NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Shaq calls Simmons a ‘LeBron-type player’ — As a Hall of Fame player and today as a TNT analyst, Shaquille O’Neal is never one to shy away from a bold proclamation. He’s also got a lot of pride in his alma mater, LSU, and will talk up a player from there from time to time. O’Neal tapped both of those wells as he gave his thoughts on the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft, Philadelphia 76ers forward Ben Simmons, during an interview at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, writes Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com:
Shaquille O’Neal was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as one of the best to have ever played the game. He has solidified his place in basketball history, and now he is eyeing the next generation of potential stars in the incoming rookie class.
“I don’t know all of them, but I know my guy’s going to be pretty good, Ben Simmons,” O’Neal said last week in Springfield, Mass.
O’Neal said he has paid attention to only the top two picks, Simmons and Brandon Ingram. He got to know Simmons’ game before he was drafted by the Sixers when Simmons attended his alma mater, LSU.
O’Neal recognized Simmons’ multidimensional skillset, from scoring to ball handling to rebounding, which sets him apart as a 6-foot-10 point-forward. Even though Simmons played just one season in college, that was enough time for O’Neal to draw comparisons between him and one of the most talented in the NBA.
“He’s a LeBron-type player,” O’Neal said. “What I mean by that, LeBron does a nice job of making everybody else around him better — passing the ball, doing the small things — and Ben is that type of player.”
O’Neal defended Simmons’ collegiate performance and expects improvements from the 20-year-old in the NBA.
“He took a lot of flack, especially at LSU with not really taking over games,” O’Neal said. “But he’s young. He’ll get to that.”
Simmons will be a centerpiece of the Sixers system this season. He brings intangibles, versatility and a basketball IQ that is already beyond his years.
“When it comes to other aspects of the game, he’s very, very intelligent,” O’Neal said. “He plays the game very well.”
No. 2: Thunder’s Payne progressing well from surgery — The Oklahoma City Thunder are now Russell Westbrook‘s team and the point guard will carry a heavy burden in 2016-17. When he rests, though, second-year point guard Cameron Payne should have a decent chance at some of the backup minutes after a mostly successful rookie season. However, Payne is coming off Jones fracture surgery to his right foot and still has some ways to go before he can play again, writes Erik Horne of The Oklahoman:
As a packed library of kids ranging from kindergarten to second grade filed out of the Pleasant Hill Elementary library, Thunder guard Cameron Payne walked behind them.
The key word is “walked.” Rather than roll across the room with his right leg propped up on a scooter like he did at Russell Westbrook’s re-signing Aug. 4, Payne used his own two feet. Instead of one shoe and a walking boot, Payne wore a light grey pair of Nike Air Max ’98.
“I’m getting back into things,” Payne said. “I’m shooting, jumping around, running. Everything’s been going great.”
Less than two months after having Jones fracture surgery on his right foot, Payne showed no signs of distress at his Thunder Reading Timeout appearance at the northeast Oklahoma City school on Tuesday.
Will the second-year guard be ready to play when training camp starts Sept. 24? Jones fractures are typically diagnosed with a 6-to-8 week timetable for return.
If Payne is back next week, he’ll have returned a day short of eight weeks. He underwent surgery on July 25.
“I hope I’m ready as soon as the first day comes,” Payne said. “But I don’t want to rush anything. I want to be perfectly ready. One-hundred percent.
“It’s really day-by-day, but right now, the things that we’re doing, we’re going at 100 percent.”
On Tuesday, Payne revealed that he and the Thunder knew he had a foot fracture in March when he started wearing a boot for discomfort in his right foot. The Thunder determined Payne was able to play without sustaining further damage but continued to keep him in a walking boot after practices as a precaution.
Since he missed summer league in 2015 with a fractured finger, Payne desperately wanted to play this go-round.
He went into July with minimal discomfort in his foot and ended up scoring a league-best 18.8 points in four games. Then, the Thunder opted to have proactive surgery on Payne’s foot in time for him to be ready in training camp.
“They said that I could play through it,” Payne said when asked why he wanted to play summer league despite his injury. “I wanted to wait until the summer (for surgery). I was so caught up in the season — I love playing the game — so when I had down time that’s when I wanted to deal with it.”
Despite suffering an injury that’s been dubbed the “dancer’s fracture,” Payne said it won’t alter his world-renown pregame dance with Russell Westbrook.
Charlie Villanueva and the Dallas Mavericks couldn’t stop him. Why would a broken foot?
“I’m gonna continue to have fun,” Payne said. “That’s what got me here — having fun. I’m not gonna change any of the things I do. It’s all about coming in getting better every day and having fun doing it.”
No. 3: Schroder ready for new challenges with Hawks — Shortly after the 2016 Draft, the Atlanta Hawks made official what many knew was coming — a regime change at point guard. The Hawks dealt former All-Star and longtime starter Jeff Teague to the Indiana Pacers as part of a three-team deal that made Dennis Schroder the new starter in Atlanta. As training camp approaches for the Hawks, he’s embracing the challenge that comes with not only leading the team on the court, but off it as well. Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has more:
Schroder enters his fourth NBA season after the Hawks took the German speedster with the 17th overall pick in 2013.
The new era begins in less than two weeks when the Hawks open camp on Sept. 26.
It was Schroder, and not Teague, that coach Mike Budenholzer turned to down the stretch in Games 1 and 4 of the Hawks’ Eastern Conference semifinal series loss to the Cavaliers last season. The move was made several other times during the regular season.
Hawks management supports the promotion of Schroder, who turns just 23-years old on Thursday. Still, the move will be a scrutinized as the young player has been inconsistent at times and his brash attitude has been an issue for teammates and opponents on occasion.
“Dennis has an incredible talent,” veteran Thabo Sefolosha told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently. “He’s going to be great. He’s going to be the point guard. It’s going to be tough. I think we are all going to help him. I think it’s a tough position to be so young and to have so much on your shoulders. I think it’s going to be on all of us to help him.”
“In the game, there won’t be a lot of difference because I give everything,” Schroder told the AJC earlier this summer after the trade of Teague was made. “That’s what I do if I’m playing 20 minutes or 35 minutes. I think the leadership off the court, to build chemistry with the team, try to be around the coaching staff, coach Bud and everybody, and try to build relationships with everybody.”
The Hawks have another noteworthy situation involving Schroder. He is scheduled to make $2,708,582 this season and is eligible for a rookie contract extension. The Hawks could make Schroder a qualifying offer for next season in 2017-18. It will likely be around $4.5 million if he keeps his starter criteria and will make him a restricted free agent.
The deadline for a rookie extension is Oct. 31. The team would unlikely to do an extension until late in the month. Injury during training camp and the preseason is a consideration. The case of the Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a cautionary tale. The Hornets signed the 2012 second overall pick to a four-year, $52 million rookie extension last August. He suffered a right shoulder injury in the preseason and missed much of the year. When Kidd-Gilchrist did return in February, he played seven games before re-injuring the same shoulder that required season-ending surgery.
The Hawks will also consider the future salary cap in making a decision on Schroder. If he is not signed to an extension, Schroder would have a salary cap hold of approximately $7 million for 2017-18. With that flexibility, the Hawks could have enough cap space to sign another max player next summer.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Journeyman point guard Jordan Farmar has reportedly reached a deal with the Sacramento Kings … Reggie Jackson is expecting his Detroit Pistons to “be scary” this season … The NBPA will soon move into some swanky new digs in Manhattan … Former Utah Jazz All-Star big man Mehmet Okur has joined the Phoenix Suns’ coaching staff … Michele Obama wants Stephen Curry to trash talk her husband the next time they play golf together …