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'Hawks in the NBA

Nick Collison not ready to retire just yet

Oklahoma City Thunder's Enes Kanter, left, of Turkey, and Nick Collison confer during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday, April 11, 2017, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Oklahoma City Thunder's Enes Kanter, left, of Turkey, and Nick Collison confer during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Minnesota Timberwolves Tuesday, April 11, 2017, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Thirteen-year NBA veteran Nick Collison isn’t going anywhere. Well, at least he doesn’t plan to call it a career just yet.

The former Kansas star said Wednesday, less than 24 hours removed from Oklahoma City’s first-round playoff loss to Houston, he doesn’t intend to retire — a scenario he previously said he at least would consider.

“I plan to play for sure. I wasn't sure going into the season how I would feel at the end of the year, but I still enjoy playing, and I enjoy being around the group. I enjoy being on the team, and I still think I have something to offer,” the 36-year-old post player said during exit interviews with Oklahoma media.

Now more of an unofficial assistant coach for the Thunder than a member of the rotation, Collison played in a career-low 20 games this season, leading to more uncharted small averages, such as 6.4 minutes, 1.7 points and 1.5 rebounds.

Every season as a rugged role player, Collison has suited up for the same organization, playing for the Seattle Super Sonics before the franchise relocated to OKC. His current deal expires this summer, but the veteran who mentors young bigs such as Steven Adams, Enes Kanter and Domantas Sabonis for the Thunder indicated he’d like to continue his run of loyalty with the franchise.

“I’ve been treated great here, and I've had great experiences here, and it's been the best basketball years of my life, for sure, playing here,” Collison said. “… There's no answers today. Everyone has been focusing on this season, these playoffs, and today is the first day we start thinking about what comes next.”

As much as the 6-foot-10 reserve has experienced in the NBA since being selected 12th overall in 2003, uncertainty isn’t exactly an area of expertise. Collision said he knew before high school he would play for Iowa Falls and knew before college he would play for the Jayhawks, but the only other time he didn’t know what would come next was when he graduated from Kansas and had no way of predicting which team would take him in the rookie draft.

“It's a little different,” he said of the coming offseason. “I think about it, but I've got really good relationships with all the people here, so I think it'll be honest and fair, and we'll just — I think both sides just have to find the best thing, and we'll figure it out.”

It won’t be too long before the big man’s playing days are completely through. Collison said he has considered what he will do as a young retiree, but didn’t dive into the specifics or whether he would transition into a coaching or front-office position of some sort.

“I think I said it last year, things change a lot in a short amount of time, and people's mindset, my mindset changes over time, so I think it's best to just look at it as what's the next thing,” Collison said, “and I think that's always helped me as a player, to just say what's the next thing, and I'm going to keep doing that.”

Per Game Table
Season Age Tm G GS MP FG FGA FG% 3P% eFG% FT FTA FT% ORB TRB AST STL BLK PTS
2004-0524SEA82417.02.34.3.537.000.5371.01.4.7031.94.60.40.40.65.6
2005-0625SEA662721.93.16.0.525.000.5251.21.7.6992.25.61.10.30.57.5
2006-0726SEA825629.03.97.8.500.000.5001.92.4.7742.88.11.00.60.89.6
2007-0827SEA783528.54.18.2.502.000.5021.62.1.7373.39.41.40.60.89.8
2008-0928OKC714025.83.46.0.568.000.5681.41.9.7212.56.90.90.70.78.2
2009-1029OKC75520.82.44.1.589.250.5911.01.4.6922.05.10.50.50.65.9
2010-1130OKC71221.51.93.4.566.5660.81.0.7531.74.51.00.60.44.6
2011-1231OKC63020.71.93.2.597.000.5970.71.0.7101.94.31.30.50.44.5
2012-1332OKC81219.52.23.7.595.000.5950.71.0.7691.54.11.50.60.45.1
2013-1433OKC81016.71.73.0.556.235.5640.81.1.7101.43.61.30.40.34.2
2014-1534OKC66216.71.63.8.419.267.4510.71.0.6921.43.81.40.50.44.1
2015-1635OKC59411.80.81.8.459.000.4590.40.6.6971.22.90.90.30.32.1
2016-1736OKC2006.40.71.2.609.000.6090.30.4.6250.51.50.60.10.11.7
Career89517720.72.54.6.533.208.5351.01.4.7262.05.21.00.50.56.0
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/26/2017.
Reply 7 comments from Jayhawkmarshall Harlan Hobbs Tony Bandle Creg Bohrer Plasticjhawk Tim Orel Eliott Reeder

‘Crown jewel’ of 76ers, recovering Joel Embiid argues he was Rookie of Year

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 30, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 30, 2016, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Joel Embiid would like it if you forgot the number 31. And 51 for that matter.

Do the former Kansas center a favor, and don’t remember that he played in 31 games as a rookie for Philadelphia — and missed 51 in total, due to both his injury history and a new knee setback.

When picking the NBA’s Rookie of the Year, Embiid hopes those who voted exercised selective recall — overlooking those aforementioned numerals in favor of others attached with his first season in the NBA. Such as: 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in 25.4 minutes per game.

The 23-year-old phenom, whose past several years have been plagued with foot, back and knee damage, recently told ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan he should win the award.

"I know people are saying about me, 'Oh, he only played 31 games.' But look at what I did in those 31 games — averaging the amount of points I did in just 25 minutes,” Embiid argued for his case.

Neither of the other candidates for the award, his Sixers teammate Dario Saric and Milwaukee guard Malcolm Brogdon, dominated in the fashion Embiid did. But they did play the bulk of the 82-game schedule, so voters will not as much reward them for that as count Embiid’s relative lack of appearances against him.

Per Game Table
Player G MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% eFG% FT FTA FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PF PTS
Joel Embiid3125.46.513.8.4661.23.2.367.5086.27.9.7832.05.97.82.10.92.53.83.620.2
Dario Saric8126.34.711.4.4111.34.2.311.4682.12.7.7821.45.06.32.20.70.42.32.012.8
Malcolm Brogdon7526.43.98.5.4571.02.6.404.5181.51.7.8650.62.22.84.21.10.21.51.910.2
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 4/24/2017.

Had Embiid come along in another year, under the same circumstances, it would be easy to select some other promising rookie ahead of him. But because there was no Andrew Wiggins or Karl-Anthony Towns type making his NBA debut in 2016-17, Embiid is likely to still get some love as the top rookie. If there were a category for mesmerizing on-court moments, Embiid would blow away the competition —Saric, Brogdon and the rest of the rookie class combined. Some who voted for the award must have come back to that while processing their decision.

The votes are in. A rookie of the year already has been selected. We just won’t know the results until, June 26, when it’s announced at the league’s inaugural NBA Awards Show.

Embiid told MacMullan his production when healthy should count for something.

“Even going back to the All-Star Game, I didn't get chosen for that, and people were killing me because I didn't play 30 minutes a game,” Embiid said. “But here's what I don't understand: If I put up those numbers in less time than another guy, what's the difference? Doesn't it mean I did more in less time? Wait until I play as many minutes as those guys, then you will see what I do.”

Of course, we’ll have to sit tight until next season to see more of Embiid. At least early reports on his health are promising. Before the 76ers shut down their franchise center for the season, the team feared he had fully torn the meniscus in his left knee. However, Embiid was flexing his surgically-repaired leg with no pain during his interview with ESPN.

“It really turned out to be nothing,” he said, “just a small, little thing. So that's very good."

Philadelphia’s president of basketball operations, Bryan Colangelo, even went as far as to predict playing on back-to-back nights won’t be an issue for Embiid next season.

None by Keith Pompey

Currently in the early stages of rehabbing, Embiid said his summer plans revolve around strengthening both legs, so he holds up better over the course of his second year of playing.

"I realize I have to take better care of myself," the big man from Cameroon said. "I didn't realize how good I could be. Especially seeing what I accomplished this year ... I want to keep on getting better."

Sixers head coach Brett Brown, like many, looks forward to the day when Embiid can just exist as a regular player, in terms of his availability. Brown recently spoke with The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski about the challenges associated with his most talented player only functioning in limited stints.

“I always felt that he was on lend. We couldn’t really practice him, he had multiple minute restrictions, he couldn’t play sometimes back-to-backs,” Brown said, before commending Embiid for handling it all relatively well.

“Because he is so highly competitive — it’s the single quality of Joel Embiid that I’m most attracted to; he is just fiercely competitive — then that became a challenge,” the coach explained. “He didn’t want to hear it. He wants to play.”

Ultimately, the flashes of greatness their center displayed, Brown said, made it clear he was the type of talent who could turn around the struggling franchise.

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid in action during an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid in action during an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

As an example, the coach pointed to an early possession in what proved to be Embiid’s final game of his shortened season. The center had just missed a week before returning to the lineup. Playing with an injured left knee, Embiid had a chance out of a pick-and-pop versus Houston to either shoot a 3-pointer — he made 36-for-98 (36.7%) on the year — or drive it.

Brown recalled the savage result following one dribble on the catch-and-go move by Embiid:

“Truly violent. He could’ve ripped the backboard down. And you step back and you say, ‘Oh, my goodness.’ It’s a reminder just how he thinks and plays. There is zero backdown to Joel Embiid. Now wrap that up in 7-foot-2 and a skill package as we’ve seen at 275 pounds, well, you’ve got something quite unique.”

Now that Embiid and the Sixers organization have seen exactly what he’s capable of producing when in the lineup, figuring out the best strategies for keeping him healthy remain critical.

“That is the crown jewel,” Brown said. “That is our difference-maker. He is completely unique. And even in those borrowed-time moments, he gave enough example for all of us to recognize that he’s extremely special.”

Maybe voters remembered those 31 games and counted the 51 missed against Embiid. But the true hope is a Rookie of the Year Award — whether won by him for being the most impressive first-year player, or someone else by default — will long be forgotten by the end of a lengthy, prolific career.

Reply 3 comments from Eliott Reeder Lance Hobson

Wayne Selden Jr. comes through with highlight jam in Memphis playoff victory

San Antonio Spurs center Pau Gasol, left, passes the ball over Memphis Grizzlies guard Wayne Selden Jr., center, and forward Zach Randolph (50) during the second half of Game 3 in an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Thursday, April 20, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

San Antonio Spurs center Pau Gasol, left, passes the ball over Memphis Grizzlies guard Wayne Selden Jr., center, and forward Zach Randolph (50) during the second half of Game 3 in an NBA basketball first-round playoff series Thursday, April 20, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

Wayne Selden Jr., only experienced 14 regular-season games as an un-drafted rookie, but the former Kansas guard on Thursday night didn’t let a much larger stage keep him from delivering his first NBA Playoffs moment.

With Memphis on its way to putting away Western Conference juggernaut San Antonio in the fourth quarter of Game 3, Selden came through with an electrifying slam reminiscent of his days with the Jayhawks.

A late-season addition for the Grizzlies, Selden’s duties on offense typically involve hanging out in either corner, behind the 3-point line as his veteran teammates such as Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph go to work. But the 6-foot-5 wing saw his chance late versus the Spurs to prove he could be more than a warm body and defender.

After catching the ball on the left wing with Memphis up 20 and well on its way to cutting the Spurs’ series lead to 2-1, Selden looked to throw an entry pass to Randolph before realizing that would be a bad idea. With Z-Bo occupying his post defender, Selden went to work on his man, Kyle Anderson.

Selden drove hard toward the left baseline, getting an angle on Anderson. Once he had his man beat, the rookie rose up for a wicked, one-handed slam.

None by Memphis Grizzlies

In just his 17th NBA game — third postseason affair — Selden gave the Grizzlies, playing without injured Tony Allen, 10 points, 2 boards and an assist. He shot 4-for-9 from the floor, 2-for-4 on 3-pointers and didn’t turn the ball over.

In his first two playoff games combined, both at San Antonio, Selden totaled just two successful field goals on 10 tries while playing as a fill-in starter for Allen.

The 22-year-old newbie felt much better about his Game 3 showing, particularly the highlight slam.

“Yeah, it was fun,” Selden said in a postgame interview with FOX Sports Southeast. “It’s that boost for the team, gets the team going, pumps energy into the crowd. It’s just good for the team.”

None by Memphis Grizzlies

Though he didn’t start at Memphis Thursday, Selden played 28 minutes off the bench and provided the home team with a spark.

“We just wanted to come out and be aggressive,” Selden said following a 105-94 win. “Whoever was out there had to play their minutes hard. You get tired, somebody else comes in.”

Considering he spent most of the season in the D-League and made his NBA debut with New Orleans, Selden’s contributions — while not massive — are rather remarkable. He made his Memphis debut March 18 and now he’s finding spots to make an impact in the playoffs.

Game 4 of Spurs-Grizzlies is Saturday (8 p.m., ESPN).

Reply 4 comments from Barry Weiss Creg Bohrer Jmfitz85 Ben Berglund

A KU fan’s viewing guide to the 2017 NBA Playoffs

Washington Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) and Washington Wizards forward Markieff Morris (5) try to keep Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) from getting the rebound from a foul shot during the fourth quarter of NBA basketball game Friday, March 31, 2017, in Salt Lake City. The Utah Jazz won the game 95-88. (AP Photo/Chris Nicoll)

Washington Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) and Washington Wizards forward Markieff Morris (5) try to keep Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) from getting the rebound from a foul shot during the fourth quarter of NBA basketball game Friday, March 31, 2017, in Salt Lake City. The Utah Jazz won the game 95-88. (AP Photo/Chris Nicoll)

Among the 16 former Kansas players active in the NBA during the 2016-17 regular season — henceforth known as the dawn of The Joel Embiid Era — only six get a crack at the spotlight known as The Playoffs.

For those Jayhawks fans in search of a team to follow in the postseason, look no further than the Washington Wizards.

The Eastern Conference’s No. 4 seed utilizes two former Bill Self players — starter Markieff Morris and backup Kelly Oubre Jr. — in its rotation.

Morris, a sixth-year power forward, isn’t the face of the franchise by any means — that moniker belongs to point guard John Wall. But those in the Wizards locker room will argue the 27-year-old Morris is as important as anyone this spring, as Washington tries to make a deep run in the East.

The 27-year-old former Kansas standout put up 20 points in each of his final two regular-season appearances. As detailed by CSN Mid-Atlantic, Morris’ production tied in with the team’s success throughout the year, so the Wizards expect plenty out of him as they open a first-round series with Atlanta on Sunday afternoon.

Check out Morris’ splits in D.C. wins and losses, as referenced by CSN:

  • Played in 45 of 49 wins. In those games, Morris shot 39.1% from 3-point range and made 48% of his shots overall.

  • In 31 losses he played in, Morris shot 32.1% on 3-pointers and only 42.3% overall.

“When he makes 3s, we’re a different team and I’ve told him that," first-year Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said. "I’d like him to take four to five threes if he’s there in a rhythm, he’s comfortable and his feet are set. He can make those at a 40-something percent clip. … I’m glad it’s starting to come back. He had a stretch there it wasn’t falling for him but he didn’t stop working and it’s paying off.”

Even better news for Brooks, Morris and his teammates: now that the playoffs are here, the schedule isn’t as demanding and Morris (14.0 points per game, 6.5 rebounds this season) has proven to be an efficient, productive scorer when rested. And there will be at least a two-day break between games in the playoffs.

More telling numbers from CSN:

  • On zero days rest (15 times), Morris shot 41.8% overall and 31.6% from 3.

  • On one day of rest (42 times), Morris shot 43.8% overall and 32.3% from 3.

  • On two days of rest (11 times), Morris shot 52.2% overall and 46.7% from 3. 

  • On three days of rest (five times), Morris shot 56.9% overall and 50% from three.

As for Oubre, a key sub and perimeter defender — the 6-7 wing closed the last couple weeks of his second season averaging 10.7 points and 4.5 rebounds in April (though he only made 38.6% of his field goals and 25% of his 3-pointers).

The up-and-coming 21-year-old recently received a glowing review from one of the league’s elite players, Golden State’s Kevin Durant:

“Some of these young cats that come into the league, they got super confidence, uber-confidence, and they just go through the motions, where they’re just too cool, you know what I’m saying? But he had a little — he had some dog in him,” Durant said of Oubre while speaking on The Bill Simmons Podcast. “He might foul you hard. That’s how I know, actually, if young guys they really want it. They’ll foul you hard and play physical. I was playing with him and he’d foul me hard, and I’m like, ‘I like that. I like that you care.’ Because a lot of these cats don’t care about the game.”

Other KU players to watch

Wayne Selden Jr., Memphis Grizzlies

Memphis Grizzlies guard Wayne Selden (7) shoots against Detroit Pistons center Boban Marjanovic (51) in the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, April 9, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

Memphis Grizzlies guard Wayne Selden (7) shoots against Detroit Pistons center Boban Marjanovic (51) in the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, April 9, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

He’s by far the least experienced NBA player on their roster, but the seventh-seeded Memphis Grizzlies might actually need the youthful legs of Wayne Selden Jr., versus West power San Antonio — in a best-of-seven series that begins Saturday.

First-year head coach David Fizdale recently explained Selden’s worth to The Commercial Appeal.

“He can play. I wasn’t giving out charity minutes. He was balling,” Fizdale said. “The kid is built for the league. He’s got a great two guard’s body. He reminds me a lot of Dwyane Wade from a body standpoint (with) big shoulders. And he knows how to play. He’s got an IQ about him. We’re just going to work hard to develop him and see where it takes us, but I really like what I’m seeing so far.”

After going un-drafted and making his NBA debut with New Orleans, Selden caught on with Memphis late in the season and has played in all of 11 games for the Grizzlies.

Though he likely won’t play as much in the postseason — unless all the games are out of reach — Selden averaged 27.5 minutes in the Grizzlies’ final six games, averaging 8.2 points, 2.0 assists and shooting 42.9% from the floor.

The rest of the Jayhawks

  • Only a handful of games remain in Paul Pierce’s storied career, so get a glimpse of him while you can in his brief reserve minutes, as the fourth-seeded Los Angeles Clippers face Utah, beginning Saturday night.

  • Nick Collison barely plays any more for the sixth-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder, but at least you can see his reactions as MVP candidates Russell Westbrook and James Harden square off. Houston vs. OKC tips off Sunday night. Who knows, the offseason could mark the end of Collison’s 13-year career, as well. Here’s what he said on the mater to The Oklahoman:

“I don’t know, we’ll see,” Collison said of his future. “All season long, I’ve said I’m gonna wait until the season’s over and figure that stuff out, so I’m holding to that; the season’s not over yet.”

  • Playing behind one of the league’s top defensive players, center Rudy Gobert, Jeff Withey doesn’t get a lot of run with fifth-seeded Utah. The 7-foot shot-blocker who starred at Kansas averaged 2.9 points and 2.4 boards in 8.5 minutes in his fourth NBA season. Look for him in spurts against the Clippers and Pierce, in a series that could go seven games.
Reply 3 comments from Shannon Gustafson Ben Berglund Eliott Reeder

Appearances in D-League critical to rookie Cheick Diallo’s progress

Denver Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler, left, defends against New Orleans Pelicans forward Cheick Diallo during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, April 7, 2017, in Denver. The Nuggets won 122-106. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Denver Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler, left, defends against New Orleans Pelicans forward Cheick Diallo during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, April 7, 2017, in Denver. The Nuggets won 122-106. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Now that the New Orleans Pelicans are out of the playoff race in the NBA’s Western Conference, the organization has been willing to give second-round draft choice Cheick Diallo a longer look before the regular season concludes this week.

Playing more than 10 minutes for just the fourth time all season this past weekend in a Pelicans loss to Golden State, Diallo put up seven points and nine rebounds in 26 minutes. But a great deal of the former Kansas big man’s work and development over the past several months occurred in much smaller D-League arenas with far fewer people paying attention.

As detailed in The Advocate, Diallo, a 20-year-old native of Mali, experienced seven different stints in the D-League during his rookie season with New Orleans, suiting up for three different minor league teams: the Austin Spurs, Long Island Nets and Greensboro Swarm.

With only two games left in the NBA season, Diallo has played just 15 times for the Pelicans, because the team didn’t need a raw, 6-foot-9 project on the floor when it had bigs such as Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins to eat up minutes and man the paint. Rather than letting Diallo accumulate rust as an end-of-the-bench forward, the Pelicans kept their slim, athletic backup active with trips to the D-League, with experience and development in mind. You may recall Diallo only played 202 minutes in 27 games for Kansas, so he needed all the game reps he could get.

“I just know the D-Leagues helped me a lot and it would help anyone a lot,” Diallo told The Advocate, while discussing his many trips back and forth from New Orleans to at times less glamorous locales. “I needed to play games. And some of it was better than other teams, but it was good for me. And everyone here tells me I’m too young to say I’m tired. So I’m not tired.”

It was in his most recent 15-game stretch that Diallo displayed the talent that many hoped he would bring to KU in his one-and-done 2015-16 season. The young power forward said he felt most comfortable playing for Greensboro, and he averaged 17.1 points and 10.5 rebounds.

New Orleans general manager Dell Demps told The Advocate it was important Diallo bought in to the franchise’s plan for him.

“Some guys want to skip steps, and he doesn’t. He wants to play. There were times when we wanted him around the team for practice purposes and he would bring an energy we really liked,” Demps said. “It was a combination of him getting minutes and practicing with our team so he could learn the system and gain familiarity with our team.”

When Diallo wasn’t practicing with the big boys, he was honing his craft with lower-level affiliates. Chris Reichert, who writes about the D-League at FanSided.com, recently detailed how the Pelicans took a low-risk gamble drafting the energetic big early in the second round and now can begin to see it paying off. Playing more than he had since his high school days Diallo, Reichert details, was able to stretch the floor a little with his 2-point jumpers and use his athleticism and eye-popping 7-foot-4.5 wingspan on both ends of the floor, as well as in transition.

Though some young NBA players might have scoffed at spending so much time on a lesser stage, Diallo explained to The Advocate why he enjoyed his assignments.

“I just want to play, you know?” Diallo said. “I go to any place and I don’t even know the coaches or the players on some of these D-League teams. Then I play a few games and then I’m back with our team and practicing with (Davis) and coach (Kevin) Hanson. Sometimes I didn’t even know where I was, whether in North Carolina or Texas or wherever.”

Praised by the general manager for his progress and exceeding expectations, now Diallo’s head coach, Alvin Gentry, can try and determine just how much his rookie’s time in the D-League helped him by playing him late in the season at the highest level.

“I want to see him against some NBA competition to see if he’s grasped what we’re trying to do philosophically from an offensive standpoint and our defensive concepts,” Gentry said. “We want to try to take a look at him, to see exactly where he is.”

The Pelicans (33-47) close the regular season with two road games, before they’ll have another chance to further evaluate Diallo in a few months, at The Summer League.

Eventually, you just might see him making an impact in The Association, and if Diallo is able to do that, he’ll have his patience and work ethic to thank.

Reply 4 comments from Eliott Reeder Pius Waldman Dee Shaw Mike Greer

Thomas Robinson aims to prove his worth with late-season increase in minutes

Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin, left, reacts as Los Angeles Lakers forward Thomas Robinson, right, goes to the basket during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, April 1, 2017, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Kang)

Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin, left, reacts as Los Angeles Lakers forward Thomas Robinson, right, goes to the basket during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, April 1, 2017, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ryan Kang)

As has been the case throughout his professional career, since leaving Kansas to become the fifth overall pick in the 2012 draft, Thomas Robinson has spent far more of this, his fifth, season in the NBA as a spectator than he would like.

The Los Angeles Lakers, among the worst teams in the league, are more committed to giving minutes to young players they have on long contracts, so Robinson, who will again become a free agent in July, has only played in 43 of his team’s 77 games.

However, an injury to rookie 7-footer Ivica Zubac, whom the Lakers drafted at the top of the second round in 2016, has meant a recent leap for Robinson’s minutes. And the 26-year-old power forward hasn’t let the opportunity go to waste.

The 6-foot-10 backup big man scored in double figures for the third straight game on Sunday, in L.A.’s victory over Memphis. Robinson told reporters afterward — as seen in a video posted by LakersNation.com — he’s thankful coach Luke Walton has given him more chances of late.

“Now I can show all the aspects of my game,” Robinson said following a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) in 20 minutes, “and it took a minute, but it’s here.”

Following a string of three consecutive DNP’s, Robinson scored 12 points at Minnesota, 16 points in a road game versus the Los Angeles Clippers and, following a 5-for-9 shooting effort against the Grizzlies, has shot 18-for-33 (55%) from the floor with an increased role in his past three games.

Robinson, who’s averaging 4.7 points in 11.1 minutes on the season, said getting more than a cameo has allowed him to prove he’s not one-dimensional.

“That I’m mobile. I’m not just a bruiser,” the former KU star said of what he has shown. “But with all due means I would take that definition and run with it for years. But I think there’s a little bit more to my game — not saying that’s what I want to be known as — just if you recognize it, respect it.”

Robinson spent much of his most recent strong showing grappling in the paint against veteran big body Zach Randolph.

“I’ll battle with anybody. I love it, though. Z-Bo’s like an old head to me,” Robinson said. “I’ve been watchin' his game for years and talkin’ to him throughout the years and he’s constantly tellin' me to keep pushin’.”

The late-season surge for Robinson really began when he poured in 16 points in 10 minutes on March 21, in a blowout loss to the Clippers.

“I don’t want to say I proved a point,” Robinson told The Orange County Register at the time. “But hopefully I showed I’m capable of performing at this level when I play.”

Currently suiting up for his sixth NBA franchise, Robinson told The Register the only thing he could do was prepare himself to perform.

“That’s all part of being a pro. That’s my job description this year,” Robinson added. “It’s to be ready whenever my name is called. It’s probably not called when I want. But that’s my job description. So I have to come in here and do it.”

Walton, the Lakers’ first-year head coach, praised Robinson’s approach.

“He’s been one of our hardest workers all year,” Walton said. “He made the team by how hard he worked.”

An NBA nomad, Robinson remains hopeful the impression he has made in L.A. will allow him to stick around beyond this season. He told The Register he would do “anything possible” to re-sign with the Lakers this summer.

“I would love to be here for a few years,” Robinson said. “Just be somewhere for a while.”

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Kelly Oubre Jr. making name for himself on defense

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James (23) keeps the ball from Washington Wizards' Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Cleveland, Saturday, March 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James (23) keeps the ball from Washington Wizards' Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Cleveland, Saturday, March 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

Little stood out about Kelly Oubre Jr.’s first year in the NBA. The first-round pick out of Kansas played sparingly for a middling team that missed the playoffs, despite much loftier expectations.

Rookie seasons are made to deliver hard lessons, though. Now Oubre has transformed himself into a much more reliable member of the Washington Wizards and has played a key part in the team’s climb toward the top of the Eastern Conference standings.

A year ago, Oubre revealed recently in an interview on the Wizards Tipoff podcast, he just felt happy to be in the league. The 21-year-old now finds himself in a situation, under first-year Wizards head coach Scott Brooks, where he has peace of mind and confidence, because he knows his performance is important to the Washington’s success.

The 6-foot-7 forward comes off the bench for the Wizards, and only averages 19.5 minutes and 5.9 points on the season. But Brooks needs Oubre’s defense, and the second-year wing often guards the opponent’s best wing — think: LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, etc. But the athletic sub also has shown a capacity to help star D.C. guards John Wall and Bradley Beal out by defending smaller guards, such as Boston’s Isaiah Thomas.

“I think that’s something different that these teams aren’t used to,” Oubre said on Wizards Tipoff. “Just a 6-7 long defender coming out and guarding point guards, especially of the smaller caliber. It’s fun to me, man. It’s a challenge. Obviously these guys are great. These guys are good at what they do. And going out there and competing and trying to hold them from their average is something that I take pride in, man. I don’t want anybody to come in and let their best player just torch us.”

“And it’s fun to guard the other team’s best player,” Oubre added. “If it’s a point guard, if it’s s shooting guard, small forward, power forward — no matter what I want to guard him. My teammates give me that confidence to pretty much go out and guard anybody.”

Self-assured in all he does, even Oubre had to get a boost to his boldness last week upon scoring 16 points on 7-for-8 shooting, with 7 rebounds and a steal in 26 minutes off the bench at Cleveland — a game Washington (46-29) won on the home floor of the NBA’s defending champions.

Oubre didn’t hesitate to call it his best game of the season.

“Defensively, offensively everything clicking and my teammates playing well all around,” Oubre said. “And just the energy that I brought that game I felt was like something that was one of the best games I’ve put together all around.”

Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) and Washington Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) battle for a loose ball during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Boston, Monday, March 20, 2017. The Celtics defeated the Wizards 110-102. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) and Washington Wizards forward Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) battle for a loose ball during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Boston, Monday, March 20, 2017. The Celtics defeated the Wizards 110-102. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

As recently as a few weeks ago, this new-and-improved version of Oubre disappeared momentarily. In four games in early March, he played single-digit minutes and didn’t play at all on another occasion. Oubre said he realized then he just had to become more consistent in everything he did.

“I know my niche. I know what I need to do,” he said, “so I think I’m just growing and learning as a person and then Coach Brooks is doing a great job of molding me into the player I know I can become.”

Now a key backup for the No. 3 team in the East, Oubre has made a name for himself in NBA circles and wants to prove he is as an “ultimate professional.” It’s an approach he admits now he didn’t take in what he considers his worst game of the season, at Brooklyn in early February. Oubre started for fellow Jayhawk Markieff Morris that day, went scoreless in 33 minutes and “wasn’t a factor at all.” It’s a showing he won’t soon forget because it disappointed him greatly.

“That ---- won’t happen again,” Oubre said, calling it another lesson as he works toward becoming a more complete player.

None by CSN Wizards

The second-year pro feels fortunate Brooks has shown patience with him and allowed Oubre to learn and develop. In that same Cleveland game when he looked so good he also gambled defensively a couple of times and gave up 3-pointers to sharpshooter Kyle Korver.

“It’s just lesson learned,” Oubre said of such occasions. “I know it won’t happen again. Once I make one mistake I try not to let it happen twice. If I do let it happen twice, it won’t happen again for a fact.”

As a rookie, playing for a different coaching staff, Oubre didn’t get to experience the postseason. This spring, he and the Wizards are in position to host at least one round of the playoffs. After an awful 3-9 start to the year, Washington is surging (currently two games behind the Cavaliers and Boston for the No. 1 seed).

“The vibe is different. We want it all. We want everything people said we couldn’t have,” said Oubre, who has scored in double figures three straight games. “And we’re a team that’s not really gonna talk about it too much. We’re a team that’s gonna go out, put the work in and we’re gonna do it.”

— Listen to the entire podcast below.

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Wayne Selden makes NBA debut with Pelicans, receives starting spot

Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. (1) throws a baseline pass over Villanova guard Josh Hart (3) during the second half, Saturday, March 26, 2016 at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky.

Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. (1) throws a baseline pass over Villanova guard Josh Hart (3) during the second half, Saturday, March 26, 2016 at KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky. by Nick Krug

About a week after signing a 10-day contract with the New Orleans Pelicans, former Kansas guard Wayne Selden Jr. certainly has earned some opportunities to play at the sport’s highest level.

Selden made his NBA debut Tuesday — receiving a spot in the start lineup alongside the likes of Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

In his debut, he missed a 3-pointer and made two of four free throws in 15 minutes. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Selden added three rebounds, an assist, a turnover and four fouls.

The next night, Wednesday, Selden — in another start — drained one of two 3-pointers while grabbing a steal and rebound in 13 minutes.

None by NBA Draft

Undrafted last summer, Selden scored 18.5 points in 35 games in the NBA’s D-League. A former second-team all-Big 12 selection, Selden was shooting 34.9 percent from 3-point range with the D-League’s Iowa Energy, adding 4.8 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game.

When Selden’s 10-day contract expires this weekend, the Pelicans could sign Selden to another 10-day contract or opt not to renew, which would likely send Selden back to the D-League.

None by Frank Mason

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Wayne Selden Jr. about to get first crack in NBA with New Orleans

FILE — Wayne Selden Jr., left, drives as Minnesota Timberwolves' Tyus Jones, center, and Cole Aldrich defend during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016, in Minneapolis. Selden on March 7, 2017, agreed to a 10-day contract with the New Orleans Pelicans. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

FILE — Wayne Selden Jr., left, drives as Minnesota Timberwolves' Tyus Jones, center, and Cole Aldrich defend during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016, in Minneapolis. Selden on March 7, 2017, agreed to a 10-day contract with the New Orleans Pelicans. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

His post-college plans didn’t go exactly how he hoped after Wayne Selden Jr. left Kansas a year early to turn pro, but more than eight moths after going un-drafted, it looks like the athletic guard is about to get his first crack at the NBA.

According to various reports around the league, including one from ESPN’s Marc Stein, New Orleans will sign Selden, who played in the preseason with Memphis and has spent his time since in the D-League, to a 10-day contract.

Passed over by the entire league at the 2016 NBA Draft, Selden had to toil with the Iowa Energy to earn a break. In 35 D-League games, the 6-foot-5 guard put up 18.5 points a night, while shooting 34.9% from 3-point range and contributing 4.8 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 30.6 minutes.

“I feel like I’m close to being an NBA player,” Selden said in a feature interview for the D-League earlier this season. “I feel like I could be at that level.”

“Instead of going overseas,” he added, “I feel like I should stay here and achieve that goal.”

In a D-League highlight package from January, Selden can be seen handling the ball in transition to go get a layup, pulling up for a successful 15-foot jumper, elevating over his man on the perimeter for a smooth 3-pointer, attacking his man to get contact before putting back his own miss, finishing high off the glass in traffic and penetrating to the paint before burying a fade-away jumper.

Those skills, along with Selden’s passing and explosive finishing ability, no doubt inspired New Orleans to give the 22-year-old a shot. In seven games since making the biggest trade of the season, adding DeMarcus Cousins to pair with Anthony Davis in their frontcourt, the Pelicans have lacked a true shooting guard in their starting lineup. Hollis Thompson, more of a small forward, has filled that 2-guard role, with combo guard E’Twaun Moore coming in off the bench.

New Orleans also just added Jordan Crawford, a scoring guard, from the D-League, so clearly the organization is looking for some depth on the perimeter. Coach Alvin Gentry even played Crawford 20 minutes in his Pelicans debut Monday night, proving the coach doesn’t mind throwing a new addition straight into the rotation. Although, Crawford’s 19 points and three 3-pointers in a narrow loss to Utah could give the fifth-year veteran a real head start on Selden for playing time.

Selden said earlier this year he was in the D-League to optimize his chances at achieving a lifelong goal.

“Every time you’re on that court it’s an opportunity to be better,” Selden said. “It’s an opportunity for a new person to see.”

Now the young guard with a 6-10.5 wingspan has an even larger lease on his professional future staring him in the face.

The move to New Orleans also reunites Selden with Kansas teammate Cheick Diallo, who also has spent time in the D-League this year. With the Pelicans, the 20-year-old rookie project has appeared in just 10 games — only one of the last 19 — and has averaged 4.1 points and 3.3 rebounds in 9.6 minutes.

With Cousins and Davis, the Pelicans definitely don’t need Diallo right now. But they just might need Selden, as they hope to claw their way toward the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference. New Orleans (25-39) is 4.5 games back of Denver (29-34) for the final postseason slot, and also would have to leapfrog Sacramento, Minnesota, Dallas and Portland over the course of the final 18 games of the season to reach the playoffs.

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Joel Embiid out for season, but could still win Rookie of Year

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid (21) dunks during the first half of the NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid (21) dunks during the first half of the NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Since the NBA began handing out Rookie of the Year awards back in 1953, no winner has played in fewer than 50 games during the season in which he won it. Philadelphia center Joel Embiid just might turn out to be the first.

As many anticipated, following the Sixers’ announcement earlier this week the rookie big man from Kansas would indefinitely be held out of games due to soreness and swelling in his left knee, the organization amended its stance Wednesday, saying Embiid won’t play in any of Philadelphia’s remaining 23 games.

In a release regarding Embiid’s status, the team announced an MRI on Monday came with positive and negative results: the bone bruise on his left knee had improved significantly, while the meniscus tear appeared “more pronounced” than in a previous scan.

The news set off a number of Embiid-centric discussions within the NBA universe — including questions about his longterm health, which won’t have definitive answers anytime soon. Another intriguing debate is whether Embiid could or should win Rookie of the Year, despite playing in only 31 games of an 82-game season.

True, Embiid will finish the year having appeared in only 38 percent of the 76ers’ outings, but when he did take the court the results were incredible. The 22-year-old from Cameroon averaged 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds, blocked 2.5 shots a game and made 36 of 98 3-pointers (36.7%), all while playing only 25.4 minutes a night, due to the minutes restrictions the organization rightfully placed on him.

Embiid’s per-36 minute scoring numbers are among the best in the entire league — not just rookies. In per-36 points per game, only Russell Westbrook (32.3), Isaiah Thomas (30.9) and DeMarcus Cousins (29.1) rank ahead of Philadelphia’s franchise player (28.7).

As pointed out by Basketball Reference, Embiid (24.2 PER this season) is one of only seven players in league history to average at least 25 minutes a game and register a Player Efficiency Rating better than 24. The others on that list include Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan. All of the names on the short index except Embiid’s currently can be found in the hall of fame.

None by Basketball Reference

Embiid’s case for Rookie of the Year only looks stronger when comparing his abbreviated season to those of his competition. NBA TV’s “The Starters” examined Embiid’s chances, and it’s difficult to come away as impressed with other contenders, such as his Philly teammate Dario Saric, new Sacramento King Buddy Hield, Denver’s Jamal Murray or Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon.

None by Tas Melas

Per Game Table
Rk Player Age G MP FGA FG% 3P% eFG% FT FTA FT% ORB TRB AST STL BLK TOV PTS
1Joel Embiid223125.413.8.466.367.5086.27.9.7832.07.82.10.92.53.820.2
2Dario Saric225925.010.3.402.311.4611.82.2.7881.46.21.90.60.32.011.3
3Malcolm Brogdon245825.68.1.444.417.5061.51.8.8430.62.64.21.20.11.69.7
4Jamal Murray196019.98.1.387.330.4661.31.5.8740.62.51.80.50.31.38.9
5Buddy Hield236020.78.3.398.366.4910.60.7.8780.33.01.30.30.10.98.8
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/1/2017.

None of those players will be able to drastically improve their numbers in the coming weeks enough to sniff Embiid’s production, but the fact that they will have played far more minutes and games could allow someone like Saric or Brogdon into the conversation in the minds of voters.

None by Marc Stein

In NBA history, only Patrick Ewing (50 of 82 games in 1985-86) and Brandon Roy (57 of 82 in 2006-07) have been named the league’s top rookie after missing a significant chunk of games.

But Embiid’s wow-factor and the lack of comparable competition just might enable the charismatic big to make history.

Of course, the Sixers ultimately don’t care if Embiid attains that hardware. They just hope his growing injury history doesn’t derail what has the potential to be an extraordinary career.

"Our primary objective and focus remains to protect his long-term health and ability to perform on the basketball court," Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said. "As our medical team and performance staff continue their diligence in the evaluation, treatment, and rehabilitation of Joel's injury, we will provide any pertinent updates when available."

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