Even though they've been in Dallas the same amount of time, Mavericks scout Reggie Johnson still has a difficult time describing Dirk Nowitzki's quirky workouts with his longtime German trainer Holger Geschwindner.
"Besides all the shooting, it's hard to explain the types of things he does—because they are so unorthodox," Johnson said. "It's one of those things you have to see, but it's like he's working on balance, leg strength and shooting all in one motion. His personal coach from Germany thinks outside the box with the drills. Some drills with the ball, some without. He has a routine."
Interestingly, because of Nowitzki's connection to Kevin Durant's trainer, Adam Harrington, who had a limited stint with the Mavericks in 2002-03, the Oklahoma City star has been utilizing some of Geschwindner's drills since last summer.
"They've been paying off for KD," Johnson said. "He's definitely incorporated the one-legged fadeaway, and it's working very well for him. Just ask his defenders. Also, his three-point shot looks a lot more natural and fluid."
During the Thunder's 10-game winning streak in January, Durant averaged 37.1 points per game on 56.4 percent shooting from three-point range. He's continuing to hit his stride—42 points in Tuesday night's win—even with Russell Westbrook back in the lineup, and the team has won three consecutive games.
As for those exercises, they're still coming in handy for Nowitzki, who at the end of the season could join Larry Bird and Steve Nash as the only players in NBA history to have multiple campaigns of shooting at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the foul line.
"It's great to watch Dirk play, but watching him work is incredible," Johnson said. "Everyone has heard about his work ethic, but until you've witnessed it, you have no idea. He loves the game, and he loves getting better daily. The three things I've been most impressed with are his basketball IQ, passing and vision on the court, and his leadership.
"He's also changed a few things over time. Dirk has an improved post game, he's mentally and physically tougher and he has a more efficient all-around game. He was known as just a killer jump-shooter, but now he's a threat inside and out, as well as a better passer. He recognizes where double-teams are coming from and when they're coming, which allows him to react quicker and become a playmaker."
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Baron Davis: Future Best Original Screenwriter?
The 13-year NBA veteran watched the Academy Awards from Vancouver on Sunday, seeing two of his favorites come out as winners: best actor Matthew McConaughey and best supporting actress Lupita Nyong'o.
Some day, Davis hopes to have a more personal rooting interest in the awards show. He already is more involved in the film industry than any of his contemporaries in the NBA. Since 2002, he's been working on film projects, and he's currently writing his first script for a potential Christmas completion, a basketball title that he says is like "Boyz n the Hood meets He Got Game."
"Maybe it'll be Oscar-worthy," he said, laughing, "but hopefully it'll be something that will give me the respect that I'm just looking for."
Davis said he has NBA players in mind for some of the roles.
"Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, LeBron James and Gordon Hayward," he said. "I have a host of NBA cameos, and Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving are two of the guys that I'm kind of channeling in my script. I just think Gordon looks like he's in high school, and he just seems super cool."
On Sunday, Davis also was interested in the score, costume, short film and documentary categories—the latter being something he knows quite a bit about.
He's already produced a documentary, Crips and Bloods: Made in America, examining the gang violence among young African-Americans growing up in South Los Angeles, and he has another debuting in July on last year's 40th anniversary of the popular hoops Drew League in L.A. He's also working on a feature film that's in the pre-production phase, titled Pick and Roll, which is a buddy-cop comedy where the star player of the NBA Finals goes missing.
In the meantime, Davis' No. 1 focus is making a return to the NBA, and he's been training in Vancouver with Steve Nash at times. Davis hasn't played since May 2012, when, during the first round of the playoffs, he suffered a partial tear of the patella tendon in his right knee and complete tears of the right anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments.
"I still want to see where I stand and chase that dream, especially the way I went out on that injury," said Davis, who's been chronicling his comeback trail in a mockumentary series on TNT. "I want to just get back to playing a little bit. I definitely want to get back on the court and conquer that."
Davis, who also makes occasional NBA TV appearances, said there is "no real timetable" yet for playing again.
"I'm just going through the process, man," he said. "I think that's the most important thing."
Reflecting on the season at hand, Davis was asked to put on his director's hat to dream up the perfect best picture for the NBA.
"All the storylines happen in the playoffs," he said. "I would say the storyline of the Miami Heat going on for a three-peat is like Iron Man 3. You can count on it, or the whole Batman thing. I would say the Heat would be the Christopher Nolan Batman series."
Another Player Planning for the Future: Andre Iguodala
Andre Iguodala is in the first year of a contract with the Golden State Warriors that will pay him $48 million until 2017. But beyond a considerable paycheck and championship mindset this season, he's thinking way beyond just being a financially and career-wise person in the Bay Area, which is why he paid close attention to the news of locally based WhatsApp getting purchased by Facebook for $19 billion earlier this month.
A big reason the 30-year-old wanted to play for the Warriors is the proximity to Silicon Valley, and he's been making a push this season to explore his passion in the tech startup and venture capital world. It kicked into high gear for him in 2011 when he shadowed a venture capitalist and visited the New York Stock Exchange as part of a week-long internship with Bank of America Merrill Lynch. These days, he's a daily reader of Forbes, Wired and The Wall Street Journal, while looking to build new connections.
Bleacher Report caught up with Iguodala in New York City over the weekend to hear about the latest in his off-court pursuit. Here are some of the highlights:
On the most interesting business people he's met: "Actually the other day I met Aaron Levie from Box. I heard a lot about Box from different VCs, whether it was Andreessen Horowitz or a few other companies out there that I've sat down and had dinner with, along with my agents. It's just been going really well. I've gotten a lot done on off-days. I'm also seeing who's at the games. (Oracle founder) Larry Ellison sits right across from our bench. A small owner of ours, Steve Chen, co-founded YouTube. He started a new video-sharing service called Mixbit."
On his future plans: "I'm trying to get a couple meetings where companies are making pitches. I had one in Palo Alto with a sports app about a month ago. And a close friend of mine is with Stance Socks, and they had a meeting with Benchmark, another VC, and I'm looking into that. I'm really just seeing every aspect of it and just learning as much as possible."
Is he a future VC or GM? "I don't know. I've been thinking about it; they're similar. You put together a team, you're putting together your scouts, you're putting together the marketing company, you put the HR in place at a VC or at a startup company, so they kind of go hand-in-hand. It would be impossible to do both, but I'm just keeping both those options open as of right now. With the wealth that we're able to obtain right now being players, maybe I use that to fund a startup and maybe hit it. If you bat .300 in the VC world, that's great. So I'm just trying to do that."
No Easy Outs in the West
In the Eastern Conference, whatever team winds up with the seventh or eighth seed might as well start packing their fishing bags before facing the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers. On the other hand, a low seed in the West could be only 10 or so wins separated from the No. 1 team—and that won't mean much to the Memphis Grizzlies. If they make the playoffs, they'll be the "toughest team to beat" in the opening round, according to one NBA scout.
"Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and Tony Allen back from an injury makes a big difference for them," the scout said. "Watch out for them because they have retained the defensive emphasis, and they've been (to the playoffs) before. They know how to play in the playoffs, and they also have a great road record so far this year, so that all translates well in the playoffs. They're a team that's unfazed. They just need to shore up the offensive efficiency a little bit. Right now, they'll be one of the toughest teams to knock out of the playoffs."
Patience, Denver Nuggets Fans, Patience
That's the mindset of the owner, Stan Kroenke, according to a member of the Nuggets front office, even though they went from 57-25 last season to 26-34 currently. That's because there's internal optimism.
"We definitely want to win, and we thought that we were a playoff team with everybody healthy, especially JaVale (McGee)," the front-office member said. "Definitely injuries hurt us, and having a new coach—our half-court execution needs to get a little better—and having a new front office. But I think the owner is doing a great job of being patient. And (general manager) Tim (Connelly) is unbelievable. A lot of GMs say he's a basketball genius. His perspective of the game is incredible. He'll be successful."
Not only should McGee (stress fracture in his left tibia) and Danilo Gallinari (left ACL recovery) return by the start of next season—Ty Lawson just came back from a broken rib—but by likely missing the playoffs, the team could have a top draft pick. And that's exactly where lottery teams want to be.
"The top six this year are really strong," the front-office member said. "After the top six, it kind of gets tough."
The Nuggets will have two first-round picks but can only keep the best one, sending the other to the Orlando Magic as part of the Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington trade in 2012. The Nuggets will also have a second-round pick. They could've had two, but they sent one to the Washington Wizards in the Andre Miller deal last month.
Team to Watch Out for in the East: Chicago Bulls
Even though the Bulls are the worst scoring team in the league (93.3 points per game), their culture of smart, together and hard-working half-court offensive execution—which features multiple screen sets, constant off-ball movement and backdoor cutting—keeps them hanging around. Their recent record is 12-3.
They also have, in the absence of Derrick Rose, the benefit of center Joakim Noah as basically a second point guard who can score by himself in transition and set up plays for his teammates, finding seams to send bounce passes through traffic. He had a career-high 14 assists on Sunday.
Then there's the Bulls' defensive excellence, holding opponents to a second-best 92.3 points per game.
On both ends, you would think you're watching the San Antonio Spurs at times, like when the point guard fights over a screen while Noah and Tim Duncan peddle back to protect the paint. That's a key element of each team's defense, which clogs the desired middle of the lane, forcing outside jumpers. Earlier this season, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said he tries to emulate the Spurs' "gold standard," per ESPN Chicago's Nick Friedell.
Overall, they're two teams with no divas and demonstrate that rare blue-collar work and trust in the coach's game plan—qualities sometimes lost in the excess riches of the modern-day player culture.
"There are similarities in the general philosophies and how they want to have a system on offense, where the ball moves, players make hard cuts, they're very detailed-oriented in preparation," an NBA scout said. "Defensively speaking, they're very similar in that they don't want to give up the three-point shot. They're not going to give up perimeter shots easily, but they like to kind of funnel you into areas where you have to take the tough two-point shot. But they will still contest the shots to make it tough. They'll chase you off the three-point line and make you take a tough pull-up jump shot, or they'll meet you at the rim."
Even though the Bulls don't have that prime point guard scorer—advantage Spurs—they're way past that at this point. They feel like they can beat anyone.
"Every night is the same now," Friedell said. "They think they're going to kick the other team's ass."
Wizards are a Sleeper in the East
After starting the season 2-7 and playing mostly under .500 basketball since then, the Wizards are heating up, winning seven of their last eight games.
"We are just playing together," forward Chris Singleton said. "We are also running a lot more plays. Before, we were running mostly plays for John (Wall) and Bradley (Beal)."
While the promising young backcourt of Wall and Beal continues its successful path, it's now more common to see the skilled Marcin Gortat get touches in the post—he even has an effective fadeaway—and Trevor Ariza, an underrated scorer, run the pick-and-roll well. Last week, Gortat had two games with more than 20 points, and on Saturday, Ariza scored a career-high 40 points.
But a key reason why the Wizards are hanging tough is their unique defensive approach, coupled with their personnel, that focuses on overplaying passing lanes. That starts with Wall and Ariza, who combine for about four steals per game. That intersecting defense has helped fuel the fast-break-dominant Wizards, led by Wall, to score more during their recent stretch.
"They've kind of turned the corner in their last month or so," an NBA scout said. "Defensively what they've done is really get active with the steals. They know when they get the ball out to Wall in transition, he's very hard to cover; Beal as well. They've got some guys that can really get up and down the court in transition. Randy (Wittman) gives them a little leeway in the coverages to go out there and gamble for steals. They play a little bit like Dwyane Wade does off the ball. They step up to the line and play in the passing lanes."
What "Lull" in the Schedule?
Some fans and reporters view the few weeks after the All-Star break as the "dog days" of the season, as they just can't wait until the playoffs start. But behind the scenes, the biggest preparation of the season is getting underway, and scouts are being tasked with some of the most pressure-filled assignments: get to know every little thing about potential playoff opponents.
While a few teams not in the playoff race are starting to shut down their advanced scouting, it's the complete opposite for teams looking forward to potential first-round matchups or still fighting for a higher position in the standings. One scout took us inside some of that preparation.
"Late season, you start concentrating on the two or three teams that you're going to see in the first round. Usually when you go into the last week of the season, you hopefully know who that's going to be, but in some cases, it comes down to the last day. It's a full-time job for an intern as well because the scout has enough on his plate. Most teams now have a pro personnel scout as a full-time job.
"Overall, you want to have a good book. You want to have a really thorough understanding of all (the other team's) play calls. You're not going to get every single play call, and you can't be at all their games. But you also want to have their best timeout plays and their best late-game-need plays. And if you do that, you have your bases covered. But then you also have to have a good writeup on the players, and you want to be thorough and want to crystallize the information.
"You want to highlight the most important stuff, like they're really good going up for a jump shot off a pick-and-roll going right, can they make plays with their left hand, can they make plays with their right hand? What's their real strong tendencies, like he is a hard right driver, or he is a straight-on driver, or is he a guy that's going to draw a lot of fouls? You want to be able to fill the players in on that.
"The good players have a good feel for a lot of the other players. They're always hungry for that edge, like Shane Battier. He wanted more information, he wanted more statistical analysis. And then LeBron (James) picked up on that because he saw how Shane studied up for the next opponent."
Equity Is the New Form of Endorsement
While the opportunity is nonexistent with mainstream companies, more players are seeking out equity stakes with emerging brands—for example, Wade with Mission Athletecare—to expand their business portfolios. Most recently, Kevin Love and James Harden are now on board with a new sports drink called BodyArmor.
NBA agent Todd Ramasar, the managing partner of Stealth Sports, chimed in on the significance of the equity tie-in for the player.
"I think it works out better for the company, and it works out better for the athlete," he said, "because the athlete is not just receiving a check. He feels like he's a part of the company because he's a shareholder or he has stock options or he has some equity. The athlete is more inclined to endorse the product above and beyond their contract. They want to see the company be successful because it affects their earnings off that deal."
Brooches: Next Big Fashion Statement?
At All-Star Weekend, there was something sparkling like a diamond from some of the players' suits. On closer look, they were brooches or lapel pins—some of them customized from popular designers like Jason of Beverly Hills. Others, according to GQ assistant editor Mark Anthony Green, who covers the NBA for the magazine, are actually vintage. The players' stylists are finding them on eBay or in antique stores.
"Some of them are what old ladies used to wear in St. John's business suits," he said. "You'll have a guy like Amar'e Stoudemire wearing it and looking incredibly awesome wearing it. So it's definitely a trend and a cool thing that these guys are starting to do more of."
Green said brooches and lapel pins are the latest in NBA accessory fashion because they add flair to a usually traditional suit or tuxedo. And traditional is the last thing these guys want to be.
"The more uniform the outfit, the more formal it is," he said. "So the guys have to wear suits, but the last thing that these guys want to be is uniform. They want to stand out; they're competitive. And so any little embellishment like that, they're going to utilize that. And so at the moment, it's brooches or lapel pins."
Green said some of them are made of sterling silver, while others are fake rubies and jewels.
"They would be like $600,000," he said.
Who would've thought even NBA players settle for knockoffs.
The Latest Players' Club for Art
Players don't just look for an aesthetic edge with fashion; they're the same way with art. These days, more of them are finding that outlet through the Los Angeles-based 0ne0f0ne (spelled with zeros), which specializes in creating exclusive 3-D pieces specific for the individual.
0ne0f0ne's unique designs, which are priced at upward of $20,000, feature architectural materials that are then molded through a layered process that involves mill or laser-cut machines, surfacing, applied acids for color and tone, and then blending them together to tell a story.
Currently, 0ne0f0ne is working on art pieces for DeAndre Jordan and Dorell Wright, with a vision from each. The company's NBA first was a four-month project for Blake Griffin, which he posted on his Instagram account and is now on a wall in his L.A. pad.
Crafted with mainly walnut and copper—representing Griffin's hair color—0ne0f0ne constructed a piece portraying the L.A. skyline and coast, the city's major highways and intersections in downtown, a perspective of the Staples Center, his rookie-year shot chart with pegs for all of his dunks, and a representation of the state of Oklahoma, where he is from.
"It tells the story of Blake's actual profession, which is what he wanted," said Jared Brunk, one of 0ne0f0ne's main team members. "He wanted it to resemble who he is, where he's from, what he does and kind of his path along the way, which landed him in Los Angeles. A lot of the players want to represent where they're from and they want to kind of tell their life story, which I think is really cool because then it means something to them, and it's personal and it's a good piece for discussion."
0ne0f0ne also manufactures custom furniture and leather items, including wallets, and many players—Griffin, Dwyane Wade, Jordan, Wright, Ariza, Chris Paul, Matt Barnes and Antawn Jamison—have asked for signature pieces. Some want personal logos, like Wade with his Way of Wade logo; others ask for a non-personal patterns, like Jordan showcasing his favorite superhero, Batman.
Brunk said there's a special blend between his team's art and NBA players.
"Their abstract form in itself is an art," he said. "They're so tall, they're so long and what they can do in the air is super artistic. So they can relate in ways to art in itself because their bodies are forms of art, and I think the NBA does a really job of being on the cutting edge of all facets of creativity, and they're continuing to explore that. And the guys are into it."