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How Spurs’ Bryn Forbes went from afterthought recruit to NBA starter

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Bryn Forbes‘ 2014 transfer from Cleveland State to Michigan State was well-covered in the media. Nearly every article on it explained Forbes’ reasoning: The Lansing, Mich., native wanted to be closer to his son, who was born the year prior, and his sister, who was suffering from what would be a fatal illness.

And those explanations weren’t wrong. Family was Forbes’ primary concern.

But he had another reason: He wanted to better prepare for the NBA.

Forbes kept that one close to the vest. After all, he was a 6-foot-3 scoring guard with unexceptional athleticism. He ranked third in his 2012 recruiting class… at Cleveland State. He didn’t even make the All-Horizon League first team.

“People would have thought I’m crazy,” Forbes said. “They honestly would have thought I’m crazy.”

But Forbes’ self-confidence paid off. He’s now the Spurs’ starting shooting guard, averaging 12.4 points per game on 43.6% 3-point shooting.

It’s incredible how far he has come in just a few years.

Forbes worked hard in East Lansing, developing into a college star. Not bad for someone the Spartans initially offered only a preferred-walk-on spot despite Forbes playing in their backyard with Michigan State commit Denzel Valentine (now with the Bulls) at Lansing Sexton High School. Still, Forbes looked like the archetypical good shooter without the size or athleticism to make the NBA.

Leading up to the 2016 draft, DraftExpress ranked the top shooters in the draft. Forbes’ name appeared once – to note why he wasn’t otherwise included:

Please note that this is not an exhaustive study including all of the best shooters in college basketball or even in the 2016 NBA Draft Class. The only players included in this subset are those deemed to “draftable” NBA prospects. Players like Max Hooper (6-6, SG, Oakland, 3.3 3s made per game, 46% 3P%), Max Landis (6-2, SG, IPFW, 3.8 3s made per game, 46% 3P%), Bryn Forbes (6-3, SG, Michigan State, 3.2 3s made per game, 48% 3P%) for example were excluded, amongst others.

Jonathan Givony’s projection wasn’t exactly wrong. Forbes went undrafted.

He signed a barely guaranteed contract with San Antonio and quickly impressed Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich with his work ethic, coachability and 3-point shot. Against all odds, Forbes made San Antonio’s regular-season roster and earned an NBA salary.

Forbes still spent much of his first professional season with the Spurs’ minor-league affiliate playing point guard. He’s more of an off guard, but that time helped him develop his ball-handling and passing.

In his second season, Forbes became a rotation regular and spot-starter. He played 1,517 minutes on a 47-win team. After the season, he signed a two-year, $6 million deal with the Spurs.

Now, Forbes is one of just six full-time starters this season who went undrafted. The other five: Robert Covington, Joe Ingles, Wesley Matthews, Garrett Temple and Rodney McGruder.

“He’s carved out an NBA career,” Popovich said of Forbes.

Though Forbes has expanded his all-around game, that merely got other facets to tolerable levels. He remains a 3-point specialist, and his 43.6% 3-point percentage ranks 12th in the NBA:

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Maybe Forbes wouldn’t be in this position if San Antonio didn’t suffer so many backcourt injuries this season. Dejounte Murray is missing the entire season. Lonnie Walker just got healthy. Derrick White was sidelined for the start of the year.

Forbes has considered similar “what ifs” in the past. What if he stayed at Cleveland State? Would he have had the platform to showcase himself for the NBA? Eventually, he decided not to dwell on that.

“I think, one way or another,” Forbes said, “I would have found a way.”

Donovan Mitchell adjusting to elevated expectations

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Donovan Mitchell quickly won over fans in and outside Utah with his electrifying play. Despite not being an All-Star, he stole the show at All-Star Weekend, charismatically building his platform and winning the dunk contest. He unleashed an insurgent Rookie of the Year campaign. He led the Jazz to playoff-series victory. He signed a lucrative endorsement deal and got a signature shoe.

Donovan Mitchell has made it.

And that makes him uncomfortable.

“I’ve never really come from a position where I’m not the underdog, if that makes sense,” said Mitchell, whose stature rose quickly for a player who initially intended to return to Louisville for his junior season and was still just a mid-first-round pick in 2017. “I haven’t really had that in my life.”

Mitchell is having another fine year, averaging 20.4 points per game. But he doesn’t look quite as sharp as last season, when he established himself as a co-franchise player with Rudy Gobert for the Jazz.

The future in Utah with those two can still be extremely bright. The ascent will be just be bumpier than hoped.

Some of Mitchell’s difficulties are unavoidable. He’s the go-to scorer on a defensive-first team – a tremendous burden.

Of the nine regularly playing guards with usage percentages above 30, only two have their team allow fewer than 105 points per 100 possessions with them on the floor – Mitchell and Russell Westbrook. Relatedly, Mitchell and Westbrook have the lowest true shooting percentages among those nine:

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(That’s Zach LaVine barely poking out behind Kemba Walker.)

The Jazz and Thunder have built systems around putting defensive-minded personnel on the floor, positioning players to get back on defense, gumming up spacing and expecting their top guards to produce anyway. It’s a big ask, one that depresses Mitchell’s and Westbrook’s individual efficiencies but works to the betterment of the team.

Westbrook was a seasoned star in his ninth season when Oklahoma City gave him that role following Kevin Durant‘s departure. Mitchell got it as a rookie and is continuing with it in his second season.

At times, Mitchell has tried to defer. His teammates urged him to keep shooting. This team was built to feature him, and a couple months of relative struggles don’t change the bigger picture.

Mitchell is the only Jazz starter who can reliably create for himself. Mitchell and Ricky Rubio are the only starters who can reliably create for others. Mitchell and Joe Ingles are the only starters who can reliably space the floor from distance. Utah starts a pair of traditional bigs in Gobert and Derrick Favors. So much falls to Mitchell offensively.

Opponents have adjusted to Mitchell more quickly than he has developed his game. They blitz him more often on pick-and-rolls. They shade toward him more quickly as he drives. They stunt off him more often rather than completely leave him to help.

Ever since Mitchell torched Dwane Casey’s Raptors for 25 points early last season, the coach – now with the Pistons – has emphasized Mitchell in scouting reports.

“There’s certain things we want to live with and certain things we don’t want to give up,” Casey said. “And him sashaying from end of the court to the other, one slot drive, one dribble to the rim – those are the things we’ve got to take away.”

Mitchell isn’t getting to the rim as often as last season, settling for more floaters. His catch-and-shoot 3-point percentage has also fallen from 41% to 30% – concerning because that should be more defense-agnostic.

“The season might not go the way I want it to this year, for me personally,” Mitchell said.

He’s figuring it out as he goes, but not quickly enough to maintain the sky-high expectations set for him entering the year. At least the Jazz (20-21) are winning a reasonable amount amid a tough early schedule that will soften. Team success, Mitchell says, is his priority.

This is a learning season for both Mitchell and Utah about how to best deploy him.

The Jazz will have an opportunity to reconfigure this summer. They could waive Derrick Favors ($16.9 million unguaranteed salary), renounce free agents Rubio, Thabo Sefolosha and Ekpe Udoh and open a projected $31 million in cap space.

Maybe Mitchell just needs more complementary offensive pieces, and that’d be the cash to get them. Or maybe continuing to emphasize defense while riding Mitchell offensively is the right formula.

This season has provided plenty of reason to reel in the Mitchell hype. It has not produced many doubters in him.

“He may have some growing pains,” Casey said. “But it’s there, and you never forget how to swim. He’s going to be a great player in our league for a long time.”

Rudy Gobert dominates, Jazz pull away for comfortable 117-96 win against Trail Blazers

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Rudy Gobert had 18 points, 14 rebounds, and seven blocks — looking like last season’s Defensive Player of the Year and also getting buckets on Christmas Day.

Donovan Mitchell added 19 points to lead Utah to a 117-96 victory over Portland on Tuesday night.

Joe Ingles chipped in 15 points, seven rebounds, and five assists for the Jazz (17-18), who won for the fifth time in their last six home games while shooting 55 percent from the floor.

Damian Lillard scored 20 points to lead Portland. Evan Turner added 12 points off the bench. The Blazers (19-15) lost to Utah for the second time in five days after shooting just 39 percent from the field.

Jae Crowder scored seven of Utah’s first nine second-quarter points, starting with the team’s first 3-pointer of the game, to cap a 9-0 run that gave the Jazz a 33-26 lead. The Blazers pulled within three on three different occasions. Lillard hit a couple of baskets to cut the deficit to a basket, then fed Jusuf Nurkic for a layup to trim Utah’s lead to 43-40.

The Jazz pulled away before halftime behind hot shooting from the perimeter. Joe Ingles and Crowder buried back-to-back 3-pointers to spark a 16-5 run. Mitchell finished it off by beating the shot clock with another outside basket, giving the Jazz a 59-45 lead.

Utah went 5-of-7 from 3-point range in the second quarter after going 0-of-8 in the first quarter.

The Jazz extended their lead to 68-51 on back-to-back baskets from Ricky Rubio early in the third quarter.

Portland chipped away at the lead and finally cut it to 92-83 on a floater from Seth Curry early in the fourth quarter. That’s as close as the Blazers got.

Gobert answered with a dunk to push Utah’s lead back to double digits. It sparked a 14-2 run that slammed the door shut on any potential comeback. Mitchell punctuated the run with a 3-pointer, putting the Jazz up 106-85 with 4:49 remaining.

 

Three Things to Know: Luka Doncic sticks dagger in reeling Blazers, gets Mavericks win

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Luka Doncic sticks the dagger in reeling Blazers, gets Mavericks win. Deandre Ayton is filling up the box score. Jaren Jackson Jr. is impressing everyone on both ends of the court and looks like he may be the best player out of this draft class in three years.

But if the vote were today, Dallas’ Luka Doncic would be Rookie of the Year. He is the best offensive player on a 12-10 Mavericks team that is in the middle of the West playoff hunt (they are the 7 seed as you read this in the brutally tight conference).

Or, just ask Portland, because Doncic stuck the dagger in them Tuesday night.

Doncic bullied the Blazers down low when they put a smaller player like Nik Stauskas on him, shooting 4-of-7 in the paint, and Doncic was also 2-of-4 from three. He finished with 21 points and 9 rebounds on the night.

Portland, meanwhile, has hit a real slump losing 5-of-6 and with a net rating of -8.2 in those games. The offense has been just okay during this stretch, which has not been good enough to cover up a putrid defense surrendering 117.2 per 100 possessions in those six games. The team has eaten into that cushion of wins it had early in the season and finds itself right in the middle of that brutal and tight Western Conference playoff chase.

2) Markelle Fultz has a diagnosis, but there is still a long way to go before this saga ends. Markelle Fultz spent a week seeing specialists, 10 of them according to reports, but in the end a doctor diagnosed him with something that could certainly have impacted his shot: Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS). The Sixers say he will be away from the team indefinitely, although reports (certainly out of the Fultz camp) say he could miss just 3-6 weeks.

Markelle Fultz’s agent and camp are feeling vindicated, they have preached this was physical and not mental throughout. Even though clearly it was part mental. Now Fultz goes into rehab and we will see what he and his jump shot look like on the other side.

TOS is something seen in baseball players but rarely if ever in basketball players. Rather than me trying to play doctor, here is the Mayo Clinic’s description:

Thoracic outlet syndrome is a group of disorders that occur when blood vessels or nerves in the space between your collarbone and your first rib (thoracic outlet) are compressed. This can cause pain in your shoulders and neck and numbness in your fingers. Common causes of thoracic outlet syndrome include… repetitive injuries from job- or sports-related activities.

Here’s the important thing: If Fultz believes this treatment will help him, it will. Get him physically right and, hopefully, the mental part of his game clicks back in and he returns to being something like the consensus No. 1 pick. That’s the hope.

What does not change is that Fultz and the Sixers still need to part ways. The Sixers have moved into a win-now mode with the Jimmy Bulter trade and there is just too much baggage. When Fultz returns there may be trade interest around him at the deadline, and it would be best for both sides to just get on without each other.

Which is to say, the Markelle Fultz saga in Philadelphia is not over.

3) Kyle Korver returns to Salt Lake City, Jazz knock down a record 20 threes in win. Since the Utah Jazz acquired Kyle Korver from the Cavaliers, they are 3-1 and a team that had struggled from deep all season has shot 43.3 percent from deep. (Ignore the fact it’s been against a soft part of the schedule.)

That continued Tuesday night in Korver’s return to Salt Lake City — he was 3-of-4 from three on his way to 15 points, and the Jazz set a franchise record with 20 threes made in the game (on just 33 attempts), leading them to a 139-105 rout of the suddenly defenseless Spurs (San Antonio’s ugly defense the past couple of weeks is another story).

The Utah Jazz needed this, a game where their shots just seemed to fall like rain. Donovan Mitchell was 4-of-6 from three, and Joe Ingles was 3-of-6. They led the way for a team that just could not seem to miss.

Have the Jazz found their footing? Two of the next three games for them are against the Rockets and Thunder, that should be a good measuring stick. So far, that Korver trade has looked like a real spark.

Donovan Mitchell scores 30, Jazz beat Hornets in Korver’s debut

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Charlotte packed the paint, and Utah took advantage.

Donovan Mitchell scored 30 points, Robert Gobert had 20 points and 17 rebounds and the Jazz scored 54 points off 3-pointers to hold off the Hornets 119-111 on Friday night.

Kyle Korver made four 3-pointers and scored 14 points in his debut with the Jazz, who acquired the veteran from the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday. Jae Crowder, Korver’s former teammate in Cleveland, added 24 points off the bench for Utah, including six 3s.

“We just took what they gave us,” Crowder said of the open looks. “(But) I was surprised. I’m not gonna lie.”

The Hornets got within six points with just over nine minutes left in the game, but Korver hit a pair of 3s to help hold them off.

“We were right there,” Hornets coach James Borrego said. “We just couldn’t get over the hump tonight.”

Charlotte’s biggest concern going into the game was controlling the paint. The Hornets did well inside – scoring 70 points to Utah’s 46 – but couldn’t shut down the long-range game.

“This was not a team that was thriving at the 3-point line,” Borrego said. “They made 18. We made nine. So what they didn’t get at the inside they made up for at the 3-point line. Give them credit, they moved us around from the start.”

Charlotte clawed back late in the first half, mostly behind star Kemba Walker and veteran Tony Parker, and tied the game for the first time midway through the third period on a three-point play by guard Jeremy Lamb.

But Utah kept hitting 3s.

Joe Ingles made a 24-footer, Mitchell hit a 27-footer and Crowder connected on a 25-footer during a 90-second stretch late in the third period to get the lead back to 13.

“We had a lot of great looks tonight,” Korver said. “It’s just kind of the way basketball goes. You see one go down, then it snowballs. Obviously, Rudy put a ton of pressure on the basket. But we have great guards who are capable of making plays.”

Utah took its biggest lead at the start of the second period, a 16-point advantage, behind 10 points from Mitchell and eight from Crowder.

Walker finished with 21 points and seven rebounds, and Lamb had a season-high 24 points for the Hornets. Parker finished with 20 points and nine assists and Marvin Williams added 15 points and 11 rebounds for the Jazz.