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What makes Warriors elite? Hustle, effort matter as much as talent

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Effort is a skill.

Friend of this site David Thorpe — who trains players in the NBA (and to get ready for the league) — says that all the time. So do a lot of coaches. Nobody is making the NBA without winning the genetic lottery to some degree, there is a baseline of athleticism, but what separates teams and players above that often comes town to effort. Tenacity. Drive. Work ethic. Whatever you want to call it.

Those are things that are hard to quantify — but the NBA is trying. All season on NBA.com the league has tracked “hustle stats” like deflected passes, who gets to loose balls, drawing charges, contesting shots, and the like.

Guess what it finds? The Golden State Warriors are good — and not just because of all that shooting talent. The brilliant Lee Jenkins breaks it down at Sports Illustrated in a must-read story.

The four-star juggernaut that won 67 games this season, that led the NBA in field goal percentage and field goal percentage defense, that posted a higher net rating and point differential even than last year, outworked everybody too. The Dubs created the most deflections (18.7) and corralled the most loose balls (7.7), while racking up the second-most contested shots (68.4) and screen assists (12.7). After their opening-round sweep of the Blazers, they led three of the five major hustle categories in the playoffs.

“We’d be good even without all that,” Draymond Green continues. “We’d be damn good. You look around the league, you see a lot of stars who don’t make these kinds of plays, and they still have good teams. But they’re not serious. They’re not chasing greatness. We are, and we realize these plays are the difference between the stars that win and the stars that lose. So when you combine the little things we do with the skill and the talent and the dynamic scoring, then all of a sudden you have a f—— animal that’s almost impossible to contain.”

Cleveland has started to do this as well. In the playoffs, they are contesting 67.4 percent of opponents shots, compared to 67.3 for the Warriors. Golden State is doing a better job of contesting threes, as well as getting to more loose balls and deflecting more passes.

What matters for the Warriors is their stars do it and lead the way. There’s not a gritty part of the team and a star part of the team — Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson buy into this defensive, hustle ethos.

In the postseason Curry is No. 2 in loose balls, while Green is No. 2 in contests. “But I have to do that,” Green interjects. “Steph doesn’t. All you ever hear is, ‘Oh, man, Steph Curry, best shooter in the world! Klay Thompson, 60 points in three quarters! KD, freak of nature, in-and-out crossover full-speed transition tomahawk! And, hey, that s— is sexy, so you fall in love with it. But there’s sexy s— all over the NBA. Don’t forget about the other reasons we win.”

Just remember this when everyone starts saying how the Warriors bought a title because Durant came West. Obviously that helps, but the Warriors are much more than that.

D’Antoni had to shave his mustache because he lost a bet with his wife. About spelling.

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Mike D’Antoni’s mustache was a signature part of his look from back in Phoenix through is days in Los Angeles. Not that he was exactly a fashion icon on the sidelines, but whatever his look was — a bit frumpy with a touch of overworked? — it included a mustache.

Watch Mike D’Antoni on the sidelines in the playoffs and no mustache. So what gives?

D’Antoni’s wife Laurel explains in Tim Keown’s story on the couple for ESPN the Magazine.

They engage in good-natured arguments over just about everything. Before Mike was hired by the Rockets last May, one dispute revolved around the spelling of a word. Laurel can’t even remember the word, but she remembers Mike’s stubbornness. “He was convinced he was right,” she says, “but I knew I was right.” She proposed a bet: If Mike was wrong, he would have to shave his mustache. Mike, so convinced of his rectitude that he was willing to put his most famous physical attribute on the line, accepted the bet, and that’s why Mike D’Antoni’s mustache has a Twitter account but Mike D’Antoni doesn’t have a mustache.

It doesn’t matter who you are, you are not going to win a bet with your wife.

Report: Knicks eyeing De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, or Frank Ntilikina in draft

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The New York Knicks are likely picking seventh in the upcoming NBA Draft.

They do have a 5.3 percent chance of jumping up to the No. 1 pick, and an 18.3 percent chance of leaping up to the top three. However, the biggest odds are the 57.2 percent chance of staying where they are (and a 24.4 percent chance of falling back a spot or two).

When it comes time to pick the Knicks need help a lot of places but particularly in the backcourt – especially with Derrick Rose unlikely to return — and that seems to be where they are looking, reports Ian Begley of ESPN.

Members of the organization have been scouting players in the draft for months; there are a few players that those members have become fond of: French guard Frank Ntilikina and Kentucky guards De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, among others. Also, just like the rest of the NBA, members of the organization are also enamored by Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball and Josh Jackson.

Those last three are off the board unless they do get blessed by the Draft Lottery gods. Frankly, so is Fox, who is likely off the board before they pick if it’s seventh.

In NBC’s mock draft we have the Knicks taking Monk — a guy who can put up points. If you followed Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament, you saw how red-hot he can get for a stretch. However, he doesn’t do much else, he feels like a Lou Williams/Jamal Crawford kind of player who can light it up as a sixth man but may struggle when asked to do too much.

Some scouts are high on Ntilikina, a 6’5″ point guard with long arms who shows promise on defense and was an improved shooter this season. He looks like an NBA point guard in style, and we know Phil Jackson loves tall guards.

Workouts and interviews will go a long way in deciding what the Knicks do. First, they are hoping the lottery balls bounce their way.

2017 NBA Mock Draft, the first round

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Tuesday, myself and Rob Dauster from NBC’s College Basketball Talk talked through a first round 2017 mock draft. You can listen to how we came to these conclusions (also at the bottom of this post).

Teams tend to take the best player on the board, but if it’s close between guys — and in spots this draft is very bunched up — teams take need and other factors into account. We looked at it the same way, and here is what we projected.
 
Celtics small icon 1. Boston Celtics: Markelle Fultz, Washington. The top player on nearly everyone’s draft board because he can do it all: Make threes, finish above the rim, play in transition, elite on the pick-and-roll, hits midrange pullups, great size for his position. The only questions are defense and how far he can lead a team.
 
Suns small icon 2. Phoenix Suns: Josh Jackson, Kansas. Great physical gifts for a wing, strong defender who could become lock-down guy, great motor, needs to improve his shooting but form is strong.
 
Lakers small icon 3. Los Angeles Lakers: Lonzo Ball, UCLA. Fantastic court vision and high IQ, incredible in transition. Can he score in half court (he mostly dished on P&R)? Shooting motion is odd but the ball goes in.
 
Sixers small icon 4. Philadephia 76ers: Jayson Tatum, Duke.: Phenomenal isolation scorer, he can face guys up or post up smaller players. How will his game translate to NBA where everyone has size and athleticism? Is he a small ball four?
 
Magic small icon 5. Orlando Magic: De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky. Good size, speed, and athleticism, strong defender and could be elite on that end. Has a lot of work to do on his shot.
 
timberwolves small icon 6. Minnesota Timberwolves:
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona. He’s a 7-footer that shot 42.3% from three, and not just spot-ups. Floor spacing backup behind Karl-Anthony Towns.
 
Knicks small icon 7. New York Knicks: Malik Monk, Kentucky. Guy just knows how to score, and can get red hot for stretches. Not fantastic at anything else. Future sixth man in the Jamal Crawford/Lou Williams mold?
 
Kings small icon 8. Sacramento Kings: Jonathan Isaac, Florida State. One of the best athletes in the draft and already a strong defender with elite potential. Very raw on offense.
 
Mavericks small icon 9. Dallas Mavericks: Dennis Smith Jr., N.C. State. Strong playmaker, good handles good in the open court, but was up and down and didn’t seem consistently interested in defense.
 
Kings small icon 10. Sacramento Kings: Frank Ntilikina, France, Tall 6’5″ point guard who is a good two-way player, someone with a lot of offensive potential.
 
Hornets small icon 11. Charlotte Hornets: Zach Collins, Gonzaga. Fantastic performances on big stage of NCAA Tournament, he can make threes, score in the post, blocks shots, rebound. Came off bench at Gonzaga, still a work in progress.
 
Pistons small icon 12. Detroit Pistons: Terrance Ferguson, Australia. A 6’6″ wing with insane athleticism, good spot up shooter but has work to do on both ends. Chose to play in Australia rather than college last season.
 
Nuggets small icon 13. Denver Nuggets: O.G. Anunoby, Indiana. Great physical tools for an NBA wing, 6’8″, athletic, can be impressive defender, needs to work on his shot and handles.
 
Heat small icon 14. Miami Heat: Justin Jackson, North Carolina. Can shoot the three, and when he gets in the lane has a fantastic floater. Not great at creating his own shot. Good size, but will he defend at next level?
 
Blazers small icon 15. Portland Trail Blazers:
Jarrett Allen, Texas. Great size — 6’11” with 7’6″ wingspan — and he’s a great athlete. Could develop into Clint Capella like NBA big, but will he put in the work to do it?
 
Bulls small icon 16. Chicago Bulls: Luke Kennard, Duke. Incredibly efficient offensively, he can shoot, work off the ball, even get buckets in the pick-and-roll. Real questions defensively.
 
Bucks small icon 17. Milwaukee Bucks: Justin Patton, Creighton. A lot of potential, he’s a 7-footer with length, can shoot some but needs shots created for him, and defensive tools needs work.
 
Pacers small icon 18. Indiana Pacers: Donovan Mitchell, Louisville. Big time athlete and can use that to defend. Can create his own shot but will he work off the ball well.
 
Hawks small icon 19. Atlanta Hawks: John Collins, Wake Forest. A bit of a late bloomer (young for his grade,), he’s an efficient scorer but will he pass? 6’11” but how will he defend, rebound at the next level.
 
Blazers small icon 20. Portland Trail Blazers:
Ike Anigbogu, UCLA. He’s got good size — 6’10” with long arms, strong — and is quick off the floor, which helps with rebounding and shot blocking, but the rest of his game needs polish.
 
Thunder small icon 21. Oklahoma City Thunder: Semi Ojeleye, SMU. Played as a stretch four last season and showed to be a good shooter, but he’s undersized for that role in the NBA. Can he play the three?
 
Nets small icon 22. Brooklyn Nets: Isaiah Hartenstein (played in Lithuania). Great size at 7’1″ and a solid athlete who can do a little bit of everything.
 
Raptors small icon 23. Toronto Raptors: Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky. The most explosive athlete in the draft, fantastic physical tools, but very raw and is a real project. Never played for Kentucky.
 
Jazz small icon 24. Utah Jazz: T.J. Leaf, UCLA. Great size at 6’10”, fluid athlete who excelled in transition and can shoot the three. Needs to get stronger and round out his game.
 
Magic small icon 25. Orlando Magic: Tyler Lydon, Syracuse. Can shoot the three and was a good rim protector (but in the Syracuse zone). Was a good stretch four in college but is undersized for that at the next level.
 
Blazers small icon 26. Portland Trail Blazers:
Ivan Rabb, California. Would have gone a lot higher last year, but returned to college for a season. Put up better numbers this season but was less efficient.
 
Nets small icon 27. Brooklyn Nets: Harry Giles, Duke. Was the top of this class early in high school then injuries robbed him of some athleticism and development time. Is he past that, or is he forever diminished (and if so how much)? Good roll of dice this late in round.
 
Lakers small icon 28. Los Angeles Lakers: Bam Adebayo, Kentucky. Will be more of a four, he can defend on perimeter and is good athlete, but not a shooter. Could be a Julius Randle backup?
 
Spurs small icon 29. San Antonio Spurs:. Rodions Kurucs, Barcelona. Athletic wing with good size out of a top European program. We won’t hear from him for two or three years, then Gregg Popovich will put him in and he’ll be fantastic. Because that’s what the Spurs do.

Check out the highlights of Manu Ginobili’s throwback, game-saving plays vs. Rockets (VIDEO)

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“Manu reached back and gave us one of his Manu performances from past years. He was a stud.”

That was how Spurs coach Gregg Popovich described Manu Ginobili‘s Game 5 performance. With Tony Parker out they Spurs leaned on Ginobili, who turns 40 in a couple of months, to be the team’s secondary playmaker. With Kawhi Leonard sidelined through most of the fourth quarter and all of overtime due to an ankle injury, even more was asked of Ginobili.

From a dunk — that Danny Green said surprised everyone — to a game-saving block, Ginobili was making plays. Check out his highlights.