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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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Featured Article

Ride The Wave

Back in October the sky was the limit. LeBron had decided to move to LA and join the Lakers. Things were good then.

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Back in October the sky was the limit. LeBron had decided to move to LA and join the Lakers, drawing in a decent support team and a lot of talk that the West was looking incredibly dominant next to a “weaker” East. Things were good then.

Five months later and things couldn’t be farther from that idylistic picture. The East thrived without the King and GMs put together some of the most noteworthy teams in a while. And the Lakers? The Lakers currently sit in the 11th spot of the Western Conference with very little hope of making it to the playoffs. They’re a team that is constantly attacked for their lack of chemistry, skill, and effort. For the first time in a long time, LA became synonymous with “hopeless”.

This wasn’t the future we saw for the King.

On the heels of a night filled with one of his greatest achievements ever, the Lakers as a team walked away with a loss to the Denver Nuggets. A night that began on a high note went out on one that was equivalent to sour candy. Furthermore, a frustrated team left an arena, hopped on social media, and found a bevy of congrats for their star player, while enduring the storm that came with another Lakers loss.

It seems that James’ stardom has reached a tipping point, one that makes him a GM one moment, the King of the league the next, and finally the biggest point of contention within the locker room. The most notable thing is that it is clearly wearing him down. Chris Martin let us know that “nobody one said it was easy”, but you’ve got to ask yourself, does it have to be so hard?

The answer is unfortunately, yes. It’s always going to be this way, and there is no fighting the current, but there is beauty in riding the wave. Embracing that moment when the wave comes crashing down on you is important, because it’s always going to happen, but your attitude will always be remembered. LeBron rides high, and keeps things in the positive light for the media, but he’s got to realize that they are writing his story, and he doesn’t have to play into their’s. Ride the wave, and take the loss in stride with all the great that has come with it, but take the loss because your part of a team that is.

The wave has crashed down, but the current will bring another.

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Year 15 | A Mini Documentary

Year 15 of a legacy…

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What’s to come for the man on top, and what got him here?

It’s Year 15 of a man’s career, but it’s also Year 15 of a legacy…

Created by Tristan Laughton | Twitter: @Ctrice

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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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