VIDEO: Jerry Colangelo breaks down the roster for USA Basketball’s minicamp
NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Tempered expectations for Stanley Johnson — Any conversation about the rookies most ready to make an impact on their respective teams next season includes the name Stanley Johnson. The Detroit Pistons are counting on it. Johnson has the size, talent and based on what we saw from him in Summer League action the temperament to handle the rigors during his first season as a professional. But as always, the expectations for Johnson and many others in the celebrated Draft class of 2015 need to be tempered, writes Sean Corp in The Detroit Free Press:
Pistons president and coach Stan Van Gundy is even talking about a willingness to start Johnson at either shooting guard or small forward, as he mentioned during an interview with Grantland’s Zach Lowe recently.
However, if history is any indication, expectations for Johnson should be tempered. Rookies struggle, it’s just a fact of NBA life. It’s not a criticism it is an inevitability. Even last year’s All-Stars struggled to find much playing time as rookies. DeMar Derozan (1,664 minutes), LaMarcus Aldridge (1,392) and Paul George (1,265) played sparingly and looked lost on the court much of the time. If Johnson manages to eclipse even that modest amount of playing time (about 18 minutes per game) he will be the exception and not the rule.
Over the past 10 years, NBA lottery picks average just 1,457 minutes in their first NBA season. And Johnson isn’t a typical NBA lottery pick. Less than a month past his 19th birthday at the time of the draft, Johnson will be one of the younger rookies of the past 10 years. Just 12 lottery picks played most of their rookie season as teenagers, averaging just 1,213 minutes. Expanding the range to teens selected at any point in the draft, the average playing time is just 1,050 minutes. Even if you limit the analysis to those players selected 8th overall, like Johnson was, the average playing time is 1,292 minutes.
But what of his current head coach? Here is where a little excitement might be permitted. Van Gundy known nothing but success before arriving in Detroit, and as a consequence he has limited experience with rookies.
During a full season, Van Gundy has coached just six rookies in his career, including three first-rounders. The most prolific, unsurprisingly, is Dwyane Wade. Wade was selected fifth overall in 2003 and played 2,126 minutes, finishing third in the rookie of the year voting. The next year, the Heat selected Dorell Wright out of high school (19th overall) and he played a total of 27 minutes. Van Gundy’s other first-round pick was Courtney Lee in 2008, and Johnson and Lee make for an interesting comparison.
Lee came out of Western Kentucky as a 6-foot-5 combo guard-forward who could shoot the lights out and defend from day one, filling a glaring defensive need in Orlando’s high-powered lineup. He ended up playing 1,939 minutes as a rookie. Johnson, meanwhile, is 6-foot-7, capable of playing multiple spots on the floor, and is expected to be able to defend from day one. This defensive ability, on a team desperate to create the defensive identity Van Gundy is known for, could be Johnson’s ticket to regular playing time.
Is it fair to expect him to play 1,900 minutes like Lee did? No. A combination of competition on the roster, youth, and the history of rookies in the NBA says expecting more than that from Johnson would be an unreasonable expectation. Kevin Durant and LeBron James might have looked like stars from day one, but only because they grew from stars to superstars. For everyone else, a rookie year looks something like what Johnson is likely to experience – irregular playing time, regular mistakes and an invaluable learning experience.
No. 2: Connaughton’s a rookie with two-sport dreams — Pat Connaughton has big dreams for both his basketball and baseball careers. The Portland Trail Blazers’ rookie swingman is eyeing bright futures in both the NBA and in Major League Baseball, as a pitching prospect for the Baltimore Orioles. A pipe dream? Perhaps. But it’s one the former Notre Dame star has been working on for years. Our very own Ian Thomsen tells the tale of the guy who could be the next professional athlete to star in two sports:
He is a natural athlete who loves hard work and dreams of everything.
“I made the joke that if for some reason basketball and baseball fails, I’m going to try to take over for Tom Brady during his four-game suspension,” says Connaughton, who didn’t play organized football until high school and wound up becoming the starting quarterback at St. John’s Prep in suburban Boston. “To be honest, I think I could have done something in football if I had put my mind to it.”
But there was not enough time for that. He was preoccupied with basketball and baseball. Even now, as Connaughton launches his NBA career, he refuses to surrender the dream of having it both ways. Why settle for one game when you are capable of playing two?
“I’ve always tried to not burn a bridge before I’ve crossed it,” he says.
He is setting out across this new bridge. What will he find on the other side?
“That’s not happening,” says Neil Olshey, the general manager of the Blazers. “The conversation we had with Pat prior to all of this was you’re an NBA player now. Being an NBA player is not a part-time job.”
“The time when Pat would be going to play baseball is a time when you’re working on your game and getting better,” Olshey says. “You see how valuable July is. During the development phase, when you’re a second-round pick in the NBA and you have a ways to go to have a translatable skill-set in our league, you need Summer League, you need Grg’s camp (run by Bucks assistant Tim Grgurich), you need to spend the offseason in the gym. You can’t do that on a part-time basis.”
Connaughton agrees with all of this.
“Now, look,” continues Olshey, “if he gets into a second contract down the road and that is something he wants to pursue, then that can be a discussion point …”
This is exactly how Connaughton is viewing his future. Basketball comes first. He has signed a three-year contract with the Blazers — the first two years guaranteed — in which to establish himself in the NBA. And if he does, then can there not be some way to also pursue the parallel dream of pitching in the major leagues?
In every team sport — basketball, baseball, football — he played the position of leader.
“In high school I was basically the point guard — but I also played center, if that makes sense,” Connaughton says. “We didn’t have many guys that were taller than me, and we also didn’t have a lot of ball-handlers that were used to playing the point. I played everything, and it really helped. The more positions you play, the more you learn.”
His career in football as the quarterback was the first to end, because it had always ranked third behind basketball and baseball. As a starting pitcher he went 11-2 with 160 strikeouts in 90 innings as a high school senior. At that time he might have been a first-round pick in the baseball draft if he had not announced his plan to play basketball in college. The Division 1 basketball offers — from Boston College, UCLA and Notre Dame among others — arrived after he played a sensational AAU tournament in Orlando, Fla.
Connaughton settled on Notre Dame, where he starred in baseball and developed steadily in basketball. Once again, he hurt his position in the MLB draft by informing teams that he would not commit to baseball in order to return to Notre Dame for his senior year.
“In my case the dream isn’t money,” he says. “Money comes along the way if you’re fortunate enough to be in athletics professionally. You’ve got to find some other thing that you’re chasing, whether that’s to be the best, whether it’s to succeed or just to get to this level — at some point you’ve got to know what you’re chasing personally.”
No. 3: Thompson calls trade to Warriors ‘bittersweet’ — Since when does a trade to the reigning champs qualify as “bittersweet” or the chance to play alongside reigning KIA MVP Steph Curry and an All-Star like Klay Thompson make one wistful for those days in Sacramento? Apparently it’s when you are Jason Thompson, the former Sacramento Kings, and for 22 days last month Philadelphia 76ers, center. Thompson was traded to Philadelphia on July 9 and then later to the Warriors on July 31, that’s three teams in roughly three weeks, after earning the distinction of being the all-time games played leader for the Kings this past season. Sure, he has to relocate to the Bay Area. But he’ll have a chance to help the Warriors chase another title this season. Carl Steward of the Mercury News explains:
Needless to say, Thompson’s head continues to spin a bit, since he’s a guy who’s not used to such career volatility. As he sat Thursday at the Warriors practice facility, it was clear he’s still trying to make sense of it all.
“It’s definitely a bittersweet situation,” he said. “I was traded to a team I grew up watching in Philly, and I didn’t play a game with them. Then suddenly I was coming to an organization coming off a title. I was definitely in shock.”
Pleasantly shocked, he quickly added. After being so admired as a winning college player at tiny Rider University in his native New Jersey that a new practice court was named after him last week, Thompson is excited about familiarizing himself in a successful operation as a pro.
In his seven seasons with Sacramento, the Kings lost at least 53 games every season but one, and that was a labor-shortened 2011-12 campaign, when they were 22-44. Thompson not only has never played in an NBA playoff game but also hasn’t even sniffed one.
Chances are, that wouldn’t have happened in Philadelphia next year, either, so even though he missed out on the opportunity playing near his hometown of Mount Laurel Township, New Jersey, he’s happy to be back on the West Coast with a great chance to go to the postseason.
“I haven’t been around much winning these past seven years,” Thompson said. “Just a lot of instability, with seven coaches in seven years, 180 teammates and things like that. That doesn’t ever lead to winning, so to come to an organization that has won and is coming off a championship, it’s definitely great for myself.”
It’s great for the Warriors, too, even if he doesn’t play a minute for them next season. The franchise will save roughly $30 million in salary and luxury tax assessments in the series of deals that first sent forward David Lee to Boston in a three-way deal that returned veteran Gerald Wallace. General manager Bob Myers then traded Wallace, cash and draft considerations to the 76ers for Thompson.
The Warriors have long had their eye on Thompson as a player who might fit their system, and he certainly fits it better than Wallace, who at 33 is near the end of his career. Thompson turned 29 last week and has two years left on his contract as opposed to Wallace’s one.
Thompson’s blend of offensive and defensive skills as well as his ability to play center and forward figures to make a deep Warriors front line even deeper. He doesn’t know what his role will be or how much time he’ll get on the floor, but he’s keeping an open mind.
“That’s for coach (Steve) Kerr to decide and me to go with it, but it’s a little different approach when a team comes off winning a championship,” he said. “But I’m probably going to be smiling more. This is a championship team, and talking to the guys, I know it wasn’t easy to make it happen, and I know it’s even harder to repeat. I’m going to do everything in my power to be a great locker room guy and find ways to produce.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Brandon Bass insists that his new teammate, Kobe Bryant, is still the best and one of the NBA’s elite players … The New York Knicks have added another big man to their ranks with the signing of former Washington Wizards center Kevin Seraphin … The Denver Nuggets aren’t taking any chances with prized rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay, signing veteran floor leader Jameer Nelson to serve as his backup and mentor … Donald Sterling wants $1 billion from last summer’s sale of the Los Angeles Clippers …