Shootaround (Nov. 6): LeBron on Ben Simmons -- 'He's a like a little brother of mine'
LeBron and Simmons are like family | Jeff Teague struggles for hometown team | Is Bradley Beal living up to expectations? | Gentry and Pelicans frustrated
No. 1: LeBron and Simmons are like family — The top overall pick of the draft still hasn’t played a game yet as he recovers from injury, yet that doesn’t stop Ben Simmons from getting endorsements. Actually, he already had the blessing of LeBron James from years ago. The good thing about holding a skills camp for high school phenoms is getting to know them, and that’s how the relationship between Simmons and LeBron began. They also share agents and speak often. Here’s Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer on LeBron’s mentoring of Simmons:
The Cleveland Cavaliers standout acknowledged Saturday that he’s given Ben Simmons advice on how to cope with being sidelined. The four-time NBA MVP just wouldn’t share what he told the 76ers rookie.
“He’s like a little brother of mine,” James said. “I’ve talked to him, but it’s not for news clippings.”
Of course, he’s talked to Simmons.They share the same agent in Rich Paul, who’s a longtime friend of James. Simmons trained in Cleveland before the Sixers selected him first overall in June’s NBA draft. And he worked out with James, Dwyane Wade, Richard Jefferson, and Jordan McRae this summer in California.
Saturday was supposed to mark the first time they squared off in an NBA game, as the Sixers hosted the Cavs at Wells Fargo Center. However, all that changed when Simmons suffered a Jones fracture in his right foot Sept. 30, the final day of training camp. He’s expected to return in January.
But one would assume that James was one of the first people Simmons reached out to after the injury. And you can bet that they’re still in communication.
“I’ve been knowing the kid for quite a while now, ever since his sophomore year in high school,” James said.
The 12-time all-star can talk at length about Simmons coming from a great family and being well-rounded. James believes that as much as Simmons’ skills contributed to him becoming the No. 1 pick.
“He’s a great, young talent,” he said. “But he’s a much better person than he is a basketball player. Philly should be excited to have him.”
And it can be argued that Simmons is lucky to have James as a mentor.
Right now, Simmons is focused on getting back on the court.
Once he returns, the Australian is bound to experience some ups and downs during his career.
Folks will analyze everything from his accent and style of dress to his shot selection and his head-to-head statistics against other elite players.
And even if Simmons becomes a perennial NBA all-star, he’ll have to deal with the pressure of leading the Sixers to an NBA title.
No. 2: Jeff Teague struggles for hometown team — Jeff Teague had 21 points and 6 assists last night and it was by far his best outing of the season. One of the off-season additions that was generally applauded was Indy getting Teague from the Hawks. Indiana had gone as far as it could under the leadership of George Hill, who was a fine defender and decent shooter but was lacking in true point guard skills; he never averaged more than 5 assists in his five seasons with the club. Not only was Teague an All-Star a few seasons ago, he’s playing for money; Teague hits the free agent market next summer and has every incentive to deliver a career year in Indianapolis, where he played high school ball at Pike. However, Teague started poorly and folks such as Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star are rightfully wondering what’s going on:
Four games into the season, the Indiana Pacers have a point guard problem. His name is Jeff Teague, and he’s shooting poorly. Defending worse. Displaying, at times, a startling lack of interest.
Wasn’t he supposed to be the solution?
Luckily for Teague and the rest of the Pacers, Paul George went into superstar mode Tuesday night — “It was like a video game,” teammate Thaddeus Young said — and that was enough to lift Indiana past the really bad Los Angeles Lakers 115-108.
Do me a favor, and don’t confuse “my team won” with “my team doesn’t have a major problem.” Are the Pacers your team? Great. But your team has a major problem.
Let’s cut Teague some slack and acknowledge that he’s still finding his way. New team, new system, new teammates. It’s not a new city — Teague graduated from Pike High School — and who doesn’t want the hometown kid to do well? Maybe, when all is said and done, he will do well. For sure he’ll be better than he has been through four games.
On the season, Teague is shooting 22 percent from the floor (11-of-50), 6.7 percent on 3-pointers (1-of-15) and 66.7 percent on free throws (10-of-15). It’s a small sample size, just four games, but Teague is shooting poorly in all three categories. He was shooting so badly Tuesday night, the Lakers dropped off him late in the fourth quarter, clogging the lane and leaving Teague alone behind the 3-point arc. Teague shot two of them, missed them both, and the Lakers capitalized at the other end.
Understand, this game had no business being close. The Lakers were playing their third road game in five days, they’re headed for the bottom of the Western Conference, and they played poorly even for them on Tuesday night: 21.4 percent shooting on 3-pointers, 14 assists, 19 turnovers. They were terrible.
And they led Indiana 108-107 with less than 2 minutes left.
That’s when Paul George took over, but not with his point guard creating opportunities for him.
Nah, didn’t happen that way.
Because Teague wasn’t able to get the offense going, Paul George took it upon himself. He drove into the lane and hit a difficult scoop shot. He stuck an 18-footer. Then another. And another. He hit two free throws. Then two more. Then it was over.
“I don’t want to put pressure on him,” McMillan said. “We’re running a couple sets to try to get him involved. ‘Just let the game come to you,’ is what I’ve told him. ‘Don’t be concerned about your shots not falling. You work on that every singe day. That will come.’ ”
You have to believe it will. Teague was a 44.5 percent shooter, 35.5 percent on 3-pointers, in seven seasons in Atlanta. But he was 4-of-15 on Tuesday night. He shot two air balls from less than 5 feet. He missed both free throws, his only free throws in the past three games.
He’s better than this.
But for four games he has been icy on offense, and disastrous on defense. Meanwhile, the point guard he replaced, George Hill, has been tearing it up in Utah. Is that not fair to mention? Sue me. I’m mentioning it. Through four games, Hill is leading the Jazz at 20.2 ppg. He has a nearly 5-to-1 ratio of assists (19) to turnovers (4).
Most media folks around here, me included, lauded the Teague-for-Hill transition. It was a net win for the Pacers, we said. Yes, we acknowledged, Hill is a better defender. But Teague’s offense will make up the difference, and then some.
That’s what we said then. What am I saying now?
Four games into the season, it looks like we were wrong. Four games into the season, we owe George Hill an apology.
No. 3: Is Bradley Beal living up to expectations? — When you get the big bucks, somehow folks figure you most magically transform yourself into twice the player you were before getting the cash. Or something like that. Anyway, the highest paid player in Wizards’ franchise history is hearing it on social media and some fans about how he’s not meeting his price tag, at least not yet here in the early season. Here’s Jerry Brewer of the Washington Post having a take on the matter:
Beal signed the sixth-richest contract in NBA history this offseason, everything about his performances will be scrutinized.
It doesn’t matter that Beal’s contract became historically lucrative not because he had achieved all-star production, but because he was a restricted free agent at the right time, as the salary cap took an unprecedented spike. The Wizards couldn’t lose him and couldn’t negotiate anything more than a max contract because there was too much cap space available across the league. They had to double down on the promise of a 23-year-old who has been very good for his age but has yet to reach his all-star potential.
When you see Beal at his best, you think his ceiling is Ray Allen or Mitch Richmond. But injuries and youth have held him back. Now, his development is the most important factor in this franchise’s growth. In free agency, the Wizards did not acquire an established star to form a big three with Beal and John Wall.
If Beal doesn’t become a consistent 20-to-23-point scorer, if he doesn’t do his part to make sure he and Wall keep pace with the league’s most dynamic back courts, then the franchise won’t make progress.
Wall is Wall, an all-star point guard who needs a high-scoring partner. Gortat is a nice role-playing center. Markieff Morris is another high-caliber complementary piece at power forward. Small forward Otto Porter Jr. is a good fill-in-the-gaps, do-the-little-things guy. If Beal remains what he has been — a developing talent who seems better suited as your third-best player — the Wizards are in trouble. If he stays healthy and grows, this team will make a lot more sense. It is constructed for
Beal to become its most dominant offensive force, at least in terms of scoring. Does he have it in him?
In the second half Friday night, the answer was yes. No doubt, $128 million demands more than 24-minute glimpses. But it’s a start.
“I was locked in,” Beal said. “I just wanted to make sure I did whatever I could to get a win.”
Throughout the day, the Wizards had predicted Beal would play well. Perhaps it was wishful thinking. Perhaps it was easy to assume. But they went with the feeling.
“He’s going to have a breakout game sooner or later,” Brooks said 90 minutes before tip-off. “Hopefully, it’s tonight.”
After the morning shoot-around, Wall said: “This is going to be a big game for him.”
The thing is, it wasn’t a brilliant shooting night in which even Beal’s heat checks were swishing. He was only 6 of 16 from the field. But it was illuminating to watch Beal stay in attack mode and show some of the skills that he worked on all summer.
Beal’s work ethic and competitive fire are the reasons you can’t banish him to premature overpaid hell. He badly wants to be a superstar. He doesn’t want to settle for being a 17-point scorer who plays good defense at times. He knows he can be more. He trusts Brooks’s vision that he can be a great scorer and tough defender. He did both against the Hawks, dropping 28 points and contributing to a defensive effort that saw Atlanta wing players Kyle Korver and Kent Bazemore shoot a combined 1 for 16.
With 3:55 remaining, Beal made the biggest shot of the night. He made a three-pointer from the corner over Dwight Howard to give the Wizards an 89-82 lead. The Hawks called timeout, and before Beal went to the Washington bench, he ran to the other side of the court and punched the padded basket support in celebration.
The $128 million man put on a show in the second half. He can’t prove himself worthy of a contract in one night, or with one great half. But he also can’t prove himself unworthy with three subpar games to begin a season. The Process continues, with a little less angst now.
No. 4: Gentry and Pelicans frustrated — The coach of one the last three winless team is feeling some heat and much of it is self-placed. Alvin Gentry and the Pelicans lost in a tough manner on Friday, getting bamboozled on an inbounds play in overtime at home to the Suns, the latest in a string of paper cuts suffered by New Orleans. Despite the fast start by Anthony Davis, the Pelicans can’t overcome their mistakes and also injuries to three players who were projected to be starters when the season began. Gentry’s job is probably safe at least until he gets his full compliment of players, which may not happen for another few weeks; then he can be properly judged. Here’s Justin Verrier of ESPN.com on the plight of the Pelicans:
After each game, even the ones he’d much rather forget, Alvin Gentry says he tries to stick to the same routine: The New Orleans Pelicans’ coach will go home, turn on the game tape and pull out a notepad.
His main focus on the first run-through? Himself.
“I try to write down notes on everything that I could have done better,” he said. “Maybe I should have had this guy in the game. Maybe the rotation should have been this. ‘God, I should have called this play.’ It’s self-evaluation before I remotely think about somebody else and what they’re doing and what they’re not doing.
“You have to be able to look yourself in the mirror and say, ‘I’m doing everything I can to help this team, to help them win,’” he said. “But I also told them the message was you don’t lose a basketball game over one play. Like the end-of-the-game play: Great play, but we didn’t lose the game on that play.”
Whatever the cause, the Pelicans now head out on a three-game road swing (Golden State, Sacramento, Milwaukee) with a record of 0-6, not 1-5. While the difference may sound negligible, it is noticeable. Though the 76ers and Mavericks share the Pelicans’ burden, the zero in the win column of the NBA standings might as well be dressed in blinking Christmas lights.
“If you don’t have any wins, as opposed to one win, yeah, I think there’s a stigma attached to that,” Gentry said. “You want to, obviously, get off the snide and at least have a win. And sometimes having that one win can get you over the hump and start something good for you. So that’s what we have to keep playing for.”
The good list begins in unfamiliar territory: defense. The Pelicans ranked in the bottom 10 on that end throughout Davis’ first four seasons, but they currently rank 11th in the NBA. The jump, however, has created a seesaw effect on offense. The Pelicans, who ranked 16th on offense last season and ninth in their banner 2014-15 season, have sunk to 28th this season as they are the league’s third-worst 3-point shooting team. The imbalance, Gentry admitted, is untenable.
“You can’t have that much of a disparity, because it’s too much, it’s too much of a gap there,” he said. “You put so much pressure on your defense, or so much pressure on your offense that it’s hard to keep it at an equilibrium, where you now have an opportunity to win.”
With three key players sidelined, and two more lost to Houston in free agency, a reasonable expectation against a tough opening slate — their strength of schedule of games played so far ranks eighth, according to ESPN Analytics — was to tread water until Jrue Holiday (personal reasons) and Tyreke Evans (right knee) arrived.
But not winning a single game may have sunk the Pelicans into a hole that not even their second-best player can fill.
“Like I said to these guys, we’ve got to understand one thing: Jrue’s not the cavalry. He’s not coming in with the white horse and the stuff like that,” Gentry said. “He’s a really good basketball player and solid and can do a lot, a lot of things. But we don’t know when we’re getting Jrue back. And so we can’t worry about that until the time comes. We have to worry about who we have here and figuring out the best way to play with this group until he does return.”
Some Random Headlines: Gregg Popovich is voting for Pedro … Folks in Miami are being patient in this transition year, so nobody’s screaming about the poor shooting from Justise Winslow, not yet anyway … There are big expectations for youngster Trey Lyles in Utah but on a stacked team he’s still waiting his turn … Well, that didn’t take long: Pistons ship No. 1 pick Henry Ellison to the D-League for seasoning … Cavs owner Dan Gilbert isn’t a fan of protests during the anthem