Aaron Gordon trying to make jump from great dunker to great player

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Two Aaron Gordon stories:

1. The first comes from Pistons rookie Stanley Johnson, who played with and against Gordon growing up in California. They were AAU teammates when Gordon attempted a 360 windmill dunk but over-jumped it, spun too far around and missed the slam with his arm at a crooked angle.

“I was puzzled, like, ‘Why didn’t you just lay it up?'” Johnson said. “That’s just the way he is. He’s competitive. Every time he goes out, he wants to prove that he’s one of the guys. And that’s why I think he’ll be successful in the league, because he’s going to work hard, and he’s obsessed with being great.”

2. The other comes directly from Gordon. After his captivating performance in the dunk contest, he missed a couple layups in the Magic’s next practice.

“Everyone looked at me like, why aren’t you dunking it?” Gordon said. “I kind of looked at myself like, why am I not dunking it?”

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Gordon smiled wide and nodded confidently, lifting his built arms up and down to urge the crowd to get louder. I’m not sure it could’ve. Led by a group of delirious All-Stars in the front row, everyone was going wild.

All for Gordon.

For a moment on All-Star Saturday Night, Gordon might have been the NBA’s most popular player. Though he’d eventually lose in a second extra round to Zach LaVine, Gordon’s under-the-legs dunk after grabbing the ball from the Magic’s mascot highlighted the dunk contest and pushed Gordon onto the national stage.

But, for the all the popularity he gained that night, Gordon is still just a role player averaging 9.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game on a bad team. As the dunk contest showed, he has potential to do so much more.

His great challenge is finding a balance between unleashing and harnessing his athleticism.

“I have a lot of tools in my bag,” Gordon said. “I just want to polish them.”

The Magic appear more committed than ever to helping Gordon do just that. The No. 4 pick in the 2014 draft, Gordon moved into the starting lineup late last January. A few weeks later, Orlando traded two others who were taking minutes at power forward, Tobias Harris and Channing Frye. Combined with his dunk-contest showing, it’s been a whirlwind for Gordon.

“That’s what makes the NBA so much fun,” Gordon said. “It’s always new for me, and I think it always be. That’s what’s exciting about life, not knowing and then embracing the challenge head on.”

The dunk contest often includes up-and-coming players, and Gordon fits the profile. He could follow a well-worn path of players who participated in a dunk contest then reached their first All-Star game in a future season:

Yet, there’s a major disconnect between Gordon’s potential and production.

With his athleticism, Gordon could terrorize opponents defensively, clean up on the glass and hammer dunk after dunk. At times, he does. But it’s definitely not a regular occurrence yet.

Here’s how Gordon ranks in a few key stats that he could theoretically dominate, ties represented by the range of tied players. Among 281 regulars this season (minimum: 40 games and 15 minutes per game), Gordon’s ranks:

  • Block percentage: 62-64
  • Steal percentage: 112-136
  • Offensive rebound percentage: 44
  • Defensive rebound percentage: 45-46
  • Field-goal percentage at rim: 73

Gordon has been tremendous one game, dismal the next. He’s too often passive, floating on the perimeter offensively or guarding conservatively defensively. The result is middling total production.

“He’s too good of an athlete,” Magic coach Scott Skiles said. “And he and I talk about it all the time, and he readily admits he’s still getting used to the pace of the season and back-to-backs. There’s all kinds of stuff going on.”

Skiles even said it could take Gordon “a handful of years” to develop proper consistency.

Thankfully for Gordon, time is on his side.

Just 20, the second-year pro is younger than most 2015 first-round picks. He’s still the 17th-youngest player to play in the NBA this season. Here are the league’s 30 youngest players – rookies in blue, second-year players in silver and a third-year player (Giannis Antetokounmpo) in black:

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The only second-year player younger than Gordon is Bruno Caboclo, and the Raptors barely use him. Heck, the other four second-year players who are still 20 – Noah Vonleh, James Young, Damien Inglis and Caboclo – have combined to play fewer minutes this season than Gordon.

Gordon could use the experience.

He missed 32 games as a rookie with a foot fracture, and a fractured jaw slowed him during the offseason.

“You’re very lucky if life goes according to your own plan,” Gordon said. “Obviously, my rookie wasn’t how I wanted it to go, but it was exactly what I needed.

“I got to see the game from a different perspective. I understand more now how to take care of your body, how to work smarter as opposed to harder.”

Gordon comes across as incredibly level-headed, a trait that has helped him after the dunk contest. He says people tell him every day that he should’ve won the dunk contest, but he leaves it at: “It could’ve went either way.”

“It’s cool, because I got called the people’s champion,” Gordon said. “It was a little controversy over the dunk contest. It’s alright. Nobody lost.”

It’s a wise assessment.

LaVine took the hardware, but Gordon gained so much. The spotlight is on him now, road fans cheering when he’s introduced as a starter. Expectations are already soaring for next year’s dunk contest.

Will Gordon’s production match his dunking by then? Odds are against it, but maybe by the following year or the year after. Gordon’s youth works in his favor, as does Orlando’s commitment to developing him.

“We’ll stick with him,” Skiles said. “We think he’s getting better all the time”

Nike, Kyrie Irving part ways, making him a sneaker free agent

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
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Here’s the positive spin for Kyrie Irving: He will have the chance to remake his situation into something he’s more comfortable with during 2023. As a player, he will be an unrestricted free agent and can choose where he wants to play in coming seasons (how many teams are interested and for how many years will be interesting to see).

Irving also is a sneaker free agent — Nike has cut ties with him, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Irving is happy with this.

The separation is not a surprise. Nike suspended its relationship with Irving after he Tweeted out support for an antisemitic film, did not apologize (at first), and was suspended by the Nets. Here was the company’s statement at that time:

“At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of antisemitism. To that end, we’ve made the decision to suspend our relationship with Kyrie Irving effective immediately and will no longer launch the Kyrie 8. We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation and its impact on everyone.”

Nike founder Phil Knight said it was likely the end of the company’s relationship with Irving.

That’s not a small thing by Nike, Irving has had a signature shoe line since 2014 and is reported to have a deal with Nike worth more than $10 million a season because his shoes are popular. However, his contract with the shoe giant was set to end in October 2023, and there had been reports Nike did not plan to extend that deal before this current controversy started.

Nike is already looking in a new direction, at Ja Morant.

Irving now has the chance to choose his new direction.

 

Cavaliers’ Dean Wade to miss 3-4 weeks due to shoulder injury

NBA: NOV 06 Cavaliers at Lakers
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In Cleveland’s search for a fifth starter to play the three next to Darius Garland, Donovan Mitchell, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, Dean Wade might be the best of the group. Not that the numbers are great for him or anyone (Cedi Osman is the best statistically) but the eye test makes one think Wade could be the answer.

We’ll have to wait a while to find out as Wade will be out 3-4 weeks with an AC joint sprain in his left shoulder, the Cavaliers announced. Friday night against the Magic he suffered an aggravation to a previous injury.

Wade has been a quality floor-spacer for the Cavaliers this season, shooting 41.1% from three, and is averaging 6.4 points and 4.1 rebounds a game, playing a little more than 24 minutes a night.

When he returns, hopefully coach J.B. Bickerstaff will give him a little more run with the rest of the Cavaliers core (when they are healthy).

Donovan Mitchell is not looking back on summer, says now is happiest he’s been in league

Cleveland Cavaliers v New York Knicks
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The New York Knicks chose not to go all-in last summer and bring Donovan Mitchell home. The kid who played his AAU games in Manhattan and grew up a Knicks fan watching games at the Garden was open to it, but the Knicks lowballed the offer and Koby Altman and the Cavaliers swooped in.

Mitchell returned to New York Sunday, but he wasn’t looking back — he’s happy where he is now in Cleveland, on one of the up-and-coming teams in the league. Via Stephan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

“What’s done is done, and I’m happy as hell to be where I’m at,” he said. “At the end of the day, this decision was made and I don’t think I’ve been happier since I’ve been in the league. But I think for me it’s always going to be motivation to come back and play well in my hometown, but you could say that about anybody. But with what happened this summer, it’s over with, it happened and I’m happy to be with the Cavaliers.”

Whether Rose holding back picks — concerned about having enough ammunition to bring in the next star to New York to go with Mitchell — was a mistake will play out over time. It depends on what bold move Rose makes next with the roster. Whatever decision he makes will be compared to the “what if” of Mitchell, fair or not.

Mitchell has been better than expected in Cleveland — averaging 28.4 points a game shooting 42.1% on 3-pointers — and has fit beautifully in the backcourt with Darius Garland, as well as with the front line of Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley. Together those four form the cornerstone of a team that could contend for a title in the coming years. Mitchell is loving every minute of it.

That group (minus Allen, who remains out with a lower back contusion) wasn’t enough on Sunday against a desperate Knicks team. New York got the 92-81 win behind 23 from Jalen Brunson (Mitchell also had 23).

 

Three things to know: Anthony Davis, Lakers playing up to Darvin Ham’s vision

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Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Anthony Davis, Lakers playing up to Darvin Ham‘s vision

“This is not going to work without AD. No disrespect to Bron, no disrespect to Russ. They’re going to be who they are… but AD, having AD available…. it’s going to be invaluable. He’s the centerpiece to that championship table we’re trying to build.” —Lakers coach Darvin Ham before NBA training camps opened. 

This is what Darvin Ham envisioned.

In his last five games, Anthony Davis is averaging 35.6 points on 66.7% shooting with 13.4 rebounds and 3.2 blocks a game. He has been dominant for a few weeks now — and his 55-point game leading the Lakers to a win over the Wizards on Sunday put him in historic company.

Ham wanted to run the offense through Davis, which LeBron James was good with, but that required him to both be healthy and embrace playing the five. Davis has done that, limiting his threes and attacking the paint (and getting the foul line in the process).

What Ham envisioned was more than just Davis playing the five and going back to an All-NBA — if you ask Patrick Beverley or Kristaps Porzingis after the game, MVP — level, it’s that the rest of the team would follow.

So far it has. In its last 11 games, the Lakers are 8-3 with the third-best offense in the NBA and a top-10 defense over that stretch, with a +7.2 net rating. What’s more, the shooting woes that dragged them down early in the season have also righted themselves.

This hot streak started against a soft part of the schedule, but road wins over the Bucks and Wizards show it isn’t a fluke. This is a team gaining confidence, and while it likely will not sustain this level of success for the remaining five months of the season, it’s a sign of what this team is capable of when clicking.

Los Angeles also still has a lot of work to do. Even with this recent run they are 10-12 and sit 12th in the West — they have to keep this going long enough to get into the playoff mix. Then we can discuss what kind of postseason threat they are.

Two Wizards notes out of their loss to the Lakers Sunday.

First, Bradley Beal left the game in the first quarter with hamstring tightness. He did not return and after the game there wasn’t much of an update on whether he will miss time, and if so how much. It’s not a good sign for a Wizards team without much margin for error.

Also, Daniel Gafford had maybe the dunk of the year. This is insane.

2) Damian Lillard returns to court and Trail Blazers

With Damian Lillard sidelined by a strained calf, the Trail Blazers dropped 7-of-8 and fell to .500 on the season (11-11). They were not the same team.

Sunday he returned — looking unbothered by any calf issue — and suddenly the ball was moving again, and the offense clicking in a win over the Pacers. Lillard was 5-of-10 from 3 on his way to 21 points, but just his presence opened up the offense so Jerami Grant could score 28. Anfernee Simons, coming off his insane 45-point night, added 22.

Lillard doesn’t have to carry Portland, he doesn’t have to drop 40 every night to have a chance to win (see Doncic, Luka). Grant and Simons can help carry the scoring load. But this is also a team without much margin for error, so they struggle without the threat of Lillard, the floor shrinks and the ball doesn’t move the same way.

With Lillard back, the Trail Blazers are a threat every night. In a tight West — the Trail Blazers are tied with the Clippers and Warriors for the sixth seed — they can’t afford any more slumps like the recent one. And they can’t afford to be without Lillard for an extended stretch.

3) Does he have a puncher’s chance? Floyd Mayweather wants to buy NBA team

The instinct is to bet against Floyd Mayweather ever owning an NBA team for a couple of reasons, but when you’re talking about a boxer with a 50-0 career record, bet against him at your own risk.

Mayweather said at a recent public event he was working to buy an NBA team and has made a $2 billion offer for one.

“I’ve been working on buying a NBA team outright. One of my other business partners, Brent Johnson, he’s here. So we’ve been working on the NBA team for a while now. It’s kinda, it’s rough…

“It could be the Vegas franchise. It could be the Seattle franchise or I could be buying a franchise that’s already up and running. So the first offer, we offered them a little over $2 billion for majority ownership. Do I have it? Absolutely, I have it, but it didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t happen overnight. It’s a lot when you have so many different businesses all around the world. It’s a lot.”

There are two key questions about Mayweather’s being able to purchase an NBA team.

The first is, does he really have the money? Mayweather says he does, and last year said his net worth was above $1.2 billion. Whether that is true, and whether that money is liquid or if it’s tied up in speculative investments, is not something we know (it’s not like Mayweather has to make his financial situation public). However, you can be sure it’s something the NBA would have its accountants look into — Mayweather would have to open his books to them to get into the club.

The second issue is Mayweather’s history of controversies — including homophobic comments and pleading guilty to domestic violence charges. The NBA vets its owners looking to avoid public relations blowback, and you can be sure a Mayweather ownership would lead to a lot of hard questions for a league that paints itself as progressive.

Even if he has the $2 billion and the league approves him, Mayweather will need partners in this process. The only NBA team publicly known to be for sale is the Phoenix Suns and the sale price for that may be double the $2 billion number Mayweather threw out. As for potential expansion teams (probably headed to Seattle and Las Vegas), those are years away according to league sources (think the second half of this decade), and the entry price to get into those is going to be well above $2 billion.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: Jose Alvarado put up a 38-spot for the Pelicans and had the New Orleans fans singing his name.