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Sixers’ coach on Ben Simmons: “I believe that he won’t play in summer league”

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Ben Simmons sure looks recovered and healthy, based on the way he was moving and dunking at the Sixers practice facility recently.

So that means he’ll make his debut at the NBA Summer League, right?

Wrong. So said Sixers coach Brett Brown, via Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com.

As a fan, that sucks. Simmons showed promise last summer in Las Vegas, with dazzling passing skills but work to do to round out his game. It would have been fun to see him again this summer.

But this fits with the pattern the Sixers have had with other players coming off an injury, they are not going to push it. They are overly cautious. And as it’s just summer exhibitions, you can’t really blame them.

Did James Harden not resting during season come back to bite him in playoffs?

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This was James Harden speaking back in late March, when he was making a push for MVP and saying playing every day mattered in that chase:

“For me, I worry about always having my teammates’ back and always being out there… For the coaching staff and the fans, especially here in Houston, the front office, I’m here to play.”

And if Mike D’Antoni approached him about sitting out a game for rest.

“Mike knows not to come at me with that.”

This was James Harden Thursday night in a Game 6, win-or-go-home playoff game: 2-of-11 from the floor for 10 points, almost as many turnovers as assists (7 to 6), and he looked like the slowest guy on the court — because he was the slowest guy on the court.

Harden looked exhausted. Out of gas. Like he did at the end of Game 5 before.

When you look back at the push for Harden to be the MVP, is it a coincidence he didn’t get rested during the season and it cost him late?

Rockets’ coach Mike D’Antoni — who in the past has said he was not a fan of resting players during the regular season — said Friday he’d have to reconsider his position. Via Tim MacMahon at ESPN.

D’Antoni, describing himself as “shell-shocked” the day after Houston’s season ended with a 39-point home loss to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 6, acknowledged after Friday’s exit interviews that fatigue could have factored into Harden’s poor finish.

“All great players think they can do everything,” D’Antoni said. “Maybe he does need to take a game off here and there. ‘Hey, you’re nicked up a little bit, don’t play, maybe.’ Something to talk about, but that’s also his greatness, too. So it’s hard. It’s very delicate.

Gregg Popovich, the coach who bested D’Antoni in the last round (again), has been at the forefront of resting players during the season to have them at their peak for the playoffs. The brilliant Tom Haberstroh at ESPN broke down the numbers in a piece saying Harden needs to get more rest.

Before winning the 2014 Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard ranked 138th in minutes played during the regular season. Andre Iguodala spent the regular season coming off the bench before nabbing the 2015 Finals MVP. Before his brilliant 2016 Finals manifesto, LeBron James enjoyed 19 extra days off in the playoffs as a result of sweeping early-round opponents, while the Warriors labored through injuries and a grueling seven-game marathon against the OKC Thunder. Let’s also not forget the Warriors decided to chase 73 wins that season instead of resting down the stretch…

The Rockets could point to a Nene injury as an excuse (against the Spurs this year), but that strains credibility when you consider the Spurs played without starters Tony Parker and Leonard in Game 6. The Spurs’ reserves stepped up to the challenge because Popovich asked them to step up eight times before in the regular season when he sat Leonard….

Russell Westbrook and Harden’s MVP cases were often buttressed by their visceral opposition to DNP-Rests and yet both flamed out in the postseason in spectacular fashion. Westbrook shot 38.8 percent on 30.4 field goal attempts while turning the ball over six times per game in his first-round exit. Harden missed 45 3-pointers in six games against a Spurs team that collectively ran five more miles on the floor than the Rockets did in the series, according to player-tracking data. With little burst left, Westbrook and Harden were reduced to chucking from deep. The pair shot 27.3 percent on 3s on a combined 20.6 attempts per game in the postseason, whereas those figures were 34.5 percent and 16.4, respectively, in the regular season.

The player tracking data that comes from wearables that a lot of teams use in practice show the same things. Basically, all the data shows that rested players perform better and are less likely to get injured. There is no doubt about that.

Which remains an issue for the NBA, who has fans paying big money for seats — and broadcast partners paying bigger money to show the games — only to see the top players sit out. It’s not good optics. The league will start a week earlier next year and the NBA will try to space out games a little more, but if the schedule is at 82 games there’s only so much that can be done (and it’s hard to imagine the number of games being reduced just because of the potential financial issues). There is no easy answer here. (And spare me the “back in the day guys didn’t rest” crap, as former player turned agent B.J. Armstrong said on a PBT Podcast, if they had the data then that teams do now guys would have rested.)

All of which means, expect James Harden to get a few games off next regular season.

 

Hamidou Diallo may be on his way to being none-and-done first round pick

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Last year, Hamidou Diallo played half a season of college prep basketball at Putnam Science as a postgraduate of high school, then enrolled for the spring semester at Kentucky, but he did not play with the team. In fact, he hasn’t played in a game publicly in four months.

Yet the stock on the 6’6″ swingman — one of the more explosive athletes in the draft, with great physical tools and length — seems to be rising. He put up an impressive 44.5-inch vertical leap at the NBA Draft Combine that turned a few heads.

Some teams like him, others don’t want to take the risk, but he is generally considered a bubble first rounder right now, but in NBC’s mock draft we had him go 23rd to Toronto (GM Masai Ujiri is willing to take these kinds of gambles). Diallo hasn’t officially decided yet if he’s going to stay in the draft, that’s why he was at the combine to let teams talk get a closer look at him, and to get a sense of where he stands.

What is the attraction of this draft’s mystery man? Kentucky Coach John Calipari think he knows, as he told the New York Times.

“They don’t know,” he said. “Well, don’t show them. They all like you without watching you. Good. The more you don’t play, the more they like you, the more they’re impressed.”

“If someone takes him in the lottery I will retire. Four months, doesn’t play, lottery pick, I’m done. I’m stopping,” he said.

Lottery seems high, but if a team falls in love with him and thinks they can develop him… who knows. The Milwaukee Bucks taking Thon Maker at No. 10 last year turned heads (he had gone to a fifth year of high school rather than play college ball), yet by the postseason he was becoming an increasingly important part of their rotation and played well.

If Diallo goes back to college for a year, he could well be a top 10 pick next year, which is part of the attraction for teams drafting late in the first round this year — they might steal a quality player late in the first. ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla put it well to the Times.

“I don’t think there’s any question a team will take him in the first round, based on just his age, his size for a guard and that crazy combination of skill and athleticism.”

The question of whether said team will be able to develop him is another issue, but if he stays in the draft someone will take the chance.

The only question for Diallo is does he want to start his NBA journey now as a lower pick, or spend a season at Kentucky and likely be a much higher pick (that gets paid more out the gate, this past season the No. 10 pick made $1.4 million more than the 25th selection, but start now and he gets to the potentially more lucrative second contract sooner).

If he stays in the draft, others might start to follow his and Maker’s path.

 

James Harden’s great season for Rockets ends in embarrassing loss

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden went up for a 3-pointer, changed his mind and tossed the ball between two teammates.

He drove for a layup before inexplicably throwing the ball into a sea of San Antonio Spurs.

After putting together an MVP-caliber year, the indelible images of Harden and the Houston Rockets will be the lowlights from a 39-point loss in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals to a San Antonio team playing without Kawhi Leonard and starting point guard Tony Parker.

And those images will linger for some time.

Harden, who didn’t even attempt a shot until midway through the second quarter, was 2 of 11 and finished with 10 points to tie a season low as the Rockets were embarrassed on their home court on Thursday night to end their season with a thud.

“I feel so sorry for him because he’s had an unbelievable – he’s had an historic year,” coach Mike D’Antoni said.

Most people outside the organization aren’t feeling sorry for the point guard, and were left scratching their heads at how such an elite player could perform so poorly in a game that mattered so much.

Harden wasn’t available on Friday, but took blame for the loss after the game. However, he had no answers as to what went so terribly wrong on Thursday night.

“It’s frustrating definitely,” he said. “Especially the way we were resilient all year long, fought through adversity. We’ve been really good at bouncing back … it hurts. It stings. We’ve just got to figure out a way to get better and we will.”

Harden averaged 29.1 points, 11.2 assists and 8.1 rebounds a game – all career bests – in helping Houston to a 55-27 record and the third best record in the NBA a year after the Rockets squeaked into the playoffs an eighth seed. He had 22 triple-doubles in the regular season and became the first player in NBA history to have 2,000 points (2,356), 900 assists (907) and 600 rebounds (659) in a single season.

He displayed flashes of brilliance in the playoffs to be sure, but couldn’t deliver when the Rockets needed it most. Houston had a chance to tie Game 5 as overtime expired, but Harden’s shot was blocked from behind by Manu Ginobili.

The Spurs carried that momentum into Game 6 in Houston, and Harden didn’t respond. He was out of sorts from the start and the Rockets were all but out of the game by halftime.

Despite the uninspiring performance, general manager Daryl Morey said that Harden’s struggles on Thursday night shouldn’t negate what he accomplished this season.

“Obviously he had a tough game, but to me it’s a joke to get on him because we’re not where we are … without James,” Morey said. “The guy that’s hardest on James is James. Everyone’s disappointed, but he’s No. 1.”

A day after the game D’Antoni still didn’t have a clear explanation for the collapse. He still seemed stunned by what transpired and used the word “shell-shocked” three separate times on Friday. D’Antoni, who helped Houston to a 14-game improvement in his first season, believes the Rockets might have been worn down by dealing with a team that lacks a clear weakness to exploit.

“I don’t know if it’s true or not, but it’s almost like mentally it just zapped us,” he said. “I think over the long haul when we didn’t win Game 5 we came back and we were just mentally at zero.”

For D’Antoni, being ousted by coach Gregg Popovich and the Spurs is nothing new. D’Antoni is 0-5 in playoff series against the Spurs, with Popovich eliminating his Suns teams in 2005, 2007, 2008 and the Lakers in 2013 before this season’s loss.

“That’s the mountain we’ve got to climb,” D’Antoni said. “I don’t think I’m the only team that’s lost to them. They’ve beaten everybody … but yeah, it hurts.”

The Rockets obviously need to improve in order to compete with the elite teams in the West, and D’Antoni had a few ideas about what needs to happen.

“We need to get better as a group,” he said. “We need to get better defensively. We need to add layers to the offense where it takes some of the load off of James.”

Harden is a leading MVP candidate, and could walk away with the award next month. But even bringing it to Houston for the first time since Hakeem Olajuwon won it in 1994 is unlikely remove that terrible taste of how the season ended.

“We’ve got a whole summer … to put it behind us,” Harden said.

After the crushing ending, that might not even be enough time.

More NBA basketball: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Dallas looks to sign Chinese swingman Ding Yanyuhang for Summer League, maybe more

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Is Ding Yanyuhang ready for the NBA?

The 6’7″ swingman is the best native player in the Chinese Basketball Association right now, averaging 24.2 points per game last season. He’s not been incredibly efficient (32.1 percent from three) but he is a guy who can get buckets, and he won the Domestic Player MVP last season.

That has peaked the interest of the Dallas Mavericks, reports the Dallas Morning News. Well, the scoring and maybe the potential to reach deep into the Chinese market.

The Mavericks have put the wheels in motion to sign veteran Chinese swingman Ding Yanyuhang this summer and have him play in their summer league and likely be on their training camp roster, president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said…

He has become one of China’s best players and the Mavericks are hopeful he can grow into a solid NBA contributor. The fact that he fits in with the team’s youth movement helps, too.

There would be other benefits to having him on the roster.

Tapping into the huge Chinese market has been a focus of the NBA for several years. Signing a player born in China would be a tremendous boost for the Mavericks’ global cache. And it would give them an entryway into a social media market that has exploded.

The signing cannot happen until July 1. Nelson went on to say Ding could be a candidate for the new two-way contracts allowed in the NBA next year so he could get seasoning in the D-League and still get time with the big club.

Ding started for the Chinese national team against the USA in the Rio Olympics and was 1-of-6 for four points, and over the course of the Rio games averaged 4.4 points per game on 31 percent shooting. Still, this seems like a good low-risk move. Sign him, bring him in for Summer League and see there how he stacks up — and if you want something more. Maybe, maybe not, but it’s worth a look.