Melo can’t believe Dwyane Wade left Heat for Bulls



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CHICAGO — Like many people around the NBA, New York Knicks Jerseys superstar Carmelo Anthony couldn’t believe that Dwyane Wade actually decided to leave the Miami Heat Jerseys and sign with the Chicago Bulls Jerseys.

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“I was shocked,” Anthony said before Thursday’s Team USA practice at the United Center. “I was shocked more from a standpoint it was just hard to see. It’s hard to see some players in different uniforms and he’s one of those guys who I never thought I would see in a different uniform other than Miami. But it happened, and I got a chance to talk to him and sit down with him and really dig deep about his feelings and what happened. He’s at peace now. And when he’s at peace, I’m at peace with it.”

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Wade surprised many in the league by spurning the Heat to sign a two-year deal with the Bulls earlier this month. Anthony, who was wooed by the Bulls two summers ago but ultimately decided to re-sign with the Knicks cheap jerseys, acknowledged that the free-agency process can be mentally taxing for players.

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Carmelo Anthony, right, can’t believe that Dwyane Wade left the Heat. Adam Hunger/USA TODAY Sports

“I don’t think the masses really understand how difficult those decisions are,” Anthony said. “And what goes into those decisions. And as athletes what’s going through our mind during those decisions. A lot of people think we can just wake up and we can just make those decisions — it’s not that easy.”

Anthony’s comments come just a few weeks after two of the most successful Bulls in recent memory, Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, landed in New York. Rose was dealt to the Knicks last month. Noah signed as a free agent.

“We love them,” Anthony said. “We love those additions. And we’re looking forward to getting the season going. And I think everybody is excited, the excitement is back. Right now there’s an adjustment on paper wholesale mlb jerseys, but of course we have some work to do putting it all together, making it work. But we’re going to ride the wave of this excitement right now.”

As for a rekindling of a rivalry between the Bulls and Knicks, Anthony said he knows that it’s possible with all the moves both teams have made.

“I know you guys want that,” Anthony said. “I know you’re living for that. But we embrace that. I think as players, as competitors, we embrace all of those challenges and rivalries, that’s what makes the sport great again, so we embrace that.”

Anthony seemed certain that when the schedule comes out, the Bulls and Knicks would be facing off against each other either on opening night or Christmas Day as one of the league’s premiere matchups.

“Oh, they’re waiting for that,” he said. “Might be opening night — one of the two. I guarantee you it’s one of the two.”

Untested Blazers make up for youth with plenty of mettle

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Potential, to put a spin move on historic Brit writer Samuel Johnson, is the last refuge of a team expecting to lose. And when this 2015-16 NBA season began, expectations for the Portland Trail Blazers Jerseys in particular were set at the limbo level of your average Tobagonian mouse.

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Twenty-three victories, some critics predicted for Portland. OK, maybe a few more than a half dozen. But the Blazers, most concurred, would be lucky to win even half as many games as they had last season (51) and would best be served by putting out of their heads any notions of a playoff berth.

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We’ve all got to be together. We’ve got to be a unit, and that’s what we’ve turned into. We’ve become a unit and that’s what’s been working.

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– Portland Trail Blazers Jerseys star Damian Lillard

After all, it wasn’t just LaMarcus Aldridge who vamoosed as the biggest name in free agency last summer. Of the six Blazers players who saw the most court time for last season’s 51-31 squad, five — Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez and Steve Blake — were gone when 2015-16 began. They took with them 50 percent of Portland’s points (4,197 of 8,429 points), leaving point guard Damian Lillard with arguably the biggest and loneliest challenge in the league this season.

So when coach Terry Stotts began talking roster architecture and synchronization to those wondering about his team’s inevitable plummet, it sounded like so much whistling past the graveyard.

Except get a load of the Trail Blazers now.

At 32-28, they are tied with Dallas for sixth place in the Western Conference, 3½ games behind fifth-place Memphis and 3½ games out of ninth. Heading into their game against the New York Knicks Jerseys at Madison Square Garden Tuesday night (7:30 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass), they were 2-0 to start their current six-game trip and a grueling stretch of 12 road games in the next 15.

From the predicted morass of their difficult 15-24 start — a pace that would have netted 31 victories — the Blazers have gone 17-4 since. Their roll includes victories over Oklahoma City, Golden State, Utah (twice), Houston (twice), Chicago and Indiana. They’ve gone from being outscored on average by 2.0 points through their first 39 games to outscoring teams 108.6 to 101.3.

Damian Lillard’s Best From 2015-16

Damian Lillard has had an amazing season, averaging 25.6 points, 7.2 assists and 4.2 rebounds so far this year!

Whatever sneaking up was done on unaware or dismissive opponents is done. Has been for a while.

“Aw, man, we’re over that,” forward/center Mason Plumlee said over the weekend in Chicago. “That was, like, preseason. We haven’t thought about that. I would say, when we got our first couple wins, we knew we were better than 23 wins or whatever they projected us. We’re moving on, we’re looking at bigger things.”

The potential about which Stotts has spoken since summer is legit. The Blazers, under GM Neil Olshey, have been refashioned with parts suited to Lillard and his backcourt mate C.J. McCollum, who are in their fourth and third NBA seasons respectively. After backup center Chris Kaman, who has played 13 seasons, reserve Gerald Henderson, 28, is Portland’s most grizzled veteran.

The Starters: Second Best Backcourt in NBA?

The Blazers backcourt is coming on strong but are they really better than the Raptors duo? Tas and Skeets debate.

This group was assembled to grow together, and it has maxed out the double-meaning of that phrase: In growing up as NBA individuals, the Blazers have bonded as a team.

“They’re all close in age, close [to the same point] in their careers,” Stotts said. “They’ve all been in the league two, three, four, five years, and it’s really a cohesive group. They communicate well together. They spend time off the court. They have good, positive interaction. We’ll have practice and they’ll stick around, get extra shots. That’s kind of refreshing to me, to have a good young team that’s anxious to get better and likes the whole idea of getting better.”

Lillard and McCollum have generated most of the headlines because they’ve generated most of the heat. Their combined average of 46.2 points through 60 games ranked third among NBA duos, behind cheap custom basketball team jerseys Stephen Curry-Klay Thompson (52.5) and Kevin Durant-Russell Westbrook (52.2). Lillard has scored 30 points or more in seven of his last nine appearances, and the two rank among the league’s top 3-point tandems as well.

But there are nights when the shots aren’t dropping, and Portland — despite its tender years — has been finding ways to be successful then, too. Its bench and its defense have been invaluable over the past seven weeks.

At Chicago, for instance, all five of the Blazers’ subs finished with positive plus-minus ratings and four of them — Henderson, Ed Davis, Allen Crabbe and Meyers Leonard — stayed on the floor to thwart a Bulls comeback. Portland’s bench has outscored its counterparts in 17 of the past 22 games and, since Dec. 3, the Blazers are 19-6 when that occurs.

GameTime: Killer Combo In Portland

NBA.com’s John Schuhmann talks about the effectiveness of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum when they’re on the court together for the Trail Blazers.

Davis in particular was a force defensively against the Bulls, with a pivotal block on Mike Dunleavy to snuff Chicago’s rally. The nearby Blazers bench erupted and the Bulls never broke 95 points; Portland is 17-4 when holding teams below 100.

“The stuff that we notice from the bench is not just the big block or the big play,” Lillard said. “It’s where they’re breaking our lead and it gets to five, and we’re going back and forth and then Ed deflects a pass. And then we push it down and we miss, and it’s a 3-on-2 and Mase [Plumlee] comes back for a chase-down block. Those plays like that add up.”

Lillard and his All-Star snub will be in the spotlight again at Madison Square Garden. But the perceived overachiever from Weber State sounds most proud that, of the impact he has had on the Blazers, mostly it has been on teammates’ confidence.

I would say, when we got our first couple wins, we knew we were better than 23 wins or whatever they projected us. We’re moving on, we’re looking at bigger things.

– Portland Trail Blazers Jerseys forward/center Mason Plumlee

“Anything that I’m involved in, I’m just a huge believer … that it can be successful or it can work out,” Lillard said. “It’s just one of those things to see that everybody else has that same kind of belief. It’s the time we put in — you’ve got guys coming in an hour before practice, getting in their work. Guys who don’t even get minutes. Guys that have that same belief I’ve always had.

“It’s not even being in sync with me, it’s being in sync with each other. If G [Gerald Henderson] is not in sync with Mo [Harkless] but me and G is in sync, it’s [still] hard. We’ve all got to be together. We’ve got to be a unit, and that’s what we’ve turned into. We’ve become a unit and that’s what’s been working.”

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. Trending

Even in seemingly lost season, Bucks’ future remains bright

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The Milwaukee Bucks Jerseys look nothing like a playoff team today. Their defense has relaxed, their record (14-22) is trending in the wrong direction and they stand 5 1/2 games out of the No. 8 seed in the improved Eastern Conference.

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And yet theirs is an altogether enviable position.
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Look at the roster: Jabari Parker is 20, Giannis Antetokounmpo is one year his elder, and both look like eventual franchise stars any rival would covet. Their senior starter is Greg Monroe, the 25-year-old center who spurned the larger-market New York Knicks Jerseys and Los Angeles Lakers to sign here last summer.

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“They have some very good, young, talented players here,” said Monroe, who is good, young and talented himself. “I definitely would like to help them grow as much as possible.”

Antetokounmpo Dominates Warriors

Giannis Antetokounmpo becomes the youngest Buck to notch a triple-double, scoring 11 points with 12 boards, and ten assists to stop Golden State’s historic winning streak.

After making the 2015 playoffs and taking the more experienced Chicago Bulls Jerseys to six games — a team they face tonight on NBA TV (8 ET) — there has been little drama during this relatively frustrating season in Milwaukee. Overall, there’s no hint that changes need to be made or that jobs in jeopardy.

The reason that wisdom is prevailing is because the Bucks are not tanking. They already have a deep hierarchy that starts with two A-list talents amid several other high-upside players, along with a young coach in Jason Kidd who proved last year that he knows how to inspire them.

Now the job is to nurture their potential and develop the roster with patience, both of which will be Kidd’s duty once he returns from the right hip surgery he underwent last month. Milwaukee should also benefit from the eventual recovery of backup point guard Greivis Vasquez — their second-oldest player at 28 — as he rehabs from recent ankle surgery.

Along the way the Bucks will continue to both impress and exasperate. The team that ended the Golden State Warriors’ 24-0 start (and threatened to upset the Warriors again in Oakland six days later) will also continue to be the team that has suffered all but one of its losses in bunches of two or three games in a row.

“Everybody would like to make the playoffs, but we’ve got to work through the process, we can’t skip any steps,” Kidd was saying last month. “We’ve got to first make sure that we get better as a team and as individuals. So the carrot is to make the playoffs, but you’re going to have your ups and downs, especially with a young team.”

Milwaukee hoping to take well-worn path

They’re NBA champions now. But back in 2011-12, the Warriors were concluding an ugly four-season run in which they won 29, 26, 36 and 23 games, respectively. Reigning MVP Stephen Curry was there for three of them. He was 25 when he qualified for his first playoff game.

Another helpful example is the Oklahoma City Thunder Jerseys. Going back to their days as the Seattle SuperSonics, they won 35, 31, 20 and 23 games from 2005-09. Yet that enabled them to Draft and develop talents like Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and James Harden.

The Bucks haven’t been in contention for a long time, and yet they haven’t been consistently poor enough to benefit. In the last seven drafts they’ve had one top 9 pick (spent on Parker at No. 2 in 2014). Milwaukee’s future is reassuring because GM John Hammond discovered Antetokounmpo in 2013 (No. 15 pick), traded for Khris Middleton (a 2012 second-rounder by Detroit) that same summer and picked John Henson (No. 14, 2012).

All-Access: Bucks Draft Parker In 2014

All-access look into the Bucks’ war room as they select Jabari Parker as the number two pick in the Draft14.

A second lesson in perspective to be derived from the Warriors, Thunder and other young teams is that the Bucks are just need time to develop. Of course, the Bucks themselves want to hear nothing of this.

“A lot of times when I struggle, my teammates tell me, ‘Don’t worry about it, you’re going to play so many years in this league,’ ” Antetokounmpo said. “But for me it is all about today. I think about today. I’m not thinking about tomorrow; I’m not thinking about the day before. I’m thinking about today and how can I do something today to help my team or to be better.”

The pressing issue for Antetokounmpo and 24-year-old point guard Michael Carter-Williams — the 2013-14 Rookie of the Year whom Milwaukee acquired last season from Philadelphia — is to develop their shooting range. Antetokounmpo is attempting just 1.4 3-pointers (converting 26.1 percent) and Carter-Williams is down to 0.8 attempts (32 percent). “The Greek Freak” is averaging a career-best 15.3 points and he and Carter-Williams rank in the top 50 in drives to the basket.

“I don’t think I can say it is my safer option,” Antetokounmpo said of his driving. “I think it is my strength. Coach wants us to play to our strength, so that’s what I try to do. I know sometimes I might be open but I don’t feel it — I don’t feel like I’m going to make this jump shot, so I don’t take it. Because if I don’t feel like I’m going to make it, (that’s when) I don’t make it. So I just try to play through my strengths.”

We’ve got to first make sure that we get better as a team and as individuals. So the carrot is to make the playoffs, but you’re going to have your ups and downs, especially with a young team.

– Bucks coach Jason Kidd

“I’ve told them you’re being judged on playing hard,” Kidd said. “It’s about rhythm shots. That’s the one thing we’ll talk about — was that a rhythm shot? And if you can shoot rhythm shots — make or miss — those are the right shots to take.”

It can be hard to convince young players to believe in themselves. Last summer, as Tom Heinsohn was entering the Hall of Fame for his work as coach of the Boston Celtics Jerseys, he recalled forcing his rookie center Dave Cowens to look for his jumper. “I was eager to have him shoot the ball coming up on the break in the trailer spot,” Heinsohn said. “That wasn’t his best game at that point in his career. As a competitor he didn’t want to shoot that shot because he was missing. He said, ‘Tommy, I can’t make that shot. I don’t want to shoot it.’ I said, ‘Dave, don’t worry about missing — the more you take now, the sooner you’re going to be making them.’ ”

The same dynamic may apply to Antetokounmpo and Carter-Williams’ shooting range.

“Sometimes as a young player, you don’t know what that means,” Kidd said of “rhythm” shooting. “That’s just the process of understanding what the rhythm of a good shot is, and also feeling comfortable with yourself when it comes to shooting.”

Bucks add much-needed dimension

“If there’s one thing on the offensive side that we definitely will continue to get better at, it’s shooting,” said Monroe, whose stats — 15.5 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 52.3 percent shooting — are in line with his numbers from his Detroit days.

“I think he has adjusted to that role of having to be the leader and being held accountable at a higher level than he was in Detroit,” Henson, 25, said.

Monroe’s presence has enabled the Bucks to develop a halfcourt structure where he’s fed the ball in the post, waits for a double-team and then, finds shooters. To date, Monroe ranks 6th in total post-up possessions.

Monroe Delivers vs. Blazers

Greg Monroe records 16 points and 12 rebounds plus the game-winner as the Bucks come back to defeat the Blazers.

“He’s getting double-teamed more than 50 percent of the time he catches the ball in the post, and Greg has been able to open up perimeter shots and driving lanes for other people,” Hammond said. “It has changed us offensively for sure. But every team needs someone who can break down the defense either out of the post or off the dribble.”

The Bucks celebrated a stunning 26-win improvement last season despite the absences of Parker and center Larry Sanders, who negotiated a buyout after playing 27 games. They were able to do more with less by relying on a long, hyperactive defense to create baskets.

While the defense has declined with the additions of Monroe and Parker, the Bucks’ longterm outlook there remains strong.

Henson, the backup big man, is averaging a team-best 1.8 blocks in 16.1 minutes. The 6-foot-6 Carter-Williams has the length and athleticism to be a strong defender.

Henson Gets Two Swats

John Henson rejects Jahlil Okafor back to back.

“Giannis is a good shot-blocker today, and he’s going to be a great shot-blocker,” Hammond said. “He can be an excellent defensive rebounder with his overall length and his ability to stay in front of people.”

The Bucks aren’t finished filling out their roster, either. cheap reversible basketball jerseys Another top 10 pick could be on the way in June. Five of their top six scorers in double-figures are 25 or younger, and it is not inconceivable that the continuing growth of Middleton and Carter-Williams transforms the team-minded Monroe into the Bucks’ No. 4 or No. 5 player — which would make them formidable.

“We can’t look too far ahead,” Middleton said. “We have to focus on doing our jobs right now. But I think definitely we will be one of the top teams in the league in a couple of years.”

Can they balance their longterm promise with the need to succeed right now? The tension of these next two years will be fascinating.

Ian Thomsen has covered the NBA since 2000. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. Trending

Friday’s showcase lacking in newbies this time around

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Rosters for the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge were announced last week for the game that will be played Friday night in Toronto as part of All-Star weekend, a game designed to spotlight the best young players of the game.

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In other news, it won’t.

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Any opportunity to include the assistant coaches’ votes as part of getting a read on the top rookies in 2015-16 disappeared with the return of the 2015 format of the United States against the World. To fill out ballots, teams had to include four guards, four frontcourt players and two at either spot with a minimum of three rookies and three second-year players. All of that combined to make selections internationally weird.

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Only three rookies made the U.S. squad: Jahlil Okafor, D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns mostly because of the number of deserving candidates in their sophomore season rounded out the roster. The World squad, on the other hand, included six newcomers — Mario Hezonja, Nikola Jokic, Emmanuel Mudiay, Raul Neto, Kristaps Porzingis and Trey Lyles as an injury replacement for Nikola Mirotic — even though some would have trouble getting into the conversation for the 15 best rookies. (Nothing personal, Neto.)

The vote became a numbers game and a balancing act, not another layer to be factored in. Maybe guard Russell making the U.S. roster and forward Justise Winslow was something to be put in The Ladder equation, maybe it was a position thing.

The final Ladder heading into the All-Star break, meanwhile:

1. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves

Last week’s ranking: No. 1

Towns Dominates Bulls

Karl-Anthony Towns scores 26 points with 17 rebounds as the Timberwolves surge past the Bulls on Saturday Night.

Towns has started at power forward and back at center, his original position, with Nikola Pekovic sidelined the last four games by a foot injury, but it doesn’t make a difference. The rebounding tear has reached eight consecutive games in double digits, with particularly impressive numbers recently on the offensive boards. Towns is at 12.5 in that stretch and 10.1 overall, No. 10 in the league. Only one Rookie of the Year in the last 10 seasons has averaged double figures, Blake Griffin with 12.1 in 2010-11.

2. Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks Jerseys

Last week’s ranking: No. 2

Dunk of the Night: Kristaps Porzingis

Kristaps Porzingis puts his defender in the spin cycle before soaring to the basket for the slam.

While interim coach Kurt Rambis, himself a former power forward, obviously understands Porzingis’ importance this season and especially to the future of the franchise, a coaching change always means uncertainty for a lot of players on their role and minutes. Porzingis was at 28.2 minutes per game at the time of Derek Fisher’s firing and 31.1. the last four. The No. 4 pick still had yet to recapture the rebounding numbers from November, but remained a presence as a shot blocker, all the way to No. 1 in the class and No. 7 in the league.

3. Jahlil Okafor5, Philadelphia 76ers Jerseys

Last week’s ranking: No. 3

Okafor Shines vs. Nets

Jahlil Okafor scores 22 points and grabs 17 rebounds as the Sixers defeat the Nets 103-98.

The minutes are dropping slightly, though with a steady decline in a very bad trend, and the scoring opportunities are dropping a lot. Okafor has gone from 16.3 shots a game in November to 15.2 in December to 13.0 in January before an encouraging, if slight, change of direction to 13.8 the first four games of February. At 13.8 points this month, and with Towns surging on offense, Okafor is in danger of not holding the top spot for the rookie scoring lead since the early days of the season. He is at 17.0, Towns at 16.7.

4. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Last week’s ranking: No. 4

Jokic has consistently been contributing three or four assists a game, small input in a lot of cases but noteworthy for centers and especially meaningful during a recent shooting slump. He is tied for seventh in the class as the highest-ranking non-point guard. If the 1.9 per outing holds, he will become just the sixth rookie center in the last 16 years to average at least 1.7 assists, joining the good company of Pau Gasol, DeMarcus Cousins, Andrew Bogut, Marc Gasol and Yao Ming.

5. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

Last week’s ranking: No. 6

Booker Shows His Court Vision

On the break, Devin Booker throws the behind the back pass to P.J. Tucker for the reverse layup.

It took until just before the All-Star break, but Booker has finally reached the qualifying minimum to be ranked among the league leaders in 3-point shooting. He is 17th, in addition to second among rookies and along with fast-charging Cameron Payne of the Thunder the only first-year player better than 40 percent. That is part of his six straight games with at least 15 points before the streak ended Monday, pushing Booker to 10.6 overall (sixth in the class). Booker didn’t get picked for the Rising Stars game, but will be in Toronto for the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest on Saturday night.

6. Justise Winslow, Miami Heat Jerseys

Last week’s ranking: No. 5

Winslow’s Big Block

Justise Winslow with a wonderful block during the second quarter.

The drop was more the result of Booker’s continued surge than anything Winslow did wrong. If anything, he has been solidifying his standing lately as one of the top rookies with the improved offense that has reached 56.8 percent from the field the last eight appearances, along with the big contribution of 7.9 rebounds in the same time. Winslow does not have a big scoring role with the Heat, but the shooting trend is encouraging as a complement to the defense that has been very good all season.

7. D’Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers

Last week’s ranking: No. 7

Russell Finds Black

D’Angelo Russell finds Tarik Black with the bounce pass for the big-time slam.

Talk about a nice couple weeks. The seal of approval with the Rising Stars vote has been coupled with shooting 44.4 percent the last five games, a small sample size but a positive development for someone at 41.5 percent overall. There have also been better moments as a distributor after a lot of struggles the first half of the season. Russell’s new Ladder problem is that his two closest challengers for the spot are playing well enough to pass the Lakers point guard if the encouraging signs do not continue.

8. Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers Jerseys

Last week’s ranking: No. 8

George, Turner Overpower Lakers

Paul George records 21 points and nine rebounds, Myles Turner adds a double-double as the Pacers defeat the Lakers.

Turner has not yet reached the qualifying minimum — appearing in 70 percent of his team’s games — to be ranked among the league leaders in blocks, but his 1.43 an outing would be 18th. And with appearances in just 30 of Indiana’s 52 contests because of the fractured thumb that cost him most December, that status won’t come for at least a few weeks. Turner will have to be satisfied with rising to third among rookies and being one of the best in the league in the category regardless of experience the last three weeks or so.

9. Stanley Johnson, Detroit Pistons Jerseys

Last week’s ranking: No. 9

Johnson Scores Plus the Foul

Off the miss by Jose Calderon, Brandon Jennings outlets to Stanley Johnson who finishes with the shot off the glass plus the foul.

The player who has spent most of his time at small forward and has the physical tools and tenacity at 19 years old to handle real minutes at power forward in small-ball situations is now the starting shooting guard in place of the injured Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The key development remains Johnson and his continued improvements as a shooter. He is at 45.3 percent and 12.4 points the last 11 games, the first extended contribution on offense after previously making his mark on the other side of the ball. The season-long number, though, is still 39.3 percent.

10. Willie Cauley-Stein, Sacramento Kings

Last week’s ranking: No. 10

Willie Cauley-Stein Oop

Rajon Rondo finds Willie Cauley-Stein for the alley-oop.

The Kings’ latest re-emphasis on defense, this time while telling George Karl to take a few steps backward off the plank, creates more of an opportunity than before for Cauley-Stein. And he had a big role before — 20.5 minutes a game overall but 25.6 the last five. He is fourth among rookies in blocks, sixth in wholesale basketball jerseys rebounding, first in field-goal percentage and defending. Watch the minutes the first couple weeks back from the All-Star break. This is his chance.

Dropped out: none.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting. Trending

Simmons takes humbling path to earn role with Spurs

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He attended two junior colleges, the University of Houston for one season, went undrafted in 2012 and tried the American Basketball League before it folded. After all that, Jonathan Simmons was so not a NBA prospect that a year later, he was among the herd of NBA D-League hopefuls with, let’s face it, no real hope, who spent $150 for the privilege of being told to go away by the Austin Toros (the San Antonio Spurs Jerseys’ D-League affiliate).

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He couldn’t get a Summer League invite. He had to pay a minor-league team to watch him in a workout.

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The small detail is that that Simmons’ agent at the time put up the D-League entry fee, but same difference: Simmons left his home in Houston and drove roughly 175 miles west to Austin in 2013 because he was pretty much out of chances. If he couldn’t stand out in an open tryout where the majority of players, by his estimation, couldn’t dribble or pass and could barely shoot, he knew it was time to think hard about a career change.

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He stood out. Rather than being passed over again, Simmons made the Toros for 2013-14, and again in 2014-15. He was playing a lot, defending and shooting with range.

And then he really stood out.

Simmons — undrafted, overlooked, the guy who had to pay a minor-league team to give him a chance — has become the guy who is being paid by a major-league team this season. Not just any team either — the Spurs, the ultimate in stature.

An NBA rookie after two seasons in the D-League, he’s averaging 14.3 minutes in 51 games, a decent role for a newcomer on a team loaded with veterans and on pace for 69 wins. He is second in the class in defensive rating, seventh in field-goal percentage and first in long shots who paid out.

Simmons looks around the locker room and still can’t believe this is happening — “I do every day,” he said — and yet it is. He bought his way into the gym that day in Austin, but earned his way into NBA minutes.

“I definitely do” appreciate being in the league more than most players, he said.

“It took some perseverance to get here. With that being said it’s like you have no choice but to be humble about it and to appreciate every part of it and not take one minute for granted.”

One of the success stories of the season, for any player regardless of experience and for any team, has come close to being ranked among the top 10 rookies, only to be held back by the lack of a prominent role. Averaging more than 15 minutes just once in a month (January) that included at least 10 appearances has been enough of a hit to so far keep him off The Ladder that is down to the final few installments.

1. Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves

Last week’s ranking: No. 1

Towns Leads Wolves To Win

Karl-Anthony Towns scores 27 points and grabs 10 rebounds as the Timberwolves defeat the Wizards 132-129 in double overtime.

We have reached the point where it would be impossible to justify voting for anyone else for Kia Rookie of the Year. The leading contender from the opening month and the clear leader since about midseason has only one remaining challenge: whether he will be the unanimous winner of the award. The finishing kick to make it happen has included 22.3 points, 10.5 rebounds and 58.5-percent shooting in March, on pace to be his best full month for scoring and field-goal percentage.

2. Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks Jerseys

Last week’s ranking: No. 2

Porzingis’ Behind-The-Back Pass

Kristaps Porzingis passes behind his back to find Robin Lopez for the dunk.

He needed to find solid ground on offense, and got some. Porzingis is at 19.3 points, 47.7 percent from the field and 37 percent on 3-pointers the last six games. That span also included three blocks on three occasions and two on another, putting him in good position to hold off Towns for No. 1 in the category among rookies, an accomplishment in a season when two first-year players may finish among the top 10 of the entire league. Porzingis is currently seventh, Towns ninth.

3. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Last week’s ranking: No. 3

Jokic Finds Faried

Nikola Jokic dishes to Kenneth Faried for the two-handed jam.

Jokic took advantage of the knee injury that ended Jahlil Okafor’s season early to move into third place with 14 double-doubles, behind only Towns and Porzingis, even while averaging a modest 20.9 minutes. The workload has increased to 25.1 minutes in March, mostly because of the defense and rebounding that has reached 8.5 boards this month, including eight, nine, 12, eight, four and 14 the last six appearances. That has moved Jokic to 6.6 overall, fourth in the class with a slight chance of climbing one spot to Okafor’s 7.0 but no real risk of being passed by Myles Turner (5.4). “He’s skilled,” one scout said. “Very skilled.”

4. Justise Winslow, Miami Heat Jerseys

Last week’s ranking: No. 5

Justise’s Strong And-1

On the break, Justise Winslow takes it to the hole, draws the foul and hits the running floater.

He is shooting 47.3 percent on 6.6 attempts per game in March in what will be a third consecutive month of improved shooting, moving Winslow at 43.2 percent overall. It’s far from a big area of impact, but the push toward respectability in that area is an important sign of progress in developing into more than a one-way player capable of helping only on defense. The team in a tight race in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff pack is sold — the Heat are playing him 30.5 minutes overall in March and nine in the fourth quarter, more than any rookie.

5. Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

Last week’s ranking: No. 8

Booker Shines In Sacramento

Devin Booker leads the Suns scoring 26 points versus the Kings.

He is averaging 22.7 points per game in March even while struggling behind the arc (28.0 percent) after breaking 50 percent in two previous full months. Imagine the scoring numbers with Booker anywhere close to his past play there. As it is, he has at least 26 points in three of the last four games and seven of his last 14. Now to see if it’s enough to halt Towns’ season-long strangle hold on Rookie of the Month in the West.

6. D’Angelo Russell, Los Angeles Lakers

Last week’s ranking: No. 4

Russell’s Fiery Feed

D’angelo Russell fires the bounce pass ahead of the defense to Larry Nance Jr. for the big-time flush.

The January and February that showed why the Lakers took him second have been replaced by the offensive struggles of March that has been too much of a reminder of the slow start the first half of the season. Russell is shooting 40.2 percent this month with only nine more assists (42) than turnovers (33) in 14 games. He is at 34.9 percent the last five games with six assists total and has shot 25 percent or worse in four of the last eight.

7. Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia 76ers Jerseys

Last week’s ranking: No. 6

Towns (18.3 points cheap nba jerseys per game) has pulled away enough to essentially end the possibility that Okafor (17.5) could still finish first in the class in scoring, with no chance that Porzingis (14.3) will catch Okafor for second. By playing 53 games before being sidelined by a knee injury, Okafor fail to reach the qualifying minimum of 62 appearances and will not make the final league-wide scoring rankings. He is currently 33rd.

8. Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers Jerseys

Last week’s ranking: No. 7

Kia Awards: Myles Turner

Myles Turner is a nominee for the Kia Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month.

He is third among rookies in blocks, sixth in rebounding, eighth in shooting and seventh among rookies in scoring. The follow-up to winning Rookie of the Month in the East for February has been a slight struggle, though, with drops from 29.8 to 25.1 in minutes, 51.0 to 41.7 in shooting and 1.8 to 1.4 in blocks. It will be interesting to see whether the minutes continues to decline if the inconsistent production continues as the playoffs near and every outcome has big implications for Indiana’s playoff hopes.

9. Josh Richardson, Miami Heat Jerseys

Last week’s ranking: No. 10

The story keeps getting better. After not playing more than nine games any previous month, after shooting 25 percent in December and 23.5 percent in January, Richardson should be among the contenders for Rookie of the Month for the Eastern Conference. His dream-sequence of a March includes shooting 56.8 percent overall, 63.5 from behind the arc (on 33-for-52 shooting), 29.1 minutes and 12.8 points. Richardson has not only surged to No. 1 in the class in 3-point shooting, his 50.0 for the season leads the pack by a wide margin.

10. Trey Lyles, Utah Jazz

Last week’s ranking: Not ranked

Lyles is on pace for his third consecutive month of 45 percent shooting or better, especially noteworthy because it comes with occasional 3-pointer. The minutes haven’t always been there — 25.1 in January, followed by 10.2 in February and back to 15.8 in March — but the No. 12 pick has shown why many front offices regarded him as such a promising stretch-four prospect. What hasn’t gotten the same attention is that Lyles has also had good moments on defense.

Dropped out: Emmanuel Mudiay (9).

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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