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NBA teams paying closer attention to players’ wingspan

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Not until Nate McMillan began being fitted for custom-made suits a few years into his NBA career three decades ago did he understand just how far his arms reached.

When Bill Walton dominated at UCLA in the 1970s, no one ever measured his wingspan – from fingertips to fingertips and arms outstretched.

Neither knew their wingspans then, and they still don’t. That is not the case for young players.

“Yeah, I found that out once I bought my first suit,” the 6-foot-5 McMillan, a 12-year pro now coaching the Pacers, said with a chuckle, realizing his arms stretched more than 3 feet each.

Once limited to descriptions of birds, wingspan has become one of the most important measurements for basketball prospects over the past decade. Coaches marvel at players with long arms, figuring they will more easily grab rebounds, block shots, steal passes and shoot over defenders.

The average man has a wingspan about 2 inches more than his height. But several NBA players pop off the chart because of their long arms.

It’s no coincidence that Jazz center Rudy Gobert, who stands 7-1 and led the NBA in blocks last season, has the longest wingspan in the league at 7 feet, 9 inches.

The NBA playoffs begin Saturday, and an extra inch of reach can lead to a blocked shot or steal that might alter a series or a season.

Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo is nicknamed the “Greek Freak” in part because he stands 6-11 with a 7-3 wingspan and giant hands. The explosive Russell Westbrook is 6-3, with a wingspan of 6-8, which helps him be one of the best rebounding guards in history.

“Every asset that a player has might make up for something else. If somebody’s short, hopefully they’re quick. The wingspan sure helps a lot of people,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said . “You look at size of hands, wingspans. Look at John Stockton’s arms or Avery Johnson’s arms and they’re very long, and their hands are very big. They can control the basketball, they can do things with it.

“A wingspan always helps people, whether it’s blocking shots or deflections on defense.”

In recent seasons, Warriors high-scoring All-Star Kevin Durant has become more determined to use his 7-5 wingspan to make more of an impact on defense.

Durant, the reigning NBA Finals MVP , is quick to point out that his length allows him to make up for other areas, including being far leaner than most NBA players.

“You make up a lot of ground. I’m not as fast laterally, I’m not as athletic, I’m not as quick as guys up and down but I think I make up for it with my length,” said Durant, a defensive player of the year candidate. “There’s a lot of guys, Draymond (Green) is the same way, small, undersized power forward but can guard plenty of guys because of his length. His arms are long and he can block shots. We’ve seen him block guys at the rim and also get his hands on some basketballs off the dribble.”

Raised in France, Gobert kept growing from ages 15-19. He didn’t often hear the term wingspan, finally understanding how special his measurement is when he got to the NBA.

“I think it’s something that makes a big difference, especially defensively,” he said. “You’re able to deflect the pass or block shots.”

Warriors 7-foot center JaVale McGee went through only a handful of pre-draft workouts for NBA teams, hardly a prized prospect after a career at Nevada. Yet each visit he made, among the first things measured was his wingspan, 7-6.

One of the benefits is his ability to corral and slam home lob passes that are high and might be off target. Before he got to the NBA, McGee wasn’t even aware of his wingspan.

“I’ve always been tall. I was born tall,” he said. “It’s nothing that I heard about until I got to the league, or right before I got into the league, they’re like, `We’d like to measure your wingspan.’ They don’t really bring it up to us about that in college or high school.”

Walton is in the Hall of Fame, but he never had his arms measured end to end.

“At one time, they were long enough, and I can still put my own shoes and socks on,” he quipped. “It’s not how big you are, it’s how big you play. Any time you think you’re too small to make a difference in the world you’ve never spent the night alone in bed with a mosquito. But when you have the great game of basketball with all the ultimate winners of the genetic lottery … it’s not how high you jump, it’s where you are and when you jump.”

Wingspan is one detail Warriors coach Steve Kerr takes seriously and might consider when deciding on lineups and rotations for the defending champions. He has been going with a center by committee based on matchups.

Some of the best players Kerr faced had incredible reach.

“It’s legit. It’s much more important than your height,” Kerr said. “If your wingspan is more than your height, that’s kind of abnormal. Most of us have the same wingspan as our height. That’s kind of a rule of thumb. A lot of basketball players don’t, though, they have wider wingspans. And they’re able to get their hands on balls or shots or loose balls. … I’m a big believer in that.”

 

Report: Lakers eager to use LeBron James at center flanked by top four young players

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Why did the Lakers, after securing LeBron James, sign Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson? Their explanation leaves plenty to be desired.

What will the Lakers do with Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma now that none of those four are being traded for Kawhi Leonard? Their plan there is far more intriguing.

Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report:

“We may not see this on day one, but the coaching staff is eager to see our version of the [Warriors’] Death Lineup with Lonzo [Ball], Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, [Kyle] Kuzma and LeBron,” a second Lakers executive said.

LeBron at center is a dangerous weapon. The Cavaliers showed it more during the 2017 playoffs – to positive effect.

But LeBron isn’t Draymond Green, who makes Golden State’s Death/Hamptons Five Lineup function. Green possesses a unique combination of rim protection and – through his ball-handling and especially passing – ability to get into offense quickly. LeBron isn’t as good at protecting the paint, and though he’s lethal in transition when he wants to be, he’ll be fighting years of slow-down habits.

I also wonder how much LeBron embraces the physical toll of playing center. The Lakers have only JaVale McGee, Ivica Zubac and Mo Wagner at the position. Are they banking on LeBron playing there a significant amount during the regular season?

LeBron would likely accept the role more enthusiastically in the playoffs. But Ball, Hart, Ingram and Kuzma will be tested – at least initially – by the heightened level of play. I’d be wary of overly relying on that lineup.

But this is the best way for the Lakers to get talent on the floor and overcome spacing concerns. I’m absolutely excited to see it in action. Whatever concerns I have about it are only multiplied with other potential Lakers lineups.

Report: Nuggets lottery pick Michael Porter Jr. undergoes another back surgery

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Michael Porter Jr. underwent back surgery in November, missed nearly his entire freshman season at Missouri then slipped to No. 14 in the draft amid injury concerns.

The Nuggets have been noncommittal about their plans for Porter, but they’ve given an eyebrow-raising update.

Nuggets release:

Michael Porter Jr. has undergone surgery of the lumbar spine at The Carrell Clinic in Dallas, Tex. The Procedure was performed by Dr. Andrew Dossett. There is no timetable for his return to basketball participation.

Porter is a talented forward with the length and skill to make a major impact as a scorer.

But, as this latest surgery underscores, drafting him carried terrifying risk. Denver will have to bear that for a while.

Report: Dirk Nowitzki to re-sign with Mavericks for $5 million

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Dirk Nowitzki is set to play his 20th season – breaking Kobe Bryant’s record for most seasons with a single franchise and tying Kevin Garnett, Robert Parish and Kevin Willis for most seasons in the NBA.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks declined Nowitzki’s $5 million team option, but he was never signing elsewhere. He was either going to retire or play for Dallas.

Once he decided to return, the only question was money.

The Mavericks declined Nowitzki’s option to maximize their flexibility for upgrades, namely signing DeAndre Jordan. Once Yogi Ferrell agreed to an absurdly team-friendly contract, Dallas had enough cap space left to give Nowitzki his team-option amount. If necessary, he would have taken the $4,449,000 room exception.

Nowitzki has had a great career, and this could be his farewell tour. But he also remains a helpful rotation-level player. Though he’s a defensive liability, his outside shooting as a big goes a long way toward floor spacing.

Report: Mavericks re-signing Yogi Ferrell for less than qualifying-offer salary with second year unguaranteed

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The Mavericks expected Yogi Ferrell to accept his qualifying offer.

Turns out, they’ll keep him on an even more team-friendly deal than the one he could have unilaterally signed.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

This is an awful deal for Ferrell.

As reported, he’ll earn between $2,548,077 and $2,760,417 next season. That range is less than his qualifying offer – which would have paid him a fully guaranteed $2,919,204 next season.

That reduction is acceptable if Ferrell got something in exchange – but he gave Dallas the concession by adding an unguaranteed second year. If he plays well, the Mavericks will keep him at a cheap salary. If he doesn’t, they’ll waive him for no cost. They have all the control.

The promise of the backup shooting guard job is probably just lip service. Teams don’t stick by that if the player struggles. If he produces, he would have gotten the job anyway.

Dallas has plenty of point guard types – Dennis Smith Jr., Luka Doncic, J.J Barea, Jalen Brunson and Ferrell. Rick Carlisle uses two of them simultaneously often enough that Ferrell should land in the rotation. But it’s far from a lock.

With this deal, Ferrell is taking all the risk and the Mavericks are getting all the upside.