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Author: Loren Chen (page 1 of 8)

Salman Ali: Rockets “Not Mincing Words, Want to Go at Warriors”

James Harden is leading the Houston Rockets with another MVP-caliber season (Keith Allison/Flickr).

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After a disappointing second-round exit in the 2017 playoffs, the Rockets were busy during the offseason, trading for star point guard Chris Paul and adding defensive specialists Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker. Those moves have been bearing fruit thus far, as last week they became only the third team since 2015 to win the season series over the Golden State Warriors. To help us assess how much of a threat these Rockets pose to the defending champions, we brought back Salman Ali, managing editor of Red Nation Hoops, for his second appearance on the show. He takes us through how Rockets GM Daryl Morey was able to engineer this roster in the offseason, the new dynamic of the Chris Paul-James Harden pairing and the rumors that Houston might be at the top of LeBron James’ free agency list in the coming off-season. Blast off with these clutch excerpts below:

4:22-4:42: “The Rockets are probably more health-dependent than any other team outside of maybe Cleveland. They’re so dependent on health. If any of their main guys gets hurt, there’s a significant drop-off. Even when Luc Mbah a Moute went down, their defense went down the toilet for a good stretch there.”

10:14-10:58: “He [Chris Paul] is so different at running an offense than James Harden…Chris Paul is like that kid who studies all week, gets the 92 on a test, and James Harden is that dude who just walks in and gets a 98 after not studying. The offense clearly runs a lot smoother with James Harden, and it feels a lot more effortless…With Chris Paul, it’s different. It’s effective; it’s damn effective. But it’s just more calculated, and I guess maniacal in the way that Chris Paul targets defenses’ weaknesses. James Harden thinks the game, obviously, but he thinks the game at a different level. He plays the game more fluidly.”

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Jordan Maly: Markkanen’s “Confidence is Oozing” for the Bulls

After turning heads in Eurobasket this summer in his native Finland, rookie Lauri Markkanen is silencing doubters with his play for the Bulls this season (Tuomas Vitikainen/Wikimedia Commons).

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The Chicago Bulls ended the year last season by surprisingly stealing two games in Boston in their first-round playoff series against the Celtics and then subsequently losing the next four games. Since then, they let go of veterans Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo, traded away franchise superstar Jimmy Butler, and brought back a new young core of Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and rookie Lauri Markkanen. In our first episode of 2018, we’ve brought on Jordan Maly, host of the Locked on Bulls podcast, to help decipher this enigmatic Chicago team. He takes us through a mid-season assessment of that Jimmy Butler trade, the slew of developing young talent the Bulls have fostered and the awkwardness of covering the team after the fight between Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis. Charge forward into the show with these excerpts:

4:30 – 7:44: “When Butler was dealt, the immediate overwhelming reaction was that the Bulls got screwed, that the Bulls didn’t get enough back for him, that the Timberwolves basically snaked Jimmy Butler and that No. 16 pick in the draft… For a lot of Bulls fans, we didn’t have trust in the front office, didn’t have trust in what they were saying or what they were trying to build. But now, slowly, over this season, Lauri Markkanen has turned into a viable piece and somebody that looks like one of the best rookies out of this class… Kris Dunn, I think, has been the most phenomenal part of this three-piece trade. He’s gotten his confidence back from when he played at Providence… and is turning into something that could be a budding superstar. And then you add the most important piece that everybody thought would be the No. 1 piece of this deal in Zach LaVine… I think he can be a definite impact player, and he can be a definite impact person for a Chicago Bulls team that’s looking for their sort of superstar.”

11:35 – 12:58: “When [Lauri Markkanen’s] asked about his player comps, about players that he watched to develop his game, he always says he ‘doesn’t want to be the next Dirk. There will never be the next Dirk, because Dirk is far and above anybody else out there.’ He said he wants to create his own path. He wants to be his own player. He wants to make his mark as Lauri Markkanen… Everybody said that Lauri Markannen’s not going to be able to play defense, especially down low, and he’s proven people wrong so far this season. The way he moves his feet, which are so quick for a big man of his size and his length, and his ability to not give up against guys… His confidence is oozing right now.”
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Eric Nehm: “Giannis Is a Kobe-Level Lunatic”

Giannis Antetokounmpo, 22, ranks second in the NBA in points per game (29.7), notching nearly two-thirds of those from inside the paint (Keith Allison/Creative Commons).

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Since the Milwaukee Bucks took Giannis Antetokounmpo with the 15th pick of the 2013 NBA Draft, he’s shown tremendous growth as a basketball player, both literally and figuratively. This season, he has planted his name firmly within the MVP conversation, even if casual fans still have trouble pronouncing it. To guide us through this episode wholly devoted to the Grecian phenom, we’ve brought on Eric Nehm, Bucks beat writer for ESPN Milwaukee and cohost of the Locked on Bucks podcast. Eric explains how Giannis’ humble upbringing, laser-like focus and basketball obsession have all contributed to his nearly unprecedented development from a lanky, unknown draftee into the all but unstoppable force he is today. Get a sneak peek of our conversation about the Greek Freak this week with these excerpts (time stamps approximate because of tailored advertisements):

10:10-11:20: “There was a part of me that kind of didn’t love it [Giannis’ nickname] at the start, just because I think ‘freak,’ the connotation of freak, there’s something wrong with you, there’s something to be ashamed about. Because I guess at some point I thought he was going to fit into a prototypical kind of archetype of an NBA player. That hasn’t happened. He is a total anomaly, so calling him something not normal? Yeah, that works out…There’s not anyone else really out there like him, so I think ‘Greek Freak’ works and it fits, and it’s ended up being kind of perfect.”

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Andrew Schlecht: Thunder Have No Offensive Identity Yet

With the addition of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, Russell Westbrook is “really trying to adjust his game,” according to our guest, Andrew Schlecht (Keith Allison/Creative Commons).

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The Oklahoma City Thunder turned heads around the NBA this offseason when they added stars Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. So far, though, integrating them into the team hasn’t been a smooth process. Before back-to-back wins against the Los Angeles Clippers and Dallas Mavericks, they had been riding a four-game losing streak and were winless against the Western Conference. Andrew Schlecht, host of the Down to Dunk and OKC Dream Team podcasts and contributor to Daily Thunder, joined us to try to diagnose what exactly has gone wrong and whether or not the Thunder should be worried. See what we’re rumbling about in these electric excerpts below (all time stamps approximate):

5:00-5:40: “Overall, there doesn’t seem to be any worry or panic within the team at all. They’re still pretty casual about everything. And then as a fan and somebody who’s watching them, you just have to wait. Even a team with some continuity will evolve over a season. So, there’s not a lot of worry. The team has a ton of talent, they’ve got talent on both sides of the ball, so you’d think they’re going to put it together. Luckily, really besides the Warriors and Rockets, there’s nobody that’s so far ahead of them in the Western Conference that the four or three seed are out of reach. So, they have that on their side.”

9:00-9:40: “They’ve relied heavily on isolation in all of their losses. I think that they can look at all those and say, ‘Wow, that did not work.’ The ball did not move. Basically, if you could not create your own shot, or if your name wasn’t Steven Adams, you weren’t going to touch the ball for any meaningful time. Continue reading

Sandy Mui: “Nets Fans Have a Lot to Look Forward To”

Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson visited Jeremy Lin in the hospital after the point guard’s season-ending injury on opening night (Jeremy Lin/Instagram).

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The Brooklyn Nets’ 2017-18 season, much like Boston’s, was shaken from the very start when starting point guard Jeremy Lin went down with a scary-looking knee injury. Shortly after, it was announced the veteran guard would be sidelined for the rest of the season with a ruptured patella tendon. To discuss the implications of the devastating injury and much more, Sandy Mui, host of the Brooklyn Revolution Podcast, not to mention Brook-Lin.com assignment editor and writer at The Brooklyn Game, graciously joins Loren and Aaron. Particularly, she also pays close attention to the team’s youngsters, D’Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, among others, and some of the veterans exceeding expectations, like DeMarre Carroll. These selections below hit nothing but net:

5:00-5:15: “I think he [D’Angelo Russell] has looked great so far, aside from the fact that he’s struggled a bit with his passing and playmaking in these last couple of games, but we’ve already seen how high his ceiling can potentially be. In the first three games he played, he averaged 21 points, 4.3 points, 7 assists and 1.7 steals.”

9:25-10:50: “I was really heartbroken for Jeremy Lin too. You could see the look on his face after he fell down. He knew that this one was going to be bad…This is terrible news for a guy who only played 36 games last season. And now, he played less than 48 minutes for the entire season…As for the impact on the team, I’d expect, of course, more playing time for the young guys. Continue reading

Ward-Henninger (Western Conference Preview): OKC Has “Operation Shutdown Potential”

Russell Westbrook will be looking to follow up on his MVP season alongside the Thunder’s two high-profile offseason acquisitions, but guest Colin Ward-Henninger foresees chemistry challenges ahead (Keith Allison/Flickr).

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Colin Ward-Henninger of CBSSports.com helps preview the talent-loaded Western Conference after an action-packed offseason replete with key player movement.

8:54-9:52: “Paul George actually had a higher usage rate and more touches than Melo last year, and we all know what Russ [Westbrook] does on the court. And he had a hard enough time playing with Durant, and then when Durant left, we saw the madness that happened last year with just the NBA record usage rate of like 40 percent or something like that, which is insane, and it’s hard to just turn that off. I think it’s going to take a while…I think it’s going to be very difficult. I think that Paul George is going to have the hardest time adjusting, because I think he’s going to be the one who’s expected to take fewer shots. Melo, we hope at this stage in his career understands that he’s not the No. 1 guy or even the No. 2 guy in this case, but you never know. And these are two guys that can opt out of their contracts, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. So if they get 20 games into the season and they don’t like playing with Russ, there’s some Operation Shutdown potential there.” Continue reading

Trevor Magnotti: Luka Doncic’s “Brilliant Passing” Draws CP3 Comparison

Luka Doncic’s breakout EuroBasket performance helped solidify his case to be the next No. 1 overall pick, argues Trevor Magnotti (Tuomas Vitikainen/Creative Commons).


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Led by tournament MVP Goran Dragic and impressive 18-year-old Luka Doncic, Slovenia upset the perennial favorite, Spain, on its way to a EuroBasket Gold, the first medal of any kind in the tournament for the small country of only about 2 million people. Trevor Magnotti, who covers all things EuroLeague at The Step Back, joins Aaron to break down the most important takeaways from EuroBasket, including the draft implications of Doncic’s performance and the possibility of new young powerhouses in Latvia, Slovenia and Finland replacing the longtime European mainstays of Spain and France. Of course, Aaron also gets Trevor’s viewpoint on how some of this season’s European rookies, such as the Clippers’ Milos Teodosic and the Cavaliers’ Cedi Osman, may fare in their transition into the NBA. Tour through the episode with these excerpts below:

6:51-7:35: “[Lauri] Markkanen came in on this [Finnish] team, and he immediately took charge of the situation. He was a massive part of their success, basically single-handedly beat[ing] France in the group stage in that big overtime upset that was by far the game of the tournament to me…He both kind of helped his team to a lot of success and also helped himself a little bit. I think that he’s a guy that I’m now much more excited to see at the NBA level, whereas I wasn’t really before, because he didn’t look as solid as we had hoped in his one year of college.”

13:23-15:11: “The fact that he [Luka Doncic] is 18 and he’s playing this big of a role on a team in this tournament, which is basically like the second tier below the Olympics in terms of international basketball, that’s never really happened before. Really the only player that I can think of who has played this big of a role on a EuroBasket team at his age is Pau Gasol, and that’s no small comparison. Continue reading

Oliver Maroney: Big3 Players Really “Looking to Prove Something”

Jason “White Chocolate” Williams was playing for former teammate Gary Payton’s 3-Headed Monsters team before he went down with injury in Week 1 of the Big3 (Keith Allison/Creative Commons).

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Oliver Maroney, basketball writer for Dime on Uproxx and host of The Big3 Show, calls in to discuss the Big3 tour just as it concludes its regular season and prepares for Sunday’s semifinal round in Seattle. Maroney gets into the business and marketing side of things, while also, of course, delving into the basketball issues at play. For instance, we’ll find out which team is most likely to challenge the undefeated Trilogy squad and whom he favors to take home the inaugural MVP trophy. Just a one-year novelty experiment? Oliver thinks not. He argues that this league has staying power. Listen to find out why that is.

3:24-3:41: “Obviously there’s nostalgia involved, but I think people are just overlooking the fact that this is a competitive basketball league and not just something where retired players go to play. This is something a little bit more than that. They’ve got camaraderie, all the players enjoy each other, and it’s just very different from your normal NBA atmosphere.”

12:10-13:57: “The players love it because that’s the 1990s way. [In] 1980s, 1990s NBA basketball, hand-checking wasn’t allowed and there was more physical play allowed, and now you get to this day and age where players are paid $200 million-plus over five or six years, and teams want to keep their guys healthy, so the only way to kind of eliminate injuries is by just making it a non-contact sport, which it’s almost essentially become…This league, it’s completely the opposite…They’ve tried to take it back a little bit. They’ve tried to make it more physical, and I think you can tell on the floor. When you’re standing there or at the game, you can tell. It’s just so much more physical. It’s a cross between kind of like a boxing match and an NBA game from the 1990s, just because players are really going at it, they’re yelling at each other, the arguing’s there. The competitive nature of these players is still all intact, and they don’t hold back.”

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Sue Favor: The WNBA Must Increase Its Visibility, Start Growing Again

Leading 2017 MVP contender Sylvia Fowles boxes out reigning MVP Nneka Ogwumike in the 2016 Finals as Maya Moore looks on (Susan Lesch/Creative Commons).

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Ahead of Friday night’s matchup between the top two teams in the WNBA, the Minnesota Lynx and Los Angeles Sparks, Sue Favor joins the podcast to talk about the league. Sue, a devoted women’s hoops writer at Women’s Hoops World and her “They’re Playing Basketball” blog, handicaps the MVP race, details the Sparks’ winning formula and more broadly discusses the league’s most important storylines, on and off the court. Wonderful WNBA wisdom can be sampled below:

Sue argues Candace Parker is not declining. Far from it:

5:22-6:04: “It seems like the minute a player turns 30 everybody’s asking her when she’s gonna retire, whatever. Even Candace, herself, got that question a few weeks ago, and she was saying, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa. Why are you asking me this right now?’ She’s still one of the best players in the world. She can take over a game, and she’s actually done that several times in the last month especially. She’s at the top of the league in statistics right now, and I don’t see her slowing down at all really. So I guess that’s why I wouldn’t even say that she’s trying to pass the baton to anybody right now. She and Nneka are friends off the court, and they work really well together on the court. They’re interchangeable. If one of them is having a slightly off game, the other one steps up. They both work together in tandem really well.” Continue reading

Joe Morgan on Pro Scout School and “Belief in the (Kings’) Future”

A commitment to the youth movement and De’Aaron Fox’s impressive summer league performance give Joe Morgan optimism for the Kings’ future (Photo: Joe Morgan).

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The NBA world has taken over Las Vegas for the last two weeks, and while the main attraction has obviously been Las Vegas Summer League, where teams test out and try to develop their new talent, with so much of the top brass in one city, there are bound to be auxiliary events as well. One such event is TPG Sport Group’s Pro Scout School, which our guest, Joe Morgan, was able to attend this week. He details the highlights of what he learned there, from experts like Fran Fraschilla, Bobby Marks, Tony Ronzone, Drew Hanlen and more. Of course, Joe is also co-host of The Kings Court and covers the Kings for SacKingsNation.com, so we’d be remiss if we didn’t also get his views on Sacramento’s eventful offseason so far. Scout out these royal excerpts below:

7:15-8:11 Joe speaks on gaining an insider’s perspective from front-office personnel and other experts: “They talk to you more openly than they would during the season when they’re busy. They give you that insider’s view of ‘Why did this move happen?’ …I could not figure out why Oladipo went to Indiana, and somebody made the point in the class that he’s a Hoosier alumnus. So do you think that helps them sell tickets for the team that was 22nd in attendance last year?… Basketball teams only convene to do two things: win games and make money. As a fan and even on the commentating side of it, generally, you only look at the game-winning side of it. We forget to add in that this is a business.”

11:26-12:20 On how modern teams are able to use both advanced analytics and traditional scouting in conjunction for player evaluation: “In the class, one of my favorite sentences that came out of the whole thing was: ‘Analytics is just evidence-based decision making.’ A guy has to pass the eye-test; you can’t watch a guy and think he’s horrible and then want him on your team. But analytics gives you something that helps you watch for specific patterns… It gives you another way to fine-tune what you’re looking for. A lot of these guys, you only get to watch once or twice… so if you have an analytics team give you some notes beforehand, it really helps you out as a scout.”

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