How Rodney Hood used his redshirt year at Duke to transform into possible lottery pick

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CHICAGO — Among 2014 NBA Draft prospects, Rodney Hood has the unique experience of being one of the few early entrants who transferred schools and had a redshirt year.

After Hood spent his freshman season at Mississippi State under former head coach Rick Stansbury in 2011-12, the native of Meridian, Mississippi opted to transfer to Duke and sit out a season before having a solid sophomore campaign in the ACC in 2013-14.

Most early entrants in the NBA Draft aren’t likely to transfer or take a redshirt year — required by NCAA rules for transfer students that don’t get granted a waiver — like Hood did, but the lefty wing told NBCSports.com that transferring to Duke and sitting out a season before 2013-14 was the right move for him.

“The year I sat out was great for me. A lot of people back home say, ‘why did you do that? You could have been a star at State,’ but I wanted more for myself and sitting out gave me a chance to learn a lot from the seniors we had,” Hood said to NBCSports.com. “I learned a lot and got a lot stronger, stayed in the gym and it carried over to the next season because I think I had a really good season.”

Hood was good enough to earn 2012 All-SEC Freshman Team honors in his one and only season at Mississippi State, but the 6-foot-8 wing’s game took another leap after sitting out a year at Duke. Hood averaged 10.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and two assists per game for the Bulldogs, but saw his scoring average rise to 16.1 points per game at Duke last season while also tallying 3.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game.

Shooting percentages also skyrocketed for Hood at Duke. As a freshman, Rodney shot 44 percent from the field, 36 percent from the three-point line and 65 percent from the free-throw line. At Duke, those numbers increased to 46 percent from the field, 42 percent from three-point range and 80 percent from the free-throw line. The growth of Hood’s offensive game has put him in position to be a potential lottery pick in this year’s draft.

“My freshman year I was more of just a mid-range shooter. In the year off I really extended my range to the three-point line and I’ve really extended it now,” Hood said. “Mentally, it was tough. Just sitting out, knowing that you could be playing. But it was the right plan for me and I feel good about it.”

Also factoring into Hood’s improvement as a player was the demanding nature of the Duke coaching staff. Hood specifically cited former Duke assistant coach and new Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowski as a major factor in his development.

“Coach Wojo is my guy. He coaches like he used to play back in the day. Fiery, passionate and whoever gets a chance to play for him at Marquette is going to have a great time because he loves the game and he knows the game,” Hood said.

After transferring into the program, Hood recalled when Wojo went off on him in a workout for going at his own pace. The experience helped show Hood how to handle things when going through practice.

“I had my first encounter [with Wojciechowski] the year I was sitting out,” Hood said. “The first workout when we had a game — the first game — and I came out there and I was shooting shots and kind of at my own pace and he slammed the ball down and went, ‘Hood! What the blank are you doing?’ and just went off and we’ve had a great relationship ever since then.”

Also receiving credit from Hood was Coach K’s style of play with Duke’s wings. The freedom that the Blue Devil offense gives talented wing players like Hood gives those wings a chance to flourish.

“Coach doesn’t put wing players in a box — and I consider Jabari a wing too. He allows me to post up, allows you to come off ball screens. If you can play, you can play; and that’s a reason I went to Duke,” Hood said.

Playing at Duke under an intense coaching staff in a league like the ACC has helped prepare Hood for the NBA Draft process as he goes through workouts and tries to answer some questions about his game.

“When I first got out there there was a lot of jitters. Now the jitters are gone once you get going and it’s great,” Hood said. “This is everybody’s [dream] journey and I’m fulfilling it now.”

Scott Phillips is a regular contributor to CollegeBasketballTalk at NBCSports.com. Follow him on twitter @phillipshoops.

James Harden came to Rico Hines run at UCLA and just destroyed people

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Elite NBA defenders, with a team and a game plan behind them, can’t slow down James Harden.

So imagine what happens when he shows up for an open run.

One spot a lot of NBA players head in the summer to get some games in is Rico Hines’ games at UCLA. Harden showed up and, well, you know what comes next. Via Ball is Life.

The man is so smooth, so under control, and just able to get buckets however he wants. It’s just fun to watch. Unless you’re an opposing coach.

Could Kevin Durant return from torn Achilles, play for Nets this season? Maybe…

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Every case is different, but many players return from a torn Achilles in about nine to 10 months. Kobe Bryant pushed and did it in eight. Other players will take a full year.

If Kevin Durant returned in nine months it would be March, enough time to get in game shape and be ready for the Nets’ playoff run.

There’s a growing sense from teams we could see just that scenario, and Spencer Dinwiddie talked about it with Brian Lewis of the New York Post.

Though Nets GM Sean Marks refused to rule Durant out for the season, the feeling within the league is trending toward him potentially playing this season.

“I know KD is taking the rehab process ultra-serious. He wants to come back as soon as it’s appropriate, and healthy and the right decision for him, and then also subsequently that would also be the right decision for,” said Dinwiddie, who points out that even a slightly-diminished Durant could still be a superstar.

“The beautiful part about this is, the man is 7-foot and one of the best shooters of all time. At worst you get Dirk [Nowitzki], and Dirk was a monster. So we’re ready for him to come back whenever he wants to and whenever he’s ready to do so, and we know that he’s going to be a phenomenal major piece of our roster.”

Durant is an intense competitor who wants to get back on the court. He pushed to get back from a calf injury and play in the NBA Finals only to suffer the Achilles tear. He’s smart enough to be sure he’s all the way back before he steps on the court, if that means he sits out a full season so be it. However, he absolutely could return this season.

If he’s back, the Nets go from interesting team to potential threat to the Bucks and Sixers at the top of the conference. Durant was the best player in the world the past couple of years and he could return to that status quickly, and lift Brooklyn up with him.

Will Toronto give Pascal Siakam a max extension?

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In his third year in the league last season, Pascal Siakam made a leap. He averaged 16.9 points and 6.9 rebounds a game, shot 36.9 percent from three, became a shot creator, played quality wing defense, and he was a key part of the Raptors earning the right to have a parade and hoist a championship banner. He earned that Most Improved Player trophy.

Siakam is Toronto’s future after a summer where Kawhi Leonard left.

Siakam also is eligible for an extension right now.

Should the Raptors give him the max of five years, $170 million? A number of executives around the league told Frank Urbina of Hoopshype that Siakam may be worth that number.

A Western Conference coach agreed: “With Toronto in the situation that they’re in, no longer having Kawhi Leonard or Danny Green, Pascal Siakam may be a safe bet for them and they may want to give him a max extension to lock him up. I’ve been impressed with his development; he’s improved into a highly, highly serviceable player who’s very efficient and does a lot for that team. From the outside looking in, it seems like he’ll be able to continue his development too. He seems highly motivated and very grateful to be in the situation he’s in and he doesn’t take anything for granted.”

Is “highly serviceable” worth the max? The two players who got that money this summer were Ben Simmons in Philly and Jamal Murray in Denver. Most of the GMs spoken to for the article would try to extend him for less than the full max.

“I think they’re going to try to extend him,” one current Eastern Conference GM said. “I haven’t talked to Toronto, but he’s obviously a huge piece for them, helped them win a championship, he’s getting better, he’s young, he’s athletic and he can shoot. They’re going to try to extend him. Do I think he’s a max player? No. Do I think he’s a good player? Certainly. It’ll come down to what he thinks he’s worth, and I’m sure his agents have called around to see what kind of offers he could get if he enters restricted free agency.”

Another Western Conference executive agreed that he’s not worth the max, telling HoopsHype: “Out of Pascal Siakam, Jaylen Brown, Brandon Ingram and Buddy Hield, [the main candidates remaining for a rookie-scale extension], I don’t think any of them will get the max or deserve the max. If I was running each team, I would force them to play it out. In some situations, keeping their cap holds is so much more beneficial. You should only extend if you get a below-market-value deal or if it’s a no-brainer extension.”

If the Raptors come in at less than the max with an offer, Siakam may just want to play out this season and head into restricted free agency next summer. If he has another strong season, when he hits the market in a down year for free agents he may find a team willing to make a max or near max offer and Toronto will have to match or let him walk. Essentially, Siakam would bet on himself.

We’ll see if Toronto and Siakam’s people can find a number that works for both sides, the deadline is Oct. 21. The sides are talking, but its more likely this rolls into next summer.

Alex Abrines says Russell Westbrook stood by him through mental health issues

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Alex Abrines is a big fan of Russell Westbrook the person.

Westbrook takes some hits as a selfish teammate from some quarters of NBA fandom, but Abrines had to leave the Thunder due to personal, mental health issues and said Westbrook stood by him. This is from an interview with Basket en Movistar+, via Eurohoops.

“He’s a very nice guy. He helped me a lot especially in the first year. In most of our trips we did something together, watch a movie, have dinner. When I went through all this and did not travel with the team, he kept in touch. He asked me to meet him for dinner. He cared for the person beyond the player. He calmly told me what I should do noting that he would support me if I decided to leave.”

“Athletes are normal people, but are pressured above average. Medication helps, but at the end of the day you must seek professional aid, discuss with friends and family, move forward with their support” adds Abrines on his illness, “It is a different kind of pain. Physical pain is something you can see and feel. Mental pain can not be observed and can not be treated like an injured knee for example. If you don’t go through something similar, you can’t realize it. In the end of the day, money is not above everything. Until it happens, you don’t realize that you don’t give a shit about money.”

Abrines signed with FC Barcelona, but could not travel with the team to all its games last season. He’s still on his path to wellness, and hopefully he gets there.

We tend to think of professional athletes in two dimensions, focusing on how they entertain us or help our fantasy teams. However, as Abrines notes, they are ordinary people with families and challenges, including mental health issues. More and more players are willing to speak out about that, but having friends — not just teammates, but real supporters like Westbrook was here — is also a big help.