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DubNation Diary: Wiggins, Bjelica at practice, play structured 3-on-3, behind-the-scenes 1of2
Barbosa holds his own, Kenny Atkinson leads the way
Again, one of the best behind-the-scenes experiences I’ve had — certainly an all-time favorite where Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Kevin Durant or DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins were not involved — shall be told the simplest way it can: in chronological order.
[NOTE: There’s actually extra and better footage on top of this — scroll down to the end for an explanation — so I’m thinking of turning subscriptions on and making that one behind the paywall. This might be the last super-behind-the-scenes story you get for free; we’ll see…]
I arrived in the outdoor heat of Sin City to Las Vegas Basketball Center (LVBC) with a good buffer of time just in case the Uber ride went awry. After all, the facility is out near the border of Summerlin, northwest of town and a good fifteen-minute drive from the Strip.
The facility owner and “Tony Bee” the security guard were at the front door and you could see some Warriors TV personnel inside waiting for practice to end, plus the commotion of practice itself. I was early and was told media would be let in as a group; the specified time was still about twenty minutes away.
Luckily there was a post office next door so I hid out there in the indoor air conditioning until start time. My brain reminded me that with the pandemic, it had been over two years since my last foray into the desert swelter. It’s somewhat bearable for about ten minutes, and then you get that sudden reacquaintance of how abnormal it is to have human civilization in this environment.
When you step inside a building with A/C, a few moments later you realize your clothing is a tad moist from your own sweat. That’s when you conclude that wearing a backpack is exponentially worse than not wearing one, so definitely next time, try to avoid that!
When it was time, I walked back over and there were the regular “traditional” beat writers Anthony Slater, Connor Letourneau and Wes Goldberg waiting outside. But we ended up waiting another twenty minutes as practice apparently went a little long. Such is the grind of the beat reporter. Alas, when we were let in, we waited a little more, which was actually good as our bodies adjusted.
If you hadn’t seen the tweets or articles from the aforementioned beatwriters the past few days (this was the Dubs’ second practice made available to media, I believe), LVBC was rented by Golden State’s front office and even included sponsorship signage from Oracle, which has officially replaced Biofreeze as the brand that bears the name of the practice facility underneath Chase Center.
On the way in, Shaun Livingston, who has been working part-time under Bob Myers, appeared and I joked that he’d arrived to do “GM stuff”, but in true “Sdot” fashion, he showed his humility and brushed off the visit as just trying to help out where he can.
Assistant general manager Mike Dunleavy also arrived with some others including Nick U’Ren and a 6’7” Bond villain I’d not seen before, who introduced himself as Onsi Saleh. It turned out that he was not, in fact, not U’Ren’s bodyguard. Saleh later told me he was there to provide Collective Bargaining Agreement and salary cap expertise to Myers’ team. He once held the position of Director of Strategy & Process for the San Antonio Spurs.
It seems the Golden State Warriors’ culture of finding the best talent in whatever aspect of the team, be it on-the-court, in the front office, or whatever behind-the-scenes, lives on as Saleh came across as a true professional, well-spoken, humble and polite.
Once inside, the Summer League squad starters (Gary Payton II, Justinian Jessup, Moses Moody, Jonathan Kuminga and Selom Mawugbe) plus Derrick Alston, Jr. were going through some key elements of the Warriors’ system on the far court. Player development coach Seth Cooper was directing traffic.
On the near court were the other players on the roster being instructed through various sets by Summer League head coach Kris Weems. Incidentally, my sources tell me that Steve Kerr is considering promoting Weems to the coaching position vacated by Aaron Miles’ departure to the Boston Celtics.
I saw Kyle Guy casually try a putback dunk (he has hops!) and share some chuckles with his teammates. I was told not to video tape any of that portion as practice was still in session and plays were still being run, although winding down. I was allowed to film the stuff afterwards, as well as take pictures up until then.
After the traditional “Just us!” huddle at center court, everyone broke up into little groups to do shooting drills and contests against each other, spearheaded by Nick Kerr, who is obviously Steve’s son and, incidentally, is getting married in three weeks.
Meanwhile on the adjacent court, Leandro Barbosa was with video coordinator Jacob Rubin and GSW assistant coach and fan-favorite Ron Adams in helping Jordan Poole with his workout. It was a typical “JP” individual splashing session that we’ve seen before and I didn’t have a good angle of it to film it, as media was told to keep a distance back.
Back on the main court Moody, Eli Pemberton and Jessup teamed up for a mini-drill which Pemberton, who earlier did a quick shooting session with Travis Munnings, eventually won. Livingston sauntered over to rebound for Poole, while James Wiseman was getting treatment on the trainer’s table against the wall.
There was nothing magical in the group shooting sessions for Kuminga: a few three-point makes, but also a few bricks, as you’d expect from him being a raw talent. I did notice much later when he exited the facility that he seemed to be limping in the slightest bit, but was told that’s just his normal gait. It’s funny how with time, you’ll probably see even his gait corrected a bit towards more confidence — think of the difference in presence we saw with Klay as a rookie and the way he carries himself now. Subtle, but true.
It was also cool to see Santa Cruz Warriors assistant Anthony Mann provide the relationship glue, as he spent a lot of time with Kuminga talking about whatever, along the walk to the makeshift chef’s area where they had two or three food preparers conjuring up protein shakes among a stack of packages of salad, lunch bags (probably something better than sandwiches in there, huh?) and an assortment of protein bars.
Just the well-oiled machine that has become known as the Warriors culture and precisely what Joe Lacob is thinking in his head when he utters the words “Light Years”: everyone with a specific role and everything you could ever think of needing for a practice, all at your immediate disposal — a mobile Oracle Performance Center, if you will.
And just a friendly reminder, everyone stays focused on whatever they’re supposed to be doing. I noticed U’Ren and Dunleavy eating their lunches alone, each at their own scorekeeper’s table, one on this court, one on the other.
Mychal Mulder, Nemanja Bjelica and Andrew Wiggins then trotted in as the Summer League boys filtered out on their retreat to the Aria on the team bus waiting out back. Bjelica and Wiggins were once teammates on the Minnesota Timberwolves, so they exchanged a familiar dap.
After some shooting around on separate courts as Wiseman tossed in a few flat-footed close-range ten-footers, Mulder, Bjelica and Wiggins got into a 3-on-3 directed by Atkinson, with Kerr, Barbosa and newly minted video coordinator Hilton Armstrong the opposition. Rubin would throw in on occasional referee call and Wiseman would come over and be an outlet guy for rebounds.
Atkinson changed up the rules every now and then. “No pick-and-rolls and no DHOs (dribble hand-offs)!” was one of them. Losers had to do a baseline-to-baseline penalty jog.
The action was particularly exciting in seeing Wiggs do his smooth, non-chalant moves as well as Bjelica stroking his super-fluid three-pointers. Young Kerr held his own, obviously outmatched physically, and “The Blur” Barbosa often looked like the youngest guy out there, not the oldest.
A Bjelica splash, a Wiggins dunk (only one of them) and a blow-by from The Blur (a couple of them, but only one make) would be the highlights of this rare peek into the the post-practice world of the Warriors. We actually have that on video as well, so keep reading.
And all the while, I felt kinda sorry for Young Wise, not being able to do anything except shoot up to fifteen-foot set shots, all flat-footed, although that’s how he normally shoots. So you give him the benefit of the doubt, especially when he front rims his free throws.
Incidentally, during Monday’s Summer League loss to the Orlando Magic, NBA TV interviewed Kevon Looney (I didn’t see him at practice) who seemed to accidentally spill the beans on the projected return date for Wiseman, letting it slip out that he’d be ready for training camp.
Slater then followed up later after practice, going on 95.7 The Game: “They think he'll be ready for the start of camp. His recovery is going very well. They're trying to keep him involved, and he's inching closer to doing a lot more....but they'll be super careful.”
We will have details and video of more 3-on-3 moments in a subscription-only follow-up to this. What a perfect reason to turn on subscriptions ($5/mo)! For now, we’ll keep subscriptions to our private Discord server available at $1/mo, but when you subscribe on here, you get the Discord access for free; just email us for an invite.
We hope you are as diehard to see that action as we are to share it with you. And there will be an extra Bjelica shooting session, plus even more views of Wiseman, and maybe even a little special one-on-one I did with the legend Sdot on the return of Andre Iguodala 😱
In fact, I’m leaning heavily towards making behind-the-scenes articles like this all paywalled during the upcoming 2021-22 regular season, especially when I’m on road trips. Hope you concur that it justifies the monthly subscription!
Tell us how you feel in the comments below and I’ll be sure to respond to each one — sorry I haven’t been responding much lately due to the back-to-back-to-back travel of the Draft, Sacramento, and Vegas.
I actually have some fun Draft stories to tell as I bumped into a few DubNation’ites out there in Brooklyn. Those will all be #latepost, but also will help fill in the upcoming dead time between the end of Summer League and the beginning of training camp.