76ers and Jazz are ridiculously young – and that works for them

10 Comments

BOSTON – Jason Richardson knows plenty about losing.

He has spent 11 seasons in his 14-year career with losing teams. He has seen how losing tears teams apart, how it instills bad habits, how it fosters poor attitudes. He has played for multiple teams that were checked out mentally by this point in the season.

But he has never played for a team quite like these 76ers, who, by their 18-61 record, appear to resemble Richardson’s prior poor squads.

“Being on this team, guys not thinking they’re losers,” Richardson said. “And that’s a great sign.

“A lot of them haven’t gotten opportunity in the past. A lot of these guys have been in the D-League. A lot of guys just coming into the league. So, they try to take advantage of that. So, that’s what you want to see from young guys.”

Emphasis on young.

The 76ers, with an average age – weighted for playing time and set to each player’s age on Feb. 1 of a given season – of 23.2 are historically young. So are the Jazz, who have an average age of 23.4.

These teams are not just randomly stacked with young players. Their youth is fundamental to their identities.

Philadelphia is a full year younger on average than the NBA’s third-youngest team this season (Magic), and Utah also nearly clears that bar:

image

Historically, the 76ers rate as the fourth-youngest team-ever, and the Jazz are sixth.

Both teams have seen average age fluctuate as their rosters have churned, and here’s how the age of Philadelphia (red) and Utah (gold) has progressed through the season compared to the NBA’s previous youngest teams:

image

With roster compositions so different from the rest of the league, the 76ers and Jazz have their own styles.

“I won’t say it’s collegiate, but it’s…” Utah coach Quin Snyder, who previously coached Missouri, said, trailing off. Philadelphia coach Brett Brown describes the 76ers as a “program,” the college version of the NBA “franchise.”

If it’s not quite collegiate, it’s as close as the NBA gets.

The 76ers were nearly as young last season, when they finished with, to the point, the seventh-youngest average age in league history. Brown emphasized player development, and the Jazz are following suit – in ways older teams won’t.

Utah practices more often with contact and more frequently holds shootarounds.

“We try to squeeze every little bit out of every minute – whether it’s practice, shootaround, games, film,” Snyder said. “And that’s important, I think, for a group that doesn’t have experience. We’re going to try to gain it any way we can.”

Snyder and Brown both say they have stressed basic lessons, often repeating their message.

“If you haven’t done something a thousand times, you’ve done it 10 times, you need to keep doing it,” Snyder said. “So, the formation of habits, there’s a redundancy there that, for a player, can get old. And for our guys, it’s really a different type of mental toughness, to be able to come to work every day and grind and grind and grind. I always admired swimmers. To be able to to get in the pool and swim, that’s hard. We’ve asked our team to, some of the most mundane things that you associate with basketball, to commit to them and to commit to them with a level of precision. We’re not going to get better if we don’t do it right.”

And the Jazz have gotten better.

They’re 17-8 since the All-Star break, playing lights-out defense. Players are improving, perhaps nobody more so than Rudy Gobert.

The 76ers have their own success stories – including Nerlens Noel breaking out and Jerami Grant steadily improving – in this environment.

To whatever degree these teams got young because youth usually means losing, and losing means a better draft pick, they’re also committed to developing their players.

And it’s not as if these teams have gotten freakishly young on the individual level.

Aside from 19-year-old Dante Exum – the NBA’s fifth-youngest player behind Bruno Caboclo, Aaron Gordon, Noah Vonleh and James Young – there isn’t a teenager in the bunch.

Philadelphia’s youngest player, the 20-year-old Noel, isn’t even in his first year in the league.

But to balance this on the other end, the Jazz have nobody over 27.

Do they know which player is the oldest on Utah’s roster?

“Joe Ingles,” Elijah Millsap said.

“We’re tied,” Ingles said. “We’re kind of tied.”

“I’ll take Joe Ingles,” Millsap said. “He looks older.”

“My body is older,” Ingles admits with a twinge of pride.

“I do know that I’m the oldest,” Millsap finally conceded.

Millsap is correct. He’s a month and change older than than Ingles.

Having this discussion? Two rookies.

Unsurprisingly, Millsap is younger than any oldest player on a team in the NBA this season:

image

“We really don’t have a veteran on this team,” Millsap said. “I wouldn’t say a veteran, veteran – a super veteran.

“I think it’s better this way. Guys have to learn on their own, bump their head and, in the process, just continue to get better.”

Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors, both in their fifth seasons, are Utah’s most-experienced players. Trevor Booker and Jeremy Evans are also in their fifth years, but neither has played nearly as much.

Hayward says he and Favors embrace leadership roles despite being so young, but, he adds, “It’s definitely a weird situation.”

That strangeness can turn out well for involved, though.

“It’s kind of a blessing to be able to be kind of thrown into the fire,” said Hornets forward Marvin Williams, who was a rookie on the 2005-06 Hawks – the youngest team of all time. “You have to take your lumps when you’re learning on the fly like that.”

Williams looked up to veterans Tony Delk and Tyronn Lue on that team, but in many ways, he was on his own in a mostly young locker room. Playing back-to-backs for the first time, Williams wasn’t ready for the grind.

“I would take losses so hard,” Williams said. “When I would go home, my buddies would always tell me I was in such a bad mood all the time. I wouldn’t want to do anything. Sometimes, I wouldn’t sleep.”

There are advantages to having such young teams, though, especially when trying to develop chemistry.

“We have a lot of similar interests in just everyday things, from to music to the usual activities,” Noel said. “Everybody gets along so well. Everybody was in college so recently, so I think we’ve done a great job bonding and staying close-knit.”

But that process hasn’t come as easily for everyone in Philadelphia.

“It challenges you,” said Luc Mbah a Moute, the 76ers other established veteran, a 28-year-old and seven-year pro.

Which aspect is most challenging?

“Everything, pretty much,” Mbah a Moute said. “Just the grind of having to be patient and having to wait and see how those guys learn. They pretty much have to learn through mistakes.”

Though Mbah Moute said he enjoys seeing that process unfold, there are difficulties for him, especially when it comes to relating to his younger teammates.

“Definitely different. Definitely too young for me,” Mbah a Moute said. “But I’m not that old, so we still spend time, enjoy ourselves. Obviously, I’m not as wild as they are.”

Mbah a Moute certainly doesn’t seem to be working against the stream, but Richardson – Philadelphia’s oldest player, who received adult diapers from his teammates when he turned 34 earlier this year – sounds fully on board with the 76ers’ youth.

“They gave me inspiration, just the way the come in and work hard and love the game. They’re happy that they’re here, but they’re working still at the same time,” Richardson said. “I can remember that feeling as a young guy.”

Kawhi Leonard dunks on Luka Doncic, scores 36 to spark Clippers win

Leave a comment

DALLAS (AP) — The Dallas Mavericks brought back one big man but lost another Tuesday night, and in the end, they couldn’t rein in the reigning Finals MVP.

Kawhi Leonard scored 36 points, Landry Shamet hit two clutch 3-pointers late and the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Dallas Mavericks 110-107 Tuesday night for their fourth straight win.

Leonard also had the dunk of the night going right over Luka Doncic.

Dallas ended a four-game winning streak, and more importantly, lost a key piece in center Dwight Powell just as they welcomed back Kristaps Porzingis.

Powell went down to a non-contact, right Achilles tendon injury in the first quarter, and though he will have an MRI on Wednesday, the team is fearing a worst-case scenario.

“Guys like him define the culture we want here,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “It doesn’t get much tougher than this, if it ends up being what we fear it might.”

Luka Doncic had 36 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists for Dallas. He scored 24 points in the second half to help rally the Mavericks after they trailed by double digits from late in the second quarter through most of the third.

Shamet helped the Clippers seize the game late in the fourth quarter. His 3 from the left wing to give Los Angeles a 100-98 lead with 2:48 to play. Montrezl Harrell added two free throws, then Shamet sank another 3 from straight-on to put the Clippers up by seven. He finished with 18 points.

“We just kind of found a way to win,” Shamet said. “We’d loved to keep that lead the whole game, but that’s not how it’s going to be. It’s a long season. We got to find different ways how to win like we did tonight.”

Leonard added 11 in the fourth quarter, including his only 3 of the game with 1:15 left, which put the Clippers up 108-100.

But Dallas rallied, as Doncic hit a 3 and Maxi Kleber a dunk. After a Clippers turnover, Tim Hardaway Jr.‘s potential tying 3 spun around and out. JaMychal Green missed two free throws for LA, but then Doncic missed two – the second intentionally – and Leonard sealed it with two free throws.

 

Pelicans reportedly “really pulled back in trade talks” to focus on playoff push

Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Three-and-a-half games.

Despite an injury-riddled 17-27 first half of the season, the New Orleans Pelicans are just three-and-a-half games out of the playoffs in a surprisingly soft bottom of the Western Conference.

Combine that with the team going 11-5 in their last 16 games, plus getting Zion Williamson in the lineup starting Wednesday, and the Pelicans have gone from sellers at the trade deadline to a team standing pat and planning to make a playoff push, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Around the G-League showcase just before Christmas (when league executives gathered in Las Vegas) there was a lot of buzz about the Pelicans trading point guard Jrue Holiday or big man Derrick Favors to help with their rebuild around Williamson. However, the recent hot streak and the emergence of Brandon Ingram as an All-Star level player has the Pelicans reconsidering their plans.

Memphis sits in the eighth seed in the West and has played well of late (8-2 in its last 10) behind the emergence of Ja Morant. However, New Orleans, San Antonio, Phoneix, and Sacramento have all shown flashes in recent weeks and could make a run at the final playoff spot in the conference (or higher if some team fades from the pack). Every one of those teams is trying to decide whether to make trades for young players/picks at the deadline or make a playoff push (Portland is the one team that could do both because they will get Jusuf Nurkick, Zach Collins, and CJ McCollum back from injury).

David Griffin, the man with the hammer inside the Pelicans organization, has until the Feb. 6 trade deadline to decide whether to go for the playoffs or make trades looking for guys on Zion’s timeline. How the team looks in the next couple of weeks with Williamson back will play a big factor in that call.

Dallas’ Dwight Powell leaves game with Achilles injury and it looks bad (VIDEO)

Glenn James/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

This looks bad.

Hopefully it’s not what it looked like, but Dallas’ big man and critical role player Dwight Powell went down in the first half against the Clippers with a non-contact leg injury and will not return to the game with what the team is calling a right Achilles injury.

Here is a video of Powell going down as he plants to drive the lane; if you are at all squeamish this would be one to skip.

That looks a lot like a torn Achilles. Medical tests likely will confirm that tomorrow.

Powell is starting at center for the Mavericks, giving them 9.6 points and 5.7 rebounds a game, more importantly bringing toughness and doing the dirty work needed inside to allow Kristaps Porzingis to play his pick-and-pop game on the outside. Powell has become an important part of what is working in Dallas.

If this is a torn Achilles Powell is done for the season. This will ultimately mean more run for Maxi Kleber and Boban Marjanovic, plus it could send Dallas out into the market looking for another big man before the trade deadline.

Friends, family, former teammates of Delonte West trying to him find his way

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The conversation among Delonte West’s friends, family, and former teammates will sound familiar to people who have sat in living rooms or around dinner tables around the nation trying to find ways to help a friend or family member battling mental illness.

They offer help in a variety of ways — money, housing, a path to medical assistance through doctors — but can be frustrated at every turn as those steps fail to help.

West has been out of the league for seven seasons, but his challenges with bipolar disorder — something he announced he had during his playing days — have not ended. Last weekend, a disturbing video of West being attacked and beaten on a Washington D.C. street surfaced. It was followed by a second video showing West handcuffed and talking to the police, where West used graphic and disturbing language to accuse another man of pulling a gun on him. Legally, nothing came of the incident.

However, it showed how much West continues to struggle. A lot of people from the NBA family have tried to help West, but have been frustrated by the results, something Shams Charania wrote about at The Athletic.

Professional basketball allowed West to have structure in his life, to have a level of stability. According to those close to him, that has gone by the wayside since he exited the NBA…

Former teammate Jameer Nelson is one of many people who have witnessed West’s post-career distress and offered help. The National Basketball Players Association has maintained close contact with West and made itself available as a resource. His college coach at Saint Joseph, Phil Martelli, and West’s former player agent, Noah Croom, have been in communication with each other — and West — about providing him support. The same can be said for the Celtics and Mavericks. Both Boston GM Danny Ainge and Dallas owner Mark Cuban have been in direct contact at various points, according to those close to West.  They all want him to find his place in life, and they want to be a helping hand when needed.

The NBPA helped facilitate his residence change from Dallas to Maryland in recent years and extensively supported him financially, as recently as this month, according to sources. Ainge and the Celtics have given him a scouting job to scout games in the D.C. and East Coast area, sources said, but West has had mixed results due to fluctuating attendance. His close friends and family have all stepped in whenever they could.

As has happened with so many families around the nation, all that support and love has not been enough, it has not had the desired impact.

Nelson, West’s former St. Joseph’s teammate, posted this on Twitter over the weekend:

Delonte West announced he had bipolar disorder back in 2008, during his eight-season NBA career — a career that was cut short in part by a series of actions and lack of reliability (from teams’ perspectives) likely tied to his condition.

There is no shortage of love and concern for West, and there are a lot of people who want to help. How to help, and if he will accept that help, are very different questions. Ones a lot of people can relate to.