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Gregg Popovich took the mic to demand respect for Kawhi Leonard

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During the second quarter of Wednesdays’ clash between the Clippers and Spurs in San Antonio, the home crowd began to boo their former player Kawhi Leonard. As this happened, coach Gregg Popovich took the mic and asked everyone to show some respect.

The audience made a ruckus at the Front Bank Center as the Los Angeles star dropped in the first of his two free throws. It was at this point when the legendary trainer decided to put an end to this. He made a gesture towards referee Tyler Ford, walked up to the scorer’s table and took the mic.

“Excuse me for a second,” Popovich issed the plea. “Can we stop all the booing and let these guys play? It’s got no class. That’s not who we are. Knock off the booing.”

At this point, there were 3:06 minutes left in the first half, as the Texan franchise was trailing by 9 points, 48 to 39. This only incited the crowd to yell even louder when Kawhi hit the second free throw, extending the lead to 10 points.

Despite the noise, the home team’s fans motivated the Spurs and you could even say they played a part as they almost rallied back from a 17-point difference.

After the game, Popovich was in no mood to get into it. “I think anybody that knows anything about sports knows you don’t poke the bear,” he said. “That’s all I need to say. I just told you why I did it. I gave you the answer,” Popovich said. “There’s no other questions that need to be asked.”

Even the rest of the San Antonio squad showed their respect for the Clippers forward. “[Leonard has] done so much for this organization,” Jeremy Sochan said. “There’s no need to disrespect him like that. I guess it’s a part of the game, but at the same time he’s a human, too. I respect what coach Pop did.”

Kawhi seemed unbothered by the fans chanting against him, and even said he’s used to this kind of behavior

After the match, Leonard seemed as taciturn as always, almost entirely unbothered by the reception he received inside the San Antonio arena.

“If I don’t have a Spurs jersey on, they’re probably going to boo me for the rest of my career,” he shared. “They’re [some] of the best fans in the league and they’re very competitive. Once I step on this basketball court out here, they show they’re going for the other side. And when I’m on the streets or going into restaurants, they show love.”

In the video above, check out the veteran star’s reaction once the game was over. He was seen talking to Popovich before attending the press.

Kawhi played the first seven campaigns of his career under Gregg and even went on to win the 2014 championship, along with the Finals MVP and two Kia NBA Defensive Player of the Year accolades.





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Advanced stats don’t like Micah Parsons’ 37-point game

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The 2024 NBA All-Star Weekend is upon us. That means many things. No regular season games for a while (unfortunately), the All-Star game (duh), and cool events like the 3-Point and Slam Dunk Competition.

Among those cool events is a fan favorite: the All-Star Celebrity Game. This event is fun because it gives us the chance to watch recognizable figures who are not in the NBA duel it out in a game of hoops.

This year, the two teams were coached by ESPN First Take hosts Stephen A. Smith (home team) and Shannon Sharpe (away team).

The Star Of The Show

Team Sharpe emerged victorious from this contest, winning 100 to 91. The star of the show was Dallas Cowboys star linebacker Micah Parsons, who scored a game-high 37 points (earning MVP honors in the process).

Puka Nukua scored 16 points (the owner of the single-season rookie record in receiving yards). Dylan Wong also scored 18, and Jewell Lloyd had 11. For Team Stephen, the heavy hitters were Houston Texans’ quarterback CJ Stroud (31 points), Tristan Jass (27 points), and Gianmarco Tamberi (16 points).

An Inefficient 37-Point Night

As the title suggests, advanced statistics weren’t the biggest fans of Parsons’ 37-point outing. Well, at least one advanced statistic wasn’t.

True shooting is a great metric for measuring scoring volume because it factors in twos, threes, and free throws. Last night, Parsons had 37 points on 31 field goals and six free throw attempts. His true shooting percentage was about 55%.

This season, the league average is 58.3%. That means that Parsons scored 37 points on true shooting that is 3.3 percentage points below the league average. If Parsons averaged 55% true shooting for the entire season, he’d be in the 28th percentile in scoring efficiency.

I hope that whoever is reading this is picking up on the light-hearted nature of this post. What Parsons did at the celebrity game was incredible. And to be fair, he’s scored 37 more points in a celebrity game than the person writing this.

It’s just funny thinking about an NFL player’s true shooting percentage (at least to diehard hoop fans like myself).





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Bennedict Mathurin Wins 2024 NBA Rising Stars MVP Award

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Indiana Pacers guard Bennedict Mathurin won the 2024 NBA Rising Stars MVP award after scoring 18 points and hitting the game-winning shot in the semifinal appearance against Team Tamika and adding four points in a 26-13 win over Team Detlef in the final.

Despite the highly anticipated matchup between rookie stars Victor Wembanyama and Chet Holmgren, the Pacers guard became the hometown hero during Friday night’s NBA Rising Stars game at Gainbridge Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

According to multiple NBA betting sites, Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo is the odds-on favorite to win the 2024 NBA All-Star Game MVP award. Sportsbooks are still showing great odds for Stephen Curry and Luka Doncic.

Winning MVP was a personal goal for Mathurin. “I told my team I’m trying to win, especially in Indy,” he said Friday morning. “I didn’t tell them I’m trying to get MVP, [but] yeah, I’m trying to get it.”

The new NBA Rising Stars format began in 2023. Rookies, sophomores, and select G League players are divided into four teams. Teams play semifinal games against one another to a target score of 40.

The final goes to 25 points. Former NBA and WNBA stars Pau Gasol, Tamika Catchings, Jalen Rose, and Detlef Schrempf were the coaches for each team.

Indiana Pacers’ Bennedict Mathurin wins 2024 NBA Rising Stars MVP with 22 points for Team Jalen

This was Mathurin’s second Rising Stars victory. The University of Arizona product won last year’s event with Team Pau. The 21-year-old was serenaded with “MVP” chants by fans this time around.

“It was fun. It was fun to see, to receive those chants,” Mathurin said. “The Rising Stars Game, I feel like I haven’t really gotten that feeling in the NBA. One day I want to be MVP, so it was great to have that feeling pretty early in my career.”

In the final against Team Detlef, the Pacers guard recorded four points, two assists, and a steal. New Orleans Pelicans guard Jordan Hawkins and Oklahoma City Thunder forward Jalen Williams helped carry Team Jalen to victory with back-to-back 3-pointers.

Although Mathurin is an 82.5% free-thrower shooter, he missed a pair of foul shots with a chance to win the semifinal in the first game. As a result, he lost a $25,000 bet with Orlando Magic forward Paolo Banchero.

Though, at least he redeemed himself by knocking down a turnaround jumper for the win.

“I saw a couple shots going in and I was like, it’s a wrap,” Mathurin said about his performance in the first game. “If I’m being totally honest, it’s also my city. I had to make sure I brought it home. So that was the main thing for me.”

Wembanyama finished with 11 points, seven rebounds, and two blocks for Team Pau against Team Detlef in the semifinal. But Wemby’s group fell short against Team Detlef after G League Ignite forward Matas Buzelis hit a jumper to secure the victory. Buzelis is eligible for the upcoming 2024 NBA Draft.

Indiana’s Tyrese Haliburton, Myles Turner, and Mathurin team up for the Skills Challenge on Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET. Haliburton is also participating in the Starry 3-Point Contest.

Both events are taking place at Lucas Oil Stadium as part of the 2024 NBA All-Star Weekend. 





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What is the ceiling for Washington Wizards forward Deni Avdija?

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Key Highlights:

  • Deni Avdija is playing the best basketball of his career this season
  • He’s made massive improvements to his 3-point shooting, drive game, and ability to generate free throws
  • Avdija has the outline of a future superstar role player

Over his last four games, fourth-year forward Deni Avdija is averaging 28.3 PPG, 11.5 RPG, and 3.8 APG on 72.7% true shooting. Avdija enters the All-Star break playing the best basketball of his career, which is pretty refreshing considering how long people have been waiting for Avdija to take that leap forward. But this year, Avdija has done just that.

Now, he’s starting to become the player people envisioned him as when the Washington Wizards selected him ninth overall in the 2020 NBA Draft. This begs the question: how much further can Avdija take this?

Why People Love Avdija

As a general rule, those who really follow basketball have an affinity toward tantalizing defensive prospects with a poor jumper. As a 6’9 forward who hasn’t surpassed the 32% mark from beyond the arc in his first three NBA seasons, Avdija certainly fits that characterization.

Avdija isn’t an elite guard defender like his draft class peer, Jaden McDaniels. And he doesn’t create turnovers at the same rate as McDaniels, either. But what Avdija lacks in lateral quickness and defensive playmaking, he makes up for with his size and physicality. He can guard bigger players, provide secondary paint protection, and help crash the defensive glass (90th percentile among forwards, per Cleaning the Glass). In keeping with the 2020 Draft comparisons, Avdija’s defensive style is similar to that of Patrick Williams.

Avdija isn’t an All-Defensive caliber player. But he is clearly a positive performer on that end of the floor. Despite the Wizards being horrible on the defensive side of the ball (27th in defensive rating), Avdija is still in the 75th percentile (per Dunks & Threes) in Defensive Estimated Plus-Minus (DEF EPM). Washington’s defense is also 5.8 points stingier per 100 possessions (90th percentile) when Avdija is on the floor compared to when he’s on the bench.

What really makes Avdija such a fascinating prospect is his vision and court mapping. During the pre-draft process, Avdija’s combination of passing and size garnered comparisons to Hedo Turkoglu and even Luka Doncic. This season, Avdija’s Passer Rating (one of the best publicly available estimates of a player’s passing prowess) ranks in the 81st percentile league-wide.

Avdija is comfortable making passes out of the pick-and-roll (first and second clip in the montage below), while attacking off the catch (third clip), playing in the post (fourth), and as he’s operating in transition (fifth and sixth clip).

The theory with Avdija is that if you can add a jumper to his defense and passing, you get an elite complimentary piece.

What He’s Done This Year

Guess what? Avdija got the jumper everyone was hoping he would develop!

After never eclipsing the 32% mark in years one through three, Avdija is now hitting 40.5% of his 2.8 3-point attempts per game. Even more promising, Avdija is hitting 46% of his wide-open triples (per NBA.com). Before that, his career-high was 38.8% in 2021-22.

(Sidebar: For future reference, wide-open 3-point shooting is a great way to measure a player’s shooting ability independent of team context).

There are some reasons to pump the brakes on these numbers. First off, Avidja’s 3-point percentage may just be the product of a small sample size. He’s only taken 153 threes on the season. So, there’s a good chance that his 40.5% mark regresses to the mean with more attempts.

Second, his free throw percentage (another good context-independent way to measure a player’s shooting) has hardly changed from his past seasons. In fact, his current free throw percentage (74%) is almost identical to the one he had last season (73.9%).

With those pieces in mind, Avdija’s form does look quick and replicable (here’s a great example of his jumper in action). So, there is a chance that this isn’t a fluke and that Avdija continues to be an above-average outside shooter moving forward.

But do you know what is a pretty easily sustainable part of Avdija’s growth this year? His rim finishing. After being a 61.9% finisher around the rim last year (47th percentile), Avdija is now converting on 67% of his interior looks (74th percentile). He’s also taking more shots around the rim now too – going from 4.7 rim attempts per 75 (57th percentile) to 6.2 per 75 (78th percentile).

Most of Avdija’s attempts around the rim come from drives. He’s always been a pretty good finisher off drives, but he’s lacked the killer instinct to constantly try and attack the paint. A big reason for this lack of confidence is his below-average handle and first step.

The beautiful thing about basketball, though, is that you can overcome a lot of your talent deficiencies by just being aggressive. And it seems like someone must have bestowed that wisdom on to Avdija, as he’s driving more than ever (71st percentile in drives per 36 minutes, per Thinking Basketball) while also maintaining his efficiency (70th percentile in true shooting on drives).

As Nekias Duncan (great Twitter follow, by the way) alluded to, Avdija’s added aggression has increased his chances at the charity stripe (from the 56th percentile in free throws per 75 last year to the 76th percentile). Between his growth as a shooter, driver, and free throw grifter, Avdija is experiencing his most efficient scoring season by far (77th percentile in true shooting).

What Is His Ceiling?

This season has shown that Avdija isn’t just another fun, young player. He’s a legitimate NBA guy who will be a part of the league for a long time. But how much more than that can he be?

With his passing and improved driving, some may wonder if Avdija can evolve into a primary creator on offense. However, while Avdija is a good passer, he’s not an elite one. Plus, he’s not a good enough pull-up shooter (5th percentile on midrange jumpers) to bend defenses enough to be a volume playmaker. Take this clip, for example:

Deandre Ayton plays the Avdija pick-and-roll in a deep drop. This lets the rest of the defenders stay home on their assignment and keeps the action contained to a 2-on-2 dance. On offense, the protocol for these situations is to penalize the defense with a pull-up jumper. Unfortunately, Avdija can’t do that. So, he tries attacking Ayton at the rim. That doesn’t go as planned, there is no open man to kick it to since no defenders helped, and it leads to a turnover.

Unless his pull-up shooting somehow rapidly improves, Avdija will likely never graduate to the All-Star status.

Still, Avdija’s passing, size, improved shooting (if it holds), and drive game give him a pretty nice skillset for flanking high-level offensive players. Add those ingredients together with his already stout defense, and you have the recipe for one of the best role players in basketball.

In a lot ways, Avdija reminds me of a better-passing, less-athletic version of Aaron Gordon – a player who, in the right system, blossomed into an integral part of a championship team. And that’s exactly what I think Avdija’s ceiling is – a high-level starter on a team that goes the distance.





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