NBA PM: China No Picnic For NBA Players
When it appeared to many that the NBA might not have a season in 2011-12 due to an ongoing labor dispute between the league and its players, a number of players sought refuge (and income) in the Chinese Basketball Association. One of those players was veteran point guard Aaron Brooks, who was drafted by the Houston Rockets and backed up Steve Nash with the Phoenix Suns before heading overseas. While there he helped the Guangdong Southern Tigers make it to the CBA Finals, and was also selected as an All-Star starter. He had a great deal of success, but faced his share of challenges, as well.
“It made me appreciate being in the NBA a little bit more,” Brooks tells HOOPSWORLD. “I had a good time over there, had to adapt to the environment, but overall it was a good experience and I’m happy to be back.”
The biggest issue was, of course, the language barrier, though Brooks also had to adapt to a different cuisine as part of the cultural shift.
“Not being able to communicate [was a challenge],” says Brooks. “Eating different food … basketball is basketball, and it’s pretty easy to communicate with just actions, but it was a different process for me.”
When the NBA lockout lifted, a number of players in China tried to get out of their CBA contracts early to return to America, but not Brooks. Even with the challenges he was happy to fulfill his commitment.
“You know, I made a commitment knowing the risks that were presented, but I was happy, I was fine,” says Brooks. “They showed me a good time over there and the hospitality was great. I just take it as a year of experience, and I still wouldn’t take it back. I had a good time.”
Brooks made the most of his situation and had a great showing in China, but more importantly his time in the CBA gave him a fresh perspective on life in the NBA and with the Sacramento Kings.
“I just appreciate everything a little bit more,” says Brooks. “I know nothing is for certain and you can’t take anything for granted. I earned the starting position in China, too, so it wasn’t a huge stretch from losing the starting position in Houston and coming off the bench in Phoenix because I got it back in China. Right now we’re playing good basketball and Coach could shake up the lineup again, so just being prepared and being able to adapt to different situations, I think I’m equipped for that now.”
Brooks came off the bench to start the season in Sacramento, but is now in the starting lineup as the team has won three of its last four games. It appears Brooks is getting his NBA legs back, which is something head coach Keith Smart has been helping him work towards.
“I tell him all the time, I say, ‘You’re getting closer. You’re probably half way up from the Great Wall down,’” says Smart. “Sometimes when you go over there or play overseas, or somewhere, you have a tendency to get by on what your talent does, because you can do things and still average twenty. Then you get over here, and then you have to play against certain guys every day in practice and certain guys in every game, you’re not the same player. It takes a little bit. So I share with him, you have to get back to pushing yourself hard every day and every practice, and slowly, you start to see that. When you go and play, you think you have the speed that you had, but you’re not using it like you had to before until it all starts coming together. I think he’s in much better shape now and that’s helping. I think he deferred a lot to guys when he first came. ‘I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes.’ I said, ‘Look, man, for me, you’re my point guard, don’t worry about toes. I’ve got you covered. You just go out and play your game and let them catch up to you.’”
Right now it looks like that’s what’s starting to happen in Sacramento.
Killer Instinct Rising
It happened almost exactly as a script would have had it play out. The Lakers, down 16 to the rebuilding Cleveland Cavaliers, slowly but surely moved in for the kill. As the lead dwindled to single digits, everyone watching seemed to be waiting for the hero to emerge, the killer instinct to kick in, and for a brilliant rescue to ensue.
That’s exactly what happened, too, only it was not the hero most were expecting. Even fans of the home standing Cavaliers had to have that feeling that Kobe Bryant would be the one pulling off the last-minute rescue, but instead of was second-year point guard Kyrie Irving.
The Lakers got within two at the 7:35 mark of the fourth, but Irving immediately countered with a driving layup, drawing a foul from Antawn Jamison in the process, and converted the three-point play. Bryant kept them close, drilling two free throws to make it 82-77 with 5:11 left, but Irving dished to Tyler Zeller for an easy bucket and then scored himself to push the Cleveland lead to 86-81. Dwight Howard’s free throw cut the lead to four with 3:50 left, but Irving responded by draining a three. Metta World Peace countered with a three, but Irving quickly fired a pass down court to Anderson Varejao, who laid in a deuce.
Every time the Lakers got close, Irving either scored or created a scoring opportunity for a teammate, finishing with 28 points and 11 assists in a 100-94 Cavaliers win.
“He works extremely hard and I was really impressed with him,” Bryant said of Irving after the game. “He really came to play. A lot of kids grow up not really believing in themselves, but he seems to believe in himself. Whether it comes from where he comes from or just his character or how he’s built or a combination of his work ethic, he has that.”
He certainly does, and in Irving it appears the Cleveland Cavaliers have the franchise player they hoped they were getting when they made him the top pick in the NBA Draft two summers ago.
The draft is anything but a sure thing, these days. As younger players continue to make up an ever-increasing percentage of draft classes teams are forced to bet on what a player might become instead of who they actually are. For a franchise in need of a basketball savior, seeing their young star go out and make huge plays late in a game and then warrant high praise from one of the NBA’s elite has to be a sign of great things to come.
Turner’s Development Sparking Sixers
One of the most surprising teams in the NBA this season has been the Philadelphia 76ers, who are currently 12-9 and half a game out of the Eastern Conference’s fourth seed despite missing All-Star center Andrew Bynum. Instead of treading water or worse with their star out of action, the Sixers have flourished, in large part due to the improved play of Evan Turner.
Turner didn’t always play well early in his career, something he partially credited to his lack of extended playing time as he made it clear he wanted to be a starter in the NBA. During his first two years in the league he played behind Andre Iguodala, but when Iguodala was shipped out as part of the Bynum acquisition, Turner’s chance to shine finally came.
“I think I’m maturing,” Turner said in a recent interview with WIP in Philly. “I think I’m maturing a lot and also getting a lot of opportunities and more minutes. The first two years I was playing behind an All-Star and sometimes I wasn’t needed as much as others were and also I had up and down moments as I was growing. Now with the opportunities to play through bad situations and play through rough nights and just keep getting better and growing and I think that’s where players really evolve is during the good and the bad times and being able to work things out.”
The biggest improvement in Turner’s game by far has come behind the three-point arch, where he’s shooting a career-best 46 percent after shooting 32 percent as a rookie and 22 percent last season.
“I just worry about my rhythm,” said Turner. “I just make sure I have a good rhythm. Before I stayed in the gym and had to make 50 threes before I left the gym and it would just start becoming like a hassle and worrying too much about the three point shot. Every time I spotted up for a three I was thinking don’t miss it, don’t miss it. Now I don’t even worry about it, I just shoot the shot when I can, hold my follow-through and it goes in.”
There was also a bit of a tumultuous relationship between Turner and Sixers head coach Doug Collins early on, but that has also begun to work itself out.
“We’re getting better,” said Turner. “He’s calmed down a lot and so have I. The most important thing is how to communicate with one another and there are certain times and certain situations where I might react to a situation where some people may think I was reacting to him but I wasn’t. I was just upset at myself and I think Doug had to get used to that a little bit and sometimes I had to work on not being so sensitive or taking things so personal. It’s a day by day thing and I think it’s helping the team as well.”
Most of all, Turner credits his early success this season to being a third-year player who is better prepared for what he faces every time out.
“I think comfort level and knowing and understanding what you’re getting when you go into each game,” said Turner. “I think the past couple of years I wasn’t sure where my shots were going to come from but I kind of know where they come from in the game and know where I can make a difference.”
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