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Fresh Wounds: 3 Players Who Have Major Impact, If Healthy

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The first week of NBA basketball is all about comparing our preseason expectations to what’s happening on the court. It’s an exciting time, especially after seeing some electric scoring performances, as we look at teams with fresh eyes and analyze their potential.

For certain teams, players returning from long-term injury make expectations a lot more interesting. All over the league, we see guys with something to prove after missing significant portions of the 2015-16 season. The question then becomes, which of these returning players have the biggest impact on their team’s success? Who are the injury-prone players that, if they were to miss action again, would seriously hamper the upside of their team?

These three players fall gamely into that category. They’re not the only stars on their respective teams, like an Anthony Davis or a Paul George, but their influence is relied on heavily; without them, a free fall isn’t outside the realm of possibility.

Blake Griffin

What’s he coming back from?

Griffin missed 47 regular season games with a thigh tendon injury and a broken hand (he punched his equipment manager, which was sub-ideal). He also re-aggravated a quad injury after just four playoff games. That, coupled with a Chris Paul injury, resulted in them getting bounced in the first round by the Blazers.

How does he impact his team?

Though Chris Paul is the engine of the Clippers, there’s no question Blake Griffin is their MVP candidate. Unfortunately for LA, he’s experienced two injury-shortened seasons now.

The best reference for his potential is the 2013-14 season, when he finished third in the MVP voting behind Kevin Durant and LeBron James, carrying his team with 24.1 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists at just 24. His physical gifts were on display that year, with the ability to dunk augmented with a great face-up game. He also deftly found the ability to maneuver with DeAndre Jordan, giving himself space in the offense.

His shot chart from that year shows his phenomenal finishing ability (64.2% at the rim), but also a limited range of effective areas.

shotchart_1477954858865

Griffin is now 27, supposedly entering the physical and mental prime of NBA players. Living up to that promise, he’s added a wicked element to his game: the three-point shot. He’s smoothed out his release beautifully. Look at a comparison between an attempt in 2013 and one from just last week.

While he’s just 1-for-4 through two games, the form suggests a confidence with the shot, and Griffin’s ability to knock down the three raises his potential, while also heightening the Clippers’ ceiling immensely. Projected by many to be the biggest threat to the Warriors super-team, Griffin’s long-range game covers up for the Clippers’ major weakness: shooting at the forward positions. Luc Mbah a Moute (33% on threes last year), Wesley Johnson (33%), Paul Pierce (31%, oof), and Austin Rivers (34%) ain’t cutting it.

By stepping out and playing a smaller man’s game, Griffin also becomes a Draymond Green-type, able to cover centre minutes when other teams go small (a.k.a. The Death Lineup). Griffin typically doesn’t play a lot of minutes without Jordan next to him, but it’s a workable solution if Blake expands his range.

With yet another shallow bench, Los Angeles essentially needs Griffin to unlock that world-beater potential. Anything less than a healthy campaign, and they could really struggle.

Marc Gasol

What’s he coming back from?

Gasol missed 29 games and the entire playoff schedule with a fracture in his right foot. A frightening injury for any big man, Gasol has looked spry at the start of this season, averaging 19.3 points and 6.3 boards in three games.

How does he impact his team?

While Gasol has multiple ways to score, my favourite asset he brings to the Grizzlies is an ability to pass from the high post. On a nightly basis, he’s able to find cutters in the way of old-school bigs, knowing exactly when his guards are moving and where to set them up.

Gasol averaged 3.8 assists last season, the best among NBA centres. This is massive for the Grizzlies, who aren’t outrunning anyone — they were the third-slowest team in the league last year (only Toronto and Utah had a lower pace). When you’re not getting transition points, you need the ball to move freely in the half-court offense. Gasol provides that, in nifty ways like the video above.

Without him, Memphis is relying solely on guard penetration by Mike Conley to set up open shots. With him, you get a high post triple threat, who can shoot, pass and rebound effectively to open up your offense.

Also, lest we forget, Marc Gasol was Defensive Player of the Year in 2012-13, and his 102.9 defensive rating last season (the number of points allowed per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor) was the best out of Grizzlies playing 30 minutes or more per game.

Memphis played 28 different guys last year, a remarkable stat for a team that made the playoffs. With Mike Conley and a wealth of switchy forwards, this team has the ability to win enough games to host a playoff series. Yet, an aging Zach Randolph signalling the end of the odd couple era means there’s even more pressure on Gasol to stay healthy and lead his team.


DeMarre Carroll

What’s he coming back from?

Carroll missed 56 regular season games last season with various ailments, most notably plantar fasciitis and a knee injury. He played through other ailments in 20 playoff games, but his performance fell precipitously.

How does he impact his team?

The Raptors depend on DeMarre Carroll to be a thankless warrior. The team’s offense goes through the backcourt tandem of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, two players who prefer going downhill to the rim. The best small forward to help those players? Someone who shoots threes, doesn’t demand usage, and can play defense against the opponent’s best wing.

Carroll, in theory, fits that description to a tee. It’s what made him successful in a 60-win campaign with Atlanta in 2014-15, and why the Raptors wasted no time signing him to a 4-year, $60 million contract.

Since then, though, Carroll has only been healthy for brief spurts, most of it coming in October and November of last season. This year, he’s come in close to 100% (though still not quite there), and has been more impactful as a result.

Carroll’s reputation begins on the defensive end. While he’s still too slight to guard a behemoth like LeBron James one-on-one (something we witnessed in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals), he’s long enough to challenge others. Even while recovering from injury, he was a major annoyance for Paul George in the first round of last year’s playoffs.

On offense, Carroll has looked to expand his driving game with Toronto, but serves the team best when he’s consistently making his three-point looks. His percentage dropped off from 40.3% to 32.9% from Atlanta to the Raptors, though, and with some health, they’ll need him to get that back up.

The reason Carroll is mentioned in the same breath as Marc Gasol and Blake Griffin, truthfully, is because the Raptors have very little behind him. As the team with the best chance of toppling Cleveland in the East, Toronto can’t be banking on inconsistent Terrence Ross and undersized Norman Powell to be anchoring their perimeter defense come playoff time. They want someone with Carroll’s experience — to bring what he has the potential to, and to take pressure off of Lowry and DeRozan.

John is a sports writer hailing from the flat part of Canada. He's an editor and podcast host at SB Nation's Raptors HQ, with other sports work published in The Classical. As a freelance reporter, he's covered sports at every level in Winnipeg: from the NHL's Jets and CFL's Blue Bombers, to CIS basketball and hockey at both major universities. In his spare time, John writes too seriously about music and posts good-to-okay photography on Instagram.

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Editorial

Something Out of Nothing

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It’s March 2016, and I’m driving with Alan Shane Lewis to Montreal to meet with Marc Griffin and Phil Boileau. We’re meeting to speak about this exciting new idea I pitched to them. We were tired of spinning the wheels on our own individual internet shows, and I told them that it was time we stopped waiting for a network and became the network.

We spoke that weekend about creating a community of content creators that all loved ball and came together to make unique content with unique voices – voices we felt were never heard in the mainstream. This community was the base of Press and we’d continue to push forward from that spot. We spoke about some amazing show ideas, article ideas, social media plan. It was truly an exciting time, and still one of the best weekends of my life.

Two years later and that group is a lot smaller, and that idea is Press Basketball.

It caught fire at the beginning and we had people joining our bright shiny new plaything left, right, and center. It was exciting, but now I kind of realize that a lot of it was just that we were that “bright shiny new thing”.

We ended up with a lot of Press Basketball “members” but when I stepped back and looked at what was happening… it wasn’t what I’d imagined. The fire burned out. The idea was gone. We had just become another thing trying to stay alive, waiting for some deus ex machina to show up with money and make everything okay.

I’ve gone through most of my life making something out of nothing. It’s never easy, but when it happens it’s always worth it… ALWAYS. Press made me feel alive at a point. It was literally all I could think about, and while it still is on my mind, it doesn’t make me feel alive. This hurts more than I can ever explain.

Changes are coming my friends. We’re not laying down and dying, and if we do it’s not going to be like this.

The core of Press will be setting fire to a lot over the next few weeks and I personally can’t wait for this to start. From the ashes something new will rise (I watched a lot of XMEN growing up).

Stay tuned, because it’s not over.

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Lonzo Ball: The New Face of the Lakers

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Lonzo Ball is the new face of the Los Angeles Lakers franchise. The new savior. The Big Baller Brand is now here to stay and LaVar Ball’s family’s future is set. But is that enough?

Lonzo Ball is a great kid and athlete who knows his talent will take him to another level. The major question mark that remains is whether or not he will take the Lakers there as well. He has the platform and skillset to do so, but with that comes the added pressure from the city and league to basically become part of the next version of Kobe and Shaq. It’s too strainful for a young kid—a rookie—to achieve.  

Magic Johnson, the recently named President of Basketball of Operations for the Lakers, is taking an aggressive approach to get this team back into playoff contention his first year in. One of his first moves was sending D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets for Brook Lopez and the 27th overall pick. Brook Lopez is definitely an upgrade at center, but has a couple of years already under his belt.   

Lopez will provide a much needed veteran presence with a great IQ for the game at his position. The only downfall is that a couple of years under his belt doesn’t really transfer to great experience, but simply wasted miles on his body. He isn’t as quick as he used to be and doesn’t even rank in the top 10 centers in the league. In fact, Bleacher Report had him last season at exactly 15 out of the top 30 centers in the NBA. While he is has improved by adding the three-point range to his arsenal, there is no doubt that he is nearly past his prime, and although he can still contribute on a nightly basis, who knows how much and what effect it will have with Lonzo Ball running the point.  

Ball has great court vision that has been often compared to that of LeBron James. Combined with his passing skills, he is a true PG with tremendous upside in the backcourt. With that being said, he will only reach a certain extent. His full potential is years from being maximized and people are buying into it early on. In fact, the pressure for him to lift a sub .500 team to the playoffs for the first time in five years is daunting. 

These are Lonzo Ball’s stats during his rookie—and only—year at UCLA: 

  • 14.6 Points
  • 7.6 Assists
  • 6.0  Rebounds
  • 1.8 Steals
  • 0.8 Blocks
  • 55.1 FG%
  • 41.2 3P%

He did a tremendous job maintaining that statline and even added a triple-double in the NBA Summer League, earning him the Summer League MVP.  

Don’t get me wrong, Ball seems ready for the challenge and is definitely a one-of-a-kind talent mirroring that of Steve Nash and Jason Kidd, but he is not an All-Star or MVP—at least, not yet. These way-too-early predictions that he is the Lakers’ new savior are farfetched. He has yet to face the elite NBA offensive threats and superstars that have been at it for 10-plus years. Defensively speaking he will not be able to keep up. Not in his first year. He still needs NBA experience and a more rounded roster to be able to reach the playoffs.  

He is off to a good start, but being named NBA Summer League MVP doesn’t necessarily mean a spectacular season is coming as some think it does. Especially if you consider the previous Summer League MVP winners.

Year Nat. Player Pos. Team
2012 Damian Lillard (co-MVPs) PG Portland Trail Blazers
Josh Selby (co-MVPs) PG Memphis Grizzlies
2013 Jonas Valančiūnas C Toronto Raptors
2014 Glen Rice Jr. SG Washington Wizards
2015 Kyle Anderson SF San Antonio Spurs
2016 Tyus Jones PG Minnesota Timberwolves
2017 Lonzo Ball PG Los Angeles Lakers

With the exceptions of Damian Lillard in 2012 and Jonas Valanciunas in 2013, the past five Summer League MVP winners have gone on to produce very mediocre NBA careers. All I’m saying is, don’t read too much into NBA Summer League. It’s the pre-preseason that no one really watches or cares about.  

The NBA season is nearing—exactly a month away—and my somewhat harsh criticism of Lonzo Ball isn’t too cruel. I am just not ready to jump on the Ball bandwagon following LaVar’s prophecies of his son being the Lakers prodigal son. He won’t be. Again, at least not yet. He needs to earn his spot and the transition will surprise him his first year in. It will hit him hard, but, despite my concerns, eventually Lonzo Ball will become a future NBA All-Star and a daring NBA point guard.  

Not yet though, and until then all we can do is prepare for his official NBA debut. Until then, we can enjoy and bask in his newly released rap single paying tribute to his little brother LaMelo Ball.  

If the NBA doesn’t end up being his calling in life, at least he has a back up career in mind.

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MELO-dy Cool

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Carmelo Anthony has been traded away from the New York Knickerbockers to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

You probably knew this before you laid eyes on these words.

It honestly doesn’t matter much who the Thunder traded away for “Melo” and who the Knicks received, because they weren’t anywhere near Melo’s overall value. But, it matters that Melo himself is gone and away from New York City, and for all his accolades, he honestly had a major part to play in his exodus.

Melo altogether is a player that both outplayed and underplayed his own potential. No one that saw him at Oak Hill Academy as a high schooler could for-sure say that he’d be a superstar, and everyone that saw him at Syracuse University might say he was a can’t-miss by then.

And he didn’t miss on most of what he’s teased, he’s delivered in a lot of ways; but, the reason why he didn’t work out in New York was because he was selfish to a fault in the key places that required compromise.

Do you remember how he got to Kings County in the first place? He forced a trade to the Knicks from his then-Denver Nuggets, a team that was teasing with talent abundant, but not unlike today, stuck in the mighty Western Conference. With title contenders like the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Lakers at that time of the NBA, the 2010–2011 season, the Nuggets just weren’t going to make the noise they wanted to make. Melo was a free agent-to-be at the completion of that season, and it was likely that he’d leave. His time with the Nuggets, a very successful time, had run its course. The change was coming, and he was catalyst to the change he wanted to see in his world. Nothing wrong with that.

The problem was that Melo didn’t want to wait for New York. He wanted New York then and there, and it didn’t matter how it was going to happen.

It didn’t matter that the Knicks weren’t in a position to compete for a title during that season, something he long wanted to bring to New York upon his eventual arrival.

It didn’t matter that the Knicks would have to gut their team’s best assets in a trade for the Brooklyn-born, Baltimore-raised native. It didn’t matter that if he waited until the season was over, he could be playing with a young and promising Danilo Gallinari, Timofey Mozgov (a revelation upon his arrival to the States from Russia), amongst others.

It didn’t matter that the Knicks would have to sacrifice draft picks for him, instead of keeping them upon signing later.

It didn’t matter to Melo.

And so, when he arrived in New York, in early 2011, he received the adulation and praise of a prodigal son. Sure, the team lost some valuable talent and depth, but surely Melo would will the Knicks into wild success — just like he did in Denver, right?

And sure enough, after he rebuked the Linsanity of 2012 when Jeremy Lin became an overnight NBA superstar and balked at the prospect of Lin’s resigning, he gained some success.

The 2012–2013 season saw Melo as the closest thing to being an MVP candidate that anyone had ever seen from him as a professional in an 82-game season, but not before being totally indifferent to former head coach Mike D’Antoni’s wishes for him to play more at power forward to stretch the offensive side of the ball for the Knicks and the defenses of the opposing league teams. D’Antoni quit before the end of the 2011–2012 season, because of Melo’s loathsome resistance to D’Antoni and the coach’s embrace of Lin.

A big aspect of Melo’s failure to bring glory to Manhattan was his resistance to doing what has made him a legend in USA Basketball. Having won multiple gold medals as a stretch-four shooter, that he refused to embrace that positioning as an NBA pro limited the ability of his teams to win.

As a four, Melo, who had gained grown-man weight from natural maturity and strength and conditioning, didn’t have to be the cavity in his team’s defense as he struggled as a man-to-man defender. Moving from his formerly-natural small forward slot could allow him to defend more ably and allow someone more fleet of foot to stop the dominant wings that Melo often matched up against. Becoming something different and better in a new place would’ve allowed him the opportunity to be greater than anyone had known him to be in an NBA uniform.

But, he refused and rebuked such a change.

And one last thing: Injuries and front office politics aside, Melo was loyal to the Knicks organization through and through. But, he had a choice to go.

So, to recap, Melo forced a trade to New York that gutted the talent of the roster, and then he refused to change to a position that would behoove him and the team in the journey to championship gain.

Well, he also had a chance to leave for greener pastures and become a Chicago Bull, where he could experience more success with a front office committed to his development and surrounding talent. He didn’t want to do that, and that’s fair. New York was home, but if he was going to win in New York, seeing as to how being the way that he’d always been wasn’t helping — that is shoot-first, ask questions and defend later — why return to The Big Apple if you aren’t going to change?

He saw what being a score-only wing was giving his teams — it gave his teams very little success for the vast majority of 14 years. Sure, his Nuggets and Knicks made the playoffs (not so much New York) much of the time, but he said he wasn’t playing for that.

In the end, Melo and the Knicks not working out could be seen before he even became a Knick, when Melo stomped his way out of Denver to play immediately for New York when it would’ve behooved him to stay put for two more months.

Championship or bust, they say.

He couldn’t really compromise too well for the chip, it appears.

In the end, Carmelo Anthony — despite years of league-leading jersey sales, runway appearances, and bright lights on the New York City streets with LaLa — was a big, fat, shining, New York bust.

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Editorial4 months ago

Something Out of Nothing

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