Second-year forward Kelly Oubre Jr. had his first big moment of the NBA Playoffs on Thursday night. But his name wasn’t on the fingertips of the NBA Twitterverse for a timely basket or steal.
The former Kansas wing, instead, grabbed everyone’s attention by trying to knock Boston’s Kelly Olynyk into next week. The altercation earned Oubre, a key reserve for Washington, a flagrant-2 foul from the officiating crew and a first-half ejection.
The 21-year-old’s outburst of court rage wasn’t completely unprompted. Oubre charged Olynyk and shoved him to the floor a moment after a hard screen — a play on which the Celtics’ big man extended an elbow into Oubre, drawing an offensive foul.
Oubre scored exactly 12 points in each of the previous two games in the series and played more than 25 minutes in both narrow D.C. losses. In Game 3 of what has been a heated and frequently chippy Eastern Conference semifinal, the Wizards easily took the victory in Oubre’s absence, though the 2015 first-round pick only played 5 minutes due to the ejection.
After Washington cut Boston’s series lead to 2-1, Wizards coach Scott Brooks addressed Oubre’s attack of Olynyk and, when asked if it was in retaliation, referenced the Celtics and Olynyk playing an overly physical style of basketball in the series.
“One, I think we’ve got to control our emotions. We can’t respond that way,” Brooks started off, in response, during his post-game press conference. “But when you get hit in the head a few times — I mean, we’re very competitive guys out there. Two teams are very competitive. You keep getting hit in the head, you might respond that way. I think that’s what he did. I’m not saying that was the right thing to do. We have to focus on playing basketball. We can’t control what they’re doing. We just have to control within our gameplan and stay focused.”
Brooks said at that point he hadn’t yet spoken with Oubre, but said he would let his player know he has to let the officials make those calls, and the referees got it right before Oubre lost his cool.
Asked about Oubre’s clash with Olynyk, Boston star Isaiah Thomas said, “I don’t know what he was doing. I mean, the screens we’ve been setting … for the most part, I feel like they’ve been legal. It’s just those guys fall and the refs call an offensive foul. I don’t know why (Oubre) reacted like that, especially to Kelly (Olynyk). Kelly’s not trying to make anybody mad — not to put anything on (Olynyk), but he’s just not like that. I guess you can pick and choose who you want to do that to.”
On NBA TV following the game, Stu Jackson, formerly the league’s vice-president of basketball operations, discussed Oubre’s flagrant-2 and automatic ejection. Jackson predicted the league offices would not suspend Oubre for Game 4 of the series, but anticipated a fine coming the second-year forward’s way.
Markieff Morris’ first foray into the NBA Playoffs was going smoothly until he badly rolled his left ankle on Sunday, in Game 1 of Washington’s second-round series against Boston.
Morris, a former standout at Kansas, played a key role in the Wizards’ first-round victory over Atlanta, but only logged 11 minutes in his team’s opening game versus the Celtics, after rising up for a jumper and landing on Al Horford’s foot during the second quarter.
The sixth-year forward made the shot — and even remained on the court for a successful free throw after writhing in pain — before exiting the game for good due to the severity of the ankle roll, with his team up three points. In his absence, the Celtics went on to win, 123-111 to take a 1-0 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
After the game, Morris told Candace Buckner of The Washington Post he feared he had broken his left ankle on the play.
“This was my worst one. I kind of tend to twist my ankles,” Morris told The Post. “That’s my injury. Ankle-twisters. This was by far the worst one.”
However, by Monday, Morris vowed to be back in the Wizards’ lineup for Game 2 at Boston, on Tuesday night.
“I’m playing tomorrow. It’s final,” Morris updated The Washington Post. “There’s nothing the doctors can say to me for me not to be able to play.”
According to Buckner’s report, Morris required “round-the-clock” treatment on his ankle since the injury. He answered questions from reporters with his ankle wrapped up and receiving electronic stimulation. Morris, who only was able to contribute 5 points and 3 rebounds in Game 1, was asked whether he thought Horford undercut him, with intentions of taking away his landing space.
“I’m not sure. I’m [going to] ask him though,” Morris told The Post. “I’ve looked at it a couple times,” he added of the replay footage of his injury. “It’s not really that pretty, so couldn’t really watch it too much.”
Meanwhile, Washington coach Scott Brooks wasn’t ready to throw his support behind Morris’ prediction that the starting power forward would be back on the floor two days after suffering a severe ankle injury.
“It’s a sprain and our medical team will all get together and do what’s best for him,” Brooks told The Post, “but right now he’s out until we see how he feels tomorrow.”
In the first round against Atlanta, Morris averaged 11.2 points and 5.5 rebounds in 28.7 minutes a game during a 4-2 series win for the Wizards, which doubled as his playoffs debut. He shot 27-for-69 (39.1%) against the Hawks and only made 5 of 16 (31.3%) on 3-point tries, but Washington missed his 6-foot-10, 245-pound frame and versatility in the loss to Boston.
“He’s a matchup problem,” Brooks told Buckner. “He can score inside. He can score outside. He puts the ball on the floor. He gets six, seven, eight rebounds a game, but he blocks out. He knows how to play. He’s a smart basketball player. We definitely missed him, but I will tell the guys — there’s no excuse. We got beat.”
Before officially stepping down as the Indiana Pacers’ president of basketball operations, NBA legend Larry Bird on Monday left his replacement, former Kansas guard Kevin Pritchard, with a vote of confidence.
"I'm very happy Kevin is stepping in and glad another Hoosier is in line to take over this job,” Bird said of Pritchard, born in Bloomington, Ind., before going on to help KU win the 1988 national championship. “He has a lot of experience from the past five years as a GM and he's ready to step into a leading role. With us, he has had his own ideas on the draft, players, and now he gets an opportunity to push his basketball abilities to the forefront. His role will be no different than mine was. He will make all final decisions on all basketball-related matters. There can only be one voice, and it will be his."
Pritchard, 49, spent the past five seasons working under Bird, in various functions, most recently as vice president of basketball operations and general manager.
“What do you say to someone,” Pritchard asked during his introductory press conference, while thanking Bird, “who has absolutely given you the opportunity of a lifetime?”
According to Pritchard, he and Bird, who will remain a consultant to him, talk every day about the Pacers, and he has learned a lot about basketball from the former Boston Celtics great.
Still, Pritchard’s new job won’t be easy. He inherits a team that has a superstar in Paul George, who many think will leave in free agency in the summer of 2018 if the Pacers can’t convince him to sign an extension before then. Rumors of moving George out of Indiana dominated the NBA’s trade deadline this past February, and the first question Pritchard fielded Monday dealt with the franchise player’s future.
“I’ve been on the job two minutes now,” Pritchard joked, in response, looking down at his watch.
The Pacers’ new president went on to explain he had exit interviews with George and other players after the team was eliminated from the playoffs by defending champion Cleveland. Pritchard said George wants to win. It will be Pritchard’s job to prove the Pacers can do that, or else he might have to trade the face of the franchise this summer to make sure they don’t lose George and get nothing in return in July of 2018.
“I think you have to be bold in this position,” Pritchard said. “But the one thing I’ve learned from Larry is how important continuity is.”
Still, Indiana’s new president of basketball operations said he doesn’t mind being aggressive and making moves in the summer, particularly during the draft.
Since graduating from Kansas, Pritchard has spent most of his professional life involved in the NBA in one aspect or another. A second-round draft pick of Golden State in 1990, the point guard spent parts of four seasons in the league as a player, appearing in 94 games. After a stint in the ABA with the Kansas City Knights as a coach and G.M., Pritchard broke into the NBA ranks as a scout for San Antonio. That gig that landed him the title of director of player personnel in Portland, in 2004, and he eventually was promoted to general manager.
Fair or unfair, his time in Portland is associated for many with the Trail Blazers selecting Greg Oden with the No. 1 pick in 2007, instead of Kevin Durant.
Without addressing specifically the injury-shortened career of Oden, who only played 82 games for Portland, Pritchard alluded to it when asked if he learned anything about this job from his time in charge of the Blazers’ roster. He said he now better understands how valuable the opinions of team doctors can be.
“Sometimes you can get blinded by talent,” Pritchard said, “and you want it to work. But unless guys can play, you can’t play. So, I would say learn from your medical staff. And then I thought there were times that we got a little too active (with roster moves) and I felt another year with the same team or a similar team would’ve really benefited everybody else. It’s that age-old thing of balance. Do you make changes or do you buy into continuity? And I think it all depends on your timeline, too.”
Whatever the future holds for the Pacers as a franchise — be that a blockbuster deal that ships George out, or a re-tooled roster that helps George return to the conference finals or beyond as the team’s centerpiece — Pritchard will be the one who facilitates it.
From 1986 to 1990, Pritchard played four seasons at Kansas, averaging 14.5 points in each of his final two years, under Roy Williams. Of course, his first two seasons in Lawrence came under the tutelage of Larry Brown. After coaching Pritchard, Danny Manning and “The Miracles” to the 1988 title, Brown had a successful run in Indiana as the Pacers’ head coach.
“I feel like Larry Brown gave me a foundation of basketball,” Pritchard said. “The way it’s played the right way. You’ve heard Larry Brown say ‘the right way’ a million times. He’s tough, but I’m very grateful to have played for Coach Brown, as well.”
The career of the best NBA player from Kansas since Wilt Chamberlain officially has come to a close.
After 19 seasons, 1,343 regular-season games, 14 playoff appearances, 10 All-Star games, four All-NBA selections, a championship ring and a Finals MVP trophy, Paul Pierce walked away from the game on Sunday, with the Los Angeles Clippers’ season-ending playoff-loss sending him into retirement.
For the 39-year-old forward, the finale — 6 points, 2-for-4 shooting, 3 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal in 22 minutes versus Utah — was not reflective of what is bound to become a hall of fame career. “The Truth” as the high-scoring Inglewood, Calif., native came to be known in the NBA during his peak years with the Boston Celtics, averaged 19.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.3 steals for his career. He shot 44.5% from the floor and made 2,143 of his 5,816 3-point attempts (36.8%).
Through an incredible 15-year run with the Celtics, who drafted him 10th overall in 1998, Pierce played in 136 playoff games, producing 20.9 points, 6.4 boards and 4.0 assists a game.
His revered veteran presence took him to Brooklyn, Washington and L.A., too, for the twilight years in the league, before it all finally ended in the first round of the 2017 playoffs, with a Game 7 defeat.
“You know, it’s tough to come up short in your goals. Each and every year you set a goal to be champions,” Pierce said in a post-game interview with reporters posted at CBSSports.com. “And it’s a tough pill to swallow each and every year. I’ve been in the league 19 years, so I’ve had to swallow 18 tough pills. But at the end of the day, I was happy to be a part of this, compete with these guys and see the work everybody put in every day, and I appreciate the guys around me,” he said, before shaking his head in apparent disbelief. “It’s been a fun ride.”
The season obviously ended sooner than Pierce and his Clippers teammates hoped, but the new retiree was able to put it all in perspective.
“I’m happy at the end of the day with what I’ve been able to accomplish, what I’ve been able to do throughout my career,” Pierce said, “and I gave every ounce I could. Each and every day. I have no regrets. Even to the last day I’m in here a couple hours before the game, you know, giving my blood, sweat and tears to this game.”
After Pierce’s final NBA appearance, a number of former teammates and competitors showed their appreciation for his career with messages on social media.
Likewise, in a video produced by The Players’ Tribune, many of those same stars and contemporaries shared their thoughts on what made Pierce special over the course of his many highlight-filled, shot-making years in The Association. And his college days weren’t overlooked, either, thanks to the help of his coach at Kansas, Roy Williams.
“He was a wonderful player to coach,” Williams said. “He’s a complete player, and I think that competitiveness made him become a compete player.”
His longtime friend and Celtics running mate Kevin Garnett described Pierce both as a “beast” and a “classic” player.
“One of the more clutch, if not calmer, beasts that I’ve met in my life,” Garnett said.
Between the regular season and playoffs since his professional debut in 1999, Pierce logged 47,873 minutes and scored 29,571 points. He retired as the 18th-leading scorer in NBA history (26,397 points).
“This game has meant everything for me,” Pierce said shortly after playing for the last time on Sunday. “And I’m happy from start to finish.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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).
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
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.
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.
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.”