Episode 2.16: Jeff Garcia: Kawhi Leonard “Lurking in the Shadows” of MVP Race

January 19, 2017
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Amid all the talk of a potential third straight Cavaliers-Warriors Finals matchup and a statistically historic MVP race between Russell Westbrook and James Harden, the San Antonio Spurs have quietly continued their dominance, on pace for 64 wins in the first season of the post-Tim Duncan era.. Jeff Garcia, Spurs Head Writer for News 4 San Antonio and Fox 29 San Antonio, as well as the host of the Locked on Spurs podcast, joins us to explain why the Spurs, as always, are perfectly content to stay below the national radar until the playoffs, and how their quiet, humble star, Kawhi Leonard, embodies that mentality. He also takes us through how, in recent years, the team has been able to transition seamlessly from a slow, grinding offense to the faster-paced, efficient one we're seeing now. Among additional fascinating topics, Jeff tackles impressive backup point guard Patty Mills' impending unrestricted free agency. Particularly, will the Spurs pay to keep Mills in town and/or make him the starter over Tony Parker? Read more for our favorite excerpts from Jeff:

3:31-4:35Despite their recent success, the Spurs are perennially ignored by the national media. Jeff explains why and if it matters:

“They just get the job done, and that can get boring at times. It’s like they say: ‘death, taxes, and Spurs’...They’re sitting at 32-9. They are a defensive animal. They’re an offensive animal. But yet, overlooked…Does it really matter? Because as long as this team is jiving at the right point [and] is heading into the postseason on the right foot, has a good rhythm, they’re going to get their national media attention, and hopefully that’s going to come late June when they’re hoisting up another trophy.”

11:00–12:42Our guest then stands up for Kawhi Leonard as a legitimate darkhorse MVP candidate:

 “Lurking in the shadows is a Kawhi Leonard…Maybe he’s also a product of the Spurs being overlooked. He’s become the new Tim Duncan. You expect these kinds of numbers from Kawhi...He’s very low key, he’s not a screamer. He’s not like Westbrook charging down the court, jamming it with ferocity and then thumping his chest.  He’s not like Harden stirring the pot...or putting the three fingers up in the air and kissing the sky. Kawhi’s not that. He’s quite the opposite. And if he was that type of player, I would not be surprised to see him in the top three as an MVP candidate.”

16:34-17:08Approaching 68 years old, what does legendary Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich’s future look like? Jeff has the scoop.

 “I don’t see him stepping away from the game for quite some time. Let’s not forget that he is the new Team USA Olympic men’s national team coach for 2020. He's also mentioned in the offseason he’s being a little bit more physically fit and trying to stay in more shape now.  He’s seeing himself here for the long haul patrolling the sidelines for the Spurs and obviously Team USA years from now. I don’t see him slowing down. You’re seeing him enjoying the new-look Spurs.”

19:45-21:04Next, the Spurs expert highlights the position that the team most needs to address:

“[Tony] Parker, obviously he’s making me eat my words right now, but his better years are behind him…You have Patty Mills. What are they going to do with him after this season? He’s in a contract year…He’s producing numbers this year [and] he's upped them almost across the board, so he's going to be getting looks in the offseason. I think point guard is a position this team really needs to look at heading forward. I think that’s where Dejounte Murray comes in. I’m not totally sold on him as of now. He’s still a fairly large project to work on. I know the Spurs are high on him…He’s been in and out of the D-League with the Austin Spurs, where he showed glaring weaknesses with them. In the games he played with Austin, he shot 10 percent from the 3-point line and had 5.4 turnovers per game.”

24:53 –25:33:  LaMarcus Aldridge is a key cog in the San Antonio machine, but how can his contributions become even more impactful? Jeff?

“He needs to become more selfish. I know that’s weird to say on a Spurs team that doesn’t preach selfishness, but I think he needs to start looking to be more shot-first than pass-first. If he does that, then everyone else benefits, because then he becomes a threat in the middle a la Tim Duncan. And if he does become a threat in the middle, and more so than what he is in recent games, then that just frees up everybody else…clean looks for Danny Green and Patty Mills, opens up the lane for Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, and allows Kawhi Leonard to just simply be Kawhi Leonard and dominate that much more.”

Music: "We Like to Party" by Kevin MacLeod

Episode 2.15: Andrew Han: Clippers’ Griffin, Paul Likely to Stay Put

January 14, 2017
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At the midpoint of the Clippers’ regular season, there’s no need to fear. Why not? ESPN.com NBA writer and editor Andrew Han is here. The host of ESPN LA's Clippers Podcast dazzles as he reverses roles and answers all of our Clippers-related inquiries. Chief among those, why has a once-elite defense fallen on such hard times? In this extensive interview, Han sheds light on recent improvements to the Clippers’ front office, impactful free-agent additions Marreese Speights and Raymond Felton and Luc Mbah a Moute’s sizable improvement, among a slew of other timely topics. Of course, he also addresses whether or not either of the team’s superstars could realistically depart upon season’s end. Read on for a handful of exhilarating excerpts: 

3:51-5:01: Andrew diagnoses the main cause for the Clippers’ defensive struggles that have occurred since early December: “Because he [Luc Mbah a Moute] is so versatile, the Clippers switched [on] a lot of their coverages early in the season - Blake Griffin, in particular, because even though Blake is not the best defender, he certainly has the athletic ability to stay with most players, whether they’re perimeter players or big men. And so Blake and Luc would switch a lot. And I think one of the issues that occurred is that they started to switch more and more, and there’s that balance between switching because everyone is on a string and you know what your teammates and the people behind you are thinking and switching out of laziness because it’s just easier to do that...In layman’s terms, they were being lazy and not giving enough effort on defense, and I think that contributed to a lot of the defensive decline…and then of course the injuries only made everything worse.”

11:07-12:07: He comments on the likelihood of the Clippers retaining their most prized assets next offseason: “Realistically, I don’t think Chris Paul or Blake Griffin or [J.J.] Redick frankly for that matter will leave, because just looking at the landscape of the NBA, where is the situation that can afford these players the same luxuries that they have in Los Angeles? To be able to have all the amenities of a big market and not be constantly harassed by media and fans and things like that sounds pretty good from my perspective. And then just in terms of roster composition, there’s not a lot of teams in the league that are ready to be contenders that can shed the space or have the right pieces to complement Blake Griffin and/or Chris Paul." 

15:45-16:18: Our guest’s favorite player, Luc Mbah a Moute, has shown considerable improvement, thus greatly contributing to the team’s success this season. How has he grown more comfortable offensively? “This season, there’s a lot more cutting that’s involved with Luc, and there’s a lot of action for him that happens around 18 feet. And 18 feet is comfort zone for Luc in terms of shooting. He has a lot more confidence in the ability to take and make those shots. And because of that, I think that not only does Luc have a better understanding for how his teammates operate, [but also] the team in general has a better feel for how they get Luc in the best spots for him to succeed offensively.”    

25:24-27:21: The coach’s son is much better than casual NBA fans would have you believe. Andrew shares a critical adjustment Austin Rivers has made in recent years: “I think, at times, he was trying to do things that were too fast for his body to execute…A lot of that inefficiency in motion is trimmed down when he plays now, and even when he’s finishing around the rim you’ll see what happens is he takes these drag steps to kind of slow his momentum down so that he can kiss it off the glass and into the basket…Not to use the clichéd term that the game is slowing down for him or maybe he’s slowing down for the game.”

32:30-33:26: Our awesome guest defends J.J. Redick’s honor by explaining what makes him so darn exasperating to opposing defenses: "Now Redick, I think along with Kyle Korver, Klay Thompson, these are elite-level off-ball shooters, and they’re not just sitting around on the perimeter, waiting for the ball to be passed to them to throw it up. They’re generating so much offense and movement off the ball with cuts that they run and the flare screens and pin-downs and back-picks that teams run for them. And, well J.J. hasn’t done this in a while, but he does this floppy action that I call “Merry-Go-Round Floppy,” where he and the small forward are basically underneath the rim, and Redick will just run in circles around the small forward until he decides the direction he’s gonna go and the defender has to sit there and try to anticipate which way he’s gonna go and it’s very confusing for a defense to try to stay on a string with a player who is borderline 50-40-90 annually trying to muck up their defense in that fashion."

Music: "Who Likes to Party" by Kevin MacLeod

Episode 2.14: Dan Feldman: Pistons’ Andre Drummond’s a “Work in Progress”

January 10, 2017
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Last time Dan Feldman of NBC Sports' Pro Basketball Talk joined the podcast, he detailed the Pistons' inconsistency. Again, a season later, Feldman breaks down the team's streakiness and many other salient issues, including Stan Van Gundy's unique brand of leadership, Reggie Jackson's improving play, and why star center Andre Drummond can, at times, be so frustrating to watch. Here are some excerpts to get your engine revving:

1:50-1:58: During the recent 3-9 skid: “The entire difference almost was defensively. They went from defending like, give or take, the best team in the league to defending like the worst team in the league.”

7:55-8:27: “One thing that is helping [Tobias Harris] is that when you start the game, the Pistons want to get touches for Reggie Jackson. They want to get Marcus Morris involved. They’re running more plays for KCP. They’re running more plays for Andre Drummond. They’ve got to get all these guys involved… When [Tobias Harris] comes off the bench, it’s his turn to get involved. There’s no ambiguity of, ‘Hey is it my turn or is it somebody else’s turn?’ When he comes in, it’s his turn, he can get going and get into a rhythm. He's a talented player and a good scorer and when he's the focal point, that's something that works for him.”

15:44-16:22: Regarding Drummond's defensive lapses: “Some of it's just getting lost, still being young, still learning his way, but some of it’s aggressiveness. You look at his shot blocking numbers, those should be higher. He’s just not always competing on that end… that’s one of the drawbacks with him; there are worse drawbacks. If you have Andre Drummond, you take the good and bad. He's the best player the Pistons have had in a long time, probably since Chauncey Billups. You’re happy to have him, but you have to work through these effort things and get him to compete more, especially on the defensive end more consistently, and to be smarter on that end. It's a work in progress.”

18:50-19:22: "A lot of times… it doesn't really matter whether [Drummond] is in a good spot or not, they just sort of cherry pick, 'This will be a Drummond possession.' So if he's not in good position, he's going to force up the shot. He's not that good of a passer, that's something he needs to work on. [They need to] just make it more part of the offensive flow, rather than 'Sometimes we're going to run our offense, sometimes we're going to force-feed Drummond.' Those things need to find a balance and work better together. It's a work in progress."

19:53-20:25: "I think it's something that's driving Stan Van Gundy nuts, how they haven't crashed the glass as hard as he wants them to, especially the non-Drummond players. They all rebound better when Drummond is out of the game. When Drummond's in, they're often waiting for Drummond to get the rebound, every rebound, and he obviously can't get them all. That said, at least the Pistons are doing something productive out of their offensive rebounding dip; they've been very good in fastbreak defense and not allowing fastbreak points."

23:19-23:57: "The Pistons want to develop [Stanley Johnson], they want to get him minutes, they want him to be part of the rotation, but he’s got to earn it at least a little bit and for so much of the season, he wasn’t. Offensively, he would go through two different phases. He’d either force it and miss a lot of shots and turn the ball over, or he'd be way too passive and completely disappear. He never found the middle ground and didn’t find much coming naturally to him. Defensively, for the most part, the effort was good, but it was just really reckless. He didn't really know where he was going and was running around a lot ineffectively. Not the progress you’d want to see from last year."

28:13-28:48: "[Stan Van Gundy]'s also bluntly honest about himself, about mistakes he makes, where he does things wrong and where he needs to do things better. I think players can trust that when he's criticizing them, it's because he really thinks it's their fault. It's not because he can’t find fault or is just trying to shift blame because when he thinks it's his own fault, he’ll blame himself. It sets a tone of accountability, a culture where everybody's got to be at their best including him and where you can trust what he’s saying."

Music: "Who Likes to Party" by Kevin MacLeod

Episode 2.13: Nick Denning: “Steve Clifford Perfect for (Hornets), Knows How to Maximize Their Talent”

December 31, 2016
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The Charlotte Hornets’ reliable core is back this season and performing admirably despite some early-season streakiness. As usual, with a Steve Clifford-led team, the defense is generally stout and the offense is taking care of the ball. Nick Denning, editor for SB Nation’s At the Hive, rejoins the show to discuss Kemba Walker’s brilliance, Nicolas Batum’s multi-faceted game and more generally why this fundamental, non-flashy team handles its business so well. All that and more on the show, but first some particularly buzz-worthy bites:

3:57-4:15: “100 percent convinced [Hornets head coach Steve Clifford is the right person for the job]. He’s perfect for this team. He’s created an identify for them and one thing that’s becoming pretty clear is that players like to play for him, and we’re not necessarily talking about stars, but a lot of good players like to go play for him just because he knows how to maximize their talent.   

5:01-5:30: “His [Kemba Walker’s] emergence has been really in the last couple of seasons. He’s just never really had the pieces around him to be effective because before it was like they had to rely on him; late shot clock, whatever it was, it’s like you gotta get the ball in his hands or else there’s no chance of scoring. Now, a few more pieces, they’re much better at moving the ball and whatnot, he’s able to do more of the things that he’s good at it, but he’s also improved himself a ton. He’s actually a better player than I thought he would be at this point.”  

8:43-9:01: “The four-game losing streak they had earlier, they were all on the road, you could tell they weren’t fresh, but I would say the effort defensively wasn’t where Clifford wanted it to be. But aside from those, there’s three games that stand out to me where just playing a little bit better defensively and actually putting a team away would’ve resulted in a win.”     

12:01-12:36: “The one advantage that they have over these teams, their core pieces are very much the same, whereas New York brought in Rose and brought in Noah; they’re trying to piece things together. The Hornets are very much the same team that they were last year minus a few pieces. Some of them key, but Walker’s still there, Batum’s still there, Marvin Williams is still there. But I will say this: Historically speaking, if you look at teams under Steve Clifford, they actually never quite hit their peak until around late February, early March.” 

19:06-19:31: “He’s [Nic Batum’s] not actually as good an individual defender as he was maybe a few years ago, but he’s a very smart player and he’s a very quiet, sneaky player. When I saw his stat line after the game, I said, ‘That’s the quietest 16 and 13 that I’ve seen ever,’ and then the eight assists to go with it. So he just quietly puts together a really well-rounded performance.”

21:36-22:04: “[Hornets GM Rich] Cho actually tried to sign him [Marco Belinelli] the season before and then he signed with the Kings, so he obviously was still a favorable player in Rich Cho’s eyes. But I think Tom Ziller for SB Nation kind of summed it up very simply. He said, ‘Belinelli’s a good player on a good team and a not so good player on a bad team. The Kings were bad. The Hornets are good. I think he’ll be fine.’ And that’s basically what’s happened.”

30:46-31:04: “He [Frank Kaminsky] says, ‘We’ll be on the court, and he’ll [Marvin Williams will] start calling the play out, he knows where somebody’s going before it even happens.’ That kind of experience and knowledge is something that really helps him on that end.”

Music: "Who Likes to Party" by Kevin MacLeod

Episode 2.12: Chris Reichert: NBA Teams “Looking for Rotational Role Players” in D-League

December 21, 2016
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Chris Reichert of FanSided Network's The Step Back visits to tell us everything we need to know about the D-League. The league expert explains the expected impact of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement on the NBA's official minor-league basketball organization, the league's top prospects and how it has served as a laboratory for testing potential NBA rule changes. Also, what is an ambitious basketball coach's best friend? Not a dog, bur rather a coaching stint in the D-League. Reichert is teeming with fascinating material, including how wing Jonathon Simmons went from paying $150 to try out for a D-League team to earning a key role playing for one of the greatest organizations in all of professional sports, the San Antonio Spurs. Check out some of Reichert's rubies below:

1:34-3:28 Reichert on how the new Collective Bargaining Agreement will affect the D-League players: "They're adding two roster spots to every NBA team and those are going to be two-way contracts, probably for fringe [NBA] players...they want to keep their rights but they really want to develop them in the D-League. Those players are going to be paid a little more. They'll get 50,00 to 75,000. It opens up 60 additional roster spots for players, which is another great thing for D-League guys, fringe guys looking to make rosters and get an opportunity...The NBA minimums have come up 45 to 50 percent…which is going to help D-League players, because the 10-day contracts come January are based off the minimum salaries for however many years a player has in the NBA...They helped about a fifth of them, which I guess is a start, but hopefully, eventually we’ll get higher contracts across the board in the D-League."

5:39-6:32 on the D-League as a test lab for the NBA: "I think it's really smart. It's a good way to gauge...what kind of effect these changes are going to have on overall gameplay and fan experience. They have a coach's challenge in the D-League that can be used in the fourth quarter or overtime. That's something the NBA does not have and they've been experimenting with it. This is the second season...They used to also use the FIBA goaltending rule, where you can hit the ball off the rim...Another thing that might actually get implemented in the NBA that they're using this year is on offensive rebounds, the shot clock goes to 14...It keeps the game flow going, forces the offense to maybe make a faster decision on their second possession.”

7:32-7:43: "We're at 22 right now...In four seasons max, every team is going to have its own affiliate."

12:14-13:59: "One guy that people haven't heard of that is really good is Kevin Murphy. He went to Tennessee Tech so you wouldn't have known him from college most likely. He's 26, about 6-5 or 6-6, plays on the wing, and can really light it up...Chris Evans is another one. He went to Kent State. He's a 6-8 forward, he's 25, plays for Canton…Both of them spent a couple years overseas, and now they're getting close to that basketball prime. They're trying to make that push for a chance to make an NBA roster."

14:09–14:21: "Scoring a ton is great, but his [Pierre Jackson’s] efficiency has been just ridiculous. He's shooting over 50 percent from the floor, over 40 percent from 3, and like 85 percent from the free-throw line. He's dangerous right now."

16:41-16:52: “I’m really happy for Sean [Kilpatrick]. He’s a really good guy. I interviewed him a couple years ago when he was in the D-League, and you could just tell he didn’t want to be overseas playing. He wanted to be in the NBA, and he was gonna ride this thing out until he got a chance.”

20:08-20:34: “I really thought the Heat would keep Briante Weber over [Rodney] McGruder, and I was really pleased when they kept McGruder instead. I love Briante Weber, but McGruder’s really playing well, and I think he’s playing like 25, 26 minutes a night for them. His stats aren’t gaudy by any means, but he’s coming in to hit open shots and play defense. And that’s what I think NBA teams are looking for in the D-League. They’re looking for rotational role players. It’s very rare that you’re gonna find Hassan Whiteside in the D-League.”

22:28-22:47: “I think he’s [Gary Payton II’s] really athletic and he plays very, very good defense for a 6-3 guard. I think the issue with Payton is he doesn’t have a position, which isn’t too big of an issue in the position-less NBA that we’re going to. But he’s not a great shooter, and he’s not particularly fast with the ball in his hands either.”

29:23-29:45: “The coach aspect is big. It’s another one I think some fans overlook. Earl Watson, who’s the head coach of Phoenix, was an assistant coach for the Austin Spurs two years ago, and now he’s a head coach in the NBA. It’s happening for coaches too, so it’s a cool thing. I think 12 head coaches in the D-League got NBA jobs this past offseason. There were only 19 teams last year, so 12 of the 19 got promoted.”

Music: "Who Likes to Party" by Kevin MacLeod

Episode 2.11: All That Amar: Utah Jazz “Think They Definitely Need to Win Now”

December 13, 2016
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All That Amar, Managing Editor of SB Nation’s SLC Dunk, stops by to discuss the Utah Jazz, whom he declares are finally in win-now mode. The young Jazz haven’t won a playoff game since 2010 and have finished with between 38 and 43 wins three of the past four seasons, but things appear to be changing for the better. Amar explains how the coach, general manager and players have all come together to generate a much-improved product on the court. Here are some of the highlights of our discussion:

4:18-5:07: Our guest explains how added depth has allowed the Utah Jazz to weather an early storm of injuries: “The main reason is that they’ve had a few seasons with injury before, so they kind of figured out that they need to prepare for that. And what Dennis Lindsey, the GM of the Jazz, did was he went out and… they wanted to get depth, and I think that they accomplished that this season… adding George Hill, Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw. These guys, they haven’t been healthy for every game of the season, but they have made sure that when Utah is missing 1.5 starters per game, about three rotation guys every single game… they still have enough guys to stay in the game. If this was last year’s roster, the record would probably be maybe eight wins instead of 15.”

6:05-6:44: Amar sees the work Gordon Hayward has put in to develop both his skills and his body: “[Hayward has] made it so the things that he’s good at and the things that he’s worked on work together, so that he’s even better than he originally was. He’s streamlined himself into being a better offensive player… I think working on your body is something that all NBA players have to do. If you’re going to be a star, you have to at least be average or above-average physically. That skinny kid out of Butler didn’t have the body to be a star. This Captain America hunk right now, maybe he does.”

9:12-9:44: He goes on to explain how Rudy Gobert has used criticism as motivation to fuel his offensive awakening this season: “[Gobert] is kind of motivated by the haters. On Twitter and other social media, if anyone is critical of him, he will favorite that message to give him motivation. The offense has improved with the rest of his game. I think it’s an opportunity for him to show people that he’s better than what they thought he was, almost [dropping to] the second round of the NBA draft, or being overlooked or traded by the team that drafted him, which was Denver. He wants to prove people wrong.”

10:40-11:23: But it’s not just Gobert who has improved his scoring. Quin Snyder’s offensive system is finally on display: “The thing is that he’s working hand-in-hand with what the front office wants… What they wanted Quin to do was rebuild Utah’s defense. The first two, if not the first three, training camps were all focused on that so obviously the offense was lagging behind. But the bill of goods we were sold was that Quin Snyder, who worked under Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski] and [Gregg] Popovich and Larry Brown and Ettore Messina and [Mike] Budenholzer and all these other guys, he’s supposed to be an offensive genius… It seems like they finally have some players who can run his offense, and we’re finally seeing it catch up to the defense.”

17:32-17:56: Amar assesses where Utah’s team-building process stands early in 2016-17: “Utah hasn’t really done that type of drastic move yet [trading away potential for veterans]. They’re trying to do two different things at the same time and the results remain to be seen. To be win-now, that means you’re giving up a lottery pick. That’s exactly what Utah did this offseason; they gave up the 12th pick to get George Hill. That’s a clear indication that they think they definitely need to win now.”

19:10–19:55: Consider our guest a huge fan of newly acquired George Hill’s fit with the Jazz: “He’s a hand-in-glove fit with what both the GM and the head coach want. He’s a 3-and-D point guard who allows the wing players to handle the ball and initiate things, and that’s kind of their offense with Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood. Hill has exceeded my expectations. He’s shooting fantastically well… The big difference is that this is a guy who has been in the playoffs, he knows what it takes and he knows when to pick his spots… He’s averaging 20 points per game so far and that’s because he knows what this team needs from him.”

25:18-25:38: However, Amar is more wary of the challenges of integrating their other new veterans, Boris Diaw and Joe Johnson: “What [Boris Diaw] is doing right now is kind of what Joe Johnson is doing: he doesn’t want to rock the boat. He wants to see what the team is before he puts some influence on it. He’s passing up a ton of shots. It’s going to be tough for [Diaw] to adjust; it’s going to be harder for Joe Johnson to adjust though because Diaw is already at that point in his NBA career where he is a bench role player.”

29:07-29:29: All in all, he loves that the Jazz are embracing the modern NBA and enjoying success while doing so: “The untold story has to be that this is a completely different Utah Jazz team. This is one that’s taking 3’s, they’re making 3’s, they’re not posting anybody up, they’re not doing pick-and-rolls. This is not the Utah Jazz that I watched in the ‘80s and ‘90s; this is a modern Utah Jazz team that’s going small. It’s everything us old fans hated, but now we’re rooting for it because we’re winning.”

Music: "We Like to Party" by Kevin MacLeod

Episode 2.10: Morgan Ragan: Defenders’ Best Strategy Against Cousins? “Get In His Head”

December 7, 2016
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With a new defensive-minded head coach, the Sacramento Kings are hoping to halt their 10-year playoff drought, but they continue to struggle, especially on the defensive end. However, our guest, Morgan Ragan, host of The Deuce and Mo Podcast, SacramentoKings.com contributor and local Sacramento reporter, explains why coach Dave Joerger should be afforded job security unlike many of his Kings predecessors. Other topics covered in the episode include how to guard DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay's future in Sacramento, the front office's perpetual draft blunders and what the team needs from the point guard position. Enjoy some selected excerpts from the interview below: 

6:55 - 7:23Ragan starts by asserting that the Kings' center is better suited for a situation in which he’s no longer the franchise cornerstone: "He gets away with a lot of stuff...because he's DeMarcus Cousins. He's the best player on the team. He's the one producing the most points, the most rebounds. So if he wasn't that guy and didn't have that power, he would be even better somewhere else."

8:19 - 9:01Next, Ragan laments this season’s regression in Willie Cauley-Stein's game, an all-too-common occurrence for Sacramento’s first-round picks: "With Willie Cauley-Stein, you look at him in George Karl's system, when he was actually playing, when there wasn't that drama, there was something about that scrappy, fast-paced offense that really worked for him...Now this year, seeing him get the ball 10 feet out and have to do a little post move, he doesn't have that in him offensively. And his confidence level too...He doesn't look to attack. He's not much of a threat."

17:20 - 18:20However, on the bright side, there has been first-year Kings head coach Dave Joerger: "How many times have we had to bash Dave Joerger this season? Not as much as we have in the past with George Karl and even Mike Malone...With Dave Joerger, there are not a lot of bad things to say about him right now. We're not hearing about any fights between him and DeMarcus, which is sad [that people use that as a barometer]. And we're not mad at him because he doesn't have the right pieces on defense. And he has that defensive mind that we like. I do see Dave Joerger coaching out his (four-year) contract. That's one of the more positive things out here in Sacramento." 

22:11 - 22:26Ragan tells us that Rudy Gay should opt out of his contract this offseason, but that the Kings should not give him the opportunity: "This season, I do not see this team going to the playoffs. That is ultimately fair to say from what we've seen. That's why if you can get pieces for Rudy Gay before he walks, that's what the Kings should do."

25:00 - 25:17Finally, our guest details how opposing teams should defensively game plan for DeMarcus Cousins: "Sadly the answer to that is to get in his head. Screw with him, because guess what? That's gonna throw off his 3-pointer, that's gonna throw off his inside game...if you can get him taken out of the game mentally, which we've seen so many teams do, do that."

Music: "Who Likes to Party" by Kevin MacLeod

 

Episode 2.9: Can Mavericks’ Harrison Barnes Become an NBA Star (Featuring Jason Gallagher, Andy Liu)?

December 3, 2016
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This special Harrison Barnes-themed episode draws upon the perspectives of Dallas Mavericks fan Jason Gallagher, who currently serves as a multimedia editor at The Ringer, as well as Andy Liu of Warriors World, to try to determine Barnes' ultimate potential in the NBA. After four years with the Golden State Warriors, including the final two that resulted in NBA Finals appearances, the 24-year-old forward signed a four-year max contract with the Dallas Mavericks. While Kevin Durant has taken his starting spot on the league's most dominant team, Barnes has been tasked with carrying the injury-riddled Mavericks on his shoulders. So far, the results have been mixed. Without further ado, enjoy the show, and check out some excerpts from the episode if you'd like:   

Jason Gallagher at 3:57-4:12: They’re kind of playing in a nothing-to-lose sort of mentality at this point, and so I think that him learning to develop these skills of leading a team without the pressure of having to win games is good for a young player.

6:17-6:44: “I really like Harrison on defense…and specifically Harrison when he plays the 4 he’s found a lot of success as well, especially on defense, in exploiting bigger players. He’s showing himself to be a versatile guy, and you really have to start thinking that way with Dirk [Nowitzki] on his last legs.”

12:15-13:01: “Let’s be clear. Kevin Durant specifically said he wanted to go to the Warriors. He’s going to be getting open shots now. That’s just a fact. And that is a fact that Harrison Barnes benefited from when he was with the Warriors. And now he’s with a team with far less talent. His companion 3-point shooter, the guy that he is supposed to be leaning on the most is a trash shooter right now, and that is Wesley Matthews…So Barnes is at many, many times in the game, the only scorer on that team, the only person who can create his own shot.”

17:38-18:13: “The defense has been really good. He’s been able to, like I said, switch, defend larger guys, defend smaller guys. Since Shawn Marion left, they’ve really missed that sort of guy who can defend all of those positions, and that is something that Barnes brings to Dallas that is a huge positive that people do not give him nearly enough credit for. In most cases, it’s either he or Wesley Matthews that is defending the No. 1 guy. And so when LeBron comes to town, it is going to be Harrison Barnes who is tasked to defend him, and he’s not bad.”

Andy Liu at 30:17-30:57: The thing with Barnes is he’s a huge rhythm guy…He has to get his touches in order to get the good feel for that particular game, and that’s why he looks better. That’s why in 38 minutes he plays better. Because he’s just getting the ball so much, not that they have a choice. He’s one of those guys where he looks better when he gets more touches, but you’re not a good team. And then if you want to be a good team, he’s not going to get as much touches, then he doesn’t have the same type of feel or comfort or confidence with the game itself.

37:14-38:11: “I think his lowest floor is always gonna be a really, really, really good role player no matter where he is. I think probably Vince Carter right now as a Memphis Grizzlie…He’s gonna be someone that no mater what he’s not really gonna make mistakes out there. He’s gonna make open shots…his worst-case scenario is probably that guy that can get to the rim here and then, make the defense semi-honest, can make open shots, open 3s, solid defender, kind of makes all the right plays, doesn’t really screw anything up. Basically like a sixth, seventh man that you can trust that will finish games if he’s hot, be a solid NBA player.”

39:48-40:32: “He was there for four years and these guys just kind of said, ‘Hey, we don’t need this guy anymore.’ They were just all-out recruiting him [Kevin Durant] during the season. This team wasn’t a scrubby team. This team won 73 regular-season games and was one win away from the second straight NBA championship…They were that close. That’s something he took personal I think, which is fine because he’s a human. He understands why they did it, but at the same it’s like, ‘Screw these guys. These guys didn’t want me back,’ and, ‘they didn’t want to pay me.’ So that was a very odd and interesting ending to Barnes’ career as a Warrior.”

Music: "Who Likes to Party" by Kevin MacLeod

Episode 2.8: Ashish Mathur: “Jimmy (Butler) Establishing Himself as (Bulls’) New Alpha”

November 28, 2016
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Following dramatic offseason changes, the Chicago Bulls have jumped out to a 10-6 start. At 34, future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade has returned to his hometown. Chicago also brought in former NBA champion Rajon Rondo, among others. Our guest, Ashish Mathur of the Outside Pitch Sports Network, details how Wade and Rondo have added a sense of accountability, what’s behind Jimmy Butler’s routine offensive outbursts and how the Bulls’ lack of depth could ultimately derail their high hopes. Plus, much more is discussed with Mathur, who is cautiously optimistic about 2016-17 given how early it is in the season and the team’s new-look quality. At times, he’s even bullish, but let’s get to the excerpts before any more questionable puns are employed:

1:48-3:04: Mathur begins by pointing out the necessity for the Bulls to trot out a completely different team this season and detailing what key additions Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo have brought: "The roster turnover was needed in every facet. Derrick [Rose] and Joakim [Noah] did a lot for this organization and city, but with Jimmy [Butler] establishing himself as the new alpha on the team, it was time for those two to go. Gar Forman and John Paxson did a pretty good job. Getting Rondo and Wade here was huge, just for the locker room. It was toxic and full of turmoil last year…not able to handle any adversity…it was time for a change. The biggest thing Wade and Rondo add to the team is accountability…First day of training camp, Rondo and Wade were stopping practices telling guys to knock it off and to stop the chit-chat, [because they're] here to practice."

3:57-4:58Next, Mathur gushes about Butler's transformation from defensive specialist to bona fide all-around superstar: "This guy came into the league as a defensive stopper, averaged 2 points per game his first year. He's got to be one of the hardest working players, especially in the offseason…He got up at 4 in the morning every day and trained. He's having fun this year. Last year, there was so much dysfunction…Last year was the first [time] Jimmy dealt with adversity in the NBA…He looks so much different. He's smiling, loves having Wade on the team, and is putting up MVP-type numbers."

9:52-10:12: Certainly some of Butler's success this season can be attributed to mentor and fellow Marquette alumnus Dwyane Wade: "First day in [Wade's] opening press conference, he said that this is Jimmy Butler's team and that was huge for everybody…last thing we need is Butler and Wade not being able to play with each other. It's great for Wade to be the mentor to Jimmy."

11:02-12:56: Starting point guard Rajon Rondo is also a key part of the Bulls’ offense, but he has needed time to adjust to his new surroundings and has been hampered by a hardly discussed injury: "Rondo's always been a putrid shooter…he's not here to score…his leadership and being vocal on the floor have been his biggest attributes for the team. Hoiberg's a nonchalant coach, sits down the whole game, and he's pretty quiet. Rondo is vey loud, he's the coach on the floor, and that's been huge...the floor spacing though is not at its best when he's out there…we're supposed to get Rondo here for his defense and being a pest on that end of the floor. The Bulls' defense has been middle of the pack, but they've been awful when he's been on the floor…His defense will pick up. He's quietly dealing with an ankle injury that he's not talking about. That might be contributing. Just look at his track record. He's a pretty good defender at his position."

21:28-22:47: Perhaps the Bulls' x-factor is the wildly inconsistent Nikola Mirotic, whose potential is sky high, according to Mathur: "Mirotic is one of the biggest teases in the NBA. His rookie year, he led the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring in March at around 20 points per game. When he gets into a rhythm, he's one of the best shooters in the game, but his problems are his shot selection and his confidence. Sometimes he thinks he's Stephen Curry. He shoots some of the longest 3s I've ever seen. They're just horrible shots. It throws off the rhythm of the offense and ruins his confidence…This is a guy who was MVP in the Spanish league for a reason. He's not even close to his potential yet…He needs to hit the weight room. He has a very small upper body and teams eat him in the post. He needs to use his size more. He needs to go in the post…If he can improve there, he can be a borderline All-Star for the Bulls."

26:17-27:23: Our guest expects the Bulls' upcoming home stand to be very revealing in terms of where this team is headed this season: "These next home games are huge, because a lot of below-.500 teams are coming to the United Center, and the Bulls struggled with below .500 teams last year. Gotta start the home cooking and get some early wins. They play the Cavs next week. That'll be a good test for them…They've definitely turned a corner…The jury is still out. We have to see how they handle adversity, how Wade plays on back-to-backs. And the biggest thing is Butler and Hoiberg. What is their relationship really like? That relationship will really be tested once adversity and losing start to happen, if they do happen."

Music: "Who Likes to Party" by Kevin MacLeod

Episode 2.7: Porzingis Transforms Into a New Yorker & A Cuban Odyssey With Adena Andrews

November 18, 2016
00:0000:00

Freshly returned from Cuba, fellow Trojan Adena Andrews, who has written for ESPNW, NBA.com and CBS Sports, talks about her New York Knicks and her life-changing trip. Despite falling to the bottom-feeding Wizards (our interview was recorded before the game), the new-look Knicks have been showing signs of improvement. During the Knicks discussion, Adena addresses the team's integration process given so many offseason changes, Kristaps Porzingis' burgeoning New Yorkness and what the Zen Master brings to the organization, occasional controversy and all. Later, her enlightening journey to Cuba provides extraordinary insight into historical events and how they've impacted today's Cuba. Adena also explains her newfound closeness with the foreign land and many of its people. Enjoy some excerpts below:

Knicks

1:56-2:25: “I think I’m kind of like every other Knicks fan. We start the season and we’re like, ‘Oh yeah! We’re gonna win the chip! It’s gonna be ours!’ I think that’s what New Yorkers do best: we overreact. Especially because the Knicks are really good at getting great names and getting us excited. That’s where I’m at. I’m at the ‘Bring on the second round of the playoffs because we haven’t seen it in so long’ place.” 

2:42-2:56: “It seems like every year we have a new unit, and that’s our excuse. It’s like ‘We’re in a building year. We’re in a building year.’ We’ve built enough buildings here to populate downtown Manhattan.”

7:03-7:36 “[Porzingis] is a foreigner, and I really, really feel like he’s getting his official New York license right now. The other day on the court, he mouthed the words ‘F- outta here,’ and I was like, ‘That’s what New Yorkers say all the time’… I know at home, Porzingis is wearing Timbs and a Yankee fitted at all times. He is coming of age in his New York self and I’m loving it.”

Cuba 

24:49-25:14: “I felt like I was a part of history because I get to come back and be on a podcast or come back and tell all my friends and my coworkers just what a wonderful of a country Cuba is, how wonderful the people are. I’ll hopefully write my legislator and keep the conversation open between the countries and show that our ‘enemy’ (quote-unquote), what we used to think they were, they’re not so bad at all.”

25:56-26:52: “The culture experience that I really enjoyed the most, being an African American here, was learning about the African diaspora and how it exists in Cuba. In the triangle trade of slavery, Cuba and the Caribbean was just one stop and the U.S. South was another stop. And how much I actually had in common with the Cubans. For example, I saw some Cubans who were doing stepping, and I’m part of a historically black sorority and one of our traditions is we step. It’s called body percussion. They were doing the same exact steps that I learned at USC in college. It just makes you feel more connected, it makes you feel not so lost in this world and not so without culture. So it was humbling, and it was enlightening to see that kind of stuff." 

27:52-28:02: “At the end of the day, we’re just all so similar, it’s not even funny. Everyone, black, white. If we saw that in each other, the world would be a better place honestly.”

32:13-33:20: “As an African American, unless you read up on your history, all you’re gonna get is Martin Luther King, and not even Harriet Tubman in school… And then you feel just disconnected. You wonder, ‘Who am I and what am I made up of?’ So when you go to these places, you actually get a better sense of self, and know that there’s something larger than you, that you can withstand the harshest atrocities that are put up against you. You feel grounded and you feel connected to something definitely. I was in Jamaica once and this guy told me: ‘I and I is one people. You may not be my neighbor, but you’re my brother.’ You may be oceans away from me, but you’re still my brother in some shape or form. And that’s how I felt in Cuba.”

Music: "Who Likes to Party" by Kevin MacLeod