Nov 08, 2013 7:11 PM EST
In order for a player to be successful in the NBA, his role must be defined and the player must embrace it. There will always be debate on who defines this role. Is it appropriate for a player to define his own role? Or is it most effective for coaches to define the role of a player?
At the start of the season, Lance Stephenson’s role appeared to be ambiguous, not only to him as a player, but to his teammates and coaches.
During the preseason, Stephenson did not appear to play his best as he tried to earn a spot in the starting line-up. One could say that he was trying to determine his role on the team; all the while a healthy Danny Granger was also competing for a spot on the starting line-up. It is hard to imagine that a player such as Stephenson, who played exceptionally well in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, appears to be struggling to determine his role on the team. Nonetheless, Stephenson looked lost and even frustrated at times during the preseaon. I ask: How can a player who is averaging 16.4 points, 6.2 rebounds, and shooting 53.8 percent from behind the 3-point line be unclear about his role on the team?
Such averages would have surely earned a player a spot in the starting line-up had we known then what we know now. Those were not Stephenson’s stats when Granger was playing in the preseason; and who knows how Stephenson’s averages would have been impacted if Granger was playing now. Granger’s injuries over the past two years, thrust Stephenson into the starting line-up for the championship hopeful Indiana Pacers. Yet in order to realistically become an NBA Championship contender, the Pacers need Granger to come off the bench with optimal health, as well as Stephenson playing with his current confidence and high efficiency levels.
In describing Stephenson’s playing style, Paul George states, “He just gets into his comfort zone… That's Lance. You can't take away where he's from. He's a New York player. They play with that confidence. I'm a fan of it. I like when he gets into that mode.”
The challenge that the Pacers have is that Stephenson has only demonstrated to play his best when he believes he is entitled to game privileges other starting shooting guards are entitled too. Such privileges include starting every game, shooting 10 plus times a game, attacking in transition, not getting back on defense, arguing with referees, and committing an unnecessary flagrant foul.
To Frank Vogel’s credit, Stephenson was removed from the Pistons game after the flagrant foul. Pistons went on an 11-3 run after the foul to take a 41-38 lead going into halftime. Had Granger been in physical shape to play, those minutes would have gone to him with additional minutes allocated during the second half. But Granger was not in position to play and Stephenson went back into the game and started the second half after one defensive play. It was noticeable that Stephenson returned to the game fully focused and, consequently, helped lead the Pacers to a win over the Pistons.
During the Chicago Bulls game on Wednesday, despite missing several shots in the first half, Stephenson made three critical shots during the end of the game leading the Pacers to a 5-0 streak. He displayed the passion and hunger that you wished Paul George would have exhibited, although George does not need such demonstrations in order to be considered one of the NBA’s best players. Nonetheless, the Pacers will need that enthusiasm and edge in order to beat the Miami Heat in the playoffs.
The Pacers will continue to be the most consistent team within the NBA as they were last year. Their strengths against most teams are West and Hibbert because of their ability to dominate the paint and offensive rebound. Miami has no answer for those two players. Paul George will continue to be a force, but the Pacers need an additional leading force on the perimeter. As demonstrated in the last five games, Stephenson has proven that he deserves to be considered a dominant force. The confidence and energy brewing inside of him appears to be intrinsic and is being noticed by others.
“It seemed like something just clicked when Danny got hurt,” a league source told RealGM.
Not only should he start, but in order for the Pacers to beat Miami, Stephenson needs to be considered amongst the best players of the team. He is currently the Pacers second leading scorer, but can he be the Pacers second best player? It would behoove the Pacers to assign Stephenson that role since he will not be able to determine that role on his own; especially after Granger returns to the game.
Nov 07, 2013 12:59 PM EST
MILWAUKEE – With bulky pads deliberating his legs and every move and every step now, Andrew Bynum came onto the court in warm-ups, and so much has been habitual for him. There were two trainers working out with Bynum, trying to elevate his stamina, his rhythm in an assortment of shooting and back-to-the-basket drills, and then they moved into the training room – all part of a regimen designed to keep him sharp and, most of all, healthy.
So far, so good. Bynum has played four games as part of a comeback with an established Cleveland Cavaliers organization that prepared itself to fulfill his rehabilitation. Through it all, a clear truth washed over Bynum: His rehab promises to be ongoing. His knees remain painful, as slightly as he concedes.
“I don’t think the pain will decrease,” Bynum told RealGM. “It’s just where I’m at. For my conditioning, the more I play, the better I’ll get conditioning wise.”
Before the Cavaliers’ five-point loss to the Bucks on Wednesday night, Bynum ran around the layup lines with burst, with enthusiasm, as he’d pull crossover dribbles out of his imagination and shoot jumpers. Even as he detaches emotion from his return, people close to him have alluded to his relief since the summer.
Bynum will bolster a frontcourt that has two physical players, Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson, but fails to complement a dynamic backcourt. He’s lacked his old mobility for extensive stretches during games, but scouts cite his spry movements in workouts, cite a belief that midseason is a fair, accurate determination of his status.
At that point, how much will Bynum’s athleticism have progressed? At that point, how close will he put himself with the skilled, agile center who started the All-Star game two seasons ago?
Mike Brown has eased Bynum into these games, and he knew the big man far better than any of the coaches competing for him in free agency. Away from Hollywood, Bynum listens to Brown, and there’s no hoisting three-pointers, no power struggle with the coach. Now, he’s receptive to run from one end of the floor to another – out of a call from the bench – to heed Brown’s strategy on defense.
Brown had given a grueling 3½-hour practice on Sunday, but Cavaliers players responded by tiring late in a one-point win over the Minnesota Timberwolves and let him know that the length of the session had an impact. So, he shortened Tuesday’s practice to just over an hour – and a sluggish start against Milwaukee came out of it.
O.J. Mayo and Gary Neal had combined to make 10 three-pointers and the Bucks had dropped 109 points on Brown’s defense, and it left Brown blasting the Cavaliers’ effort.
“Maybe I spoke too soon about our team defensively,” Brown said. “We have to figure out what it takes to win on the road, and right now, as a group, we don’t know what it takes to win on the road. That’s disappointing.
“I need somebody on this team that wants to come out and get stops at the beginning. Not only get stops, but have a mental edge, a mental focus on the defensive end of the floor.”
For Bynum, these four games have been relieving, yet unsatisfying. He’s confident that he’s passed a threshold for more minutes, but the Cavaliers are wise to bring him along gradually. A return to Philadelphia looms on Friday, and he’ll surely get booed mercilessly.
Between now and then, Bynum will spend his training with the Cleveland staff. “Just working toward getting back,” he said late Wednesday, “they’ve helped me.” For Andrew Bynum, so much has become part of normalcy: Those hulking pads, a training plan under the Cavaliers – all in hopes of managing his knees. So far, so good.
Nov 03, 2013 10:57 PM EST
For players drafted outside of the lottery, cracking the rotation as a rookie is an uphill battle. The teams that drafted them have higher expectations and more or less set rotations. If there is an open spot, most coaches would rather go with a veteran than a rookie. They don’t have time to let a young player grow through his mistakes, especially on the defensive end. If they can’t fill a role on the team right away, they aren’t going to play.
Year 2 is where that starts to change. With a full season and offseason under their belt, second-year players are more comfortable with the professional game, on and off the court. Things start to slow down, allowing them to showcase the skills that got them drafted in the first place.
Last year, I had Jimmy Butler, Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris, Alec Burks and Jordan Hamilton on my list of breakout second-year players. I think this year’s group could be even better. The 2012 draft was stronger than 2011 due to the number of players who stayed in school an extra year because of the lockout. Here’s five second-year players, none of whom were drafted in the lottery, who I think could make a name for themselves in 2014:
- Terrence Jones, Houston Rockets
If we’re comparing guys by their high school class, another interesting one is Jones and Tristan Thompson, two athletic 6’9 240+ power forwards from the class of 2010. Thompson declared after one season at Texas while Jones opted to return to Kentucky. The Wildcats went 38-2 and won a national title, but playing with Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist depressed his stats. Jones would have been a lottery pick in 2011 but slipped to No. 17 in 2012.
Jones has all of Thompson’s physical tools and is a more dynamic player with the ball in his hands. While he didn’t get many minutes as a rookie in Houston, he more than held his own with a 17.6 PER. Jones can put the ball on the floor, finish at the rim, match up with multiple positions and impact the game as a rebounder and shot-blocker. His inconsistent jumper could be a problem in the Rockets system, but if he gets minutes, he will produce.
- Jeffery Taylor, Charlotte Bobcats
Taylor will never be a star, but he has the tools for a 10-year career in the NBA. At 6’7 225, he’s a shooter with the size and athleticism to match up with multiple positions. As long as he makes three-pointers (34 percent as a rookie), he will have a place in the league. Unlike most shooters, he also has the ability to attack a close-out and be a secondary option in the offense. As a senior at Vanderbilt, Taylor averaged 16 points a game on 49 percent shooting.
He had a strong offseason, playing well as the lead option for the Bobcats summer league team and the Swedish national team at EuroBasket. The international experience, in particular, could be very helpful, allowing him to work on his game and improve his confidence against high-level competition. The presence of Al Jefferson should make a difference as well, since Charlotte had no one last season who could demand a double team in the post.
- Will Barton, Portland Trail Blazers
Like many young shooting guards, Barton is prone to bursts of wildness and occasional delusions of grandeur. Nevertheless, he has far more talent than a typical second-round pick and he could end up playing a big role for Portland this season. At 6’6 175 with a 6’10 wingspan, he has an intriguing combination of length and quickness. As a sophomore at Memphis, he averaged 18 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists a game on 51 percent shooting.
The Trail Blazers have a roster full of shooters, but not many guys who can get into the lane. With the ball in his hands, Barton is a dynamic player who can make plays off the dribble, finish at the rim and find the open man. The injury to CJ McCollum opens up some possible playing time for Barton as a second-unit shooting guard. If he can play enough defense to stay on the floor, his slashing ability could be a nice complement to Damian Lillard and Mo Williams.
- Perry Jones III, Oklahoma City Thunder
If you go strictly by the eye test, you would think Jones was a lottery pick. In general, 6’11 235 players just aren’t supposed to move as well as he does. He’s every bit the athlete that Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka are; he has the length and quickness to slide between all three frontcourt positions in the NBA. After biding his time in the D-League as a rookie, there is room for him to carve out a role behind Durant as a backup small forward this season.
Coming out of Baylor, the big knock on Jones was his passivity on the offensive end. However, in a more limited role in the NBA, his ability to shoot from the perimeter and finish on the pick-and-roll will make him a valuable weapon. On the defensive end, the sheer amount of length the Thunder can put on the floor with the combination of Ibaka, Durant and Jones is intriguing. Like most young big men, the key with Jones will be patience.
- Quincy Miller, Denver Nuggets
As someone who covered the 2011 Baylor team for SB Nation Dallas, I have a soft spot for Jones and Miller. Those guys were just not put in a position to succeed by Scott Drew, who really should have apologized for costing them so much money. Miller, like Jones, has a ton of talent. He’s a 6’9 210 forward with a 7’1 wingspan and the ball-handling and shooting ability of a guard. Miller is still only 20 years old; he would be a junior in college this season.
He didn’t play much as a rookie, but he could benefit from a regime change in Denver. Over the summer, Brian Shaw compared him to Paul George, whom he coached as an assistant in Indiana. That is ambitious, but I don’t think it’s insane either. Before tearing his ACL as a senior, Miller was considered one of the top 2-3 players in his class. If the Nuggets struggle, Shaw will probably turn to him at some point, just to see if he can provide a spark.
Oct 29, 2013
The goal here is look at overall long-term value of players by considering age, contract, positional scarcity and of course overall quality, without factors like a playerís connection with a franchise or fit within a specific system.
Oct 28, 2013
Over the past few days, Dan Hanner has presented his updated projection model, his season projections on ESPN Insider, Q&A's with Eamonn Brennon and John Templon, along with replying to questions on Twitter. Here are a few additional thoughts that didn't make the cut.
Oct 26, 2013
2K could have easily rested on their laurels and made something closer to a port and devoting their resources next year to making a true next generation game. Instead, they jumped that path and are putting out what feels like an entirely new game that can stand up on its own as a premier launch title and be a remarkable jumping off point for the rest of this console generation.
Oct 24, 2013
How do you take a lineup-based predictions model and make it even better? By adding a simulation and better evaluations of lower rated players.
Oct 21, 2013
While the Western Conference has six teams (Clippers, Thunder, Rockets, Grizzlies, Warriors) in its first tier, the Eastern Conference is a tier of one (Heat) with the Bulls, Pacers and Nets vying for the second tier.
Oct 16, 2013
On Nikola Mirotic, a possible threepeat for Olympiacos, Carlos Arroy's return, can CSKA buy chemistry, the rise of Ukrainian basketball and much more.
Oct 14, 2013
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has evident traits to translate into an elite player. Heís lengthy, relentless in drives to the basket, and displays a visible passion in both high and low moments in a game. His first season didnít match the expectations of the Bobcatsí No. 2 pick, and yet MKG remains a willing learner at just 20.
Oct 10, 2013
Dirk Nowitzki, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love are too good to be annually missing the playoffs. Of course, even if they make the playoffs, there is no guarantee that the Wolves, Blazers and Mavs keep their franchise player. If any of them move to the right team, the balance of power could shift.
Oct 08, 2013
Roster shakeups, injuries and skill development can all contribute to a playerís overall level of production. It can also be as simple as a situational change. These factors should all be considered when youíre on the clock on draft night in your fantasy basketball leagues.
Oct 06, 2013
As Derrick Rose went further and further into his comeback, George Hill had grasped an unmistakable trend with what was transpiring between his teamís defense and the 2011 MVP. In many ways, he sought the collisions to reassert that there will be no change in his fearless driving style.
Oct 04, 2013
The days of the $6 million per year role player may be all but over. Mo Williams, Mike Miller, Beno Udrih and Wayne Ellington are at the forefront of the new market inefficiency in the NBA -- veteran role players from the free agency bargain bin.
Oct 02, 2013
The ACC is eventually going to take over as the top basketball conference by just about every possible metric. If that doesnít happen this season with the addition of Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, it should happen next year with the addition of Louisville.
Sep 30, 2013
Health is why every deep playoff run is precious; it can be taken away at any time. To figure out which teams will reach The Finals, one question stands out above all the rest: who will keep their stars healthy?
Sep 25, 2013
At an age where most smaller guards are slowing down, Tony Parker is as good as ever. Thereís no real secret to what he does: he takes what the defense gives him and doesnít make the game hard on himself. Thatís how a slight 6í2 31-year-old dominates a sport designed for giants.
Sep 23, 2013
Beyond LeBron James and even without Paul George or Larry Sanders, there are a number of other impactful players that will hit free agency.
Sep 17, 2013
Through the first two rounds of EuroBasket 2013, thereís been no country more impressive than Serbia. Despite having the youngest team in Slovenia, with an average age of 24, they are tied for the second-best record.
Sep 12, 2013
The James Harden trade before last season hangs over every decision the Thunder make. Itís easy to forget that during the regular season, when they had both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder barely missed Harden. They had a 60-22 record, second-best in the NBA, and a +9.4 point differential, the highest mark in the league.
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