O'Neal says he warned Danny Ainge he might not return from his various injuries in time for the playoffs.
BOSTON – Jaylen Brown’s athleticism was among the many reasons the Boston Celtics selected him with the No. 3 overall pick in last month’s NBA draft. But even before he became a Green Teamer, Brown’s aspirations were much greater than being a high draft pick.
“I want to be a top five player in the league,” Brown said at his introductory press conference last month. It’s a lofty goal for sure; the kind that requires more than just talent. And that’s where Graham Betchart – Brown’s mental skills coach - comes in.
Betchart’s work as a mental skills coach has been on full display as one of the keys to Brown being among the standout performers during summer leagues in both Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, respectively.
The 6-foot-7 rookie was named to the Las Vegas Summer League’s second team, one of just three lottery picks (top-14) in last month’s NBA draft (Ben Simmons of LSU and Thon Maker of Milwaukee) named to the first (Simmons) or second (Maker) team along with Brown.
In addition to Brown, Betchart has worked with each of the last three first overall picks – Andrew Wiggins, Karl Anthony-Towns and most recently, Simmons. Betchart said he also worked with current Celtic guard Marcus Smart when he was at Oklahoma State.
While each player has their own specific program, there are some common threads that bind all of his clients.
“The big thing I want them to focus on is what in their control,” Betchart told CSNNE.com from New York City where he was meeting with the New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who has been one of the more outspoken athletes when it comes to mental health-related issues. “And so for a lot of these guys, they’re so good in high school and even college, they can focus on results and still produce results. As you get older, you realize that results are totally out of your control. And so my focus is getting them to focus on what’s in their control, and learning how to do it consistently; how to create a pattern, a consistent mindset.”
We saw that from Brown this summer with the Celtics’ summer league teams. He averaged 16.0 points and 6.2 rebounds but did so shooting a not-so-great 30.7 percent from the field and was even worst (27.2 percent) on 3s.
However, he did manage to get to the free throw line 10.2 times per game, which is surprising when you consider whistles typically aren’t blown as often in the summer than they are in a regular season game. And just to put his free throw average in perspective, only two players – Houston’s James Harden and Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins – averaged more than 10 free throw attempts per game last season.
Brown has said on more than one occasion that getting to the free throw line often has to be one of his strengths in the NBA. Based on what he did this past summer, there’s no question it’s something he has indeed made a priority.
And the fact that Brown was able to do it consistently this summer falls in line with one of the core concepts that Betchart preaches to his clients.
“To me the hardest thing in sports is to be consistent,” said Betchart, who is now the director of mental training for San Francisco-based Lucid, a mental training app for athletes. “Anyone can just once in a while show up and have a great game. It really starts with having a consistent mindset based on what you can control. They have to be in the moment no matter what’s going on. It could be really bad, it could be really good.”
And when it’s over, players can’t dwell in the mistakes of the past.
“We make a mistake and get hung up sometimes,” Betchart said. “But if you can move on to that next play and train your focus to do that, it’s really hard to stop you if you don’t stop yourself.”
Instead, those mistakes actually form the foundation for future success.
In the case of Brown, one of the biggest knocks on him coming into the NBA was his shooting touch being anything but consistent.
“It’s the growth mindset,” Betchart said. “If you are going to master shooting, you’re gonna have to miss a lot of shots. It’s kind of like learning to walk. When you were learning to walk, you don’t remember but you fell down all the time. You didn’t say, ‘Oh I’m not going to walk. I’m just going to stay on the ground.’ You just picked yourself up and eventually you learned. When you get to the professional level, your game is analyzed on where it is right now. And right now, he’s 19 years old. There’s no way he’s going to be as good a shooter now as he’ll be at 23 and 25. And so if he embraces the growth mindset and just continues to focus on his process, which is taking the shot, being assertive, taking your shot, it’s all going to work out. I know this to be factually true.”
Another one of Betchart’s clients is Orlando forward Aaron Gordon, who came into the NBA as one of the worst free throw shooters in college basketball. In his lone season at Arizona, Gordon shot just 42.2 percent from the free throw line.
In his two NBA seasons, the 6-foot-9 forward has shot 68.1 percent.
“People were laughing at (Gordon’s free throw shooting) sarcastically and now as a pro he’s shooting (almost) 70 percent,” Betchart said. “It was all based on a growth mindset; just allowing yourself to fail and really, you’re not failing. You’re learning how to shoot. We introduce a concept called Victory goes to the Vulnerable. You’re going to be vulnerable sometimes. People are going to talk about your shot. That’s OK. We let people have their opinions. We don’t try and stop them. It’s all part of the process.”
Ah yes, the process.
If you listen to Brown, he has said on more than one occasion whether he played well or not, that all that he’s going through now is part of a process that will eventually make him a better person and a better player for the Celtics.
Part of that process is utilizing the various mental techniques and teachings of Betchart, who has known Brown since he was 15 years old and had a chance to spend a considerable amount of face-to-face time with him this past year when Brown was at Cal.
Most of what Betchart talks about has a strong basketball teaching component to it. But at the end of the day, there’s a lot more going on.
“Everybody starts to realize these are life skills,” Betchart said. “It’s tough to separate basketball from life. You’re going to be who you are on the court, off the court. These skills, learning to control what you can control, being present, moving on after mistakes, this is what we leave in life as well, learning how to be vulnerable in life and do those things. It naturally gravitates towards life and … what’s going on in life. It’s a natural progression. They’re human beings who choose to play a sport for a living. They are not basketball players; Basketball is what they do.”
A. Sherrod Blakely can be followed on Twitter: @SherrodbCSN
The Boston Celtics announced Wednesday that they have signed free agent guard/forward Gerald Green, re-signed center Tyler Zeller and signed 2016 NBA draft picks forward Jaylen Brown, guard Demetrius Jackson and forward Ben Bentil.
More to come...
BOSTON – At this point in the summer, all of the heavy lifting that NBA teams do when it comes to reshaping their roster is done now.
The stars you see now are the stars you’ll likely see when training camp begins in a few weeks (I know, crazy right?).
While every team will vow that they had a great summer and made lots of moves that will benefit them, we all know better.
The list of summer winners is not a particularly long list.
Here’s a look at the six offseason moves that should go far in helping their respective teams achieve noticeable growth from a year ago.
6. Dwyane Wade, Chicago
Few anticipated Wade would actually call the Miami Heat’s bluff, which as it turned out wasn’t a bluff at all, and take his talents elsewhere. He signed with his hometown Chicago Bulls after the Heat refused to give him parachute-like contract akin to what the Los Angeles Lakers did for Kobe Bryant. Wade’s arrival doesn’t catapult the Bulls to elite status and truth be told doesn’t assure they’ll be a playoff club, either. But it does provide them with a big-time scorer, an under-rated defender and just as significant, more talent after trading away Derrick Rose to New York. But the concerns with Wade – his health – are no different than they were with Rose. He played in 74 games last season, the most the 34-year-old guard has appeared in since 2011. Having set just about every franchise record of significance for the Heat, it’ll be different seeing him in a Bulls uniform. But considering he never was the highest paid player on the Heat during his 13 seasons, one can understand why he walked away to sign a two-year, $47.5 million contract with the Bulls. The Bulls were on the playoff bubble before Wade's arrival. With him, their chances improve but not by much.
5. Evan Turner, Portland Trail Blazers
Turner was among the NBA’s top sixth men a year ago in Boston, the kind of play that he was able to parlay into a four-year, $70 million contract. The Celtics held out slim hope of re-signing him, and Turner acknowledged he would be willing to leave some money on the table in order to return to the Celtics. But the Blazers made him a top priority with the kind of contract offer that was too good to pass up. He provides another ball-handler and solid defender who will be a great fit inside the locker room. But with him being most effective with the ball in his hands and not a very good 3-point shooter, it’ll be interesting to see just how much Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum play off the ball this season. Don’t be surprised if Turner winds up being a key reserve, similar to the role he played so well in Boston. The Blazers have enough talent to get back to the postseason, but the addition of Turner enhances their chances of getting past the first round.
4. Harrison Barnes, Dallas Mavericks
The addition of Kevin Durant to Golden State sealed Barnes’ departure from the Bay Area. But no tears need to be shed for this 24-year-old who wound up signing a four-year, $94 million deal with the Mavericks. Barnes has played his entire NBA career up to this point in the shadow of older, more established, all-star caliber players. That’s not an issue anymore. He’s going to Dallas as the first option not named Dirk Nowitizki, a role the Mavs envisioned would be manned by Chandler Parsons, who despite being injury-riddled most of his time in Dallas, opted out of the final year of his contract to become a free agent. Parsons then signed a max deal with the Memphis Grizzlies worth $98 million over four years. Barnes had his struggles in the playoffs in June for sure, but he has shown lots of signs of being a player on the verge of breaking out if given a higher profile role with added responsibility. He has four years under his belt, and his scoring average has increased each season and is a career 37.6 percent 3-point shooter. And the 6-foot-7 forward has shown increased versatility, evident by him playing small forward 87 percent of the time when he was a rookie, to more even split this past season when he played more at power forward (55 percent) than small forward (44 percent). The Warriors played him on a few occasions (1 percent) at center. Being able to hold his own at multiple positions makes him a great fit for head coach Rick Carlisle. This was a likely lottery team if they didn't fill the void left by Parson's departure. Now, they're likely to be where they were last season - one of a handful of teams fighting for one of the last remaining playoff slots.
3. Serge Ibaka, Orlando
There were higher profile trades this summer, but this one may wind up being one of the most impactful. The Magic have been acquiring young talent for years but not showing much cohesiveness or improvement. They needed to add a talented veteran with legit leadership qualities. Ibaka is that guy. He made a name for himself as an athletic, shot-blocking center in Oklahoma City, quickly climbing the rungs of elite NBA defenders. He has ranked among the league’s top-4 in total blocked shots each of the last six seasons, and led the league in total block shots four times (2010-2014) in that span. And as the game changed, Ibaka expanded his game to beyond the 3-point line. After not taking a single 3-pointer in his first season, Ibaka has ranked among the better 3-point shooting big men in the NBA with career .427 shooting percentage beyond 3-point range. His ability and leadership should give the Magic their best shot in years of getting back to the playoffs.
2. Al Horford, Boston
Horford has been a player on the Celtics’ radar for quite some time. And Horford apparently was starting to at least inquire about possibly playing for Boston during All-Star Weekend. Horford has been one of the game’s better two-way big men who can defend both big positions in addition to being a decent defender when switched out on guards. And while he has a nice back-to-the-basket game, Horford expanding his game beyond the 3-point line has allowed him to be an even more impactful player. Adding him does more than just solidify Boston’s spot as a playoff team. He gives them legitimate hope that a trip to the Eastern Conference finals isn’t just a pipe dream; but with a break here and there, it could easily become a reality.
1. Kevin Durant, Golden State
On Tuesday night, Kevin Durant, playing his first game at Golden State’s Oracle Arena since he signed with the Warriors, drained his first three shots, which set the tone for a 50-point Team USA win over China. Durant was far and away the best free agent on the market, ultimately spurning the Thunder (and a handful of other teams including Boston) to join an already star-studded Golden State lineup that includes Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and two-time league MVP Stephen Curry. Without Durant, the Warriors were still going to be among the teams expected to contend for an NBA title. But in adding him, they are the overwhelming favorites even if Cleveland returns its core group that includes LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. There are other moves that might have a greater impact on a team’s overall win total. But Durant moves the needle in a way no other offseason move has. Him joining Golden State puts the Warriors exactly where the other 29 NBA teams want to be: the team everyone is chasing.