With 17.4 seconds left of a closer-than-expected game against the Brooklyn Nets, Damian Lillard stepped to the free throw line at the Moda Center to put the finishing touches on a Trail Blazers victory. But as he went through a free throw shooting ritual he’s done countless times, an unfamiliar chant began to echo around the arena. “M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!”
But Leonard's evolution as a player is so obvious — he started for the West in the All-Star game — that it is becoming impossible for him to go unnoticed as he emerges as perhaps the best two-way player in the NBA. "The guy is in the running for MVP and he's probably the best defensive player out of all of them," his San Antonio teammate Boris Diaw said. "So, yeah, he's the best two-way player in the league if you ask me."
Candace Buckner: Last question in conf. call, Paul George asked if that given his season stats should he be in the MVP conversation? Essentially, PG said no
Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said Warriors point guard Stephen Curry is “well on his way to earning his second MVP.” Malone was the Warriors’ lead assistant from 2011-13, and he noted Curry’s dedication and work ethic even back then. “It’s not surprising at all, because of the kind of young man that Steph is and his dedication to the game,” Malone said before Sunday’s game between the Nuggets and Warriors. “You go back a long time ago to Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, and they always came back as improved players. They always added something to their games.
TV analyst and former NBA coach Jeff Van Gundy said earlier this week that Blake Griffin should be considered for Most Valuable Player honors this season. Rivers didn’t disagree. “Well, I think Jeff is brilliant. I hope he’s right. I think he’s right. … I think just winning and getting better will put you into that category and when you’re that talented and you’re winning, then you have to be thrown into that category.”
Blake Griffin has already done so much in the league, and he’s only 26. Where do you think his game goes from here? Redick: "He’s a very unique player, in terms of his ability to get to the rim, make midrange shots, handle the ball, pass out of double-teams, pass in transition and make reads on the fly. It seems like he’s taken a step forward in his game every year, so where he’s going to go? I have no idea. He’s a top-5 player, MVP level? Yeah, probably at some point in his career he’ll win an MVP and he’ll go down as one of the greatest power forwards ever. And if he wins, that certainly will happen."
Curry didn’t so much as revisit the topic as search for reasons why Harden did. “I don’t know,” Curry said. “Different guys find different ways of motivating themselves. I’ve never been one to just . . . I’m obviously confident in what I do, and I know he’s confident in what he does. It might come out in a different way. “I try not to do a lot of talking, especially (regarding) things that have passed. Obviously, you’ve got to motivate yourself and I’m sure he’s motivated this year to do some special things. I’m the same way.”
The beard mostly covers up the defiant grin that practically dares you to tell him he's already scraping at the ceiling. "I am the best player in the league. I believe that," he said. "I thought I was last year, too."
John Wall: “I want to be in the MVP conversation and give myself a shot at being the MVP. That means I need to play well, help my teammates play well, get those guys shots and lead my team to wins. I definitely want to be an All-Star starter again. I want to be All-NBA First Team. I want to be on the All-Defensive First Team; I was All-Defensive Second Team last year. I think I was snubbed from the All-NBA Third Team last year, but I just use that as motivation for this year to try to get better. Another individual goal is definitely leading the league in assists this year. There are a lot of things I want to do, but those are some of the main ones.”
August 10, 2022 | 3:24 pm EDT Update
Now, the focus for Victor Oladipo is singular, the intent of his summer of sweat geared toward one reality. “That I’m one of the best players in the world. Period,” the 30-year-old veteran said. “I think that my injury has kind of built a misconception of who I am as a player.”
“Why can’t I come back from this injury and what I’ve been through and have an even greater career than I thought I could have prior to it? Why can’t I?” Oladipo said in a passionate moment during the interview with Carter. “And I don’t see no reason why I can’t. “So I truly believe that I can, and that’s what I’m trying to prove to myself, first and foremost, is that I’m capable of great things even now, it’s never too late, no matter what anyone says or what the world may think or what people tell you.”
Victor Oladipo calls it his Revenge Tour, the Miami Heat guard regularly filling his social media with posts about his grueling offseason workout schedule, including recent sessions with Russell Westbrook in Los Angeles. As he explained on Vince Carter’s VC Show podcast, it has been work with the singular goal of getting back to the All-Star level previously reached before a string of knee and quadriceps issues. “That’s something that I came up with, just because I felt like the last couple of years have been really tough on me,” Oladipo said, “and I’ve obviously gone through a lot individually and my team, my family have gone through a lot with me collectively.”
Jonas Valanciunas and Domantas Sabonis made their debut on the Lithuanian national team this summer. Powered by the big man duo, Lithuania easily defeated Finland at home 86-61 (28-13, 15-16, 20-13, 13-19).
Domantas Sabonis was the only player that scored in double-digits for Lithuania, leading the team with 10 points in a balanced effort, while also grabbing 6 rebounds and dishing out 3 assists. Valanciunas added 8 points and 6 rebounds.
But then came the All-Star break, a somewhat surprising trip to the Rising Stars Challenge, and, as Precious Achiuwa’s longtime trainer Kenneth Miller said, a newfound confidence for the young Raptor. From late February on, Achiuwa hit a stride and didn’t look back. His three-point percentage took off, his decision-making was more refined, and his offense was much improved. “I think kind of after the all-star break … he got a good feeling like, okay, I feel like I can fit here, I belong here,” Miller said. “That was a coming-out party for him, and he’s just been building on it ever since.”
What has the plan been for you and Precious this summer? Miller: It was a mix of a couple of different things. … We watched a lot of film, studied, kind of picked at his flaws, where he could get better at finishing run around, handling the ball, creating his own shot off the dribble, whether it be for himself or for his teammates, and just being in the best shape possible. He felt like he could have been in better shape towards the end of the year.
Has he improved in those areas? Miller: He has looked amazing. … The handle has improved a lot. Finishing around the rim looks really good. Playing off angles and creating his own shot off the dribble. He’s looking good, man. He’s been putting in a lot of work, dedication, early mornings, late nights, taking care of his body, doing all the necessary things to take a bigger step this coming year. What has his three-point shot looked like lately? Miller: It’s looking really good, man. … He’s been shooting it really good, working on it every day, just trying to get a higher percentage.