Shaq: I'm '85 percent' healed

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Shaq: I'm '85 percent' healed

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Last season, the Boston Celtics adopted a philosophy of giving players "strategic rest" throughout the season.

Well, it appears that may very well be the case with Shaquille O'Neal and his assortment of right leg injuries.

O'Neal has missed Boston's last 13 games with either a right Achilles tendon or right foot injury.

On Monday, O'Neal said both injuries are bothering him.

But of the two, the Achilles Tendon injury is the one of greater concern.

"It gets better than comes back, it gets better than comes back," O'Neal said. "But Dr. Brian McKeon has done a great job, been working on it twice a day, so I'll be back."

He told reporters on Monday that he's "about 85 percent" healthy, but added his time off the court has been due to the Celtics coaches and medical staff wanting him to be at full strength before returning.

"I would have liked to be out there with the guys on Sunday at Milwaukee, but they wanted me back 100 percent," O'Neal said. "I tried to run the other day and it felt really good, but I had to take a step back so hopefully in a few days, or in a week or so, I'll be back."

In other words, O'Neal - much like the C's coaching staff and medical staff - don't have a definitive timetable for his return to the lineup.

While the C's are certainly a better team with O'Neal in the lineup, there are benefits to him sitting out a few more games.

Boston essentially got rid of a third of its roster within the last two weeks, so there's a lot of teaching going on right now.

Without O'Neal in the rotation, this allows some of Boston's new big men, Nenad Krstic and Troy Murphy specifically, a chance to play meaningful minutes to better enhance their familiarity with their new teammates.

"You know they looked pretty good," O'Neal said of the newest Celtics. "They looked comfortable. Doc's done a great job of getting them in and getting them out. It's kind of a new team. From here on in, it's important that everyone gets in and we get our rhythm going into the postseason."

Of all the newcomers, Krstic, who starts at center in place of O'Neal, has made the greatest impact.

In five games as the C's starting center - all Celtics wins - Krstic is averaging 11.6 points and 5.4 rebounds per game.

Still, he understands that his play - much like the rest of the Celtics newcomers - is a work in progess.

"Still adjusting," he told CSNNE.com. "Everything is new for me. It's . . . everybody is helpful. Everybody is trying to help. Still, it's hard to make that transition; just trying to do my best on the court, give 100 percent when I play."

It remains to be seen what Krstic's role will be when O'Neal returns.

Because by all indications, O'Neal will come back as the starting center.

His impact with the Celtics goes beyond his meager numbers - 9.3 points and 4.9 rebounds per game.

Because O'Neal draws so much attention when he's on the floor, that has allowed Boston shooters such as Paul Pierce and Ray Allen better looks at the basket.

With better looks, both Pierce and Allen are enjoying career seasons shooting the ball from the field and 3-point range, respectively.

Despite the injuries, O'Neal said his focus now isn't any different than it was from Day One.

"We're all here for 18-25," said O'Neal, referring to Banner 18 for the C's, championship number '2' for the Big Three and title number '5' for himself.

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached atsblakely@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Blakely: Why Celtics should roll the dice on Bender

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Blakely: Why Celtics should roll the dice on Bender

A. Sherrod Blakely joins SNC to give his NBA Draft preview, and explains why he thinks the Boston Celtics should roll the dice on 18-year-old Dragan Bender if they get the chance.

Could early Thunder exit help Celtics chances for Durant?

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Could early Thunder exit help Celtics chances for Durant?

A. Sherrod Blakely joins SportsNet Central to give his opinion on whether an early Thunder exit from the NBA Playoffs would help the Boston Celtics chances to land Kevin Durant in the offseason.

Gauging the stock of Thon Maker, the NBA draft's mystery man

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Gauging the stock of Thon Maker, the NBA draft's mystery man

BOSTON – There’s a certain amount of mystery surrounding most players when they enter the NBA draft.

And then there’s 19-year-old Thon Maker, the 7-foot-1 Sudan-born basketball player who successfully challenged the NBA’s rule restrictions placed on high school players entering the league.                                                  

Maker reclassified academically in 2015 but elected to stay at Orangeville District Secondary School in Orangeville, Ontario for an additional year which was later deemed a “post-graduate” year.

In doing so, he satisfied the NBA’s rules regarding draft-eligible players being one year removed from their graduating high school class as well as the league’s age requirement.

This will be the second straight draft where there will be at least one player who played their prep basketball in North American who did not play in college or professionally overseas prior to entering the draft.

Last season, the Dallas Mavericks selected Indian-born Satnam Singh in the second round with the 52nd overall pick. The 7-foot-2, 290-pound center played his prep basketball at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

To be in such select company alone makes Maker’s journey to the NBA unique.

But in this narrative, that becomes more of a footnote as Maker’s path towards pro basketball has already taken him to three different continents (Africa, Australia and most recently North America) in which he has played for at least five different institutions.

CSNNE.com spoke to two different scouts, a league executive and an NBA assistant who was among those to see him play during a Basketball Without Borders event in 2015.

Their opinions of Maker’s chances of playing at the NBA level are kind of like the places Maker has played basketball – all over the map.

“There is no way this kid should be in this year’s draft,” one Eastern Conference scout told CSNNE.com. “He’s nowhere close to being ready to play or make any kind of impact that will help a team anytime soon. He’s one of those two years away from being two years away kind of players. If you take him near the end of the second round, he’s worth it. But a first-rounder? I just don’t see it.”

Another executive with a Western Conference team offered a similar assessment of Maker.

“He’s going to have to show some things that we haven’t seen yet, in workouts,” the executive told CSNNE.com. “Every draft has a player or two that you draft because he has upside, but he’s a project. That’s Thon Maker; a project with upside, the kind of upside that you’re probably not going to really see or really be helped by for years down the road.”

A second scout added, “He’s not ready for the NBA. Not even close. But this league drafts on potential and because of that, somebody will take him. It may not be until the second round, but he’ll be drafted by someone.”

However, one current NBA assistant had a chance to see him play at a Basketball Without Borders tournament and came away with a very different opinion of Maker.

“You immediately saw the separation of talent, of God-given ability,” the assistant coach told CSNNE.com. “He’s a multi-faceted player, a willing learner.”

Originally from Sudan, Maker was discovered by Edward Smith whose guidance has taken Maker on a basketball odyssey across the globe with stops in Louisiana, Virginian and most recently, Ontario.

During each stop, Maker's potential was evident.

But most of his best work came against questionable competition, the kind of thing that tends to raise eye-brows among NBA decision-makers.

As impressed as the assistant coach was with Maker, he too wonders how the 19-year-old will fare against bigger, stronger, more seasoned competition.

"We'll find out soon enough," the assistant coach said. "He's in the draft now. His skills, the good ones and the ones that need some work, will be on display for all to see."

Maker burst on the scene as an internet sensation a couple of years ago with a YouTube video that drew immediate comparisons to former Celtic Kevin Garnett.

But as more folks began to watch him play, the flaws to his game became more pronounced.

He is a 7-1 wing player with a lithe frame whose physical strength leaves a lot to be desired. While he has shown a great work ethic according to most scouts, he doesn’t have a true feel for the game in large part because he is so relatively raw.

And maybe most telling is how he has been on the floor with other above-average competition and more often than not, has done little to stand out as one of the better players competing.

Throw in the fact that he bypassed college altogether and it stands to reason that collectively there are more questions about his game than answers right now.

In an interview with Draft Express shortly after announcing he would enter this year’s draft, Maker shed some light on his controversial decision.

“When I found out I had the opportunity to enter this year's draft it was a no brainer to me,” Maker told Draft Express last month. “I've always had the dream of playing in the NBA and I feel that I am ready.”

Maker added, “When I had the chance to enter the Draft, I started of thinking about College versus Pro. The NBA game, talent, spacing, rotations, terminology, clock and practice time is so much more different than college. I watch a lot of ball, both games and practices. I felt that if I could do this full time, it would be great. If I went to college I could not see myself not taking my academics seriously. I would want to take serious classes and do well in them. I would have to split time in my focus. My approach is to always go all out and try to be the best if I'm going to do something.”

That’s why his decision to turn pro is not something that he says he will not have a change of heart about.

Players who enter the draft can pull out as late as May 25.

But listening to Maker, that doesn’t seem to be an option he’s giving any thought.

“I'm all in,” he said. “If you're doing something you have to be confident in your choice. This process is not a game. I've played with NBA players before and their approach is business like, even though they are having fun out there.”
 
When pressed on whether he would consider withdrawing from the draft if he doesn’t like the feedback he’s hearing during the pre-draft process, Maker reiterated his position.

“As I said, I’m all in,” Maker said.

“He wants to be a star,” the assistant coach said. “He wants to be a star and I think he will be. I don’t want to put too much on the kid before he gets a chance to get out there and show what he can do. But as of right now, in my heart of hearts I feel the kid is going to be a special player.”