has taken time off work to bond with the new arrival. She’s been filming an upcoming project in Los Angeles, and when she’s back on the set, Kaavia James will be close by.

“She was working right up until we got the call,” Wade said. “When she goes back, my daughter will be going back to the set with her. Her trailer is fit for everything, the baby’s safety, everything. So our baby will be there with her when she’s at work.”

Wade strongly considered retirement during the offseason because of the baby’s arrival, not making the decision to return until just before training camp in September. He questioned whether it was fair to his wife and their family to still be playing and traveling while raising a baby.

He also wondered if he could handle being away from his daughter for long stretches.

“We went through a lot to get here,” Wade said. “My family had to come first right now.”

 

Kevin Durant fined $25,000 for telling fan to “shut the f*** up”

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The percentage of players who would like to tell a courtside fan to “shut the f*** up” would be close to 100.

However, there are 25,000 reasons players don’t do that. Kevin Durant found out the hard way. During the Warriors loss in Dallas Monday, Durant was being heckled by fans along the baseline calling him “cupcake” (an old Russell Westbrook insult) and it got under KD’s skin enough that he told the fans to “watch the f****** game and shut the f*** up.”

The league office, it turns out, does not like it’s players talking to fans that way — at least when it’s caught on video — so Durant was fined $25,000 on Tuesday.

Fans taunting players with the hopes of catching a reaction on video is a growing trend in recent years around the NBA, and so far the league’s response to that has been to remind fans around the court they can be removed for what they are saying (with a postcard note on each seat).

Personally, if you choose to engage a player that way during a game, he has the right to fire back and say whatever he wants. If you want to get in the NBA trash talk game, you have to be able to take it, not just dish it. Those are not the ground rules, however, so KD gets a fine.

Only high schoolers who would’ve been consensus draft candidates to receive $125,000 minor-league offer

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The NBA’s minor league’s plan to offer players $125,000 salaries straight out of high school sparked two major questions:

  • Who will receive that offer?
  • Who will take it?

Former NBA player Rod Strickland and former WNBA player Allison Feaster will run the program, and they’re answering the first question.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The NBA is limiting eligibility for the professional path program to prep players who would be considered consensus candidates for the draft if there were no early entry rule to prohibit them. Feaster will work with a group that includes Strickland and the NBA’s basketball operations and player development staffs to evaluate the potential players.

“It will be elite prospects with a readiness for a professional league,” Feaster told ESPN. “We want to target players who would not be going to a university if it weren’t for the NBA eligibility rule. That’s more or less what’s going to dictate this.”

Feaster expects a “handful” of players to be part of the initial group in the professional path. Feaster and Strickland emphasized that the program will be judicious in choosing those eligible for the pro path opportunity.

For reference, 17 high schoolers were picked in the final two drafts (2004 and 2005) before the NBA implemented its one-and-done rule. So, that suggests about 8-9 players annually will get offered the $125,000 deal.

That still leaves the other question: Who will take it?

Kevin Durant said he wouldn’t have. Shoe companies are still spending the most money, and they’re heavily invested in the visibility of college basketball.

But every prospect’s situation is unique. With Strickland and Feaster in place, we’ll soon see how players receive this new path.

76ers sound caught off guard about Markelle Fultz stepping away

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Markelle Fultz has played in all 17 of the 76ers’ games this season, starting until they traded for Jimmy Butler. A couple weeks ago, Fultz called himself generally healthy.

Then, Fultz’s agent, Raymond Brothers, informed the 76ers the guard wouldn’t play or practice until visiting a specialist Monday. Fultz will miss at least three games – against the Pelicans, Cavaliers and Nets.

76ers coach Brett Brown:

It’s kind of the first real sort of red-flag-type news.

This news about his shoulder, it did catch me off guard. But if it’s that real that he needs to go seek further consultation, then we support him. In my eyes, it’s not complicated. If that’s what it is, then we’ll support him.

76ers general manager Elton Brand:

We thought it was the regular bumps and bruises.

There’s nothing that we saw medically that didn’t allow him to play.

This yet another odd turn in a saga that already included plenty of contentiousness, animosity, rumors and cringe-worthy moments. At this point, it’s hard to be shocked by anything with Fultz.

It’s also hard to take the 76ers seriously when they suggest it seemed like business as usual. Fultz’s shot is disturbingly broken. There is clearly a problem. Maybe letting Fultz play without fretting over the issue was the right course, but how surprised can Philadelphia be that he took a more drastic measure?

Hopefully, the specialist helps Fultz identify and fix this issue.