NBA.com/Stats

Talking numbers with Raptors’ Casey


VIDEO: 2014-15 Raptors Team Preview

NEW YORK – To be a true title contender, a team must be among the league’s best on both ends of the floor.

There were four teams who ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency last season. Three of them should be no surprise. But four months later, it’s still strange seeing the Toronto Raptors as the Eastern Conference’s only representative on the list.

20141014_top_10

The Raptors were a surprise in the standings too. After five years outside the playoffs and a 6-12 start, the Raps went 42-22 over the final four months and finished third in the East.

But the Raps still finished one possession short of the conference semifinals. So they have to find ways to keep getting better after making jumps on both ends of the floor last season. (more…)

Talking numbers with Steve Clifford


VIDEO: Hang Time with Lance Stephenson

PHILADELPHIA – The Charlotte Bobcats were one of the most improved teams in the league last season. No team improved in defensive efficiency more than the Bobcats, who allowed 7.8 fewer points per 100 possessions in 2013-14 than they did in ’12-13. Their change in point differential (plus-10.7 points per 100 possessions) was just a hair behind that of the Phoenix Suns.

20141010_improvement

Offensively, the Bobcats started out horribly but improved every month. They ranked 29th in efficiency in October-November and 13th in March-April.

Head coach Steve Clifford deserves most of the credit for the defense. The Bobcats had nowhere to go but up after ranking dead last in defensive efficiency each of the previous two seasons, but they became just the second team in the last 16 years (the ’02-03 Nuggets were the other) to jump from the bottom five to the top 10 on that end of the floor.

The Bobcats are now the Hornets, and they now have Lance Stephenson. They’ve also swapped Josh McRoberts for Marvin Williams at power forward. Both of those moves could change their offense quite dramatically.

NBA.com spoke with Clifford on Wednesday about his team’s numbers, the addition of Stephenson, the importance of floor spacing, and managing his time as a head coach.

(Most of the questions were asked in a one-on-one setting after Charlotte’s shootaround on Wednesday, while a few follow-ups came in Clifford’s pre-game media scrum before the Hornets’ preseason opener against the Sixers.)

An aside: During the pre-game scrum, as Clifford was talking about the departure of McRoberts, Al Jefferson walked by, heading toward the Hornets’ locker room. When Clifford saw Jefferson, he cut off his own, unrelated sentence to say, “and that’s why we got to get the ball to the big fella.” Jefferson called back, “My man! That’s why you’re the best coach in the game!”

Offense

NBA.com: Last year, your team ranked high in ball-movement stats (passes/possession). Do you see Lance affecting that?

20141010_passes

Steve Clifford: I think so, because watching him on film from last year and also being around him since the beginning of September, his pick-and-roll game … he can score it, but he also hits every option. He hits the roll man a lot. There aren’t that many guys that can hit the roll man, make a shot and also hit the other perimeter players. So I think that will be part of it.

The other part of that, maybe, is that we post the ball a lot more than most teams do, and post-up basketball takes usually more passes, because you got to find a way to get the ball there.

NBA.com: Have you put in new staff for Lance specifically?

Clifford: We’re starting to, now. A week in, we’ve just concentrated on those kinds of things, ball movement, secondary offense when the play breaks down, stuff like that for early in camp. We’re starting now to get more sets in.

NBA.com: What’s the biggest advantage to having a second guy who can create off the dribble?

Clifford: I think it just puts so much more pressure on the defense. When you have more guys on the floor who can play in a pick-and-roll or are good at drive-and-kick or whatever, if you get an advantage on one side of the floor with a pick-and-roll and the ball moves to the other side, the defense is just more spread out. There’s more room to attack.

NBA.com: Last season, your offense got considerably better as the season went on. What was the key to that?

Clifford: Part of it, to be honest, was we made a really good trade, where we picked up Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour. And then we signed Chris Douglas-Roberts as a free agent. If you look at it, where our offense got a lot better was we shot more threes. We didn’t shoot a significantly better percentage, but we shot like 5 1/2 more threes per game. People don’t realize that how many threes you shoot is a big deal, too.

20141010_cha_offense

Also, our offensive rebounding numbers went way up. And that was basically Cody [Zeller], MKG [Michael Kidd-Gilchrist] and Biz [Bismack Biyombo]. Over the last third of the year, we scored almost two points more per game on offensive rebounds. And there were some other smaller things, but those were the two biggest things.

NBA.com: Was the increase in 3-point shots something you were looking for, or was it a benefit of the new additions?

Clifford: I just think if you study the league and what wins, the three things that yield over a point per possession the last, I think, nine years are … the best possession is if you get fouled, the second best possession is 0-3 feet, and the third best possession is a three, in particular the corner threes.

It’s every aspect of offense, but in this league, your shooting is your spacing. That’s why I think Marvin was such a key signing for us. You can see it in practice. There’s a lot more room for all the other guys when he’s out on the floor vs. the other four men. And Cody’s improved shooting has improved our offense too.

So there’s different ways you can do it. But you got to have shooting. Look at San Antonio. Look at The Finals. If you can’t shoot, you’re not out there. In Orlando, the two great years we had … we had four good years, but the two great years we had, we literally never played anybody, besides Dwight [Howard], who couldn’t shoot threes. And it’s hard to guard.

McRoberts vs. Williams and MKG’s new J

NBA.com: But does the ball movement suffer without Josh McRoberts?

20141010_cha_assist

Clifford: It’s different from the standpoint that Josh, No. 1, shot a decent percentage from three, but it’s not his game. It’s not how he naturally wants to play. Josh more wants to drive the ball, so we didn’t have that spacing on the floor, as good as he was. He’s more of a driver and a passer, where Marvin is a spot-up shooter. So what I’m hopeful of is he will create as much offense in a different way.

NBA.com: Going back to “If you can’t shoot, you’re not out there,” how much has Michael Kidd-Gilchrist increased his value to you or raised his ceiling just with the work he’s done on his jump shot this summer?

Clifford: I want to make sure [to clarify], I think if you can’t shoot, it’s tougher to play in those games. If you look at it, there’s really nobody out there that couldn’t shoot.

Now, I think that he, potentially, has changed his future in this league, with the work that he did with Mark [Price]. He’s one of the few guys that has real value for a team, even when he wasn’t shooting, because he’s an elite defender. To me, he has instincts, both in individual and team defense, that not many guys possess. So he has the ability to guard the best scorers and make it hard on them. Not many guys can do that. But this, to me, potentially changes his whole future.

NBA.com: Defenses are still going to challenge him, though.

Clifford: Absolutely. The other challenge, and he knows this, it may be 60 games, it might be a year, because these guys play one way their whole life. The biggest part of the game is when the ball’s coming to you, shoot-drive-pass and how quick you do it. And he’s always driven it or passed it. Now, he’s got to, when he’s open, be able to shoot it, and do it without hesitation.

And that’s going to take time. You can’t play one way for 21 years and then all of a sudden work hard over the summer to add this component to your game, and then have your decision-making be easy. The only thing I know is that when he didn’t play last year, we weren’t nearly as good. He’s a good player no matter what.

20141010_mkg_on-off

Balance and priorities as a head coach

NBA.com: Do you put more emphasis on offense in camp, knowing that you already have a top-10 defense, or do you feel like you still have to start with the D?

Clifford: We’ve actually done a lot more offense, but since we came back from Asheville, the last three or four days, we’ve really gotten back to defense. Obviously, you can’t take anything for granted. We’ll have two new starters. We worked hard at our defense last year. We’ll have to do the same if we’re going to play that well again.

NBA.com: Is there enough time to do everything you want, both offensively and defensively, in camp?

Clifford: Never.

NBA.com: You always have to make sacrifices somewhere, right?

Clifford: That’s coaching. You never feel like you’re spending enough time on everything. Those are the choices you have to make. I’m fortunate I have such a veteran staff. We talk every morning about what are the most important two or three things for today, because ultimately, you can’t be good at everything. You got to be sure you’re zeroed in on the right things for your team to play well.

NBA.com: How much can you add in as the season goes on?

Clifford: Quite a bit, especially if you have the veteran teams who’ve been around and done a few things. Last year, we added a lot of offense as we went along. We didn’t mess around a lot with our defense.

NBA.com: What did you learn from your first season as head coach?

Clifford: The time management part of being a head coach vs. being an assistant is much different. That was one thing that I struggled with last year.

NBA.com: In what way?

Clifford: Things seem to pop up all the time. So you get to late afternoon and you had those three or four things that you needed to do, this film, that film, whatever. And man, it seems like some days, you get to like 4:00 and you haven’t done any of it.

And then, I feel like I have more of a comfort level. Last year, I always felt like I was swimming upstream, always behind. I think I’m more organized this year, simply because I have a way to do it on game day that I’m comfortable with. And again, I have such an experienced staff, I rely on them so much and they help me a lot. That helps in all those areas too.

Clifford’s assistant coaches: Patrick Ewing, Stephen Silas, Bob Weiss, Mark Price and Pat Delany.

NBA.com: Is there a balance between working on strategy and managing the players and their personalities?

Clifford: Definitely. To me, that [managing the personalities] is the priority.

NBA.com: So some of that film work might take a back seat to making sure you’re on the same page with one of your guys?

Clifford: Absolutely. I would say that the communication piece, so that we’re all trying to be on the same page and knowing roles and all that stuff, that’s always the priority.

Let the Lakers shoot 3s


VIDEO: Lakers Training Camp: Byron Scott speaks with Reggie Miller and Rick Fox

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The good news is that Byron Scott is keeping his team focused on defense. In his Real Training Camp interview with Reggie Miller and Rick Fox, Scott said that he’s dedicated 75 percent of practices to that end of the floor. The Lakers don’t have the personnel to be a very good defensive team, but good coaching and solid principles can at least help them avoid being awful, something that Scott wasn’t able to do with the Cavs.

The bad news is that Scott doesn’t seem to understand the value of the 3-point shot.

After his team attempted just 10 of its 87 shots from 3-point range in Monday’s 98-95 preseason win over the Nuggets, Scott said that he was happy with that number, as Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times writes

Though D’Antoni liked his team’s high volume of three-point attempts (24.8 a game at a 38.1% clip), Scott was happy the Lakers had only 10 attempts (making five) on Monday in their preseason opener against the Denver Nuggets.

“Our game plan is really to get to that basket,” said Scott after practice Tuesday. “I like the fact that we only shot 10 threes. If we shoot between 10 and 15, I think that’s a good mixture of getting to that basket and shooting threes.

“I don’t want us to be coming down, forcing up a bunch of threes. I really want us to attack the basket.”

First of all, it’s doubtful that the Lakers will average less than 15 3s per game. In each of the last two seasons, only one team — the Memphis Grizzlies — has attempted fewer than 15 3-pointers a night.

Beyond that, it’s as if Scott hasn’t been paying attention to what’s been happening across the league. If we go back last five seasons, 23 teams have attempted 15 or fewer 3-pointers per game. And only three of the 23 had an above average offense…

15 or fewer 3-point attempts per game, last five seasons

Team Season 3PA/G OffRtg Rank vs. Lg. Avg.
Chicago 2009-10 13.0 100.8 28 -4.0
Detroit 2009-10 14.5 102.4 21 -2.5
Memphis 2009-10 12.4 104.8 17 -0.1
Minnesota 2009-10 14.4 98.9 29 -6.0
New Jersey 2009-10 14.5 98.1 30 -6.8
Oklahoma City 2009-10 15.0 105.8 12 +0.9
Utah 2009-10 14.7 107.8 8 +2.9
Washington 2009-10 14.9 101.4 25 -3.5
Boston 2010-11 13.6 104.0 18 -0.5
Charlotte 2010-11 14.7 100.8 25 -3.7
Memphis 2010-11 11.3 104.4 16 -0.1
New Orleans 2010-11 15.0 103.8 19 -0.6
Toronto 2010-11 13.3 103.3 20 -1.2
Washington 2010-11 14.4 99.6 28 -4.9
Boston 2011-12 15.0 98.9 24 -3.0
Charlotte 2011-12 13.5 92.3 30 -9.5
Detroit 2011-12 13.9 97.8 29 -4.1
Memphis 2011-12 12.9 101.0 21 -0.9
New Orleans 2011-12 11.8 98.3 26 -3.5
Philadelphia 2011-12 14.6 101.7 17 -0.2
Utah 2011-12 12.8 103.7 7 +1.9
Memphis 2012-13 13.5 101.7 18 -1.4
Memphis 2013-14 14.0 103.3 16 -0.7

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions

Nine of the above teams ranked in the bottom six in offensive efficiency. That’s three times as many as were above the league average.

Scott’s idea of attacking the basket isn’t bad. The most valuable shot on the floor is in the restricted area, where the league shot 60.8 percent and scored 1.22 points per attempt last season. Attacking the basket can lead to free throw attempts, which are even better. A trip to the line for two free throws is worth about 1.5 points.

But if you can’t get all the way to the basket and can’t get to the line, 2-point shots are bad. And overall, 3-point shots (1.08 points per attempt) were worth more than 2-point shots (0.98) last season.

For D’Antoni’s Lakers, the discrepancy was even bigger. L.A. was the third best 3-point shooting team in the league last season, hitting 38.1 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc, a value of 1.14 points per attempt. From inside the arc, they shot 47.8 percent, a value of just 0.96 points per attempt.

Now, the departure of Jodie Meeks, who led the team in both 3-point attempts and 3-point percentage, will hurt their numbers from the outside. And the return of Kobe Bryant will help their mid-range percentage. But even a great mid-range shooter (50 percent, 1.00 points per attempt) isn’t as good as an average 3-point shooter (36 percent, 1.08 points per attempt).

Over the years, teams have learned that you can get better offensively just by shooting more 3s, even if you’re not a very good 3-point shooting team. Of those 23 teams listed above, only two of them — the 2009-10 Pistons and 2010-11 Raptors — got more value out of their 2-point shots than their 3-point shots.

Not only is the value of a 3-pointer more than a value of a two, but there’s additional value in the floor spacing that a 3-point threat creates, because it leads to fewer defenders around players who are posting up or driving.

No guard posts up more than Bryant. And Scott can make things easier on his star by not discouraging his teammates to shoot from deep.

First Team: CP3, Doc make strides in L.A.

In this five-part series, I’ll take a look at the best games from last season’s All-NBA first team. The metric I’ve used to figure out the best games is more art than formula, using “production under pressure” as the heuristic for selection. For example, volume scoring in a close game against a stout team on the road gets more weight than volume scoring against the Bucks at home in a blowout. Big games matter. Big clutch games matter more.

Chris Paul turned in a third straight All-NBA first team bid with the Clippers.

Chris Paul turned in a third straight All-NBA first team bid with the Clippers.

Chris Paul always has the ball on a string. He can dish with either hand, making any bounce pass through tight holes — and lobs to Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — possible from any angle. His pull-up jumper is lethal, and you have to get a hand up on him when he’s 23 feet out.

On the other side, he hounds. He flops. He annoys. He barks. His hands are active. In Game 4 of the 2014 Western Conference semis, he alternated between guarding Russell Westbrook (First Team-worthy) and Kevin Durant (a fellow First Teamer) as his team completed a rally back from 22.

But then came the yang of the last 49 seconds of Game 5. A turnover, a foul on a four-point play and another turnover from Paul gave the Thunder the game. They would close out the series in Game 6. It was the type of loss that encapsulates Paul: The smart, methodical, ball-on-a-string point guard can be too smart, too methodical and too ball dominant at the worst moments.

He is still a cut above the rest, continuing to redefine the Clippers’ brand to newbies who have no clue about their inept past. At 29, he is an historically great hardwood bandit (2.41 spg ranks fourth all time) and passer (9.91 apg also third all-time). There are deeper playoff successes and a MVP award to be had, but with a capable motivator in coach Doc Rivers in his ear, his point guard supremacy threatens to remain for the foreseeable future.

Here are his top games last season:

October 31, 2013 – Dawn Of A Season-Long Rivalry

The Line: 42 points, 15 assists, 6 steals, 6 turnovers

The Quote:Man, I had six turnovers. That’s ridiculous. That means there was six times I didn’t give us an opportunity to score. I’m big on turnovers. I hate turnovers.” — Paul


VIDEO: Chris Paul carves up the Warriors in a Halloween matchup

Tiny Archibald should have been proud. Two nights after being handled by the Lakers in the season opener, Cliff Paul’s brother dealt out the complete package. He was sinking free-throw line jumpers, baseline turnaround jumpers. He had his way with a pre-Team USA Klay Thompson, including a bullying score on a post-up. He even got in a sneaky dunk in Jermaine O’Neal’s mug.

Then there were those three consecutive alley oops with Blake, as well as the verbal jabs and scowls at the Warriors bench. This was CP3’s point god night, only if god coughed up the pill six times. (more…)

First Team: KD evokes MJ in MVP season

In this five-part series, I’ll take a look at the best games from last season’s All-NBA first team. The metric I’ve used to figure out the best games is more art than formula, using “production under pressure” as the heuristic for selection. For example, volume scoring in a close game against a stout team on the road gets more weight than volume scoring against the Bucks at home in a blowout. Big games matter. Big clutch games matter more.

Kevin Durant took his otherworldly scoring abilities to another level in his 2013-14 MVP campaign.

Kevin Durant took his otherworldly scoring abilities to another level in his 2013-14 MVP campaign.

There’s a sense Kevin Durant still hasn’t peeked at his peak. His length is unfair. His angel-hair pasta build is a rebellion against the MUSCLEWATCH movement that dominates the NBA. Myth has him closer to being 7-foot than his listed 6-foot-9. All of this leads to a virtually unblockable shot (don’t tell James Johnson!) that allows him to get a clean look whenever he wants.

The results:

1) NBA MVP
2) Five All-NBA first teams
3) Four scoring titles
4) All-Star MVP
5) Olympic gold medal
6) A host of honors too long to list here

Yet Durant is far from a finished product. There’s that untapped post game that Charles Barkley keeps hammering about. Can he win seven more scoring titles to surpass MJ? Could Durant, who turns 26 next week, snatch the top scoring spot from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar by the time it’s all said and done?

Last season, he dropped at least 25 points in 41 straight games to top His Airness’ modern-day record (only Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain have more). The night his streak was “broken,” he scored 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting in 31 minutes, then went on to rip off another eight straight at the 25-point level. He hit that mark in 63 out of his final 65 games.

In addition to scoring and playing more minutes than anybody else, he dealt a career-high 5.5 dimes per contest. He even tied for the league lead in technical fouls (16). The only thing Durant was missing last season was a nickname that stuck.

Here are his top games last season:

Jan.17, 2014 — Striking Down The Warriors

The Line: 54 points on 19-for-28 shooting

The Quote:He’s a special talent, a superstar basketball player, an all-time great.” — Warriors head coach Mark Jackson


VIDEO: Kevin Durant carves Warriors up for career-high 54 points

As he did for most of the season, Durant was playing without Russell Westbrook this night, giving him carte blanche with the rock. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green did what they could, but the easy truth about basketball is this: Great offense trumps great defense every time. On this night, Durant put it all together for a career night.

Jan. 21, 2014 — Extinguishing The Blazers

The Line: 46 points on 17-for-25 shooting, 6 3s

The Quote: “The way he was playing, he probably could have scored on Jesus.” – Trail Blazers guard Mo Williams


VIDEO: Durant goes for 46 points in lighting up the Blazers

The eighth night of The Streak was Fan Night on NBA TV. KD had his 25 by the end of the third quarter, but his team nursed a two-point lead going into the fourth. Without Westbrook and a tough Portland team promising to make matters difficult, his plate was full.

So Durant ate. First off a deadly mid-range game, then with a 3-point light show at the end, including a coup de grace over Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews.

Jan. 27, 2014 — Just Another Night

The Line: 41 points on 15-for-25 shooting, 3 blocks

The Quote: “He’s going to be an MVP candidate until he decides to retire.” – Thunder head coach Scott Brooks


VIDEO: Kevin Durant clips Hawks with game-winner to cap 41-point night

With no Westbrook again, Durant donned the hero cape. On the defining play of the game, the double team came from the left. Durant started right. Three hard dribbles later, with three Hawks in the vicinity, he confirmed another moment in a season full of them. Another game winner, another vicious January performance. Just another night, his 10th straight reaching 30 points.

Durant used January to make volume efficiency his M.O. For the month, he put up 36 points on 55 percent shooting, 44 percent beyond the arc. That. Is. Insane.

Feb. 13, 2014 — Rally On The Road

The Line: 43 points on 14-for-33 shooting, 19 in fourth quarter, 7 assists

The Quote: “He is one of the best I have seen in terms of really just playing through anything and everything.” – Thunder guard Derek Fisher


VIDEO: Kevin Durant ends first half with 43-point performance in L.A.

Durant’s final game before the All-Star break didn’t start auspiciously. He clanked his first eight treyballs and his team fought uphill all game. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Thunder were down 13 to a Lakers team that had lost its previous six home games.

But ‘Mr. Unreliable’ took over, almost outscoring the Lakers by himself (19 to 21). He topped the 40-point mark for the eighth time, matching the previous season’s high set by Carmelo Anthony and Kobe. No better way to end the best first half of his career.

March 21, 2014 — Making Fossils Out Of Raptors

The Line: 51 points (38 in second half and two OTs), 12 rebounds, 7 assists

The Quote: “It looked good when it left my hands and God guided that thing in the basket. That was the craziest game I’ve ever been a part of.” — Durant


VIDEO:
Kevin Durant finishes off Raptors in 2OT with game-winner, 51 points

What does a man have to do to get a double team? No matter how many times Amir Johnson stood on an island guarding the best scorer in the league, help never came. But you know what? It probably wouldn’t have mattered. Forces of nature are inevitable.

Down eight points with 49 seconds left, the Thunder ended the game on a 9-0 run. Who was responsible for those final points? Do you even have to ask?

 

Seeing 20-20 clearly in 2013-14

 

Over the course of a long NBA season, there are plenty of individual achievements and gaudy stat lines that make us sit up and take notice. But there are arguably none more worthy of catching our eyes than the appropriately named 20-20 club, which requires stellar work toiling on the boards to go with a big scoring game. Call them doubled-up double-doubles, if you will. And in the case of this top 10 list of stand-out games from the 2013-14 season, 20-20 is just a start:

10. Jared Sullinger, Boston Celtics
January 15, 2014 vs. Toronto Raptors — 25 points, 20 rebounds


VIDEO: Jared Sullinger runs wild against the Raptors

Nine losses in a row. A second straight pro season languishing near the bottom of the standings. It was enough to make a guy like Sullinger want to scream. Or reach out and grab a game by the throat. Which is what he did in a dominating third quarter against the Raptors, shooting 6-for-6 from the field, scoring 15 points and grabbing eight rebounds. He became the first Celtic since Kevin Garnett in 2007 to have a 20-20 game and it had the desired effect, producing an 88-83 Boston win.

9. Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
January 17, 2014 vs. Los Angeles Clippers — 26 points, 20 rebounds


VIDEO: Carmelo Anthony burns the Clippers for 26 points

On the surface, it was another dominating performance by Anthony in his drive to his summer of free agent courtship, piling up points and rebounds. It was his fifth game of 15 or more rebounds in a season when he cleaned the glass better than at any other time in his career. But of course, there are more rebounds to grab when you shoot just 4-for-23 from the field. And even though the Clippers were playing without the injured Chris Paul, they had Blake Griffin rumbling to 32 points and Jamal Crawford coming off the bench for 29 and DeAndre Jordan with a double-double (11 points, 16 rebounds) in an easy 109-95 win at Madison Square Garden.

8. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
April 11, 2014 at Chicago Bulls — 26 points, 26 rebounds


VIDEO: Andre Drummond puts up a 20-20 game in a road loss to the Bulls

The bad news is that Drummond’s impressive double-double line wasn’t enough to save his Pistons from suffering a 106-98 to the Bulls. The good news is that it’s very, very early in what has all the earmarks of becoming a memorable career. By devouring rebounds all night to tie to his career high, Drummond became the first player in NBA history to register seven games of 20 or more rebounds before his 20th birthday. (more…)

USA starters dominant in exhibitions


VIDEO: GameTime: USAB’s Strengths and Weaknesses

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – After his team’s 101-71 victory in its final exhibition on Tuesday, U.S. National Team coach Mike Krzyzewski said that they were ready for the first game of World Cup pool play, but not for the medal rounds.

One thing that looks set is Krzyzewski’s starting lineup. He has said that he could alternate starts for Kyrie Irving and Derrick Rose, but it’s safe to believe that the other four positions will remain constant.

Why mess with a good thing?

After its first week of training in Las Vegas, the U.S. lost Paul George and Kevin Durant, its two starting forwards. That certainly set the team back in some ways, but it’s hard to believe that a starting lineup with George and Durant could have done better than the one that played the USA’s four exhibition games.

In a little less than 38 minutes with either Irving or Rose at point guard and the other four starters — Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kenneth Faried and Anthony Davis — on the floor, the U.S. has more than doubled up on its opponents, outscoring them 106-49.

With Irving starting, there were 16-6 and 16-3 stretches to start each half against the Dominican Republic last Wednesday. And there were 10-0 and 15-4 stretches to start the second and third quarters against Slovenia on Tuesday.

That helped Irving build a plus-103 mark — best on the team — in less than 82 minutes of playing time. Faried wasn’t far behind (plus-97) in less than 70 minutes of action. That’s equivalent to a 56-point win in a 40-minute game.

USA on-court pace and efficiency, exhibition games

Player GP MIN Pace OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
James Harden 4 98.2 82.0 129.9 89.9 +40.0 +86
Klay Thompson 4 86.0 81.2 127.6 101.1 +26.4 +45
Kyrie Irving 4 81.6 80.8 134.3 73.2 +61.2 +103
Anthony Davis 4 80.5 81.8 137.1 82.1 +55.0 +96
Stephen Curry 4 71.2 79.5 134.7 78.4 +56.3 +85
Kenneth Faried 4 69.4 82.4 136.8 70.4 +66.4 +97
Rudy Gay 4 59.1 80.6 116.0 116.0 0.0 0
Derrick Rose 3 58.3 81.6 116.0 116.0 0.0 0
DeMarcus Cousins 3 42.4 78.4 123.5 109.4 +14.0 +7
DeMar DeRozan 2 37.0 82.2 117.6 101.3 +16.3 +8
Mason Plumlee 3 26.4 83.3 98.1 89.3 +8.9 +3
Damian Lillard 2 26.0 79.1 128.0 98.1 +29.9 +12
Andre Drummond 2 23.1 78.8 128.9 82.6 +46.3 +20
Chandler Parsons 2 17.4 79.5 111.4 102.9 +8.5 +4
Gordon Hayward 1 14.2 79.2 133.3 96.6 +36.8 +8
Kyle Korver 2 9.3 90.3 100.0 80.0 +20.0 +6
TOTALS 4 160.0 81.1 127.1 91.7 +35.4 +116

Pace = Possessions per 40 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

The other side of the story is the U.S. bench. Klay Thompson, who played a lot with three or four of the starters, was a plus-45 in the four exhibition games. Andre Drummond, who played most of his minutes in last week’s blowout of the Dominican Republic, was a plus-20. But otherwise, the bench was underwhelming. In fact, in what was seemingly an easy win over Slovenia, the U.S. was outscored 63-56 when it didn’t have at least four starters on the floor.

In total, we’re just talking about four games here. With Krzyzewski mixing and matching his bench units, the reserves didn’t get nearly the same opportunity to build chemistry as the starters did. And the U.S. won its four games by an average of 29 points. So it’s way to early to condemn the bench for not playing as well as the starting unit. (more…)

Top shooting performances of 2013-14

Some nights that basket just seems as big as the ocean and it looks as easy as dropping the ball in from the beach. Other times, it’s just about sheer power from the big guys who have their way on the inside.

Last season produced some of each to make up this look at the top individual shooting performances of 2013-14. To be eligible for this list, players needed to shoot at least 90 percent from the field on at least 11 field goal attempts:

8. Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets
Dec. 28, 2013 vs. New Orleans Pelicans — 24 points, 10-for-11 FG (90.9 percent), 18 rebounds

For the first couple of months last season, Howard was trying to prove that he was over his back problems while re-establishing himself as the premier center in the game. This was another statement with an overpowering low-post game that produced six dunks, three little jump hooks and a layup in a 107-98 victory. He seemed intent on showing his physicality and committed a handful of offensive fouls to pile up eight turnovers.


VIDEO: Dwight Howard pounds on the Pelicans for 24 points and 18 rebounds

7. Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
February 21, 2014 vs. Atlanta Hawks — 22 points, 10-for-11 FG (90.9 percent), 11 rebounds, three steals

If the frontline combination of Drummond, Greg Monroe and Josh Smith had played so well from the start, it’s likely coach Mo Cheeks wouldn’t have been fired and Joe Dumars might still be Detroit’s GM. It was the third time in the season that the trio of big men all had double-doubles in the same game. It was a demonstration of sheer power, not a shooting clinic by Drummond. Six of his 10 buckets were dunks and he went 0-for-8 from the free throw line. (more…)

Marion joins Cavs’ supporting cast


VIDEO: The Starters: On The Hall of Fame Bubble, Shawn Marion

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – LeBron James‘ supporting cast got a little deeper on Sunday, with word, first reported by ESPN’s Marc Stein, that Shawn Marion has agreed to sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers for the veteran’s minimum. Yahoo’s Marc Spears had reported Saturday night that Marion also had interest from the Clippers, Heat and Pacers.

Marion can back up both James and Kevin Love, who the Cavs are expected to get on or after Aug. 23, when rookie Andrew Wiggins is eligible to be traded. Marion could also play alongside the James-Love combo in a small-ball lineup.

In a summer when Ben Gordon got $4.5 million, signing Marion for the minimum is a great deal. He’s versatile, plays both ends of the floor, has championship experience, and has been pretty durable over the years.

But Marion is also 36 years old. Among 177 players who attempted at least 500 shots last season, only teammate Jose Calderon had a lower free-throw rate. Marion attempted just nine free throws per 100 field goal attempts.

And here’s a note that’s a little alarming: The Mavericks were better both offensively and defensively with Marion off the floor each of the last four seasons (2010-11, 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14). When it came to on- vs. off-court numbers, Marion was in a tough spot as Dirk Nowitzki‘s backup. But the lack of impact on defensive numbers, in particular, should provide caution for anyone expecting him to be the stopper that he was earlier in his career.

The Cavs are giving up each of the last two No. 1 picks in the Love trade. Love himself will be only 26 when training camp opens, but the Cleveland bench has some mileage on it. Mike Miller will be 35 in February, James Jones will be 34 in October, and Brendan Haywood will be 35 in November. The Cavs will also be counting on Anderson Varejao (32 next month) to put his injury issues (which have limited him to just 146 games over the last four seasons) behind him.

Marion will be the Cavs’ Shane Battier. He can guard power forwards and allow James to play on the perimeter defensively in those small-ball, more athletic lineups. But he doesn’t quite space the floor as well as Battier did for the Heat. His 3-point shooting is shaky. Though it improved quite a bit last season (to 35.8 percent), it hasn’t been better than the league average in over 10 years.

With James and Love manning the forward spots most of the time, the Cavs won’t need as much from Marion as the Mavs did. Even if he’s not the same Shawn Marion that was the No. 1 pick in your fantasy draft eight years ago, his versatility and durability may be all Cleveland needs.

Waiters a better fit than Irving with new Cavs


VIDEO: Cavs close to acquiring Kevin Love

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The Cleveland Cavaliers are a brand new team. LeBron James is coming home and Kevin Love is coming soon.

The pair joins a roster that went 57-107 over the last two seasons, with a point guard that’s thought of as a star, other unproven young guys, and a pair of centers that have dealt with injuries.

It’s up to new head coach David Blatt to bring it all together on both ends of the floor. But it’s also on the players to make the necessary adjustments so that the whole isn’t less than the sum of the parts. The Miami Heat didn’t quite figure out their identity until the end of their second season together, and they didn’t have as many players who were used to having the ball in their hands.

Who’s taking a back seat?

The Cavs will now have four guys – James (5th), Love (9th), Kyrie Irving (13th) and Dion Waiters (22nd) – who ranked in the top 25 in usage rate last season. At least two of those guys are going to have to say goodbye to the basketball.

Usage rate = Percentage of his team’s possessions that a player ended (via field goal attempts, free throw attempts, assists and turnovers) while he was on the floor.

In a chat at USA Basketball camp in Las Vegas last week, Waiters admitted that he’s still more comfortable with the ball in his hands. But he acknowledged that things are going to change now.

“I got to find a way to score,” Waiters said, “and I got to find ways to make the team better if I don’t have the ball.”

But Waiters should be more prepared for an adjustment than Irving. When the two shared the floor last season, it was Waiters’ usage rate that took a dip (from 29.5 percent to 24.4 percent). Irving’s usage rate actually went up a tick in those minutes.

Waiters can also look at his SportVU numbers to know that he can play off the ball. He was a very good shooter off the catch last season, but not so much off the dribble. His catch-and-shoot 3-point percentage (41.6 percent) was right with the Spurs’ Danny Green (41.5 percent).

Irving, meanwhile, is a rare breed, a guy who shot better off the dribble than off the catch. According to SportVU, Irving’s pull-up 3-point percentage (40.9 percent) was better than Kevin Durant‘s (40.7 percent) and Stephen Curry‘s (39.3 percent).

High-usage Cavs, 2013-14 3-point shooting, via SportVU

Pull-up Catch-and-shoot
Player 3PM 3PA 3P% Rk1 3PM 3PA 3P% Rk2 Diff. Rk3
Irving 72 176 40.9% 6 50 156 32.1% 151 -8.9% 74
James 49 159 30.8% 49 59 121 48.8% 2 17.9% 6
Love 34 103 33.0% 36 152 382 39.8% 63 6.8% 41
Waiters 19 73 26.0% 73 72 173 41.6% 35 15.6% 9

Rk1 = Rank among 86 players who attempted at least 50 pull-up 3-pointers
Rk2 = Rank among 166 players who attempted at least 100 catch-and-shoot 3-pointers
Rk3 = Rank among 74 players who attempted at least 50 pull-up threes and 100 catch-and-shoot threes

Yes, that’s LeBron James ranking No. 2 in catch-and-shoot 3-point percentage. Of the 166 guys who attempted at least 100 catch-and-shoot threes last season, only Kyle Korver (49.9 percent) was better. So, James will likely be better at playing off of Irving than Irving will be at playing off of James.

But James is also the best finisher in the league. And, according to SportVU, the Heat scored 1.32 points per James drive last season, the fourth highest mark among 166 players who drove at least 100 times. Nobody in the league puts more pressure on the opposing defense when he’s attacking the rim.

So James isn’t taking a back seat to anyone. As a floor-spacing big, Love is a perfect complement offensively. Mike Miller played 82 games last season and shot 45.9 percent (seventh of 166) on catch-and-shoot threes. And Waiters should also be fine playing off the ball, though he said last week that he’ll be watching some Dwyane Wade film to see how to make better cuts to the basket. Wade is one of the worst 3-point shooters in NBA history, but still found a way to play off James.

“You can’t be one-dimensional,” Waiters said. “I’m pretty sure I’ll watch film, watch the things D-Wade did. It helped him.

“At the end of the day, I think it’s going to work out. I just got to make those cuts and try to play the right way.”

But it’s Irving that has a much bigger adjustment to make. Not only did he shoot poorly off the catch last season, but the Cleveland offense was more efficient with back-up point guard Matthew Dellavedova on the floor (104.7 points scored per 100 possessions) than with Irving on the floor (101.7).

Dellavedova was also pretty good (39.2 percent) on catch-and-shoot threes. The 23-year-old Australian went undrafted, but Blatt likes him, and he could be a key piece on a contender in just his second season.

Irving and James will need time together to develop chemistry, but Blatt should consider staggering their minutes, so they each get time to work without the other.

Either way, the Cavs should certainly be a top-five offensive team. And if things come together right, they could rank No. 1 on that end of the floor.

How well will they defend?

It’s defense that will ultimately determine just how good the Cavs will be. Miami’s offense was pretty ridiculous last season, recording the highest effective field goal percentage in NBA history for the second straight year. But they fell off defensively, ranked 11th on that end of the floor, and couldn’t stop the Spurs’ attack in The Finals.

It was James’ worst defensive season since before he was ever an MVP, in part because Wade wasn’t always there (playing just 58 games) to help carry the offensive load. With Irving and Love to help with the offense, James can put more energy on D.

But the defense starts with Irving at the top. Not only was the Cavs’ offense better with Dellavedova on the floor last season, the defense was much better.

Rim protection is just as important as on-the-ball defense. And in that regard, the Cavs have a questionable frontline. Love is a terrific rebounder, but not a guy who alters shots. Of 94 players who defended at least four shots at the rim per game in 40 games or more, only three allowed a higher field goal percentage. One of them was Love’s new back-up, Tristan Thompson.

Anderson Varejao is a good pick-and-roll defender, but doesn’t defend the rim all that well either. And he’s played just 146 games over the last four seasons (235 fewer than James). Brendan Haywood is more of a rim-protecting center, but missed all of last season with a broken foot.

(Speaking of injuries, Waiters said he’s lost about 15 pounds, from 230 to 215, having cut “the candy, the pizza, the chips” from his diet and “really getting after it” with his workouts. That could help him with his defensive quickness, but he says his main goal is to “get through a whole season without missing any games.” He wants to arrive at camp at about 210 pounds.)

Under Mike Brown, the Cavs did show defensive improvement last season, moving up to 17th in defensive efficiency from 27th in Byron Scott‘s last season. Blatt had defensive success with the Russian National Team. And James is obviously a defensive upgrade over any small forward they’ve had in the four years since he left.

But, for the Cavs, the path to a top-10 ranking on defense isn’t as clear as it is on offense. Historically, defense has been more important than offense when it comes to title contention. So how quickly the Cavs learn a new system and build chemistry on that end of the floor will be a more critical development than how well their stars play off each other offensively.